Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Kate, the Tiki, and My November Promise.

"Having invoked my name twice this week as someone whose 'help' might be required, I see that you did not truly need me tonight after all," said Black Rose Kate. I couldn't tell whether she sounded pleased or disappointed.

We were in the little alcove by the front door. I had just finished putting all the toys and candy into the plastic cauldron when my pirate friend turned up, ferried here as usual by Ariel Allegra. Ariel said something about a date and some hard to get theater tickets, and left immediately.

"I didn't need you for my preparations, no," I admitted. "But I'm always glad to see you, especially at Halloween."

"Naturally," said Kate. "If you're going to spend four hours sitting just outside your front door, 'tis better to have someone to talk to as you do it. Especially someone ye don't see every day."

"Exactly," I said. Any second now, she was going to give me grief on the usual subject, but I was ready for her.

"But that was not what you were talking about in the blog entries Ariel showed me," Kate went on. "When you said you might need me to bail you out, what did you mean, exactly?"

"I meant pretty much what you think I meant," I said. "I wanted your help with costuming."

"Costuming," she said, deadpan. "Ye know true and well that I am a pirate, not a seamstress."

"I do," I said.

"Therefore you were making your usual lie to the world," Kate said. "You implied that I am no more than Karen Blocher in fake pirate garb."

"As far as the world knows, that is correct," I said. "I've explained before why I'm ambiguous in my blog about whether you're an actual time traveler or just one of my more interesting fictional characters." Kate looked slightly mollified at the backhanded compliment. "But I actually had a slightly different game in mind for this year. We can play it anyway if you like."

"What sort of game?" Kate asked sharply.

"Rather than my pretending to impersonate you, I thought we might impersonate each other," I said.

"To what purpose?"

"I'm interested in finding out more about your actual clothing, not just my store-bought imitations," I said. "And I'm equally interested to see whether you could or would dress and behave as I do, if only for half an hour."

For a moment Katie Specks glowered at me. Then suddenly she laughed. "Aye, then. An ye truly wish it, you may wear my salt-stained tunic and all. And in return, ye would have me done this paper likeness of a heathen god?"

"Yes, and wear it while handing out candy, and speak modern vernacular as you do it."

Kate nodded. "An interesting challenge," she said. "I'll do it."

(Tomorrow: How she did!)

This is the first entry in my November NaBloPoMo run of fiction-related entries. I don't promise to post fiction every night in November, but I will work on one or more pieces of fiction each night throughout the month, and let you know what I'm up to. But right now I'm exhausted from my late night mask assembly last night, so here are a few more photos, and then I'm off to bed!

"Pumpkin Pie Pizza" at the office pot luck

What is this? What was I trying to do? Can you guess?

Chocolate spiders.

Good night!


A Triumph of Sorts

Pele, the Volcano Tiki Goddess. Note the volcano.

Here's why I'm still up (but not for long).

Points to remember for next year's Halloween preparations:

Detail from the Pele Tiki at Disneyland.

1. Nothing I'm looking for will be available at any stores whatsoever within a week of Halloween.

2. Even with lots of lead time, I will never achieve the full effect I'm going for, because I won't find all the materials and won't be able to construct things adequately.

3. Nevertheless I can do something interesting, on a more modest scale.

4. It's perfectly possible to lose an Exacto knife for half an hour in the middle of a project.

5. Ditto a package of paint pens.

6. The kids will probably forgive me if I hand out loose treats for the first half hour until I can get some bags assembled.

A little more of the original

7. Small toys are a choking hazard. Better give the toddlers candy only.

See you tomorrow night (late!)


Monday, October 29, 2007

Dead Flowers: The Sequel, and a Tiki Update

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Last call for shots of live flowers! This is it for 2007, because after that for lots of places in the US, live flowers will be done for the year (unless, of course, they're inside your house. But never mind that).

Harrumph. Flowers again. All right, I took new flower photos for you. But I got home after sunset, and didn't take them until well after dark. So they're illuminated by flash - which made them interesting to edit, actually, so I don't mind at all. First up: the firecracker bush, as usual. It blooms all year, but sometimes more than other times. You can tell the middle is flashed out a bit. I wasn't able to correct that completely.

