Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Weekend Assignment #324: The Future, Unwritten

Weekend Assignment #324: America 2062

Next Tuesday is my birthday, I am not quite 50 yet, but when I was a little girl I liked to sit and imagine what the world, more specifically, America, would be like when I reached 50! Having nearly arrived at my goal age, I am now aiming for another 50 years! So, in honor of my 48th birthday, I want you to search your imaginations, and tell what I can expect in the year... 2062!

Extra Credit: Tell me, is the world anything like you imagined it would be when you grew up? What's different? What's the same?
I guess for me, the short answer is, "It will be like this, only more so, with some surprises."

My friend S. gets out of a flying Delorean - at a Universal Studios
special effects show in 1990.

When I was a kid, I drew my own flying car, sort of a mobile home style, antigrav-capable flying saucer with wheels and a relaxed attitude toward facing forward. I've always kind of resented the fact that The Jetsons and other sf tv, movies and books promised all sorts of fun things that we haven't gotten yet. On the other hand, in the realm of computers and hand-held communication devices, we are either on track or way ahead of schedule. Perhaps in another 52 years, we can get the other fun stuff up and running as well. You have to want it, people!

Sure, there are a few prototype flying cars out there, such as the one pictured above, driven by its inventor, Dr. Paul Moller. Notice, through, that this picture is from three years ago, and I'm no closer to seeing one for sale at my local Jim Click car dealership. Like Avery Brooks ten years ago, I want to say, "I was promised flying cars!"

A Back to the Future Delorean at Universal Studios California in 1990.

Heck, according to Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale, we're only five years away from hoverboards to replace skateboards, and hover conversions for our vintage Deloreans. Oh, and printed books with dust jackets will be kitchy collectibles.

While we're at it, where's my hoverboard?

There's a book about all the innovations promised us in 20th Century fiction that never arrived, Your Flying Car Awaits.  I like that a lot.

So what do I think will actually be around in 2062? I expect that the easy stuff - better, smaller, faster tech toys, solar power and other alternative energy sources, etc. will all continue to be designed, refined and readily available. The energy thing has been on America's and the world's back burner far too long, and I believe that will start to change in light of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, President Obama's priorities and other factors. The other, fun stuff, the flying cars, personal robots and so on, will depend on what's possible, cost effective and provides a benefit that people want. Is a humanoid robot better than a Roomba? Would flying cars scooting around the sky have even more accidents than cars on clearly-defined, well-marked roads? Probably, unless you got really clever with programming them. Maybe monorails for distance and slidewalks or People Movers for short hops will be more practical, but I suspect people will always want the autonomy of their own individual vehicle whenever possible.

Judging from the evolution of social attitudes in the 53 years since my birth, I expect that by 2062 we'll be much further along in issues of tolerance, with nearly everyone finally according equal rights and respect to others regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexuality, etc. I'd like to think that the rest of the world will also improve in this respect. But I have little hope that will actually get past the whole idea of wars, not in a mere 52 years. It's not easy to change attitudes and responses that are pretty much hardwired into the human brain, or encoded at every level of human society. Still, we have to try!

Unfortunately, I'm not expecting time machines, faster than light travel, Transporter and transmats and other sf conveniences, even by 2062. There's actually been progress toward matter transmission, but I doubt very much we'll ever be able to "beam up." There are some things the future can't fix, and the laws of physics are high on that list. Darn it.

Happy belated birthday, Carly! May your future be a fun one!


Sunday, June 27, 2010

EMPS: Better Fruit, But At a Price

For Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #95: Organic Food, I naturally went to the grocery store, specifically my faithful Safeway up the street. A few years ago, they revamped their produce department to make things look that much nicer, especially their organic produce section. I've photographed items from it before, but it was a different season and a slightly different topic. Let's see what I found to photograph this time!

Here is just part of their organic display. I like the variety of colors and textures, and the Farmer's Market look of the crates filled with, um, not sure what, possibly wood shavings.

Much of Tucson's produce comes from Mexico, including the organic stuff, and even including some of the more obscure varieties. Look at all the colors and sizes of tomatoes in this one bin!

