Featuring: Studio Ghibli

Photo Series: Golden Morning

Sample Paleo Dinner

Photo: Crater Lake Sunrise

Happiness is Not Juvenile

What Is Healthy?

Photo: Nostalgia

We're Still In Eden

Photo: The Ghost Forest of Neskowin

Cause Or Effect

Featuring: Jerry Uelsmann

Monday, April 29, 2013

Featuring: Studio Ghibli

Ghibli films are among my all time favorites. So full of beauty, wonder, and inspiration - they warm my soul! Most of the other films I love all seem to require a particular mindset or level of energy to fully appreciate, but Ghibli films are my 'anytime' favorites. I can be in any mood, or drained at the end of a rough day, and I could watch even just a part a Ghibli film to feel revived and inspired. Studio Ghibli is an animation studio founded by Hayao Miyazaki ... in a *very* vague sense a Japanese version of Disney. (And Disney actually distributes the English versions of the films.) I normally cringe at English dubs, but the screenplay and actors Disney has used really are top notch - credit where it is due.
My montage of snapshots from:
 Howl's Moving Castle and Sprited Away
Movies by Studio Ghibli

Even though you might think most of the films are aimed at children, I say they are absolutely for the young at heart ... that is: for any age. (Actually, Princess Mononoke can be fairly intense and graphic if you were expecting sanitized Disney fare.) I only found out about these films the past couple of years - and from an engineering friend of mine at that (shows the unexpected range of appeal for these films). And another unrelated set of engineering friends have been known to host Ghibli movie nights. Yay! The films are slowly catching on. If I'm ever visiting Japan, I will definitely be making a special trip to the Ghibli Museum, even if I am the only adult in the place. :p

I put together a little photo montage of snapshots I took from various Ghibli movie books I have around the house to help show a sense of the style for these films. Most have breathtaking pastoral backdrops interweaving through the stories, so full of vibrant color and intricate detail. I've always loved pictures where you can see more and more details the longer you look, and these whole movies are full of moving pictures of exquisitely intricate detail. And beyond just the visuals, the storytelling and characters are utterly charming and uniquely refreshing, with layers upon layers of meaning, revealed the more and more you watch.

Some films like Castle in the Sky or Kiki's Delivery Service appear to be set in a quaint European-flavored alternate reality, but others like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro are interwoven through the Japanese landscape (which I love for the insights into social customs and culture in general). Although I'm not as impressed by several of the recent Ghibli films (Hayao Miyazaki has transitioned away from directing), all of the Ghibli films up through Ponyo are highly recommended.

Montage of snapshots from Kiki's Delivery Service and
a 3" Totoro plushie on my dinner table centerpiece ;p
Ranking the Ghibli films is difficult and kind of silly, but just for fun: at the moment, my absolute favorites starting from top are:

Howl's Moving Castle
Sprited Away
Whisper of the Heart    (I love writing :)
Castle in the Sky
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Kiki's Delivery Service
The Castle of Cagliostro
My Neighbor Totoro

Here's a general link to Hayao Miyazaki's films on Amazon so you can see the covers and find out more info.

Many of the movie tie-ins are also well worth a look. For instance, the movie soundtracks by composer Joe Hisaishi are absolutely gorgeous. And although I have quite a few of the original soundtracks, the interpretations of the music themes by various artists have been getting the most air time in my car lately.

These are my favorite Ghibli soundtrack spinoffs:

These films are subtly powerful and an absolute delight. If the work of Hayao Miyazaki from Studio Ghibli hasn't yet crossed your path, I highly encourage a view, or two, or three!

by Laura A Knauth

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Photo Series: Golden Morning

These two photos were taken only minutes apart in roughly the same location. It is incredible how quickly the light, and impression of the landscape, changes at sunrise!

Morning Glory
Copyright Laura A Knauth, All rights reserved.  
Please contact me for any usage or licensing options.

An early morning glow just before the sun blasts though the clouds to start a new day. This image is more subtle than the version below, but I love it for that quiet sense of expectation. It's the image I'm currently using as my desktop background. :)

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at Sunrise
Death Valley National Park, CA

Technical Details
Canon 50d
Tokina 11-16mm lens, 11mm
f/13, 1/3s, ISO 100
Bracketed exposure for the sun detail + a Rev 3Stop ND Grad filter

Golden Morning
Copyright Laura A Knauth, All rights reserved.  
Please contact me for any usage or licensing options.