In front of the firecracker (hummingbird) bush are some annuals John bought a few months back. The grasshoppers discovered them right away, so they didn't do very well.

Something about that shot reminded me of Monet, so I've used some effects to make it more so. The "Impressionistic" filter didn't look good, but here's some saturation, an oil painting effect, a canvas texture and a frame. This is for you, Carly!

I went looking for Flat Earth Trading company at lunch today. I misremembered which side of Ajo it was on, and did a lot of driving in industrial park alleyways and cul-de-sacs, but I found it eventually. It didn't look like it was set up for in-person retail customers, though, so I took this photo and drove away. Love the Easter Island-style tikis! There were four or them, I think.

Back home, after dark, I got this shot of the two outdoor tikis together.

I have had no luck at all on a Tiki mask. Party City discontinued its luau stuff, Yikes! had nothing relevant, and I didn't do any further shopping tonight because of the NBC Monday sf shows. Unless I luck onto something tomorrow, or work very hard making something, I may have to fall back on Black Rose Kate to bail me out again this Halloween.


Aren't They Lovely?

I made another pre-Halloween shopping expedition today, with limited success. Target's garden department had exactly one Tiki figure left, and it was only $12. I think he's about two feet tall, and he's hollow. He's not at all the same figure as the one that's already stanting outside our front door, so this will make for a bit of variety. After all, there was more than one Tiki god character.

The actual thing I was looking for, however, I did not find. What I want is a Tiki mask, something that I can actually wear on Halloween. Failing that, I'm thinking about making a Tiki head out of a cylindrical lampshade. But I did get a lead online tonight. Turns out there's a place called Flat Earth Trading Co., which imports and manufactures Tiki stuff and distributes it around the country. Not only are they located in Tucson, but they're only a couple of miles away from my office! I don't really expect to get exactly what I want, but nevertheless it should make for an interesting lunchtime field trip.

Other things on my Halloween wish list: flameless Tiki torches (so as not to burn the kiddies), fake tropical flowers, a string of Tiki lights, a decent lei, a new Hawaiian shirt and maybe, just maybe, some approximation of a volcano. My Halloween plans are consistently much more grandiose than I can ever pull off, but I'll at least give it a try. I can always call in Black Rose Kate to help me out it if the Tiki theme falls through. In any case I should ask her whether she's been to Polynesia in the course of her voyages. It wouldn't surprise me if she has!

While I was at Target, I couldn't resist picking up this 9" tall gargoyle for $10. I've named him Little George. Here's the original, much larger George:

George looks a little odd here because the camera flash is illuminating him in a dark closet. I don't think the colors are normally that vivid. My artist friend Sherlock repaired his wing and repainted him about a decade ago. He used to be more of a uniform maroon color.

Hey, if this Tiki thing doesn't work out, maybe I can be a plaster saint?


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Am I too late?

The almost inevitable consequence of sleeping in on Saturdays is that I stay up too late on Saturday night. Tonight's case is a little extreme: I got 12 glorious hours of sleep, but now it is 3:20 AM. I've been up less than 12 hours, and here I am, rushing to pull together a rant for your reading pleasure so I can go back to bed.

I'm a bit annoyed and distracted at the moment because a rather large, fat mouse is making chewing noises a few feet from me. John puts out traps and catches them (we long since gave up on the humane traps, I'm sorry to say), but there are always more mousies to replace them.

Anyway, that's not the theme du jour. The subject I've selected to ramble on about tonight is lateness, and the related concept, procrastination. This isn't going to be a listing of incidents like that Weekend Assignment of several weeks ago. Tonight I'm asking myself two questions. One, is there a qualitative difference between my chronic procrastination back in high school and my behavior now? And two, as it says in the subject line, am I too late? Too late for what? Yes, I'll answer that as well.

I actually threw a Doctor Who book at the mousie earlier. now it's out of sight. I can still hear it, though.