When I was a kid, we used to grow cherry tomatoes every year, starting with vines in planters in the dining room or kitchen window, and later moving them outside. They were always red when ripe, always bigger than the tiny tomatoes one sees in salads now. Nowadays it's all about grape tomatoes and other newly-developed variants on the basic tomato. But here are "heirloom" cherry tomatoes. I think that means they are grown from the original genetic strain of decades ago.

Plums. Again, I like the variety of color here. If I thought they were actually soft and juicy, instead of rock-hard like the regular non-organic ones, I'd be tempted to buy a few. But they cost about three or four times as much as the regular ones, and money is tight.

But I did buy one organic indulgence: this carton of blackberries. Yum!

Be sure to check Ellipsis every Monday for the Monday Photo Shoot! And I'll be back in a day or two with tales of the weekend's photographic adventures. Wedding photographer? Me? Yipes!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Weekend Assignment #323: What Vacation?

Weekend Assignment logo

Sorry to take so long answering my own question for Weekend Assignment #323: Vacation Time. I've been extraordinarily busy:
  • Last week I was hired by St. Matthew's Episcopal Church as a temporary contractor, helping their treasurer revamp their accounting system and bring it up to date. This is in addition to my regular part time job at St. Michael's, which is just finishing up a review by outside auditors. St. Matthew's has a different accounting system, and I'm researching how best to make it do what needs to be done.
  • Yesterday was the birthday of my disabled friend, the one whose finances I manage. We ordered a computer for her, which we've been saving up for since last summer.
  • Father Smith is getting married on Saturday, and I'm the official photographer! Eek! Any tips?
  • Last Saturday was the first part of the Doctor Who season finale, featuring callbacks to earlier episodes and the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers. I've been totally obsessed with rewatching it and trying to figure out how it will all be resolved. John is almost equally obsessed, to the point where we're watching the entire season to date in the lead up to the resolution this Saturday.
Now you know why I haven;t made the rounds yet on the Round Robin entries! I'll get there, but in the meantime let's answer the question at hand:

Weekend Assignment #323: Vacation Time
Look out - here comes summer! Kids are out of school, community pools and seasonal ice cream stands are open, and temperatures north of the Equator are on the rise. Summer is traditionally the time for families to go on vacation together. What are your summer vacation plans, if any? What time of year are you most likely to pack up the family and get out of town? Is there a particular place you go more often than anywhere else?

Extra Credit: When and where did your family usually go on vacation when you were a kid?
When I wrote this, John and I had tentative plans to get away this weekend, to a midcentury modern (1950s furniture etc.) expo in Southern California. That was before we realized it was the same day as the wedding and the Doctor Who finale! So no, we're not going to that, just as we didn't make it to a ComicCon in Phoenix last month. That one fell through because I was sick and John was working overtime, and I mean a lot of totally necessary overtime. So now the long hot summer stretches before us, with no prospect of getting away at all.

It wasn't always this way. We used to try to get out to Disneyland nearly every year. Before that, John was going to Los Angeles fairly frequently to browse Japanese bookstores and on one occasion to check out Single-A baseball venues. I used to go to Doctor Who and Quantum Leap conventions every year with friends, or to Universal to interview Quantum Leap stars, staff and crew. Now I struggle to get to the Gallifrey One convention in February, and don't always manage it. If I was fully employed, John and I would probably go to Disneyland and elsewhere, at least once a year. But ah, well.

When I was a kid, vacations were a simple affair, at least from my point of view. When I was little, we went to the Adirondacks, Lake Ontario or Cape Cod; but starting in the late 1960s we always rented one particular summer home on the beach at Lake Ontario near Henderson Harbor. We were there, watching on a poor-reception black and white tv, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

I miss that. If we ever have a good, stable income, continued health and reasonably low debt, I'm going to push John and myself out the door every year for a decent vacation. After all, we still want to visit Disneyland, but that's just the beginning. I want to visit the Harry Potter attractions in Florida, there are entire parks at Walt Disney World I've never seen in person, and there's a heck of a lot of the world still I've never set foot in. I'd like to start doing something about that!


Sunday, June 20, 2010

EMPS: Painted Faces

For Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #94: Faces, I'm going to stay away from real live faces, and show you faces drawn or painted by better artists than I. It's a chance to focus in on specific detail from the paintings, drawings and prints we have here at Casa Blocher, the Museum of the Weird.