Sunrise shots are tricky because after the investment of an early wake-up, you largely have to compose in the dark and then scramble to adjust when the light starts to change. (Pre-scouting locations would definitely help.) This was unfortunately one of the days when it was a mad dash from ridge to ridge we spotted these ripples and a promising vista. All of my shots from this angle had strange lens flare artifacts, but thought in the end a few were interesting, so left them in!

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at Sunrise 
Death Valley National Park, CA

Technical Details
Canon 50d 
Tokina 11-16mm lens, 11mm 
f/13, 1/30s, ISO 100

Bracketed exposure for the sky. 
No Filters - they were really scratched up by this point in the trip :\ Without direct sunlight (as in the first shot), you can still use scratched filters without causing too much trouble, but once direct sunlight hits, they really start producing messy artifacts.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

by Laura A Knauth

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sample Paleo Dinner

I was halfway through my dinner the other night and thought it was a particularly good combo, so before it was all gone, I took a quick snapshot and thought I'd share it as an example of a 'paleo' style dinner:

Baby Arugula
From my local farmer's market
Avocado pieces
Bought in bulk from the health food store
On sale at the health food store
Black Trumpet Mushrooms Bought at my local farmer's market (wild harvested)
Coconut Oil
Bought from Costco (cold-pressed)
Dulse Bought in bulk online
Sockeye Salmon Bought the largest quantity of whole filets available for cost savings from
Olive Oil
(I just saw it on Amazon too)

A Few Notes
  • All the greens are 'raw' foods - that is uncooked. The only food processing is: rinse and chop.
  • All the ingredients above are organic to limit pesticide exposure. (The goal is to optimize nutrients while reducing your body's tax burden - that is: wonky chemicals you were not evolutionarily adapted to process efficiently.)
  • I broiled the salmon on 'Hi' for 5min; let sit a couple minute after that. It's just barely cooked through (enough to flake).
  • I chopped and then sautéed the mushrooms in coconut oil (several tbsp, I didn't measure) and oregano flakes.

I think the ultimate goal of paleo style eating is to eat what you feel like eating on the day (from a variety of high quality individual ingredients that you put together), not from a prescribed plan. It's an idea that food cravings are your body's cue to let you know what nutrients you need most at that time. Seems like an intriguing idea to try out, and it's fun, so that's what I've been up to lately. There is a transition period though:

When you first start out trying to shift your eating habits around, you may be craving more of your old routine rather than those actual foods. Some people are also going so far as to say grains actually bind to opiate receptors in the brain which could also contribute to food cravings (, That being said, the biggest hurdle I found when trying to eliminate processed food, grains, and even legumes (beans, peas, ...), was what food that left to eat! All my life, some kind of bread/flour, rice,  beans, or potatoes (which is in the nightshade family) had been a main part of every meal. Once I realized I could actually eat a much larger variety of foods than I ever knew about before ( and I wouldn't starve ;p ) my food experience became a very colorful adventure.

My usual dinner template
I guess I tend to have a typical dinner template, but change up the actual ingredients depending on what I've grabbed from the market that week. It's fun to chop up some kind of greens for texture. I find the 'spicy' greens way too overpowering for juicing or even in a smoothie, but they are delightful as the bottom layer of my dinner platter. The avocados are my only real mainstay. After that, if I have sauerkraut ready (I make my own which includes a huge cost savings for the probiotics), I'll usually add that. From there, I normally grab whatever's in the fridge (which depends on the sales or the season: cucumbers, cauliflower, zucchini, squash, asparagus, ...). I heavily sprinkle some sort of seaweed flakes over the top (normally dulse, but could be sea lettuce, or algaes: spirulina, or chlorella). Sea Vegetables in general (as they are called in the store) are a bit salty which is nice for flavor, and have an impressive mineral profile. I've been also using dried oregano as a sprinkle over my foods lately - start with just a pinch to see if you like it first.

I also usually add some combination of egg yolks, or meat, or sautéed mushrooms on top. (For mushrooms, maitake and shiitake are my current favorites, but I also try the local varieties from my farmers market as well. As a fallback, I usually have a bulk supply of dried shiitake mushrooms on hand.) I slow cook any heavier meats like bison or yak (grass-fed from a local farm ), but quickly broil any (pre-thawed) salmon. I've also been known to mix a raw egg yolk with olive oil like salad dressing and pour it over the top, but I sometimes soft boil the eggs instead.

