Rants

On Photography And Seething With Rage

This is one of the biggest myths with the law of taking photographs,” explains Bert Krages, a Portland, OR-based copyright attorney who has written books on photographers' rights and techniques. “There is no general prohibition against photographing federal buildings. There are statutes that prohibit photographing areas of military and nuclear facilities. But there are no laws against photographing other federal facilities, other than the right of all property owners to restrict activities that take place on their property. A federal office building manager cannot restrict photography when the photographer is situated outside the federal property boundary.


from "The War on Photographers" found on PopPhoto.com (published July 19th, 2006)

On Sunday evening Jake and I went downtown to take some night photographs (as evidenced by my previous post) and had a little run-in with a Federal Reserve police officer. We were standing on a public sidewalk at the river-bank side of the footbridge to Brown's Island, and I set down my tripod with my camera pointing up 7th street. Within a minute or so, a Federal Reserve police car came out of the gate, circled the fountain, and stopped with his lights on.

He stepped out of the car and asked us (politely) what we were doing. We indicated, essentially, that we were amateur photographers just taking pictures. My reminder that we were on public property was met by a stone wall, and we were told that we couldn't take pictures that included the building. You know, the building that's visible around the entire city of Richmond. Jake offered to show the officer what he'd already photographed, and I did the same. When Jake asked for a reason why we couldn't take pictures, the officer (still polite) said, simply, "Ben Bernanke." Wow.

I tried to calm Jake and myself down after leaving the scene because I thought there might be some justification in what the officer said. After all, the Richmond branch of the Fed is pretty important, and you never know whether the chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States might be on site. But this has been nagging at me since that night.

Now I feel feeble and ashamed at giving in so easily. Jake and I were basically intimidated into taking our cameras elsewhere. Our Constitutional rights were violated by an overeager security staff that didn't understand the law. Part of me wants to go back there and take pictures directly of the building from the public sidewalk, just to make a point. Maybe I can even get pictures of the officer who comes out to politely harass and terrorize me.

And the other part of me doesn't want to cause Valerie the trouble and risk losing/damaging our new camera. But the truth is that I'm sitting here in my cubicle wanting nothing more than to go to some place where I can scream in anger at the top of my lungs.

UPDATE:
It seems a Flickr user recently wrote to the Fed and received a vindicating response.

Corporate Neologizing

Few things drive me crazier than companies making up their own stupid buzzwords. Are they trying to come with catchy terms that they hope will provide free advertising as they theoretically worm their way into colloquial language? Regardless of intent, here is a short list of made-up words/phrases born out of ill-conceived advertising programs:

Fourth Meal
Threeconomics
Nougatocity (or any of Snickers' terrible terms)
Comcastic
People Ready

You get the point. If you have any others you've seen/heard in any form of advertising, put it in the comments.

Farcebook

I made my inglorious return to Facebook several weeks ago because I got tired of calling up my mom to tell her stuff only to find she already knew because of her friend status with various people I know. So I'm back in the loop, at least for now. I still see the same thing as I did over a year ago - people friend each other, and once you've made your digital connections there's little else to do but post status messages and use their mountains of useless apps.

But now it's just a bigger and more tangled mess, and no more so than on the default view when you log in: the News Feed.

I feel that there's very little rhyme or reason to this view. Here you have a jumble of status updates, comments, fan-mentions, sponsor surveys, app notices, friend notices, et cetera. Is it chronological? At first it may appear that way, but over the course of any given day I begin to notice certain items jumbling, disappearing, reappearing, moving further up or down the list, and who knows what else. It's fairly often that I see something posted early in the week suddenly appear underneath a status message posted two hours ago even though there are more recent items below.

There. I've released a little bit of steam over this still-almost-entirely-a-waste-of-my-time website. Yeah yeah yeah, I'm still on Facebook. Maybe in another year I'll look at it the way I look at my cell phone - just another "necessary" communication tool. But for now it feels like using cough syrup; you feel like it could be helpful, but it's disgusting all the way down.

Pet Peeve: Σ Abuse

I dunno how many times I've seen the following on t-shirts, TV shows, or ANYWHERE, really:

GRΣΣK

And we're all supposed to chuckle because we see letters which are clearly not capital "E" but still bear a passing resemblance. I guess it's also supposed to reinforce the Greek-ness (Greekiness?) of something, too, whether a fraternity t-shirt or the title for My Big Fat Greek Feel-good Movie of the Year.