Let's start with one of the Eleven faces of the Doctor, the hero of my favorite tv series, Doctor Who. This is the Eighth Doctor, as portrayed by actor Paul McGann and drawn in pastels by a young artist named Ruben, um, I don't remember his last name for sure. I think it was Serra or Serna or something like that. He was in our Doctor Who club in the mid-1990s. I bought this large portrait of the Doctor at our local sf convention, TusCon, that year.

Here is a different photo and edit of the same subject. The first one shows the textures of the canvas and the pastel chalk and probably a good bit of dust. This second one smooths away all that with an "Auto De-Noise" filter. I dusted the portrait before rehanging it.

An even more fanciful piece of original art is our painting by bandleader Xavier Cugat. It's full of stylized, silly faces. I especially like the serene face of the patient. If I had this team of doctors about to poke me with a giant fork, I'd be worried! Cugat apparently churned out a number of near-identical paintings of scenes like this.

Aside from a tiny sketch of Uncle Scrooge by Carl Barks, the last of our original pieces of professional art involving faces is this pencil sketch of King Hubert from Disney's 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty, drawn by legendary animator Marc Davis. The comic irritation on his face reminds me of Donald Duck when the nephews are driving him crazy.

I also photographed a stylized chef's face on a barbeque tray, the face of a mod Barbie on a doll case, and faces of tikis and parrots from a Disneyland attraction poster. But let's close this entry with one of my many attempts to photograph a rather bizarre but popular art print of a bygone era, the famous Green Lady. It's actually titled Chinese Woman, a 1950 painting by the Russian-born, South African artist Vladimir Tretchikoff. I used one of our vintage lamps to light this particular shot, so it came out much more yellow-orange than the actual print is. But yes, her face is green, specifically blue-green. The Green Lady takes a bit of getting used to, but I like the curves of her somber face and the strange and exotic colors of the piece.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Round Robin: Broken Exhibits at the MOTW

This week's Round Robin Challenge: Broken was suggested a couple of years back by Julie of  Julie Barrett's Journal. I selected it for this week knowing that Casa Blocher, the Museum of the Weird, is full of neat stuff in not-so-great condition. I hoped to come up with some wonderful romantic image of an iconic object with a piece broken off, like a wagon wheel with a missing spoke or something like that. Considering that we don't actually own any wagon wheels, this was perhaps a bit unrealistic of me. Also, some of the exhibits of things broken are inaccessible to my camera right now, being in various boxes, or buried under other junk in the front room. Still, I did find a few things to show you.

From Museum of the Weird

Let's start with one of the oldest exhibits in this category. This mantle clock belonged to John's grandfather, and I think it broke down either shortly before or shortly after we got married. Every time I see it, the song My Grandfather's Clock gets stuck in my head for hours. Fortunately the clock currently resides in the library closet, so I am not plagued with this particular earworm very often! It's one of the more somber objects in our brightly colored collection of vintage decor and pop culture. I like that this shot has a brightly colored reflection on the rather face-like clock face.

John bought this old radio on eBay over a decade ago, hoping that it worked or was fixable. It wasn't. Kind of cool looking, though! That's why it's still around.

What is it about radios, anyway, especially clock radios? I've only known one clock radio in the past forty years or so that continued to work properly for a decade or longer. Most of them fail to go off after a year or two at best.

I think we found these Hawaiian-themed mugs at two different yard or estate sales on the same day. The surfer boy is in fine shape, but do I see a crack at the top of the surfer girl's mug?

Oh. It's actually much worse than it looks from the front! But we bought it anyway. How could we not?

One of these Chatty Baby dolls has a broken voice box. The other one still babbles unintelligibly. Does it really matter which is which? I haven't pulled either string in years.

I posted a version of this scene on the Round Robin blog, and now I'll explain it. The Breyer colt has a leg that's bent out of shape. The dragon coin bank, called Dino for obvious reasons, has one arm glued back on. He's trying to be helpful here, holding Hong Kong Lilli's head until I get around to reattaching it.

The real story here is about the Hong Kong Lilli doll. These dolls were Hong Kong knockoffs of Bild Lilli, the precursor to Barbie. Bild Lilli was a sexy cartoon character from the Bild-Zeitung newspaper in Germany. Two sizes of Bild Lilli dolls were made in Germany in the late 1950s, one of which inspired the inventor of Barbie, Ruth Handler, to design an American counterpart.

