Review of Gabriela Montero

I had a great time attending (and reviewing) Gabriela Montero’s piano recital last as part of the Gilmore. Kalamazoo is fortunate to have such a great arts scene. And a classical music concert with improvisation, it was beyond exciting.

I was reminded a lot of Robert Fripp’s description of improvisation: “spontaneous composition.” I had to keep myself from including that in the article.

Check out the review here.

Not settling on Prime Day

I wrote this last year on the night of Prime Day. I decided to hold off on publishing it until this year’s sale.

Every Amazon Prime Day I become excited at the thought of saving money on items I have been on my list for a while.

For example: I’ve wanted a Sous Vide for a while, and there’s a pretty good deal on the Bluetooth model. But I know I want the wifi one, so I can start cooking when I’m at work or out for the day.

Now, is it worth an extra $100? Probably not. But it’s a feature I’d use frequently. So I’m holding off.

Same for the Kindles. They are on sale, but I want to get the one with 3G (always have had Kindles with this, makes downloading and syncing content on the go easier). But they are not on sale.

As I am working to limit the number of items I have, I really don’t see a reason to settle on what I buy. I’m going to spend a little money on what I really want and will use.

The Amazon Prime Day sales are tempting, but the savings are not worth settling for something that’s not exactly what I want.

The simplicity of having two phones

With the recent purchase of an iPhone X, it also reintroduced an additional item to my everyday carry: a second phone.

No, I do not have a day and a night phone, but a personal and a work phone.

A lot of people ask right away: why would you want to carry around two phones? Yes, it does add more bulk. I have to keep track of a second device and its charge. Sometimes I pull out one phone meaning the other. But, in the past two weeks, the benefits have outweighed the hassle in ways I wasn’t expecting.

With my job working in digital and social media, I use my phone for a lot of my work — from taking photos, monitoring accounts and posting to social media. This work happens at all hours of the day.

Previously, everything was blended together on one phone. It was distracting. But having the second personal phone actually simplifies things for me. Each device serves it’s own purpose. When I’m at home, I can open my personal iPhone and not get distracted with work stuff. When I’m focusing on work, it’s on that phone.

Now, there are some overlap. iMessages, for example, go to both of my phone so I don’t miss anything. I’ve also played around with the WiFi call forwarding, but not sure how it works in practice. But my work and personal e-mail accounts go to their respective phones, and it’s great.

We’ll see how I feel about having the two phones in the coming months. Right now, it’s actually allowed me to focus on what I’m doing every day.

One week with the iPhone X

I recently got a new iPhone to supplement my work phone (more on that later). I went with the iPhone X because of the camera. As a professional photographer, I’ve been drawn to the dual camera iPhones since the 6 Plus, and the X was the perfect combination of everything I wanted. Here are some thoughts from my first week with the iPhone X, as well as a photo gallery of some of my favorite photos I’ve taken.

 

Portrait mode

Coming from an iPhone 7, having dual lenses is a whole new feature for me. Portrait mode is stunning. Most of the time, it’s spot on. Having a shallow depth of field available in my pocket camera is mind blowing. A 1.4 aperture 50mm lens is what you’ll normally find on my camera, and having something comparable all times is great.

But sometimes, portrait mode falls apart. Some photos of beer in a pint glass is a little fuzzy around the top. Other times the subject in the foreground sticks out a little too much. No camera is perfect, and the iPhone X is no exception.

Telephoto lens

The second telephoto lens is a nice to have feature. There’s been times when I wanted to get just a little closer to my subject and the zoom helps. You get a little compression but nothing like a 70-200 mm lens. I like being able to have a little zoom while maintaining quality.

Picture quality

Is astounding. The dynamic range it captures is comprobable to my professional cameras. Pictures hold up a little more and can handle some more intense editing.

Third party apps

In addition to the camera, the depth of field API that came with iOS 11 allows post-production work on portrait photos. Focos is a great example of this. With the app, you are able to change the aperture and the bookah patterns. Really fun. Halide is another example of a solid app that pushes the camera to DSLR levels (RAW photos!?!?)

