I recently bought a new film scanner. The Epson Perfection v750 is actually a flat-bed scanner (a type that had proven unsatisfactory to me some years ago), but it incorporates a design that works quite well for film. I need it for one simple reason: it has an infrared lamp. Earlier in this blog, I demonstrated the effects of an infrared light source on scans of color film. I very, very much wanted that effect for my medium format color film, despite the fact that I have fewer than 1,000 images in that format. Nearly all good film scanners are out of production—and in fact Amazon discontinued sale of this Epson the day before I ordered it (from a remainder shop)!. Ed Hamrick (creator of the VueScan software I use) notes that for medium format film, the Epson machines are the best of which he is aware. So, that's why I got it.
The scanner set up easily on my 64-bit Windows 7 machine, on which I had previously installed Epson's latest driver and scan utility. But I was planning to stay with VueScan, and began my familiarization tests with that. I scanned the first film strip from my 11 Sep 2001 pictures of the burning Pentagon (across the street from where I live), and discovered the process: the Preview function shows all the film loaded in the film holder (five images, in this instance), and then you "carve out" what you want from this overall image for the Scan function, one image at a time. Having outlined an image for one scan, you can Shift+drag the outline to the next one, etc. So, a manual process but it worked just fine.
That was enough for the evening, but I thought I'd best try the Epson software before finishing my testing. I was much surprised by the smoother process. Preview generated five separate images, each with a checkbox enabled by default. Clicking Scan would then batch scan all five. Wonderful!
I had not selected Dust Removal, so when I saw the results, I re-did the scans after doing so. Little or no difference. Odd, I felt. I then changed the degree of dust removal to Medium (from Light, which I use on VueScan). Little or no difference, but the scanning time increased dramatically. One more option left: Digital ICE, a technology licensed by several scanner manufacturers (when there were any) for the removal of such artifacts as dust, mold, etc. Little or no change.
As you can see, not only are there some probable dust artifacts in the sky but also a big blob of what I presumed was mold (not unknown among my color film collection). Later, when I was putting away the film, I looked closely at the "mold," and discovered that it was some kind of object that was easily brushed away. Was it on the film when I did the VueScan scans? Can't say but I think so. Anyway, the presence of the other artifacts shows how dramatically better the VueScan process is for cleaning film scans. It will be an easy trade-off: more hands-on attention to getting the images scanned than if I'd used the Epson Scan software, but seeing as the whole point of acquiring this scanner was to generate clean images, it is an easy choice.
--Michael Broschat, 17 May 2013
Roger Ebert was a big deal for me. Although I had seen a couple of the Ebert & Siskel At the Movies shows years and years ago, it was when I got serious about collecting films (early 90s) that I re-discovered him. And his chief attraction for me was that when he said a film is worth seeing, I agreed 99% of the time (I loved David Lynch long before Ebert did). His reviews were probably a perfect fit for his style, almost certainly shaped by his journalistic experience. They were never too long, they were intelligent, and very often had something that struck me hard. I include a list of quotations I, myself, found as I read his reviews. I have seen other collections done by others, and I'm glad, because words were his business, and he knew his business.
--Michael Broschat, 4 April 2013
I finished scanning my negatives about a week ago, and as I began again on slides (I'm up to 1991), I was excited to see the roll of Kodachrome I took that glorious fall in 1991. Living only a block from the Arboretum—something I didn't truly appreciate until later in life, I first photographed my immediate area, then moved into the Arboretum. The results are even better than I'd hoped, and I'm delighted to share them with you. A Web Topic, here...
--Michael Broschat, March 2013
As I prepare to make a big physical move in my life (the last, one would hope), I'm trying to get my physical belongings down to the minimum. I've given up the dream of having two suitcases containing everything I want to keep—it was my video collection that did that. The collection and the packing of it into boxes for the move from the first floor to the eighth. I counted the other day, and I have nearly 1,500 DVDs. OK, the DVDs are one thing (and I've conceived a great plan for dealing with those), but I started my collection with video tape. To whatever extent has seemed desirable, I replaced beloved tapes with DVD versions, over the years. But I'm left with a couple dozen that either have no DVD version or that I kind of like but don't want to spend the money for the DVD version (Field of Dreams, for example).
Back in 2006, I bought a nice Panasonic VHS/DVD player/recorder, specifically for the task of copying those VHS items onto DVD. I recently relived the pain of discovering that most VHS products were protected against copying. It isn't obvious. I'm not aware of any statement on the box, and it took me a couple days of failures to finally realize it (again). Much research turned up the fact that such copy protection can only be circumvented by using a device that neutralizes the signal introduced in said protection. Amazon still sells these devices—some years after the virtual death of VHS, but most are priced way beyond what I felt like paying. Except for one. For about $100, they sell an Israeli device that claims to get around the VHS copy protection. The user comments suggested that the device takes some weeks to come from Israel, so I went to the company website (Dimax) and ordered directly. Made no difference—it still took three weeks. But I looked the other day, and Amazon actually has them in stock now! This is the GREX device from Dimage.
My first copying object was a three-disc mini-series from Australia in 1980: A Town Like Alice. I've loved that show (which is why I've owned the VHS release for 20 years), and have waited for it to be released on DVD. Has never happened. When I finally discovered that the only DVD version I found through the Internet was, itself, simply copied from VHS, I decided to make it a Christmas present for a similarly minded friend, and set about learning how to be a video pirate.
Incidentally, US laws are written so strictly that no one can manufacture and sell protection-avoidance devices within US borders. But other countries are more lenient. In addition to the Israeli GREX device, I also have video file conversion software from RiverPast (probably, China) and software that plays any kind of DVD (various products from SlySoft—God only knows where they are). There are dozens and dozens of similar products available.
To use the GREX device, you must configure various wires to bypass the Panasonic VHS-to-DVD design. They provide fine diagrams, and that was easily done. I had learned through earlier experiments that DVD-RAM was the medium I should use to record these attempts, mostly because it is rewritable. And, my goodness, you end up doing a lot of this stuff over and over again. It took days (probably weeks) to learn that just because a copy fails doesn't mean you quit. Keep what worked, then start again where it stopped. The problem, really, is time. It takes up to a couple hours to make the recording. But converting the result (VRO files) to something you can use took me 4-5 hours (often, an overnight job). Only then do you know whether you've succeeded. Until Alice was complete, I never had a tape convert in one pass. Now, I've had a few (feels great!). But when it fails, I know how to start again.
Doing this showed me why Alice was never released as DVD. The show is of poor video quality (sound is fine) even on the commercial VHS release. It was almost certainly shot on videotape and released on the same medium. A series from later in that decade—Shogun— is, thankfully, in superb condition in its DVD release (almost 20 years after its initial showing), so we know it could have been done better. But the show probably can never be re-done. The combination of script and actors was simply magical, and I want to be able to see it again for the rest of my life. Now, I can.
These VHS successes have led to a few other experiments. For example, I have several films from other countries, and so their DVD region codes are not US codes. With some effort, these too can be converted to pure US format. And an artifact from the earliest days of DVD releases can also be fixed. Those early DVDs preserved original aspect ratios (rather than cropping to force the picture into the almost square format of pre-flat-screen TVs) but did so by "window-boxing." This means that the film is shown within a black box. Instead of reaching from edge to edge, you get black borders around all four sides. Drives me crazy. The video copying software I'm using automatically compensates for this, and delivers a "full" picture. That feature alone is worth the money.
And here was another success. I wanted a film that stars Sophie Marceau (Firelight). Although nominally an American film, it appears to be truly British. Oddly, neither country offers that 1997 film for sale. Amazon sells a pan-and-scanned version from Korea but when I discovered that the real aspect ratio is 2.35:1 (CinemaScope), I desperately wanted a full version. I saw no indication that such a DVD was ever released in the US/UK, but I finally found one in France. That, in fact, had been imported from Germany! So I went to Amazon Germany and ordered it. The film is in English, and plays just fine on my any-region software. I was able to reconstruct the image on a region-free disc and extend it from side-to-side at the same time. Probably not the same effect as a true anamorphic version but it works.