Okay, on that first question, I think that I really have improved over the last three decades in my tendency to put things off. (Ha! I just saw it run off. It was interested in a box that used to have candy in it. I took away the box.) In my school days (junior high, high school and college the first time) I had a distinct tendency to put off reading assignments and writing papers. In college the second time, I kept up with it all. More germane to my life now, the stuff I put off these days is cleaning and doing dishes and fiction writing and...okay, I take it back. Maybe I haven't improved as much as I think. Still, there's lots of stuff I face right away, and it's not that hard. I can't think of any examples right now, but there are some, I'm sure.

That was a bust. Let's see if I do better with the too lateness question.

Things I haven gotten done yet:

1. Publishing the Mâvarin books. This worries me, and has done so for a long time. I expect that an agent or publisher's interest in the first book would be a huge motivator in getting the rest ready to go, but meanwhile I'm not doing everything I can, and that's wrong. Beyond that, I worry that people will think that any book that's been in the works for 33 years can't be any good, because if it were it would be in print by now. It marks me as deluded, still thinking after all these years that I can do something with that same old manuscript. Of course, it isn't really the same old manuscript, but it's still a ridiculously long time for a book to be in the works. And don't tell me to put it aside and write something else, or I shall be very angry with you. I do attempt other fiction from time to time, but somehow, none of the rest of it matters. Mâvarin matters.pu

2. Tuffy's treatment. John and I are pretty much agreed on the third surgery, as scary as it is, but we have to get over the fear and worry in order to do it. The fear and worry isn't just over the tongue and the possible feeding tube, or Tuffy suffering thereby. John is still not convinced that the appetite issue isn't an indication of other troubles. I was going to call Dr. L today, but woke up after her Saturday office hours. John doesn't think it's vital that we take her in on Monday or Tuesday this week (when the surgeon is there), but I really don't want to put this off. But is it the right thing to do?

3. Halloween preparations. Somehow I seem to always tackle Halloween preparations the Saturday before the holiday itself. Last weekend I went looking for the seasonal Halloween shop, but didn't find it until Tuesday, as I drove back from the vet on my way back to work. It's not exactly close by. So tonight I went to Spencer's and World Market, having been disappointed with the offerings at Walgreen's this year. I've been cycling through the same couple of costumes for about five years, and it's time for a change. Unfortunately, the idea I finally had isn't panning out so far. Quick! Where can I get Tiki stuff by the 31st? I'm tempted to resort to papier mâché, and John would hate that.

4. Going to bed. Well, I can always go to bed! But first I have dishes to wash, so I'd better get on with that. But first...

My 2007 survey of "pumpkin anything" products has been less satisfactory than in past years. So far I've come across three products I would never try: pumpkin ale, pumpkin coffee, and pumpkin creamer. I've tried the pumpkin soup from Safeway, and disliked it enough that I didn't finish it. Not good!

And eating even the stuff I like in quantity can easily get to be too much. I would have liked the pumpkin muffin from Sweet Tomatoes much better had I not just eaten yam soup and other good things.

Oh! One other thing I worked on tonight was my AIM page. It makes me sad, because it used to be something that Editor Joe was paid to blog about. He's gone from that project, but the AIM pages are still there. Today I found out, briefly, how to add a little "what I'm up to" update, similar to Twitter, another social networking site I mostly ignore. From my AIM page, though, I see no obvious way to add another update, nor go to my email. The whole AIM pages thing seems kind of underdeveloped and counterintuitive. But I changed the theme and added a module and uploaded a photo: the one above, left over from the Shadowland entry. And I have been thinking about Rona and her grandfather. I hope to have more of their story for you soon. But for now, good night!


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Karen at Play

After fussing with last night's entry all evening tonight, I think I should probably call it done now. Since coming home from work I've changed which director was mentioned, tweaked the Oscar image, added the Athena picture (and incorporated a version thereof into the Entertainment section sidebar), gave Kodi a caption in that same sidebar, and tweaked the ragged edge of the Oscar. That'll do!