Other phone features

The screen is stunning. OLED black is my new favorite color. True Tone display is nice but a little off putting when taking and editing photos. The lack of a home button is fine and the swipe up gesture feels natural to iOS.

Conclusion

This is the best device I’ve ever used. It’s fun and the cameras are quality. I haven’t had this much fun using a camera since my first iPhone 4.

Two reviews from the Gilmore

Had a great time getting out the notepad and writing two reviews for the Gilmore Keyboard festival. I’ve always enjoyed Classical music and have attended the Gilmore over the years. It’s quite the different experience to listen intently to review.

Enough talk about the talk, here are the reviews:

Flickr’s acquisition: Smugmug and a history of caring about photos

I was surprised when I got an e-mail Friday night that Flickr had been acquired by Smugmug. Flickr was the premiere photo community for years but had diminished greatly when Yahoo purchased it. I had not used the service since Yahoo purchased it and news about the company’s security breaches came to light.

But now with the Smugmug purchases, owns Flickr I’m onboard 100 percent with Flickr. Why? Smugmug has saved some of my most precious photos from a failing service.

Let’s go back to 2016. I had been using a service Picturelife to back up and store my photos. This was before iCloud Photo Library, Google photos or any of the other modern services. Picturelife allowed unlimited service, convent cloud storage. For the first time, I could easily have access to all of my photos from my phone.

Picture life was acquired and things started to break. Users couldn’t download their photos. The new owners were nowhere to be found and were not responding to support e-mails. We had no idea what was going on. Our photos were in limbo.

See: Picturelife, trust and having data out of your control

I started a Facebook group for users to communicate with each other. None of us had any idea what was going on. We were talking about pressing legal action. Then, when I was on vacation, an announcement came out that Smugmug had purchased Picturelife and all of our photos were safe on their servers.

This was nothing short of a digital miracle. Throughout the whole process, I realized how naive I was to trust years of photos to one company, particularly a start up in an industry where companies did not last.

I went from feeling helpless to empowered. I immediately purchased a subscription to Smugmug and will continue to use the service as long as it exists. They saved our photos because they care about photography.

So what does this all mean for Flickr? I know that Smugmug is a good company that cares about photographers and their photos. They saved an entire service’s user’s photos. I don’t know how many Picturelife users they converted to paying Smugmug customers, but I don’t think they did that’s the reason they ultimately did it.

I am looking forward to see what Smugmug does with Flickr and can’t wait to start using the service again. In a world where the motivations of tech companies are questionable, and becoming more so every day, it’s good to know there’s a family-owned company that’s going to take control of one of the largest photography networks.

Here’s to good companies making good places on the web.

A response to “The Last Jedi” haters: Don’t let nostalgia blind you

A lot of people have told me they don’t like The Last Jedi because it doesn’t feel like a “Star Wars” film. And those who I’ve asked all have different reasons: the comedy, the pacing, Leia’s force powers, the sheer amount of characters and information given in it.

But here’s my question to them: What even is a Star Wars film?

To answer this, most everyone goes back to is the original trilogy. All of Star Wars is compared to those three great films. It happened when the prequels were released and it’s happening again. But let us not let these beloved movies stunt the growth of the franchise.

The original trilogy was a product of their time and of ours. There was really nothing like it at the time in film and, for many of us, the movies are ingrained with our childhood. We’ve seen them dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Most of us have seen the new film once or twice. Nothing will be like the original trilogy for, just like nothing will compare to our first kiss.

And a lot that harkens back to those movies in The Last Jedi. Director Rian Johnson keeps some of it, discards other parts, remixes it and injects new ideas. This is new Star Wars. It would be foolish and a disservice to try and make films that make us feel exactly the same way the original trilogy did. It’s a different time and we’re different people. There’s still a lot that’s familiar, but there’s also a lot that’s new and different.

It’s clear this is a statement Johnson is making. The best example is the ending. Every other Star Wars film ends with a shot of our heroes, together, in a moment of celebration or peace, before the quick transition to the credits with the classic John Williams score. In The Last Jedi, we see a young boy hearing a legend of Luke Skywalker from one of his friends. After getting yelled at by what appears to be their slave owner, he walks outside, uses a little force power to pull a broom to him and looks up to the stars, much like young heroes did in previous films. He has the ring Rose left with the Rebel insignia. There’s still hope in the galaxy. Cut to the credits.

