Archive for January, 2009

Data + Art at the PMCA

Last night, Evan and I went to the opening of the Data + Art exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The show explores how data can be explored, visualized, filtered and even set to music for the sake of understanding, expression or art.

The opening display was a collage mosaic of photos, charts, medical diagrams and more with the quote, “Humans will very likely generate more information this year than in the cumulative history of our species.”

The exhibits were all thought-provoking and were striking in how different they were. They ranged from micro-etching to 3-D photos of Mars to light- and wind-powered drawing devices. The drawing devices were some of my favorites.

The light-powered one, Phototropic Drawing Device by David Bowen, featured two small robots with charcoal on their feet waddling and hopping around a large sheet of paper. They would change their direction depending on which lights were on, and they looked like two mini moon rovers searching for something.

The wind-powered drawing machine was completely different, but equally charming. The same artist, David Bowen, attached autumn leaves to long wires weighted down with rocks that had a piece of charcoal attached and would create small wind drawings. The drawings were created in Hungary by Lake Balaton. The devices as well as many of the drawings were on display, and it seems that nobody could resist blowing on the leaves to try to encourage a drawing right in the museum.

There were also some interesting music exhibits. One was a piece called Jiyeh by Jonathan Berger that took satellite imagery of a Mediterranean oil spill off the coast of Lebanon and correlated the changing contours of the spill into musical notes and phrases, which became the foundation for the composition.

Another music exhibit translated data from tumor biopsies to different noises, with benign cells represented by various bell noises and malignant cells represented by percussion sounds. The idea behind this piece was that mapping data to sound, pixel by pixel, will allow you to listen to a higher dimension of data that cannot necessarily be seen.

Though we’d seen something similar at MoMA in New York, we still couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the giant flight map of all the flights in a single day in the U.S by Aaron Koblin. The map would switch between cities and also show a full-country view. Watching the planes take off and land and do their turns was interesting, as was seeing ones coming from Europe and Asia, some traveling over the north pole.

There was also an interesting Flickr-driven display by Jim Bumgardner. For one piece, the artist took all the photos labeled sunrise and sunset and put them on a graph showing the day of the month and the time of day. For the other piece, the artist took all the photos labeled breakfast, lunch and dinner, and plotted them according to the time of day they were taken. The photos were made translucent, the brightest spots are when the most photos were taken. I love that from the graph you can see that breakfast has some popularity all day while lunch and dinner and much more time-specific.

Though I couldn’t take any photos that would do them justice, there were some neat 3-D photos of Mars, the closest you can get to feeling like you’re on the red planet. And there was also the original pixel-by-pixel hand-rendering of the first close-up Mars photo ever sent back to earth.

Another display I found interesting was a graphic representation of the size of Napoleon’s army as they headed to Russia and retreated from Russia, losing nearly the entire force on the way. The map-based graph by Charles Joseph Minard represented the number of troops in the thickness of the line showing their march, and to see it go from a robust swath to a thin line was quite impressive and an interesting way to graphically show a historic event.

One display I felt needed more explanation was a piece called Spam Architecture by Alex Dragulescu that apparently took input from spam emails and translated them through some algorithm into a 3-D drafting program to create structures. It didn’t give much information as to how the structures were created, and though they looked impressive and the piece was quite enjoyable, it’s hard to imagine how spam could translate into 3-D spaces, most of which actually looked structural, or at least like boxes with extra pieces added on. I’m curious to learn more.

There were also displays of solid smoke, MRIs of a developing quail egg, which showed the development of the skeleton and internal organs in amazing detail, and an entrancing light-through-water seismic display that encouraged visitors to step on or tap the metal plate the water bowl was perched on to create different light images on the wall.

Another neat display, called 10,000 cents by Aaron Koblin and Takashi Kawashima, was a large $100 bill that was divided up into 10,000 rectangular pieces, each drawn by a different person paid 1 cent using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk distributed labor tool. The idea was that the cost to produce the piece was $100, and on close inspection, you’ll see that not everybody followed directions when it came to drawing their square — there are cat faces and stick figures and other anomalies in the bill.