The amount of effort (and time) this little diversion is costing me would have kept me from even starting, had I known before. But there have been enough pleasant successes to keep me going, and pretty soon I can toss out the tapes. But carefully. Remember I wrote that some of my VHS tapes have never been transferred to DVD? Well, at least one of those currently sells on Amazon in its VHS format for $230. I'm glad at least some folks share my tastes...
--Michael Broschat, January 2013
The three days stretched to at least four, even if not all in Chicago, but you can see for yourself.
Three Days in Chicago
I'm reading James Jones' From Here to Eternity, which is the first book in a trilogy that leads to The Thin Red Line, perhaps the best novel ever written about combat. Just prior to WWII, Jones was one of not very many men who were part of the American Army. In other words, they were career men in a very different time from now, and their world would change big time soon enough. In the period between the two world wars the American Army was a much reduced and hardly modern force that experienced its first peacetime draft in 1940. My uncle George was one of those so drafted, and thus was an "experienced" soldier when the war finally started. But the army that Jones describes was a kind of refuge from the Depression, especially for men without families (only officers could have dependents). We learn in the book that a private with some years behind him made $21 a month. The distinction between officers and enlisted personnel (this book is told from the enlisted viewpoint) was dramatically apparent in those days, somewhat less so when I was in (ca 1970), and much less so in the modern world.
Jones was a terrific writer, and the parts of the book that make it "literature," in my opinion, are when he writes about some thought or observation of one of the characters. I suppose that the section below, which "stars" the chief character, is written from the point of view of that character but that also reflects that of the soldier at large. Here is a section on the subject of "Taps," the short musical piece that has its origins in the sentiment "lights out."
[Kindle 4164] "...Taps is special."
He looked at his watch and as the second hand touched the top stepped up and raised the bugle to the megaphone, and the nervousness dropped from him like a discarded blouse, and he was suddenly alone, gone away from the rest of them.
The first note was clear and absolutely certain. There was no question or stumbling in this bugle. It swept across the quadrangle positively, held just a fraction longer than most buglers hold it. Held long like the length of time, stretching away from weary day to weary day. Held long like thirty years. The second note was short, almost too short, abrupt. Cut short and too soon gone, like the minutes with a whore. Short like a ten minute break is short. And then the last note of the first phrase rose triumphantly from the slightly broken rhythm, triumphantly high on an ontouchable level of pride above the humiliations, the degradations.
He played it all that way, with a paused then hurried rhytm that no metronome could follow. There was no placid regimented tempo to this Taps. The notes rose high in the air and hung above the quadrangle. They vibrated there, caressingly, filled with an infinite sadness, an endless patience, a pointless pride, the requiem and epitaph of the common soldier, as a woman once had told him. They hovered like halos over the heads of the sleeping men in the darkened barracks, turning all grossness to the beauty that is the beauty of sympathy and understanding. Here we are, they said, you made us, now see us, dont close your eyes and shudder at it; this beauty, and this sorrow, of things as they are. This is the true song, the song of the ruck, not of battle heroes; the song of the Stockade prisoners itchily stinking sweating under coats of grey rock dust; the song of the mucky KPs, of the men without women who collect the bloody menstrual rags of the officers' wives, who come to scout the Officers' Club--after the parties are over. This is the song of the scum, the Aqua-Velva drinkers, the shameless ones who greedily drain the half filled glasses, some of them lipstick-smeared, that the party-ers can afford to leave unfinished.
This is the song of the men who have no place, played by a man who has never had a place, and can therefore play it. Listen to it. You know this song, remember? This is the song you close your ears to every night, so you can sleep. This is the song you drink five martinis every evening not to hear. This is the song of the Great Loneliness, that creeps in like the desert wind and dehydrates the soul. This is the song you'll listen to on the day you die. When you lay there in the bed and sweat it out, and know that all the doctors and nurses and weeping friends dont mean a thing and cant help you any, cant save you one small bitter taste of it because you are the one thats dying and not them; when you wait for it to come and know that sleep will not evade it and martinis will not put it off and conversation will not circumvent it and hobbies will not help you to escape it, then you will hear this song and, remembering, recognize it. This song is Reality. Remember? Surely you remember?
"Day is done...
Gone the sun...
From the lake
From the hill
From the sky
Rest in peace
Sol dier brave
God is nigh..."
I first visited Arlington Cemetary with a woman who was not American but who wanted to see the graves of the Kennedys. Like so many people around the world of that time, her youthful attention had been captured by images of that magical couple and their family. "Sure," I said, "haven't seen it, myself."
We found our way there (still impressive twenty-five years later). It was a glorious day, there were several people around the site, and there appeared to be something formal in the making. A uniform here, one there, and then a bugle appeared. It wasn't obvious right at first, but I deduced what he was going to play before he started. "No!," I screamed inaudibly, "Not Taps! I can't take Taps!" But they did it anyway. I melted into the concrete.
Michael Broschat, November 2012
Spurred by two events—scanning the photos and concentrating on one in particular, I made a website dedicated to our stay on Taiwan from 1976 through 1979. I say 'our', because the experience of my then-wife S was at times quite different from my own, and I've only hinted at her story. There was enough of mine to tell.
The specific photo that caught my attention was of the student group of which I was a part. Our school director—William Speidel—was a specialist on the history of the island, and made sure that we at least had the opportunity to see some of it. Not all eligible students took part, but those of us who took one particular trip gathered for a group photo at one point, and it has become the goal of Rich Stites and me to identify as many of those folks as possible. The educational program in which we participated was known affectionately as "The Stanford Center," although its formal name is the more stately "Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Study."
The class roster is here: (IUP Personnel), and the group shot is here: (IUP1976). In the group shot, I use a technique I'm developing to identify folks. As of this writing, the only two with any of the desired extra information (and photograph more or less current) are Rich and myself. Anyone wanting to add some identification is encouraged to contact me (mrbroschat @ gmail.com).
--Michael Broschat, 18 Nov 2012
Power came back on here a couple hours ago. That's 25 hours without it, and I for one didn't really need this experience to appreciate electricity—I already love it! Sandy the storm was not much of a storm here in northern Virginia, despite its adverse effect on the power of my neighborhood. Without electricity, I went to bed a bit early last night, but the wind noise didn't keep me awake, and appears to have disappeared by about midnight. A storm a couple months ago had awakened me about midnight and did not let me go back to sleep.
Awaking this morning, I hung out until about nine, then went out in search of some breakfast. Electricity began on the next block and extended at least the distance of the main commercial area, so although such businesses as Starbucks had kept their stores from opening this morning, such businesses as the hotel in which I often breakfast kept their flags flying, and I dined elegantly. A local coffee shop was doing a wonderful business, and had as many young people stuffed into it for its WiFi as could fit.
Bored after a few hours back home, I went out for my normal 5-mile walk, in a light rain. Was the only customer for lunch at some pizza joint, and then settled in with candles for a long, dark night. The pleasant re-introduction of electricity at about 7pm has restored my good mood, and I can continue the normal work week beginning tomorrow (after two days off!).
There was something so unthreatening about the downed tree that I did not even notice it until the walk back. It was unique among evidence of damage, at least in the section of the path I walk. A few dead branches broken by wind but otherwise nothing like the usual storm damage we see here.
--Michael Broschat, 30 October 2012
We got a note, the other day, from our government employers telling use that today would be "duck 'n cover" day. As preparation for an earthquake (which we actually did experience last year about this time), we were told to get under our desks for 90 seconds. I'm quite sure I'm the only one who did this, and I for a theatrical purpose (this blog). In a real earthquake, I probably would have been crushed by the cabinets the bottoms of which you can see at the top of the picture.
