Category Archives: A blogger’s musings

Replay: Capturing two transmutations of light

Photography is, above all else, about light, about capturing photons through either photochemical response [film photography] or photoelectronic excitation [digital]. Film photographers worked with a range of film, both positive and negative, black and white, and color. And color films harbored their peculiar ways of displaying the light they had captured, with, for instance, Kodak’s Ektachrome transparency film yielded images with the color balance weighted toward cooler greens and, as Paul Simon rhapsodized, Kodachrome produced “those nice bright colors”:

The song became something of a personal anthem, given that we also shot Nikons and Kodachrome and shared the experience of in-the-moment joy that can come with the single-minded openness to the unexpected a camera can bring.

Kodachrome died in 2009, Ektachrome in 2013. But as film died, digital thrived, first in the form of very expensive low-resolution still cameras, evolving into cheaper, higher resolution still cameras, them to movie cameras, and finally to today’s cell phones capturing both still and moving images.

And forget the limitations of film when it comes to playing with colors; digital lifts all constraints, adding the capability for seamless alternation and distortions, of which cats seem to be the principal subjects.

The camera’s lens plays a critical role in image capture, with macro lenses capturing the very close and telephoto lenses capturing the very distant. The width of a lens opening also changes the nature of the image, with very narrow apertures creating images with great depth of field, in which images both near and far appear in sharp focus; conversely, wide apertures yield images with a sharp center of focus and in which both near and far are blurred.

Another lens polarity is between the extreme telephoto and the fisheye. Extreme telephoto lenses resemble inverted cannon barrels, while the most extreme fisheye would be nearly hemispherical in profile. Telephoto lenses result in sharp but very narrow focus, while fisheye lenses distort [now, thanks to digital,  “correctable” by software].

For a good example of fisheye distortion, see the image at the top of our blog, a self portrait as seen in our reflection in a fisheye safety mirror at the entrance to a narrow passageway at the La Note cafe in downtown Berkeley.

So with that by way of preface, a reprise of a 27 November 2012 post containing one [guess] of our favorite images and a link to another [and click on all to enlarge ’em]:

Seen through glass, more or less darkly

A pair of glass-themed images from an August, 2004, road trip with younger daughter Samantha to the woolly wilds of Northern California.

First, an image of the view outside the former home of an old friend in Petrolia, as seen through a glass sphere on the window sill:

1 August 2004, Minolta Dimage A1, ISO 100, 43 mm, 1/125 sec, f3.5

1 August 2004, Minolta Dimage A1, ISO 100, 43 mm, 1/125 sec, f3.5

Next, a glimpse of the play of light through the grid of prismatic circular elements of the French-made sodium glass Fresnel lens — made with a long-lost secret formula — of the landmark Point Arena lighthouse, located on a stunning stretch of coastline:

4 August 2004, Minolta Dimage A1, ISO 100, 15 mm, 1/125 sec, f4

4 August 2004, Minolta Dimage A1, ISO 100, 15 mm, 1/125 sec, f4

On recovering from cancer chemotherapy

Consider the following as a partil explanation for our long blogging silence. . .

Chemotherapy, I have learned, ain’t no picnic

Films, television dramas, and news features frequently deal with the sometimes-nasty immediate impact of poisoning the body in hopes that the toxins will be taken up by cancer cells, which typically multiply faster than the healthy cells of their host organs.

And, by and large, chemo has done a notable job of boosting the life expectancies of those afflicted with one of the host of ailments going by the common name of cancer.

We didn’t have just one form of cancer. No, we had two.

In addition to the prostate adenoma that’s almost inevitable for the aging male, I also had a much more pernicious Stage IV “high grade metastatic micropapillary urothelial carcinoma” of the bladder, which had pierced through the muscle begun infiltrating into the lymphatic system, the fast track to metastasis in other organs.

The prognosis wasn’t good. Even with surgery and chemo, sources we consulted at the time listed survival odds after five years at about one in five, although numbers I found today raised that overall number to 58 percent.

After I lost our bladder and prostate to the surgeon’s knife on the morning of 20 November 2012, then started a four-month-long regime of chemotherapy on 8 January.