That scene, more than anything else in the movie, is the starkest break from any Star Wars film tradition. What Johnson is showing us is that Star Wars is not all about the characters we’ve come to love over the past 40 years or during the past two hours of the movie. He could have easily ended with the scenes of the Resistance members together in the Falcon — that would have been the Star Wars we expected. But what he did in the closing scene was show all of us that Star Wars is greater than what we think it is. It’s just not about the Skywalkers, the Senate, the Jedi, the Sith, the Resistance or the First Order: it’s also about everyone in the galaxy who’s been effected by it.

We see this in Rose as well, during her explanation of growing up in a mining system where war profiteers laid waste to their worlds. We see it when DJ explains to Finn that the weapons manufacturers are selling to both the First Order and the Resistance. If the original trilogy was about the personal growth and development of Luke, Han and Leia, if the prequels were about the political system that allowed a dictator to rise to power, the new trilogy is about the people who were victim to it all. It’s Finn who was taken from his parents as a child to become a Stormtrooper. It’s Rey who scavenges the battle ruins of Jakku, the final battle between the Empire and Republic. And it’s that boy who showed there’s hope even in the far reaches of the galaxy. That is why his scene was the last in movie.

While The Force Awakens felt very much like the films from the original trilogy, The Last Jedi is something different: It’s Star Wars for 2017. Today, the stories of oppressed people are being told more than ever. The Last Jedi highlights them in a way no other film in the saga has. It’s showing a new side of Star Wars. We thought it was all about the characters we’ve grown to love, but really they are only the tip of the iceberg.

Some people, when they see a classic artist in concert, like a greatest hits performance. Personally, I much rather like to hear their new music, their interpretation of what’s going on in the world and in their lives today. We can appreciate the art that has come before, but why should we be complacent with what happened in the past and continue to relieve it? The Last Jedi is a bold move forward, taking what we love and using it to challenge us. If anything, I am most happy that his film has opened up conversations that no other Star Wars film has. It’s dense, complex and leaves us with questions. If you don’t want your art to do that, stay home and rewatch your favorite films over and over, comfortably reciting lines and remembering your time as a child.

What claim do we have to the story and to the art to say what it should or should not be? Let’s embrace The Last Jedi for what it is and continue to enjoy the original triology for what they is. There’s more than enough Star Wars to go around.

All the benefits of a chain wallet and a carabiner: My new Tom Bihn wallet and key set up

I have a new wallet set up that I am very happy about. The problem I’ve had over the years with my wallet and keys is misplacing them. I’ve elieviated this, in part, by having a bowl near my door where they go whenever I get home. But there were still issues of them falling out of my pocket or forgetting to put them there. Are they in my pant pockets from yesterday?In my coat? Where are they?

I usually only want to carry two to three cards and some cash. I’ve used slim wallets, and they’re great, but they are often so thin I can easily walk about the door without it. For keys, I just throw them in my pocket but am always a little paranoid I will lose them. So I used a large carabiner that was uncomfortable, but I would notice if they weren’t there.

The best solution would be a chain wallet and hook the carabiner to my belt loop. Yeah, neither of those will work for me, stylistically or practically. It would be too much hardware.

I wrote down what I needed:

  • A slim wallet to hold a few cards and the occasional cash
  • A way for the wallet to never fall out of my pocket
  • A way to keep my keys on my body so I don’t loose them either
  • Something that is lightweight, not utilitarian, out of sight and simple to use.

I browsed several stores that sold slim wallets and unique key chains but nothing checked all the boxes. I dreamed of one system for both. So I went to the Tom Bihn website on a whim to see what they offered. This Seattle-based company makes really good bags and travel gear which lasts a lifetime. I’ve had my Smart Alec backpack for more than five years and have loved using it every single day. They had a few nice wallets, but nothing to the system that I wanted.

I searched the forums and found a few posts of what others did, and this one stuck out.

Instead of using it just for the wallet, I attached my keys to it as well.

