Resolved: More Pictures, Less Whining

I wrote kind of a long post. It was about how great Flickr used to be, and lots other internet nostalgia — Consumating, Upcoming, stuff that just isn’t like it used to be. It made me sound like an old fogey. Feel like an old fogey. And really, all I wanted to say was that Upload all to-be-uploaded Flickr photos was on my 2012 New Year’s resolutions. I also included a half-apology about posting a New Year’s resolution in February. All in all, fairly self-passive-aggressive.

So instead I wrote this. It’s about how I think it will be good to just have all my photo backlog uploaded safe, public, and forever. How I can use my DSLR again without such a burden of responsibility. It’s about getting my life a little more sorted. And not being such a nostalgia freak, even when the territory get pretty darn nostalgic. Short and sweet.

How to Make an Orinz-Style Icon

Everyone needs an icon these days. I’m sure that you probably have a digital camera, that you could probably take a picture of yourself and crop it into a square and upload it. Sure. But it probably won’t look good small, it may not be very recognizable, and it could even be boring. Pictures of things you like can be a better idea, but no one should need to hide behind pretty flowers because they’re afraid of how the light will cast their face (unless that’s the mystique, I suppose). I’ve always favored showing my face — there’s something open and honest to it, and it always seemed simpler anyways. So I figured out a way to show my face in an identifiable, personal, stylish, not-boring way. This is my method using Photoshop CS4, but the principles are the same in any image-editing program.

  1. Here’s an original black and white image of the top of someone’s head. I happen to be quite attached to this one, so we’ll use this.The ideal image has an interesting outside shape with lots of fluffy bits. The background needs to be a solid color, one that contrasts with the subject’s hair (or whatever the fluffy bits are).
  2. Usually, when working with Photoshop or similar image-manipulation tools, the easiest and best selections have sharp, distinct edges. If your subject is completely bald the regular-ol’ wand tool is the way to go. But I think such lines wouldn’t produce as interesting an icon and, well, most people do have some hair. The solution: the background can be quickly and smoothly removed using a tool like Vertus Fluid Mask. While it’s not free, older versions can readily be found at a large discount. Paint the areas you want to keep, and those you want to delete, and liberally splatter BLEND over everything else. Blend really is great for hair. Preview sections as you go using the T key. It’s easy once you learn the few keyboard shortcuts. Voilà!
  3. When you’re done, you will have an image with alpha transparency. This is what allows any program (that understands it) to make your image look good against any background. You need to select the pixels according to how transparent/opaque they are. But, since there’s no alpha channel (or alpha layer), and since there’s no direct way to select based on transparency/opacity in Photoshop, we have to be clever. Make two duplicates of the new background-removed layer. Invert the colors of the one on top.
  4. Change the top layer’s transparency to exactly 50%. The two layers will cancel each other out and make middle-grey. Merge your two duplicate layers into one. This layer has no color contrast at all, no details. It is, in fact, a nearly precise reversal of the elusive alpha transparency.
  5. Using the levels tool (ctrl+L or cmd+L), make the color completely black. Slide the input level all the way to the right. Although 246 is shown, you can and should go all the way up to 253.
  6. A black image makes a much better selection. So here is where you can finally select the alpha transparency. From the layers tab, switch to the channels tab. Ctrl+click (or cmd+click) on the RGB channel to select based on transparency.
  7. Once you have this selection, you have the key. To make an outline (left), simply fill the selection with a solid color. I use color stripes over my icon, and I like seeing the unique shape against all backgrounds, so I cut out a simple image of solid stripes (center) from my selection and get a translucent image in the shape of my head. When you combine with the original photo (right), these give a smooth-edged, recognizable, quite personal icon that resolves well even at small sizes.

It’s easy and fun to play with the outline and experiment with all the different things you can do. You’ll discover there are all sorts of cool things one can put on a face. To conclude, here’s a collection of what you can create with this technique:

Uncanny Silicon Valley

This record is weird and you’ll probably like it. Before I say anything else, I’ll give you the opportunity to trust my words and just go download it. I’ve long been an advocate of knowing nearly nothing about a song or album before listening to it so as not to sully the innate purity of one’s judgment. It saves you the trouble of being seduced by the idea of some kind of music only to later realize that, hey, this Brent Spiner album really sucks. But — since if I’m going to bother sharing some music I really ought to explain why — I’ll go ahead and give an idea of what “Silicon Valley,” by Raven Kane and Klaus Netzle, is like.