This twists the proverbial knickers because the letter in question isn't pronounced like an "E," it's pronounced like an "S". SIGMA is the Greek letter for "S". EPSILON is the Greek letter for "E" (though not necessarily pronounced like our long "e") but I guess "GREEK" just looks too, well...English.

With Whom There Is a Beef

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that some Boy Scouts took ill because of some E. coli-tainted ground beef from California.

So, really, do Virginians consume so much beef that they're underserved by the state's second largest agricultural industry? And of all places, why on earth did meat from the OTHER SIDE OF THE COUNTRY find its way over here to the Atlantic Coastal Plain? This is yet another example of our broken national food chain.

Closer than it really is...

Michael Grunwald's Time article about McCain spends most of its time discussing the long odds against the Arizona senator in the 2008 presidential election. His last paragraph really resonated with me, however:

That doesn't mean that anything's probable. The media will try to preserve the illusion of a toss-up; you'll keep seeing "Obama Leads, But Voters Have Concerns" headlines. But when Democrats are winning blood-red congressional districts in Mississippi and Louisiana, when the Republican president is down to 28 percent, when the economy is tanking and world affairs keep breaking Obama's way, it shouldn't be heresy to recognize that McCain needs an improbable series of breaks. Analysts get paid to analyze, and cable news has airtime to fill, so pundits have an incentive to make politics seem complicated. In the end, though, it's usually pretty simple. Everyone seems to agree that 2008 is a change election. Which of these guys looks like change?


This explains almost exactly (though not entirely) how I feel about the media's approach to this election cycle. Could it really be a close race? Maybe. But if it wasn't you'd hardly know. Remember when it was practically fact that Obama had knocked Clinton out of the primary race, but the media still clung to every last vote as if there was some chance Hillary would find a way?

I think Grunwald's right - unless there's some dramatic mistake or world event or who knows what else, this election looks pretty locked up for the junior senator from Illinois. But a done-deal doesn't make for good ratings or page views or sales of those dreadfully partisan books (from both sides) you see in the center tables at Barnes and Noble during election season.
(via Gruber)

Slippery Italian Slope

Many folks close to me know my obsession with many things Italian. While I'm only one quarter Sicilian, the prominence of my full-blood grandmother in my upbringing and the associated happy memories have fostered a deep love for the food, language, culture, and country of Italy.

But lately, I'm kinda pissed at the Italian government.

You see, it seems that they're performing a fingerprint census of all Roma (or Gypsy) people in their country - including the 90% which claim Italian citizenship - in an effort to "crack down on crime." This fingerprinting includes Roma children, but doesn't include any non-Roma Italians (sounds confusing, but this doesn't refer to residents of Rome).

I hope this sounds as obviously horrific to readers as it did to me and many in Italy's population. This is terribly similar in concept to how Germany treated Jews leading up to WWII; blame a minority ethnic group for societal woes (in Italy's case, theft and such) and set them apart, treating them differently than the rest of the population. That certainly snowballed into one of the greatest human tragedies in history.

Thankfully this isn't the 1930's, and the European Union took notice early on, so I don't foresee any larger-scale escalation without the intervention of the international community. There are currently political efforts within Italy and without to stop this practice, and I hope it picks up steam.

Netflix, you're making a HUGE mistake.

Here's a shocking message that arrived in my inbox this evening:

email from netflix

I have to say that I'm extremely pissed off about this right now. I subscribe to the two-at-a-time/unlimited-per-month plan, and Valerie and I split the two DVDs between separate profiles. This allows us to maintain our own ratings for movies we watch, and the recommendation system (one of Netflix's main strengths, in my opinion) for each profile remains unpolluted by each other's differing tastes.

I'm calling B.S. on their reasoning for the change, too. I followed the link to the help page, and the "Why?" portion simply repeats the third paragraph from the email. Netflix has a solid reputation for going above and beyond customer service expectations, so maybe they'll offer a better explanation when I call them tomorrow, but I can't help feeling like their public reason is a PR answer. How will taking away a very useful feature (that I don't think is very complicated) improve the website?

I seriously hope there's sufficient customer push back to this ridiculous move. Otherwise, it looks like I'm going to drop my subscription to a single DVD, and get a second subscription for Valerie. This will bump up our cost by about $4 a month, but at least Valerie's recommendations won't be affected by my art-house flicks, and my recommendations won't be affected by her chick flicks.