So here’s the setup:

  • Handle Loop with an o-ring (the loop goes around my belt).
  • Pocket Pouch to hold cards and cash, connected to the Handle Loop o-ring
  • 16-inch key strap, with snap hooks on each end, connected to the handle loop on one end and my keys on the other end.

It’s thin, lightweight, and will always be on me. The longer strap for my keys makes using them simple no matter the situation.

I’ve been using a similar set up for about two weeks using other Tom Bihn gear I already had and this current configuration for about a month. I absolutely love it. I’ll update if I change it, but I don’t that’s going to happen. All this for $18, what more could you ask for?

King Crimson in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor was the fifth King Crimson concert I’ve attended this year, and it left me as excited as the first time that I saw them. It’s been amazing to see their songs progress even just from Washington DC a few weeks ago.

Level 5, Easy Money and 21st Century were standouts of the night. Level 5 felt like it has risen several levels since I last saw it, wow. There was a new dual guitar duet between Fripp and Jacko on 21st Century, with Levin joining in.

Mel Collins also had a special night, his parts had a particular flair. It seemed that his solo during LTIA 1 was 5 minutes long, stunning! It was great to hear LTIA II as well.

The sound in the auditorium wasn’t the best, the audience, at least where we were sitting was annoying, but leaving the show I was still in awe as I was after Minneapolis. Even after four performances, we had heard the songs like never before. Excited for Cleveland tonight; 1.5 miles from my parents house!

King Crimson in Washington DC: Timeless music in a city of drivel

Tony Levin was right: something changed about King Crimson in Mexico City earlier this year.

He wrote in his diary:

There is the feeling that this 5 show stand is an important chapter in the history of the band… It’s been, as I said, a memorable time here – we’ll see if it somehow influences the future of the band – I have the feeling it will.

There was something different about the band from when I saw them earlier in the year in Minneapolis and Chicago. It’s hard to describe. They felt more comfortable — like a new house or apartment that has been broken in after a few season.

But maybe it was just me. This was the fourth time I’ve seen them on tour this year, and maybe I’m finally starting to get this new eight-headed beast of King Crimson.

But probably, it was just me, as Fripp said when he announced before the tour on YouTube:

Unless you’ve seen this King Crimson live, you really don’t have the right to hold an opinion on it… Unless you’ve seen this band live three times, your opinion is not likely to be substantial.

So maybe seeing this incarnation for the third and fourth time this weekend, I can now fully understand what I’m saw on stage. I do feel a deeper understanding of what was at work, even if I can’t fully explain it (maybe that will be in posts to come). But I’m certain something has changed with the band as well… It’s a constant in everything.

But it’s for the better. Here are some personal highlights from the show:

  • Both performances were at Lisner Auditorium on campus of The George Washington University. There was a very different vibe than the pervious two shows: the University theatre was not tainted by many of less pleasurable aspects of live music, including security, extremely overpriced food and drinks, etc. It immediately felt like it was going to be an intimate show when we walked in and could see the no recording signs from the front door.
  • Fripp’s guitar solo at the end of Lizard both nights were amazing.
  • The three song melody of Radical Action was one of my highlights from the show. The songs are maturing and it’s great to hear in person.
  • The reworking of the first part of “Radical Action” was outstanding. I loved how they’ve changed the song and variated the speed of it. Meltdown is my favorite of the new music. And Level Five on Sunday was the best rendition of the song I’ve ever heard/
  • “Breathless” was a real treat — did not expect it.
  • As was “Discipline.”
  • The second night had some of the best versions of some songs I’ve heard. In addition to Level 5, the middle section of “The Letters” was exhilarating by Mel’s sax and everyone playing off of it. The first half of “21st Century Schizoid Man” sounded harder and faster than I’ve heard it with this lineup. It was like a runaway train.

The venue was just down the street from the White House, a source of discontent, ineptitude and idiocracy in our world today. And with all the surrounding drivel, it was especially poignant to walk by all of it and enjoy some timeless music that, if listened to, can potentially drown out the dull chatter and unlock a deeper understanding of who we are and the world we live in.

Photos

The line for the men's bathroom at a King Crimson show is no joke
The line for the men’s bathroom at a King Crimson show is no joke