“Video Invasion” by Raven Kane & Klause Netzle

There’s no way you could find a record quite like this. It isn’t much like anything I’ve heard, although one can easily place it in the 1980s epoch. For me, the best thing about it has got to be the earnest, catchy, often absurd lyrics — with topics such as office equipment, video technology, and artificial intelligence. It’s very firmly in Neo-Luddite on all these issues. You will, in the course of listening, encounter a joyful cognitive dissonance if you ponder how many electronic instruments are used (although, to be fair, the album’s subject is enhanced by all those clicks and boops). Even though the electronics are a campy marvel of the 80s aesthetic, the lyrics are incredible. As an example, I’ve transcribed the lyrics of one of my favorites:

“The Robot” by Raven Kane & Klause Netzle

(lyrics to “The Robot”)

I Am Rusty Ceiling RobotTHE ROBOT
radical reclamation
impersonal declaration
march of the intellect
invading the realm of man
(invading the realm of man)

Guard, defend, preserve humanity!
Guard, defend, preserve humanity!
Take caution at the hint
of a world where robots may replace
the entire human race
(replace the entire human race…)

How can the passions of man be replaced by steel and artificial minds?
The spirit, fire and farts(?) of man cannot be replaced,
shall not be replaced.
Will they be replaced?
(will they be replaced?)
By the ROBOT.

L'il Ol Me? Who says I'm incapable of emotion.THE ROBOT
cold, dull & passive
indifferent to the world around it
capable of inhuman tasks
incapable of human emotions
(incapable of human emotions)
frigid, hard, and cast of steel
modeled to move the impossible
impossible to stop the modeled robot

watch it move, watch it move
how does he think?
what does he think?
how does he think?
what does he think?

radical reclamation
impersonal declaration
march of the intellect
invading the realm of man
(invading the realm of man)
Guard, defend, preserve humanity!
Guard, defend, preserve humanity!

watch it move, watch it move
how does he think?
what does he think?

Man, it is fun to sing. I hope this doesn’t spoil it. I was actually hoping to do more research on this album before publishing, but guess what? There isn’t that much actual information on this record. I can’t find out why these two collaborated, what they were trying to accomplish, or what the reception was. I know that I’m  happy to have found it. I know that it’s good to keep it alive. And I’m happy to help others find it, too. With no further ado, click these two techno-prophets for a Sharebee link:

Seeing Up Close in Black and White

It’s fun to experiment. I got a most wonderful doodad the other day, a Sigma 70-300mm telephoto lens, and I was promptly forced at gunpoint to start taking pictures of friends and loved ones nearby. The results have been quite good so far, and Lynae’s merch should start looking better than ever. Parenthetically, that is to say that, yes—there was a good reason for this indulgence. And hey, tax-deductible business expense!

Anyways, the pictures I shot were good, but lacked that little something that makes ’em special. Fiddling around in Lightroom I loaded up a bunch of presets designed to imitate old black and white film. This was a curious move. I mean, I’ve dabbled before, who hasn’t? But black and white pictures… they’re nice, I suppose… I understand why the form continues to thrive… just… does this look like a website for someone who shoots photos with no color? Really now.

Yet despite my completely natural disinclination, I think I made some spiffy pics. They have some real character. Here are the magnificent seven, from my lens to yours:

Talk Into the Hand (by Orin Zebest)

She's a Smirker (by Orin Zebest)

More photos in this post…

A Brief Demonstration

It’s sad that some beautiful things last but a short time. That does mean you don’t have to wait around for them to finish, though.

I like old records. I’ve pontificated at length before. This particular wonderful ol’ dusty gem is an ephemeral release designed to promote—of all the things to promote on a record—a new way of recording records. Yes, it is a Demonstration Record for Phase 4 Stereo. That’s it’s name, pretty much. Inside the folding cover there’s a lengthy explanation as to what “Phase 4 Stereo” is, and how it differs from the previous three phases. It goes on and on about how great the Phase 4 is, and the compilers seemed to have gone out of their way to find music that’s dynamic and at times dare-I-say-it “zany.” However, I choose to keep this explanation brief; partly because it fits the title and partly because the record itself isn’t that long (all of 25 minutes : 38 seconds). Moving on: samples!

Colonel Bogey


Tiger Rag

You Are My Lucky Star

Pretty neat, if you ask me. But you might be asking: Why the demonstration? Why now? That Winterhalter nonsense he blogged about last month was justified for four paragraphs before a name even got dropped… Well, there is good reason. Two days ago a little late Christmas present slipped through and I’m now the proud owner of a pristinely aftermarket Zoom H2 Handy Recorder. The thing is simple, and amazing, and simply amazing. If I could leave that as my review I would. But as a sort of placeholder—and a fine demonstration of it’s ease of use—here are the 10 tracks from this ephemeral and exotic throwback sensation beautifully presented in convenient downloadable ID3-tagged MP3 (all recorded, transferred, cleaned up, and encoded in little more than an hour).