Although old enough to have been among the children who learned "duck 'n cover" from schools in the 1950s, I have no memories of actually doing so in North Dakota. Perhaps, we figured we were too far out of civilization for the Russkies to bother with us.
But I've made up for it now...
--Michael Broschat, October 2012
Stuart Aque told me today that Jerry Norman (1936-2012) died over the weekend (7 July, about 10 days from his 76th birthday). I had heard from Sister Kay, some years ago, that he was having serious trouble with his lungs (didn't smoke but it evidently wasn't cancer) and was using an oxygen tank most of the time. So I guess I wasn't shocked.
Jerry and I had an interesting bond that I don't think I really understood until I got to thinking about writing this blog piece. To explain more fully, let me explain how I got to the University of Washington in the first place, where Jerry was a professor of Chinese.
As the Vietnam war was winding down, it created the usual recession in the economy, which had thrived on the armament industry and all the other things that go with war. Therefore, finding a job after I got out of the Air Force (said departure scheduled for November 1973) didn't look promising. Besides, I had become quite enamored of Chinese by that time, and the idea of attending school on the famous GI Bill sounded pretty good. Ah, but where?
I eventually narrowed my choices down to three (I think there was also an economic concern—how many applications could I afford). The first was easy—my primary goal: Harvard. Next was my sure-thing backup: Berkeley (I was a UC graduate). And the third was University of Washington in Seattle. I'm not sure I'd ever heard of Seattle at that time, but one of my flight-mates was from there, and he claimed it was a cute little town. OK, that will be the third application.
My Berkeley application was rejected in the return mail. I don't think it took more than a week to send the application to Berkeley and get one of those "thousands apply but only hundreds can be chosen" letters I feel sure you've seen, yourself, in the return mail.
Harvard was much kinder. They took a month to inform me that I hadn't made their cut either.
UW sent its acceptance (probably signed by Jerry Norman) in good time. At least, the decision of where to go was an easy one.
It got me an early out from the Air Force. We were able to leave in September, and I was probably walking into Jerry's office (he had department greetings duty that summer) a couple weeks later. That I remember anything from forty years ago is a miracle, but I'm sure my senses were heightened by what was happening to me. You see, I really wasn't qualified to be going to graduate school in Chinese. I had studied Chinese for two years as an undergraduate, and then listened to Chinese fighter pilots fly their Mig-15, -17, and -21 fighters around the South China Sea, for a couple years. I remember telling my then-wife that I would probably only take three years to get my PhD, and then we'd be off to some kind of teaching career. I think males are protected from much in this world by having very little contact or acknowledgement of reality.
Back at Jerry's office, he looked over my background (I now realize that there would not have been anything he did not already know) and decided that I should begin with Third Year Chinese. "What are you thinking of studying, anyway?" I doubt that I had considered that, and just said something like, "Oh, you know. Modern language or whatever." He smiled at that and told me that actually, few of their graduate students studied the modern language. But in order to fill out enough credits, he also signed me up for classical Chinese.
Now. Here is what Jerry must have known about me and why. My teacher at UC Santa Cruz was Ching-yi Dougherty, who had come down to the new UC campus in what would be my first year, also. I asked her, sometime later, what brought her to Santa Cruz, and she explained that she was feuding with Bill Wang, who was a big shot researcher in Chinse linguistics there. She jumped at the chance to leave wherever he was. Later that first year, Ching-yi invited her class up to dinner at her house in El Cerrito (I believe), where one of the guests was the author of the Mandarin Chinese textbook we were using in class: Mandarin Primer. His name was Yuen Ren Chao (Zhao Yuanren, 1892-1982). We class members knew nothing of Professor Chao, other than that he had written our textbook. The rest of the world, perhaps, would have known him as a foremost linguist and generally brilliant scholar. We were impressed because Ching-yi told us he had taught physics at Harvard, and that very night was some kind of lunar eclipse, and Professor Chao explained all that involved. It would be many years before I would have any idea who this man was.
But Jerry knew. Jerry was one of then Berkeley Professor Chao's graduate students, and had both the opportunity and, especially, the brilliance to take advantage of that amazing mind. Jerry would have taken his PhD in the 1960s (probably, while I was at UC Santa Cruz) and quite possibly owed his job at UW in part to Chao's great friendship with the retiring professor of Chinese linguistics at UW, Li Fanggui (at UW until 1969). However he got the job, the Chinese L&L faculty of UW went from a set of famous old folks to a set of remarkable young folks who would become as well-known in their time.
Jerry told me he had done Russian in the Army some years before my own Air Force experience with Chinese. I've seen an indication or two in memorials that, perhaps, there was some family connection with Things Russian. I know that in the 1970s the university would ask him to accompany and interpret for visiting Russian scholars (surely, a rarity in those Cold War days). Today, every other person I see was either born in Russia or is the child of someone who was, but that was certainly not true in the 1970s. It's hard to imagine that a soldier who learned Russian in the Army could escort and interpret for visiting Russian scholars. But then he was no ordinary soldier.
I know also that Jerry was a major figure in the study of Manchu, making him part of what was certainly a lonely group. Manchu was the language and culture of the rulers of China during its final dynasty.
And Jerry was a family man. I remember the pleasure (and honor) of walking to the bookstore with him after I'd formally started classes. He seemed in a happy mood. "What's up?" "My wife just had twins—girls, yesterday." That was probably 1973 but no later than 1974. Those kids—the youngest— are nearing 40 now. I would see the kids—mostly, his son and oldest daughter—at school, but when I became handyman for the Chinese faculty—a position I inherited from Joe Allen and passed on to someone else, I made several visits to his house. That's when I learned he had a temper. In the years I knew him, it was only in evidence among his family members. The rest of his world knew him as a calm voice of reason, often among chaos and confusion. He was those things, but he was human, too.
For reasons I cannot now imagine, I used to study in an empty classroom (probably, to use the blackboard—white boards had not appeared yet). It must have been near his office (in Thomsen), as the Gowen offices had no classrooms nearby. He would stop in and chat frequently.
My path moved into the classical realm, as he had expected, soon enough, and we had little formal contact after that. Socially, I don't remember him at the relatively common social gatherings over my graduate years. But when I went to Taiwan for what would be a two-year stay, he also went with Stella, his wife, certainly leaving the kids in the US. Stella's folks lived on the same street where I was staying with my adopted Chinese family. That year, one of Jerry's graduate students—a Taiwan resident—got her PhD or Masters, and went home—to that same street! Her family could not resist inviting their daughter's honorable and renowned professor for a home-cooked banquet, and Jerry wangled an invitation for me, too (not that I was unknown to Charlotte). It was one of the more miserable eating experiences of my life (Jerry never saw anything he couldn't eat), as everything was high-high-class traditional Chinese gourmet food. You know, like poached cockroach antenna and fricasseed lizard tail and the like. But, thank god, at the end of the meal the host came out with four little bowls of rice. What she said in Chinese was "...in case we have not given you enough to eat," but I didn't know that, and dug in. At last, I smirked to Jerry, something to eat. He would explain later that I had committed one of the most grievous sins of Chinese culture, and I realize as I write this that I never got invited to dinner at Stella's family! Oh well. I had another couple years to commit all the other possible sins, so there was work to do.
Shira tells me that her strongest memory of Jerry was his encouragement of her mystery reading. When I started graduate school, Shira and I were on a walk-to-the-library-for-the-latest-mysteries kick. And I still enjoy them, although I do let work interfere every now and again. Well, Jerry was a fan, too, and he poo-poo'd her fears at being an idiot, as it was one of his favorite pastimes. And what two of the smartest people on earth choose to do with their free time can serve as examples for the rest of us.