I’d highly recommend this exhibit, so head on over to the PMCA at 490 East Union Street in Pasadena. Admission is only $7, and it’s free the first Friday of each month (so February 6 should be a freebie). The exhibit runs until April 12, and there’s also a neat exhibit of David Sharf’s microphotography called Micronautics that’s worth a look.

Racing Through LA with High Trek Adventure

Yesterday, Evan and I participated in a High Trek Adventure race in LA. We didn’t take it too seriously at first — Evan was determined that we weren’t going to run despite my excitement every time I saw other teams jogging by — but as it turns out we did quite well, coming in at about 10th place (not an official number, since we don’t have our official time, but we had no penalties and we were the 10th team back according to the list).

So what is a High Trek Adventure race? Well, I didn’t know about them until a week ago, so don’t feel bad for not knowing — HTA is a company that sets up scavenger hunt-type races in various cities across the U.S. We met at a location in Hollywood to start the race and we got an all-day transit pass (LADOT was a sponsor) and a packet of clues (10 regular clues and two bonus clues).

We had to figure out the clues, which would take us to locations across Hollywood and Downtown LA, take pictures of various signs, statues, people or locations — which we had to be in as well — and get back to the starting location as fast as possible using only buses, subways or our own two feet. We were also allowed to use our phones and the internet to figure out clues, so people immediately started calling their friends for help while we immediately turned to Google on our iPhones.

Looking back, we did our clues in a really smart order, since we never had to backtrack. We started with the west-most location in Hollywood, Cantaloop, at Hollywood and La Brea, from the clue:

Find this all natural dessert spot location within a quarter mile of the Roosevelt Hotel that shares its name with a pop song of a jazz-rap group from the early ’90s. Here’s a sample of the song in question:

Yeah, yeah, yeah — what’s that? Diddi-diddi bop
Funky funky — yeah yeah — diddi-diddi bop

From there we went to find the hand prints of the star mentioned at the beginning of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” — Doris Day.

We also needed to take photos of 7 different Hollywood signs — not too hard when you’re actually in Hollywood (the alternative was taking a photo with 10 strangers plus us and the Hollywood sign, which we also attempted, though we sort of miscounted and only had 8 strangers and the Hollywood sign was fogged over for the photo).

Then we unscambled Boris Karloff’s name and found his star over on Vine, right in front of the Avalon. And then we went over to Toyota of Hollywood to see how many tries it would take us to unlock a car — we did it in two tries, so we didn’t get any time penalty.

We realized we were pretty well done with the Hollywood clues — there was one more, but we decided it would be the one we’d skip (we only had to do 9 out of 10) — so we headed over to the metro stop at Western and Hollywood, which was a bit of a walk, and went downtown.

We stopped at the Transit Mall to take a picture of a wall tile with the Joker on it, then headed over to Pershing square to take a photo with the Betthoven statue — our way of showing we added up which two actors had the most combined Oscars from a list.

From there we went up to Grand Central Market to buy an Apple from La Casa Verde. I had no idea that giant market was even there — I’d love to go back and check it out some more. That also took us right by Angels Flight, to which both Evan and I said, “LA has a funicular!?” We had no idea it was there and had never seen the bright orange cars, though we learned that they haven’t run since a serious accident where a cable snapped and a car sped down the mountain, killing a man and injuring others in 2001.

The last stop we had to make was Axis Physical Therapy by the Disney Concert Hall, which meant getting up a hill. I ran part of the way up, and we saw other teams running down the hill. We took the photo quickly, not waiting for the other two teams at the site, then started running back down the hill toward the Red Line stop.

