How to Write a Short Story : The Last Piano

The other day a friend of mine read some passages from a book to me and the prose, being all prosy and stuff, reminded me of a story I wrote a long time ago that had a lot of very visual elements to it.  I believe that was my goal – the story was an exercise in visualization and verbalization of emotion and drive. Mostly, what was read to me reminded me of this:

A young, very attractive and elegant woman sits, watches me.  I know I was killed, but here I sit, playing the Last and I’m fine.   A woman, virtually untenable in her beauty, listens to me play.  Mind this: she is not beautiful in that symmetrical, coldly compelling way that drives many men to great insanity.  No, she is her strength and she is her innocence and nothing is layered over this.  I can see it in the way her chin tilts just so, the way her eyes gaze knowingly and in the softness of the set of her lips.  I watch her lips when she speaks, I watch them in her quietude, I watch I watch I watch. Her movement is music; there: in the graceful poise of her hips; there: in the hands moving to rest placidly in her lap.  Mark the time!  I’m enslaved by her motion and I begin to play again, enjoying the silky smooth roughness of these ancient, ivory keys.

I’ve probably written dozens, maybe even hundreds, of short stories, primarily for my own amusement, but also because when the churn in my head starts, well, words are what comes out. I wrote this story in 1997; I believe that it is one of my better works. It has romance, suspense, intrigue, drama, and murder. It’s actually a rather heinous little tale. I hope that you enjoy it, and since the title of this is “How to Write a Short Story,” well, I suppose I should actually tell you how to do it.  Here is the secret of how to do it: Write.

Wait, what? Yep. That’s it: Write. Don’t sit around thinking up ideas for stories, you won’t have them or, if you do, they will have a certain emptiness to them. Stories don’t come from your head, they come from…somewhere else (I will explain this, someday). So, to get the story to come out, you just need to sit down and go to that place you went to when you were a kid, when you played pretend, and you just need to check in. See what is going on. Say hello to some old friends and ask if they mind if you start-up a new game of Battle Commanders. Or Cowboys and Indians. Or legos. It doesn’t matter. You see, the stories never stopped. While you were off being a grown-up, all this stuff kept on happening in your head, completely without you. Now, you just have to tap it.

And, here is the best tip I ever heard – begin at the end. Don’t start a story with “On Tuesday, John was walking down the street, coming home from work…” and then proceed to bore me to death with every mundane detail in John’s life leading up to and chronologically detailing him making a ruin of his life, and ending the tail with, “then John spent the rest of his miserable days in prison.”  Rather, begin with something like….

©1997 Scott R. Ellis 

The Last Piano Player

by Scott R. Ellis

I remember the blood soaked, black sands of the beach-head encapsulated within the prison star-world; the way the water teemed with stinging mantas and how the seascape seemed to curve upward to where the brackish blue of the sky traced out the ­disjointed curve of the horizon.

As I stood sifting through the sand, the crashing ocean waves exploded behind me into frenzied sprays against the silver steel pinnacles and ramparts of the fortress-prison.  Its ugly spikes slid motionlessly out of the ocean to curl fortified arms around the island.  Many men were imprisoned here, but only some of us knew that this was no island bastille—those of us who had not forgotten—to us it was a self-contained nightmare, floating in outer space.  It was no Devil’s Island, I was no Papillon.  No, I would escape this space-flung prison only through death.

I am Benedict, and this is how it felt when death’s talon grip snared me:  a penetrating thrust cleaving through my body to rest cold in my soul, twisting it—torturing me.  And then my consciousness slowly abated;  a need for reminiscence emerged from the coldness which encroached on the periphery of my vision, a need for some thread to coalesce, to gather . . . my thoughts drift like particles, drifting about in a sunbeam, searching for a place to settle.  But my acuity fails to pierce through to the past. There is a veil….

I remember I died, but here I am again.  Only, it is no longer a prison, and she, this amazing “she,” with me, explains the prison is this: a  place that people danced and listened to music, where troops gathered and formed to go to battle.  A place where I fell in love again. Oh, and where they kept the Last piano.  She asks me, “How could you have forgotten this?”  She explains, “It has been a century or more since your imprisonment, and since the once star-bound prison vessel crash landed, and cracked open its chrysalis to the free skies of Sanctucity.”  It feels rehearsed and so does my response.  “I don’t remember much about what happened before my return here.  It seems so long ago—it’s a sanctuary now?  Really?”

“Yes, my Bened, yes.”

But, before I died, it was just a prison, a shell of a world—small, but somehow, through the use of science, warped to seem large. They, some of the interred,  say the engineers added a fifth  dimension.  Time was the fourth.   And some said that when they built the Stellar prisons they didn’t add a dimension; rather, love was removed.

 **

I am, returned from the grave, a very old man now.  Gaunt, my skin stretches over my cheeks like paper and my eyes—eyes so stark that even a hawk’s stare would divert from them.  The old piano is still in the rectory of the prison— I don’t know what else they call it now.   Prison is as good a word as any.  My God, that piano is old.  It’s small, and upright.  The keyboard is perched high on the harp, like a spinet but this piano you have to climb up a small ladder to play.   I’d really never heard anything play that way,  play so beautifully that time loses you. Hit any rhythmic combination of notes and they play through the air with the bitter-sweet resonance and delicate timber only an age-old instrument can deliver. Beauty for its own sake. No one really even knows how it got there; perhaps its placement was a clerical error.