Food Combining Note
Food combining issues usually take care of themselves with this approach, but if I do use starchy vegetables  - sweet potato, beets, carrots - then I do not eat it with any meats in the same meal. Many books advised that combining starches and meats is very inefficient for digesting, so I figured I would avoid that combination for the time being to be on the safe side. I had some initial confusion with the term 'vegetable' when I was first learning about food combining. I had heard things like 'fruits and vegetables do not mix.' What cleared it up for me was realizing that most people giving these guidelines seem to be classifying 'vegetable' as a starchy vegetable - ie: anything from under the ground. It's why cucumbers or tomatoes are technically fruits, not vegetables. Leafy greens, or basically things above the ground (the aerial parts of the plant), are generally compatible with each other for digestion.  Anything below the ground requires more energy for digestion. The rule of thumb I've been following is to limit individual meals to only one of the more energy consuming foods: so that's either: roots below the ground, or meats, or neither.

Mixing greens with whatever you are eating seems to be a big digestion win. I even took some kale-wrapped dates on an airplane as a snack. ;p  At this point, I'm pretty much sold that the green aerial parts of the plants are the most nutrient dense food we can be eating per calorie. BTW, I often see people ask for their fennel or carrot tops to be chopped off in the market - whoa! When I found out the farmers were just going to recycle that huge pile, I asked if I could grab a bundle & they said sure! Amazing - those green tops are the main reason I buy the fennel or beets. Free food until more people catch on. :)

So, that's basically a rough idea of my typical paleo dinner. Hope it helped to see this approach!

by Laura A Knauth

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Photo: Crater Lake Sunrise

Crater Lake Sunrise
Copyright Laura A Knauth, All rights reserved.  
Please contact me for any usage or licensing options.

Discovery Point in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. 

I can only imagine what it must have been like for someone to climb over the rim of the crater and see this view without knowing what was here. :)  The plaque marking the discovery of Crater Lake is on the far right of the image. Wizard Island is a volcanic cinder cone poking out of the lake on the left.

Even thought the morning was freezing cold, there is something so warming and revitalizing about watching the sun rise from the frozen darkness. This was my first snowshoeing experience in recent memory, and it definitely is an unusual experience to clamp on snowshoes in the wind and darkness and then walk through the forest for an hour or so to reach this point. Well worth the effort though! What a beautiful location.

Technical Information
I took this image in three panels. The six stop neutral density filter added to the rich warm colors this morning. In order to help balance the sky with the ground, I also used a 3-stop reverse neutral density filter. Even though I have a filter holder, I find it too cumbersome to use when I'm playing with different filters while the lighting is changing so quickly. I invested in the largest size of the Singh Ray filters so I could hand hold it and have some margin of error. (These filters are also usually available through Adorama, B&H Photo, or Amazon as well.)

I line up the darkest band of the filter over the horizon and then shake the filter over the duration of the exposure to even out the effect. I find it helps tremendously for sunrise shots to capture the sky detail along with the foreground in the same image (otherwise, my camera is not able to preserve the sky information at the horizon due to the extreme lighting conditions).

I combine this hand-held filter technique with the 'Live View' mode of my camera to ensure the filter position is aligned properly. Before using this technique, my use of hand held filters was very hit or miss (you could see the edges of the filter or bad reflections). A downside is that Live View uses up a lot of battery juice, but I find the time savings in the field well worthwhile. One other caveat of hand holding is that your fingers can get pretty cold on days like this. ;p

Canon 50d 
Tokina Lens 11-16mm, 11mm 
f/13, 4s, ISO 100

6-stop ND filter
3stop Rev ND Grad

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

by Laura A Knauth

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Happiness is Not Juvenile

Choose most any four star movie, and you will be in for a huge sucker punch at the end - the tragic undoing of the lead character, their hopes, their dreams, their lives destroyed. The implication seems to be that you were foolish for daring to try anything to change your situation, for daring to hope that life could be full of joy. Over and over, we are beaten over the heads with this kind of nihilistic crap ... which is subsequently showered with the highest praises from the lauded authorities of the industry.

These supposed paragons of intellect seem to think:
  • Children are happy.
  • Adults are miserable.
  • Therefore: Happiness is childish; misery is maturity.

What a narrow-minded, sophomoric point of view! First of all, it does not follow that adults should be miserable. In my experience, I am surely miserable the times when I dutifully follow someone else's rules, and then my situation only gets worse. I don't think that is the natural state of things, though.

I have come to realize:
If you follow someone else's rules and fail, that's tragic, but
If you follow someone else's rules and succeed, that is only ever average.

The remedy:
If you follow your own mind and fail, that's average, but
If you follow your own mind and succeed, that is sublime.