Chemo was, in short, miserable. There was the nausea, and to counter it, drugs that caused constipation so bad that two emergency room trip were required. We were spared further visits after our oncologist, since retired, provided authorization for medical marijuana.

I lost about half my hair, and what was left turned white. We were pleasantly surprised when most of it grew back, with no more gray in it than before the chemo.

But there were other consequences, some more serious.

First, I lost a lot of feeling in my feet, a consequence of the neuropathy that comes when toxic chemicals used in chemo attack healthy tissue [nerves]. While daily doses of gabapentin have helped, we have to deal with a constant tingling sensation in the feet, as though they had “gone asleep” and were tingling as they slowly came awake. Without full sensation in the soles of the feet, balance is impaired.

Second, I lost about half our hearing range, and am now forced to rely on subtitles in the TV and DVDs we watch. Hearing aids are so expensive as to be out of the question. As a result, I haven’t been in a movie theater or a public in three years or so. A few folks speak within the range of frequencies remaining, but not many, so I am forced either to ask people to talk louder and repeat themselves, or simply hear nothing at all.

So scratch any possible jobs involving breaking news stories and public meetings
But what’s far worse is “chemo brain,” problems with another set of nerves, those in the brain so crucial to memory, both its formation and in its role in recalling past events [autobiographical as opposed to procedural memory]. Once dismissed as folk mythology, studies have proven that a significant number of chemotherapy patients sustain long-term damage to memory formation and recall, as well as a significant rise in lingering depression [though, let’s face it, getting cancer is depressing].

One could argue that memory loss is to be expected in a 69-year-old male, but the nature of the loss and the accompanying ennui and depression leave me convinced that chemo is the primary culprit.

One drug that does show promise for a post-chemo brain rewiring, but it’s currently illegal. The chemical in question is psilocybin, the primary active ingredient in shrooms, or magic mushrooms.

A study published by Britain’s Royal Society has show psilocybin to increase the density and range of inter-brain connections to an unprecedented degree. Sadly, we’ve no access to the compound, which the federal government classifies as more dangerous that crystal meth and on a par with heroin.

From the study, this graphic indicates the astounding power of the drug to create and strengthen connections, with connections in untreated brains shown on the left and post-psilocybin connections shown on the right:

BLOG Shroombrain

Blood on the Newsroom Floor — still flowing

It’s been far too long since we’ve posted, a delay caused by a concatenation of personal crises, and we doubt we’ll be posting at our previous volume, but some recent developments in the journalism world merit at least a mention.

Journalism as a way for a serious young student of the world to make a respectable living is virtually dead, as evidenced by the latest flurry of layoffs to hit the craft [and, no, journalism is not a profession, in part because the First Amendment forbids it].

The simple fact is that paying jobs, except for a few survivors at Big Name institutions, are fading away, with so-called citizen journalists [i.e., unpaid] replacing them. So forget about expensive investigations, with five- and six-figure sums can be shelled out in pursuit of stories, with no guarantee of results in advance. It’s far cheaper to stalk celebrities and print corporate handouts. . .

Okay, with the grumbling out of the way, let’s get on to the latest body counts.

First up, from the Poynter MediaWire, graphic evidence that half the nation’s newsroom jobs have vanished in the last quarter-century, falling from nearly 60,000 in 1990.

BLOG Layoffs

Poynter reports:

The American Society of News Editors annual newsroom census, released this morning, found that job losses accelerated in 2014, falling by more than 10 percent in a single year.

The net job loss of 3,800 brings the total number of news professionals to 32,900 — with additional losses clearly taking place so far in 2015.  That total is down just over 40 per cent from a pre-recession peak of 55,000 in 2006.

It’s the biggest single year drop since the industry was shedding more than 10,000 jobs in 2007 and 2008.  The comparable figure for 2013 was 1,300 jobs and 2,600 in 2012.

And what about those who still hold jobs?

