October 30, 2015

The Quiet Apocalypse

I don't think we need to worry about a zombie apocalypse, although to some extent one has already begun. Reports of individuals who strip naked, find a victim and begin munching on their victim's still living body because they are high on "bath salts" or some other modern designer drug seem to have become a weekly occurrence. At this point in time there is so much chaos in the world that a Biblical Apocalypse, if it arrives, might prove to be more of a salvation than a fearsome day of judgement. Recently we've been through near misses from world-ending meteors, Ragnarok, close of the Mayan long calendar, and a dozen other prophetic end times, but none of them seem to have been very spectacular. Even the Muslim world is convinced their own final judgement is about to fall upon us. One of the driving factors behind the dramatic and bloody increase in terrorism is the widespread belief the "12th Imam" has already arrived somewhere on Earth and is preparing to lead the world into a glorious Islamic utopia. In order to hasten that day, many fundamental Muslims leaders believe they have a sacred duty to encourage the spread of violence and chaos directed at "infidels" within both the Muslim world and the greater world that surrounds them.

In contrast to the horrific fire and ice visions of most apocalyptic seers, we have entered a very real apocalypse that every single day is drawing us closer and closer to a world without people, or at the very least, a world with only a handful of people scavenging among the ruins of modern civilization. This apocalypse has not been announced with trumpets or rising oceans, but has instead shown up as curious, disbelieving footnotes scattered here and there among the Kardashians latest meltdown, the newest American Idol, and the American Women's Soccer team winning the World Cup. The clearest hint of this quiet apocalypse is the cataclysmic fall in birthrates throughout most of the world:
Japan Times: Fertility Rate Dips Again
The Guardian: Europe's Demographic Disaster
Market Watch: America's Falling Fertility Rate
Washington Post: China Abandons One-Child Policy

Another hidden aspect of the very real apocalypse we are facing is one that few people are comfortable discussing. Pornography has driven the growth of the internet and in many ways, has become the leading source of both technical and social innovations in our world. Hidden with the shadows of this world of sex cams, amateur video sites, and adult dating communities, a startling new technology has arisen and gone largely unnoticed. Thanks in large part to a company called, True Companion, sex bots have arrived and sales are booming. As you can see in the video above, Real Dolls the number one producer of realistic silicon sex dolls, is not far behind and will be offering their own sex bot in the very near future.

In case you missed it in between your morning espresso, your evening reality television show, and your late night sexy video chat, more and more young people are avoiding the divorce gravy train by simply opting out of marriage. As the LGBT movement becomes more normal than heterosexuality, divorcees become players or cougars, and young people simply stop creating new families, alternatives to procreation are rapidly becoming mainstream culture, even though no one is willing to acknowledge it. Feminists spread hatred of men, men reject modern women as "psycho", and suddenly a robotic companion is not only a possibility, but an absolute preference. Birth rates fall, and instead of panicking over the demise of the species everyone celebrates having avoided a dystopian future of massive overpopulation, starvation, and cataclysmic levels of industrial pollution. In our race to save the Earth we have doomed humanity and absolutely no one has awoken to this dire trend. Men and women are so busy hating one another's imperfections, trying to control one another's daily behavior, and arguing over reality television, that they have stopped having children. In another generation or two, perhaps three if we are really lucky and birth rates in the Muslim world hold steady as they abandon fundamentalism and develop their own version of modernization, people will become an endangered species. The extinction of humanity is upon us and not only have we failed to recognize it, many of our political and academic leaders are celebrating it.

Over the past year I am finding fewer and fewer internet sites dedicated to dating or finding a life mate. There are still some, but they are falling by the wayside. The core social movement I am seeing is a proliferation of "social networking" sites dedicated not to bringing people together, but to providing forums for countless voices that have completely given up on finding a life mate, having children of their own, and continuing humanity's march into the future. The prevailing trends are toward virtual sex, casual sex, replacement sex (dolls, toys, robots), and the proliferation of same sex couples seeking to adopt children from impoverished nations in order to "give them a better life". Young women who find themselves pregnant are more inclined to abort their child, or simply take an abortifacient the day after either casual sex or unwanted sex. Rape victims are now routinely given abortifacients, and victims of date rape can simply request them at the local pharmacy counter. For some reason the modern world has learned to abhor both procreative relationships and children themselves. Many young people now see children the way young people of my generation looked at cats, namely as, "wonderful creatures, provided they belong to somebody else because I don't need one".