Not cool, Netflix.

HDR = Horrible, Dopey, Ridiculous

There are trends everywhere in creative fields. Brown and light-blue clothes. Chipotle chilis or truffle oil in food. Reflections in web graphics.

There's also crappy creative output in these fields. Trashy romance novels. Kenny G. Soap Operas.

Tonight I'm a little heated about a collision of the trendy and crappy in the photographic landscape: High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. These images are actually composites of multiple exposures of the same scene which, when done well, can provide gorgeously detailed pictures.

Abused, however, we see work that gags me with thoughts of Thomas Kinkade. Blown-out and garish colors, strange exposures, and unpleasant artifacts around areas with large differences in brightness (such as where a building's roof meets the sky) detract from what are in some cases decent photographs.

I sure hope this fades away in short order.

Dorkin' Donuts

There's a story making the rounds on the Interwebs about Dunkin' Donuts pulling an ad in which Rachel Ray wears a patterned scarf. This scarf caused a furor because it apparently resembles an Arabic keffiyeh - a detail which enraged talking heads who are so xenophobically knee-jerk in their responses that they're practically kicking themselves in the face over this. Besides the corporate idiocy of Dunkin' Donuts' response, I'm pretty pissed that none of the apoplectic objectors bothered to look into what a keffiyeh actually is. But I guess that would require caring about people who don't look and dress like they do...

For the curious, the keffiyeh is cloth (plain or patterned) used by Arabic peoples to shield their heads from the sun. While it has become associated closely with prominent antagonistic Arabic figures, it's origins and meaning are no more harmful than a t-shirt.

So terrorists often wear sandals. Am I gonna draw angry stares from people here in the US because I sport a pair of flip flops? Puh-lease.

The Worst Gets Worse

I've complained about the network goons at my company restricting access to harmless websites before. I've lost access to Twitter, kottke.org, Zeldman.com, and a number of other sites which seem to have no worse impact on my productivity than checking the news.

Well today they crossed the freaking line, without warning as usual. Now they've blocked Gmail. Yahoo! Mail is also blocked, incidentally, though I rarely use it. They'd already blocked the chat functionality, which was understandable, but blocking web-based mail in general? This is ridiculous.

Oh yeah, YouTube is still freely accessible, which continues to make little sense and boggle my mind.

Stinkin' paranoid network goons.

UPDATE:
I have my access again. I don't know whether it's the email I sent to the Help Desk (likely not - I received no reply) or somebody many levels above myself complaining about the same problem. I'm just glad to have it back.

Taxing

Last year I received a notice from a collection agency regarding unpaid personal property taxes on my old 1991 Toyota Camry. It was about $25, I think, including the interest for paying late. The problem is, I'd traded in the car in 2004 when I purchased my Jetta. I basically had to contact the dealership and have them send me a copy of the sales information from their records so I could fax it to the city as proof that I really had sold it. Phew...that was settled.

Until this year.

I received THREE tax bills this year - one each for Valerie's and my Jetta, and one for a 1991 Toyota Camry. That I still didn't own.

Today I called the city offices and pressed "3" for the Department of Finance or whatever. When I told the customer service gal that I had a problem with my personal property tax, I was informed that that department was currently unavailable because of high demand. That is, the very group with which I had a problem during tax season wasn't taking calls during tax season since IT WAS BUSY BECAUSE OF TAX SEASON!

So I left a freaking message. I may be too generous in assuming they keep records of what people paid in years past, but if they did, they should be able to see that I clearly paid only for two Volkswagens, and didn't do a thing about a Toyota. We'll see.

Hardee's can eat it.

Attacking a Hardee's commercial is a little too easy these days. Whether it's for chauvinistic portrayals of women or the seeming attempts to make their burgers look as sloppy and disgusting as possible, the fast food chain's TV ads don't seem to find much praise outside the frat boy set. I usually just ignore the commercials, but this one finally ticked me off:



Besides the obvious offense to me as a guy who DOES bake (and cook all sorts of other things), there's a really stupid element to this commercial that I can't get over.

