culture freedom music

Sound of Da Police

I’ve expressed my admiration for this song before but goddamn, I can’t think of a more appropriate song considering recent events. It does a great job of showing the ongoing problems black folks have had with the cops. It’s sad that the song is just as relevant today as ever…


Are you really for peace and equality? Or when my car is hooked up
You know you wanna follow me, your laws are minimal
‘Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal
This has got to cease
‘Cause we be getting hyped to the sound of da police




art photography technology Uncategorized

Film Photography reality Check

Noticed my Horseman VHR system in the corner. Again. It’s the last big film rig that I own. The Horseman VHR is a mini press camera (think press photographers from the 30s and 40s) that has interchangeable lenses and removable backs. It also has a rangefinder and framing window, so it works kind of like a really, really big Leica.

Horseman VHR

Anyway, I’ve got it, three lenses (all set up properly for the system), 5 backs, and seemingly every accessory ever made for it. That includes the custom hard case and another soft case. I originally bought it with the idea of taking it to Yemen. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons but I’ve had it ever since.

I’ve been meaning to sell it for years. Just haven’t gotten around to it. Looking at it last night I shook my head and realized that I should have sold it years ago. I’m not likely to get much for the system these days. Sigh.

Then a little thought popped into my head. “Why don’t you use it? If you won’t get much money for it, why not? That’s why you bought it in the first place Isaac…”

That had a lot of appeal. I bought the camera system because I really liked it. I loved shooting with film, did it for years. I found a light meter app for the phone and downloaded it for free. Ilford is still going strong making film for the camera. Plus, the lab I liked using is still around and is now doing scanning too. This was starting to look good…

OK, time to get serious. How much would this cost? Added it up and it came to almost $800. Wow. Er, maybe I don’t need the super fancy processing. I’ll do negatives instead of positives. OK, 18 rolls of film (they are done in batches of 6) came up to just over $500.

Five. Hundred. Dollars. Keep in mind that there is no guaranty that I’d get anything I liked, or possibly anything at all. Never mind that this is how we used to do photography. You’d pay lots of money and see if you got anything useful. Digital photography has totally eliminated all of the guesswork, the time, and reduced shooting to a costless activity. Actually considering spending money to take pictures seems a bit crazy these days since the normal thing to do is free.

So I was left wondering what I’d gain by spending the money. It isn’t clear to me what the benefit would be beyond some (expensive) nostalgia. I could imagine the possibility that the negatives could be enlarged more than what my current camera offers but that doesn’t seem like a likely limitation. I don’t have any real complaints about my current camera and lenses. I’m pretty sure whatever I could do with the Horseman I could do digitally. $500 would almost buy me the newer version of the camera I have now or go a long ways towards a really sweet lens. Or something else, anything else.

Yeah, I can’t justify that kind of money on taking pictures. I was happy paying for and shooting film when that was what photography was. I have some ideas of what I’d like to shoot. I’m going to try with the digital camera. I reserve the right to go back to film if I think it’ll help but I think the Horseman is destined for eBay. Eventually. One day…


The real reason to study mathematics

Had a quick discussion on about studying higher mathematics and what the point was. I got a lot out of studying mathematics. Now, when I talk about higher mathematics I’m talking about things like multi-variable calculus, matrix algebra, and advanced statistics. You real math folks would scoff at those being “advanced” but they are just a bit more than most undergrads study I think. In any case, this is how and why I studied those thing. Oh, and what I got out of them.

I think the first actual mathematics I did was in 9th grade. What I mean is that it was the first time I had to think mathematically instead of just following an algorithm. It was an intro to geometry class. We started with basic logic, truth tables, basic proofs. I loved the entire course. The rest of high school slowly drained me of any interest I had in mathematics. By the time I limped through my analysis class in 11th grade I was done. It had stopped making sense to me. Like most kids my overwhelming question was, “Why in the world do I need to know this stuff? I’ll never add an infinite sequence or find out what the limit of something is.”

I proceeded to major in film and photogtraphy in college. Was not required to take any mathematics and I didin’t take any. Why would I? One thing I did take as part of my religon/philosophy minor was logic. It was an intro to symbolic logic course and it brought back all of the warm feelings I had in my geometry course. I did really well in it and have made good use of it all through the rest of my life. It was there that the then arbitrary sounding rules of association that were covered in 8th grade made sense to me.