Our society seems to encourage people to defer making their own decisions to authority figures. (And just like fear mongering, it seems to be a job security scam.) In this environment, it's not so surprising if people associate the adult experience with some grim notions. Especially when highly decorated authority figures are reinforcing this notion of maturity. Certainty from authority figures is a kind of trap, where the comfort of certainty can keep you from exploring other options even when the existing results are not very pleasant.

This tendency to associate happiness with childishness also seems to come from people who aren't satisfied themselves and are looking for excuses. Disappointed optimists can use this line of thinking to justify giving up their own dreams. While it's bad enough when one person gives up on themselves, what's even worse is when they destroy the optimistic dreams of others, through mocking, derision, building up and then dismissing straw men. It's where pragmatists fail. There is no way to measure the opportunity cost of an abandoned idea. Many people with sour views act as though they are knowledgeable and mature, but they are not. I don't think it's done intentionally. I think it's an unconscious attempt to comfort themselves for the devastating loss of sacrificing their own dreams along the way. (Misery loves company.) I'm writing this post in the hopes it helps to shed light on this situation, to help remove false doubts with no basis in reality and their subtle, persistent drain on energy and creativity.

Seems to me our goal is to become a transmuting machine, with ever increasing range and structural integrity. I'm not saying it's easy to achieve, just setting the direction here. Adults (and children too, by the way) are often faced with grave and challenging obstacles, but I don't see this as the final result or the natural way of things. I think the goal is to overcome these obstacles, first by understanding their root cause (it's a lot of independent work), and then having the strength to resolve the situation with courage and creativity (also a lot of work). And depending on the particular challenge, even if you don't succeed with your first attempt, you may get more than one chance; you may even get a whole lifetime of chances.

Our goal is not to stagnate in disappointment at the trials we face as adults; this is not maturity. What use comes from that? I say true maturity (at any age) is transmuting a challenge - be it all at once or bit by bit. From here, forward.  The ultimate goal is to experience childlike joy again, not from ignorance, but through a vigilant process of understanding, optimizing, creating.

While I agree that the old refrain "and they lived happily ever after" is a simplistic evasion, I think the same thing from a creativity-deflating tragedy. All you can say about tragic films or novels is that they are tragic, not that they are actually useful or true. (Catharsis is one thing, but juvenile despair is quite another.) Dare to find meaning in a happy ending! I view it as the highest challenge for a storyteller to figure out how to capture and relate a triumphant arc in the course of a person's life such that their options from that point forward are grand, expansive, and ever more meaningful … before moving on to the next level of the adventure, and then the next. (It's not like the world will run out of mysteries. :) Here's to celebrating our successes along the way!

by Laura A Knauth

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What Is Healthy?

I can't help but cringe when I hear people saying "Oh, you're eating healthy", or "I should start eating more healthy foods". What exactly are healthy foods? I suspect more and more that 'healthy' does not look like the dietary recommendations beaten into our brains over the past several decades. But I don't think anyone has found all the answers yet. The refrain we hear to eat 'healthy' seems more like an ambiguous guilt trip to me. Just more rules - from who knows where.
Copyright Laura A Knauth 

The big problem is that these 'health' rules are being advocated at the same time degenerative 'diseases' are exploding in number … maybe a causation? Something to ponder. At the same time you are following someone else's rules about what foods are healthy, you are told that it is natural for our bodies to break down, to require constant medical and drug interventions. Really? I'm not buying that people who are obese or have a chronic illness just weren't following the rules well enough. If health care costs and interventions are spiraling out of control, and overall health is declining, maybe the rules about what is 'healthy' need a revisit. I suspect factors that have a significant effect on our actual health are not on the mainstream radar (pesticides, plastics, processing, …), and other factors advocated may be just plain wrong.

Bad Genes?
I also hear references to bad genes being responsible for autoimmune conditions or other terminal diseases. Seems like another cop out. For one, gene expression (epigenetics) is increasingly showing a significant environmental component. (So even if you truly do have a bad gene, you may be able to modulate the expression of that gene by diet and lifestyle choices.) The mainstream health rules appear to be so far above suspicion that when everyone is getting sick in varying degrees that it must be due to their bad genes. Really? Or maybe the health rules and unseen heath factors are in fact compromising our biology to such a degree that each person's genetic weaknesses begin to be exposed … and that bar keeps getting pushed further and further down through the generations. If this is Option A, I'm trying Option B.