Strangely, I remember the first time I ever played that piano and, as I remember that first time,  I also remember the first death: bullets piercing my flesh,  piercing my head, killing me, and the hot searing feel of it punching its coldness into, and through the base of my skull.  They brought me before a small man, and first his assistant shot me in the leg.  I fell—more because I knew I should than from any true feelings of pain.  Then he handed the weapon—a projectile type—to the small man and he shot me in the head.  They may have shot more than twice. I don’t know; I never felt a thing, except terrified.

Some time passed, I think, and I drifted, trying to cling to life.  I grasped for the scattering, filament-thin attenuations of consciousness and felt them slip through my clutch.  Then: awareness returned to me, drifting lazily on outstretched wings, languorously soaring before taking purchase;  and I was here, at the piano, playing.   A glimpse of memory of the darkly burnt cerulean blue sky, cracking open, etches a vivid image in my mind’s eye, a splash of multi-colored paints across a fresh canvas.  Suddenly I awake and gasp for breath with unrestricted lungs.  I look about; I am sitting at the piano.  I look down;  the keys are all where they are supposed to be so I know this is not just some post traumatic hallucination.  I know, with an alacrity born of a hundred years of experience, that this is life, that this is real, and that, only a moment  ago, I died.

A young, very attractive and elegant woman sits, watches me.  I know I was killed, but here I sit and I’m fine and a woman, virtually untenable in her beauty, listens to me play.  Mind this: she is not beautiful in that symmetrical, coldly compelling way that drives many men to great insanity.  No, she is her strength and she is her innocence and nothing is layered over this.  I can see it in the way her chin tilts just so, the way her eyes gaze knowingly and in the softness of the set of her lips.  I watch her lips when she speaks, I watch them in her quietude, I watch I watch I watch. Her movement is music; there: in the graceful poise of her hips; there: in the hands moving to rest placidly in her lap.  Mark the time!  I’m enslaved to her motion and I begin to play again, enjoying the silky smooth roughness of these ancient, ivory keys.

I stop, and I turn to her.  She is radiant, smiling at me.  I think I must have somehow become her hero.  “How long have you been here?”  I ask.  To ask her how long I had been playing may have seemed senile.  My voice is dry and I cough.  I touch my face.  It feels slightly different, but familiar.   She is youthful, attentive, and dressed in a black costume gown with white trim and an ankle length skirt.  I look down at myself to discover that I, too, wear strange, costume  apparel, complete with ruffles at the sleeves and a close fitting tunic which drapes beneath my knees.

“Bened! You Silly.  I came here with you on the shuttle.”  She pulls out a small fan and fans herself.  My hand moves.  A chord strikes in the piano and in my mind.  A harsh, dissonant chord, dark and foreboding.  I wonder how I have so strangely escaped the prison, escaped death.  How I have seemingly left my body and then returned again.  Perhaps I am crazy, completely insane, and it is all a hallucination.  No.  I think, were that the case, I would have thought to hallucinate something a little less extemporaneous.

“I want to leave here.  I don’t know why I wanted to come here to begin with.”  I want to tell her that I have been a prisoner here, that being here torments me, that I had, in fact, been bludgeoned then shot to death—to death! not fifteen minutes ago in a steel room deep in the bowels of this monstrosity. I feel my face again.  The corners of my eyes, are there more wrinkles now?  I can’t feel to tell.

“People are coming, you know, to hear your Improvisations.  The troops will be forming up soon.  We can go to the refresher area if you like, and you can have a drink maybe.

“You are playing very well, though I don’t know why you started and stopped like that.”   She shakes her head slightly, her hair shakes at me but I only see my recollection of it, like a distant memory. She holds out her arm to assist me down from the piano pedestal.  I gracefully accept her help.  I no longer need to feel my face to determine my age.  Simply moving tells me, and the sudden, needful way in which she moved to help me.   I am old.  Very old.  Much older than when they killed me.  Senility will certainly be excused in a man my age.

“Are you my lover?”   I ask her.  She giggles.  I sigh

“Love, of course I am.”  She blushes and kisses me on the cheek.

“Where is everyone—all the prisoners?”

“Oh, Benedict.  That was so long ago.  Don’t you remember? ”

“No . . . my love, I don’t.  You are so pretty.”

“Darling, I’m almost as old as you and twice as wrinkled.”

“No,” I protest adamantly, “—you are young, sensuous, opulent.”  She begins to blush.  I see only this young, beautiful woman before me, and I am confused.  I turn away from her and look up at the piano. It is almost all solid wood.  They don’t make them from wood anymore.  Actually, they don’t make them at all anymore, and haven’t since . . . since forever.  They were never made in these colonies.  It’s a mystery how this one found its respite looming over prison congregations thousands of light-years away from a woodworker’s rasp. I turn back to the woman and I speak to her, looking so deep into her eyes that I lose my sense of balance, of place. I am spiraling into her.  ” I- I’m just an old man who doesn’t know what has happened since he has died.” She seems so familiar to me, as if I’ve known her all my life and have been with her for years.  But I can’t shake the feeling I arrived only moments ago.

