The Fantom Photo Album

Being a fan of photography has its upsides and downsides. On one hand photographers notice more things. Beautiful things. Unusual things. Things that only can be seen through the lens of the camera that lives inside your brain.

On the other, if they don’t have a camera handy, or the batteries are dead, or there’s too little light, or if taking photos is prohibited or just simply not wise – photographers become agitated and miserable. Oh, the most wonderful moments that should be simply enjoyed can be poisoned by worrying about lighting, f-stops above all — the lack of camera in your hands.

The shots that did not happen – those are the worst. They linger in your head for a while, but then the moment passes, and the fata morgana of the perfectly composed and exposed picture dissolves into the bitterness of a missed shot. It’s even worse if you just did not have the guts to take out your fully charged, properly equipped camera and point it’s soul stealing eye at the situations, people, things and places that simply must be photographed.

Let’s see, off the top of my head, three shots that did not happen and still drive me nuts:

1) A young woman occupying the two-person seat of the R40 train (you know, the one next to the cab), bathed in the unearthly greenish glare of fluorescent lights, opposite a guy reading a newspaper and another one dozing. She is as pissed off as can be, the expression on her face a mask of anger, sadness and disgust. Yet she is dressed in a brilliantly colored butterfly costume, with big transparent wings. I just did not have the heart to take out my camera from my bag.

2) A bum sitting in the street, slumped in a cheap computer chair, kind of like the guy on the logo of my website. He rested his head on the handle of a shopping cart filled with ivory colored computer towers and topped with an old CRT monitor, a keyboard and even a couple of mice and modems. I think I even noticed a hub in there somewhere. The yellow plastic of old equipment and the depressed, bearded and unwashed guy would have looked ordinary in a cubicle farm, but outside in the midday New York sun they looked sad and alien. My camera was with me, but I forgot the flash card at work.

3) Japanese museum, a glassed in stand containing a samurai’s suit of armor, surprisingly small in size. The ghostly reflection of a petit Japanese girl’s face just would not line up with the dark opening in front of the horned helmet. The museum was closing, the lighting was dim, and I just did not feel like waiting for the perfect shot.

But then again, there are times when you take a picture, and then feel that you probably should not have. Those primitive people that feel that a photograph steals one’s soul might be onto something. It sure feels that way sometimes.Being a fan of photography has its upsides and downsides. On one hand photographers notice more things. Beautiful things. Unusual things. Things that only can be seen through the lens of the camera that lives inside your brain.

Looking at and Remembering Dot Com Ads

I was browsing and a few associations formed in my mind.

Latest set of images with quotes from Tema remind me of Kenneth Cole ads with obligatory quote from Mr. Cole himself. By the way, I am glad to see that is back to an almost original state similar to what it was when I worked on it, from a horrible flash monster that it became later. I’ve met Kenneth Cole at the time, maybe I’ll meet Lebedev some day too.

Illustrations by Yana Moskalyuk look to me as if ads mated with ads. It’s interesting to see that is still around. I only bought something from there once, when they were giving away $50 gift certificates.

Blue Lights In The Tunnel

Was taking pictures from the front window of an R40 train again. By the way, in theory it’s ok to take pictures in NYC subways without a permit unless you use “lights” (this may or may not include flash), a tripod for non-commercial purposes. It’s a complicated issue and is pretty open to interpretation, and in fact transit cops might not be aware of it at all. I had been asked by a transit cop once to stop taking pictures and erase what I already shot because of “the 9/11 stuff”. I told her politely about MTA rule Section 1050.9, Paragraph (c), but as I had no desire to argue with her also erased the pictures. You see, if I wasn’t lazy and got an official permit which supposedly “can be obtained from Division of Special Events by contacting Connie DePalma (718) 694-5121, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., weekdays” I could show that to her. Besides, nobody likes a dorky smart ass with a camera.

Anyway, the pictures are pretty, but “hold on Luke, we are going into hyperspace” effect becomes tiresome fast enough. So I’ll spare you. Here’s a slightly more interesting shot taken handheld at 1/10th sec., f/2.0 ISO 400 while the train was standing in a tunnel (if your monitor brightness is set too high, you might not see the details). For all the coffee that I consume my hands are pretty steady.

I always wonder how it was for the people stuck in the tunnels during the blackout. They probably actually had to walk through whole tunnel stretches like that to get out after a while.

The train signaling system is not too complicated. I think I figured out a sizable chunk of it from just watching the tracks, and the rest can be picked up from here. There’s even a “train simulator” for Windows (but for some reason the coolest part, “cab view”, doesn’t work for me.

“… The color aspects of subway signals are vaguely similar to those of street traffic lights — red means “don’t go, but stop,” yellow means “slow down,” and green means “go”. The similarity, however, ends there. Green does not just mean “go”, but certifies that the next signal, the one after the green one, doesn’t say “stop”. Yellow is even more different in meaning: While a yellow street traffic signal means “slow down, because this signal is in the process of changing to red” (which many motorists, of course, interpret as “speed up so as to pass it before it does”), a yellow subway signal means “slow down, (most often) because the next signal already is red, and you must slow down and proceed with caution before reaching it. While street traffic signals usually go from green to yellow to red, subway signals usually go from red to yellow to green…. “

Blue lights probably indicate locations of emergency phones, but could be something else. I am not sure.

Psyops, The Non-Virtual Popunder and Stuff

You know those little subscription cards that fall out of magazines? They annoy the hell out of everybody. And apparently that’s why they are one of the most expensive and efficient advertising options in the print world. Same as a pop under ads online. You see, the reason they are put in magazines you already have a subscription for is the fact that they are very likely to fall out on a train, in a doctor’s waiting room, at the office or wherever good times are had. Kind of like psyop planes dropping leaflets on the enemy positions.