I got my BFA in ’94 and proceeded to join the working world. The most complicated thing I did mathematically was to calculate sales tax. 4 or 5 years out of school I began to read voraciously again. Mostly nonfiction. Read several books on the history of mathematics. I have no idea what prompted that. There could have been a very good reason for it but it was probably just a whim. In any case, I really enjoyed them. There wasn’t actually any mathematics in them, they were really histories of thought. How thinking about things like the Arabic number system, zero, negative numbers, and imaginary numbers came about and how folks tried to make sense of them.

My next purchase was volume 1 of a three volume set entitled Mathematics; Its Form, Content, and Meaning. Why in the world would I buy that? I read the introduction while sitting in Barnes and Nobles. Those 30 pages were able to make sense of my three years of high school math courses. All it took was 30 pages. I’m still a little bitter about this. Who knows what I might have done if I managed to understand and enjoy mathematics in high school… I was never really able to connect the dots between algebra and geometry and into mathematical analysis. 30 pages was all it took.

That was the last thing I did with mathematics for 7 or 8 years. When I decided to go back to grad school for architecture I knew that I would need calculus. When I decided to go for an economics PhD instead I knew that I would need a lot more math than just a calculus course. I took pre calc, calculus 1 and 2 (8 credits worth all told), matrix algerbra, and statistics 1 and 2. I eventually took an intro to econometrics course (basically a little more advanced and applied statistics course) and I learned multi variable calculus on the fly in a graduate econ course.

I did pretty well in all of them. Well, that last course where I had to learn multivariable calculus and the course’s content at the same time almost killed me but the rest were fine. I can honestly say that I have never had to use any of the mathematics I learned since I got out of school. I’m still really glad I took those courses though. Why? What changed between high school and grad school?

One of my guiding principles in life is that the more you know, the more you can know. True to form, it really wasn’t possible to learn the economics I did without knowing the math as well. So there’s that. Mathematics can open up new fields of knowledge for you. On top of that, mathematics can open your mind to things that you wouldn’t have thought were related.

For example, studying infinities made some spiritual and philosophical concepts easier to grapple with. Learning that some infinities are constrained while others aren’t, learning that there are some infinities larger than others, and learning that anything divided by infinity was equal to zero all blew my mind. More importantly those lessons loosened up some mental blocks I had when it came to understanding eternity, quantum mechanics, and some other tricky philosophical issues.

My econometrics course was the culmination of my statistical studies. We spent a lot of time agonizing over the importance of truly random samples, how safe your assumption over how the underlying data fell across a normal distribution was, and how to minimize likely errors in estimating the central tendency of a data set. All great statistical knowledge to be sure but it also taught me so much about assumptions we make when making decisions, the value of realizing that things may not be the way they look at a casual glance, and the importance of starting with good data.

There are tons more but basically it was very easy for me to generalize the lessons I got from my mathematics courses to many other aspects of life. Usually it wasn’t the minutia of the problem solving that were important but rather the underlying principles that made all of the mathematics possible. Turns out they make other kinds of thinking possible too. Mathematics has really enriched my life in ways that nothing else could. While I’ve never had to find the second derivative of anything in real life, and I doubt I could do it now, I’m so very glad I know what it means.



It’s been a while…

Wow, my last post was on July 4. Funny how time can get away from you. I’ve had it in the back of my mind to get back to blogging at least and maybe even audio blogging again. Just have not been in the right frame of mind for it. My creative impulses come and go and they’ve been gone for a while now. Think I’m getting some sort of impulse. Hopefully I’ll follow through with it. Anyway, stay tuned. I hope to get some stuff out sooner than later…


“American” songs

It’s the 4th of July again. This time around I want to talk a little about songs that I think are uniquely American. Well, that’s “Proud to be American,” or maybe something by Sousa right? No, not what I mean. Those types of songs could be written or performed anywhere. Paeans to nationalism are always welcomed by whoever is in power. The 4th of July always reminds me of rebelliousness and I want songs that typify that. I’ve lived in a country where these sorts of songs would not be allowed to air, but they are considered classics here. Now that’s American…


First up is “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. This song seems to be misunderstood as often as “Every Breath You Take by The Police and “The One I Love” by R.E.M. I have no idea how though. “Fortunate Son” starts with the line, “Some folks are born, made to wave the flag. Ooh they’re red, white, and blue.” Seemingly this is as far as most people listen. It was played a lot for the 4th of July and other patriotic holidays. That lone line was also featured in a Wrangler ad complete with a waving American flag. Somehow the meaning of the chorus “It ain’t me!” eludes people even though they sing along with it. I’m pretty sure it came out in 68 or 69 and is clearly an anti-war, anti-powers that be song.

