February 26, 2009


I've spent the past week or so around family -- which gave me a good excuse to take lots of pictures :-)

Bob & Jonathan

Uncle Bob and his son Jonathan

Brent & Jonathan

Jonathan and his brother Brent

Rebecca, Karen, Janis, Eytan

Rebecca, her mom Karen, my aunt Janis, and her son Eytan

Akiva and Monica

My first cousin once removed Akiva and my aunt Monica

Akiva, Shani, and Janis

Akiva, his mom Shani, and her mom Janis


My parents ;-)

Dad in High Dynamic Range

I made my dad stand still for a triple-exposure shot so I could transform it into HDR later ... and it worked out quite well, if I say so myself.

More Chicken, Please!

Back in Austin and eating chicken at Mike's house


Howard and his new grandson, Isaac


Barbara and Isaac

Isaac, Mike, Howard, and Barbara

The whole family!!


Isaac giving someone a rasberry

February 24, 2009

Simple English Wikipedia

Thanks to xkcd, I now know about something called Simple English Wikipedia.

A demonstration:

Wikipedia's opening paragraph on snipers:
A sniper is usually a highly trained marksman that shoots targets from concealed positions or distances exceeding the capabilities of regular personnel. Snipers typically have specialized training and distinct high-precision rifles. In addition to marksmanship, military snipers are also trained in camouflage, field craft, infiltration, reconnaissance and observation techniques.[1]
Simple English Wikipedia's opening paragraph on snipers:
A sniper is a person who has been given special training with sniper rifles. Snipers are able to shoot at targets which are very far away, or are very small, and hit them accurately when looking through a sniper scope. They are also especially trained to be stealthy. Snipers are hard for the enemy to see when they are hidden or using camouflage.
From a technical writing perspective, I find the SE Wikipedia fascinating.

February 17, 2009

Blogging from Home and the Reappearance of Stuff

Got the Internet (wireless included) all set up at my new house. Woohoo!! I also emptied out my storage unit with help from a couple of friends. So with all that commotion over with, I'm breathing a little easier. This place feels more like a home.

I started unpacking a bit, putting things here and there, and it's just funny. Old clothes I haven't seen in a year. Dishes, glasses, and flatware I haven't washed in a year. A bed I haven't slept in in a year. A sofa I haven't sat on in a year. Books I haven't read in a year. Photos I haven't looked at in a year. Music I haven't listened to in a year. Movies I haven't watched in a year. Shelves I haven't set up in a year. But none of it seems alien or foreign. It's just like, "Oh yeah, I remember that. I forgot it ever existed." But now it's back. And it feels comfortable and familiar, which means it feels strange.

What I mean is, I thought I'd feel stranger about seeing all this old stuff. But nope. It feels like I just blinked and it reappeared in my life. I have to force myself to remember why it reappeared -- because it was put away, because I lived in China for a year. For some reason that doesn't make sense to me :-) Luckily I have this blog to prove that it happened ;-)

With respect to clothes though, I don't know what I'm going to do! I have been existing with what I currently have for a year ... but now all of a sudden, an extra massive duffel bag of old stuff has reappeared. I doubt that I really need everything in there. And a lot of it I can see is a holdover from when I was losing weight. So it might be time for some more trips to Goodwill! There's other stuff I might not want, like this futon. I might get on Craigslist and see if I can swap it for a TV stand, haha.

Now I can't wait to begin unpacking my China stuff, and doing things like framing my posters, printing out my best photographs and framing those, etc.

February 14, 2009

More HDR

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

Click to go to flickr to get the larger size.

In other news, I moved into my house on Tuesday. That's why I've been MIA for awhile -- there's no Internet yet (it's coming on Tuesday). But it's awesome nonetheless. I love it here. Can't wait to start getting stuff out of storage and back into my life!

February 8, 2009

My Thought Process Last Night at The Vandals Show

(... aside from loving the music, of course)

- It's really difficult to take good pictures at this show.

- This might be because I'm standing so far back from the stage.

- I would love to get closer to take better pictures.

- There's a giant mosh pit occurring a few feet in front of me.

- I'm wearing glasses.

- It'd be really difficult to take pictures in the middle of the mosh pit.

- I fear physical violence.

- Hey! I should buy a zoom lens.

- Low-light zoom lenses are expensive.

- DAMMIT. I really miss my DSC-H50 with its 15x zoom.

(Followed immediately by putting my camera away and enjoying the remainder of my evening)

February 5, 2009

Reason Number 7,593 I am a Baltimore Orioles Fan

We've been playing since 2005 with a team logo that features a fucking UPSIDE-DOWN AND BACKWARDS APOSTROPHE.

Somewhere far away, a technical writer is crying.
This small but telling example of illiteracy (and make no mistake, that’s exactly what it is) extends to Baltimore’s alternate cap, BP cap, “portion of the proceeds” cap, and other gear. It’s been part of the team’s official graphics program since 2005, and I’m embarrassed not to have noticed it until now.
Actually that technical writer isn't "far away" so much as "right here typing this blog post". I mean c'mon, even the Oakland Athletics get it right!

Ya'll better snap up as much priceless gear as possible, before the error gets fixed and the supplies dry up.

The Freeze + War Stories

If you have 18 minutes, check out this video of the freeze. It's pretty eerie!

And if you don't have 18 minutes, just watch the first 7 (the freeze itself), and then when we all gather in the park to share our stories, fast-forward to 14:07.

Flash Mob Austin - Whole Foods Freeze from Joey Vargas on Vimeo.

February 3, 2009

Austinist and 50mm and a Trip to the Dentist

Yay, Austinist posted a tip I sent them today!

