Friday, January 27, 2012

What I Saw in Boston

I recently went back to my home town of Boston. I got really lucky for the weather and travel. I went the day after the record breaking October 2011 snow storm, so my plane was on time, and full of people who were bumped from their snowed out flight from the day before. I landed, and downtown Boston snow had melted and it was actually felt warmer than Nashville. I made it to my destination, still within the urban zone, and there was plenty of power, hot water for showers, food, light etc. I turned on the TV, and west and north of Boston, people were without power, and the temps were dropping to 32F over night. It would be nearly a week for power to be restored because so many power line came down.

Since I was so very lucky to be in the Boston downtown area, I had all the luxuries that come with having power, so I got to enjoy myself! I decided to take some time to be a tourist, which I have not done for probably over 30 years. It was a delight! Here is some of what I saw.

Massachusetts State House
I love the gold dome

Hallow's Eve head

I93 Park. I93 used to be an overhead highway that ran right through downtown Boston. The highway divided Downtown Boston from the Famed North End. There was a dank, dark, drippy, drudgery, smelly, trashy walkway under I93 for as long as I could remember. To get to the North End was tricky because it was so disgusting. Then through the 1990s and 2000s, the big dig happened and I93 went underground and the gross disgusting walkway was reclaimed as a park. I93 has some problems, but the park is not one of them. The park as really opened up the North End making it look so much nicer!

In 1976, the Nation's Bicentennial, the Freedom Trail was installed throughout the city. This trail takes walkers to some of the historic "must see" places in the Boston. Many of the places to stop were marked by a marker like the one I photographed. Most of the sidewalk markers have been vandalized or stolen. This one has survived because it is near the end of the Freedom trail, where most Americans don't make it because they are too tired to go on to get to this point.

At Old North Church is still a working church. On the church grounds is a memorial in memory of the men and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq during this war. There is one dog tag hanging for every dead soldier.

Hubway - the short ride bike rental experiment

Shaw, some revolutionary war hero

New England Holocaust Memorial

Haymarket Pizza - really spiffed up and looking good. This street used to be where farmers would pull up their horse drawn carts to sell fruits and veggies to the public and grocers. This building was more like horse stables, than it was a modern building. When I was in high school, Haymarket Pizza used to just be a window with a wooden hinged shutter, and no sign. When they had pizza, the shutter was propped open, and it is $0.50 per cheese slice, and $0.75 for pepperoni slice. The slices were big, hot and floppy, and perfect for a filling lunch. The price was right too. When they ran out of pizza, they would take the prop off the shutter, the shutter would slam shut, and you would have to wait until the next day business day to get a pizza. Well, things have changed, and Haymarket Pizza looks like a real deal pizza business with a sign now. The prices are still extremely reasonable, only $1.25 per slice. Now that is still is a good deal for lunch!

Paul Revere statue

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The Sigma 8mm Fisheye Lens

Fisheye, the widest lens choice, offers a tremendous creative potential.

Find out what you can do and what you need to know about fisheye lenses.

People through Fisheye Lens 

I am addicted to wide-angle photography, its creative challenges and opportunities. Wide-angle lenses require rethinking your composition constantly. Eliminating clutter with a normal lens usually entails leaving it out of your frame, thus simplifying your composition. This is rarely possible with wide-angle lenses. Instead, you take advantage of their perspective, making distant objects very small. Eliminating clutter thus, requires moving around and changing your composition continually. 

I like this kind of photography. It forces me to reconsider all my compositions and puts me on a much steeper learning curve. I also love the resulting pictures, since they differ so much from the way we see the world with our own eyes. 

Telephoto lenses are creativity inhibitors. Photographers at sports events never move. They “only” have to frame and shoot. Everyone can get the same shot, even when they stand a few feet apart. Creativity then boils down to the right moment and the right subject. 

Sigma 8mm

Sigma 8mm Fisheye Lens  

Looking for new ways to expand my creativity, I rented a Sigma 8mm lens and took it with me to San Francisco for the weekend. I rented my lens online from Borrow Lenses. The easy and painless process convinced me to rent my lenses before buying any of them from now on. 

The Sigma 8mm EX DG Fisheye lens has a remarkable field of view that lets you capture very wide images. I took this set of pictures in my backyard, comparing the 8mm focal length of the spherical fisheye to my Tokina 12mm lens, my favorite wide-angle choice, and a few others.

