Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Light Night Photography

A few days before Christmas, we went on a little family excursion to Bellingrath Gardens, a lovely little place near Mobile Alabama which features some fantastic light displays around this time of year. And predictably, I brought along my camera to attempt some photos of the glowy goodness.

Photographing glowy things in the dark can be very fun and very challenging -- I've blogged before about my attempt to capture a glow-in-the-dark night parade, which you can read about here. This time around it was a little easier -- my subjects weren't moving along on a parade route, so it was possible to slow down and re-take shots if necessary.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is Shakespeare Overrated? Orwell vs. Tolstoy

Like many people, I suspect, my personal attitude toward Shakespeare has always been one of vague disinterest. I never really got into it when we read his plays in English classes, despite enjoying many of the other "classics" we studied. And in the years since, while I would occasionally feel like maybe I should try to peruse more Shakespeare for the sake of my own personal enlightenment, ultimately I could never bring myself to care enough to bother.

A while back, I became curious about how common this attitude was, especially among more educated people, and I ended up stumbling upon this essay by Leo Tolstoy entitled "A critical Essay on Shakespeare." Tolstoy's general opinion of Shakespeare becomes clear in the very beginning of the essay:

I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read Shakespeare. I expected to receive a powerful esthetic pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works regarded as his best: "King Lear," "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet" and "Macbeth," not only did I feel no delight, but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium... My consternation was increased by the fact that I always keenly felt the beauties of poetry in every form. Why should artistic works recognized by the whole world as those of a genius -- the works of Shakespeare -- not only fail to please me, but be disagreeable to me?

Tolstoy then selects King Lear as an example of Shakespeare's best work, providing examples of the glowing reviews it has received in order to justify this selection, and goes on to provide a detailed summary of this drama "as impartially as possible." Though he makes the occasional reference to such things as "characterless language" and "incessant, pompous raving," his summary seems to provide a fairly in-depth overview of the play. And then he goes on to provide a harsh critical analysis.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Evolution Is True

I find biology and evolution to be a very interesting topic, particularly as it relates to the epic Creation vs. Evolution debate. I've read enough about it over the past few years to consider myself pretty well-versed in the topic, almost to the point that I didn't expect to find many things in this book that I hadn't heard before.

But I turned out to be very wrong about that last part. In addition to laying out a start-to-finish argument for why evolution is true, drawing from numerous branches of science, what Jerry Coyne really provides in this book is detail. There are illustrations of fossils, various charts and diagrams -- and he manages to include all these while also creating an extremely readable, engaging work of nonfiction.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Deals: Too Good To Be True?

We thought about venturing out to do some Black Friday shopping today. Specifically, we had considered taking advantage of some of the sales and finally purchasing a flat-screen TV to replace our ancient clunky low-resolution one. Target seemed to have a very good deal on a 40" 1080p LCD TV, as shown in the following ad:

But when we actually started researching the brand and model number, it became apparent that the deal may not have been as good as it looked. The specs for this particular model were a little poorer than that of similar models, and based on various reviews we found, Westinghouse didn't seem to be the best brand for LCD TV's in the first place.

To top it off, I stumbled upon a discussion expressing concerns that the door-buster deals on big-ticket items for Black Friday may sacrifice on quality -- either intentionally by using cheaper components, or unintentionally due to rushed production, mishandling, or related factors. Perhaps this is just a load of baseless rumors and paranoia-mongering... But when we're talking about hundreds of dollars and hours spent freezing in line, it would be a shame to end up with buyer's remorse after all of it.

Anyway, in the end we decided that we would save our money, take our time, and eventually purchase a good-quality TV that we could shop around for instead of rushing to make the purchase in such a high-pressure and time-sensitive environment.

But I'd be curious to hear about the Black Friday adventures of anyone that may be reading this, especially experiences involving electronics in general and TV's in particular. Do the Black Friday sales tend to offer discounted products that sacrifice on quality? Or are they mostly good opportunities that shouldn't be passed up?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things I'm Thankful For

Since it's Thanksgiving, I figured I would write up a quick list of all the things I'm thankful for, and then post it here publicly on my blog -- which I suppose is a little bit like the modern equivalent of shouting it from the rooftops. So, in no particular order:

I'm thankful for my amazingly wonderful husband, my loving extended family, and many loyal friends both in Chicago and scattered across the country. I'm thankful that most of my loved ones are in good health, and that the few who have been ill are now steadily recovering.

