I’m on the ground in Catonsville after an enjoyable 14 hour plane ride (thanks, Etihad! thanks, Ambien!), a two hour wait in DC Beltway traffic, a burger and a beer at Red Robin, and 10 hours of sleep. Hopefully, I won’t be too jet-lagged today, which is why I stayed up yesterday and slept for as long as I could this morning.
Abu Dhabi was an amazing experience, although I really didn’t get to see much of the actual city. The conference was the most elaborate, organized, and expensive event I’ve ever been to, hosted in the most elaborate and expensive hotel I’ve ever set foot in. Had I been a little luckier, I might have been able to stay at the host hotel, which featured several swimming pools, multiple four-star restaurants, and a beach fronting the Persian Gulf. My hotel was a 45 minute drive from the venue, which meant I was beholden to the bus service, eating dinner at my hotel, and rushing to press a shirt before crashing into bed at 11, only to wake up at 4AM unable to go back to sleep.
I’ll write more later, because there’s a soccer game to attend and a house to clean before we host guests for dinner tonight. It’s good to be home.
Yesterday I woke up at 4AM local time (8PM EST) and couldn’t get back to sleep, after only 5 hours’ rest. I got showered, polished, and loaded up with gear to travel by bus to the far end of Saadiyat Island for the first day of the Eye on Earth summit. The bus ride was painful because I kept swiveling my neck to see Abu Dhabi out the windows as we drove; everything looks new, and construction cranes are everywhere. It’s fascinating to look at, and I was lucky to have a new acquaintance to point out the highlights; we ran parallel to the Sheikh Zayad Bridge, passed by miles of newly planted mangroves, and saw the Capital Gate building off in the distance.
I wasn’t clear on my hotel’s breakfast arrangements (it is, in fact, free), so I waited to get to the conference for food and coffee, which was fiscally sound but tactically dumb. I had to wait on line to get my ID, every moment of which my stomach complained about. Once I was downstairs, I got situated and gulped down some basic pastries minutes before the opening ceremony began.
The conference has been excellent so far; the speakers are all first-rate and the work is excellent. I spent most of it mapping out sightlines and settings to prep for our launch events, shooting a WRI speaker, and meeting people. At about 3PM I was dead on my feet, so a colleague and I ordered some coffee and recharged. Ahhh, strong Arab coffee.
Wednesday will be more intense, involving a lot of shooting and possibly some interviews, the location for which I haven’t nailed down yet.
This morning I woke up at 4AM again and laid in bed for an hour, planning to get up and outside to record the call to prayer at 5, but I missed it by 10 minutes. By the time I was downstairs it had ended.
I’m writing this at 6:26AM local time, which translates to 10:30PM Baltimore time. I went to bed seven hours ago and woke up with the sky still mostly dark through my hotel window. I know at some point today I’m going to crash hard.
The flight was good, but long. Etihad Airlines flew us on a 787 Dreamliner, which was a very comfortably appointed plane to spend 13 hours on. I had the misfortune of sitting in front of a very loud, very angry toddler who cried for the majority of the ride, but with my neck being kinked up as much as it is lately I doubt I would have slept well anyway. Mad Max: Fury Road was a fantastic movie, even though it was on a 12″ diagonal screen. Jurassic World was visually very pretty but choppy and uneven.
I got to the hotel at about 9PM local time, found my room, and tried to get some food at the restaurant (the service was a bit harried), then walked outside to the beach to shoot some pictures of the gigantic mosque across the water. This was thwarted by 100% humidity, which fogged up the lenses to the point where they were useless.
Today’s agenda is to go to the venue at 9, hopefully find some food to eat and try to get on a regular schedule. I have no idea what the run of show is yet, but I’ll bring my laptop and gear and be prepared to shoot whenever I can.
Oh–I forgot to pack shorts.
Details are sketchy right now, but there’s a very good possibility I could be doing some overseas travel, shooting video at a conference. In Abu Dhabi. Next week.
I would very much like to hone my videoography skills in a foreign country.
I’ve been noticing some blur in shots I’ve taken with the f/1.4 lens I bought last week, and decided to test it head-to-head against the f/2.0 lens I got earlier this year. The first example is imperfect because I’m mounting it to the Fuji with a $20 adapter. I set it up on a tripod and shot both pictures at f/2, but because one lens is a 55mm and the other is a 50mm, the pictures are slightly different. I focused on the silver handle mount to detail the pebble texturing, figuring it would be the best place to pick up detail.
Looked OK, but not great. I brought the D80 home from work and set it up the same way:
The result? I can’t really tell yet. It looks undefined and fuzzy to me, but I don’t know if it’s the lens or the camera yet. I think I’d like to see some shots through this lens with the D7000, a newer camera with a better sensor, before I decide anything. I’m going to send it out for the mod so that I can mount it
My lovely girl turned seven on Monday. With every day she transforms into the young woman I glimpse ahead of us: brave, mature, smart, and strong. And every day I see the little girl still inside: stubborn, mischievous, innocent, and curious. There are many, many days when I have to stop and remind myself how old she really is, that she’s not a fully grown adult yet, and give her the space to be a kid and make mistakes. But that’s hard when she splashes water out of the tub and creates a leak in the downstairs hallway ceiling.
Mama and I have rented a pavilion at the tire park this weekend, and we’re going to have a small group of friends come for pizza and cake, let the kids play outdoors while it’s still warm, and get the last summer out of the summer.