I turned to her as we walked up the aisle toward the entrance at the back of the chapel, the prison sanctuary.  The beginnings of noise were shaping outside in the mezzanine area.  I could hear talking, and glasses chinking.  “You are so kind,” I tell her. She strokes my chin and turns.  We start to walk again and it is a slow process.

“You were telling me–where are the prisoners?”

“Oh, Benedict.  That was so long ago.  Don’t you remember?  You escaped the prison a dead man.  You were shot sixteen times, but somehow, you survived.  The prison had docked here for repairs. . .”

It came to me as she spoke, I remembered.  Well, I still only remembered the two shots.  Sixteen was perhaps an exaggeration in the retelling.  I was a young man then.  Time was nothing to me, I had plenty of it.

When I was told one day that I had killed a man in cold blood, I thought it a joke.  When they told me they were putting me under the highest security available, I laughed in their faces and bet the judge my freedom that I would escape.  You see, he knew of my past exploits—he knew I was a war hero who had been captured during the Wars and had led an escape from their dungeons.  I had squirmed through half a mile of air shaft and battled insanity to gain my freedom.

“You are a fool, Benedict.  I’m putting you in Stellar H where, even if you escape, you won’t have escaped.”  And then he laughed, a sinister sound to hear in the docket. Those were the final words of the judge.   He disregarded my bet and stood, dark and foreboding, laughing as he left the court.  Black hooded guards led me from the chaos, bound and levitated.

I imagine, now, that it was an ordinary chuckle, a good belly-laugh over an insolent convicted felon, but at the time I imagined it to be the most ominous bone-marrow freezing laugh that he ever chortled.   It echoed in the halls with the hooded guards, followed me, and continued to linger just on the edge of audibility for the rest of my imprisonment.

I began pondered and planned escapes. One minute I believed that I would have to lead a full scale riot and take over the piloting of the vessel/prison and dock her in some neutral territory in order to escape one day and believed I could rematerialize in another world with the power of my mind the next.  I planned.  And I planned.

No matter how ludicrous or impossible, I considered it.  I met other prisoners who were sympathetic, but most just wanted to go on with their lives.  Most led lives of accep­tance, of quiet, suffering desolation.  I was, as you know, innocent.  I had killed men in the wars, yes, but as a civilian I had entered into a career as a systems navigator.  I was well paid, had a nice home and family, and was actually off planet on business, a hundred light years away from the murder scene.  But computers and DNA and photon residual emission tests did not lie.  I actually watched myself committing the murder in a computer generated, courtroom reconstruction of photon residual emissions and DNA extrapolation.  I was getting convicted by a jury of my peers of premeditated murder.  “Besides,” explained the judge, “everyone knows travel records can be forged by anyone with a moderate amount of travel computer codes.  This court finds the defendant, Benedict Arnold, guilty of murder in the highest degree.  We sentence you to Stellar H for life, up to and including Second Death.”  He pounded his gavel on the bench. He almost seemed to be shaking his head as he did this.  His white powdered wig shook its curls at me.  They too condemned me.

Think about it—I did. I even believed, for a short time, that I had done it, that I had killed.

Then, I had an epiphany.  In a universe of billions of humans, the possibility that my exact DNA structure could exist twice. . . in our society, a man with altered DNA could behave with impunity. . . my defense, I realize, had been tragically inadequate.

There is no appealing from Stellar H.  Even the Warden is a prisoner.

The Warden of Stellar H was a small man.  He had us digging through the sand sifting for gold twelve to fourteen hours a day.  We never found any.  We just got stung by the sting rays which infested the waters and every now and then they managed to kill and devour a man.  They never bothered me though.   I discovered by accident one time that I could wade in the water and they would avoid me. It was the time the sky cracked open.   Funny, the expression on the faces of the men around me when it happened.  As if they had forgotten what the real sky was like.  As if they had forgotten how truly bright a real sky was.  They cowered and covered their eyes with their arms as the dome above us split. Sting rays writhed and roiled,  frothing the water up to my knees.  I raised my arms in supplication as I stood naked and bathed in the natural warmth of the light. My legs had grown thick and powerful with the labor.  For a moment, I beleived that I could fly and I leapt toward the sky. The ground fell away beneath me. The noise of the machinery operating the dome whined and screeched in protest, but I didn’t even hear it.

And then they grabbed me and dragged me fighting and kicking down into the depths of Stellar.  Their fists hammered me down again and again as I fought them.  Blood poured from us and then I broke free from them and began to run toward what I believed was my escape.  More uniformed guards came, captured me and they beat me till finally I submitted.  I would fight another day, I vowed.  I would return.  They brought me through a doorway and into a room where a man sat on the floor.  He was a small man and he sat there on a carpet and ate some spherical object that he seemed to be peeling.  It looked like fruit.  He looks at me.