Just a Demonstration (by Orin Optiglot)

  1. Johnny Keating’s Kombo – Colonel Bogey
  2. Ted Heath and his Music – Johnny One Note
  3. Los Machucambos – Granada
  4. International “Pop” All-Stars – The Poor People of Paris
  5. Stanley Black and his Orchestra – Caravan
  6. Eric Rogers and his Orchestra – Tiger Rag
  7. Rudi Bohn and his Band – Mack the Knife
  8. Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra – My Old Kentucky Home
  9. Ronnie Aldrich and his Two Pianos – Unforgettable
  10. Werner Müller and his Orchestra – You Are My Lucky Star

Hugo Winterhalter Goes Digital

I think I have good taste. In epic thrift store excavations, I’ve gone through hundreds of used records—probably thousands. More than I wanna think about it. There are a lot of bad ones. Mostly, one hopes that one may find something funny to share with one’s friends. Old stuff is weird (admit it). But oh, there are some gems, and usually they don’t fall out of the cracked wooden bin and yell “I’m worth buying off Ebay for $50! Here I am for ¢50!” It takes a trained eye to efficiently sift through the absolute junk at most places.

Or a trained ear. Finding an incredible record has a lot to do with knowing what you like in the first place—although for those wanting to take up the hobby, it’s perfectly reasonable to make it up as you go along. A good place to start? By all means, judge by their covers. Me, I happen to know that I like gypsy music. I pick up many records simply because they contain in their titles one of these: Gypsy, Roma, klezmer, or Bulgaria. In general I also recommend looking out for: home recording, demonstration, spectacular, incredible, “_____ and the [word intensifier]s,” Moog, olde tyme, fart, and dinosaur. It’s a wide net, a rough algorithm, but it get’s results.

Which is what brings me back to “gem.” I got one. I wasn’t able to actually play it until I found a new record player on the street (thank you, city of cannibals). Even after I discovered its magnificence I didn’t pick up the phone on the ol’ Share-The-Love hotline until a roommate suggested it. And then I had to fiddle with knobs and buttons and wires and other esoteric equipment, only to discover that no matter what I did, the digital transfers just didn’t measure up to my high standards. I’m a wizard with audio software… but there’s no way to get pristine audio from salvaged parts. Get what you pay for, I guess.

But wait, what was this musical masterpiece, I hear you say? Let’s listen to the first track:

Even through my peasant’s needle, you can hear the tambourine sparkle… the horns shimmer… the tubas thump… the piano tinkle… the flutes shriek. It’s exciting! It’s powerful! We’ve heard this song before, but not like this. Easy listening and exotica both seem to apply, but can’t measure the appeal of the real nifty fifties, big bang band, swank-ocracy. Mostly the album is made up of low-key low-tempo stuff, soothing music that might be played without irony on KWXY, which might very well bore you. The poppy ones sure do pop though. On all of them, the arrangement is top-notch and the production values are beyond reproach.

This makes sense considering that the arranger was none other than Hugo Winterhalter, musical director at RCA for more than a decade. This album is dated 1960. For the time, I’m sure, it was somewhat standard. It’s a formula: take a bunch of songs people know, ones that you can tie together with a theme, write them for ensemble, make it modern and “now!”; you have yourself an easy sell. It’s a formula, and it worked. Still does.

Some say stuff like this is more craftsmanship that artistry. It’s the carpenter’s work, not the sculptor’s. I had a music teacher who made the same comparison between Bach and Mozart. He said that while Mozart was a genius, transcended forms and gave the world beautiful music heard neither before nor since (etc., etc.), Bach was simply working within established convention—and when you wanted a fugue, he made the best. They were differently brilliant. Both men became immortal through their music. If you’re like me, though, you have to respect Bach a little bit more. It’s a clever mind that can conjure immortality working with someone else’s rules. I’m thinking that Mr. Winterhalter was a Bach fan.