As with most pre-1960 Barbie-related dolls, Bild Lilli is rare and expensive; but the Hong Kong versions are more affordable. Both the German dolls and some of the Hong Kong ones were held together with elastic bands inside the hollow body, and the shoes were molded on. In the 1990s when I built my small collection of vintage Barbies, I had little hope of getting any kind of Lilli, let alone a pre-1960 Barbie. So when I saw a doll leg (including the painted on shoe) sitting by itself on a table at a garage sale one day, I got very excited. I asked whether they had the rest of the doll. The guy selling it wasn't sure. It simply amused him to display the leg by itself, much as the Old Man in A Christmas Story loved his Major Award. I told him that if he could find the rest of the doll I would buy it. Five minutes later, I was walking back to the car with my first Hong Kong Lilli! At home I strung her back together with rubber bands, which is kind of a tricky task. That worked for a while, but rubber bands don't last more than a few years in the Tucson heat. So Lilli's lost her head again.

That's more than enough broken items from our Museum collection for one post! Now let's see what other wonderful but broken objects the other Robins found!

Linking List
as of Saturday 6/19 at 12:10 PM MST/PDT

Karen - Posted!
Outpost Mâvarin

Rich - Posted!

A Long Walk Home

Day One

Fhaye - Posted!
Your daily photo depot

Jama - Posted!
Sweet Memories

Carly - Posted!

Erin - Posted!
A Hardcore Life

Sandy - Posted!
From the Heart of Texas

maryt/theteach - Posted!
Mary Tomaselli's Photos

Manang Kim - Posted!
My photography in Focus

Gattina - Posted!
Keyhole Pictures

Kara - Posted!
Hip Chick Photos

Peggy - Posted!
Holmespun Fun Memes and Themes

Nesa - Posted!
Frozen In Time

Linda - Posted!
Mommy's Treasures


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Weekend Assignment #322: The Mark of Quality - Sort Of

Well, I've been stumped all week on Weekend Assignment #322: Product Placement:

Weekend Assignment #322: Product Placement

Okay, let's shift gears to something very commonplace. Product Placement. We all have a certain product in our lives we simply couldn't live without. Tell us about your favorite product. How long have you used it? Why is it the best? If it were no longer on the market, what would you use instead? Give us all the details!

Extra Credit: Time to get creative. Take a photo of your favorite product!

What specific product do I feel this way about? I don't have a favorite soda, toothpaste or brand of chicken or cheese. I don't have a favorite fast food chain, or the best possible car, computer or phone. Even our DVD and BluRay players leave a lot to be desired. So what product engenders brand loyalty in me? I finally asked John to name a brand or product I care about. "BBC," he replied, without a moment's hesitation.

He's got me there.

This banner caused a ruckus on the BBC by being plastered over 
Matt Smith's face during the climax of a Doctor Who cliffhanger.

The British Broadcasting Corporation, launched in 1927, is "the largest broadcasting organization in the world," according to Wikipedia. This government-owned broadcaster of tv and radio is supported by as license fee paid by people in the UK, in return for which they don't run advertising (except for promos for their shows, which can be intrusive and obnoxious).

BBC Worldwide markets BBC programs and products to the rest of the world, which is how we get BBC America on cable and BBC Video from a company called 2|Entertain in stores like Best Buy. Rapid Doctor Who fan that I am, BBC mostly means Doctor Who to me: BBC-branded DVD box sets from 2|Entertain, Doctor Who on BBC America on weekends, novels from BBC Books on my shelves.

But the truth be told, BBC has entertained me with a much wider range of shows than that. Choice lines from Monty Python's Flying Circus have been part of the culture of every group of friends I've had since 1974 or so. My husband even designed Python trading cards and T-shirts for a living during one brief but golden period in the 1990s. (This resulted in our attending a party once in L.A. with several Pythons, Jeff Lynne, Sid Caesar and other luminaries.) I remember watching the BBC's The Six Wives of Henry VIII as a kid.  David Tennant's recent RSC run as Hamlet was filmed and broadcast by the BBC. And where would Douglas Adams have been had the BBC produced that wholly remarkable radio series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? I even watch Cash From the Attic sometimes at 2 AM on BBC America, or those amusing guys on Top Gear, the only car show capable of appealing to someone like me who doesn't care at all about cars. And I liked both the original Life on Mars tv series starring John Simm and its equally bizarre U.S. counterpart.

