Crossing the Santa Threshold

I’ve almost always had facial hair since my mid twenties. While I had hair on top, it was most often a mustache or full beard; once I started shaving my head I generally had a goatee. Every now and then I’d go clean shaven, just hate it and grow it back as soon as I could.

One style I haven’t done until now is a long beard. I first tried it a couple of years ago, but gave up on it after four months because it’s such a nuisance. I’ve found myself regretting giving up on it, though,  so I’m trying it again this year. I started growing it in January, and aside from a couple of snips to even it out a bit, and make it easier to eat, it’s been growing ever since.

It’s still a nuisance; messy while eating, and it tends to curl. It would look better trimmed, but at this point, I feel like I have an investment in it, and I’m curious to see how long I can let it grow. I’m hoping to last the year. Eventually, I hope, it will even out and I can neaten it up a bit.

I wish I’d done this when I was younger. I’ve seen guys with long dark beards, and on some of them, the look works. Unfortunately, my beard is nearly white. This week, I seemed to have crossed the Santa threshold – suddenly, I’m getting comparisons to Santa from everyone.

The first one was from some random guy on the subway Wednesday night. I had an empty seat next to me, and some father was asking his son if he was afraid to sit next to Santa. Next up was one of my co-workers. Then this weekend, I saw a bunch of family members for the first time in a few months, and heard it again over and over again.

It isn’t a surprise, of course. I know what color my beard is. I did expect it to take longer, though, and I think it’s kind of funny that the change in reaction was so binary– last week, nothing, then this week, everyone is noticing it. So far, I think I’m fine with it.

Me with a 5 month beard

Me with a 5 month beard. Photo by Michael O’Hara

Actually, I think at this point, I look more like Poseidon than Santa – it’s not quite long enough, or quite white enough. But who knows what it will look like in December?

Special Effects, Then and Now

I saw the new Avengers movie a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t my cup of tea. While I’ve seen a lot of comic book movies over the years, and in fact, did see the original Avengers movie a few years back, it’s been a while since I saw it, and haven’t seen any of the other Marvel universe movies in the meantime, so I had a devil of a time figuring out what was going on through the first part of the movie.

I also got very impatient with all the special effects. After you’ve seen a city trashed one or two times (or three or four) it gets very repetitive. I’m not a fan of visual action (which, come to think of it, is probably why I don’t care for spectator sports either). For me, the best parts of the Avengers movies are the jokes and the banter between the characters, not the action scenes.

Last Saturday, I caught the end of the original Star Trek episode “By Any Other Name”. In it, invaders from the Andromeda Galaxy take over the Enterprise for the trip home. At the end, Kirk convinces the alien commander to release control of the Enterprise and turn back. I was watching the remastered version, and there’s a longish shot of the Enterprise making a long swooping curve and turning around, and it felt vaguely wrong.

I was able to put my finger on what was bothering me yesterday. The original producers did not have a big budget for effects, so they had to exercise restraint. The original version features a stock shot, used in many episodes, of an aft view of the Enterprise. The camera is tight on the rear of the saucer section, positioned above the secondary hull and between the nacelles, which extend past the edge of the frame. We see the ship start to turn, and then dip down and out of the frame.

Is it a less ambitious shot than the remastered version? Yes. The shot was probably created very simply, by tilting the camera so the ship falls out of the frame.

Is the image quality pretty cruddy? Yes, especially since multiple generations of copies were needed to create it.

Did they overuse this particular shot? Unquestionably.

But, because the shot is tighter on the ship, the focus is much more on the ship, and not the surrounding galaxy. Because of the necessary restraint used in framing the shot, I feel the original sequence is actually stronger dramatically. I’d love to see a high quality remastered version of this shot, with maybe a little variation between episodes.

You can see a similar situation comparing the old Superman TV show with the Superman movies. The TV show was very cheaply made; to show Superman flying, they’d start off with George Reeves hitting an offscreen trampoline, bouncing into the air, then cut to a medium shot of him in air, in front of a motion blurred rear projection background. By the time the movies with Chris Reeve were made (I haven’t seen the more recent ones), the producers were able to place Superman in a scene with buildings and other scenery more or less convincingly.

Unfortunately, showing a long shot of a tiny Superman flying around a bunch of buildings reduces his importance in the shot. He’s just a part of the shot. While the series definitely suffered from the jump cut from Superman taking off to Superman in mid air – with no shots taking the viewer from the ground to the air, it was obvious that the series was cheating– the inability of the television budget to show Superman over the city meant that the producers had to tighten the focus onto Superman himself. And for most flying scenes, where the point is simply to get Superman from Point A to Point B, it’s probably a better dramatic choice.

I think current day movies could stand to exercise similar restraint. I think they would be improved by tightening the focus on the characters. It’s great that they can do so much photorealistically – but any photographer can tell you a big part of making a picture is deciding what to focus on, what to get close to, and what to leave out.


First Paddle of the Season

I took the kayak out for the first time of the season this afternoon. I’d put the roof racks on the car a week ago, but hadn’t actually loaded the boat onto the cradles, meaning I had to spend a fair amount of time centering them up yesterday. I also discovered how out of shape I am, and how heavy the kayak is.

I’d originally wanted to leave very early in the morning, but ended up going mid-day instead. I decided to go back to the landing in Auburndale, opposite the Newton Boathouse. I headed upstream, and stopped just short of the Route 16 dam; where there are shoals.

Once past the golf course footbridge, the current picked up noticeably; and going past the old railroad bridge, it felt like I was paddling as hard as I could just to stay in place. The payoff came when I turned around and the river grabbed the boat and I flew downriver.

Everywhere I looked, trees and shrubs were leafing out; their brand new foliage contrasting with the dead, leftover branches from the year before.

Near the Park Ave bridge, I saw this swan.



Swans can be aggressive and territorial, but this one didn’t seem too much bothered by me.

I’m still learning the ways of this boat. I must have accidentally shifted the pedal positions for the rudder pedals; with the rudder down, I kept recurving to the right. It’s nigh impossible to adjust them while in the boat, so I ended up flipping up the rudder and paddle steering. I’m getting a little better at getting in and out of the boat, but feel that I still have a ways to go.

I’m realizing that the Thule Glide and Set carrier I got to mount the kayak to the roof is not a great match for a Honda Element. The premise of the carrier is that the rear cradle is relatively slippery; you get the bow of the boat into the rear cradle, and then slide it forward. There are two problems using it with the Element: first, the car has factory mounting points, and the rear points are about three feet forward of the end of the car and secondly, it’s a tall car. It’s hard getting the boat up that high, and the kayak ends up resting on the roof until I can get onto the tailgate, lift the rear of the kayak up, and slide it forward. Last fall, I managed to put some fairly deep scratches into the roof paint trying to load the kayak; I’ve since picked up a cheap mat that I lay on top of the roof while loading and unloading. Fortunately, the Element is roomy enough inside that I can take along a small bench to use as a step stool to help me get the kayak on and off. I’m hoping to get faster with the loading and unloading process.