I took Monday off this week so I could make three days of uninterrupted progress on the front walk. Saturday I broke out another 8 feet of concrete, moved it, and cleared the bed. Then I bought crushed gravel and sand, prepared the bed, and got about halfway done before the brick I was working with stopped fitting correctly. We inherited a mixture of different sizes and makes with the batch we got, and the first bunch I used was smaller, squared off stock that fit together pretty easily. As I kept pulling off the pile, the bricks got bigger and rounded off, and didn’t fit the pattern we started at the stairs.
So I bought a masonry blade and started chopping them with my miter saw to finish the next section. On Sunday morning I knocked out the next slab of concrete, prepared the bed, and started cutting brick but by the middle of the day I knew I wasn’t going to make much progress: the blade just bounced off of some of the brick I was cutting. The wet tile saw that I rented from Home Depot made short work of the bricks I needed to finish, and by 3:00 on Monday afternoon I’d made my way through the rest of the remaining brick and returned the saw. The pile of brick shards I created was almost as high as the first load of concrete I hauled. The bad news is that we don’t have enough to make it to the front sidewalk; by my calculation we’re about 200 bricks shy. I’ve got enough to finish another 8 foot section, and then we have to go find some more salvaged stock to work with.
It appears that Volkswagen has completely shit all over itself for the last ten years in search of higher sales volume. Their strategy of selling decontented, unreliable cars and touting green diesel as an alternative to hybrid technology has been soundly debunked as fraud. I don’t know if this could be any worse for them or for diesel technology, which has never really recovered from the tarnished legacy of the 70’s, but I have a feeling things are only going to get worse for the company. What a colossally stupid decision.
I’ve spent the last week preparing for today’s class lecture on grid systems. Actually, longer than that: I started it on vacation, after Finn and Jen were asleep and I had a beachside couch to myself and a fresh bottle of Corona. This one has been a challenge, because there’s a lot to cover and I want my lectures to be more exciting than the Whaaaah-whaa-whaa-whaaaaa sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher made in the animated specials.
I’m on the third and final draft, having originally started with an explanation of the Swiss Grid, the Golden Ratio, and then a bunch of boring pictures of page layouts. Instead, I rewrote it last night to include a mention of Adrian Frutiger, who passed on Monday, then an introduction to grids with a real-time demonstration in InDesign, and then back to the deck for a case study.
The example I’m using is inspired by the cache of vacation materials from our family’s trip west in 1981, which included a handful of original brochures from the National Park Service using the Unigrid system designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1977. After doing some extensive research, and being lucky enough to have a coworker bring me back some updated brochures from his vacation this summer, I was able to put together a solid 45 minutes on the utility and flexibility of strong grid systems, biographies on two important design figures of the 20th century, with printed before-and-after materials to show the class.
I also dug up a PDF copy of Vignelli’s design manifesto, a scanned PDF of the original New York Transit System design guide, and a fantastic reference site on the National Park System’s publication history, featuring a ton of pre-Unigrid brochures available as PDFs.
The class itself is going pretty well, but it’s challenging. Typography is a tricky thing to teach, because it’s made up of a couple of loose rules and a lot of individual feeling and opinion. If a student doesn’t have a natural aesthetic for choosing and setting type, how can I teach it to them? My solution has been to review the history of type, try to describe each of the categories and where their influences came from, and then help them learn what to look for and what to avoid.
I’m definitely doing a lot more prep work this semester than I did for Type & Image, and if the students don’t feel like they’ve gotten a decent education out of this class, I sure feel like I have.
Saturday I drove over to Brian’s house to join a bunch of guys helping him transplant a refreshed 345 into his Wagonmaster. The morning was gray, and I tried every rationalization I could to drive Peer Pressure over with my Hydroboost parts to see if I could have some of the experts help me install it. As I was loading up, rain started to fall and the radar showed a huge front moving in, so I switched to the Honda and begrudgingly drove over.
Almost everybody else had the same strategy I did, because there were only two other Internationals there out of twelve guys.
I stood around and soaked in as much of the knowledge as I could, offering help, a flashlight, or spare hand wherever I could. I’m not experienced enough by years to attempt a transplant myself, but seeing these guys do it so quickly is an inspiration.
By noon the engine was mated to the transmission and in the truck, and as I left at 3:30 the carb, AC, distributor, starter, and alternator were all installed.
Via a Facebook post later in the day, they got it running at about 6:30 that evening. Not bad!
One of the things I’ve been keeping my eye out for since I upgraded my Nikon kit is something Nikon hasn’t made in 20 years: a non-AI (manual) f/1.4 lens. Non-AI lens means there is no autofocus: the user has to manually adjust both aperture and focus. Nikon has been making F-mount lenses since the beginning of time, so most pre-digital glass will work with modern Nikon bodies, which can be lots of fun. Nikon DSLRs won’t focus for you but have a focus indicator in the viewfinder which lets you know you’re in the ballpark.
This past week, a dinged-up f/1.4 lens showed up on my local Craigslist for the kingly sum of $30, which meant that fucked up or not, I was buying it. Jen and I met the guy at a pizza joint by the train station on Friday night and I made the deal based on how it worked with WRI’s older D80 body: it fit perfectly and took good, clear shots.
When I got it back home, however, I found that it wouldn’t fit on the D7000 body. The lens itself is a pre’77 K-mount, which means there’s an AI tab on the camera body which prevents the lens from seating correctly, something I hadn’t heard of before. A little research reveals that it’s pretty easy to file down the edge of the lens where the AI tab hits, something I’m not at all hesitant to have done based on what I paid for it. There’s a fellow who does conversions for $25, which I’ll probably take advantage of this week.
One other nice thing is that it fits perfectly on my Fuji with the lens adapter, and I’ve already gotten some great low-light shots in near darkness with the aperture wide open.