There is one other entertainment brand that means something to me, and you can probably guess what it is:

Yes, it's Disney. I won't say I love everything the studio has ever done; there are entire decades (I'm looking at you, 1970s) when most of the studio's output was not very good. Nor have I ever forgiven the Disney Channel for dropping its Vault Disney lineup of classic shows in the middle of the night in favor of running its mostly-dreadful (to my adult sensibilities) Tween-oriented comedies night and day. Do children really need the opportunity to watch Hannah Montana at 2 AM?

Even so, Disney at its best is very good indeed. John and I love Lilo and Stitch, and even like the spinoff tv series and direct to video sequels. I loved Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame so much that I collected some decidedly marginal merchandise (e.g. party hats) from the movie before my mania subsided. We've bought at least 3 copies of Mary Poppins on DVD because they keep coming out with special editions with extras I can't pass up. Great film, great music by the Shermans. Aside from Doctor Who stuff, Disney is responsible for more more merchandise on display here at the Museum of the Weird than any other entertainment company.

And if John and I lived in Southern California, we would probably be at Disneyland at least once a month. Much as I'd love to get back to Universal Studios Florida to see the new Harry Potter attractions, there is no theme park in the world that means as much to me as Disneyland and Walt Disney World. And never will be. John collects Viewmaster reels and postcards and online images from Disneyland's 55-year history. I have a pin collection, and we've each taken a ton of photos over the years. The powers that be at Disneyland have taken occasional missteps, such as the fake Jules Verne retro-style Tomorrowland of 1997, or closing down the Country Bear Jamboree, which was in the design stage when Walt died. But I've gotten a lot of joy over the years from Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye and Space Mountain. If I could, I would wake John up, jump in the car right now and drive to Disneyland. Again. But I suppose that would be silly!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

EMPS: Great Balls of Fire!

It's taken me all week to do my entry for Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #93: Fire, but not for lack of effort. See, the thing is, it's nearly summer in Tucson, and my car thermometer has already recorded temperatures as high as 112 degrees F. Hardly anybody around here lights fires in this weather, even for cooking, with the exception of a gas-top stove. And where's the fun in that? So I began to look for alternatives, anything with a fire theme. I even asked about photographing the brick oven at my favorite barbeque restaurant, but apparently the owner believes that would amount to giving away trade secrets.

There's a fire station right up Wilmot from my house, but no good way to photograph it from Wilmot Road. Besides, it's been shut tight all week, with no fire engines outside at all. The side of that building didn't exactly offer exciting photographic possibilities.

Finally, one sunset a few days ago, I thought, "What about the fires of the sun?" Here are two different edits of the same sunset. One is saturated and darkened, and the other is exactly as it came out of the camera:

That was going to be my entry for today, along with a few more shots taken at the same time. Then finally, on my way to pick up Kevin for church this morning, I saw a fire truck:

Well, I was getting closer! Literally. I thought that would be the best I could do for this theme, but late this afternoon I thought I'd give the fire station one more try. Success! Well, sort of:

So, no actual flames for you this week, unless you count the ones 93 million miles away; but I hope you enjoyed my fire-related photos!


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Weekend Assignment #321: Unplanned Obsolescence

Weekend Assignment #321: Where's Your Buggy Whip?

We sometimes hear the expression, "XXX has gone the way of the buggy whip." In other words, technology and society have moved on, and something that was once commonplace barely exists anymore because it's no longer needed. Do you still have something in your home that has become essentially useless? If so, why do you still have it? If not, when did you get rid of it?

Extra Credit: Have you ever worked in an industry that has gone the way of the buggy whip, or is in danger of doing so?

Heh. Yes, and yes!

As I was running around this evening photographing outdated tech for this Assignment, I accidentally came across this issue of National Geographic Magazine from November, 1970, proclaiming, "Behold the Computer Revolution." I'm pretty sure it's something one of the more computer-minded guys in our Doctor Who club found amusing a mere 25 years later, and brought to a meeting. I have no idea how I ended up with it.

