Monday, February 25, 2008

Depth of Field

Beautifully captured images would always have a captive audience. The popularity of Flickr is a testament to that. Though I have been using a compact digital camera (Nikon Coolpix 4100) for some time now, I am a beginner at using the digital SLR (Nikon D40x). One of the elements in photography that have always fascinated me is the photographer's clever use of the Depth of Field. Though it is just one of the several applications in the art of photography, in my rather limited knowledge, its creative use epitomises my definition of THE perfect photograph. In particular, I find photos with shallow depth of field very interesting.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York currently has a special exhibition on this particular element of photography: Depth of Field: Modern Photography at the Metropolitan. It would have been a treat to see this exhibition in person (and perhaps indulge in a bit of travel photography). But I will have to make do with just simply viewing some of the images online.

My fascination with depth of field is one of the reasons why I wanted to take up photography using a digital SLR. I am still learning and constantly trying something new. After much research and pouring over numerous commentaries from actual users and discussions online on which lens to use to explore this wonderful technique, I recently got myself a 50mm standard lens.

Photo hobbyists and enthusiasts extol the virtues of the Nikon Series E (AI-S) 50mm f/1.8. The new addition to my gear is the second version with the chrome ring (c. May 1981 - 1985).

Perfect match

This amazing piece of glass is manual focus and having had a little bit of practice using manual mode in the D40x, it didn't take long for me to figure out the 50mm prime lens.

My first 'successful' shot:

Art Mannequin

I took out the 50mm for a walkabout over the weekend and did some more practice shots.

Come to Tigger

La Ville lumière

Street furniture

I just love this little lens and the wonderful possibilities it presents. I am looking forward to just having fun with it.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A PhD outside the 'tour d'ivoire'

Hmmm...I started this blog almost two years ago now, for the most part, to chronicle in hindsight my years in graduate school and perhaps, in the process of doing so, map out 'new adventures', be in the academe or outside the ivory tower.


Two years hence, I'm a PhD outside the academe and is in the industry practice. Statistically, I belong that two thirds of contemporary PhDs who have not secured an academic job and is in the practice profession albeit the same discipline.

Why am I not in the academe? There are a variety of reasons but foremost would have to be simply my failure to get an academic job is because there just aren't enough jobs in academia. ScienceWoman provided a list of reasons why PhDs leave the halls of the academe. Another reason that is particularly applicable to me is the lack of good mentorship in how to attain an academic job. This is not to say I did not receive good supervision during my candidature. I was fortunate to have two supervisors who are considered authorities in my field of research and were very supportive. More than mentors, they have become life-long friends. But I did not receive appropriate advise on how to prepare for or get an academic job.

Although I am not presented with the same challenges in my current job. I cannot say that I do not like it. But as ScienceGeek would have it, there is that internal struggle of having a PhD and not be an academic. ScienceGeek contends that "this is mostly due to the expectation that a PhD will follow that well laid out route of PhD, post-doc, academic faculty and that anything less is consider somewhat of a failure."

Nevertheless, I consider my PhD as successful and a significant achievement. I don't regret doing a PhD and I still consider it as one of the best choices I ever made.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Adelaide "Green" Connector

One of the Adelaide City Council's (ACC) initiative is to provide a free bus service, the Adelaide Connector, which links North Adelaide and the CBD. To my knowledge this bus service has been in operation since 2001. It really is a convenient service as its routes (the Red route and Green route) include streets not plied by the regular public buses. Plus, it's free! The Red route (nicknamed the Red bus) starts at 8.00am in North Adelaide and heads towards the City. Whereas, the Green route or the Green bus would commence the service from the city to North Adelaide. I would use the service every morning to go to work and I take the Red bus.

This morning, the Red bus has turned "green". Today was the inaugural service of the world's first solar electric bus. Launched in December 2007, the green "Tindo" (Kaurna Aboriginal word for 'sun') bus with plates "Tindo 1" now plies the Red route of the Adelaide Connector. Hooray for the ACC! I took part in history by being one of the first to use the world's first solar electric bus. Being a fully electric vehicle, the bright green bus with quirky exterior design is very quiet. Read more about Tindo here.

"Green" Adelaide Connector

In thinking of going 'green', one wonders if factors of embodied energy and embodied water in product manufacturing are taken as criteria for sustainability. More often than not, in aiming for being green or sustainable, we have become more end-product oriented. The process to get to that end-result, which is crucial in the holistic assessment if indeed the product is deemed a 'green initiative' is often relegated to the side. Among the questions perhaps that needs to be asked is whether in the production of Tindo, green measures have likewise been considered.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Close Up Photography

I'll be able to have some fun doing macro photography. Joy! The old manual Nikon micro lens I got from eBay finally arrived.

Micro Nikkor Auto P.C 55mm f/3.5 with M2 ring

Going over my old close up photography book and numerous online discussions on using old Nikon manual lenses with the Nikon D40x, I scoured eBay for this glass. I now have a wonderful addition to my gear: a Micro Nikkor Auto P.C 55mm f/3.5 with M2 ring (c. 1973-March 1975). I was fortunate to get this lens in near mint condition complete with front and rear lens caps, original manual and still with its original box.