As I searched the Internet for what Jerry has left the digital world, I realize that his reputation—beyond that fostered by those of us who knew him—is made by his book Chinese, still published by Oxford. He finished that a few years after I had finished my PhD (I don't recall him being on my committee but do recall him at any of the meetings that process involved), and we knew it was a big deal even then.
I like what Stuart wrote to me about Jerry: "I agree—he was a truly good and very kind man—one of those people you didn't have to worry about catching at the wrong moment, because there weren't any."
--Michael Broschat, July 2012
Over this Memorial Day weekend or, rather, the whole week preceding, I watched again the Downton Abbey series. I wasn't sure how I would receive this, since I know what happens. In truth, I think I liked it better the second time. Things held together better for me, and I realized that the author really did know where he was going with some events that seemed at the time simply contrived and led the show dangerously near "soap opera" status.
I had the discs for Season One, this time, and got to watch the featurettes they supply on DVDs these days. Those for that first season would have been done without knowing of the tremendous success the series would find the world over. That innocence cannot come again. Anyway, one featurette interviews the 8th Countess of Carnarvon, whose "house"—Highclere—is what the rest of the world knows as Downton Abbey. She was quite impressive, and when I saw that she'd written a book about one of her predecessors, the 5th Countess, I kindled it and have just finished. Very, very good. It describes the 5th's (Almina) life through her tenure as Countess of Carnarvon. As we know from Downton Abbey, upon the acension of her son to his title of Earl, she becomes, technically, Dowager Countess. However, in this case the position was already held by her mother-in-law (Elsie, died 1929), and Almina assumed the title "Almina, Countess of Carnarvon," her own styling.
Now, as I read through about half this book, I began to feel so much of it to be familiar. Of course, it finally dawned on me—my guy, Lord Dunsany, must have known all those folks! I have digitized his memoirs, so it was an easy task to determine that, yes, Lord Dunsany was well known to at least some of the Carnarvons, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that his name is recorded in the "Castle" ledger. Apparently, it is a long-held tradition that visitors to such places write their names (and optional comments) in a visitor ledger. I'm not sure we've seen that on Downton Abbey, but Fiona (the 8th) makes much use of it in her book.
Dunsany relates a story that Elsie's son Aubrey (a very well known character from these times) was infamously disregarding of his wardrobe (evidently, not every aristocrat had, or used, a valet), and when Elsie heard that Dunsany would be accompanying Aubrey to a society garden party, she begged him to intercede with Aubrey and straighten out his attire. Dunsany tells us that of all the aristocrats in England at that time, he was certainly not one to pick for advice on clothes, and the story he tells is that it just happened that his rail car (or compartment) held the very worst dressed society folks in England. At one stop, a kitchen maid attempted to board the train in that car. "Sorry, Miss, but that car is reserved for Lord Such-and-Such's garden party guests." The maid had gotten far enough to see Dunsany, Aubrey, et al, and quickly remarked, "Well, it ain't these folks, that's for damn sure."
Although the story is much diminished over time, the Carnarvon clan was quite well known in the world popular press during the 1920s, because the 5th Lord financed (and worked with) Howard Carter, who discovered King Tut's tomb. I did not know until reading Fiona's book, but most archeology was sponsored by wealthy Brits, in the 19th century, and evolved through their increasingly scientific methods until the nations (often non-existent at the time) of location finally stopped allowing such private efforts and took over. Carter and Carnarvon (and Carnarvon's daughter) were present upon the opening of the tomb, which I had not known remains the only pharoh tomb ever discovered in tact. The death of the 5th Lord Carnarvon shortly after the discovery of King Tut was the origin of the popular "mummy's curse" phenomenon.
There are several stories from the true life at Highclere that remarkably mimic what we have seen on Downton Abbey. There really was a guy named Bates, for example, and the legal trouble Bates has in Dowton is remarkably similar to a case that involved Almina upon her second marriage. Whether Fellowes knew these things when he wrote his scripts is not known, but at least we know he has a treasure chest of materials from which yet to draw!
--Michael Broschat, May 2012
My web server stopped working in early March. There seemed to be no reason, as the server, itself, kept running just fine. I've been so busy with work and other tasks that I could only take a brief shot, now and again, at discovering the problem. Back from my vacation, I've given it another try and finally succeeded. I still have no idea what changed, and ended up fiddling settings I'm sure I've never touched in my long computer life. Oh well. It works.
I had a wonderful visit with a bunch of folks on my week+ jaunt to Nevada and California. Met Lyle's Russian wife, Mila, and spent a couple days in the Reno area with them. Then it was on to Sacramento, California where I spent some time with my sometime collaborator, Meriko Maida, and her sister Asako, mother of one of my former wives. Great ladies, and we should all hope to enjoy such long, healthy lives. After lunch with the ladies, I drove a bit further to visit with my older (and wiser) brother, Leonard, and his wife, Bea. The weather was a bit murky, I suppose, but the time passed pleasantly, especially as both folks are superb cooks.
The last three days of the week also zipped by, this time staying at Rhonda and Ed's house in Davis, California. Right across the street from the university, more or less. Ed is a long-time resident of Davis, his father having been a professor there. In time, we were joined by Ed Robinson, my oldest friend (8th grade). Actually, Rhonda reminded me that she, too, was at that junior high school. I guess I was too young to notice hot babes. I see that I have lost my 8th grade yearbook somewhere along the way or I'd show you our pictures as 12-year-olds. Johnny-come-lately Ross joined us at Campbell High, and brought Young Mary with him to the Davis reunion. Our high school years separated us before we knew each other, but we re-united in our senior years. We had a great summer after graduation getting to know each other, and then stayed in touch for the next almost 50 years.
Aside from a weather-related delay in Chicago, the trip home was easy enough, and I walked home at 2 am, tired but rejuvenated.
It's been a long time since I've posted. The reason is mostly just because I haven't had anything to say, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. I'll tell you what I've been up to.
All my programming activities over the years (with, I suppose, some exceptions at my various jobs) have had to do with things that interest me personally. For example, when I decided to learn the then new language and programming environment called C# and .NET, I settled upon a "photo database" as my first project. I would store photographs in a database, then access them via a web (or standalone) application. Each photograph could be tagged (I don't know that the word was used that way then) with such information as who is pictured, location, date, etc. I had great fun learning C# and .NET via this means, and although I do not still use the application, it worked. I was delighted to see Flickr come into being a couple years later. It proved that I'm not the only one with such interests.
My fairly recent plunge back into photo digitizing (=scanning) brought me even more pictures to show "the world." In particular, I digitized a set of photographs taken during a trip to Japan in the 1970s. Nearly all the folks pictured are dead now, but I realized that my 91-year-old aunt knows who all of them were, and how they were related. It was time to go into action to get that knowledge while it is still available.
A couple other things have always bothered me about showing pictures on the web. For one thing, I want the pictures to be as large as whatever monitor I have available. But when you design a web site, you can seldom disregard the fact that other folks have different-sized monitors than you. It really irks me now to look at sites I made some years ago when I thought that I had to limit the size of the site to 1024 pixels wide. My current monitor has 1920 pixels, but I'm stuck with pictures that are often only about 800 pixels wide (and less tall).
A difference in the way I sometimes like to display an image also interests me. Sometimes, I want to treat a photograph like a work of art. Not great art, of course (they're my pictures, after all), but I have done several different experiments using color and texture, and I'd like to have a kind of "factory" to let me do such things without the amount of time it currently takes. Over the years, I've seen several aspects of this process that could be automated.
So, a bunch of things came together, and I began to create a new system for displaying "illustrated text" or "described pictures" or whatever you want to call a set of photographs with accompanying text. I came to see that an overall page or two having the majority of text with "thumbnail" images in their proper places satisfies my purpose, as long as I also have the option of showing the pictures on an individual basis, with whatever artistic effects I then want to use.