Pre-Agriculture Options (Paleo / Raw Foods)
I am in the process of testing out food choices that I suspect are more compatible with our physiology. The thought is that humans are better adapted to food our species has been eating for longer times (aka: Ancestral diets, Paleo, Uncooked Foods). More compatible foods might take a load off the system and allow more energy for repairing and rebuilding. The big assumption with this approach is that human beings were optimized to be robust and healthy far longer than the current norms and without constant medical intervention. If you are sold on Option A - that the mainstream expectations of sickness, frailty and disease are natural - then the rest of this article will probably seem very peculiar. But the long-term health AND cost benefits of finding a better option are just to compelling for me to ignore.

More options == More possible results == Optimal result

I view it as a big test. No one else's rules; just trying to home in on what works for me. After all, what turns out to be healthy for me, might not be what is healthy for you (due to food allergies or differently optimized genes). I suspect some general principles apply to everyone though - mainly: avoiding commercially processed foods.

Copyright Laura A Knauth
I'm convinced there just hasn't been enough time for our bodies to fully adapt (or to build appropriate defenses) to these wonky or mangled (overcooked / irradiated) foods. Modern franken foods aside, even grains appear to only have been introduced into our diet within the last 7,000 years. They do provide a cheap short term energy burst, but at what long term health cost? Even though grains have some vitamins and minerals, they also require significant mineral resources to actually digest. And that's not even considering what appears to be an impaired digestive response especially to gluten in varying degrees across the population. It's not just what you eat, but what you absorb, after all. The net benefit vs cost of the foods we eat is well worth considering. Maybe there's a more compatible nutrition per calorie option elsewhere? … hello lovely leafy greens :)  BTW, I juice or blend most of my greens in an attempt to further optimize the nutrition benefit vs digestion cost.

An Unexpected Benefit to a High Fat Diet
I switched to a paleo / raw foods diet about a year ago basically overnight (and chose to emphasize more fats than carbohydrates). Once I figured out what options there were to eat (mainly staying in the produce section of the grocery store, or the farmers market in general), there were no issues of willpower that appear to cause so much agony with the mainstream notion of a healthy diet. Fatty foods (and I am talking extremely good quality fats - I choose mainly unprocessed coconuts and avocados) as opposed to carbohydrates appear to have the side effect of working with your natural hunger mechanisms. (And BTW: High quality fats are also a very cost effective per calorie vs fruits.)

My basic rules when eating Paleo:
Eat when hungry.
Stop when full.

No willpower needed. No guilt. When eating carbs, especially from highly processed food (empty calories), the signal for "I'm Full" only triggered when my stomach was physically stuffed … and I would be ravenously hungry again a couple hours later. For the record, I'm probably considered underweight (always have been); I suspect I was not absorbing my food properly due to a gluten sensitivity. I had bad digestion issues for about a year following a period of time when I made a concerted effort to be extra 'healthy' which included making my own breads with 'healthy whole grains' (I even found a bag of gluten when I was clearing out my pantry). Yikes! I now suspect my body was just trying to get rid of basically everything I was eating. Back in those times, I probably could have eaten a whole cake and not gained a pound, but I would still grudgingly limit myself to a slice to be 'healthy'. Well, no more willpower needed when you make high fat paleo or raw food concoctions. I've found your body tells you when you are done, and that's that.

Here are a few 'healthy' mainstream rules I have replaced:
  • Instead of 'Healthy Whole Grains', I eat coconuts and avocados.
    • I heard someone describe the recommendation for whole grains over processed grains a bit like recommending filtered cigarettes over unfiltered, which I thought was a great analogy. Neither are actually good for you.
  • Instead of egg whites, I eat egg yolks.
    • The proteins in egg whites can be a digestive irritant esp for people with gluten sensitivities.
  • Instead of processed sugar (including 'raw cane sugar' or agave), I eat honey, dates, figs, fruits, …
    • I'm not a huge fan of stevia for the taste, but if I do use it, instead of the commercial powders, I order the dried crushed leaves online.
  • Instead of cooking with olive oil, I use coconut oil or butter (I eat mostly raw or uncooked foods, but do slow cook meats and sauté mushrooms)
    • Olive Oil is lovely as a final topping, but it, like so many lauded oils (or nuts) easily turns to trans fat when heated. I avoid trans fats at all costs. Seems to function like a trojan: Your body thinks it's a normal saturated fat and uses it to build vital organs, which compromises their function.

