Goodbye Saudi Arabia

We went to the dunes on Patrick’s (my brother) last day in Saudi Arabia. It was pretty awesome. Camels came up to use right as we were leaving and the sky was awesome.

I’m about to make my own voyage back to America, in just an hour or so. From Saudi Arabia to Bahrain (wish me luck…) from Bahrain to Frankfurt Germany, from Frankfurt to San Francisco.

Catch you guys later! A lot to catch you up on, tons of photos and adventures to share!

Meet Frank, the Camel

I didn’t name him. Ryan did. But I like it. Frank, the camel from outside Hofuf.  Had a great time today playing with the camels and exploring a Saudi Arabian oasis. He was one of the hundreds of camels taken care of by Sudanese nomads who bring them here for market where they will be sold. Some for dairy, some for racing, some for show, some for transportation and some for… well let’s not think about that.

Hunting for Shark Teeth

This photo comes from our trip to Udhailiyah where we, successfully, hunted for prehistoric shark teeth. Yes, we went searching for shark teeth in the Saudi Arabian desert because… where else would you search for such things?

Having a blast in Saudi Arabia, many many MANY more photos to post and stories to tell. Plus, I gotta get photos of my shark teeth! Nothing like digging in the middle of the desert to find shark teeth!

Chicago Photography Center Showing

It might have been nearly a month ago to the day but I’m still going to give this a go. On October 15th, I met up with my parents in Chicago, fresh from their flight from Saudi Arabia. We were all in town to catch the tail-end of a gallery show featuring two of my photos at the Chicago Photography Center.

They partnered with FilterPhoto for a photo contest and gallery show, sponsored by Canon, Adobe and others. The photos were supposed to be Bauhaus inspired…

The Bauhaus movement was brought to Chicago by Lazlo Maholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe Germany and eventually centered at the IIT. Maholy-Nagy had been at the forefront of the development of photography in the 1920’s and 30’s in Europe and continued his experimentation and teaching of the medium at the New Bauhaus in Chicago. Throughout, he championed the opportunities that photography offered for a “new vision”, emphasizing new ways of seeing, surprising points of view, and unconventional techniques.

Two of my photos were selected for official entry into the competition. More on that a bit later.

We had a wonderful time exploring the city, taking advantage of the L and enjoying all the wonderful food Chicago has to offer. We didn’t, however, make it to any shows or do anything specifically Chicago. Instead we opted to wander the city, stopping whenever something truly interesting popped up. This is how I like to visit a city.

Seats on the L

On our first full day in the city we made our trip to the gallery to see my art on the walls, check out the competition and figure out how I was going to get my work shipped back to Columbia. I was hoping I would bump into Maggie who notified me about the show but that didn’t work out.

Walking up to the gallery the first thing you see from the street is one of my photos. That was as awesome as it was surprising. The letters on the window cast their shadow across my photo. Pretty cool!

One of my photos at the Chicago Photography Center

Unfortunately none of my photos won outright, though I did get Honorable Mention. Honestly though, I really do think I should have won, at least placed. I can admit when there are better photos, and there were some that I thought were better than mine. However, none that I felt were better than mine scored as high or higher than mine and the photos that did win certainly didn’t seem anything too interesting or intentional. It’s all subjective and I try my best to not get bent out of shape for not winning but… if I’m going to lose in a competition, I want to lose to a better photographer.

I probably shouldn’t rant but, it’s my blog right?

After the gallery trip we hit up the John Hancock Observatory for overpriced drinks and an unbelievable view. The overpriced drinks are totally worth it for the experience, seriously.

Chicago Skyline

With only a few more hours left in the city, we hopped back onto the L, got some delicious dinner at The Chicago Diner and headed back to our hotel. An early flight the next morning would bring me and my mother home to Columbia while my dad started his voyage back to Saudi Arabia after a short trip into Texas.

Trash Can be Beautiful

Despite not winning first place in the show, I’m still honored that my work was deemed worth enough for the walls and enjoyed the stiff competition like I got from some photographers in particular. If I had the money, there were easily six photos I would loved to have purchased. In addition, the trip provided me to visit my parents, the first time since they were in America for my graduation back in May.

Oh, and the show got me “featured” (using that term loosely) in Time Out New York which is baller. Check the link below.

Testing out Apple’s iMovie 11

I had a few extra minutes (that’s a lie, it seems like I never have time anymore) and thought I’d give Apple’s iMovie 11 a try. Going on reviews, either iMovie 11 is “freaking amazing” or “Anything after iMovie 6 is absolute shit!”

I’ve been in the iMovie is awesome camp since iMovie 09 came out last year. Of course that probably has something to do with the fact that I never used iMovie 6 and that for the longest time, FinalCut Pro scared the living hell out of me. Not any more, now I lust for it, but still, iMovie 09 is pretty awesome considering what you get, for what price and at what skill-level is required to make great video.

So, yes, iMovie 11, what’s up? What’s new?

Better audio editing for voiceovers, music and audio from the video tracks. There are more and better sound effects, iMovie custom music tracks made especially for particular types of films, waveform editing and more. One of my favorite features is the ability to stretch out audio. Say you have a 1 minute clip of video, of which you must use every second, mixed with photos. You don’t want silence going on during your photo portions right? Either you put in a music bed or you spilt a video and audio track and copy the audio over. This works but is a little too obvious. With iMovie, you can just stretch the audio clip out and boom, great background audio for your photos! You can see that in the behind the scenes footage of a Drunk Driving public service announcement I’ve posted below.

