Ludic Fields

Another neat Artengine project – a few spots around town now sport “Ludic Fields” sculptures that break the world down into twisted funhouse-mirror shards and light up at night. 🙂 I was lucky to catch the installation of the one next to the Rideau, but there’s also a set to explore at Baseline and Blair stations. The three sculptures are connected to eachother – when you activate the lights in one location the other locations all respond with their own lightshows. I like the twisty reflections!

Why I Crop My Photos Square

I’ve been cropping my photos square since way before Instagram and Twitter popularized the shape – but my reason’s not much more credible than anyone else’s. 🙂 Back in the 90’s when I was spending lots of time in darkrooms developing my first arty photos my friends and I lusted for “medium-format” cameras. 35mm film was great for holiday photos, but for magazine covers and billboards you needed a much larger negative to work with – so medium-format cameras had wide (usually 6cm across!) rolls of film that were usually shot as 6x6cm square photos.

Oh how I coveted arts school students and their huge square negatives with their artful square composition. 🙂 By the time I got there though the film industry collapse was well underway. With digital camera technology rapidly consuming pro photography the medium format became a kind of niche tool for artists and holdouts. You can still get them, but between the fuss of the darkroom and the lack of film processing services you’ve got to be really dedicated to celluloid to make it work. Medium and large-format digital cameras are pretty amazing but the price tag is astronomical and the technology actually trickles down from the DSLR market – unless you have a very high-end application you’re probably better off sticking to your 35mm equipment.

Despite the glamour, medium format had it’s downsides – because the negative was huge you had to find some way to expose more surface area with the same amount of light – either you had to shoot still subjects, invest in very large and expensive lenses, or you had to have very bright studio lighting to compensate for the extra stops you lose trying to expose all of that surface area. Moving up to a high-end Medium Format could be very expensive and usually marked either a professional portrait photographer or a very wealthy hobbyist.

All of this to say that I often crop my photos square because I want to pretend I’m a hoity-toity medium format photographer like the people I admired and respected in the 90s. 🙂 It’s a little sad.

 

Setting the date on a Honeywell RTH7400 Thermostat

My Honewell RTH7400 somehow time-travelled a day into the future, and it turns out you have to “hack” it to fix the date on a hidden diagnostic menu. Full credit to Daniel from Bowerstudios.com for the solution. RTH7400

  1. Select System
  2. Press and Hold Fan
  3. Should see 0120 with setting 20 blinking
  4. Press next to 0130, this is the year
  5. Press next to 0140, this is the month
  6. Press next to 0150, this is the day
  7. Press Done.

I’ve also grabbed the PDF instruction manual for the RTH7000-series in case you find it handy!

35mm Slide Archiving Project

I’m in the process of wrapping up a bunch of ongoing projects to free up some time this spring.

When my grandparents passed away I inherited my family’s box of old slides. For more than 20 years now I’ve been working on a way to scan them – but scanners 10-15 years ago weren’t very good, slide scanners were really precise but slow (there were about 2000 slides!) and the various photo apparatus and projection capture systems were all clunky or costly, especially transferring slides to film negatives, which cost a fortune to get developed.

Along came digital, and for a while it was “close but not quite good enough” resolution. Last year I bought a new Canon DSLR (the T5i) with an insane sensor on it, and finally, after years of trying to find an effective way to digitize all of the slides, the tech allowed me to put together a super simple workflow.

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I built a light table using a piece of fogged white acrylic and a fluorescent tube (daylight and incandescent balanced so there’s no colour cast) and laid the slides down on it. I have a loupe so I could quickly cull the boring ones and the ones that weren’t in focus (like nearly half! We forget how hard getting sharp photos was before multi-sensor autofocus!).

Then I’d shoot them with my macro lens – snap, snap, snap. A little cropping and colour correcting script in Photoshop finished the job, and voila – high-res digital scans of my family’s slide collection. I did the entire batch in a weekend.

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That’s me in the pink hat, chillin’ in a castle in 1978. (My Great Aunt? Dad, Mom, Grandmother pushing me, and Grandfather)

A few observations from the process:

  • The photos people find most interesting are the ones with people in them. My grand-dad was a shutterbug who snapped a lot of birds and airplanes and stuff but 40 years later the ones people are excited to see are the ones with their kids and visitors from overseas and funky fashions. It sped things up to prioritize the photos based on subject.
  • I was warned explicitly as a kid to never touch the slide surfaces, but I have to assume some finger-touching must have occurred. 40 years on there’s no sign of fingerprint corrosion on any of the photos, I think the slides are physically pretty robust. Chemically though – everything is transitioning into purplish hues, and I had to do some extensive colour-correction wizardry to keep the greens and yellows vibrant.
  • The slides were very disorganized when I started – but I found a fast trick for sorting them. Slides would have been processed 24 at a time (usually 1 roll per family event) at different film development shops based on location, so when I separated Blacks from Kodak from Fujimatic just based on the logos on the slide borders, I inadvertently sorted them chronologically. Kodak England slides were unilingual, while the Canadian ones were bilingual – little characteristics that helped me group everything up without having to determine which island a palm tree species might be from. 🙂