The truth is, all that was much more fun than anything else I thought of doing this evening. I was able to play around with graphics and captions while watching Doctor Who (sort of), which would not have been true of an actual writing project. I did work on The Mâvarin Revolutions today, though - briefly. While eating lunch as Carl's Jr. today, I wrote a whole sentence!

Yes, I know. I need to do better. Much better.

Meanwhile, though, here are a couple of images I've been playing around with since finishing the Scalzi entry. This first shot is of the power plant at dusk. I lightened it up quite a bit, applied an oil painting effect and boosted the saturation.

Here's Tuffy in a watercolor effect. The original shot was kind of an odd angle and a little out of focus, so it seemed like a good candidate for further distortion.

We have not committed to Tuffy's third operation yet. John want a better handle on whether she's sicker than the oncologist believes, as evidenced by her not eating even the hamburger John's been cooking for her. She eventually did eat some dry dog food tonight, so it's not as though she's starving to death. I hope to reach her regular vet tomorrow (yes, she works on Saturday) for further guidance.

Here's another shot from Monday at dusk. I have no idea what this building is, but with its odd angles and staircases it seems a little Escheresque to me. The decorations are based on Southwestern petroglyphs.

Here's a edit of the same image, using a vertical "magic mirror" effect and a vertical stretch. Kinda looks like an industrial strength funhouse!

and if that wasn't weird enough, this one has solarization, negative, radial magic mirror and bubble effects, not quite in that order!

Enough. Tomorrow I'll be commenting in a few of your blogs, but for now, good night!


Friday, October 26, 2007

John Scalzi's Best Day Evah!

Revised and enhanced, Friday 8:00 PM:

Weekend Assignment #189: Amuse me, damn it! Yeah, that's right. You amuse me for a change. Tell me a joke. Tell me a story. Show me a funny picture. point to a good online video game. Suggest a good book or movie. Link me to a diverting YouTube or AOL Video, like those soda/Mentos fountain things (but not that, I've already seen those). Anything, people, just as long as it's amusing. You know, something you think I would like. Like what, you say? Well, you know. Surprise me.

Extra credit: Share your favorite pun. I love me a good pun.

Well, heck, John. I like to think that this blog amuses you on a regular basis; that's certainly one of my aims. I figure if I can give you a chuckle, my other intelligent, tech-savvy, fun-loving readers will probably be amused as well. Also, I've seen enough of your work to have some idea what you're likely to enjoy, and what your readers enjoy. It's win-win!

That said, I'm going to pander to you tonight to an unprecedented degree. I proudly present: John Scalzi's Fabulous Future Fantasy! Click on the images for larger, clearer versions.

Steps on the road to fame and fortune for the Scalzis.

So, John, who would you like to see as the director of Old Man's War when it becomes a major motion picture? I've selected Robert Zemeckis; is that okay? And if $14,000,000.00 isn't enough to adapt your own book as a screenplay, remember that this is just the advance.

Meanwhile, it's just a matter of time before Athena parlays Internet fame into dead-tree fame.

Soon Athena will be promoting her own book, not yours.

And as a sidebar, Kodi just set off a whole new Internet craze of attaching things to dogs.

In Ohio, the bacon fries
you! Or not.

Kodi isn't the only member of the Scalzi household who likes bacon, of course. Accordingly, the following news should be very welcome. Well, maybe:

Ohio, home of the fabulous bacon breakthrough!

Will it enhance your life or diminish it, John, if it ceases to be a guilty pleasure? No matter, because in the other article in this section, oddly classified as Science News, is photographic evidence of your amazing weekend in some future September:

The multi-award winner enjoys a meal as he greets his fans.

What's this I see? A Hugo and an Oscar? Why, yes! Both get handed out in early September. Looks as though you've had a heck of a week! A Stoker and a Nebula would be yours to win at other times of the year. But if you want them...!

I see you're still less than hirsute, however. Clearly, you need to eat more Ohio Blue Bacon. (I should have made it Bradford Blue Bacon. More alliterative!)

And now, words of wisdom from the Seventh Doctor, as made up by myself years and years ago:

A bird in the hand is a bird enlightened.