The outlook is grim, as noted in another Poynter MediaWire report:

Those who remain have suffered from industrywide wage stagnation, with journalists at many traditional media companies not seeing real pay raises since the 2008 recession and classified ad revenue crash. Health insurance cost increases, furloughs, and 401(k) and other benefit cuts have actually meant a pretty significant pay cut for most.

And for a case in point, consider the journalists of  the Springfield, Ill., State Journal-Register, as the United Media Guild reports:

The UMG has been negotiating a first contract at the newspaper for three years. Many veteran journalists at the newspapers have gone eight years without a raise. In its latest offer, GateHouse Media essentially offered a pay cut — since its offer included no raises and increased health insurance costs that would far outstrip the modest signing bonuses.

And now, the latest news bad news

First up, the New York Daily News has been laying off journalists right and left this month — close to 50 at last count — as the paper’s circulation numbers continue a precipitous decline from more than one million daily to around 300,000 today

The NYDN once boasted the nation’s largest daily circulation. . .

Another newspaper that once owned the same honors continues its own precipitous decline, the Los Angeles Times.

An estimated 80 jobs are due to face the chop in the 500-strong Times newsroom. Just ten years earlier the paper boasted a newsroom staff of a thousand. While in 1999, circulation topped a million a day, by the end of last year the number was down to a mere 370,000.

The Tribune corporation, owner of the Times, bought out the San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this year, promptly laying off a third of its workforce. Of the 178 let go, most came from the paper’s press room following the decision to print the San Diego paper on the Times’s presses. Only nine of 173 editorial staffers got the chop.

More layoffs are expected at other Tribune Publishing papers, including the flagship Chicago Tribune, in part because company stock has plunged over the past 12 months from a high in December of $23.73 to today’s $8.07.

One fifth of the full-time newsroom employees of NOLA Media Group, publisher of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, were axed earlier this month, with additional cuts hitting part-timers and regional correspondents.

From the paper’s website:

NOLA Media Group announced today that it is restructuring its news operation to reinforce its core journalistic mission. The changes are designed to focus on topics that are important to readers and have driven the substantial readership growth of, making it one of the country’s top local news websites.

The restructuring will also lead to operational efficiencies and will result in an overall reduction of 28 full-time and 9 part-time content staffers – or 21 percent of the overall content operation’s full-time employees, according to NOLA Media Group President Ricky Mathews.

In Pennsylvania, the owners of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette negotiated buyouts, making offers to 120 employees, many if not most in the paper’s dwindling newsroom. At least the paper held a party for their departing staff.

And consider the case of one small paper, located on rich turf:

It’s now a yearly ritual: The Palm Beach Post‘s publisher is about to visit with the owners of the dying newspaper in Atlanta to find out how many more layoffs are coming in the fall.

Publisher Tim Burke announced his upcoming trip during a recent staff meeting in the near-empty headquarters of the media organization on South Dixie Highway, saying there’s little doubt layoffs are in the cards, according to an insider.

While the numbers are still being worked on, Gossip Extra hears at least 11 people could lose their jobs, maybe more.

The website notes that the Post has shed 75 percent of its staff in the last decade.

Wire services aren’t immune from the woes afflicting their subscribers, with Bloomberg the latest to impose cuts, as Talking Biz News reported 1 September:

Layoffs at Bloomberg’s editorial operations began Tuesday morning and totaled 55 in the United States — much less than the 80 to 100 estimates that had been reported earlier this month.

The cuts hit the Washington newsroom and the sports desk the hardest. Bloomberg had also conducted some layoffs in Washington in August 2014. Bloomberg News had also made some layoffs in November 2013.

The woes are also being felt north of the border, where, as CBC News reported Thursday:

Montreal news institution La Presse announced on Thursday 158 people would be leaving the newspaper, including 43 positions within its editorial department.

Of the 158, 102 of the positions are permanent, full-time jobs. . .

There will be 633 staff members left at La Presse after the laid-off staff leave.

Back on this side of the border, even public television is under the gun, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettte reports:

WQED Multimedia will cut staff and executives’ salaries to trim millions in long-term debt.

The company’s board Thursday approved a three-year restructuring plan that includes reducing staff — which was about 60 full-time employees before up to a reported 17 layoffs began Thursday morning — as well as reducing executives’ salaries and revamping its dwindling lineup of locally produced television and FM radio programming.