As I set about programming what needed to be done, I encountered some terrific stuff. Most impressive has been Jaimie Treworgy's ImageMapster. You can see some of the things it has been used for, on his web site. For me, I am using it to provide a link from a "body" in a photograph to information about that person. So, you're looking at a picture, and you ask: "Who is that?" and you just move your mouse over the person, and a little tag pops up to tell you. And that's not all. As currently configured, you can place an entire page over the picture (letting it show through a bit), to tell you all sorts of things about that person. My current project within this suite of applications is to provide a family tree that shows where that person fits within a family structure that just might be yours, too.
I'd like to show you what I've come up with but have to wait a bit. I've promised the long suffering family members of this particular family that I'll leave this information for their personal use. Now, all I need to do is to create some fake family data to illustrate my applications. But I might even get around to doing my own family, which has some good "edge cases." I'm even anxious to get Mick Jagger into a family tree. Easy, in my case, because I'm claiming that I've created the first politically correct family tree system. Marriage is noted but not used. Men can marry men, women women, whatever. We don't care. All I need to know is who was the baby momma and who was the baby daddy. I don't even need to know who the daddy was (mirroring real life), but if you know, put it in there. There's always room for Mick.
A big disappointment stems from my failure to create a perfect "engine." I imagined a single page that would be used over and over to show all the pictures of any set. But due at least to my failures in skill, as well as the possibility that it can't even be done, I'm currently facing the likelihood that I'll have to create web pages for each picture, at least for any picture containing people for whom I'm offering identification.
And in fact this kind of programming is more difficult than I had imagined. Still, it's what the world is doing right now, so I don't feel that the time I spend working on these things is a waste of it.
But I'd sure like to get back to digitizing!
--Michael Broschat, 14 December 2011
I had the pleasure of venturing up north again this year. Had a merry time in such states as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maine. If you're up to it, I serve the abbreviated version up here: Michael's 2011 vacation.
Michael Broschat, 31 October 2011
Context. What is context? Relevance to a goal.
As a consequence of all this photo scanning I've been doing lately, I'm also building a web site for some family pictures. I have a stack of photos for each category, but I find myself choosing from among them. In doing so, I'm trying to be aware of what is driving the choice process and it's interesting.
As a life-long photographer, I used to think it was pretty easy determining a good picture: you looked at it, then made your judgment. Wiser people probably train themselves to look for particular things, but I just go by "impression," "emotion," whatever it is that makes you like something. I know now that this is the Pure Context. One picture—is it good? Outside of a gallery, we don't often run into the Pure Context.
I want to say that if a picture is aesthetically good, I'll use it no matter what. Wrong. In this particular case, I have eight pictures of my former wife. Now, she's a beautiful woman and all eight pictures are great. But choosing all eight automatically weights the collection in a direction it has no call to go. It's the documentary of a trip, and those particular pictures could have been taken anywhere (and were, countless times again). In fact, they have no place in this project at all, except that they were taken at its beginning. And I like them. So, I start off with one of me and one of her. Seven pictures discarded, each one worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.
There's another important factor already part of this context but sometimes hard to notice: time. If I had taken those pictures last week, they would have an entirely different value for me. But they're 40 years old, and most of the people in them are dead. Suddenly, it matters very little how good they are aesthetically. What is more important is their place in a narrative: how did they fit into my life and whatever it is that I seek to display?
I've finished picture selection for the first part of the trip. Before I started this process, I saw all the pictures as relevant. As I worked through the arrangement and selection, I felt all sorts of selection factors working. I'm putting them up to three in a row across a page, and I think in one case I rejected a photo because it was wide and the other two were also wide. I didn't want three wides (landscape versus portrait) together, and all illustrated some particular point so the "extra" wide one couldn't just be placed elsewhere.
On a previous web site I discuss a discovery I made while doing it. I was sorting out an absolute mess of photos, so thankful that the numbers on the negatives at least told me the order in which they were shot. It was like a riot in a classroom. No one picture had any particular aesthetic value. But all of a sudden, it came together. I saw that the pictures were taken during a science demonstration led by one of the students. Every picture showed something having to do with that demonstration, and only that fact gave them any meaning. Years and years ago, I had selected a picture or two from those school pictures as aesthetically pleasing—good photographs the way I always thought good photographs should be: standing alone. Doing them all as a collection, where batches of them joined to illustrate some point did not diminish the value of those few that excelled aesthetically, but it certainly gave value to those that seemed not have any.
My former wife was just telling me about a photograph someone had discovered of a great-grandfather. Probably the only picture in existence. I don't have to see it to know its value. All the time, we read of photographs of famous people found in trunks or yard sales. Whether they're aesthetically pleasing doesn't even come up.
I recently digitized a roll I took more than 30 years ago of classmates at a party. There were a couple nice looking people among us, and at an earlier time their presence might have made the photograph "valuable." But at this distance in time, all those pictures were valuable, and all are candidates for inclusion in some meaningful collection. That not all would be chosen would then depend upon such factors as discussed above: are there eight shots of the same beautiful woman? Choose one, and let's get on with it.
When you're grouping things, you have a goal, whether or not it's consciously realized. You bounce each choice ("Does it belong?") against that goal, and the way it bounces back determines your choice. And it brings a little significance along with it, something most of us could use.
Michael Broschat, 21 Oct 2011
I went to see the Ahn Trio, last night. It was interesting for a number of reasons. Let me count the ways.
First, I quite enjoyed the music. I had a seat near the back of the Wolf Trap Barns concert venue (it's really too small to call a 'hall'), and because the floor is not inclined, shut my eyes more or less the entire show as I wasn't going to be seeing much of the performers. In a newspaper interview, Angella described the group with a three-adjective phrase, only one of which was 'classical'. That fits. Although it's hard to imagine anyone who doesn't like classical music enjoying the Ahn Trio, it is equally impossible to imagine that everyone liking classical music would like the Ahns. They mix popular music into their offerings, but the transformation still favors the classical, and it is difficult for me to imagine many young folks who usually listen only to the original popular music liking this stuff. I have all their CDs, but don't often listen to them. That's why I am surprised how much I enjoyed listening last night.
Judging from what little I have discovered about them, the Ahns keep their personal lives pretty close to hand, so it was fun as I waited in the lobby to see one of the twins come out and greet her mother. The embrace suggested that they hadn't seen each other for at least a couple days, which meant that mom hadn't been involved in the White House state dinner. You see, the trio had been invited to perform after the state dinner for the South Korean president, and that event had occurred the previous evening. Here's a picture. It is very easy to learn the guests at such a function. I found listings in news services all over the world. Each of the girls was allowed a guest, and two were male. The one female guest wasn't an Ahn, so I think mom didn't get invited. But she became something of a celebrity last night. During the first half of the concert, a few folks found out she was mom to the girls, and she had a little group around her during intermission.
Speaking of groups, the audience was, perhaps, telling. It was distinctly older than my usual concerts (which are already old enough), and I got the feeling that some tickets had been handed out to old folks homes. Or it might just have been that older folks are the primary subscribers to the Discovery Series, of which this performance was one. Listening to the conversations around me, it was clear everyone was at least retired if not yet elderly. What a contrast that was with the first time i saw the Ahns. It was a large hall (George Mason's great arts facility), and the large crowed included many Koreans. My impression at that time was that many Korean young folks had come to see the trio but without their parents. The girls (due in part to their glamorousness) had obviously achieved a kind of pop star status with those kids. But last night there were only about a half-dozen mom/daughter combos, with perhaps two Korean dads included in a couple larger family groups. Another sign of the failing economy is my guess, but it's also true that the trio might no longer have quite the status they might have earlier. After all, I once calculated that even the youngest has to be 40.
Anyway, it was an even more enjoyable evening than I had expected. And I almost didn't get there.
