Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Zach Attack

Obviously last week was a rough one, so I was very happy to have Zach come up from Osaka for a visit. Friday night we had a good old fashioned Pizza Party, with some Dominoes pepperoni pizza, some Guinness, and lots of BS and Uno. A great time was had by all. We managed to fit a wopping five people, including a freakishly tall Kiwi, but I think thats about the limit for my Apartment!

The next night was the Jetacular School Disco. We started with a pretty big group at the local greasy spoon Yakitori place. Its a great spot as the food is good and cheap, and beers are large. Special thanks to Zach for the picture, I think I look pretty good in it, for once!

The school disco, at Apre as always, was crazy. Grown men and women in High School duds. '80s and '90s music. Almost everybody in the prefecture came, and a few from elsewhere as well. Everybody had a great time, even when Zach got up on stage for the costume contest, despite not actually wearing a costume!

Really, it was a great night to just surround myself with my friends, eat yakitori, drink Asahi, dance, laugh, and enjoy life. A good time was had by all, and it really helped my outlook.

Friday, January 26, 2007

She's Gone.

Sometime Thursday night Peg Morris died, peacefully in her sleep. I can't say its a shock. It's not. We all knew that this was coming, but really no matter how much you try, you can't prepare yourself. It is a shock to know that someone that was Here is now Not Here.

Well at least physically she is gone. Her memory won't die, not for a long while. She is beloved and mourned and celebrated by so many people, because she lived life as we are supposed to, by reaching out and helping others.

When we are young, everybody is told that, "You can make a difference!" but as we grow and see the suffering and vast problems of the world we harden our hearts and cry out "BS! One person can't do a thing to help this world." Well Nana didn't do that. She reached out, and she made a difference in so many lives, and she proved that one person CAN make a difference.

I was thinking that someday, I'll be telling my kids, "It's too bad you never met your Great-Grandmother, she was one great lady." And it will be true. Because she was, and she is.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Evening and Spring: Margaret Hessler (Nana) Morris

This isn't a Eulogy, because my Nana's not gone, soon, but not yet. But that's Ok, because I come here to praise her, not to bury her.

I said goodbye today, over the phone. It wasn't easy, it shouldn't be easy, but it was fulfilling. I felt relief, I suppose I've made my peace now. I'll still feel grief, we all will, but I do feel joy as well.

I've felt very sad that Nana has had to linger, yet now I realize that this is a blessing, and not a curse, for all the people who's lives she touched have come, called, and told her how much she means to them.

I suppose it is like when a president dies, and the nation mourns, and people file along to say their farewells to a body in state. But my Nana's not dead. She knows that there are dozens and dozens of people, weeping, laughing, remembering all that she did for them.

We always wonder, what will My passing be like? How will people remember My life? Well now she knows, and that rememberence is with fondness and profound love. She proved that one good person can touch so many lives, and change them for the better. It's a lesson we all should know, but often don't remember. If anything, then THAT was her legacy. A legacy of love, generosity, kindness, and forgiveness.

While it is evening for her now, and her long day is almost ended, for us it may feel like winter, yet it isn't, it's spring. Her long spring is just beginning, and it's time to say farewell to the shadowlands.

Goodbye, we will all miss you, but we will remember everything with Joy of a life well lived.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

6,000 Miles Away

My Grandmother is dying, and I can't be there for her.

I just saw her, not three weeks ago. Healthy, vital, happy. And now, she's dying. She may already be gone. And I don't know, because I'm on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, and not in Denver where I belong.

I'm sorry Nana, I love you and I'll miss you.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Photoshop Week Part 3: HDR

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, an increase in the range between the dark areas and light areas in a photo.

While your eye can see a pretty wide range between dark and light, and switch very quickly between the two, you camera cannot. A photographer must choose what part of the picture is important, and expose accordingly. This will leave the rest of the picture either blown out and overexposed or dark, detailess and underexposed.

Except that now we have software, Photomatix Pro, that can create an image with a much broader range, called an HDR picture. It can do this in one of two ways, the first and best is too combine multiple exposures into one 'super exposure.' This is like the three pictues I started with, though notice that Photomatix still had to do some enhancement as I didnt have a wide enough range of exposures to really do the scene justice. I was simply bracketing, looking for one good exposure, not trying to capture all the range in the scene for on HDR.

While combining images usually makes for the best quality HDR, it has its problems. For one thing you had better have a nice, super stable tripod. If it moves even a little bit, on just one of your 3-7 exposures, then your work is for naught, as I have found out with many of my recent multiple exposures! I may have to see about buying a better tripod, but I'm afraid costs seem to ramp up very quickly.