“Kill him.”  He resumes eating.  At this point I assume they think I had opened the dome somehow.  I begin to protest, to tell them I had nothing to do with it and that the true escapists are using me as a dupe. No words come out of my mouth.  The bullet is already on course and I am already falling.  I gasp, but I don’t feel any pain.  “Wait!”  says the small man.  He stands then, and holds out his hand to the guard who just shot me in the leg.  The guard hands him the gun. I turn away, I can’t watch it come.

The second bullet pierced the back of my head and I felt the world, consciousness, whisked away, drawn away from me, attenuating to an  imperceptible thinness.  I drifted com­pletely detached in a warm, soft haze as the skeins of death’s pirouettes danced around me in tattering shapes of white, black, and grey.  I could hear nothing, feel nothing, taste nothing, smell nothing, and see only the grayish-white haze, like a thin veil all around me.  And then it slowly dissolved as I began to hear music, and feel the pleasure beat of the keys under my fingers, the slow pulse pulse of the music’s rhythm cascades my senses.  I ride the gestalt to awareness and then see that I’m in the prison ecclesia, playing the old piano with its archaic script across the front panel, spelling out in Gothic lettering “Last.”

Now I’m led down the aisle by this sublime young woman who claims she’s my lover but, God (are You listening?!) it—it only seems like twenty minutes ago that I died and now a whole lifetime has passed and I’m back where it all started.

I don’t even remember if I’ve done anything worth anything—I escaped the most secure prison in the universe and she tells me I did it by dying.

I look to her.  Seeing the love in her eyes discomfits me;  I want to tell her, show her, somehow prove through some thing I do that I am worth it.  Instead, I feel a binding in my chest, incredible pain shoots down my arms and my breath comes in short gasps.  I realize I’m on the floor; she cradles me in her arms.  I smile at her, and she smiles back.  She is fragile when she smiles.   I tell her, “There was never enough time to . . . the things I want to show you . . .do for you . . .”  and I watch as tears flow from her eyes.  I see the piano, this “propylaeum”, rising over me.  Too near to me are the arched sanctuary doors.   From a distance— I am far away now—I hear her whisper to me as she cradles my stilled body, she weeps, and says,  “I don’t love you for the things you’ve done; I love you because you’re the one who did them.”  I finally understand:

There is nobody left now to play the Last piano;  the push pull of the hammers tapping on the strings are stilled,  and the sting rays glide through oceans without bound.  This is the Second Death.

 ****

How to Argue Like an Idiot

Idiot n : A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action but “pervades and regulates the whole.” He has the last word in everything. His decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions of opinion and taste, dictates the limitations of speech, and circumscribes conduct with dead-line.

                                 ~Ambrose Bierce “Devil’s Dictionary”

(This is based on all the ridiculous ways people try to win arguments and has nothing to do with the “12 Ideas for Arguing your Point Effectively” that I read the other day; you just think it does because you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.)