Among those out of a job is Michael Bartley, producer and on-air host, who six days ago accepted a Mid-Atlantic Emmy award on behalf of WQED. Also included were on-air talent Tonia Caruso and producer Pierina Morelli, both of whom have won numerous awards.

All in all, it’s been a very bad year for the Fourth Estate, with no rays of hope visible on the horizon.

Apologies for the lack of posting. . .

We’ve been a bit unwell and are dealing with a crisis. Hope to be back to more regular posting soon.

And now for something completely different

Before there was Photoshop, there were darkrooms, the kind of places esnl spent much time developing and printing black and white photographs for the newspapers he worked for during his five decades in the newspaper business.

And now, from via Petapixel, is a look at the light-and-chemical processes of film photography replicated for digital images by Photoshop:

Before there was Photoshop | film photography | Photoshop 25th anniversary

We’ll leave the program notes to PetaPixel:

These Are the Darkroom Techniques Photoshop’s Tools Are Based On

As a tribute to Photoshop for its recent 25th birthday, Lynda created this “before there was Photoshop” video that shows the darkroom tools and techniques that were used by film photographers before Photoshop and digital photography arrived on the scene.

Photographer Konrad Eek works on a print by dodging, burning, adding gradients, using masks, feathering, and more. If you’ve never made a print in a darkroom before, this video could be quite illuminating.

Lee Judge: Oh bloody really, Mr. Bilious O’Reilly?

The Fox News host is at the center of yet another controversy, this time for radically distorting his short-lived career at CBS News, with the center of the controversy a David Corn/Daniel Schulman Mother Jones expose of his over-hyped claims of reporting on the similarly short-lived Falklands War.

O’Reilly is really flummoxed, and went so far as to threaten New York Times reporter Emily Steel when she called him for a report on the controversy:

Mr. O’Reilly’s efforts to refute the claims by Mother Jones and some former CBS News colleagues occurred both on the air and off on Monday. During a phone conversation, he told a reporter for The New York Times that there would be repercussions if he felt any of the reporter’s coverage was inappropriate. “I am coming after you with everything I have,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “You can take it as a threat.”

O’Reilly is a serial liar, with some of his most egregious examples cataloged here by Occidental College political scientist Peter Dreier.

From a journalistic standpoint, his most notorious lies centered on his claims to have won a pair of Peabody Awards while presiding as the haircut-in-chief at the syndicated tabloid show Inside Edition. O’Reilly and the show did not, in fact, win Peabodys. The show later won two Pol Awards, but only after O’Reilly left.

But then, like most smart sociopaths, O’Reilly never let facts get in the way of a good story in which he played the lead role. And when he gets exposed, he responds with smear and smarm, all flavored with an uptick in volume and rage.

All of which brings us to the cartoon, from the editorial cartoonist of the Kansas City Star:


O’Reilly is a braggart, a bully, and a bloviator.

Brian Williams is, like O’Reilly, more celebrity than journalist, and both men fell prey to the cult of celebrity, in which millions hang on their words not because of who they are but for what they are, men with that combination of luck and telegenicity so beloved of that coolest of media.

But the danger of celebrity is that Q factor is all too often equated with virtue.

I knew Brian William had jumped the shark almost a decade ago when I saw him doing Friday night standup at a Manhattan comedy show, where he was telling a story about taking prednisone for a back injury. “My nipples got as big as saucers,” he declared, touching the aforementioned bodily parts through his shirt. Having taken prednisone multiple times for our rheumatoid arthritis, we never experienced that peculiar side effect. But even if we had, we’d probably not delight in telling it to a crowd of strangers simply for laughs.

Years ago, a magazine editor handed us back a story with the comment, “You’re more interested in getting it right than in telling a good story.” We took it as a compliment. Both O’Reilly and Williams are more interested in story telling.

John Oliver takes on Big Pharma’s marketeering

A perfect follow to our previous post comes from John Oliver, whose show on HBO is offering the most interesting public interest reporting happening in today’s mainstream media.