Now I’m getting a little antsy thinking about how poor my equipment is, and how enjoyable some of the actual songs are, and how there’s hardly any CDs of Winterhalter available, and how it might be up to me to handle this guy’s continued existence. Then I remember the long tail, realize I’ve been praising the guy for seven paragraphs, and things are probably gonna be ok. I’m hesitant about uploading the good stuff (hand-restored LAME V2 mp3s) because I understand perfection, and I understand pragmatism, and I understand that they aren’t the best of friends. Let it be known across the land that I sadly consider these songs as “orphan works,” and hereby claim stewardship of them until someone better steps up. For goodness’ sake, even if you have a better record player step up. Here are the songs from “Hugo Winterhalter Goes… Gypsy!” that will thank you if you do:

  1. Hungarian Dance No. 5 (2:53)
  2. The Back of Her Head (3:08)
  3. Hora Staccato (3:12)
  4. Golden Earrings (3:46)
  5. When a Gypsy Makes his Violin Cry (3:08)
  6. Francesca (3:17)
  7. Csárdás (4:32)
  8. Zigeuner (3:16)
  9. Gypsy Don’t You Cry (3:53)
  10. Gypsy Love Song (2:58)

Total playing time – 34:05

Without further ado, I give you the imperfect recording of my favorite thrift store record in the past year:

Front Cover, Hugo Winterhalter Goes GypsyHugo Winterhalter Goes Gypsy (full album, direct download)

2 image files (front & back cover), 10 mp3 audio files,
LAME 3.97 codec at V2 quality, 50.1 MB

Peep Peep Peep Uh-Oh

I made a stop-motion animation video:

Only took me only two days, which I’m pretty proud of. Turns out that I already know how to do all this stuff. I already had all the audio editing and video encoding software, music mixing experience, radio editing experience, and know-how from encoding movies for torrents, even back to originally making StarCraft vocal effects (Mom and Dad, my life in middle school was not wasted). I had the camera and tripod although the relatively recent addition of a wireless trigger certainly helped. I did have to download a new stop-motion editor, but honestly it’s just a glorified slideshow viewer with powers of copy & paste. Had the skills to do it all along.

And I did it.

Zeitgeist in a Nutshell

Zeitgeist the Movie. Ok, I just finished watching it. First reactions: a little depressing. A little tricked into watching it cause I followed a blind link on advice from a friend that it was “definitely worth seeing.” Not disappointed, no. Not at all. Not entirely. Maybe a little. Yeah, it kinda sucked… I mean, you really had me in the beginning because you must know how much I enjoy unraveling complexity, but did you really mean all that stuff about Jesus and Horus? And then you present all these brain-tingling conspiracies about September 11th and move into… international finance and then… RFID chips? The trans-American highway? What is this? Well, I did like watching it while I watched it, at least. I think I would perhaps possibly say with a little tentative conviction that it is worth seeing. Before doing so, bear in mind four things:

  1. This movie is nearly 2 hours long and you may be compelled (like I) to watch all of it
  2. If you are religious many “theories” may “bother you” or simply make you “pfft”
  3. if you find conspiracy theories annoying you will find this move annoying
  4. millions of people have seen it already (supposedly the most popular video ever hosted by Google Video)

I was originally gonna post the video within this post but decided that, actually, on reflection, I don’t really care enough about this movie or if people see it so instead I’ll just put a link here again.

Also, it’s worth noting that you may need a much smarter analysis than mine.

photo by • Sandra • on Flickr

Flowers and Trees

A long while back, way in April 2004, I made a school project to impress a girl. +20 Dork points.

Good news and bad news about the outcome: it totally worked, she and everyone present thought it was a masterpiece. Even better, afterwards she wanted to get the software I used. From me. Bow-chicka-wow. Bad news: when I met her in the library, I acted the total dork-azoid. Had it not been for the timely appearance of my good friend Emily, I am certain I would have tumbled headfirst-chairlast into a piece of abstract art. Bad abstact art. Thankfully, Emily also gave us the topic of couples with matching hair (she and her dood both sported Pepé le Pew styles at the time—neither knew of the other’s current look until they first met—aww). The nervous klutz-ass factor, despite the presence of awesome friends, and combined with the fact the software later might’ve got that girl a virus (oops)… all of them accounted for why I didn’t do so well that season.

But that’s alright. I later learned on some pseudo-date with her roommate that she was a massive sto-o-oner rivaling Tommy Chong. Some things aren’t meant to be. Now that is hearsay and if you’re reading this, business major Maria X., you do have a chance to defend yourself. What totally reasonable explanation can you think of that we shouldn’t have worked out, other than the fact I acted like a ‘tard (the bad kind)? Cause that doesn’t count.

At least I got a movie out of it. It is what those involved in online, remix and collage culture might call a “mashup,” and what my parents might call “pretty neat.” Normal people might call it “putting the sound from one thing with the video from something else.” Your pick. Samples include:

  • The 1932 Disney classic (now public domain) “Flowers and Trees”
  • Air and Jean-Jacques Perry – Cosmic Bird
  • Malagena something mourning song
  • Secret Cheifs 3 – Dolorous Stroke
  • Joan Jett

That’s all I have to say on that. I didn’t get the girl, but I did get the A+. Go figure.