I knew that Highway 66 has total restrictions on commuting traffic. Most highways have a lane or two for commuting, but 66 is dedicated to it during commute hours. So, I waited until just after six to leave my area. My calendar had recorded that the concert was at 7:30.
As I neared the entrace to 66, many signs told me that I would be arrested, perhaps decapitated, if I were to get on 66 without a second person in the car. I chickened out as I neared the junction and, instead, took the off-ramp to my area of work. I had my top down, and looked for someone to ask about commuting rules for 66, but no one seemed appropriate, and I parked in front of my office building. Surely, the ban on solo driving would end soon? "Hey, nice car!" said a passing female. It was Monique, who obviously works much later than do I. Lucky me, because Monique knew all the rules for 66 commuting, and I had to wait until 6:30. She even told me how to get on the freeway from that point. On my own, I would have ended up going back in the opposite direction.
So, with Monique's help I got onto 66. I remembered from the map that I would go in a northerly direction toward Wolf Trap, and that at that point of leaving 66, the highway would have a different name. My first chance came with the exit for 495. No, that's not what I want, I thought. But it was. Just because there was no sign about Wolf Trap doesn't mean the road doesn't go there. I therefore stayed on 66 until I panicked, and got off at Vienna (which I know is where Wolf Trap is). But how to get from the southern edge of Vienna to Wolf Trap was quite another problem. I tried entering the name in my GPS navigator but only came up with the Wolf Trap Nursery, etc. With the top down, though, it was easy to ask folks on those occasions where there were folks around. I'm watching the clock all the time, of course.
After a mile or two just going by instinct, I drove into a parking lot and asked a couple. "Well, it's a little complicated but you can do it." One of the complications was that it was dark by now. I was told to go for awhile, then turn left onto Beulah, and follow the signs. I tried that, but couldn't see most street signs due to the competing commercial lighting (this is a commercially dense area, and it was the end of the day's commute). In other words, there were plenty of lights but none on the street signs. In desperation, I made a left, drove into another parking lot and asked the Korean proprietess. She didn't know about Wolf Trap, but when I mentioned that someone had said to go along Beulah, she said, "Well, this is Beulah." But the clock was racing me, and I began to get comfortable with the possibility that I would be going home without attending the concert. But, time to give it a little more effort.
I never did see any signs on Beulah. But I stopped a jogger and asked whether I had a chance. He envisioned a couple difficult intersections to manage (in terms of how to get through them onto the correct street), but gave excellent directions, and by following them strictly and not allowing myself to deviate one bit, I ended up looking at The Barns at Wolf Trap 20 yards from the last turn he described. Oh, my gosh. Would I have time to use the bathroom? We'll see.
I entered to a rather sparse crowd, I thought. I went to the bar and ordered a cup of coffee. "Say, doesn't this concert start at 7:30?" "No, sir. It's at 8." But it was certainly an exciting trip.
[written 15 October 2011]
I've just listened to the last of my set of Kronos Quartet CDs. This being one of the first I obtained, I was struck once again by the fact that I was in on the beginning of what became a "big deal." The first of these (but not chronologically) was my involvement with what became Starbucks (described elsewhere), but this one goes back to my earliest days in Seattle.
S and I lived in the north end of Seattle, when we first arrived there. Our first apartment (fall of 1973) was around 165th (the city border is at 145th), and our first house was at 148th. From either the apartment or, later, the house, we would set out walking at the end of what passed for a working day (I was a student) and either visit a grocery store or, perhaps, the library at 175th. In the beginning, this was a very modest building, but probably in 1974 the library was completely rebuilt into a two-story community structure where books were on the ground floor and community activities somewhere on the second. It was a glorious space.
King County is a notoriously liberal area (its congressmen and senators have to die in office), and it had (has?) a very generous program to encourage the arts. I think it was called "1% for the Arts," referring to the amount of tax income dedicated to promoting art. As part of that program, one would often find some sort of artistic endeavor going on in the library building. One evening, we strolled in to find signs indicating that a string quartet would be playing on the second floor. All were welcome and, of course, it was free. S decided to stay downstairs with the books, but I—always mindful of the great love my friend Ed Robinson has for string quartets—strode determinedly upstairs to improve my mind. For free.
There were no more than five people in the audience, and three had come with the quartet. That left me and a somewhat out-of-place looking Hispanic gentleman who looked as if the library acted as something of a refuge for him. We heard a couple traditional string quartets, then the Hispanic gentleman offered a suggestion: "Hey, do you guys know 'Roll Over, Beethoven'?"
The story usually ends at that point, because I tell it to folks who know who the Kronos Quartet is. I see from Wikipedia that David Harrington formed a quartet called Kronos in 1973, probably a year before this event, and then moved to San Francisco in 1978. Their first recording was issued in 1982, but the recording that made them famous didn't appear for a few years after that—"Purple Haze," a very modernistic rendering of Jimi Hendrix's famous theme.
So, the point of this story is that the key to the success of Kronos was offered to them more than ten years before they took the hint, and by a guy who might well have been attending his first (and last) classical concert.
An additional stimulus for writing all this down is that I just bought a ticket to the next performance in town of the Ahn Trio, a group of Korean-American women who are both sisters and also classical musicians. Like Kronos, they started out playing traditional string trios (a classical trio comprises a piano, violin, and cello). They were hardly alone in this, although the audience for such things is only slightly larger than the number of musicians who play them. Their big break came, I'm guessing, when they were picked by People magazine as among the 50 most beautiful people in the world. The Gallery at their web site shows something of the evolution of their look. So, what does looks have to do with classical music? It gets your attention. It draws your attention away from others, or it draws your attention, period. I'm sure I went to see them, the first time, just for that reason, although I do have some background in classical music.
They're very good, but so what. That first time I saw them, it was clear that many in the audience were there solely for their looks, and most of that audience was female. The people who showed up for that concert were largely of Korean extraction (not rare in my area), and although they themselves probably had little interest in classical music, they were much interested in pop stars, and that is what the Ahn sisters had become for their community. Good for them.
Like Kronos, Ahn Trio turned to modern music when their new pop image took off. They are still very serious classical musicians, but their concerts (and recordings) are as likely to include arrangements of, say, Riders in the Sky (original by The Doors) as something by Beethoven. I'm not at all convinced (looking at the audiences of the concerts I've attended) that this has been successful in drawing younger people. By and large, young people just don't care for this sort of thing at all.
But how many have to—for Kronos and the Ahns to make a living? The world of classical music has always been a stimulus for world unity, perhaps following in the steps of the first world unifier—royalty. )
[written 10 September 2011]
Every now and again, I get involved in some personal project that eats me and my time alive. The current one (showing no signs of ending) is a re-visit to the project of scanning my existing photographs. I want to explain what that means, both for anyone reading this and also to remind myself later on.
I often forget that "scanning a photograph" means something very different to other people. To me, it simply means scanning negatives or slides. For most people, it means scanning paper photographs. But essentially, 'scanning' means 'digitizing'—converting a physical object into a virtual (or digital) one. Ultimately, I have the need to do both kinds of scanning, but my collection of physical photographs is small, and are mostly from other people. For the photographs I have taken over my life, I have seldom kept anything but the original negative or slide.
I have two film scanners. My current project reminded of several things about this equipment.
One, a film scanner is a device dedicated to scanning film or slides. It cannot scan paper photographs. However, many modern flatbed scanners (the kind you would use to scan paper photographs) have attachments to also scan negatives and slides. I revisited this subject during the current project, but my research corresponded with my experiments of a year or so ago: for the "archival" work I am doing, flatbed scanners are completely unacceptable. In the previous scanning project, I was making digital versions of photographs for inclusion in a university library collection. Some of the negatives are medium format, and I decided to re-do those negatives using the flatbed scanner after making the formal scans with one of my film scanners. I spent a couple days on this, but the results were completely unacceptable. Both with resolution and with exposure, the resulting images were distinctly poor in quality. I use a fine HP 8300 scanner with a rather elaborate set of negative/slide carriers built for that scanner.