(Pictures of Kodi, Athena and bacon by John Scalzi, used and edited with permission. Newspaper headline generators found at and
Dayton Daily News masthead used without permission, but I doubt they'll mind. Hugo and Oscar awards images used without permission - low res and should constitute fair use. All other photos by Karen Funk Blocher. So there!)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How Many Kinds of Diet Cola Do I Really Need?

This morning the line at McDonald's was prohibitively long, so I stopped at a nearby Circle K instead. Those two stops, plus unusually backed-up traffic, made me about ten minutes late this morning. But that's not the subject of tonight's rant, so we'll move on to that, briefly, followed by a few annotated pictures.

Anyway, the soda I bought at that Circle K was Diet Coke Plus, the "plus" being vitamins. The thought was to offset my usual sleep deprivation nutritionally as well as with caffeine. It's all right - not great, but all right. I think it may even have helped a little.

Every day I bring one can of diet something to work, and every lunchtime I buy a fountain drink somewhere. In both cases it's almost always some version of diet cola. Yesterday's leftovers get combined with that morning's new stuff, so that my soda is constantly in some intermediate state between fresh and cold and flat and warm. I try to finish what I've got often enough not to let the same molecules of stale soda hang on too long!

I'm actually not very fond of cola, but I want the caffeine. Since fast food places almost never offer any diet soda except Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, I tend to go for variants at the grocery store. But am I overdoing it a bit? Here's what's in the house at the moment, either as a partial 24-pack or a single can at the end thereof:

  • Jazz Diet Pepsi Caramel Cream - this turns out to be a hybrid between cream soda and diet cola. Not bad. In fact, it's my new favorite not-just-diet-cola.
  • Jazz Diet Pepsi Black Cherry / French Vanilla- it's not very black cherryish, and cream soda aside, I'm not fond of vanilla in my cola. It's just okay.
  • Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi - this is better than the stuff with the vanilla in it. I drank rather a lot of this while at First Magnus.
  • Coca Cola Zero - Scalzi's drink of choice seems indistinguishable from basic Diet Coke. It's just fine, but not interesting or exciting.
We're also finishing up a case of Diet Snapple Ice Tea, which was a variety pack. The best thing in it was Diet "Plum-a-granite." I still miss the non-tea diet Snapples, which seem to have pretty much disappeared. And yes, I have one can of diet root beer left, for evening consumption.

Don't freak out, Carly, but this little lizard visited my bathroom sink the other night. They turn up in the tub occasionally, or on a wall, or on the floor. In the sink he was easy to catch and put outside again.

The almost-full moon was in the sky before sunset last night, so I thought I'd see whether a well-lit moon shot would be easier for my camera to handle than a night shot. Answer: no, not really. It just doesn't zoom enough to get decent resolution, let alone give good results without a tripod. But when I hit Autocorrect on the blue sky moon, it darkened things up rather a lot. The result: this fun shot that looks something that looks like the Earth, but isn't!


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Searching for Certainty

"We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!" ~ Vroomfondel,
--The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Yeah, well, I would benefit greatly about now from just the opposite. That's exactly what's wrong with the science of medicine. Sure, there are some things doctors can do that are fairly straightforward - set the bone, write the prescription, look at the ultrasound. Other times, though, there are no clear answers to be had, only a set of alternatives with uncertain outcomes.

Tuffy went to the doctor today.

She's lost two pounds since her surgery - not terrible, but it supports the fact that her appetite has been problematic. But that's not the main problem. As I said before, they didn't get all the cancer removed from her tongue. There's still some on the remainder, at the microscopic level.