I ain’t no Senator’s son.

I ain’t no military son.

I ain’t no millionaire’s son.

It ain’t me…

It’s the kind of song that governments everywhere would ban, especially during wartime, but not here! Given the times, it was quite a bit edgier than it sounds now but is still a powerful song. Check out this performance from 1970 at the Royal Albert Hall. Can anything be more American? The look, the sound? The message?



The next song is also a protest one. There’s no question that black folks have had a rough time at the hands of the police over the ages. That’s the basis of “Sound of Da Police” from KRS-1. He weaves an amazing line between modern police forces and the overseers on southern plantations. He doesn’t allude to slavery, he doesn’t suggest that there are parallels, he says that the same thing is happening today. Once again, a direct confrontation of authority, all centered around the legacy of American slavery. Now that’s American! Can you imagine some of the founding fathers penning something similar? OK, maybe not but the same sentiment was there!


Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!
Stand clear! Don man a-talk
You can’t stand where I stand, you can’t walk where I walk
Watch out! We run New York
Police man come, we bust him out the park
I know this for a fact, you don’t like how I act
You claim I’m sellin’ crack
But you be doin’ that
I’d rather say “see ya”
Cause I would never be ya
Be a officer? You wicked overseer!
Ya hotshot, want to get props and be a savior
First show a little respect, change your behavior
Change your attitude, change your plan
There could never really be justice on stolen land
Are you really for peace and equality?
Or when my car is hooked up, you know you want to follow me
Your laws are minimal
Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal
This has got to cease
Cause we be getting hyped to the sound of da police!
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!
Now here’s a likkle truth
Open up your eye
While you’re checking out the boom-bap, check the exercise
Take the word “overseer,” like a sample
Repeat it very quickly in a crew for example
Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer!
Yeah, officer from overseer
You need a little clarity?
Check the similarity!
The overseer rode around the plantation
The officer is off patrolling all the nation
The overseer could stop you what you’re doing
The officer will pull you over just when he’s pursuing
The overseer had the right to get ill
And if you fought back, the overseer had the right to kill
The officer has the right to arrest
And if you fight back they put a hole in your chest!
(Woop!) They both ride horses
After 400 years, I’ve got no choices!
The police them have a little gun
So when I’m on the streets, I walk around with a bigger one
(Woop-woop!) I hear it all day
Just so they can run the light and be upon their way
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!
Check out the message in a rough stylee
The real criminals are the C-O-P
You check for undercover and the one PD
But just a mere Black man, them want check me
Them check out me car for it shine like the sun
But them jealous or them vexed cause them can’t afford one
Black people still slaves up til today
But the Black police officer nah see it that way
Him want a salary
Him want it
So he put on a badge and kill people for it
My grandfather had to deal with the cops
My great-grandfather dealt with the cops
My great grandfather had to deal with the cops
And then my great, great, great, great, when it’s gonna stop?!
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!



Both of these songs were made in order to resist overbearing authority, I think that’s a fitting legacy. Happy Independence Day everyone!


Audioblog #22 Spending money. Econ, audio, sous vide

I hope to do some economics based audioblogs soon. No, they won’t be the final word on anything but I hope to spread some ideas about thinking in an economic way. Also, I’m plotting my spending ways. Looking forward to a new audio receiver and possibly a sous vide appliance. Since I recorded this, I have gone ahead and ordered a Digital to Analog Convertor (DAC). No, this will not replace the receiver, don’t be silly… With any luck both audio blogs and regular ones will start becoming more regular. Stay tuned…



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Audioblog #21 Podcasts

Every once in a while I get asked what podcasts I listen to. If you’re not familiar with podcasts you should be. There are hundreds of thousands of recorded audio programs available for free covering every topic imaginable. My list has changed a bit over the past year. Here is the current list:

Radiolab. A show that shows up on public radio. Very well done. They pick an interesting story and tell it talking to a variety of people and interviews. Highly recommended.

This American Life. A well known Public radio staple. Ira Glass’s show, they pick a topic and tell multiple stories revolving around that topic. They mix in true stories and fiction around the topic. Highly recommended.