I fully expected tonight to laugh at the hopelessly outdated computers shown in the article, those big teletype-style terminals attached to a mainframe, and endless reels of magnetic tape storing the data. Actually, though, my quick perusal of the article left me rather impressed. True, the actual computers pictured in it look unbelievably primitive and clunky; but the functions they predicted for computers in the future - in education, Wall Street, air traffic control, mapping demographics, medicine, law enforcement databases, etc. seem pretty dead-on. The one thing everyone seems to have missed back then was the idea of everyone having desktop, laptop and/or handheld computers, all wirelessly connected up so anybody can communicate with anybody in a variety of ways.

About 15 years after that article was written, John and I joined the computer revolution and bought our first computer, a Commodore 64. I wrote part of a book on that thing, but never finished it, and now there's no easy way to get at that data. As you can see above, the monitor is in our bedroom closet, where it serves as a tiny tv screen with the wrong aspect ratio, hooked up to our sole remaining VCR. (It plays DVDs too.) The computer itself is in a box somewhere.

What else do we have that's gone the way of the buggy whip? John tells me that we no longer own a typewriter. But we do have thousands of records: many crates full of LPs and EPs, a few boxes of 45 RPM singles and even a handful of 78s. After all, we owned a used record store back in the early 1980s, and a lot of that stuff is rare, such as promos, colored vinyl and Beatles picture sleeves. We also have a few dozen laserdiscs, and lots of cassette tapes. No 8-tracks, I'm happy to say!

And outmoded industries? Oh, yes! Certainly there aren't too many "record stores" any more, even when the records are CDs. After my record store career ended, we moved to Arizona, where I worked in video rental stores, two different local Mom and Pop chains. Those were pushed out by Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. Now the Blockbuster and Hollywood chains are themselves closing down, store by store.

After the video rental business, I went to school to become a travel agent. You can see the curriculum binder in the photo above. I was a travel consultant for about four years and then became a bookkeeper, and from there an accountant. That should have protected me when the travel agencies were made virtually obsolete by the Internet and the end of airline commissions, but no, I had to go and work for a mortgage company that specialized in packaging bundles of mortgages and selling them to investors. You know what happened there: the housing bubble burst, First Magnus crashed and burned, and I was out of a job.

My next "permanent" job was in the RV industry. This was right about the time when gas was flirting with the $4.00 a gallon level, and diesel fuel cost even more. And then the recession hit. Nobody could afford to buy RVs, or even fill their tanks and hit the road. So I was out of work again.

Now I'm working part time at my church. The religion "business," like most charities, is hurting a bit due to the recession and unemployment and stuff, but I'm pretty sure it will be around for years to come!


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Art Appreciation - Forty Years Later

Sometime in the six years I've been blogging, I'm pretty sure I'm mentioned a framed art print that hung on the living room wall, most of the time I was growing up. It was an abstract painting of three deer - stag, doe and fawn - each rendered in a different color.

As an adult I've tried a number of times to track down this piece of art, find out whether it was a reproduction or a print, who painted it, what the name of it was, and whether it was available as a print or poster. Last night I finally found it - or, at least, something nearly identical from the same artist, on the Expressionism in Art website. Here it is:

This is Deer In The Forest II2 by Franz Marc (February 8, 1880 – March 4, 1916). The son of a landscape painter, Marc was a German Expressionist, an admirer of Van Gogh, who specialized in animal subjects. He died in World War I, so his output is fairly small, but he painted deer fairly often in the works he lived long enough to do. I remembered the reproduction in our living room as being more blue than this, and more soothing, but the shapes and placement of the figures here all seem correct. Having found it again, I really want to order a framed poster ($20 on Amazon). It's modern enough that I may even be able to talk John into it!

Back in the day, though, my family didn't actually own the picture, not even the print or reproduction. My parents rented it from the Syracuse University Art Library, renewing annually, or possibly every six months. Sometimes it was rented by someone else, or perhaps they got tired of it from time to time. When that happened, they rented this instead:

This is Cypresses, by Vincent Van Gogh. It was painted in 1889, the year before he killed himself. I love the sky in it, which reminds me of The Starry Night; but the cypress trees, twisted, dark and brooding, frightened me as a child. I didn't realize at the time that it showed two trees, which made the shape of the perceived single tree that much more monstrous.