The alternatives presented to us were as follows:
  1. A third surgery. This time, what's left of the tongue would not be fully functional. Tuffy would have to learn to suck. In Dr. K's limited experience (4 dogs, I think she said), dogs usually adapt fairly quickly. But if she didn't do so right away, Tuffy might need a feeding tube in her side, with us squirting the food into her stomach, until she figured out how to eat again. But the cancer would probably be gone. Cost: probably about $2k.
  2. Radiation for curative purposes. Best would be weekly trips to Phoenix for a machine that can target just the affected part of the tongue. Probably a full cure, with side effects only on the tongue itself. Cost: $5-$6k, plus time lost from work. We can't afford it.
  3. Palliative radiation. A couple weeks radiation, less precise and lower level, might hold back the cancer for a while. Since Tuffy is 11 years old, that might be long enough to get her near the end of her life anyway. Not a cure. Cost: about $2K.
  4. Chemotherapy. Affects the whole dog, and not a cure by itself. Given in addition to other stuff. Again, we can't afford it, not in addition to other treatments.
  5. Non-steroidal analgesics. Certain drugs in the ibuprofen / acetaminophen family show promise in discouraging cancer from developing. Not a cure. Might help a little, in addition to other stuff. Cost: minimal.
You see our problem? Our choices are to maim her, to go into horrible debt, or not to cure her at all. There are no good alternatives, only an array of horrible, expensive ones or cheaper, ineffective ones.

We're leaning toward the surgery, because we can come up with another $2k if we have to, and it might actually work. But we're deeply worried about the tongue function and horrified about the feeding tube. The two vets think she'll probably cope and learn to eat again, but they can't promise it. Dr. K. barely gave any indication which scenario she'd recommend: the surgery, because it's the most effective against the cancer itself.

What would you do, if you were us?

Karen (and John)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Road Pictures

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Get a picture of something large and wheeled. Semi trucks, buses, tractors, "monster trucks" -- if it's larger than an SUV (or possessed of more ridiculous wheels, in the case of the monster trucks) it qualifies.

Umm, okay. I thought this would be easy, considering where I work. Turned out, though, that the vehicles at Famous Vehicle Dealer have surprisingly small wheels, considering what they are (and I'm not telling you what they are). It was well after sunset when I left work tonight, too, so I wasn't exactly working in ideal shooting conditions. I didn't manage a single decent photo of a large-wheeled vehicle as I drove around looking for same. I had to settle for this red whatever-it is was from the drive home.

Then this tanker turned up at Golf Links and Wilmot, mere blocks from my house.

As it happens, I photographed this coolly retro-looking tanker last week. The shot was a bit lightstruck, and I've played with the sky to make it uniform. I like the color combination, though.

Stressful day tomorrow, with Tuffy going back to the surgeon. So I expect you to forgive me for not rattling on tonight. I've got to take something for my looming indigestion, and go to bed. Good night!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Lazy Photography: The Impatient Woman's Guide

Engine, Engine, Number 3195....

It would be too much to say that when it comes to photography, I do everything wrong; but I certainly have my shortcuts and bad habits. The main one is this: I'm a drive-by photographer. I seldom drive to a place, park, get out, find the perfect vantage point, choose my camera settings and line up my shot. No, no. Instead, I drive past the desired photographic subject with the car windows open. If there's a red light and I can stop, great. But even if I can't, I'll probably still try for the picture. Keeping my eyes on the road, mostly, and definitely not the viewfinder, I'll point the camera out the window at what I hope is the right moment, press the button, and drive away.

Okay, so it's less than ideal. It's impossible, for example, to edit the photo above so that both engines are in the shot, and the two cars (mine's interior, another's exterior) don't frame it. On the other hand, the only way to get a better picture would be to get off work earlier, find a place to park, and wait for the train to come by. I'm not sure there is a good place to try for the photo, at least, not without being delayed for twenty minutes on the wrong side of the tracks!

I pass it every day, but I can't get there.

Here's another shot I've been trying for off and on for a couple of weeks. This building is at David-Monthan Air Force Base. I've always thought it was an aircraft hanger, but really, I've no idea. It's visible from Alvernon Road near Golf Links, but as far as I know the general public can't get anywhere near the building. So I slow down a little, glance at the side mirror, point and hope! The result isn't very good, but otherwise I would have no photo of it at all.

Power House!

Sometimes I try to do it right, though. This shot of the power station was taken at a red light, but it's probably the best I've got of the structure. Even so, I took time at lunch the next day, and went to see whether I could take a better photo by approaching the building properly, stopping, maybe even getting out of the car.

