Lytro – Light Field Capture Camera: Adjustable Focus, After the Fact

June 23, 2011

Now here’s something that certainly sounds too good to be true: imagine a camera where you don’t ever have to worry about focusing.

Snap your picture and, after being digitally processed with some astonishing new software, have an image that you can click on to change the focus! That’s the promise of the new Lytro Light Field Capture Camera. Seriously, you’ve got to play with some of these pictures in their image gallery.

If I understand it and I’m not sure I do, the concept is that light is traveling from the scene you want to capture in all directions. In a normal photograph all this light is collapsed (or focused) on one plane and exposure and focus are set – unchangeable, irrevocably – at that instant.

Somehow – and here comes the tricky, proprietary, secret formula for Coca-Cola part – the folks at Lytro are able to capture all the wavelengths of light in one file. They do this by substituting software for many of the components of a traditional digital or film camera and in combination with a new type of light field sensor. This sensor is capable of recording the vector direction of all the rays of light in a given scene simultaneously. If that doesn’t clear it up, I’m sure the following illustrations will answer none of the questions you may have.

There’s an awful lot of information that isn’t on the Lytro site right now, like pricing, availability and specs (such as image resolution) on the new cameras. Also, whether or not these new picture files can be viewed on any digital device across all platforms. Still, this does sound interesting.

Will it be a short-lived gimmick or a new era in photography? A toy or a tool? Threat or Menace? Who can say. Me, I thought the development of the Foveon sensor was going to change digital photography forever. But we’ll be watching this one. . .

Tilt-Shift Video – “The Sandpit” by Sam O’Hare

June 23, 2011

Photography fads – driven by technology – come at us with bewildering speed, have their moment in the sun, then quickly become passé. Remember when High Dynamic Range photography was all the rage? It’s similar to trends in advertising and user interface design, I think. They all have a very high churn rate. Still, let’s enjoy them while we can.

Tilt-shift photography has now moved into the video space, as the following link at attests. My favorite of these is embedded below, The Sandpit by Sam O’Hare, a five and a half minute survey of a day in the life of New York City, in miniature. It consists of over 35,000 still images! O’Hare explains the process here.

Tilt-shift video made its mainstream debut in David Fincher’s The Social Network in the Henley Royal Regatta sequence. Fincher explains what he was after here.

“OK to Die” – James Arthur Ray Convicted of 3 Counts of Negligent Homicide in “Sweat Lodge” Deaths

June 22, 2011

The New York Times reports here that  a jury took less than ten hours to convict James Arthur Ray of three counts of negligent homicide in the Sedona, Arizona “Sweat Lodge” deaths in October 2009. I’ve written about Ray before here, here and here.

In a recording that took place during the ceremony/workshop Ray explained, “The true spiritual warrior has conquered death and therefore has no fear or enemies in this lifetime or the next, because the greatest fear you’ll ever experience is the fear of what? Death. You will have to get a point to where you surrender and it’s OK to die.”

I’d bet he wishes he hadn’t put it that way now.

A generation or so ago Ph.D.’s and acid proselytizers Tim Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzger told their followers that a necessary part of the trip was Ego Death (in The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead). Wasted as they generally were, even this trio knew they were speaking metaphorically.

“I got a message on acid that you should destroy your ego and I did, you know. I was reading that stupid book of Leary’s Psychedelic Book of the Dead (sic) and all that shit. We were going through a whole game that everyone went through and I destroyed myself . . . I destroyed my ego and I didn’t believe I could do anything.”

– John Lennon

There were movements that began in the 1960s that did, in fact, help make the world a better place; health foods and environmentalism being two easy examples to cite. But the sloppy spirituality of the acid prophets brought drug mysticism into the mainstream, and the wreckage from that irrationality continues to this day. “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream” may make a great song lyric, but it isn’t exactly a paen to critical thinking.

It’s hard to imagine James Arthur Ray (and many other New Age self-help gurus) existing today without seeing Tim Leary as a kind of precedent. Just as it is hard to imagine Henry Ford using reiki.

We’d all be better off today if we’d followed Bob Dylan’s advice from his first Top 40 hit: “Don’t follow leaders, Watch your parking meters.”


Fun Phact:  Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues owes a great deal to Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business.




VLT Telescope and 268 Megapixel Camera Combine to Capture Star Nursery

June 12, 2011

Click on image for larger size

It’s science and it’s pretty.

Here’s a spectacular shot of  a vast region of gas, dust, and hot young stars deep in the constellation Sagittarius (The Archer). This area is also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula. This is picture of a ‘star nursery.’ It’s also one of the first images released from the new VLT Survey Telescope in Chile, a collaboration with the European Southern Observatory.

The VLT Survey Telescope is a state-of-the-art 2.6-meter telescope, combined with a huge 268-megapixel camera. The camera uses 32 CCD’s sealed in a vacuum to create 268 megapixel images. This array is designed to map the sky both quickly and with very fine image quality.

To read and see more, go here on




Comedian Offends, Apologizes: “He’s Criminal AND Non-Judeo-Christian,” says anonymous commenter

June 10, 2011

Remember when a comic could bomb on-stage with some bad material and we didn’t get our panties into a twist? Neither can I.

A popular and highly successful comedian (it doesn’t really matter who) recently made remarks during a stand-up performance that offended a portion of his audience. One especially annoyed patron posted about this non-event online and the story has lodged into a few spins of the news cycle. At this point more people have commented about the incident than were present in the audience.

Because the remarks made were directed at a minority group, members of this group felt a duty to voice their displeasure. Non-members of this sub-group have spoken up as well; they’re offended on behalf of those originally offended.

