Friday, October 28, 2005

Reflections from Projections

Snipped from my previous life as a projectionist:

I am the projectionist.
You may not know who I am.
My goal is to ensure that you do not know I exist.
Your voyage into the cinema is an illusion, broken only if I fail in my duties.

If I allow a scratch to dance down the center of the film frame, you will know me and curse me.
If the volume falls too low, or a frame line can be seen, you will know me and find me so that I might set it right.

I have sat in darkened rooms, guiding films with my aching hands as they wind through the projector, keeping the take-up reel silent and the images pristine.
I have unwound chaotic masses of curling film in silence while you regard your linear illusion in ignorance of its near-death experience.
I have detected the acrid vinegar scent of decaying acetate before the image has deteriorated- keeping beloved films from shifting red to the past and becoming forever lost.

Forgive me if, on occasion, I get lost in my own illusion and forget to initiate the changeover…

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Orion Nebula

This is a picture I took of the Orion Nebula last Spring. It was taken with a digital camera through a 24" telescope. It's a little rough, but it's my first composite image!

The colors correspond to various narrow-band wavelength exposures.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Film & Empty Space

All matter is made of mostly empty space- it is the way in which the particles within that space interact that makes it what it is. I'm paraphrasing K.C. Cole, science writer for the Los Angeles Times.

I was just thinking that the same can be said of film. I think that's one thing I don't like about working with video (though for the most part, I DO like working with video): there's no space between. Most of my films can be thought of as animation. Whether I'm shooting off of an animation stand of sorts (which seems to be my preferred method lately) or hand painting the frames, there is a certain magic in the filmmaking process that brings the work to life. Most of the time, the camera is off and I'm adjusting things. The actual frame exposure is quite brief. When I do expose a frame, the thing I am photographing is stationary. In the end, though, the light seems to move and interact in its own unique way.

Even still, more than half of the finished film is darkness! The shutter blocks the light as often as it lets it through. The filmstrip itself tends to block more light than it lets through (or every film we saw would be white light). The motion is as much an illusion as the keyboard on which I'm typing!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Andromeda Galaxy

The Spitzer infrared space telescope took this incredible image of the Andromeda galaxy:

This is a three channel image of the galaxy. That means it is a composite of 24 microns (blue), 70 microns (green), and 160 microns (red). The colors are "fake" (we can't really see infrared light, but the telescope detects it, assigns colors to it, and creates its own "image" of it). Just thought I'd stop whining about cosmetics and show some real natural beauty!

The Andromeda Galaxy is visible with the naked eye. It looks like a smudge near the constellation Andromeda, which is a northern hemisphere Fall constellation, so get out there if you live in the northern hemisphere! Wait 'till spring if you live south of the equator Here's help in finding it. It's even better if you have some binoculars or a small telescope!

For a long time, it was thought to be a nebula. That is until Henrietta Leavitt determined that the period and luminosity of Cepheid variable stars can be used to determine their distance. A Harvard "computer," she is not often given much credit in the textbooks (check out "Miss Leavitt's Stars," a new book by George Johnson). Edwin Hubble found a Cepheid variable in Andromeda and determined that it was VERY far away. Seeing as how it is still visible dispite its distance from us, it must be ginormous! Of course, it has since been confimed that this smudge is, in fact, a galaxy- a collection of billions of stars!

Counter Girl Story 3- Commissions?

You know, I was always under the impression (as most people are), that cosmetics counter people are pushy because they make commission on the products they sell.

Okay, I'm here to set the record straight. Yes, we are pushy. However, my personal commission (working at a big department store) is...drum roll...3%. Yes, that means that in order to make $3, I have to sell you $100 worth of cosmetics! Furthermore, that number never changes. If you've worked there 10 days or 10 years, it is always 3% (for your own cosmetics line, 2% for a competitor's line). The real reason we are pushy is that we get yelled at and threatened if we don't meet certain minimum sales requirements every day. These goals are set by the parent company, not the department store (though the store will come down on you too- they don't want to get scolded if you don't meet your goal). Nobody in your store at 10pm on a Friday? Too bad, your sales goal is still down. It must be your fault. The other interesting thing is that the current year's goal must ALWAYS be greater than last year's goal. This is not really too surprising. After all, your business has to grow. However, growth cannot continue forever and the economy is not quite it once was. Basically, the pressure to sell cosmetics is similar to the pressure for selling cars, without the big payoff commissions.

I got a letter from Estee Lauder. I was thrilled- I thought it was my $50 gratis (I sold 20 fragrances (more quick math- that's probably about $1000 in sales) and filled up a punch card, "winning" $50 in product). Nope. It was a letter from EL headquarters reminding me that the Holiday season was coming up and I should work harder (just in case I was stupid and didn't notice, while working at a MALL, that the holiday decorations are going up WAY too early). The rewards just aren't there.