Luckily there is another way, Photomatix can also generate an HDR image from a single RAW file, the uncompressed, usually quite large and unwieldy image file taken by your digital camera. This can require a fair amount of enhancement though, and that results in noise. Notice below, the remarkable difference in the city scene, but also notice the severe digital noise cluttering up the enhanced portion. Had I had a series of exposures to mesh into one, that noise would have (hopefully) been reduced a bit.

HDR's also offer up a lot of opportunities for crazy manipulation in Photoshop. While even I don't always appreciate an overly processed image, I have to admit that many of these 'more real than real' pictures can be very compelling. They may not be a replacement for regular photographs, but they are a great addition to the family. To see some really crazy HDR's, check out the blog that first introduced me to the concept, Stuck in Customs. But might I note that he has a much better camera than I... ;-)

While I won't be changing to an all HDR format anytime soon, its pretty time and effort intensive, I'll certainly be posting many more as the year wears on and I get a chance to experiment a bit more. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Photoshop Week Part 2: Altered Reality

First up we have digital sandwiches. These images have been melded with a blurred version of themselves to produce an interesting dreamy effect. It doesnt work with every image, but I kinda like these three.

A statue in Takayama.

Heian Shrine in Kyoto. (Look for another version of this picture on Friday!)

This was a fun one. It was late afternoon in Shirakawago, and the sun was no longer shining into the valley so the town was getting darker quickly. However the sky was still very bright, so any picture of the houses featured a blown out sky. Which was too bad as the clouds looked great. So I just took on picture of the beautiful sky, and one picture of the beautiful houses, and combined them. I think it looks pretty cool, even if, to my eye, the lighting and such in the scene isn't quite right. It doesn't really look real.

A nice artsy filter effect for the fish.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Photoshop Week Part 1: Black and White

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would like to replicate the feel of black and white film using digital techniques. After a bit of tooling around in Photoshop I found some settings and procudures I liked. These images are all digital, yet really recreate the nice contrasty, grainy look of 400 speed black and white film. I especially like the effect on portraits, it somehow brings out more humanity than the crisp reality of the straight digital image.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dual Boot Mode

A while back a new Intel based Mac was released, one that with some added software could run both Macintosh OS X and Windows XP. Two operating systems, one machine.

Thats how I felt while at home, and when I arrived back in Japan last week.

When I (finally) made it to Denver last week, it was amazing to me just how quickly, despite all the jetlag and travel stress, I readjusted to life in Denver. I had heard about all sorts of 'reverse culture shock' but I have to say that by and large I didn't feel that. I just comfortably slotted back into all my old relationships. It was like that 16 months away hardly existed.

Sure there were changes, the new rail line had opened up, there were new houses, new Starbucks, and all that. But by and large life was as I had left it. Everybody was pretty much up to exactly what they had been up to in September of 2005, with minimal change.

On the one hand, I found this quite comforting, yet on the other very disconcerting. I had my old life back, exactly as it had been, and yet I had changed. Maybe not a lot, but certainly my life in Japan has altered my world view a bit. I'd like to think my horizons have been expanded!

When my flight landed in Nagoya last week, as I got off the plane, I felt "home." Which isn't to say I didn't feel at home in Denver. I feel like now I have two very different homes, and strangly enough I can comfortably switch operating systems between them at will.

What this means for the future is anybody's guess. I certainly don't know yet!

I do know that next week will feature a whole week of deliciously photoshopped and otherwise altered images... including a vast post of HDR pictures. What is HDR you ask? Return next week and find out!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Holidays

As I've gotten older the Christmas Spirit has been less and less about what, and more and more about who. Of course don't misunderstand, I still love opening lots of fantastic gifts come Christmas morning. But the maturing process that we all go through has certainly rendered family and friends as much more important. Being absent last Christmas, and the hell that lead up to our celebration, really made Christmas dinner all the more satisfying.

The food, the banter, the laughter, that is what home is and that was what really mattered. I suppose I am slipping into rather sappy territory, and for that I apologize, but especially on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, seeing everybody and everything from my past for the first time in sixteen months really meant a lot to me. And of course getting real food, shower, change of clothes, and a nice long nap meant a lot too!

A final point, and one that I'll revisit in another post later in the week, is that I really just kind of slotted right back into life. In many ways it was like this little excursion to Japan never existed. I just kind of picked up the pieces, the threads that had been left hanging in September of 2005. It was comforting, yet there were the little things that had changed, the small indications of time passed. Yet overall, as I kept remarking, the more things change... the more they stay the same. Home was still Home and Family still Family, and it was great.