October 25, 2015

The limits of digital enhancement

A camera lens, whether digital or traditional, refracts the light as it passes through. In some areas this refraction is so small is it not noticeable to the human eye. These are the areas we think of as "focused". If you blow the picture up large enough or zoom in close enough, you will quickly see that even in perfect focus, at a high enough resolution the image blurs.

This is a picture of a street in Koenji, Japan. For this article I have reduced it to 372x250, but that is the only change. As you can see, it is quite detailed with different fabrics in the store display and so on.

For example, here is a 372x250 area cut from the center of the picture at the original resolution.

Now watch what happens when I take this cropped portion, enlarge it to the same size as the original, and then take a 372x250 crop from the enlarged image.

It does not matter how expensive your camera and lens are, or how high the resolution of your digital image, at some point the result will be the same. If you enlarge the picture enough, it is reduced to a meaningless blur. Digital enhancement can help, but it cannot replace data that does not exist. The less well-focused the original image is, the greater the likelihood digital enhancement will have no impact at all.

Yes, I know, that's not how it works on your favorite crime drama. Such is the advantage of fiction over reality.

The natural refractive qualities of the lens and limits of the resolution of your recording media (whether digital or traditional) result in "circles of confusion" where the recording media simply cannot correctly record the light. These circles of confusion can be small and compact, creating a focused image, or loose and malformed, creating an unfocused image. It does not matter how good your photo enhancement software is, there is no substitute for a clearly focused original. At best, the software can increase contrast between each circle of confusion creating the illusion of sharper focus. The smaller and more compact these circles are, the better the end result when the software increases contrast.

A hundred years from now, things might be different. Resolutions will be high enough and substitution algorithms smart enough that the digital enhancement software will someday be able to create an image from a blurry mass, but those days are a long way off and even then, there will be inaccuracies.

Last but not least, here is the original image at the full resolution. (You'll have to click on this thumbnail to see it.)

October 12, 2015

Adventures in photography

A couple of weeks ago I got drawn into a Q&A site called, "Quora". I read around a hundred photography questions and answered several of them, although I'm not sure how many. In reading through dozens of different questions and hundreds of different answers I was struck by how little mention was made of something I consider to be a fundamental skill for any serious photographer: vision.

Photography is all about capturing light. When you photograph a scene, you aren't really capturing the scene itself. After all, once you click the shutter, the scene is still right there in front of you, so you haven't taken anything away from it. A photograph, whether digital or film, captures a tiny slice of the light reflecting off the scene and back to the photographer. This is important to realize because whereas a physical scene can sometimes be very difficult to manipulate (ever tried moving an elephant?), the light that is reflecting back to you is extremely easy to bend, shape, color, blend, remove, add to, or otherwise manipulate in millions of different ways. But to recognize the light, first you must develop your vision.

This is a temple in a park in Tokyo on a sunny spring day when the cherry blossoms were about 50% of peak bloom. This is how everyone sees the scene. This is how most people photograph the scene. A photographer, on the other hand, needs to see that this one scene contains countless possible photos. Some of those photos will be quite dramatic, some of them will be quite boring. This first, general photograph, as you can plainly see, is rather boring.

Look at the light. Not the temple, the light. The light reflecting from the tile roof is very harsh, washing out most of the color. The light in the foreground vegetation is very dark, reducing much of the shrubbery to a dark emerald mass. The light from the pond surface is a gradient shifting naturally from dark green to almost pure white. Some of this is easier to see if we reduce the scene to monochrome.

By reducing the scene to shades of gray it immediately becomes apparent what the problem is: there is too much contrast in the temple, too little in the water and shrubbery. There is so much gray water and shrubbery the temple itself has nearly vanished! The walls are so dark they have no character at all, while the roof is almost completely washed out.

This is why many photography courses encourage students to begin their study by taking pictures in black and white rather than color. When a photograph is reduced to shades of gray, it is much easier to recognize what it is you are actually seeing. Your vision is forced to recognize the degree to which your subject is or is not clearly visible and dramatically presented.

So what is it I am trying to capture in this photo? Is it the wall of shrubbery? Is it the sweeping lines of the roof? Is it the stately temple? Is it, perhaps, the cluster of turtles on a rock in the middle of the pond? Perhaps what I am really trying to photograph is the pond itself and the way it shifts from nearly black near the temple to very light gray at my feet? All of these are possible, each of them has the potential to be dramatic and stirring, but what is it about this scene my mind's eye has been drawn to and I am seeking to record?

Every serious photographer who looks at this scene will seek to emphasize something different. They will compose and expose their photo in a way that goes beyond simple reality and transforms the reflected light into a metaphor that can carry their emotion to the people who later see the photo. Learning to see the real subject you want to convey is the first step in this process. It is not something easily taught, but it is something easily learned.