Also, there are the few people out there who are just super enthusiastic about the product they are selling and REALLY want you to buy it so that you are a healthier, happier, more complete human being. Fortunately, I am not one of those people (though I have worked with enough of them to know how to identify them in a store).

Friday, October 07, 2005

Counter Girl Story 2- There is no such thing as "Anti-Wrinkle Cream"

But we still spend millions on them. The people who claim that there are magical creams out there are usually the companies selling them. As far as I have ever been able to determine, the only real "anti-wrinkle" cream is sunblock!

Let's take a look at some of this hype-

Direct from the Estee Lauder web site:

"Perfectionist [CP+] with poly-collagen peptides.
Day 1: Instantly, the length, depth and number of lines and wrinkles look reduced up to 36%"

What the hell does this mean? How do you reduce the look of something by 36%? What measure is a "look?" How can appearance be measured in percentages? Can you say that Joe is 50% more attractive than Jim? To whom?
And lets remember that "up to" is not an "average." It means that 36% was the best. If there's a physics class with 200 students and one student gets a 92 on a test, while most others get a 46, it would be misleading to use the 92 as a standard for how well the class did.

The rest of the site is pretty much the same. In "school" they tell us to memorize these percentages (it's called "clinical proof"). Of course, they don't emphasize the "up to" part. Nor do they explain the measuring stick of appearance. But the beauty advisors have to buy it even more than you do. It we don't believe it, we won't try to sell it to you. I don't and I won't.

I've told this to many women, and anyone out there reading this should know: There's nothing wrong with wrinkles. Honestly, you want to look better? Just relax and smile. Stop fighting it so much! We did an exercise in "school" where we had to write down how many cosmetics products we used that morning before coming. We were told to include shampoo, soap, everything. I came up with seven. The average was 22. The highest was 46! If each of those products was from a counter, where the average price of a product is $20 (above wrinkle cream is $55/ounce), we're talkin' an average of $440 per person! Use it if you want to, but don't use it because you feel you have to. I mean, you could spend your money on cigarettes instead (totally kidding).

Counter Girl Story 1- Gift Sucks

Okay, so I finally gave notice to my cosmetics counter job. I thought it would be interesting to do makeup for people and work in a fun environment for a while. It's certainly not what I usually focus on, so why not give something new a chance? Well, "fun" is not how I would describe it. I have some behind-the-scenes moments for the blogosphere:

Gift Sucks

You know that "gift-with-purchase" thing that so many people go nuts over? It's not so great on the other side of the counter. The goals that the parent company sets for its employees are unrealistic at best. I don't want to call you at home and tell you about the fantabulous special we are offering, but it's hard with the corporate representation right there at the register with me, breathing down my neck and tracking my every penny.

Additionally, we have two goals: "presale" and "gift." My presale goal for three weeks was $4,000 (yes, that's a lot for a part-timer). Enter a couple of hurricanes and rising gas prices... Needless to say, I did not reach my presale goal. Additionally, I am not meeting current gift goals (nor, as I found out, is any store right now). This, of course, is not the fault of rising gas prices, a crumbling economy, or a human desire to maybe not spend money on "anti-aging" cream and give it to people who no longer have homes or food. No, this is my fault. I didn't call enough of you. I didn't go out into the store with jars of creams and makeup and pull you into my chair to tell you how hideous your skin will be (or is) without our products. I didn't let you know just what a great deal you are getting.

Enough about me, let's talk about you.

How about that great deal? You get the standard bag to hold your new goodies. You probably wouldn't want to use this bag in public, but it's cute enough to be attractive. You get a FULL-SIZE lipstick, a blush or an eyeshadow sample, a fragrance sample, a cream sample, and some kind of tool (a brush, an eyelash curler, etc.)

I just described EVERY company's gift this season!

First of all, the bag is cheap. That about sums up that piece. Secondly, the company will have you believe that your "full-size" lipstick is a $22 value, but don't be fooled (let's not even talk about the hideous colors)! It is the full amount of product, but the packaging is cheap. I don't particularly care, but packaging is what you usually pay for, so the lipstick is NOT worth $22! The rest of the cheap/non-existent goodies (0.01 oz of moisturizer? Is that just for my nose?) are not really worth the $24.50 or whatever minimum price they are asking. And, surprise, most of the "basics" are not enough to cover that cost (mascara is $21, cleanser is $22, toner is $19, lipstick is $22, etc.)! So, you end up buying more to get the free stuff! It really makes me sad when a woman comes to the counter looking for a mascara, doesn't qualify for the gift and ends up circling the counter in search of something that is either $4-$5 (ha!) or worth another $21! And, yes, they do track them, so it's not up to us to just give them to you.

Basically, I don't like tricking people anymore. My last weekend at the counter, I had a panic attack when the counter manager cornered me between the cash register and the company sign for 30 minutes, lecturing me about sales goals and client lists. And this is because I've been doing a good job!? I'm just not sales material!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Mars is Ginormous!