I'm thankful that my husband and I have managed to remain employed throughout the financial meltdown, and I'm thankful that, while we're not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, we're not struggling financially as badly as many Americans are.

I'm thankful to have a roof over my head, even if I do complain about the lack of natural light from time to time. I'm thankful to have a warm bed to sleep in and plenty of food to eat.

I'm thankful to have been born in an industrialized nation at a time when technology enables me to have electricity, hot running water, modern medicine, the internet, and a million other conveniences. I'm pretty sure the greatest kings of the greatest empires in history didn't lead lives half as luxurious as we do.

I could probably keep adding things to this list, but I need to go gather with my family and feast on a giant turkey pretty soon, so I guess I'll wrap it up here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Basement Window Blues

So we've lived in a basement apartment for almost two years now. As a young couple's first home, it has some pretty great things about it -- like ample parking, an easy walk to the El, a dishwasher, and a laundry room right outside our back door.

But then there's the windows. Since it's a basement unit, the few windows we have are small and deeply sunken, with thick frosted glass that's pretty much impossible to see through. Even on the sunniest days, it's never bright enough down here to avoid having to turn on the lights.

In addition to the lack of natural light, I really miss being able to look outside -- just the simple homey pleasures of looking out at snowfall while curled up in a blanket, or watching the rain and lightning during a thunderstorm.

So in searching for our next apartment -- which we're currently working on right now, and which should hopefully be completed within the next few months -- I've been overcompensating with daydreams of ridiculously oversized floor-to-ceiling windows. The compromise will probably involve sane normal-sized windows for practicality and affordability purposes, but it'll be interesting to see what we can find.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pumpkin Face Pie: A Jack-O-Lantern Recipe

Even though the title of my blog is pie related, I sadly have little experience with that most delicious of desserts. Up until a few weeks ago, I had never even attempted to bake one on my own. But after carving my jack-o-lantern on Halloween (which I blogged about here), I attempted to remedy that in a very ambitious way: I decided that I would bake a pie, entirely from scratch, out of the jack-o-lantern's face.

As the photo above shows, the design I carved into my pumpkin involved cutting out quite a few fairly large pieces to make up the eyes and the grinning mouth. I saved these and refrigerated them in anticipation of my attempted baking.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Girl with a Pearl Earring

For several years now, I've been hearing about this book. The comments came from multiple directions -- some from strangers on the internet, others from people in "real life" -- but all had one thing in common: Girl with a Pear Earring is an exceptionally well-written novel. So one day at the book store, my curiosity adequately piqued, I finally decided to check it out for myself.

The premise of the book is interesting. The author, Tracy Chevalier, takes a real-life painting by the real-life 17th-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, and weaves a remarkably rich (though thoroughly fictional) story around it. The painting -- also known as Girl with a Pearl Earring -- is shown on the book cover above, but I thought it would be nice to include a larger version here as well:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Carving Adventures

Back when I was a little kid, my family had a tradition every Halloween: we used to go to one of those pumpkin farms with the hay rides and petting zoos, pick our pumpkins straight from the patch, and then carve whatever kinds of faces on them we could imagine. As my siblings and I got older, though, the tradition was slowly phased out due to lack of interest.

The last time I carved a pumpkin was in 2006. At 21, I no longer had the excuse of being a little kid; it was something I did out of boredom or nostalgia or something. And I didn't really plan out a pattern ahead of time -- I just got a knife from the kitchen and started stabbing at it. Not unexpectedly, the result was rather crappy:

(This was taken before I got into digital photography in any serious way, so the photo is also pretty crappy.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wedding Magazine Content Analysis

I'm happy to report that our wedding is over, that things went more or less as I expected, and that my shiny new husband and I are now basking in the sweet, sweet glory of stage five. (The first few nights, I had these terrible dreams where we were still frantically planning a wedding... but thankfully those have passed.)

That being said, I do have one more wedding-related post to get out of my system before I go back to blogging about other things.

As a bit of background, in the leadup to our wedding I received a few wedding magazines as gifts. It was fun looking through them -- even though most of the decisions relating to the dress and so forth had already been made by then -- but I thought I noticed something peculiar: there seemed to be about four times as many ads as content.

Just to be sure I wasn't imagining things, I picked one magazine at random and tallied up the pages as an approximate, unscientific exercise. This was the result:

I defined "content" loosely enough to include the index, the table of contents, credits, etc. and still the above pie chart shows how lopsided the ratio is. But what happens if you break down the ads into categories?