Another team was right on our tail as we ran around the circular subway entrance. As we started down the subway escalator, we could hear the train coming, and we had to run down another flight of stairs to get to it. Evan got there first and I was concerned because my shoe was untied and I had an apple placed pretty precariously in my pocket, but Evan was able to hold the doors open just long enough for me and the other team to get on. Were we ever tired when we got on the subway!

What we didn’t realize was that we got on the Purple Line, which stops at Wilshire and Western, and not the Red Line, which goes to Hollywood and Highland, where we needed to be. Of course, nothing on the train indicated that, but when we reached the last stop the two lines shared, there was a very quiet announcement. We heard it, and though we were slightly unsure about the decision, we decided to get off the train to wait for the next one, which should be the real Red Line. The other couple didn’t even seem to consider getting off, and sort of looked at us with a “suckers!” look when we decided to get off the train.

We did make the right decision, and the next train was the right one. We felt guilty about not making it more clear to the other team that they were on the wrong train, but it was a pretty split-second decision because the announcement was made at the station where we needed to make the switch, and we were slightly unsure of the decision ourselves.

We got back to Hollywood and Highland and took a quick photo of some A-list celebrities (on a billboard), since it was one of the bonus items. We also looked around for anyone in a jersey or a shop that sold them, another bonus item, but didn’t see anything immediately, so we decided to just head back to the starting point as quickly as possible to save time. We ran down Highland towards Sunset, and got to the Catalina Jazz Club about 2 hours and 20 minutes after the race started, and we were surprised to learn that we were only the 10th team back. I think there were more than 50 teams of two to six participating.

We had some iced tea to celebrate finishing the race — and I forgot to mention, our team name was Unsweetened Iced Tea — then took some time to catch our breath. We waited around until about 4:30 so we could see the awards, even though we were pretty sure we wouldn’t win one. We didn’t, but we found out that some teams took close to five hours to complete the race, and we did have a great time getting to run around LA and see the other people who were interested in this sort of thing, too.

There were plenty of people who’d participated in these types of events before, whether it was other HTA races, Race LA events or even The Amazing Race, so we were really proud of ourselves for doing well and working as a team, and we’ll definitely be on the lookout for other similar events. It was a great way to spend a Saturday and to get a really unconventional workout.

MLK Weekend in Mammoth

Last weekend, Evan and I went to Mammoth with two of our friends. We drove up early on Friday so we beat all of the traffic and had a super easy drive because it had been warm for a while and hadn’t snowed, so no ice, no snow and no chains.

Saturday, we had a great, full day of skiing and snowboarding. Evan and I went all over the mountain in the morning, then stopped for lunch — where we coincidentally sat RIGHT next to my uncle and cousins — and met up with our friends in the afternoon to get some more runs in.

That night we had a delicious dinner at one of my favorite Mammoth restaurants, Petra’s Bistro. The four of us had a table by the fire, and Evan and I shared a roasted beet salad and some Navarro Chardonnay, and then he had a salmon dish while I had some gnocchi with butternut squash. Our friends had venison and pork and loved their dishes as well. For dessert we headed back to the condo since Evan and I had baked a chocolate almond cake from a recipe his parents often use, and though it turned out a little flatter than theirs — we folded the egg whites in a little too much — it was delicious with its raspberry jam topping. I’ll definitely be making it again.

Sunday was another great ski day. The snow was pretty fast and quite hard-packed in some places, but we stayed under control and I don’t think either Evan or I fell the whole time. We spent more time up at the top and on the back side of the mountain, which I had never even explored. It was beautiful and sunny, too, and we met up with my uncle and cousins again for lunch.

We didn’t make it a full day — we headed in around 3 instead of 4 — since our legs (especially mine) were really exhausted from spending so much time on both steep and overly flat runs, which both make my muscles exhausted. I do much better on a normal intermediate/easier advanced grade. Still, it was good to challenge myself, and though Evan is a much better skier than I am a border, I was able to stick with him all day — provided that he’d wait for me a bit.