Wrapping It Up
I'm not saying I know the answers (no more rules from experts or gurus!). But I suspect much of what we are told is 'healthy' causes long term health problems that are not actually natural, and wanted to describe some other options that I think are worth a look. I plan to order yearly blood tests to monitor my vitamin/mineral levels, and other health markers. Just part of being vigilant and optimizing my results. If I ever don't like what I see, I'll keep tinkering. It's an invigorating approach. So far, so good!

by Laura A Knauth

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Photo: Nostalgia

Copyright Laura A Knauth, All rights reserved.
Please contact me for any usage or licensing options.

Remembering the past at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill in Washington.

Technical Details
Canon 50d
Tokina 11-16mm Lens, 11mm
f/11, 25s, ISO 100
6 stop ND filter

The Cedar Creek Grist Mill is such a charming location, but as with many iconic sites that attract photographers from far and wide, it's a place you might actually pass by unless you knew to pause for a moment and really absorb the location. It's actually inspiring for me to realize there are little gems all around; just changing your angle might reveal an amazing new iconic location.

For this image, it was so nice to find a beautiful foreground not only as a frame and help show a sense of depth, but also to show a close up detail of elements that are echoed further back in the landscape. Those big beautiful leaves added not only a rich color, but are a quintessential icon of Fall and the mood that season evokes.

Technical note: A few of those vines were glowing way to brightly and almost distracted me enough to overlook this composition. But all I needed to do was darken them enough in post-processing so they didn't visually impair the view up the river into the rest of the scene. It's the kind of effect your eyes don't see while you are setting up your composition, but is an artifact of how the light is recorded in the camera. Sometimes I look at my compositions when I get home and wonder what I was thinking, and then realize the camera captured the scene differently than my actual experience. That's where learning about various digital darkroom techniques can help reclaim your intention.

Cloudy days are a wonderful time to photograph the forest, and the fog this morning was sublime. Nothing like fog to create depth and atmosphere. It was already dissipating quite a bit by the time our group arrived, but I'm so glad it held on long enough to illuminate the top part of the frame in this photo. My favorite 6 stop ND filter smoothed out the waterfall, the little cascades, and created streaks across the water which rounded out my dreamy, nostalgic intention for this photo.

Hope these tips help!

by Laura A Knauth

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

We're Still In Eden

An appreciation for what is rare in the universe:

Sparks Lake, Oregon
Copyright Laura A Knauth
There's a whole lot of nothing out there.
Distant vapors stretching into emptiness,
slowly condensing to fine particles,
blasted from stars.
Finally lumps of stone find each other in the vast reaches,
coalescing into liquid fire.
And no matter how many of these may dot the emptiness,
each one, in just the smallest fraction of space,
contains the highest and rarest of forms.

And on the surface of one of these tiny dots,
on the thinnest of eggshell crusts,
where molten lava meets frozen space,
tendrils of green and leafy things slowly take hold.
And in an explosion of mobile life,
single-cell creatures emerge.
No matter how small, no matter how many,
what a rare achievement for each
compared to the vast emptiness between the stars.

Then creatures of yet greater complexity
grow to roam the distant reaches of earth.
The terrain may be difficult,
but it is a paradise of the rarest kind.
From so much nothingness,
coalescing to a tiny oasis,
supporting countless forms of life.
And no matter how many souls may walk the earth,
there is only one you and one me.

by Laura A Knauth

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Photo: The Ghost Forest of Neskowin

The Ghost Forest of Neskowin
Copyright Laura A Knauth, All rights reserved.
Please contact me for any usage or licensing options.

An ancient forest is slowly revealed and consumed by the tide in Neskowin, Oregon.

Technical Details
Canon 50d
18-200mm Lens, 28mm
f/11, 4s, ISO 100, EB +1
6 stop ND Filter

My concept for this photo started with the name of the place 'The Ghost Forest of Neskowin'. It is a place along the Oregon coast where trees were buried in sand thousands upon thousands of years ago; all that time, you could walk across the terrain and have no notion of what was buried beneath. But as the sands slowly erode into the ocean, the ancient trees are finally revealed … for only a brief moment. For as they are revealed, the sands no longer hold them in place, and the ancient logs are swept out to sea; eventually, you could walk along the sandy beach and there will be no hints the ancient forest ever existed. The thought was so haunting and poetic. While I was there, I was so appreciative to see these beautiful ancient trees, but realized it also meant they were now exposed to the elements - a visual reminder of an immense and ongoing process. I suppose their story is to cherish the moment, and then cherish what new mysteries might be revealed the next moments, and on, and on.

When I was processing the photo, a standard color image did not evoke this sense of history, or what will be, so I tried black and white. But a standard grayscale seemed too stark and emotionless, so I kept playing with a few monochrome presets (I was using Canon's Digital Photo Professional software at the time). The blue selection was an instant choice. Those bluish tones evoked the ghostly sense of the place that I was trying to convey.