You learn to see by taking the time to experiment with seeing. The first time I stood in this spot and took this photo was in 1986. I was using a Pentax K1000, a simple fully manual 35mm camera with a fixed 50mm lens. I was still new to photography and I used two 36 exposure rolls of film just on this one scene trying to figure what exactly it was I was feeling and seeking to communicate. Many years later, in March of 2012, this was the first picture I took:

In 2012 I had practiced enough and developed my vision well enough that I could see in my mind the exact picture I wanted. The fresh colors of spring, the renewal of life, the permanence of the temple contrasted with the effervescence of the still only half bloomed cherry trees. That was what I was seeing. That was what I wanted to capture and share.

I went on to take about two dozen photos of the same scene. The first one captured the emotion of the scene, the others provided me a context for the scene to help me remember why this little slice had been so important to me. The key lesson that I learned in all those years from 1986 to 2012, was to find in any given scene those elements which captured the real vision in my mind.

I had to learn how to see what was in front of me in order to more clearly photograph the emotion I wanted to convey to others.

October 02, 2015

The NRA Represents My Interests

I do not want to be writing this post. I need to vacuum my apartment. I have two novels and a short story collection to develop. I have friends to send comforting messages to. My wife is coming home from a business trip in a few hours. I need to get things ready for her arrival. But here I am, once again, defending my inalienable, God-given right to self-defense from lies and vicious innuendo delivered with profound emotional drama by the leader of the free world in a blatant attempt to humiliate and degrade a group of honest, law-abiding people whose rights he seeks to curtail. And I thought George Bush had the makings of a tyrant! This man makes Bush's attempts to rule by decree seem clumsy and childish.

Let me start with a couple of extremely important facts the President of the United States went on television and deliberately lied about to the American people. That's right. He lied! He stood in front of the nation's news media and with a straight face told the people false "facts" and imaginary "logic". In order to advance his agenda of taking yet another step down the road to disarming the American people, he lied straight into the camera and through the camera into living rooms all across our nation. He knows these things are not true, and yet, he repeats them every single chance he gets.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report and the CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the three most violent states in the nation in terms of crime, including gun crime, are Maryland, Illinois, and California. These three states also have some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation. The only two places with stricter regulations are Washington D.C. and New York State. So, the simple reality of the situation is that those states which have the longest waiting periods, mandatory background checks at every firearm transfer (closing the so-called, "gun show loophole") and the harshest penalties for illegal possession of a firearm or use of a firearm in commission of a crime, also have the most violent crimes by both gross totals and per capita rates. They also have the most crimes and suicides involving a firearm. The situation is so bad that if you remove those three states from the figures, America jumps from the 26th safest nation in the world to the absolute safest nation in the world by a huge margin. California, Maryland, and Illinois also have the longest history of successive Democratic Party controlled State and local governments. Everybody from the governor down to the dog catcher either is a Democrat or was a Democrat until very recently. The fact is, Democrats and gun control breed crime like a housing project breeds rats. The reason is simple, if enough voters depend on the government to feed their families and pay their bills, then the people cannot remove the controlling party from power because if they do, they will no longer have access to tax credits, subsidies, and supplemental incomes that make it possible for them to survive from month to month. This is true slavery. These three states are a textbook example of a peasant population completely dependent on an established elite who are protected from revolt through an exclusive monopoly on tools of violence.

Oregon is not far behind the top five in terms of gun control laws and a population that depends on government patronage to survive. If it were not for Oregon's many rural communities whose livelihood depends on farming, hunting, and fishing, it probably would have followed California and Washington State down the merry path to tyranny a long time ago. This shooting took place in one of the states that has implemented at the state level every single aspect of the gun control laws the President and his supporters would like to secure at the national level. Oregon already has in place all of the gun control Obama wants to pass and yet Oregon is the place where this shooting has occurred. Did the President mention this simple fact in his passionate call for more "common sense" gun control? Of course not. He ignored the real facts and stated unequivocally, "The states with the least restrictive gun control laws also have the highest rates of gun crime."

He lied. There is no way to sugar coat this. It was a deliberate and intentional lie.

It does not surprise me that the President wants more gun control. He reversed himself on that issue not ten minutes after the results of the November 2008 election were finalized. What disturbs me greatly and prompted me to spend time on this blog post rather than getting done the things that are far more important to me personally is the way he could stand there in front of the nation, and really, the entire world, and lie about the facts. Lying about his position I expect, but facts are facts, you can't mold them and change them and make them up just to suit your position. He knows the facts. He has the facts hand delivered with his morning coffee every single day. Yet, somehow he can stand there with a perfectly straight face and pour out lies and imagination without even blinking an eye or dipping his head. The man truly is a master deceiver. Either that, or he believes his own lies, in which case he is delusional. One or the other must be true. If he can lie like that with the entire world watching him then he is either a grand liar or a delusional maniac. Of the two, I'd much rather believe he is a pathological liar. Delusional and big red buttons is a really bad combination.