That night, we cooked dinner — nice and easy rancher’s pasta (pasta with sun dried tomatoes, olives and goat cheese) and salad. We also had some more cake and started a bit of a board game marathon, playing Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit and Catch Phrase.

Monday we debated whether or not to ski and ultimately decided to go for brunch at The Stove where we had enormous omelets, waffles and pieces of french toast, which were all really delicious. Then Evan and I took a short hike at Hot Creek, which was delightfully empty — every time I’ve been there it’s been super crowded. And then we drove home, thankfully without any traffic again.

Evan should be posting some more photos soon, including some of Hot Creek.

A Bakeoff Without Any Cookies

Last night Evan and I went to the Oscars Visual Effects Bakeoff, an open-to-the-public screening of the 7 contenders for the 5 VFX Oscar nominations. The Academy theater was packed — we had to wait in a line that wrapped around the building into the alley, though thankfully it moved pretty quickly.

The films on the lineup: Hellboy II, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Iron Man and Australia.

It was fun to see Hellboy II again, projected on the Academy’s giant screen. Focusing on the visual effects made me appreciate some of them even more, especially all the detail on the giant green Elemental monster.

The Mummy had a really impressive fight scene between terracotta soldiers and skeleton soldiers. Journey to the Center of the Earth I found a bit gimmicky, with its 3-D effects, which I understand are very technical and hard to do, but felt like they made me focus on the 3-D aspect instead of what was really going on. It was also sort of funny to see two Brendan Fraser flicks back to back.

Benjamin Button was really impressive — I had no idea that Brad Pitt played the character from start to finish and has his aged or “youthened” (the VFX team said they called the process “youthening”) face put on various actors’ bodies.

The Dark Knight was great — and it was the third time I’d seen it — and I forgot how awesome Iron Man was. That suit, the robots, the flying and the fighting were all really cool. I especially enjoyed how the suit came together when the robots put it on Tony.

Australia was a bit more puzzling because the effects were much more discreet. The film has a really beautiful look, and apparently a lot of that was done with set extensions — the VFX crew said that only one scene in the film didn’t have effects shots. It was just tough to tell where the reality ended and the effects began, which I guess was the point. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to check out a before and after of the shots.

We don’t get to vote or anything, but it was neat to be at least privy to part of the process. There were also short introductions and Q and A sessions along with each reel.

A Night of Funny People

Last night, Evan and I went out to the Orpheum to watch a comedy show/film taping for Judd Apatow’s new movie, “Funny People.”

Getting into the theater was pretty disorganized — we had to bring out cell phones back to the car since they weren’t allowing any in, then we had to wait in long, gender-specific lines to be searched and wanded before going into the theater. The girls’ line was mercifully short and I sat in my seat at least ten or fifteen minutes before Evan came in.

The show started pretty late because of all the door drama, and David Spade opened the show. He was followed by Adam Sandler, performing in character as George Simmons, and Seth Rogen, performing in character as Ira.

After the movie’s headliners were through, though, the real fun started, with a performance by Sarah Silverman, who managed to spill Red Bull all over her joke list. She told some jokes I’d heard already, but her bit was great. She also performed a few songs, which were my favorite part of her act.

By far the most surprising and ridiculous act of the night was Aziz Ansari as Randy — or should I say Raaaaaaaandy (“Randy, with 8 A’s”) — another bit shot for the film. He was completely over the top, dancing around the stage and being backed up by a DJ who would add on to his punchlines. He was totally self-obsessed and told jokes that from anyone else wouldn’t be funny, but his gimmicky choreographed bit was the evening’s highlight.

The show closed with a set from Patton Oswalt, who I really like. I saw him do standup for the first time at the Irvine Improv a few years ago and thought he was hilarious. I hadn’t seen him perform since then, though, so all his material was new to me, and he had some great jokes.

The evening ran a bit long, but overall, we had a lot of laughs and it ended strong. Afterwards, we grabbed a late dinner at Lola’s (the kitchen’s open until 1 am!).

