Sunday, November 20, 2011

A conference in Charlotte

Another fall, and I again went to my professional society conference. As usual, the meeting of old friends, and making some new ones in the same circles. I'm slowly becoming more comfortable in the idea of academia, so my circle is growing beyond connections from graduate school. Although it is including my friends students over time.

1. The big news I could tell everyone was that my first PhD student is defending this month. My advisors are very happy with news of their impending grandchild. (and yes, they do refer to him in all seriousness as a 'grandchild'. Any professor who mentors PhD students understands the sentiment.)

2. Despite my being a very junior faculty person, I've been informed that I have been around enough so that I cannot avoid various community service opportunities by hiding in the corner much longer.

3. I had a number of 'what am I going to do when I grow up' conversations. Although, it is nice when some of those conversations include comments like 'you check a lot of boxes.'

4. I've continued my tradition of eating Saturday dinner with someone random I meet at registration. Although I really should start trying harder to actually schedule something.

5. I've also continued the practice giving a friend's PhD student feedback. Although this time I was not really expecting to do so since her advisor was at her talk. I figure it is good training for when I have my own students giving talks.

6. It is a good feeling to say 'My talk is for fun. My (student/post-docs) are giving the serious talks.'

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Ten Photo Assignments (Rocky Nook) by Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler

Ten Photo Assignments (Rocky Nook)Ten Photo Assignments by Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Before you attain mastery of a craft, you must first learn the fundamental skills. I know a world class violinist whose teacher spent months having him practice picking up and properly holding his violin. Pianists spending hours on hours starting with scales and octaves. Chefs in their first jobs develop knife skills by cutting food. This book is trying to be the tutor for knife skills for digital photography. It may start out slow, but the goal is to master the tools of the photographer's craft, then you can create what you see in your mind.

For all the sophistication of some modern cameras, there are only a limited number of things that can be adjusted on a camera. Traditionally, it was shutter speed and aperture, and film speed (sensor) to a limited extent. And in digital SLR you also include white balance (instead of using filters). All the fancy features in cameras exist to do this, or help the photographer decide how to make these settings. But for the photographer to make these decisions instead of letting the camera do so, the photographer needs to know the consequences of these decisions. And the way to do that is to experience the difference. And this exercise comprises the majority of the assignments in this book.

The assignments here are very different then most lists of photographic assignments. Usually, when I think of photographic assignments it deals with shooting a specific subject under certain conditions. Here it is the learning of how to use a particular aspect of the camera. So one assignment is a test of how your camera light meter measures exposure, so you can see what your camera considers to be proper exposure, over exposed and underexposed. And when you come across a scene, you can determine what you should set the exposure as (i.e. above or below what the camera reads). The second assignment deals with lenses, so you spend time shooting with each lens you own, so you learn its characteristics at different apertures and have a visceral sense of what each focal length looks like. And so on with the many white balance modes, and different combinations of shutter speed and aperture with equivalent exposures. Not until you get to assignment seven do you start two assignments on composition and two assignments on lighting.

Key to appreciating this book is recognizing it for what it is. The first six assignments of the ten are learning the tools of the photographer's craft. It makes you learn what your instrument can do and how it responds to your changes in controlled conditions, and asks questions so that you can reflect on the outcomes so that you develop an intuition on how the camera works, and you can make decisions when you get to the field. I don't think there is a readily available resource outside of a teacher that would lead you on this path. The last four are more pedestrian and generic. For learning composition and lighting there are many sources of exercises and photo assignments that can teach you more with more scenarios and challenges.

At its base level, photography is a craft and skill. And to learn it well you need to practice it deliberately until the fundamentals are sound and intuitive. This book will take you there. But its title is somewhat deceptive (and maybe there is no title that would work in a book like that) because it is not a standard set of assignments (and I dock a star just for that). Perhaps this book is the √Čtudes of digital photography, focusing on getting the technical aspects of photography right. But the artistry is something to be developed elsewhere.

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Note: I received a free electronic copy of this book as part of the O'Reilly Media Blogger program. More information on this book can be found at the 10 Photo Assignments web page

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Parenting: One year

Oh, that looks like something fun

Oh wow, how did we manage to pull that off? Before T was born, someone was commenting on the fact that parents to be never felt ready, so he was wondering how we felt. My response back then was I was pretty sure after we have had a child, we still won't say we are ready. But some thoughts on the first year.

1. Parenting is an experiment of one. We used to say we would ignore all developmental milestones before T turned 4, in recognition that babies are highly variable. I can't say we have achieved that, but I think that the more we strayed from that ideal, the more the stress, and I don't think there was any benefit.

2. Attachment Parenting. To the extent we followed any philosophy (other than Chinese mother/auntie advice), we ended up closer to the attachment parenting school. He is what the AP folks call a 'high-need' baby, so he wants contact. But when he get it, T thrives. He is highly responsive to contact whether being carried around, having someone in the room in sight when he sleeps. The result has been what was promised, a baby who is very responsive to people (well, at least people he knows). For all he likes various toys, we like to think that we are his favorite toys.

3. Sleeping. All the books and magazines talk about babies sleeping through the night and when that happens. T is in that set of babies that does not sleep through the night. And apparently he has considerable amounts of company. This counts as another source of stress that did not seem to do any good. But his sleep (or non-sleep) schedule now drives the rhythm of our lives.

4. Learning. We are somewhat surprised that we actually do care about how well he learns, even now. Although we are not so sure about his peers who are doing flash cards and such. It is not facts or things we want him to learn (although we expect him to learn numbers and letters in due time), we want him to learn how not to give up, that things that are hard are worth trying to do, and when you can accomplish them, they are fun. He actually is just getting some of the things we have been playing with him, and it is a lot of fun watching him pai-pai shou (clap hands) when he accomplishes something

5. Alert. Ever since he made it past his colic period, this is one of the most frequent comments we get. That he is alert and intently examining his surroundings (this is another one of the rewards advertised of attachement parenting). He wants to look at everything, we joke he inspects everything he can reach and tastes his food before he decides it is acceptable.

6. Sick. Standard baby is sick with the condition of the month. Always changing.

7. Priorities. Probably the most frustrating part of parenting is that you are always have two or three top priorities at any point in time.

8. Toys. Well, besides us, we have him enjoying reading (at least he turns the page when he is ready to go to the next page, which is usually when we finish reading). Then there are the screens. We are raising a child who thinks it is perfectly normal to have a video call on something that is portable. As well as watch a video or play a keyboard or draw. We're not too sure about that, although I am hoping we can steer him to things that involve him making something.