In fact, the picture reminded me of a story about a particular artist in the Life Science Library volume The Mind. According to the book, which I loved, there was a profound change in the work of a particular artist who specialized in cats, as the artist became more psychotic. The earliest picture shown was pretty much a representative drawing of a cat. The second one shown gave the cat strange and frightening red eyes. The last one was abstract and geometric, an expressionist cat. The later pictures were clearly better from an artistic standpoint, but it was sad for the artist himself. Knowing very little about Van Gogh at the time, I nevertheless saw those swirly, nightmare trees on our living room wall as the work of a disturbed mind. I didn't even know back then that cypress trees have more or less that overall shape in real life.

That was something like 40 years ago. Since then, I've learned to appreciate some of Van Gogh's work, including the picture above, and especially The Starry Night. (I also like actual cypress trees, which are common in our neighborhood.) I still have no use for Van Gogh's Sunflowers series, which mostly show the flowers as brown and dying as far as I can tell. It's a personal preference thing: I don't care for still life paintings, and I don't care for flowers. But there are lots of other Van Gogh works I do like. Many of them were featured this past weekend in, of all things, Doctor Who!

In the episode Vincent and the Doctor, the Doctor takes Amy to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, only to notice a strange and beastly face depicted in a window of Van Gogh's painting The Church at Auvers. That sends them rushing back to 1890 Provence, there to connect up with the troubled artist and track down what turns out to be an invisible alien monster - invisible to all but Vincent, that is. As the Doctor and Amy befriend Vincent, we get a touching and honest portrait of a Van Gogh's mental illness (writer Richard Curtis's conception of it, anyway). Nor does the episode shy away from stating that even after the time travelers add to Vincent's "pile of good things" with their brief time together, the artist still kills himself later that year. It is a wonderful episode, and I urge you to watch it on BBC America when it pops up several weeks from now.

At the same time, though, it brings me back to my memory of that nightmare painting on the living room wall, and my childhood reactions to it. I remember being actually upset one year when the deer went away and the scary deer came back. Perhaps I was right to think that Van Gogh's mental illness helped to twist the branches of those trees, although that makes the work no less brilliant. As the character Dr. Black says in Vincent and the Doctor:

"Big question, but to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of color, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world's greatest artist; but also one of the greatest men who ever lived."
That's a bit superlative and perhaps over-the-top, but I'm not one to say that that fictional character's opinion is wrong. I still don't like those vases full of orange-brown sunflowers, but I'm glad now that for a few years of my childhood, German expressionist deer gave way to Van Gogh cypresses.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Round Robin: A Different Kind of Garden

For Round Robin Challenge: Garden Portraits, Carly asks us to "Take an overall photo of a garden, any garden, then choose one flower or one vegetable, and showcase it as a portrait." The topic is based on the suggestion "In The Garden," by Sherrie of the blog Sherrie's Stuff.

From my Picasa gallery Tucson Botanical Gardens

When I splurged and spent $6 (including a $1 discount the guy gave me out of pity) to visit Tucson Botanical Gardens on Wednesday, I was vaguely remembering the "In the Garden" idea, but not the portrait concept. Not being a flower fan, I didn't take any closeups of single flowers. And frankly, single flowers aren't what Tucson Botanical Gardens is about. I don't think there's a rose on the entire 5 1/2 acres, which comprise 16 different gardens. These are gardens for people who appreciate a wide variety of plants, large and small, from cacti and trees all the way down to beds of herbs. The place features lots of greenery, lots of benches, and lots of shade, which is how Tucsonans coped with the hot summers before the advent of air conditioning. TBG is situated at the former property of the Porter family, who had been gardening there (and ran a nursery) as far back as the 1930s.

Not sure whether this is a kingbird, a vireo or...? But I'm guessing it's a cherry tree.

So anyway, here's what I'm going to do. I will show you a few shots that feature basically one plant, and then we'll move on to some "special effects" edits that highlight one particular plant within a larger setting. Sound good?

Here's less than a whole plant. This prickly pear cactus is quite large!

When a saguaro looks like this at the top, it's called a cristate growth pattern. It's rare. In honor of the history of TBG, I've turned the background here sepia. The cactus itself would have already been there when the Porters moved in.

For the original version of the shot, click here. For the same shot with an "oil painting" effect for the background, click here.