I also had several different compositions to choose from especially since the ocean surf varied with each shot, leaving varied impressions. I liked this image with well defined rings around the ancient trunks. It seemed to echo the both the sense of a unique moment in time, and yet because of the nature of waves, a moment in transition as well. The line of the surf led back to the large haystack rock in the distance (called 'Proposal Rock').

Once I had properly adjusted the exposure for the rest of the image, this rock was way too dark - not only distracting, but a lost opportunity. So I spent most of my processing time trying to recover and balance the light values and details of the rock. I wanted it to be properly integrated as a compelling focal point of the image. It's intriguing that there is a forest of living trees growing atop this haystack, overlooking the remnants of the ancient forest on the beach. I also love the random sea gull walking along the sand, slightly ghostly itself as a result of the longer exposure. All in all, this was one of the more poetic images I've taken & loved that it captured a kind of story beyond a frozen moment in time.

by Laura A Knauth

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cause Or Effect

It's possible to be doing everything right and still have a bad day. Not every effect you experience is related to something you caused. While it can be comforting on some level to assign a cause & effect judgment the day to day happenings in our lives, it seems to me there are so many variables, so many causes and effects flying around at once, that people can get caught in each other's crossfire or other external events.

There is a great difference between short-term and long-term trends. Over time, the correct causes and effects can be correlated , but the short term is effected by noise. It's kind of like flipping a coin. You know that heads or tails are each likely to come up 50% of the time … after an infinite number of flips. In the short-term though, you won't see 50-50 results.

I grabbed a penny and flipped it 10 times. Here's what happened (where H = Heads; T = Tails)  :

T H H H T H T H H H   
Result: Heads 70% of the time; Tails 30% of the time.

So, is the 50-50 thesis a total failure? Should you have predicted three heads in a row - twice? Fortunately, the penny example is a simplified model that can be easily sanity checked. The odds on each unique toss are indeed 50-50. (For people concerned about physical weighting discrepancies and air currents and such, you could do the test using just numbers a computer model.) Anyway, I hope this is a useful example to see that a completely viable long term strategy might not produce consistent results in the short term.

When you are attempting to do something at all creative or independent, as soon as something doesn't go quite right, it is so tempting to see that as proof of some innate problem with your brilliant plan. Whenever you are trying something new, doubt inevitably follows at the hiccups along the way. And I for one, learn by trial and error, so am quite used to running into problems and trying to fix or optimize a situation when I see something go amiss. I definitely see there is a point though where you are just reacting to noise. Finding that fine line between what feedback is related to your innate plan, and what was just tough luck is up to each individual person. I have found though that our society seems very easily to jump to a simplistic moralizing - ie: misfortune is caused by bad deeds; fortune is caused by good deeds. While this may be the case some of the time, I do not think it is always the case.

From day one, we learn the reward/punishment system. You walk into a wall, it hurts, don't do that. You walk in a straight line, you pick up your toy, you win. It's a decent system, and it works a lot of the time. In some sense though, it is essentially a dependency. A kind of slave mentality. I say a more optimal approach is becoming adept at picking not from two options (bad=punishment vs good=reward), but from four possibilities:

Bad ResultGood Result
Bad StrategyGood Strategy
Short Term 
Long Term
Good StrategyBad Strategy

That is:
  • When you have a bad result, it could be due to either: 
    • a bad strategy OR 
    • despite a good strategy.
  • When you have a good result, it could be due to either: 
    • a good strategy OR 
    • despite a bad strategy.

The top line of the table, we are all familiar with. It was pretty much a staple through childhood & academia, and is ingrained in the very fibers of our nervous system. It is indeed a useful and reliable feedback mechanism, but I'm highlighting the bottom row of this table for this post. When short term results are out of sync with the long term results, it can cause great confusion, and essentially introduces noise into our feedback from the world.

Punishing Good Ideas  :(
A good strategy can appear to produce a bad result. Even though a good strategy badly implemented could produce a bad result, I think it is especially interesting to focus on where both a good strategy AND a good implementation can STILL appear to show a bad result. Take the stock market, for instance. (I actually think there are many cases where thinking about stock market behavior is an interesting model for various aspects of life; it removes a lot of variables, and can help clarify an underlying structure.) If you look at the history of just about any stock (I mainly use Yahoo Finance), you will notice when you zoom out to the max time range, that there are general up or down trends over the course of the years. Some can be quite dramatic. Now, zoom in on a particular month, week, or day. In the middle of some glorious up trend, you can have bad days; maybe really bad days. Similar story for the long-term downward trends.

