Monday, August 4, 2014

Cinematic Photography

Every once in a while I come across a photo online that's processed in such a way, that it looks like someone hit the pause button on a blu-ray and then took a screenshot. Excluding the most actionless of scenes, that of course would not be as high a quality as a traditional still photo is, but you get the idea. As I've said before, I'm a huge movie fan and I love taking pictures, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that I think photos styled this way can be very dope. Oddly enough, other than a Phlearn tutorial from last year, I haven't seen much talk about this particular style before now. Last weekend the guys over at Fstoppers posted an excellent article, in which they interviewed 2 of the more popular photographers shooting this way today, and so naturally, last night, I finally sat down and began trying to learn the technique myself. Here's a look at my first attempt, but ignore the boring composition. This photo was never supposed to see the light of day, but it was one of the first photos I came across in my library that I thought would be receptive to this kind of processing. To be honest, I suspect most photos are, and I'm just ignorant to the fact.

Straight out of camera

One way I might process it normally

 First attempt at a cinematic look

For a first attempt, I think it's okay, but I know I can do better with a little practice. Not to mention going forward I be able to shoot with this technique in mind, so hopefully I'll get better.

Update: The black bars go unnoticed on Blogger, so my Flickr page is the best place to check it out.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool's AssassinFool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are  books that you read in which you're mostly invested in plot. You want to know the what, where, why and how of things. When those stories end it often feels like you've been on a grand adventure--maybe the protagonist has been all over the world, overcoming a series of obstacles of increasing difficulty--and you’ve been witness to it all through their eyes. Done well, these books tend to have fully fleshed out characters with believable relationships. Most fiction I read is of this type. I love these books.

That’s not what Robin Hobb gives us in ‘Fool’s Assassin.’  Her Fitz and Fool books are all about the people, and they are amazing. Maybe it’s the first person point-of-view, but I'm hesitant to even call the deeply introspective Fitz a character at all. He feels more realized as an actual person, than some actual people do. Taking place essentially in one location, the grand adventure of ‘Fool’s Assassin,’ is largely a matter of relationships, and I don’t know an author that handles them better than Hobb. Don't assume the relationships I’m speaking of are necessarily the traditional human to human type that may have come to mind. I can also easily say she almost singlehandedly set my beliefs on same sex relationships with one of her earlier works, and she didn't even explicitly write one. Before that time I didn't have a belief. I don't mean that to say she’s emotionally manipulative, or that this isn't a fantasy novel, because she isn't and this undeniably is, but when she’s at her best (as she was in her ‘Tawny Man’ trilogy)?I think she produces the best writing that fantasy has to offer, the writing I want to share with non-fantasy readers...the writing that sticks with you.

As much as I loved it, one problem I had with this book, was that after the more than 10 year gap since the last book in this world was published, the start of this one felt like I was jumping on a stationary bike and the pedals were already spinning. It was a minor issue, but it took a little while for me to get some of the names, and previous plot points in order.

As for the plot, I didn't want to give any of it away in this review because even a little would be too much, in my opinion. And if you’re interested in reading ‘Fool’s Assassin,’ you’ll have to read the six novels that come before it, as you should. An aside: as the first books begin when Fitz is a young child, they seem more plot driven like the books I mentioned at the start, and grow into these rich, complex character pieces. Regardless, they’re all important works of fantasy, that I highly recommend.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read Hobb’s ‘Liveship Traders’ trilogy, or her ‘Rain Wild’ books yet, and I could barely stomach her ‘Soldier Son’ trilogy. I received a free ARC of ‘Fool’s Assassin,’ under the condition that I would review it, and make my review available to the publisher.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Book Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

LexiconLexicon by Max Barry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Were this the first book in a series, as opposed to a standalone entry I might've rated it a little higher. But it's not, so I won't.

I'll say up front that I don't have a problem recommending Lexicon, as it's an easy, quick* read, that won't annoy you with what it does. I ultimately liked it, though my review may make it seem otherwise. Simply put, I just didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did the idea of it.

Lexicon takes place in the modern day United States and Australia, and in this world the human mind can be controlled or subverted by certain individuals with an aptitude for it. People that show the skill, or talent are recruited by a private school in the D.C. area, where they learn to hone their skills, and maybe more interestingly their defenses. For the sake of spoilers, that's all the table setting I'll do for this book. If that premise doesn't sound interesting, it's probably best to move on to something else.

I said Lexicon wouldn't bother you with what it does, and while that was true for me, my biggest gripe lay in what I felt the author didn't do enough. He gifted us a really interesting mind control element, which for lack of a better term, is essentially a magic system, but he never used it in a way that actually felt satisfying to me. For much of my reading time, I kept expecting this ability to be demonstrated in some unique, other-than-obvious way, but much to my disappointment, it never was. There were also other elements of the book that only scratched the surface of their potential, in my opinion, such as clandestine organizations, or shady international characters being introduced late and removed far to abruptly, etc. One last thing that should probably be mentioned is that the timeline can be a bit confusing, as at times the story is being told in the present tense, and then other times it shifts to the past tense, without warning. This was sometimes disorienting, but I think that was intentional, and eventually I grew used to it.

Addressing 1 or 2 of these issues, would've made a big difference in my opinion of Mr. Barry's book. As I said, overall it's enjoyable, as long as you don't expect too much of it.