TBG has a butterfly garden, full of butterfly-friendly plants. For this shot, I used a marquee tool to select (and lighten slightly) a circle around the butterfly and its chosen flower. Then I selected the inverse and used a pastel effect on the rest of the photo. I couldn't crop this much further because I did not dare to approach the butterfly. It's probably about 15 feet from my camera here.

This is part of the xeriscape (low water use) section of TBG. To make the barrel cactus stand out I selected it with the magnetic lasso tool and saturated it a little, and then lightened the inverse (the rest of the photo).

Incidentally, I later redid this effect with the photo cropped and zoomed in a little bit, but I wasn't happy with the result. The edges of the barrel cactus are too fiddly to select it perfectly for a close-up.

I've used an effect on this photo of a large succulent plant (I've tried and failed to identify what kind it is), but the untreated picture is almost as dramatic. I think the effect used was "light marker."

Sorry I didn't quite follow directions, but I hope you found this entry worth a look anyway. Now let's go see the other Robins' plant portraits!

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Addressing the Issues - In a Jury Pool

You'll never guess what I did today, unless you read last night's entries, of course. Even if you did, you may be interested in the details.

I had federal court jury duty, for a very specific case. It was for the murder trial of a Mexican national. He was accused of murdering someone on the Tohono O'odham reservation in 2003.

The Federal courthouse - no cameras allowed!

First off, I was a day late and then some. I forgot to call the phone number over the weekend, and so missed my Tuesday reporting time. So I showed up on Wednesday instead. I missed the turn for the parking garage, because it was on the right side of the street and I was looking on the left. By the time I doubled back, parked and walked the city block to the courthouse, I was later still. Then I had to double back to the garage, to ditch my camera, which wasn't allowed in the building. I should have thought of that!

Anyway, I eventually arrived back at the courthouse, out of breath and coughing from the combination of heat, exertion, dehydration and the remains of my cold. It probably took me a good half hour to stop coughing, by which time one of the two other people in the room had moved far away for me. No problem otherwise, though. It was hours before anyone else joined us in the Jury Assembly Room.

Finally we got underway. This mostly consisted of filling out out a 15 page (or something) voire dire questionnaire. And oh, boy, the questions! Have I visited the reservation? (Yes, I photographed Mission San Xavier del Bac, and attended a Tony Bennett concert there in 2002.) Do I know the victim or the accused? (No.) How about anyone in law enforcement? (Yes, a retired judge.) Would I be disturbed at looking at graphic photos of the victim? (Yes - I can't even watch fake gore on House.) Have I ever been the victim of a crime? (Yes.)

Mostly, though, the questionnaire was about the whole immigration issue, through the prism of a specific murder trial. Would my attitude toward Mexicans affect my impartiality? (No.) Do I belong to or support any groups that want to change any laws, and if so what groups? (Does the Democratic Party count? I said I supported that subversive group, the Social Action committee at St. Michael's.) What is my attitude toward illegal immigration? Do I think the immigration laws are too harsh, too lenient or just right? And on and on!

I ended up writing and writing, lots of explanations of "Yes" answers. I wrote about my belief that unnecessary impedments to legal immigration lead to legal immigration. Enforcement of illegal immigration laws, including stupid SB 1070, use up resources better spent going after actual criminals such as drug runners. And so on. I was almost the last person to turn in my questionnaire.

Then we waited for an hour, when they said 20 minutes. Finally the bailiff came in and said, they were short on the jury yesterday, but as of noon today they had enough with one to spare. So we were dismissed. Relief! I probably wouldn't have been selected anyway, but I really, really didn't want to sit there contemplating graphic photos of a real, murdered person.

So I left the courthouse, and headed back to the garage with a stop off at the Arizona Geological Survey gift shop, which was on the way. From there I went to Tucson Botanical Gardens, splurged $6 to cover the RR Challenge for this weekend. The temperature was up in the 90s by then, and I ended up dehydrated and a little overheated, with only hot water from a water fountain for refreshment. Great place, though.

After that I met someone at church for lunch, followed up on some documents needed by our outside auditors, and went home. A distraught call from my disabled friend,  a mislaid piece of paper and every possible red light between here and Craycroft meant that I just barely missed out on reaching the local DES office (to file a form) before they closed at five.

So it's been quite a day. Especially on fewer than two hours of sleep!