Figure 1: Short Term Trend
Here are two random stocks (I've never owned either) to show as an example. The first figure shows the two day trend for these stocks (using the adjusted close). If you had bought the blue colored stock (based on whatever research you though was compelling) and then saw this two day decline, should you interpret that as a universal signal to sell? Maybe that two day downward trend was indicative of some underlying problem, an early warning sign … or maybe it was just noise. This is where your judgment, your logic, your gut feeling, whatever it is you use should come in to play when investing resources in your strategy.
Figure 2: Longer Trend

In the particular example, the blue colored stock made a huge comeback over the next several months, while the green colored stock took a tumble. The short term was NOT indicative of the long term. It is a case where something beyond a primal punishment vs reward strategy would be needed to produce optimal results. Of course, timelines are essential to consider when you are labeling something as either a good or bad result ... these particular two stocks have subsequently switched places again. Timing is everything. ;p

In some sense, reacting as if all feedback follows a punishment/reward model can be like kicking someone when they are down. It's interesting to watch the Olympics or other competitions with this in mind. When a sure winner ends up loosing, the shift seems to be almost immediate. As soon as results are announced, commentators, spectators, and competitors alike all seem to switch mindsets immediately as if this outcome was inevitable. Really? Seems like redefining reality in a way that removes the uncomfortable thought that the truly better player did not win. There is something so primal, so final, so comforting about tangible results. After all, they are undeniable. But it would be a tragedy for temporary or random noise to destroy what is a glorious long-term potential.

Certainly, I've experienced many times where I thought I had a good strategy and held my ground only to realize that whatever negative results I kept getting really were the universe trying to tell me something ;p I think balancing boldness and humility is a key to picking the optimal strategy a higher percentage of the time.

Rewards for Bad Behavior
Just as a good idea can have a bad day, it is also possible in the short-term, for a bad idea to be rewarded (or appear to be rewarded). Using stocks as an example again, you could randomly close your eyes and pick a stock from a list and invest in it. You may make a lot of money with that stock over a period of time. But once you realize that you are essentially running blind through a mine field (bad strategy), seems to me the wise course of action is to count your lucky stars and get out of there while you still can. Sometimes what appears to be a reward might have nothing to do with your strategy. By being vigilant and continually checking your strategy, even if you think it is producing good results, you could similarly benefit by realizing that the short term results may not be indicative of the long term. In that way, you could get out early instead of waiting for your actually bad idea to finally produce a bad result.

Stop Loss
One more stock analogy. (What can I say, looking at numbers can be good way to disassociate from an emotional attachment to an outcome to see an underlying pattern.) When a stock is losing too much value, selling that stock is referred to a 'stop loss'. It's painful (you intended all investments to do well), but if you decide the future prospects for return on investment on that stock are not worthwhile, cashing out can be a very wise move. Optimizing your resources is the key, after all. Extending this kind of strategy to other aspects of life: it's the difference between giving up and moving on. 

  • 'Giving up' would be when your gut is telling you the long term prospects are good, but short term downside leads to doubt (and maybe even a social pile on), so you abandon your idea.
  • 'Moving on' would be that your gut is telling you this is a bad long term strategy, so you abandon your idea.

I'm not saying there is an easy way to know if feedback is based on a punishment/reward situation or the effect of short term noise, but I at least wanted to show that some negative feedback may be producing false doubts which are based on an ingrained punishment/reward model without enough consideration for the long term. False doubts can cause independently minded people to throw away a really good idea … and turning good ideas into tangible results is difficult enough. Hope this post encourages more people to give their ideas a fair shake!

by Laura A Knauth

Monday, April 1, 2013

Featuring: Jerry Uelsmann

I've been intrigued by Jerrry Uelsmann's work for quite some time. He seamlessly blends composite images in the surrealistic style that reminds me of Escher or Magritte, but it was all done in the darkroom using burning and dodging and who knows what else, before it was possible to digitally combine images in Photoshop. Here's a snapshot of the cover of one of his calendars I bought way back in 2000. (He also has a book: Photo Synthesis)

Photo Synthesis Calendar by Jerry Uelsmann

This image is one of my favorites; I always displayed it outside my cubicle at work and it never ceased to provoke interesting discussions!

So far with my own photography, I haven't delved into digital composites yet, although I will probably end up there one of these days. I'm still focused on trying to take one good picture at a time for now. ;p 

Thanks for visiting my blog!