Fisheye Focal Length Comparison 

Comparing the Fisheye to the already super-wide Tokina lens, you can begin to understand how wide the Sigma lens really is.

I was excited to find out how this lens would feel in the city and how I could use its space warping properties to my advantage.

Day One: First Steps

The lens dazzled me with its super wide angle, when I discovered the odd mechanism of the lens cap. Removing the cap like you would on any other lens, still leaves the lens hood type of attachment on the lens. Leaving the cap on the attachment and pulling on the entire assembly removes the hood. Here is the product shot again:

Sigma 8mm 

On the left, you can see the cap with the lens cap adapter. On the right, you can see the lens. The adapter caused harsh vignetting, limiting the  image circle severely. This was an easy mistake to make. Fortunately, I caught it almost immediately. Opening up the lens fully, reveals that the glass actually extends beyond the metal barrel, a requirement of the extreme field of view. This is also the reason the lens cannot accept a straight lens cap or filter of any kind. 

I took a series of photographs in San Francisco’s Mission Dolores (Mission San Francisco de Asis). Here is one of the first photographs I took.

Mission through Fisheye

I was still thinking in terms of rectilinear lenses. I wanted to achieve a wider angle, giving little credence to the spherical distortions.

To find out if I could correct the distortions at the computer, I deliberately picked a subject where they would be evident very clearly. When I got home, I ran the image through PTLens, moving the sliders until everything looked visually correct.

Mission PTLens adjusment

The cropped image is usable, but the process stretches the corners. Cropping the right and left edges would leave me with an image similar to one the Tokina lens takes at 12mm.

Corrected Mission Picture

I went to a few other locations on day one, including the Yerba Buena Gardens shown in the first picture of this article, where I chose to annoy guests at the tea lounge.

Interestingly, a fisheye lens opens up possibilities for the shy street shooters among you. With a lens this wide, you can aim far away from your subjects, while still including them. The distortions can even enhance the feeling of the picture.

Day2: Changing my Focus

Alcatraz Cell  

My goal this day was to take advantage of the lens properties instead of trying to correct its “imperfections”. On my excursion to Alcatraz, I learned that this lens is terrifically adapted to photography in very confined spaces, when you need to include as much of the surroundings as possible.

The distortions of this picture make the room look much deeper than it actually is. Furthermore, you can see that the lines that radiate from the center outwards remain straight. You can use this to your advantage if you need to exaggerate the depth of an object while keeping its rectangular appearance.

Embarcadero Center

Later that day I went to the Embarcadero Center to try out another idea.

Curved objects look especially appealing through the fisheye lens. The extreme distortions seemingly enhance the object and bend straight lines around it like a black hole bending light.

Additionally, you can use a fisheye lens to create curves. Photographing architecture, while pointing the lens upwards, creates weird looking images, with buildings bending inward as if they were made of gelatin.

Celestial photography is yet another aspect where fisheye lenses shine. You can capture the entire sky in a single photograph. If you position your camera near an interesting looking tree stump or rock, it will bend their features, creating an alien sky.

Love it or hate it! I have not yet made up my mind, but I do absolutely love the creative choices with round objects and cramped spaces. I also like the organic feeling of these pictures. The closer you get to your subject, the more distorted it will appear. The further something is from the center of the image, the more distorted it will be. This adds a completely new dimension to your creativity, something I will explore further in the future.

Just as wide-angle photography takes effort to master and challenges the photographer, a fisheye requires work and much more practice to understand it.

Having fun

I intended to do celestial photography todnight, but since the sky is overcast, I will instead show you my cat through the Sigma Lens.

Tina Nose

I did not correct these images. I simply cropped left and right to eliminate the black border.

Tina Ear 

Borrow then buy

You can rent a lens at Borrow Lenses. They are a reputable company and have great prices. I usually buy my gear on Amazon.

Camera Gear Rentals

The kind folks at Amazon and Borrow Lenses share a tiny portion of their profits with me when you use the links above to buy from them. This helps me pay for the white space to share articles like this one with you, and for the coffee I drink while writing on long dark nights. The price for you will not change, but I appreciate the space and coffee. Thanks!