 

Missed opportunities on Smallville

I know I’ve been gone from the blog for a while and this is a weird way to come back, but for over a decade I’ve been harbouring really strong feelings about how Smallville, the CW’s Superman-as-a-teenager show, squandered two storytelling opportunities and I need to finally express myself. 🙂

Smallville had two common licensed television problems; the pacing and writing was sometimes awful because they had to stretch their dramatic arcs out over a season and hurry to produce the shows on schedule, and they weren’t allowed to mess with the DC properties very much resulting in pretty weak character development. They maybe should have committed early on to only running three seasons – their high-school years seem interminable and most of the actors were in their 30s by the time it finished it’s run. But I suppose being renewed endlessly because you’re a hugely popular show is a good problem to have.

Missed Opportunity #1:

There’s an Episode midway through Season 3 called Shattered, where Lex Luthor, who to this point has been scheming and nasty but not “evil”, is being manipulated by some conspirators to believe he’s losing his mind. The episode comes to a head when someone (who is actually trying to kill Lex, it’s not just in his head) tries to run him down in a car. Clark shows up at the last moment and saves Lex, debris and twisted metal everywhere, and finally Lex knows that his suspicions about Clark’s powers were true. Nobody believes him, and minutes later he’s whisked away to a mental hospital where the final, poignant shot is of Lex, straight-jacketed in a cell, while Johnny Cash’s Hurt plays us out.

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In the next episode Asylum Clark feels bad for Lex being in the hospital but does nothing – he doubts Lex’s sanity and leaves him in a dangerous situation “for his own good” – but also to protect Clark’s identity. Clark and his friends eventually discover that Lex may hold a key to unraveling the conspiracy, and only THEN Clark goes to save him, but it’s too late and Lex’s short-term memory has been erased through drugs and torture.

From there the story continues, with Lex reset to the plot points of the previous season, only rarely making references back to this situation. But what we saw play out was huge for the mythos of Superman. Clark is basically an omnipotent being, and can accomplish anything set before him. What makes Superman an interesting character is not the struggle to lift the biggest boulder, but what he choses to do with that power.  And in these two episodes he intentionally leaves his friend to suffer. It’s not just inaction or confusion that prevents Superman from doing the right thing, but his own self-interests. This is a very dark morality play!

The writers missed a chance to turn the whole Superman-Lex relationship on it’s head here. Had Lex’s memories started to trickle back, we would have had a chance to empathise with Lex. Not only were his family and friends actually out to get him, but his best friend was really a malevolent god, an unstoppable monster who can tear cars apart and smash through walls, who chose to allow (and partly caused) Lex’s torture, among a litany of other tragedies that Clark could have stopped in the preceding 3 seasons.

This would have been huge because it justifies everything we know about Lex – that he obsessively hates Superman, that he’s threatened by Clark’s great power, and often (in the comics) believes he’s doing the right thing for humanity by bringing an end to our caped hero.

But no – we dive into a love triangle for a few episodes and everything is forgotten.

Missed Opportunity #2:

At the end of the 5th season, for their 100th Episode, there’s a full-on Lex/Lana/Clark love triangle happening, so Clark finally makes a stand, reveals everything to Lana, flies her to the Fortress of Solitude and proposes marriage. A little later she tells Lex, who’s upset to lose her, and moreover to Clark, the aforementioned malevolent god-monster. He has a freakout. She races away in her car, but Lex follows her to apologize. She calls Clark to warn him that Lex knows everything, but just as Clark is racing to her, a schoolbus (making the rounds after dark?) comes out of nowhere and plows into her, killing her.

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Lex stands there astonished, while Clark races up at super speed only to find he’s too late.

Lex again believes Clark is a dangerous monster who’s indirectly responsible for her death, and Clark knows Lex was chasing after Lana when she died – THIS is a set-up! It’s all out war – the pretenses of friendship can finally be dropped, paranoid and well-prepared Lex can go toe-to-toe with an outraged god – and there’s still 6 episodes left in the season! They’re going to tear Smallville apart brick by brick! Can Superman learn to forgive? Can Lex admit his own failings? Are we all doomed?

But a commercial break later, everything is re-set by a time-travel crystal, and Clark changes the timeline so Lana lives and someone else dies. The incredible momentum this could have lent to the show is thrown away for (I assume) actor’s contractual obligations – but how amazing would it have been if they killed off a tentpole character on a Christmas episode?! This would have been an unprecedented move on primetime television, a decade before Game of Thrones made character-cide a popular pass-time.

There were so many places the writers could have gone without this deus ex machina reset to the status quo that infuriates me – despite a number of strikes in previous episodes, this is where I finally gave up on Smallville in frustration and dropped it off my must-watch list.