  1. The Selfishly Selfless Position: Make the argument about you. Defend your turf and the superiority of your decision making skills. Do not accept that you may be wrong. After all, you were there first! Just make sure that you frame it as “It’s not just me, but I am sure that everyone thinks…”  or “Think of the kids…” and “It’s not you, it’s me…”
  2. The Ignorance, oh the ignorance: There is only one side to any argument – the winning side. Your side. Do not pay attention to your opponent’s arguments. The best thing to do with an argument you don’t understand is to ignore it.
    Create lengthy arguments over easily reconcilable differences. Reconciliation takes time and means giving up something you want. Don’t do it.
  3. The Verbose, Brilliant Idiot: If you can’t blind them with your brilliance, baffle them with industry-speak and techno-babble. If your opponent uses masterful language and relevant examples and metaphors, rip them apart as irrelevant and fanciful. This is also known as the Proton-proton Chang of Nuclear Confusion.  If nobody understands your argument, it cannot be proven to be incorrect.
  4. The Irrefutable Irrefutableness of Irrefutability Argument: Allow people to believe that your opinions and beliefs are irrefutable truths, regardless of the fact that you are completely speculating and making it up. If they refuse to drink your lemonade, criticize them on a personal level, and point out their past failings.
  5. The Impending Gloom of Doom Offensive: For example, “I don’t see this project ever coming to light, don’t you remember what a huge failure your project management software solution was (ignore the fact that you may have caused it to fail). Certainly you can’t be trusted with an initiative like this one!” or “Coming from someone with a constant problem of x…” or “Allen is an imbecile and can’t be trusted with this” or “Whaaaah, my dog died last night.”
  6. Inverted Nascency : If it isn’t time tested it isn’t true. Likewise, if it isn’t brand new it must be worthless. Take whichever stance is applicable.
  7. The Defensive Offense: Be offended by even the slightest social misstep of anyone. It will give you great power over them. A good defense is the best offense.
  8. The Inverse Rule: “If everyone is doing it, then so should we.” Rely on arguments that stress wide acceptance and popularity, even if the others are not in the same industry, market, or building. It is also fair to execute the inverse of this argument, depending on your position. “Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t mean we should.”  Many arguments can be fairly inverted, this is just one example (and a good one! You read it on the Internet, right?)
  9. The Oz Emulation If your opponent’s argument is exceptionally strong, submit a straw man attack. For example, “Julie, I am surprised to hear this position from you. I wouldn’t expect this pro-nouveau argument from someone who still uses a PALM IV to organize her day.”
  10. Injected with Redirection: Simply create an argument that has nothing to do with the fact. Phone conferences are best for this. “I can’t believe the email I just got. Mike, your special project is over budget, again? I guess this means I can’t fund my special project to generate tons of new revenue sources and make me look really good after all….” You may not win, but Tim will be destroyed. Do your best to misdirect the attention from yourself. Make this appear to be inadvertent.
  11. Unobtainable Perfection Theorem: If the solution being offered is not perfect, it will not work. Do not accept anything less than perfect. This is called the “unobtainable perfection postulation.”  Your opponent’s way will NEVER be perfect; key-in on the imperfections and bloat them with aggrandized tales of your own horrific experiences with imperfect solutions. Once you get this argument tacked onto his back, he will slink back under that rock that he came from.  Get back in your box,Bob!
  12. The Kluge Deterrent: Do not accept “work-arounds” as anything less than costly and ineffective or allow them to mitigate the risks associated with imperfection. You will not lose this battle. Everyone hates “kluged” and “rigged” solutions. Say things like “We don’t want to leave any revenue on the table” or “We need to extract value from this engagement” and “We need to optimize profit potential” to emphasize your bottom line driven focus. How else will you get that Rolex?
  13. The Interior Posterior Perspective : Employ flattery. For example, tell the person how ‘cool’ they will be if only they help you and do as you ask. Inviting people to a special event is a form of flattery.  This idiot tries to jam his entire head up your butt.
  14. The Internet Proof: It’s on Wikipedia/Google, so it must be true (never mind you that I put it there and then used muy own book as a source for it to prove it.)
  15. The Trepidation: We’ve all played this angle, so you know the power of this one! If all else fails, throw a fit, yell, call them names, and break things. Nobody will dare defy you ever again. If there is no rebuttal, then you win. Here is a great example a friend sent over to me:  “…so outweighed by the fallacies as to firmly place you in the category labeled “dumbass”. Thanks for playing.*
  16. Locus of Origination:  If you aren’t from around these parts, you got no business being here, let alone sticking your nose into our business.  This works best when combined fluidly with The Trepidation: “Are you a complete MORON or just a Liberal import into Colorado from California that is trying to ruin this state like you did California. I guess you can’t fix STUPID!”*
  17. The Pabst Deflection: If it has a pretty blue ribbon, it must be good. (never you mind that the ribbon is 100 years old) If you can make your argument short enough, sweet enough, and put it in a pretty package with a pretty blue ribbon on it, nobody will ever look inside.  Heck, even if they do look, the package is so pretty they won’t care what’s inside.  It could be a pile of dog poo, and they will love it!  The best example of this is the many memes that get posted onto facebook.  If the picture is pretty, or says something you beleive in and connects point A to point B, nobody cares how accurate it is.  It’s TEXT.  On a pretty PICTURE -> therefore it MUST be true.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these tremendously powerful tools. Remember, if everyone else is using them then you should,  too!  As you embark today into the world of idiots, remember : In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is just a lying fool, telling fancy tales.

*Quote is used for educational purposes and originated in a long, trailing post of idiocy by multiple people on that bastion of idiocy known as “facebook”.  Quote authors are Mike Wilson, whose profile pic is a picture of his girlfriend, and Nancy Shileikis, a former Target and Hobby Lobby employee.  Original thread can be viewed here.

How to Enable and Disable the Self-cleaning Sensor on a Canon 1D X

The Canon’s 1DX self-cleaning sensor unit is actually attached to the  low pass filter mounted over the image sensor.  It is rigged to vibrate and shake dust off.  Typically, dust enters the SLR mirror and sensor chamber when lenses are removed and attached, but a certain amount of dust can be expected from normal wear.  Additionally, oil from internal components can become dislodged from internal components and stick to the sensor.  This is supposedly rare. I sure hope it is…. However, if for some reason the dust doesn’t shake off, remaining dust spots can be dealt with programmatically until such time as you can get it cleaned.  Which will of course means that you have to go without your camera for a few days.

When the self-cleaning sensor is enabled, it will engage every time you turn the camera off, or turn it on.  I got to thinking that I really only needed it to work every now and then, so I disabled it.  Then I went down the rabbit hole.  I began to wonder why the feature would be there if it wasn’t useful. Naturally,  I then wanted to turn it back on, but I had forgotten how to do it.  As I do with all things I think I will forget, I decided to make this little video here that will remind me how to do it.