You can get an additional 5% off from Borrow Lenses when you enter this coupon: TECH5

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Long Reef Point, NSW, Australia

Long Reef Point, NSW, Australia

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chinese in the MS Delta

"Chinese came to America in the late nineteenth century in search of the fabled Gam Sahn or Golden Mountain. When they arrived to the alluvial plains of the Mississippi Delta all they found was back-breaking agricultural work. First introduced to the region as indentured servants by planters during Reconstruction, these early Chinese sojourners (mostly from the Guangdong or Canton province) soon became disenchanted with working the fields. They moved off the plantations. Some left to go back home to China, but others stayed and opened small neighborhood grocery stores. Serving as an alternative to plantation commissaries and catering to a predominately African American clientele, the Chinese American grocer was a mainstay in many Delta neighborhoods well into the 20th century." An oral history recorded by the Southern Foodway Alliance, photos and interviews by Jung Min (Kevin) Kim.

Frieda Quon, who offered an oral history, is from Greenville, MS. My father's parents immigrated from the Canton Region of China to Greenville, MS in search of the Golden Mountain. Some of Frieda's story is the story of my family. The difference between Frieda and my father and 3 of his siblings is that my family decided to leave Mississippi and never to return. I was born and raised in the North, and never did my parents ever take me to the South, and never to MS when I was a kid. I am guessing they did not take me to MS and the South because it was a hard life for my father, and he left MS the 1st day he could, and never planned on returning. If we were going on vacation, we were going to Wyoming, Hawaii, and California, etc and there wasn't time for Greenville, a town that my dad didn't want to see again. The 1st time I was in the South was the day I moved to Nashville. The 1st time I stepped foot into MS was 5 years ago, and I have yet to visit the Delta. It is not that I don't want to visit, it is the opportunity has not yet presented itself. Visiting Greenville is on my list of a "must see". I look forward to finding Frieda, and I think she knows my family. I look forward to finding the corner where my Grandmother's grocery store was, and seeing where my father was born. I look forward to seeing and knowing where my father's family first immigrated to in the USA.

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Legends Resort Moorea

A look at the Legends Moorea Resort. Un- edited video from our stay at the Legends Moorea while filming for Travel With Kids Moorea. More info at
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dong culture is still alive in China

Locations: Zhaoxing, Guizhou, China (25° 54' 39 N 109° 10' 35 E).
Date: 18 April 2005; 11.15am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

The Dongs are one of the minorities predominant in Guizhou province of China. They are well-known for their Wind & Rain Bridge as well as Drum Tower. Unlike the big minorities, Tibetans of Tibet and Uighurs of Xinjiang, who were in fact the ethnic people of their provinces, Dongs were never an ethnic group of significant numbers. Ironically because of their smaller numbers, the Chinese Hans had been less zealous in trying to assimilate them into the Chinese culture, so to speak. In any case, as a result of their smaller numbers, they are more inclined to adapt to the Han culture. This is not to mean that they have abandoned their cultural heritage; however, the Dongs felt less threatened by the encroachment of Han into their space. Part of this is also economics- the Tibetans and Uighurs’ homeland are rich in many resources- the other minorities inherits less of such benefits. Managing the major minorities will continue to be a huge challenge for China until they realised and accept that the minorities are different and want different things (not chiefly development) from the central government.

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Gallatin Rd is the New Porter Rd

A quick update, I stopped into Porter Road Butcher shop today during their soft opening. PRB was going to be on Porter Road, but took a detour to 501 Gallatin Rd, at the corner of Calvin and Gallatin, near the new Aldis. This is the only real butcher shop for at least 25 miles around. The meats here are from local organic farms.

I got a standing rib roast to cook up tonight for dinner. The beef is 21 day dry aged. I got to see the whole piece of rib roast, and was able to get the size cut I wanted, and I am thrilled. I am going to use an English prime rib dry rub and let it stand that why in fridge for a couple hours before I start roasting it. To accompany the rib roast will be rice pilaf, stir fried local bio dynamic organic mustard greens and butternut squash, and local bio dynamic organic salad greens made of mazuni, arugula, Boston bib and red leaf. We will likely pop open a Matanzas Creek red, but we don't know which one yet. Yeah, another typical Friday night dinner (ha ha just kidding).

Update Dec 4, 2011: I might have slightly over cooked the beef to medium instead of rare to medium rare. The beef was delicious anyway. I got some beef demiglace and heated that up with some Matanzas Creek Cab, local garlic, and herb de Provence to make a sauce. The beef was really good. The smell, texture and flavor is that of beef we remember from our childhood. While eating the meat, it was one of those sensations of familiarity from days gone by. I gotta get another roast sometime soon.

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