I don't know what triggered this shooting. Knowing how our media works, I probably never will know. At least, not until long after the facts of the case are closed and someone has written a book about it. I do know a very strange rumor popped up a few hours after the gunfire died down and the ambulances rolled away. This rumor claimed that "an eyewitness at the scene" had seen the shooter line people up against a wall and demand to know what religion they followed. If they were Christian, he shot them in the head. If they were not, he either shot them in the leg are passed right by them. I have been online a very long time. I know these kind of rumors and conspiracies always flare up after a tragic event. Nonetheless, it began to be repeated by select news services that are more reliable than most when it comes to internet reporting. So I went digging. Unless she has taken it down, the result of my search is the Tweet at the top of the page. This is where the rumor started. A young woman posted a Tweet saying that her Grandmother who was in the room where the shooting took place saw the shooter do these things. Since it would be easy for her to remove the Tweet, I will quote it below.

5:32 AM - 2 Oct 2015

The shooter was lining people up and asking if they were christian. If they said yes, then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn't answer, then they were shot in the legs. My grandma just got to my house, and she was in the room. She wasnt shot, but she is very upset. She tried to perform CPR on her friend, but it was too late. I hope nothing like this ever happens again. #UCCShooting

While it is true that this is a secondhand report and eyewitnesses to an event can be mistaken about what they see or hear, I don't think either limitation applies here. This strikes me as an honest retelling of an event in simple, straight-forward language. I believe this is what happened inside that room as the shooting unfolded. I don't know why this man had such a deep hatred of Christianity that he felt compelled to go out and kill unarmed Christians in a local college. I only know that according to at least one eyewitness, that is exactly what happened. For reasons of his own, he loaded up his guns along with a good supply of ammo, drove to a local college, walked into a classroom, and began demanding to know who the Christians were so he could kill them. Anyone reading this blog can certainly understand the possible ramifications of this Tweet. Clearly, this shooting has nothing to do with firearm ownership, legal or otherwise. This was a lone individual with a deep-seated hatred of a particular religion. If he had not had firearms he simply would have whipped up a homemade bomb, mixed up some ammonia and bleach, or used one of the hundreds of other simple ways there are to create and deploy a weapon of mass destruction. Since this shooting took place inside a classroom, either a homemade bomb or a homemade chemical weapon would have had an equally devastating effect and might even have killed more people than he managed with his guns.

In a very real sense. This shooting was not your normal violent crime. This was, in point of fact, an act of domestic terrorism aimed at a particular group of people with the intention of killing as many as possible and striking fear in the others. Likewise, the shooting at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston a short while back should probably also be classified an act of domestic terrorism. Both of these events were targeted attacks on a particular group with the intent of inspiring terror and additional violence. The fact that both attacks targeted Christians is very alarming. Two attacks a few months apart which both target members of the Christian faith might be coincidence, or it might be the beginning of a rising trend of violence directed at Christian Americans. If this is a trend that continues, then the faith of Christians in America is about to be challenged in ways that it has not been since the very founding of our nation. Hopefully, this will remain two isolated events that share a single, horrifying religious coincidence. After all, this is the United States. If you start killing people you're going to wind up killing Christians very quickly. There are scores of millions of Christians in America. We are, literally, everywhere. But if not, if these two shootings turn out to be the beginning of a trend, then it is time for Christian America to take a good, hard look at what they believe and why they believe it. Is your faith a simple magic bauble you use to comfort yourself and twist the universe in ways that favor you or is it something deep and abiding that rests inside your heart and fills your mind? If someone with a gun walks into your school, home, office, or shopping center, points their gun at your head and demands to know your faith, will you panic and sputter out whatever answer comes to mind or will you rest assured that even if he pulls the trigger, all it means is you are finally going home?

My last point today, and as important as any of the others. President Obama and his supporters like to think of the NRA as a faceless, mindless monolith dedicated to subverting the democratic process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The NRA is at least three million and possibly five million voting Americans. I am the NRA, Mr. President. I am one of millions of firearm owners who depend on the NRA to plead our case before Congress and defend our interests in the Supreme Court. The NRA is not some faceless lobby group for the firearms industry. The NRA is me.