After watching this video, you may now find yourself wondering about my earlier statement, “remaining dust spots can be dealt with programatically until such time as you can get it cleaned.”  I haven’t tried this out yet, but apparently you can, using a single, white card or placard or anything pure white, take a  photo and then use the dust in the photo to automatically auto-correct the dust in post. This process is called “Auto Append Dust Delete Data.”  Well, a better title would have been “Auto Append Dust Data” because you can’t really delete dust 😉

To do this, (and this is something you may want to do before every important shoot)(I know! All you need is more crap to do, right?) mount the camera to a tripod, make some nice uniform lighting (hey, use spot metering on the camera to check!) on a big card of white paper.  Set the tripod mounted camera about 1 foot (30 cm) away from the card. Then:

  1. go into manual mode.
  2. use a 50mm or longer lens
  3. focus to infinity and beyond
  4. Shoo Buzz Lightyear out of your picture
  5. Depress the Menu button
  6. Then, under the third context menu under the camera icon, select “Dust Delete Data” and hit (SET)
  7. This will touch off a sensor cleaning.
  8. Now, you need to take a picture.  Press the shutter button. the picture is not saved, but the information is collected at f/22.
Once it finishes collecting the data, a success or failure message will appear. If it failed, try  starting from the beginning.

Once this information has been collected, it will be appended as metadata to all RAW and JPG files. Digital Photo Professional can make use of this data to remove dust. And don’t worry, according to the manual, the amount of data actually attached to the files is trivial, and you won’t notice a significant increase in size.

My camera is new, so I don’t have any dust to report yet.  As soon as it does, though, I will come back and try this out, and I will post a How To on using Digital Photo Professional to leverage the Delete Dust Data. Hopefully this works better than making AF microadjustments to my every faithful 2.8 L 24-70mm lens. To be fair to Canon, I did that completely wrong, but more on that, later.

 

How to Pet a Hedgehog

Yttrium, sleeping on my lap on her first night at home.

We had taken very good care of her.  One night, after staying with us for almost two weeks, our little pet hedgehog, Yttrium, became very listless and unresponsive. We feared a hibernation, so we warmed her up by holding her and we made sure the house was 72 degrees – I even started up the furnace.  And she perked up. She was running around and seemed fine, even up to a couple of hours before….well, before the next evening.

Friday night: Et. brings her downstairs; he is distraught. Yttrium lifts her head just a little bit, weakly. Then she becomes all slack again and can hardly lift her head. I tell Et. that she is fine, she just needs to be warmed up.  An hour later, she dies while I am holding her. I feel something terrible and unexpected – my heartwrenches. Perhaps the soul of a hedgehog is equally prickly–it tears through me.

I don’t think I had become so close to an animal in a very long time! and I am no beginner at this. I have rarely been without 10 – 12 pets in my house.  Nevertheless, this one caught me completely off-guard. Perhaps it was because she was so young – still a baby, really.  Maybe, I saw so much of myself in her.  The way she would roll up into a ball when scared, but would so easily unroll, and just, well, let you connect to her.  As I held her, I kept thinking, Maybe she is just hibernating….Maybe she is just hibernating.  I kept holding her, hoping the warmth would wake her.

Finally, I knew she was truly gone. I cried for an entire hour. My boy, Et,, he wept too.   In the middle of the night, he awakened, and woke his sister with his crying.  You are thinking, “This is ridiculous.  It’s just a little rodent thing. Does this guy know what a sap he is?”  Funny, that’s exactly what I am saying to myself, too, as I write this, with tears streaming down my face.

The next day, Saturday, I sent an email to the vendor at the reptile and animal expo that sold her to me. I explained what happened:  “I am not sure if there is even anything that can or should be done or said. We loved Yttrium. I’ve never been this upset about a pet. I just wanted you to know this happened.”  I hoped his other hedgehogs were OK.

He replied with, “Call me.” and his number.  He answered on the second ring and immediately apologized, and said that this hadn’t happened in a few years? As i spoke to him, I was trying so hard not to cry on the phone with this guy. And you know what?  He got it, and understood.  This man loves hedgehogs as much as I do and told me I should have another one.  Frankly, I didn’t want another hedgehog.  How could any creature compare to Yttrium?  I decided to follow my own advice.  “Giving up” is failure. Don’t fail.

He told me to come see him at the expo, and he would let us take home another hedgie, no problem.  So we drove there and of course we got lost three times on the way there due to too much emotion in the car, but we got there eventually and we brought home a new bundle of prickly joy; an albino hedgehog we named Sodium.

This is, of course, a very unplanned side-affect to naming our animals after elements on the periodic table.  Yes, Et. will know many of the elements, but if any professor should mention Yttrium, I guarantee a tear fest.  I can see it now…

“Ethan, why are you crying” asks the chemistry professor.

“It’s just, I loved Yttrium so much!” He’ll answer.

“Well, maybe we should talk about copper or nickel instead?”

“Waaaaaaaaah!!!!! My cats!”

Hopefully this won’t happen, hopefully he will be able to compartmentalize actual element names from pets names.  I digress….I was talking about my crazy love for a hedgehog.