The Talk Show. John Gruber talks (at length) with a guest about tech stuff in general and usually revolves around Apple. I do think he has a lot to say about excellent products. I’m only listening once in a while these days but still enjoy it.

The Critical Path. Horace Deidu from Asymco talks disruption, innovation, and competition in the tech and entertainment worlds. A high level view of different industries and how they evolve. Great if you’re interested in tech and/or econ.

Stratechery. This one is also a high level tech podcast with an economic bent. He talks about economic issues in the tech world, business models, and choices that need to be made by those companies. A new one, only three episodes old.

Econ Talk. Russ Roberts talks economics with a different guest every week. I don’t listen as much as I once did but still a compelling show. Russ is very good at talking to people that he disagrees with so you get a wide variety of guests on the show.

Free Thoughts. This one is put on by the Cato Institute and is part of I’m sure you can guess what this is about. Cato tends to be less strident and more scholarly. This is a great show if you are interested in libertarianism of course but also great for anyone interested in politics. There is a lot of discussion about political economy on there.

Discover ADN. This is a show made by Jason Irwin. He interviews people that are using, a social platform that is a little different than the rest of them. What is great about this is that it shows how interesting regular folks can be. Everyone has a story to tell. That thought gives me hope for us all:)

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Life as I See it Audioblog #20

My first audio post in a long time. Will try to start up again. This is just a quick note to let you know what’s been going on with me. My usual service for hosting my audios is down so it will just live here for the time being. Be sure to subscribe with the link below!

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Getting there… (photography)

Do we remember this picture I took?

"Straight" out of camera
Original image

In my last post I kvetched about the endless possibilities making it difficult for me for me to previsualize my picture as I was taking it. There are so many possible changes that can be done that it makes it almost impossible to imagine what you can do beforehand. I’m sticking to that. I am, however, trying to learn what I can do with the tools I have and see if I can keep them in mind as I shoot.  I decided to hit the magic monkey button for a while to see what the possibilities were. Actually got some interesting images but once again, they didn’t feel like mine. They had been generated from my picture but I wasn’t involved in how they ended up looking. I then started to go through the preloaded effects in the plugin called Adjust. Most of them were hokey and I was giving up hope until I clicked on “color negative.”

Now usually color negatives are hopeless visually. Skies go orange, white people have a lot of green in them, and everything looks really funky in general. Foliage goes magenta when you reverse it. Once again, that is usually a big problem. This image wasn’t so bad though because it was mostly shades of green and yellow originally. That lead to shades of magenta and blue when reversed.

I really liked what I was seeing. The reversed light/dark tones gave it more structure. Now the image was mostly darker with spots of lighter areas inside. That keeps the eye inside the frame. It also helped bring out the complexity of the shapes and patterns of the leaves. I corrected the magenta out and turned it to shades of blue and violet. Darkened the image overall and did a few tweaks to the luminosity to particular colors and came up with this:

Color negative and various tweaks.
Color negative and various tweaks.

I really like this and I feel like it is mine. It doesn’t look anything like the original scene but I think I’m OK with that. This is going to sound weird but in some ways this is more how I “saw” the original scene.  I loved the density, the shapes, and the variation between light and dark. Doing the extreme adjustments brought out the things I liked.

I think I will put this technique in my tool box whenever I’m faced with a situation where the edges are lighter than I’d like. It’s also only going to be useful when dealing with a scene with small variations in color. Still, I’ll remember this.

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Why digital photography is frustrating to me

I had gotten a new lens and was on vacation. That meant that photographs would be taken! It was a really overcast day and I was wandering around in front of mom’s house when I saw a bush. I liked what I saw so I snapped a picture.

"Straight" out of camera
Original image

Doesn’t look like much I know but what attracted me to it was the shapes, the contrast inside each leaf, and how visually dense the picture would end up being. If I would have shot this with film, it probably would have been on 4×5 TXP shot at an EI of 200, developed in D-76 1:1 at n+2, printed on my favorite cold tone paper (zone 6 Brilliant) with a highish filter, and then toned with selenium. For those of you not familiar with darkroom talk, all that essentially means I would have shot and processed it to add some contrast. The toning means that I would take the image from a straight B&W to having the image (as opposed to the paper) turn a very slight eggplant color. Anyway, it would have looked something like this:

Like it would be from the darkroom
Old school processing

Truth be told, this is how I “saw” the bush when I brought the camera up. In my mind, this is the essence of modernist “art” photography. The process is there to bring out what the photographer sees in their mind. It is a unique window into how the artist sees the world. With practice, the photographer “sees” the world through his materials and understands what it will look like at the end. For me, this was the appeal of photography. Being able to see things a certain way and bring them into the world was very satisfying.