The video was shot with my iPhone 4 with photos from my Nikon D700. I was capturing some behind the scenes stuff for the production crew making a drunk driving PSA. They were shooting with Red One Cinema cameras and then there I was with a freaking iPhone. Oh well. This video was really just a test of the audio features in iMovie, trying to get that NPR style.

There is also instant replay. Which is… instant replay. They add 12 special effects for these but nothing too crazy exciting. Well, except the “Jump Cut at Beat” effect. It’s basically the perfect effect for any garage band wanting to make a music video. Hmmm, garage bands… wonder if Apple makes a product for them. Oh yeah, GarageBand. How it works? Skips footage ahead to the beat of the music. Pretty fun effect.

Creepy, cool or revolutionary, you decide. The People Finder feature doesn’t really find or identify people like Faces does in iPhoto or Aperture, instead it does something that might actually be more helpful. It counts the number of people in a shot and can tell if the shot is a close up, wide shot or medium shot. Faces is already integrated into Aperture and iPhoto which are also integrated into iMovie so… best of both worlds? I’d wager so.

Themes. There are a lot of them. They are slick but also easily recognizable. Let’s leave it at that.

Distribution. This was surprising. Previously we had YouTube and MobileMe, now Apple has added Facebook, Vimeo and CNN iReport. The CNN integration is crazy. This is the future of journalism put into the hands of the people.

What is it they say?… Vox populi? This might be the biggest feature, if not the most under-represented.

But what feature will be the most overused of the bunch? Why the Trailer maker of course! In under 15 minutes I went through a gig or so of random footage and made a quick, mildly sardonic, trailer of my trip to Saudi Arabia last January.

I made this video to try out the trailers feature and to make some use of the video I shot last winter. It was incredibly easy, fast and surprisingly robust in features.

It’s easy, too easy really. I predict a flood of iMovie trailers flooding YouTube in 3…2…1…

Bottom line. iMovie 11 is solid, fast, surprisingly powerful and full of features, yet at a price that is honestly, laughably low. For $50 you get iLife 11 which includes a video editor that would otherwise be worth around $150, a photo library management software (iPhoto) that would be valued at around $50, a music creation and audio editing software suite easily worth $100-150 and iWeb (say $70), iDVD ($30) and this magical cohesion that brings them all together (priceless).

Visiting San Francisco

I’ve been staring at my screen for the last twenty minutes or so trying to decide just what I wanted to title this blog post. Choosing the right title for a post is important. Will my title convey the post subject of the post succinctly? Will it capture the attention of a potential reader? Will it SEO? Will it blend? Will it give the wrong message?

Obviously I just gave up. Oh well. Better than something totally cheesy like “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” with an embedded video from YouTube of Tony Bennett singing…well you get the point.

A few weeks ago, as many of you know, I took a trip to California to see Ryan, our new apartment, our amazing friends and to get a little bit of a break from the Midwest. The trip was awesome. I had an amazing time and if anyone were to ask me, yes it was too short. My time in the Golden State also brought up the question of why I was living in the Show-Me State. Why am I living 2,500 miles from Ryan working a job that can be done from anywhere in the world?

In fact, I did much of my job while I traveled across France, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Germany. If I can do it from Saudi Arabia through a government implemented firewall, I can certainly do the job from San Francisco.

No need to dwell on my longing for California, let’s instead, celebrate the great times I had while I was there! including a morning stroll through Dolores Park!

It was a long trip out there. Started way too early in the morning and didn’t end until around 2 in the morning my time. Long day. But who can complain when you have Ryan picking you up at the airport to drive you to your new home in the city?

When we got home, he gave me the tour of the apartment and neighborhood, talked about how wonderful it would be to live there together, full-time, and finished the moment off with a climb to the roof and a stunning view of the entire city.

The next morning I went to the roof to take this picture. Be sure to click to enlarge!

Our apartment is in a great area for us. Just a couple of blocks from a Safeway, a couple of blocks from a MUNI station, not even a block from a bus station and snugged in just outside of The Castro. When I previously lived in San Francisco, I lived on the other end of Market, about five blocks from Union Square. It was a different life then. Seemed I made whatever excuse I could to go down to the area where we now live and enjoy the higher altitude, the slower coffee shops and local color. I worked near Union Square but ached for The Castro, Mission and Haight.

I think it was the second night in town when I lamented to Ryan of the good ‘ol days. The days when I lived with Mike and Kevin in Santa Rosa. It was right about the moment that I turned to Ryan and said, “You know, I really wish you could meet Mike. I think you’d really like him…” when I’m interrupted by a callout, “Justin?!”

It’s Mike and Kevin, standing 15 feet from the front door of our apartment! By the way, Mike moved to St. Martin a few years ago, a Caribbean Island not known for its proximity to San Francisco.

It was amazing. We went out for drinks, Mike and I caught up on all the changes in each other’s lives while Kevin and Ryan, likely, shared embarrassing stories about me.

I couldn’t think of a better way to close out a night in San Francisco than that.