If I wanted to be more thorough, I could have used a larger sample size including a wide range of wedding magazine titles, just to make sure that the same pattern holds. But for now, it seems like the (perfectly predictable) conclusion is: if you buy a wedding magazine, there's a good chance it'll be mostly pictures of dresses.

Luckily for wedding magazine publishers, most people who buy wedding magazines are probably looking for exactly that. So... everybody wins and all is right with the world, I guess.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding & the Meaning of Things

From the moment I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to read it. Because you see, both of my parents are what we like to affectionately refer to as "pack rats" -- growing up, our house was always filled with lots of stuff. Boxes of old magazines, books, clothing, and other clutter packed every room and hallway, even interfering with simple things like eating meals together at a table or bringing other kids over to play.

But compared to some of the hoarding cases detailed in this book, our house was absolutely tidy... and I'm still not sure whether I should feel reassured or terrified by that.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Five Stages of Wedding Planning

So my wedding is coming up in less than a month. I'm happy to say that I am engaged to the most awesome person in the entire world, and that I haven't the slightest doubts about our future marital bliss. But let me tell you, this wedding planning thing is hard, stressful work.

Granted, part of this may stem from the fact that we're having a do-it-yourself backyard wedding on the smallest budget we can... but after careful observation, I've come to believe that there are certain patterns to the wedding planning process that nearly all soon-to-be-newlyweds can relate to.

And so, inspired by the infamous Five Stages of Grief, I present to you the five stages of wedding planning:
  1. Enthusiasm. The wedding is still a long way off -- so long off, in fact, that it doesn't seem like a real thing yet. You look through wedding magazines and wedding websites daydreaming about the perfect wedding, picking out colors, outfits, and decorations.

  2. Fatigue. You've sent out the invitations and now you're working out the nitty-gritty details of your big day -- making phone calls to caterers, finding a photographer, coordinating with your wedding party -- and you begin to feel worn out as you come to realize just how much there is to do.

  3. Fear. The big day is approaching fast -- too fast -- and a slight panic starts to set in. This includes both practical worries about running out of time (Did I wait too long to place that online order?) as well as more general anxieties (What if I trip midway down the aisle and fall on my face?)

  4. Denial. By now you just want to curl up into a ball and hide. You question your sanity for having decided to put on a wedding in the first place, and you find yourself fantasizing about eloping for a quickie Fat Elvis wedding in Vegas. You spend unhealthy amounts of time on activities unrelated to wedding planning, such as blogging.

  5. Relief. Everything magically works itself out somehow, the wedding goes off without a hitch, and everybody has fun. Then you head off on your honeymoon, frame your pretty wedding pictures, and live happily ever after with your shiny new spouse.
Some speculation is involved on the latter parts of this list... But overall, I'm pretty sure this is how it works.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Glowy Night Parade at Six Flags

About a month ago, my fiancé and brother and sister and I went up to Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, IL. It had been years since I'd been to an amusement park, and we went on a lot of fun rides and roller coasters, but one of the most enjoyable parts of the day turned out to be the nifty glow-in-the-dark parade at the very end.

I had my camera with me and I tried my best to photograph the parade, though it proved challenging -- despite the glowy-ness, the light levels were still really low, and all my subjects kept moving along for some reason. But I did manage to capture a handful of reasonably clear shots -- the red-lighted trolley car shown above, for instance, is probably one of the better ones I ended up with.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates

For some reason, I've always found myself oddly fascinated by stories where two close or similar characters end up on wildly different paths in life, despite starting out in more or less the same place. Two siblings or childhood friends, close as can be, and then of them becomes evil! I know it sounds kind of childish and cliched to put it like that, but something just interests me about tracing two paths from a single starting point and looking at where, why, and how they diverge.

Generally, those kinds of stories tend to be works of fiction... so needless to say, I was intrigued when I first heard about the true story told in this book.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Why I've Started a Blog

Every so often, I find myself wishing that I had a blog. Usually it's because I feel like I have something important and ranty to say about politics, and it's a little unsatisfying to write up a whole rant and then just deposit it into my personal rant file.

But sometimes, I also have this vague feeling that blogging is what my generation does, and by not having one I'm missing out. To help me articulate this feeling, here is xkcd #239:

Anyway, as my blog title suggests, I'm really not taking this blogging thing very seriously. New posts may appear here every so often, or they may not. And if they do they will be random. And also, pie.