Mars is passing pretty close to the Earth right now. It should be visible rising in the East shortly after sunset. It will appear as a bright orange light near the constellation Taurus in the beginning of the month and will end the month in Aries. More info at:

Not sure what Taurus or Aries look like? This is a great tool:

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Red Rectangle

One of the most intriguing objects that we have photographed with the Hubble telescope is the "Red Rectangle." This object is a very unusually-shaped nebula.

The star in the center is one (or maybe two, we now think) very similar to our own Sun. It has reached the end period of its life and is now ejecting material from its outer layers. Why it looks like this (the color and structure) is still something of a mystery. Don't you just love a mystery?

Of course I say "one of the most intriguing objects" because Hubble has photographed so many amazing things! I really hope we can keep it going.

Photo credit: NASA; ESA; Hans Van Winckel (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium); and Martin Cohen (University of California, Berkeley)

(by the way, the above image was gleaned from they have a lot of other great images to check out)


Monday, October 03, 2005

New Dreams

Dreams fascinate me. Some people believe that they represent an alternate reality- a real world in which we only partially live. Others think that they provide profound insight into the psyche- a kind of "mind's eye." Still others believe that they are just "brain farts," or your mind's attempt at dumping excess information. Whatever they are, I find mine to be rich and often vivid. Furthermore, I find it interesting that many of us have similar recurring themes that pop up in dreams. For example, who hasn't had a dream about flying? This theme is even documented well before humans were physically capable of flying!

Anyway, last night was a particularly strange night, not only for me, but for a lot of people I have talked to today! Everyone seems to have had strange dreams. I had several:

Dream One:
I am eating breakfast with my mother. The waiter keeps bringing over the specials. All of them have loads of bacon, ham, sausage, etc.

"This looks great," I tell him, "but do you have any vegetarian versions?"

He doesn't respond, he just goes back to the kitchen. Suddenly, I see a stationary streak in the sky. The sky is kind of orange, like it's sunset or sunrise, and this silver streak is hovering menacingly in the sky. I ask my mom what she thinks it is. She tells me that it is probably a comet. I tell her that comets don't look like that. She then suggests a meteor. Again, I disagree. "It would be moving," I insist. Finally, we agree that it is a rocket or some kind of plane. I get nervous that it might be a bomb.

I look at it through binoculars (don't we all take binoculars to breakfast with us). Sure enough, it is a rocket of some sort. I begin to get nervous because it is heading toward the ground.

It hits the ground. We see a flash of light. The sound comes with the first clouds of smoke and dust. As the cloud gets closer, I grab my mother to head for the door.

"I need to get out of here," I tell her. "September eleventh. I can't do it again." (I was in Brooklyn on 9/11 and the cloud from the buildings' collapse did, in fact, move its way quickly across the water to envelope my neighborhood.) She agrees to let me drive the car to escape.

I start the car and we begin to move away from the cloud, but something is wrong with the brake/gas pedals. For some reason, I have to pedal them like a bicycle, which is making it hard to actually gain speed. We pull over to pick up her husband and my boyfriend.

Her husband thinks it's silly that we are running. He says that he hasn't even heard of a crash. Indeed, I turn on the radio and there is no word of a crash or a bomb. We decided to head back.

Once we are back, I grab my boyfriend and tell him that I want to go check out the crash site. When we finally get there, we see nothing but barren land. There is no burn mark, no impact crater, nothing. I'm very nervous about this. Finally we see a sort of commune. There are thousands of people standing around with bowls. I freak out and insist that we leave. I get the feeling that they are not human. I wake up.

Dream Two:
This one was the most frightening because it seemed very real. I get up out of bed to go to the bathroom. I am about to go back to bed when I look in the mirror. The bathroom is dark and my image is obscured. Suddenly, I notice my neck. It seems very leathery- almost scaly. It begins to stretch. My face begins to transform. I freak out and go back into the bedroom. I try my hardest to scream. I keep trying, but nothing comes. I decide to bang on the walls to make noise and wake up the household, but I can't even do that. I wake up to my real self screaming. Yikes!

Dream Three:
Someday, I will recount my real-life dental nightmare. It's an important thing for the world to know! Anyway, another recurring nightmare for me is the losing of teeth. I guess this is pretty common. I don't remember all of the details, but I remember one of my molars becoming loose. I play with it (like we did when our baby teeth fell out), but I begin to get very scared that I'm going to lose it. It eventually becomes so loose that it is just hanging by a thread (yuck). I decide it needs to come out. I pack my mouth full of crushed ice to numb it before pulling it out. At this point I try to tell myself that it is only a dream and that everything will be okay when I wake up. The only problem is, I can actually feel the ice! My whole mouth is cold. I can also feel the tooth! Eventually, I wake up and realize that it is freezing in the bedroom and I have fallen asleep on my back with my mouth open. Thus the cold mouth.

I had several more throughout the night, but this is good enough! The others are rather vague. I need to quit one of my three jobs- I think I am stressed to the point of insanity!