Sail on, oh Ship of Watts!

This was the result. Obviously I didn't get out of the car, but it wouldn't have helped much. By driving in front of the building I was actually too close to get the whole thing in frame. I kind of like the fact that it looks like a steamship, though, perhaps as seen through a porthole.

My boss tells me that it looks entirely different at light, brightly lit and almost magical. I expect I'll have an opportunity to see this as the nights (and my hours) get longer toward year's end. Then maybe I'll take the time to photograph it right.

Meanwhile, I wrote the announcement entry several hours ago for the next Round Robin Photo Challenge. Becky came up with "Other Settings" as the topic. The idea is to try out settings on the camera that one hasn't used before. Ah, heck. I haven't tried half of them. This should be interesting!


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chasing Shadows

Last night I posted a bunch of pictures whose edits weren't entirely obvious from the end result. Tonight I'd like to show you some of the raw and intermediate versions of the same photos, with explanations.

Remember the shot with that weird cloud thing? Here's the unedited version. To get this I pointed the camera downward and held the button to keep that exposure, and then listing the camera to take the shot. The result was quite similar to another photo I took nine Challenges ago.

When I darkened the highlights, a band of color appeared between the blue sky above and the washed out white sky below. The eyedropper and paint bucket tools enabled me to past the blue in whether the white sky have been.

This shot had a similar history: brightened in the lens, with an odd effect appearing in the sky when the highlights were darkened. I copied bits of the "vortex" from this shot into the saguaro one, erased parts of them so that they basically covered up the light green band in the sky, and merged down. After that is just a matter of smudging and cloning to produce the artificial "cloud."

Here's the unedited version of the last shot from the RR entry. to get something usable I cropped out the most of overexposed section of my own car, cloned out the rest of it, lightened the image quite a bit, boosted the saturation a little, and cloned the color from one bit of light to the other one.

The orange and black shot points up the major problem I had with this Challenge, which was to determine how much to lighten things. I know from experience that my laptops display these images much more brightly than desktop computers do. So I lighten things up a little more than is optimal for the laptop, in the hope it will only be a smidge too dark on desktop computers. (Occasionally I go back and try again after seeing a shot online with a CRT.) Looking at these shots on Monday, I see now that I needed to lighten them further!

When the images are dark to begin with, and supposed to be a little dark, setting the right levels gets even trickier. This last shot, similar but not identical to one I used last night, is optimized for my laptop, brightened just a little and saturated a little, so that the valley looks a just little dark in the fading daylight. (By the way, that sunset is in the southeastern part of the sky.) Will you be able to see the saguaros, the sagebrush and the houses below, or will is be a speckled band of darkness? Probably depends what kind a computer you have.

Next: the photography of impatience. Meanwhile, good night!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Into the Land of Shadows

Vicki of the blog "Maraca" is responsible for this week's Round Robin topic, "Shadowland." This is going to be my most ambitious RR entry to date, not so much photographically as, well, you'll see.

Crossposting to Messages from Mâvarin as well.

Beneath the Orange Sky
by Karen Funk Blocher

They rode toward the mountain side by side, Rona Sable on her horse, Apple, her grandfather Seth on Chub as usual. The oncoming sunset did not pause in its approach, unlike several of the cars that passed them, heading toward the city as the two horses left it behind. While they were still on the long, flat highway, Seth played his favorite game with Rona, asking her questions about stars and planets, brains and botany. Rona answered dutifully, but she was not in the mood for it. Her whole body throbbed with tension, not just from the long ride, but with anticipation. She looked no more than seven years old, but today was her thirteenth birthday. Tonight after sunset, her impossibly youthful grandfather would finally tell Rona the secrets that had been withheld from her, all her life up to now.

Once they reached the base of the mountain, Seth lapsed into silence. They directed the horses carefully along the narrow shoulder, lest they miss their footing in the gloom. Ten feet to the right, the drop was at least a hundred feet, and increasing with every step.

"How far are we going?" Rona asked after a while. "This is getting dangerous."