OK, fine, you were comfortable with the darkroom materials Isaac but it’s a brave new world. And yes, I fully admit that I’m not nearly as comfortable with modern photography processes. Photoshop is a world that I don’t plan on getting into. I find it to be complete overkill for most photo uses and better suited to graphic artists. I stumbled across Topaz Labs and they make a series of tools that I find more approachable. Mind you, I am still a bit bewildered over the sheer number of options it presents but I at least feel comfortable noodling around with it.

One of the more basic tools in digital photography processing is layers. Essentially, you are able to have different versions of the picture and you can blend them to various degrees. I had an idea of how I could combine the first two versions and get a third that I think would look good. With a little practice I might be able to anticipate this and use it in my previsualization while shooting. Here’s how it turned out:

digital process woohoo!
2 layers combined

It’s a little subtle, but there is a bleached out green undertone to it. There are also some interesting contrast implications to when you combine a lower and higher contrast image like that as well.

So OK, mission accomplished, right? Well… Like I said, I’m still trying to get my head around what is possible with a digital workflow. The Topaz Labs programs (all 13 of them!) have a button that is labeled “I feel lucky.” It is a pot luck button, giving you a random batch of settings in their program. Either that or it gives you a random pick from their presets. Either way, it’s pretty random. I clicked it a few times in their B&W app and the third time I got this:

Random settings #1
Random settings #1

This is a pretty straight conversion to B&W but it has really reduced the detail seen in the smallest features while possibly increasing the contrast for the larger details. I think there are also some interesting things going on with the contrast of the middle tones. It is simultaneously flatter and more dynamic (IMO) which is something I didn’t think was possible. I saved these settings and may try to use these with future pictures.

OK, so that is broadening my possible tools in my tool kit. I find these things manageable and reasonable to remember. But what about color? I loaded up the original into the color program and hit the “I feel lucky” button. Whoa:

SAM_0056 (4)


OK, this is nuts, and beautiful. It’s darker, higher in contrast and was made two tone somehow. The highlights have gone a sepia color and really stand out from the background. I think there have been things done to the various levels of contrast in the micro and medium levels of detail. I could never have guessed this beforehand, there are just too many moving parts. I saved the settings but I have no idea how I’ll be able to imagine this beforehand. Just for kicks, I hit the lucky button again.

Wow, but really?
Wow, but really?

This is just getting silly now. I really like how this looks, it’s very graphic and it retains the density I was attracted to in the first place. It is also completely unrecognizable as the scene I first shot. Yes, I saved these settings as well.

So what’s the problem? Isn’t making cool and beautiful images the whole point? Isn’t it great that buttons can transform your picture so completely? Um, no and no thank you. Once again, the “point” of my serious photography wasn’t to make pretty images (though that happens sometimes) but to bring out the way I was seeing that that scene or maybe even to explore and try to make visual sense of what I was seeing. There was intention to my pictures. Any monkey can punch buttons until they get something they think is cool looking. What I find bewildering is the ability to totally transform your image in every way. Back in the darkroom days there were significant restrictions to what could be done. I’d argue that was good for photographers like myself but bad for graphic artists. Working with constraints of some sort made you channel how you see. Without the constraints, it is much more difficult to “see” what you’re working towards when you snap the shutter.

And yes, it is possible to constrain yourself in theory. I think I could even manage to do it in practice for B&W. And yes, some kinds of pictures like people pictures don’t lend themselves to crazy adjustments. I continue to find color landscape and general scene photography difficult to do with any sort of forethought and intention. I will also admit to being a little put out by a button completely changing my original picture and doing things that are simultaneously completely unlike what I was originally thinking and cool at the same time. As nice as I think those versions look, they aren’t my pictures. Yes, I pressed the shutter button but I had nothing to do with how it ended up looking. Pictures that are unintentionally may be fun to look at but they are unsatisfying to make.

Maybe I should start all over again. Shoot with B&W in mind only for a while and eventually move into color again. I dunno. I do feel as though I’m starting all over again. Maybe that’s what is really bothering me…


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