I was worried about using old manual lenses with the D40x but a number of photography guides available online maintained by professionals offered valuable information on Nikon systems and lens compatibility: Thom Hogan, Ken Rockwell and Flickr discussion forums. Photo enthusiasts (Thanks, Shai) have likewise shared wonderful insights, particularly on the selection of gear for macro photography. Bjorn Rorslett also provides a comprehensive evaluation of special purpose lenses for Nikon F mount. An amazing compendium of Nikon lenses is also available with information on lens specifications, accessories and even the serial numbers including quantity produced!

After tinkering with the camera and its settings (it's the first time I used the Manual Mode - somehow my first shots in manual mode came out with blank screen), I was able to get some test shots.

My first 'successful' shot

First macro shot

Over the weekend I did some more practice shots. I hope to try to get some outdoor macro shots soon.

Crumpler Mini Match

Tag Heuer S/el Series

Next, I'll be trying out the 50mm f/1.8 standard lens.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Architecture in Shoe Design

I was amused by DesignNotes' comparison of one of the shoes in this year's Gucci collection to building design and architecture. I was reminded of this short film on the design of Nike shoes.

This Gucci Newton high heel peekaboo bootie is part of Gucci's 2008 spring summer collection. They certainly look like a piece of architectural art - streamlined design with the sleek patent black leather evoking fluid motion, elegantly embellished with the understated light gold back and with stature to boot with those pencil thin 4-1/2" heels.

Even with the whopping price of US$795, these Gucci's with killer heels are in popular demand.

Women and their shoes:
"High heels let you cheat at the gym. In the time it takes you to slide your feet into a great pair of heels, you not only get great-looking legs, you also get a butt lift of approximately twenty-five percent. What exercise equipment can beat that?" - Leanne Banks (2005)

*images as seen at DesignNotes and Zesty Perspective.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

On design methodology

I have been asked to design my sister's first house and in doing the design sketches, I found myself thinking about my thought / design process in coming up with schematics for any design project. It has been over six years since I designed something (architecturally speaking). The last design project I was involved in was in 2001 before I decided to enter graduate school and work on the PhD research - albeit still within the discipline of architecture. Even though, I have been working in an architectural firm for the past two years and have been part of a design team, my role in design projects is essentially collaborating with the design architect in terms of providing essential background material for the design solution, sustainability research and clarifiying / expounding the project brief.

Doing the initial schemes for the house, I was amazed at how the concepts I had toyed with the last few weeks took on a concrete orthographic form on paper. Having practiced and worked on predominantly residential projects for 10 years prior to graduate school, I was familiar with the design norms, code requirements, etc. But having been more research-oriented and on a totally different subject area in architecture, I didn't think that the commonsense 'design' rules I learned which have guided my design process and framed my methodology would come into play so naturally. Michael Surtees wrote a similar thing about his design process in graphics design, "the sketch of a logo may have only taken a moment to draw, but it took 25 years of observation to get those five seconds of inspiration".

In a similar vein, recent collaboration with another design team within the practice, I was reminded of this passage from Matthew Frederick's 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School (2007): "Being process-oriented, not product driven, is the most important and difficult skill for a designer to develop ...[and] being process-oriented means [among others], seeking to understand a design problem before chasing after solutions."

Perhaps a segue into another discourse but not really off on a tangent, what are these commonsense rules? How do these rules become entrenched in a designer's psyche or consciousness?

Again, DesignNotes pointed to a fitting post with an education bent - from an essay by Lorraine Wild, ‘That Was Then, and This Is Now: But What Is Next?’ in Looking Closer Four: Critical Writings on Graphic Design (2002).

Although refering to graphic design, Tod Roeth's How to be schooled, elaborated on the text above and is most certainly applicable to the architectural design process: "if a person wants to be the author of thoughtful, professional, and effective ... design then they must draw on their ability to exercise some real foresight, critical thinking, and common sense if they want to be ... designers."

Roeth adds, "...good designers need to first be human beings with a lot of – literally – common sense. Designers need to be students of all corners of their culture’s playing field. Designers need to have a sense of business. Designers need to have a sense of politics. Designers need to have a sense of stereotypes. Designers need to have a sense of religion, philosophy, current events and history. Designers need to have a sense of urban lifestyles, agrarian lifestyles, and minority lifestyles. Designers need have a sense of conservative viewpoints. Designers need to understand liberal viewpoints."

"Designers need a lot of common sense. In short, effective ... designers need to be able to be sensible and conscious of different viewpoints, and different styles of language (verbal and non-verbal) within their culture and the types of mindsets that speak them. Furthermore, ... designers then need to draw from their body of knowledge and experience, and employ it to cleverly, shrewdly, and creatively solve the problems graphic designers are challenged to confront."

"And that common sense is free to all who have the passion – or at least, the wherewithal – to seek it, but priceless when obtained."

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