Maybe we’ll see ourselves in the movie when it comes out this summer, though that’s very unlikely — we were in the balcony, many rows back and we both looked directly at the camera at least once when it came by us.

Family Vacation in Mammoth

At the end of December, my family went to Mammoth to go skiing, enjoy the snow and spend some time together.

Dad and Michelle competing in the Partini cup game

Our first night there, a week ago Friday, we went to dinner at the Mogul then went home to play some games. We tried out a new game my sister got called Partini, which was a lot of fun, though some categories were a bit hard — like the one where you had to describe something by what it isn’t, and one where you had to hum two of four songs and have your team guess them within 30 seconds. Other categories were a lot of fun, like the miming/charades one, a competitive ball-and-cup game and a sentence-finishing activity, which led to lots of funny answers to “I like” and “I have” phrases pertaining to the roller.

Mom trying to figure out a Canadian Trivia answer

Then my parents pulled out their new Canadian Trivia game, which they got as a gift. It was basically Trivial Pursuit, Canadian edition, and nobody other than my mom and dad got many questions. I got a few entertainment questions about Avril Lavigne and Michael Buble.

June Lake (turned out pretty well from a moving car and on my iPhone)

Saturday was our first day snowboarding and we decided to check out June Mountain instead of going to Mammoth Mountain, which we knew would be crowded. None of us had ever been to June Mountain before, and it ended up being a nice surprise. The conditions were beautiful, there were no lines and we felt like we had the hill to ourselves. The runs were a bit easy for my liking and it didn’t have the variety Mammoth has, but it still made for a beautiful day of skiing and snowboarding, and the view of June Lake was quite beautiful.

That night, we played Catchphrase, a new family favorite since we played it in Hawaii during the summer. It always ends up with a lot of yelling, though — somehow giving clues louder makes it seem like you’re giving them faster.

Me and Mom at the top of Mammoth Mountain

Sunday we finally went up to Mammoth Mountain. It was one of the most beautiful days I’d ever seen there — warm but not too hot, blue skies, very little wind and great snow. It was only my mom, Danny (my sister’s boyfriend) and me on the hill, and we had a great day, sticking towards the top of the mountain to avoid the crowds and taking lots of beautiful runs. It wasn’t anywhere near as crowded as we expected, and when we took the gondola up to the top, it wasn’t even windy, so we go to take a bunch of photos.

One of my favorite runs at Mammoth — Dry Creek

I felt comfortable on my snowboard, though it had been about two years since I’d been boarding, and I can’t wait until Evan and I head up again in a few weeks.

Check out more photos in my Facebook Album and Danny’s Facebook Albums, Mammoth Part 1 and Mammoth Part 2.

Someone Once Told Me “I’m a Nose Man”

Back in October, I was asked to participate in an online photography and storytelling project called Someone Once Told Me, started by Mario Cacciottolo. He showed up at the Coach and Horses for Tuttle Club on the one day of my trip to London I was able to make it, and he asked just about everyone in the room to write someone someone once told them on a piece of paper and then to hold that up for the camera.

Check out the photo on SOTM as well as my audio commentary

Some people put down serious words of wisdom. I, for some reason, immediately thought of one of the most bizarre things someone had told me: “I’m a nose man.” Now, I’ve always been self-conscious about my nose, as I’ve been teased about it and told it was big since I was a kid, so to have a strange older man approach me in a bar and tell me that he loved my nose and that he was a nose man threw me off quite a bit. I had no interest in this stranger, but the strangeness of his comment stuck with me.

I believe on his second shot at picking me up, he came on even stronger and that “That’s a nose I could settle down with”! Whoa, buddy, we were at a cheesy karaoke bar in Newport Beach. Not a time for grand nose-themed gestures.

I must say, though, I’m honored to be part of the project, and excited to finally see my photo up on the site. I think it turned out quite well.