But here’s the interesting part. The damned cards have a name. They are called “blow-in cards”. They are named so because apparently they are placed into magazines by puffs of compressed air. They have even more annoying comrades – the bind-in cards that are as it’s clear from the name bound together with magazine pages. The thicker bind-in cards are kind of like permanent bookmarks making it hard to find any pages with actual information on them. I often go through a magazine ripping those out before reading.

Another interesting thing about blow-in technology is the way they make the card stay in place during the binding process. Most blow-in machines (how’s that for a profession – blow-in machine operator?) use static tacking. A special device creates a charge on the card and on the page so that they’ll stick. O’reilly books have this special binding that doesn’t work too well with regular blow-in machines, so people were complaining about blow-in cards that unintentionally became bind-ins. An interesting engineering solution followed:

With the old system, the cards were hit with a static charge to keep them in place as the cards moved through the binding machine. Sometimes, the card would lose the charge before getting all the way though. This new machine uses a miniscule bit of glycerin that holds the card in place longer and then fully disappears.

By the way, I have a whole collection of those O’reilly blow-in cards on the wall of my cubicle because they have those cool colophons with animals on them. I think Wrox books should have used baseball cards of developers for that purpose. With hilarious stats. That’s not a bad idea actually. Maybe they would have been better off if they had my marketing genius on their side. Still, with the money they saved on photographer’s services I am surprised that they went belly up.

In Linebarger’s “Psychological Warfare” I’ve read about sets of leaflets used by the Allies during WWII that had numbers on them. German kids collected those as stamps because of that (any collector will understand a desire to have the complete series). Those leaflets turned out to be extremely efficient because many adult Germans with collector kids had a full set in their house where they could safely study them.

This real world pop under kind of reminded me of banners that are being referred to as “Godzilla”, “gonzo” and “skyscraper” banners and popups. Some even have flash movies with this technology.

WML: Dude, I Am Getting a Dell

Guess what? This post is going to be about microcomputers. PCs.

I never owned a computer in the Soviet times. Not even a programmable calculator. I did have access to some old Wang clones called Iskra (Spark) in an after school program, played with a programmable calculator of a neighbour, played games on a frien’d PC, played games at my father’s friend’ work computer ( also PC), paid to play games on Sinclare computers that some enterprising people set up as a pay-per-play arcade, etc. Oh, I still remember the horror in the eyes of my teacher when I found a set of programs that calculated the level of contamination from a nuclear blast given the input of wind speed, bomb yeild and some other variables. Those Iskras were donated from the Red Navy.

In the US, my father purchased a 386 for a humongous sum of $1300. It was put together in some computer shop on avenue U. That was in 1993 or 1992, I think. Since then, I’ve been upgrading my computer on the average once every three years. I think In all, I went through 3 cases, 6 motherboards and 2 monitors (not counting my wife’s computer). I never owned a brand name computer. After the second computer I’ve learned that I could be putting together myself.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, putting together my own stuff. What could be simpler? Pop in a motherboard, a videocard, a modem, some ram, some hard drives — and you’ve got a box!

I’ve become thoroughly familiar with what cuts from a ragged computer case feel like. I’ve learned how hard it is to be without the Internet when your computer is in pieces on the ground (and a driver needed to make the new hardware run is on the Internet, of course). There are very few types of flashable hardware that I did not have to flash. I accumilated a huge collection of computer screws, cables, cards and thermal processor grease.

The questions that went through my mind were:
Why are jumpers so tiny? (these days they have jumpers with little tails that can be taken out with just fingers)

Why ide cables are so hard to deal with? (there are rounded cables available now)

Why it’s so hard to find 0th pin on the hard drive connector? (newer ide cables come with a little peg that doesn’t allow it to be put in the wrong way)

Which idiot came up with PS2 plugs? (one word – USB , well, ok, three words).


This is all slowly changing, of course, but the much bigger problem of minor factory defects and incompatibilities between chipsets still plague individually bought components.

My last self-put together box – a dual processor PIII 1000 sucks ass. I could not get a single AGP video card to work with it. An IDE raid controller that worked ok on my previous motherboard wold cause all OS to crash. And finally, two little pegs that held the cooler on the processor broke, and I can’t keep PIIIs from overheating.

I’d like to say, that after I’ve removed the raid card and put in a PCI video card, the system ran extremely steady for a year. Now it’s time to think about the future of my computers.

So my resolution is this:

1) Throw out the crappy dual processor motherboard and the crappy coolers. Buy a nice cheap and super steady single processor PIII motherboard + a stock Intel coolers and turn that computer into a file server. Four 120 Gig 5400 RPM drives (I don’t need the speed, and those drives run much cooler) should do the trick. The case of that computer is very nice and cool looking (it’s a square. It looks like this:

Maybe I’ll even make the drives removable, but so far all removable racks that I’ve tried sucked ass.

2) Buy a nice Dell workstation. That will be used for image manipulation and coding.

3) Buy a big ass LCD monitor (or maybe one of those Sony 27″ CRT monitors) for use with the workstation.

4) Buy a tablet pc for myself and a laptop for my wife.

5) Donate or sell on eBay all the crappy hardware still sitting in my drawers.

I think all the money I saved this year on rent should easily buy me this hardware.

Whatcha gonna do when the come for you

The cool thing about digital cameras is that you can waste as much “film” as you want shooting blindly.
Police decals are made out of some reflecting plastic, so they show up weirdly in the light of a flash (which of course I did not mean to use, but forgot to turn off).