Two, it helps to match the scanner design to the nature of the film being scanned. By this, I simply mean that if you are only doing 35mm film, stick to a scanner built just for that size. If you have a scanner for medium format (as I do), use it only for medium format, even though it also scans 35mm. The larger machine is by its nature "clunkier," and when you're doing batch scanning (to whatever extent this is possible), the smoother the better.
Three, for the most part, all this equipment is obsolete, no longer manufactured, and devoid of most support. The change from film to digital was really rather sudden, and the only equipment manufacturers left are, interestingly, small companies that did not exist ten years ago (or so it seems to me). My equipment was purchased, in fact, in the previous decade, and although by Nikon and Minolta, neither company offers film scanners anymore. I had some money a few years ago, and was interested in the Nikon version of a medium format scanner (the 9000 model, and primarily because the interface was USB). I waited for it to be re-stocked at any store I could find. I'm still waiting, but the money's gone!
In the old days, the "performance" interface was SCSI. That has disappeared so quickly, few modern computer people have even heard of it. My Minolta scanner requires that interface technology. Fortunately, I kept a SCSI controller in my peripherals collection, and to begin the current project, I rebuilt an existing computer into a dedicated scanning machine. Gosh, this was really a wise choice. In the past, I would adapt my current workstation to accomplish the task, but then have to put everything away when that computer was needed for normal activity. Now, this SCSI-based computer (which of course also provides USB connections) does nothing but wait for me to use it. Of course, it sits on what other people call a "dining room table," but that's of no use to me, so let's call it a "scanning table." See it here.
I might mention here that because a slightly earlier project had been building a computer dedicated to hosting Windows Home Server, the output of my scanning activity is automatically backed up to that server each night.
The initial frustration so many people have encountered is that the software originally included with your film scanner no longer works on whatever system you're now using. Although that is not technically true for me at the moment (with the dedicated computer built to host this activity), I had some time ago discovered VueScan, a dedicated scanning application built to handle any scanner in the world (in contrast to manufacturer applications, which are customized for the equipment they sell). Even Nikon recommends that modern users use VueScan instead of their own Nikon Scan application (which is no longer supported).
There is one other commercial scanning application—SilverFast, but I have not needed to evaluate this.
Various experiments have led me to choose the following configuration for my scans. I scan to "archival" quality, using the TIFF file format. On VueScan, archival quality automatically makes use of the maximum resolution of which the scanner is capable. Because of the nature of TIFF, this yields massive file sizes (and is more or less useless for web use, my only goal), so I run the Batch command of IrfanView (an image viewer discovered years ago that continues to maintain its very high standards) to convert my day's work into the PNG format, which like TIFF is lossless. I store the results as PNG, then convert to JPEG on a just-in-time basis. In other words, when I want to actually use an image (put it on my web site), I convert the PNG original to JPEG. There are technical reasons for this we won't get into.
VueScan also offers a batch mode that processes a film strip (typically, six frames) in one or two steps. You wouldn't do this if you are scanning film for "professional" use (advertising, archiving, whatever) but for my purposes it is perfect. I can get up and do something else for a few minutes while the strip is being processed.
I want to show you a miracle. Take a look at this picture, which is absolutely typical of all my color photos in that it is ruined by mold. See the mold in the sky (it is everywhere, but in the sky is easiest to see)? Now, look at this version. Because this scanner has an infrared light source (in addition to the RGB type), and because VueScan supports use of that infraed light source to find mold, dirt, scratches, whatever, the application can delete the bad stuff, replacing it with good stuff, and the miracle is the photo you see before you.
Another kind of mold is evident in this picture. It is a fairly even scattering of a small object. I think of it as more insidious than that other kind, because the other kind can be dealt with in PhotoShop (to varying degrees). This kind defeats any reasonable attempt to cover it over. The version after correction by VueScan is here.
Once all the hardward and software technical issues are resolved, the results are just plain fun. I had the tremendous learning experience some years ago of creating a web site from some old negatives, and sometime after that, of creating another site to commemorate the life of my mother. Both experiences taught me much about the nature of these collections and what you can do with them. One of the biggest lessons I learned was to ask living persons about old pictures as soon as possible. I had gotten through only a few old pictures before my mother died. Then, my best source for photo identification was gone.
During my current project, I digitized a few hundred images from the time my former wife and I lived on Okinawa during my Air Force enlistment in the early 1970s. Fortunately, I have been able to ask her about this and that. One of the more amazing facts that came out of these conversations was that we lived in two different places during that 2.5-year period. I only recall one. But by examining details in the various photographs, I could easily see ample evidence for this and several other facts I have forgotten. This isn't yet an Alzheimer phenomenon, and we've discussed possible reasons. For example, she notes that she lived in these places nearly 24 hours a day, whereas I had a job away from our residence (and in a very disruptive schedule—four days on day shift, four days on swing shift, and four days on night shift, interrupted at any time by 19-hour flights). Anyway, it is actually fun to rediscover all these things, and to do so by examining these old photographs and playing detective.
Written 17 Oct 2011
As I listen to a collection of French art songs, I feel moved to complete my review of the recent Chinese culture events at Kennedy Center. No, I don't get the connection either, but let's go with it.
Last night was the Beijing Theater company's production of Top Restaurant, which I had assumed referred to the modern trend of fashionable restaurants in Beijing (a friend had deep-fried scorpian there a couple years ago). But, no, it was a fairly modern play but set at more or less the same time as Teahouse, which I saw here by the same company six years ago.
I left at intermission.
Was it bad? Not in the least. But I sat there realizing that I was relying almost exclusively on the subtitles projected at the sides of the stage, and it just wasn't any fun. Of course, there was the occasional phrase that I could even say, myself, but in general it was just a chore. My big thrill was just—again—seeing so many of my people gathered in one place, having chosen—for a variety of reasons—to make their homes in the United States. I felt the usual sense of pride, as I reflected on this, but then it struck me that you could see the same phenomenon in Beijing. In other words, if (as actually happened) Arthur Miller staged Death of a Salesman in Beijing, much of the audience would have been American (or, at least, English speaking). There are that many Americans living in China today. When I was in Hong Kong a few years ago, my friend Rich (at State Department) told me that 50,000 Americans were known to be living and working in Hong Kong. The enormity of that expatriate community didn't really hit me until I came back from that trip, as I realized that although I had met a few foreigners while visiting, most were not Americans. So I had not even seen 1% of the American community there.
My current area of residence might as well be renamed: "Washington, DC alias Moscow," there are so many Russians here. And we won't even begin to talk about the other countries of the world, many of which appear to have emigrated to the United States en masse.
Let me include now reviews of two earlier events that were part of the China Culture Month at Kennedy Center. I sent these descriptions to a few friends in email, and here they are for posterity.
[written 21 September 2011]
It seems to warrant a note.
I attended the first of three events in the China Culture Month at Kennedy Center, last night. It was, I had thought, a xiangsheng performance (like Abbott & Costello), but it was more open to the audience than those guys were. In fact, there were several impromptu segments that usually involved the audience. In theory, the two male performers were dogs who traveled into Beijing (or any city, I guess) and reported on what they saw. On reflection, I can't imagine why they were dogs; they certainly did not carry that pretense very far.
In my review of a Chinese culture event some years ago, I noted that the performance was probably intended for "Americans," but that the audience was mostly Chinese. If so, now they know better, and the performers knew they were talking to their countrymen who probably carry a different passport now. After all, although subtitled (when possible), the performance was in Chinese, and required a level of fluency of a native speaker (I enjoyed myself, anyway).
I still find myself stunned by this transformation--of what: US society or Chinese society? Around 1980, S and I were teaching an English class to the very first Chinese to be allowed to travel from Mao's China. By 2011 there are so many of those Chinese (there are really several kinds of Chinese or any other immigrant) that you can't count them anymore.