How did this happen?  How did I fall so hopelessly in love with that beautiful creature?  I don’t know.  The new hedgehog, named Sodium, is just another animal to me. The spark that Yttrium had, it just isn’t there. I haven’t bonded with her like I did with Yttrium.  She is less friendly, and less interesting to hang out with.  More prickly. Regardless, I am making the effort.   Sunday night, we left Sodium alone.  We wanted her to get used to her new home.  Happily, she is eating and drinking healthily.  We are measuring her food and water intake, weighing her, and holding her for an hour a day.

It aggravates me that Sodium curls up into a very tight ball whenever we try to handle her.  Monday night, I sat with her on my lap for an hour, simply pondering how to deal with her.  I then began to gently prod at her prickles.  Ah-hah! a reaction! she uncurled just a little bit when I pet her in a certain way.  Sure enough, 15 minutes later, she uncurled completely and said hello to me.  It was very rewarding, and I felt a little closer to her.  Still, she wasn’t Yttrium.  Et. and I would both give the world to have Yttrium back (you have no idea the power this creature held in her little paws!!).

Do you know what the worst part of this whole thing is?  I roll a lot of video around here. I video everything. But the only video I have of Yttrium is of our cat, Copper, sniffing her while she slept on me and then Copper giving me a funny look.  I don’t understand my inaction.  It’s like, now I can’t even show you how wonderful she was to us.  Perhaps therein lay the answer….finally, I had something that was all mine and Et’s–something that just I and my boy would share.  She was OUR pet.  How unimaginably sad you know I must be when Et. told me on Sunday morning that he didn’t want another hedgie.  That the new hedgie would be mine.

Saturday afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky, we laid Yttrium to rest in the garden in a Hamilton watch box, under a nice stone. Sunday, we planted a flowering shrub by her marker. I hope she will find comfort here, and I hope that, if hedgies have souls, that she is hanging around, and watching over our garden, and my prickly little soul, too.

Aside

Big oil.  Exactly how much gas does a “Big Oil” oil company have to produce before a “Big Oil” oil company can be called “Big Oil”?

How to Shoot a Halfway Decent Photo

There are volumes and volumes of books on how to take pictures.  The best one I ever read can be summed up to a few basic rules, plus a couple of extra that I have picked up along the way.

First off, you are right! (you always are!) The photos above in the blog today don’t look as good as they should (as good as they do when I view them in photoshop).  I suggest you right click, and then view the header on your local PC in a different software program.  Web browsers…they clip the color depth and gamut of photos, and I didn’t optimize these for web; hey, I will do it later, OK? 🙂

Now, here are the rules,  There are only nine. But first, READ this definition:

Definition “Nonant”: One of the nine pieces of an area that is divided into nine sections is called a “nonant.”

These are the rules I follow. I like to think it makes my photography consistent, and knowable. Use these 3 sets of 3 rules as a guideline for creating your own set of rules.

I. Super basic stuff:
  1. It needs to tell a story that is interesting
  2. It needs to be clear, and focused
  3. It needs to be well composed and simple. It should have clean lines, be free of distractions, and should have appeal.
II. Composition:
  1. Objects of interest should be placed on one of the intersections of thirds, and the perceived motion of any objects should be along the diagonal(s) of the photo or of the nonant(s). If there are people and objects in the background that are not part of the story; remove them or circle your prey until the distractions are eliminated or can at least be easily removed in Photoshop.
  2. If the Rule of Thirds can’t be followed , and following them just seems like following them for the sake of following them, and it ruins the story, then consider balancing the weight and size of the interplay of movement, direction, and objects so that they play, or pivot, about and around the interstices.  Literally, think of a set of scales, with an intersection as the fulcrum. Bigger objects should be closer to the fulcrum, smaller objects further. Motion gives items more force and weight than static items.
  3. Love your subject matter. Be passionate about it. If you don’t love it, and aren’t interested in it, don’t shoot it.  If it can’t captivate you, then why would it captivate anyone else?
III. More on Rules of Three:
  1. The rule of thirds can be broken down even further: Within a single nonant, so too should the subject matter fall into thirds, and so on, infinitely (or to pixel resolution), or for as long as each point of interest anchors into its master nonant. This is the closest approximation we have to nature’s golden mean. It’s everywhere. It pervades down into the very structure of many things in nature;  you either see it when it happens and you take the shot, or you need more practice framing.  When you see something visually appealing, it is because it has structure. If you’ve spent a great deal of time drawing and studying geometry and mathematics, this may come completely naturally to you.
  2. Depth: the rule of thirds as it applies to depth of field is non-linear. It is subject matter dependent, too. In other words, a photo of three people at 3 ft, 9 ft, and 12 feet will not appear to be separated by thirds.  The conversion factor of 3 dimensional light to 2 dimensional light will flatten everything and bring more lines and objects to the forefront of a scene.  This ruins most photos.  Bear this in mind in composition and in focusing your depth of field.  If you can’t control depth of field with your camera, use the smart blur tool in Photoshop and feather, a lot! Here is a little tip on how to set the auto-focus (AF) on your camera.  Your camera will be different, but this at least gives you a starting point:
  3. There should only be three, dominant, dynamic ranges. You should be able to pick them out by eye.  This may mean three colors, three light levels, three subjects, three things happening, etc. Color photos that don’t accomplish this are great candidates for black and white. For example, if you have a horrible orange cone in the background of a perfect, three toned photo, get rid of it by getting rid of color.
One final note:  Lighting is easy. As in, it can very easily destroy a photo.  But, it also creates lines and shape and gives dimension to your photo.  In the photography toolbox, lighting is both a precision laser scalpel AND a chainsaw. I was gonna say nuke, there….So, while the photo on the left half in my header graphic may look OK, to me it looks horrible. Lighting is the chainsaw in that photo.  I shot it in full on, noon sun.  I took the shot on the right 2 seconds later with a sun screen.
On that same day, at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, I saw a professional photographer taking wedding party pictures in full blast sun.  I felt sorry for the bride.  A good photographer would have either assisted in planning the time of the wedding party shoot, the time of the wedding, or picked a better location, or refused the job. Note the below photo of my friend taking a picture of a Mallard duck.  This location, where the light was fantastic, would have been a perfect place for a bride and groom shot. Yet, the “professional” blew right past it. To her credit, she probably had a nagging bride insisting on controlling the shoot…if you are a bride, don’t do that. That’s bad.