Can you honestly tell me that if a dude walks into a room with fresh-baked biscuits that the other fellas are going to look at him funny instead of greedily snatching the food right off the tray? I can't think of a guy who'd rather stare at a baking man than eat the freely offered baked goods. Now I love me some Hardee's breakfast, and their biscuits ARE tasty, but come on. This is ridiculous.

Text Me Never

The Nilson Report is a publication for they payment systems industry, and in the February 2008 issue they indicate that banks intend to start using SMS to communicate with their customers. One of the primary reasons cited is the reading rate of text messages vs. email: 94% and about 50%, respectively.

Do you want to know why 94% of text messages are read? BECAUSE WE DON'T YET RECEIVE CRAP FROM BANKS OR OTHER BUSINESSES. I bet that 6% of text messages going unread are the free ones delivered from the cell phone providers indicating the addition of a few new towers. What useful communication do financial institutions hope to deliver in 160 characters or less, anyway? "You have overdrawn. You are now in the hole an additional $50. Standard texting rates apply to this message."

I'm sure some marketing "geniuses" were sitting in a room on the 32nd floor in Midtown Manhattan saying, "Hey! You know what all the kids use to talk to each other these days? Text Messages! There's a channel we're not already flooding with useless information!"

When Corporations Overreact

I just received an email at work about the impending blockage of iTunes on company computers.

Let me start by acknowledging that yes, it's not my computer or my network, so I have no right to install software of my choice or what-not.

Well I'm still pissed, because it helps me get through my day. I use iTunes at work to listen to my iPod. This way I can control the music on my iPod through the computer, and sync up some podcasts as well. I also can't think of a reasonable cause for blocking the entire program. Is it because of ripping CDs or streaming media? Because we can still do those things with Windows Media Player. Is it because of buying music through the iTunes Store? Because I can still buy MP3s from Amazon on the internet. Is it because of some obscure security hole? Because I'm pretty sure our use of Windows and Internet Explorer alone is enough to make iTunes look like a fortress.

I think they only accomplishment here is the clear display of incompetence by some folks higher up the IT chain (and likely not even in my office building).

Primarily Wrong

Isn't it a little sad and disturbing that now almost nobody is paying attention to Iowa? Suddenly the whole news-scape has their collective eye on New Hampshire for the first primary election (again, only for the two major parties). I wonder how much attention will be paid New Hampshire after tomorrow?

I'm just sayin'.

Caucuses Shmaucuses

Awww, phooey. It seems like you can't look anywhere in the media these days without seeing some crap about the Iowa Caucuses. So here we have people from one state with less then one percent of the population getting 'round-the-clock coverage because of a non-binding "let's consider who we prefer" event.

Forget that this is another example of the two major parties getting all the attention. Take a look at the lower right-hand corner of the graphic that Blankenship posted today. You see that? Only TWO people that won in the caucuses have made it to the oval office. And look how popular they ended up :-)

Okay, that's not too fair. Popularity isn't a rational measure of political capabilities. But really. Since this event gained widespread attention in '72, only two winners have entered the White House as president? Puh-lease.

I'll pay attention when something truly significant happens.

French You Very Much

When, after turning their noses at our fatuous Iraqi endeavor, the French lost favor with much of the American public I rolled my eyes as far back into my head as humanly possible. We had folks changing French fries to "freedom fries," imbeciles pouring out good French wine, and intelligent people with a none-the-less shallow memory of American history claiming massive French debt because "we saved their butts in WWII." Heaven forbid that a sovereign government disagree with the U-S-of-A.

Thank goodness most of this lunacy abated.

There remains, unfortunately, a fairly pervasive negative attitude towards France to this day in America. Whether it is the fashion, the food snobbery, the socialist domestic tendencies, or their frequently differing stances on the world stage, our populace carries a bias against French cultural elements which I cannot abide. I love red Bordeaux wine. I treasure those French-perfected cooking practices which serve me in the kitchen. I owe much to French film-making pioneers who advanced the art to tremendous effect. I'm anticipating my March trip to Paris as greatly as any vacation I've ever taken.

It was with whole-hearted fist-pounding agreement, then, that I read the latest post by Michael Ruhlman on his blog. He responds to a Publisher's Weekly review of his book, The Elements of Cooking, wherein he's criticized for his apparent Francophilia. Ruhlman claims that such acknowledgment of cooking's French roots is a strength, not a weakness. Right on, Mr. Ruhlman. Here's hoping I find your book under the tree wrapped in shiny paper on Christmas morning.