Concept: A
Execution: B- to C+

*I took almost a month to finish it, but you could easily start the book on a Monday, and be looking for your next read by the weekend.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Review: The Good Dad: Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be by James Daly

The Good Dad: Becoming the Father You Were Meant to Be by James Daly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book up at the library based solely on the cover photo catching my eye; it was just a whim, really. It wasn't shelved, but was instead on a table of other books that someone or someones were trying to highlight that day, and I'm really glad they did. In the spirit of full disclosure I feel like I should mention that I'm not a father, nor do I normally read books such as this one. However, I do have a ton of opinions and ideas on what it means to be a dad*, and a lot of this book resonated with me. It manages to stroke that sweet spot where it presented the author's opinions and ideas in ways I'd never considered, while avoiding coming off as too preachy. Jim lost his mom at a young age, and then several dads(including his biological one) over the years to follow, but he doesn't harbor any ill will or resentment as it comes across on the page. Something I appreciated about this book is that Jim freely admits when he needs to work on becoming better at something, or when someone else, such as his wife's method of parenting is better than his. That kind of honesty is pretty apparent from the start. Though he speaks from a Christian point of view at times, as I said earlier, it's never preachy, and it mostly comes up incidentally. Not once did I close this book feeling like it was trying to make me anything but a better father.

I'd recommend 'The Good Dad' to anyone with even a remote interest in parenting, regardless of sex, experience, or religion. It's a quick read and the pages fly. I could've finished it in one long sitting, but I split it up into 4 quick ones.

*The saying "no battle plan survives its first major encounter with the enemy," is a belief I hold firmly, so I'm not too beholden to these ideas.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014


On August 18, 2012, I was the driver in car accident with an 18-wheeler in which my girlfriend lost her life. It's never been a secret, and most know the basics as I've never had a problem talking to friends about it. However some don't know about it at all, and while I'll be explaining some portions of it for most of my foreseeable life, this post is in part to help with the struggle of trying to explain to people that probably won't ever really know me.

The intent of this is not to eulogize. I wouldn't do that here, so this is not that. And like that older post, this may also be deleted or moved at some point, as it's far more important than the stuff I normally post here. I know the tone is kind of terse, and I don't mean to come off as ungrateful, I just don't want to be misunderstood. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Review: A Hungry Heart: A Memoir by Gordon Parks

A Hungry Heart: A MemoirA Hungry Heart: A Memoir by Gordon Parks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book I'd been meaning to read for a few months, but when it was mentioned recently in one of my favorite photography podcasts, I decided there was no time better than the present. If you want the short answer on whether this is worth reading, the answer is a resounding yes, immediately! As I'm a hobbyist photographer, I approached this from that angle, and the book truly came alive once Gordon purchased his first camera, as a young man. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but I will say it's almost unbelievable all the things Mr. Parks accomplished and all the people he met and befriended in his time. If you've seen the movie Forrest Gump, Gordon's tales can seem very Gumpesque, only Gordon's are real and even more common, and that's both good and bad, at times. Not to mention that given his brown skin, the era he lived in and the issues he was trying to expose and change with his camera, his real life is far more impressive than any movie character's fictional one could ever hope to be.

My original rating of this book was only 4 stars, because Goodreads doesn't allow half stars, and I wanted to give myself a day or two to think on it, to avoid being a prisoner of the moment. I've done that. I'm not. This is a 4.5-5 star book. Go love it.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

My Next PC

How many PCs do do you count?
Back in 2009, while building my current desktop, I tossed around the idea that unless I was teaching my future children how to do so, this machine would probably be my last complete build. Surprisingly that thought had absolutely nothing to do with us seemingly marching headfirst into the "Post-PC era," due to the rise of smartphones and tablets. I will always have a desktop machine, as long as that option is available to me. I'm an odd one in that I prefer the trappings of a desk and a large monitor or two, over the mobility and options a laptop offers, though I have a laptop too, of course.

One of the biggest reasons for that musing, was because I thought by the time I needed a new computer(now), I'd just buy an OEM rig, and upgrade key components, like the video card, memory and storage, as needed. For years the difference in prices between a self-built machine, and one from an OEM have been dwindling to the point that it's almost non-existent now. Excluding Apple, the price of an average desktop from an OEM is very close to that of the price of a home-build, and it's less work. And that less work part is the other main reason I hoped  thought I might be done. The process and all that comes with a new build isn't, nearly as enjoyable for me nowadays, as it was when I was a kid. Back then it was a thing to boast about, but now it feels less like a hobby I enjoy, and more like a chore. The selecting of components, reading of reviews, and compatibility checking, etc, can be a  boring grind, to be honest.

Having said that, I don't know what the heck I was thinking. I'm planning a new desktop, and there's no way in the world I could go with an off-the-shelf rig, when I can do it myself, with the exact parts I want. I'm also considering going the Hackintosh route this time around, with a small Windows installation, for gaming. I'm still undecided on that though, and SteamOS is right around the corner, throwing yet another ball into the mix, so it's still up in the air at this point. Side note: if you stumbled across this post randomly, and are wondering why I'm spreading what could be done in a single day over a few weeks to months, it's because I'm unemployed at the moment, and a new computer will have to wait.

I'll either update this post or make new ones as I go through the process, so be on the lookout for them some time later.