Photo: “Woman Shooting a Mallard Duck”

Well, that is all I have on shooting halfway decent pictures.  Let me know if you have any questions? You are the best! It is your friends about whom I worry.  Please direct them to this article so that they will stop posting those horrible pictures of you on facebook!
These 9 rules are deliberately broken into groups of three because they relate to one another. All 9 work together, like the nonants, and all may also be further broken down into thirds, ad infinitum. Finally, don’t ever forget that people read from left to right.  Exit, stage left…

How To be Yourself

Greetings – I am Scorellis,  AKA Scott.  Are you listening?

My friend Brent Ozar (this entire blog is his fault, BTW) once told me that you should never post your blog posts at unusual times; people that are subscribed to your blog won’t ever see it, it will get lost in the scroll.   Since this blog doesn’t have any subscribers, I feel OK breaking this rule.  What I do want to do is explain (quickly!) why I am doing this and why you should read it.

I know how to fix things that are broken.  (you can stop reading now if you like.) I began breaking things as soon as I could hold a screwdriver.  I think I was 5 when I took apart my Dad’s camera.  Sometime in my early to mid-twenties, I started to get the hang of putting things back together.  That was twenty years ago; I have been fixing broken things almost every day since then. What is the most complicated thing I ever fixed? I once yanked the action out of a piano (it made me mad) on a Friday afternoon and completely rebuilt it and got it back into the school’s piano in time for music class Monday morning.  That was actually more repetitious than anything…complex…hmmm. I’ll have to think about that. Right now, what I want to do, is make this information about how to fix things available to everyone.

First things last, though.  There are some rules here.  You have to be yourself.  I have observed that some people aren’t quite certain how to do this (not you! You are awesome,. just the way you are! But those friends of yours??…).  Here is a short list of things that help to remind me that I am Scorellis, and not anyone else:

  1. Today I am marching to the beat of my own drum..
  2. I will be enthusiastic about being “here,” wherever “here” may be.
  3. Rather than thinking outside the box, I am simply throwing the box away.
  4. I will sing out loud whenever the acoustics of a room, or my mood, requires it.
  5. I am cutting my loaves of bread lengthwise.
  6. I’m going to plant “weeds.”
  7.  I’m going to let my waiter pick my entree.
  8. I’m going to send people birthday cards when it is not their birthday.
  9. I’m going to carve paths through my yard and build the treasure map my son drew when he was 5.
  10. I won’t “inch forward” at traffic lights just because the person in front of me did.
  11. I no longer have a kitchen, a living room, a dining room, and a family room; I have a roasting room, a work room, a music room, and a learning room. All my house is my stage.
  12. Spontaneity will be the cornerstone to my reality.
  13. I will eat dessert and coffee for lunch.
  14. I will drive 45mph in the work zone when everyone else is going 60.
  15. I’m not going to live life by the numbers. I am going to forget how to count.
  16. I’m grabbing for the scissors, and making my own template.
  17. I am breaking change.

Some posts will be long, some will be short.  There will be how-to’s posted here that you wouldn’t give a rat’s ass in a cat storm to read. All I ask is that you stay tuned, and let me know what is bothering you, how can I help?  I don’t give relationship advice…that is my wife’s job.  She knows everything I need to know about being in a relationship; and what I don’t know, she’ll tell me. If I am listening  >:[=]

One final note:  Just about everything posted here will be original work.  For example, you will never, ever see a photo on this site that I  or someone (credited) that I know didn’t personally shoot.  In any project I show you, I will also (almost)  always try to use tools that are simple and easy to use. SO please refrain from comments like “Why don’t you just use a jigsaw?” or “Dude, just hit it with the Dremel.”  Not everyone has those things.  However, sometimes you will be right, and I will do that, but mostly I am just doing that because I am impatient, and have a lot to do!

~s