YouTube is Genius

Is Monty Python's Dead Parrot the funniest sketch ever made? If not, it is certainly up there! Enjoy.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Long Miles Home pt 2 Chicago to Denver

I always used to love airports, especially when I was a child. The thrill of vacation, of traveling somewhere 'else.' After spending seemingly endless hours in O'Hare, I no longer feel this way.

It is hard to recapture the feelings of absolute dispair that flooded into me that Friday night. The 'bounce' in my step from the Kansai International jetway was replaced by a feeling that I would never make it back to Denver. The several times I had called the family to update them on my progress, or lack thereof, I literally could not speak for more than a few words without breaking down. Lack of sleep and real food had me at the breaking point.

I'd say that I cried myself to sleep, but I didn't actually make it to sleep. I just cried. The harsh lights, benches, cleaners, continued security announcements, musak, and my own jangled nerves robbed me of any blissful sleep.

While wandering around the terminal for 'something to do' at around three in the morning I came upon this sign, which just added insult to injury. As I write I find it is really hard to capture how I felt. Just suffice it to say that this is perhaps the lowest I have ever been. The thought that I had traveled 6,000 miles across the Pacific to get stuck here, so close yet so far, it hit me hard. The lack of sleep certainly did not help matters.

But at least there was hope. There were ten flights scheduled from Chicago to Denver the next day, with ten chances, I was feeling, if not pretty good, at least hopeful. I hadn't had the hope burned out of my soul... yet. Sorry if that seems a bit excessive, but what can I say.

As five o'clock rolled around people started trickling towards the chosen gate from all corners of the terminal. Lots, and lots of people. Pretty soon the gate area was just as crowded as those the evening before, and any hopes of sneaking out in the pre-dawn darkness were dashed.

In fact, it was a full flight, and not one of the hundreds of standby passengers made it out. This pattern repeated for the next flight two hours later. With two of the ten flights gone and not a single standby safely evacutated things were looking desperate. Of course there was no solid information forthcoming from United. There were some passengers who had managed to find an added flight for four in the afternoon, but no United employees in O'hare seemed to know of this mythical airplane.

After standing in the line at customer service, again, I simply asked Grace, the kindest and most helpful employee I encountered, what the earliest open flight was. She booked me on a flight on Tuesday the 26th! Recall please that it was now Saturday the 23rd, and that I had left (in US time) on Thursday that 21st. Wow. But I was sick of Standby. I physically and mentally couldn't take the endless gypsy migration from gate to gate in the sterile airport. Especially with two flights gone and no lessening in the standby ranks, I just couldn't take it anymore.

I decided to just enjoy Chicago, despite my lack of change of clothes, and make the best of my bad situation. I checked into an airport hotel, took a shower and lay down for an hour. I only dozed a bit, I was still too keyed up to really sleep, but it was nice to have a bed and not a hard, unforgiving airport bench.

Then I called my Dad, who was not going to take Tuesday lying down. He was on the internet and had found that Amtrack's Southwest Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles had seats open. I could get off at Raton New Mexico! and he would pick me up on Sunday. I said sure, as Sunday is a lot better than Tuesday, but that he would have to make the arrangements as my faculties were pretty much shot. "No problem, I'll call you back at the hotel in 45 minutes."

At this point all I can say is I got a Christmas Miracle. Right before my dad called Amtrack somebody canceled their seat on the California Zephyr, the train from Chicago to San Francisco with a stop at... Denver. No Raton New Mexico. No four hour drive back into Denver. Just point A to point B. I was thrilled, to say the least.

I checked out of the hotel, (the worlds shortest stay?) and hopped a cab to Union Station. A couple of hours later I was on my way again, and a journey that began on a train was back on the rails.

Amtrack was actually kind of fun. There is a lot more room than in coach on an airplane, and there is something soothing about the clacking and rocking of a train. I finally slept, only six hours, but being it was my first shuteye in three days it was blissful. I had some pretty interesting seatmates to chat with, and the scenery of Western Illinois and Ohio was an interesting change. The American heartland is pretty different from Japan!

After a few delays, totalling about an hour, we pulled into Union Station, Denver, CO , USA. Even now, thinking about it almost two weeks and a continent later, thinking about finally being HOME, I am starting to tear up. Seeing that familiar skyline, those familiar rockies... and then finally seeing my family. It was emotional to say the least.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy 2007!

Happy New Year to all my friends and family, scattered across the globe. May the coming year be amazing and wonderful for all.