By covering important topics in some depth, interspersed by a genuinely funny sarcastic humor, vital information is presented in a memorable way — memorable in part because the presentation evokes a range of emotions, contrasted at intervals in a way that makes a stronger impression that either straight informational [pedantic] journalism or uninterrupted and nihilistic sarcasm.

Oliver is a direct descendant of the Mort Sahl of the 1960s, whose memorable routines consisted of opening up a newspaper, reading from an article, and reacting.

Mort Sahl was print, John Oliver’s multi-media.

As for Saul himself, he cited an earlier predecessor:

“Will Rogers…used to come out with a newspaper and pretend he was a yokel criticizing the intellectuals who ran the government. I come out with a newspaper and pretend I’m an intellectual making fun of the yokels running the government.”

In which case John Oliver’s the alien open up the digital media and making fun of the sociopaths running everything.

Which brings us to the topic at hand. . .

While the proliferation of prescription drug ads on television might leave you suspecting that consumers are the main target of Big Pharma avarice, consider that those same companies spend six times as much hustling physicians.

And they do it through a unique system of seduction, bribery, and outright fraud.

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Marketing to Doctors

Program notes:

Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars marketing drugs to doctors.

We have a few issues with that.

We would add that way back when esnl first started reporting a half century back [9 November 1964, to be exact], Big Pharma could only market to doctors, and then only in restricted circulation trade publications like the Journal of the American Medical Association, to which mere mortals couldn’t subscribe.

It wasn’t until 1985, under the aegis of the Reagan administration [that font of so much evil] that average Americans fell prey to Big Pharma’s seductive wiles.

Oliver isn’t the only one to concerned about the physician/industrial complex.

From the August 2009 Bulletin of the World Health Organization:

Direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs has been legal in the USA since 1985, but only really took off in 1997 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eased up on a rule obliging companies to offer a detailed list of side-effects in their infomercials (long format television commercials). Since then the industry has poured money into this form of promotion, spending just under US$5 billion last year alone. The only other country in the world that allows direct-to-consumer drug ads is New Zealand, a country of just over four million people.

Direct-to-consumer advertising informs patients potentially suffering from disease and raises their awareness of treatment options, according to Ken Johnson, senior vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), an industry trade group. But critics of the practice, and there are many, have their doubts. “The truth is direct-to-consumer advertising is used to drive choice rather than inform it,” says Dr Dee Mangin, associate professor at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Christchurch, New Zealand, pointing out that the ‘driving’ is typically in the direction of expensive brand-name drugs. New Zealand consumers then go to their doctors and the pressure to prescribe begins. Surveys carried out in New Zealand and in the USA show that when a patient asks for a specific drug by name they receive it more often than not. “In an era of shared decision-making, it’s much more likely that general practitioners will just do what the patient asks,” says Mangin. It goes beyond that, of course, because doctors are also being enticed by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe their drugs.

The net result is higher cost for the consumer or tax payer. It is the issue of costs that has put the issue of drug marketing and consumption firmly at the heart of the Obama administration’s current review of the USA’s health-care system. “Some of the more thoughtful people in the USA recognize that part of the reason they have a drug expenditure bill that is completely out of control is this kind of advertising,” says Suzanne Hill, a scientist working on rational drug use and drug access at the World Health Organization (WHO). Not so, says PhRMA’s Johnson in a statement in May this year: “[direct-to-consumer advertising] benefits the entire health-care system in the USA by encouraging patients to seek medical attention that may help them manage their conditions and avoid unneeded hospital stays or surgeries,” he says, arguing that fewer surgical interventions inevitably reduce costs.

Direct-to-consumer advertising is also blamed for encouraging so-called off-label uses of drugs; that is to say uses not approved by the FDA, the USA regulator. An example of this would be gels and fillers that had initially been approved by the FDA as dissolvable sutures that are being promoted as scalpel-free alternatives to cosmetic surgery. For Professor Alexander Capron, University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law, the use of direct-to-consumer advertising in the promotion of off-label uses has been if anything, “a more slippery slope”, than aggressive or misleading promotion.