In other non-related news, I bought the Canon 50mm 1.8 II -- aka the "Plastic Fantastic" (that sounds like a Harry Potter title, doesn't it? Harry Potter and the Plastic Fantastic) and/or the "Nifty Fifty" (also sounds like a HP book title, but less so) because it delivers great quality at low light for just about $100. It's also, err, plastic, and the focal length is fixed (prime) at 50mm. Hence the nicknames.

I bought it because I'm going to a show this weekend and would like to take pictures at it without the flash if possible ... we'll see how it ends up! I tested it out around South Lamar tonight. The autofocus does not inspire confidence, but I'm not afraid of rocking out with some manual focus. Also the 50mm focal length means I won't need to get crazy close to the stage (I hope) in order to get some good shots.

We shall see! *tents fingers and cackles like a supervillain*

ALSO: I had a dental checkup/cleaning today and, whaddaya know, NO CAVITIES. Boom. Not even after one whole year of no dentist visits. I have awesome teeth, I suppose.

I must have told a lot of people about going to China, because my dental hygienist remembered me, and so have the women from the Great Clips I usually go to. I feel bad I don't necessarily remember these people, but shit, I was so excited at the time that it's understandable :-)

February 1, 2009

Book Review: Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

Title: Downtown Owl
Author: Chuck Klosterman
Plot Summary: Three residents of Owl, North Dakota, deal with their lives in the winter of 1983.
Verdict: Skip (especially if you are at all familiar with Klosterman's style of writing)

Ever since being introduced to Killing Yourself to Live, I've been a Chuck Klosterman fan. Chuck seems to write like a hyperanalytical version of how I think, and, well, isn't that what draws us towards our favorite narratives? Being able to see parts of ourselves in the main character, or imagine what we'd do in that person's place? He's more, how to put this, focused and critical than I am, but still, I could hear Chuck speaking my thoughts and providing some insight into them. (David Foster Wallace is another person I feel this way about.)

So after finishing that book, I went back and read his first two, Fargo Rock City and Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. I then attended a book signing at BookPeople where he signed copies of Chuck Klosterman IV. I've read all four books and generally enjoyed them, although since I don't share his fascination with 80s glam metal, Fargo Rock City wasn't the most enthralling material. But it was still fun.

At the end of IV, Chuck includes a short chapter from some fiction he'd been writing. It's about a drug-addled newspaper reporter in his mid-20s who lives in a small Midwestern town, seems bored with life, and feels disconnected from the people he knows. From what I have gathered about Chuck's background from reading his nonfiction, I bet $5 there's more than a little of himself in this character.

It was with these facts in mind (at least unconsciously) that I cracked open Downtown Owl, Chuck's first full-length work of fiction. I think I started it last weekend night; by Thursday night I'd finished it. The book is told from the viewpoint of three people: Mitch, a high school senior; Julia, a new teacher in her mid-20s who is a fish out of water in ND; and Horace, a 73-year old retired farmer and coffee afficionado. We also get throwaway chapters told from the viewpoints of Mitch's football coach English teacher/supposed arch nemesis (John) and the resident school sociopath (Cubby).

Put mildly, it's disappointing. Here's a couple reasons why:

(Warning: may contain minor spoilers)
  • All the characters speak and think like Chuck, even the characters outside the primary three. Chuck has a very distinct style of communicating his thoughts, which (as stated previously) I thoroughly enjoy. But this style shines through when any of his characters speak or think, and that fact really kills the immersion and suspension of disbelief. I really noticed this in the chapter where Julia and Vance have a conversation and Chuck compares what they say with what they really mean. That chapter really brought out the Chuck-ness inside both Vance and Julia, which is strange if you think about it, because these people are supposed to be Vance and Julia -- not Chuck Klosterman.

    Similarly, lots of Chuck's past comes out in the characters. Mitch is on the football team (and not very good at it), just like Chuck. Julia debates music criticism like Chuck. Horace is the only primary character who doesn't seem very Chuck-like; not very coincidentally, I found myself caring about Horace the most, especially in the passages where he reminisces about his wife's terminal illness, his big secret, and his life since those incidents. In fact, the chapter where Horace goes over the details of his big secret is probably the best in the book. I found myself eagerly reading ahead and getting more and more drawn into it. Unfortunately, it lasts all of 5-6 pages and it has absolutely no effect on the rest of the novel. Feh.
  • There's no real plot -- the characters just kind of meander along in their daily lives, doing and saying what they normally do. Nothing happens. Nobody does anything interesting. Mitch accidentally starts a fight between the school's lunkhead and sociopath, and Julia starts a "love" interest, and Horace reminisces about his life, and there's a blizzard, but nobody has any real problems that go anywhere. This might be what life really was like in mid-80s in small-town North Dakota, a subject that Chuck undoubtedly knows tons about, but it doesn't make for compelling reading material.
  • The ending is just ... strange. I'm really picky about endings. They can make or break a book (or movie or TV show or whatever). In the vein of the second bullet, there's no real ending to Downtown Owl, just sort of a deus ex machina that impacts all the characters. There's also your standard "newspaper column ending" that beats you over the head with an obvious incongruity/unfairness in life -- but because there was no build-up or development to this, nor any emotion inherent in any of the characters or plot, this ending just comes off as ... strange.
Combine "characters I can't get into or believe" with "nonexistent plot" and you've got a recipe for a bad book. I really only kept reading because it was easy going and I wanted to finish it (I don't think I've ever not finished reading a fiction book) and I'm still loyal to Mr. Klosterman as a person :-)

Ya hear that, Chuck? I still love ya, and I'll keep re-reading the four nonfiction books of yours that I own. But please hire someone to edit out your own voice from the characters in future fiction books :-)