If there’s anything thing that unites us as a country, it’s the speed at which we take offense. We’re offensive and offended pretty much 24-7 these days.

In general, I think we should cut stand-up comedians a little more slack. They have a really hard gig: making drunk 20-somethings laugh at anything more sophisticated than dick jokes in dark, dank rooms we politely call ‘clubs.’ And by its very nature, comedy always skirts with the offensive.

For most comics, a scandal like this is simply part of their career arc; it hardly seems to qualify as news. But because the Interwebs give everyone license to vent their opinions, these non-events can become small media firestorms. Most of the time they blow over – anyone still hating on Ted Danson for his blackface routine at a roast for then-girlfriend Whoopi Goldberg? Sometimes though, a comic loses a lucrative gig (Gilbert Gottfried) or, worse yet, their career nose dives and they become unemployable (Michael Richards).

If you want to find the most emotional, least thoughtful opinions on such matters, it’s impossible to beat the Reader’s Comments in the New Daily News. Years ago the great Steve Allen used to read the incensed letters published in that paper to great comedic effect. People who write to the Daily News are seriously pissed off. And that over-the- top anger, out of context, is pretty funny. Like this one:

“. . .this rant goes beyond freedom of speech; he’s talking about killing his own son if he is gay. That’s criminal. AND non-Judeo-Christian.”

So this commenter takes it as a given that a multi-millionaire performer is literally going to act out  an apparently ad-libed part of his comedy routine, go home, grab a knife and kill one of his children. Could we get the statistics on successful comedians killing their families, please? Not too great a risk, is it?

As befits a city that calls itself a melting pot (or a glorious mosaic, if you remember David Dinkins), Race and Class seem to be the main ongoing themes in these comments.

If you don’t have money, the problem is the people who do have money. If you’re White, the problem is Black, and if you’re Black, the problem is White. It’s all so easy! The problem is always over there, caused by them. Self-described ‘hard-working’ white New Yorkers routinely bemoan the fact that a portion of their tax dollars go to state and city welfare to support ethnic groups they despise. The ethnic population is usually called ‘animals’ in these complaints. Let’s point out here that 60% of people on welfare are – can you see this one coming? – white.

What hard-working, white New Yorkers miss in their anger is the recognition that welfare actually works for about 2/3 of the people taking advantage of it. They use it only for a short time or on-and-off.  But there is an underclass of 30% who may remain on welfare for a lifetime, even passing this down to the next generation. If welfare actually worked to move those people up in to the middle-class, I think these angry white New Yorkers would like it even less. Especially the increased competition in a very tight job market.

But by all means let’s get offended by a bit of bad stand-up. And let’s have the constituency of the New York Daily News explain it all to us.

I just wish that Steve Allen was around today to take all this spleen and spin it into comedy.

Dumb R U.S. – American Ignorance, Threat OR Menace?

June 5, 2011

Of course, if you’re reading this, the following obviously doesn’t apply to you, but the guy sitting next to you? If he’s American, he’s likely to be dumber than a box of rocks.

In mitigation consider that with at least several of these statistics, there have been long-standing campaigns to mislead people into believing a thing is so, especially if it’s not!

The Atlantic reports that, according to a group of surveys:

78% of Americans know Moe, Larrry & Curly.
Only 42% know that the three branches of government are the legislative, the executive and the judiciary.

76% of Americans identify themselve as Christians.
Only 45% actually know who wrote the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John).

Two years into the Obama presidency only 41% of Americans know that Joe Biden is the vice-president.

Americans think the population is 25% gay or lesbian, it’s actually 3.5%.

51% of Americans don’t know that there are 9 justices on  the Supreme Court.

Most Americans believe that foreign aid constitutes 25% of government spending; the actual figure is less than 1%.

48% of Americans think that the controversial Obama health care insurance reform program has been repealed; it has not.




Dr. Strangelove documentary

June 2, 2011

There were several encounters with art in my teenage years that contributed mightily to the person I became, many of them literary: Naked Lunch, Catch 22, On the Road, Johnny Got His Gun, a steady diet of Mad magazine among them. I was not the same person after reading those texts that I was before. But there was one film that had a similar impact, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

I think I was born with a rebellious, anti-authoritarian streak and so it should be considered that I naturally sought out material that fed that tendency. It was my suspicion that the adults around me were making it up as they went along and, though they possessed power, they had no clue. Because I said so, seemed like the whole of the law.

If any single experience with art confirmed that it was watching Dr. Strangelove for the first time. The people in charge of the world were petty, delusional, drunk, stupid and out right insane. And they controlled everything!

Well, sure all that’s obvious now, but it was pretty compelling stuff to my 13 year-old self back in the 1960s.

All this is by way of introducing a five-part documentary on You Tube on the making of Dr. Strangelove, found here. If by some chance you have not seen this film, get thee to Netflix and rent it immediately! You need to see this movie. . .


The Nietzche Family Circus

June 1, 2011

Bill Keane’s The Family Circus appears in over 1,300 newspapers and is ‘read’ by millions of Americans each day of the week. It began in 1960 and is still going strong. Considering the generally low quality of most syndicated strips these days, it’s a bit surprising to me how often this particular one panel cartoon comes up for ridicule/parody/rants/angry criticism.  Yes, it’s bland and unfunny but so is Beetle Bailey, right?

Anyway, here’s a truly twisted take that I have to imagine even its creator might appreciate: The Nietzche Family Circus which pairs a random quote from the philosopher with a random Family Circus panel, see example above. Now someone has to do the same thing with Batman and Robin and John Rechy’s City of Night. . .