Her grandfather did not answer immediately. Then he said, "Yes, it is. But for now we're riding only as far as the first vista point, another three miles or so."

Sunset was starting to fade as they turned right onto the looping drive of the Frog Mountain vista, officially known as Babad Do'ag. A couple sat on the wall between the paved parking and the drop toward the valley below. Rona knew her grandfather would not want to tell her anything interesting with strangers around, so she wandered along the stone wall, taking pictures with her new camera.

"Point the lens this way," Seth said in her ear.

Rona aimed her camera in the direction her grandfather had indicated, over the wall onto a path that went past of couple of mature saguaros. Beyond the cactus, and over the foothills themselves, the LCD viewfinder revealed a light in the sky, arcing over the blue, like a cloud but not a cloud. Rona glanced away from the camera, but her naked eye revealed nothing.

When she turned back, the couple were getting in their car. "Finally," her grandfather said. "Now, look that way. See the mountain over there, where there's still an orange glow? That is where we are going."

The more Rona looked, the less sense Seth's statement made to her. "From here? Tonight?"

"Yes, from here. Look, that's the way down, over by the two saguaros. Take Apple's bridle and follow me."

Rona protested even as she obeyed. "But why from here? That mountain is down beyond the airport. Half the city is between us and it. And it's getting dark."

"It won't get dark. Not quite. And now that we've passed the boundary, we're not where you think we are. There is no city, until we reach that mountain."


"Wait and see," her grandfather said.

Five minutes later, the switchback they were following turned suddenly onto a disused section of road, where no road ought to be. Below was a flare of light, but it was not a set of headlights. The sky ahead of them was more orange than before, and the ghost of a full moon was in the sky, although Rona knew it should only be a half moon. By its light and the distant orange glow, she found she could see every pebble, every bramble. The horses plodded along the dark pavement.

"Welcome to the Shadow Kingdom," her grandfather said. "While we're here it will never be daylight, but it never quite gets dark, either. "Look behind you."

Rona looked. Behind her should have been the looming mountain, but instead she saw a valley and the twinkling of lights. A yellow glow fringed the horizon, and a much brighter glow above that seemed to hold back the night. "What's that? It almost looks like, I don't know, a bomb or something."

Seth shook his head. In this strange light he looked slightly older than usual, perhaps a year older than his students at PCC. "It's the interface between the world you knew and the one we just crossed into. It's not visible from the other side, except sometimes through a camera lens, when the two worlds come together at dusk. But on this side it's the primary light source. You won't see the sun again while we're here."

"How long will that be?"

"Until you come of age."

"What does that mean? Until I'm eighteen, or twenty-one? Or worse yet, until I look twenty-one? That could take decades."

Seth smiled at her. "It won't be like that. It's the sunlight that slows down our aging in the other world. Here you will finally start to age normally. And no, we're not waiting for you to reach some arbitrary age or stature."

"What then? Am I supposed to go and prove myself in some way, so I can be admitted to some strange tribe? Or engage in ritual dreaming? Or kill a deer with a stone knife? Does this world even have any deer?"

"Mutter's Grey deer. And no, you don't have to hunt them, although some do. You're here to complete your education."

"I can't do that at home?"

"Haven't you guessed? This is your home, the land of your birth and birthright. The things you need to learn, you can only learn here. Your mother will teach you."

Rona stopped dead. "My mother?"

Seth smiled at her. "Of course."

"But isn't she dead?"

"Did anyone ever tell you that she was?"

"No, but I kind of assumed...."

"You know better than to assume things. Observe, hypothesize, and test. But in this case you don't need to. I had a message from Mana, just last week. She's looking forward to seeing you again."


"Truly," Seth assured her. "Now come on. It's time we were riding again. The horses see this road about as well as you can, and we've a long way to go."

Full of wonder, Rona climbed into the saddle, and rode on into the endless orange twilight.

All photos by KFB, taken on Catalina Highway and Mount Lemmon up to Babad Do'ag Vista, 10/19/07. Effects used: tone levels, saturation, sharpen lightly, eyedropper/paint bucket, smudge, rotate and cloning.

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