For the most part, the audience comprised Chinese who are here via the educational route. They came over as graduate students (or as spouses thereof) and are continuing their lives here. A small group of elderly ladies (much younger than I but not xiaojie) sat in front of me, but they might have been parents of immigrant younger folks. They didn't seem all that amused by the performance, which was certainly by their children's generation and, probably, for it. There were a couple themes throughout the "play" that clearly referenced the early lives in China of the audience. One involved ducklings and the other referenced songs (the audience would laugh or groan at the various triggers to their memories).
For me, a thrill came from just glancing over the audience. Average age was probably late 20s and mostly female (typical for cultural events of any type). Chinese are very proud of their hair, and this glance showed a sea of lustrous black hair, only occasionally bound up in a pony tail. Despite my fantasies, Chinese as a people are no more or less attractive than any other people, but there were several winners of the population's gene pool in attendance, and I noticed that when the two boys who were the performers stole purses from the audience, said purses had belonged to the more attractive among those front row seats (and whose owners had to go up on stage after the show to retrieve their bags). Guys--the same the world over.
[written 24 September 2011]
Talk about fantasies. An entire stage full of Chinese ballerinas.
Even in my reduced state, I weigh as much as the whole lot of them together. Of course, I'm kidding. Each is only 20-30 pounds less than the average Chinese woman. Normally, that would make them invisible, but they are wearing costumes. When they flutter around, you can tell where the body is. Probably.
There were three ballets, tonight. I went for the first one--The Red Detachment of Women. The second was the standard Western classic Swan Lake. And the show finished with the grand Yellow River.
I can't believe how much I enjoyed Red Detachment. I've been to several dance performances in my life, and after each I promise myself: "Never again." I remember the most recent. It was probably excellent, but to me everyone was just up there twirling and swirling to no purpose at all. In Red Detachment, we were being told a story. The Americans in the audience thought it was funny (it isn't), and probably the younger Chinese felt a bit embarrassed, it seeming rather militaristic. But we older Chinese saw it for what it is--the covers of several years of China Reconstructs coming off the page and onto the stage. Absolutely glorious.
Zhu Yan is, evidently, the prima ballerina of the troupe, and she was exquisite. Even I could tell. The other two ballets were more traditional, and I didn't care for them as much.
The night before, I had watched a favorite Japanese film: Hula Girls. I love to watch hula, and there are about 3-4 not-to-be-missed scenes of hula dancing spliced into the usual Asian melodrama. A movie like that (and hula in general), a guy could watch while drinking a beer or two. Red Detachment was like that. With Swan Lake, you switch to champagne, and with Yellow River you're deep into gaoliang.
A hundred people is a large group to bring over for a dance production, but we know Chinese don't do these international things by half measure.
So, I've seen Red Detachment, and I was wrong in an earlier prediction where I guessed this might be the last time anyone would perform it. Red Detachment will live forever. It might only play in China, but although the adversaries might have changed, the message is clear: we can accomplish miracles by working together. And when led by the example of a beautiful ballerina.
[posted 2 October 2011]
It's China culture month at Kennedy Center, beginning later in September. This happened last in 2005 (when I have some write-ups in the old blog).
Although I've sworn I would not attend another dance program, I found the existence of a performance of The Red Detachment of Women just too interesting to let go.
I signed up for a xiangsheng performance a few days before this, and tickets weren't exactly flying out the door, but I see that the theater is filling quickly now for all performances, and this mirrors what happened six years ago. Then, I had second row tickets for a play, but three performances ended up selling out.
It will be fun to be again with a few thousand of my people. It's been too long...28 August 2011
Time for another eye-witness report. Hurricane Irene, this time.
It was much worse than I expected. I thought the fairly light rain and gusting winds we saw most of yesterday (Saturday) was it. No. It didn't hit our area until about 10pm. I was in bed reading. Read for another half-hour, then tried for sleep. Gave up about 1, and took up the Kindle again. Put it down at 2:30, and tossed and turned for at least another hour (I saw 3:30 on the clock).
All told, the force of the storm was with us for at least five hours. When I stayed on Okinawa for a typhoon back in my Air Force career, the storm lasted little more than a half-hour. Here, it wasn't a constant wind, as happens when a typhoon is passing through, but the gusts built for, say, 30 seconds, then burst upon your building. This went on for hour after hour.
I heard some yells this morning (I'm writing this about 7am), so someone must have lost something, but there is no evident damage to the many cars parked below my balcony. We still have plenty of wind but the rain appears to have stopped. I see that my large plastic bin (bought some years ago to handle the second and subsequent floods in my apartment) has added nearly two feet of water, but of course that's not an accurate rain gauge.
With such an experience in my very protected semi-urban area, there must be much damage in our area. The Internet news concentrates on NYC, which is being hit as I write this. I'll walk the Mt Vernon Trail, today, so we'll see what the Potomac did. Electrical power sputtered three times before I went to bed, but there's no evidence it ever went off in my area.28 August 2011
I walked the Mt Vernon Trail, this afternoon, and damage wasn't bad at all. We've had worse from less serious storms. But there was a moment of "group dynamics" that I want to remember.
This fallen tree (actually, just a large branch) blocked the entire path, as you can see. People ride their bicycles and walk around such phenomena but it would be nice if it weren't so obstructive. I had investigated it on the way "down" on my walk, but decided it was impossible to move alone.
On the way back, a bicyclist had stopped and was investigating. "Do you think we could move this?" he asked me. "No," I replied after testing it again. "Maybe ten folks could do it?" he asked rhetorically.
We cleared away some of the foliage not specifically involved with this huge branch, and in that short period of time, another 3, 4, or 5 folks stopped to see if they could help. They could, and within five minutes we had picked up the branch and laid it against the trail for crews to cut up and remove at some later date.
What was so wonderful about this experience was the way it happened. It needed a couple things. It needed a leader. That was the role played by the bicyclist I met on the way back. And it needed a commitment by some folks before others would join in (I'm very familiar with this phenomenon). Once all those factors were in place, the group used its considerable strength, and resolved the situation.
No one knew anyone else. I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I don't even know what anyone looked like. We just did what needed to be done and then disbanded. A rather marvelous principle, I think, and it felt terribly satisfying to have been part of it.
I've put together a couple words and pictures regarding our earthquake today, so if you care to take a look, please do.
Well, a blog is back up, even if it isn't the one we're used to. Something happened about a month ago during which not only did the web server fail, but so did the router that gives me my Internet signal. And last night I discovered that the domain controller (which is not used with this blog but is a part of the network) also fails to run. My guess is that some weather event caused all this, and due to a bunch of problems (diagnosing the router being amongst the more difficult ones), it is taking a while to get everything back into some kind of useful shape.
All data appears to have been recovered but an added complication is that I had actually intended to swap servers. Now, of course, I have no choice. And I had to partially strip the new server (as part of the router diagnosis), and I'm not sure how quickly that will all go together.
Last weekend, I spent at a SharePoint conference here in the Washington, DC area, and I'm not available this weekend, either. Goodness, it could be a bit before this site looks anything like it did before.
One good piece of news is that I also took a few days to study for the COMP TIA Security+ exam. Folks who don't work in the IT world and, especially, the government sector might not recognize that certification, but it's necessary for such jobs as the one I had before my current one. So, why did I just get the certificate now? Too long a story, but it's over and I'm glad. It's a lifetime certificate, so that's the end of that study path.
I am completely recovered from the prostate surgery. Have been doing my normal daily exercise program for more than a month now.
The weather has been incredibly good this August, something of a payback for one of the hottest Julys on record. I have not had the air conditioning on all month. And signs multiply that summer is nearing its normal end.
I'll post the occasional note in this format, until the normal blog gets back into place. Take care...15 August 2011