Congratulations, Perseverance Team!

After years of planning, the United States has another rover on the surface of the Red Planet. Well done, NASA and the Perseverance team! Thank you for all the hard work that you and countless number of support people have done to make this possible. Truly a milestone in the exploration of our solar system. With luck, the copter will work better than planned. I was so pleased to see the countdown today and look at the control room. A multiracial, multiethnic, multi gender group of individuals came together and achieved something greater than any of them could have done by themselves. People of all ages. Amazing. I remember how few women were graduating from engineering/science school when I was an undergrad. Look at them now. America at its best – where opportunity is open to everyone, where excellence is achieved through hard work and study. The words of John F. Kennedy still ring true – we do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Well done!

Reflected Indifference

We are trapped in the trappings of ease and seeming contentment, failing to see the world and what it has to offer. A construct we build for ourselves and even a pandemic isn’t enough to break the habits that have taken its toll on modern society. We can be indifferent to the world around us. And what does that do? It divides us from each other. And in our isolation, we seek only those who think and behave like us. We fail to learn. We fail to grow. We fail our world. We fail ourselves. Within us is the desire to belong, not just to one group, but to all. We often seek dominance and yet wonder why humility and kindness brought a revolution to the world. If we are to be what we can be, we need to look up from the small screens that occupy our attention and partake in the universal journey that we all share. Life on a planet called earth. On a system of planets that revolve around a yellow sun. A myriad of stars, different colors, different sizes. In the arm of a spiraling collection of stars, itself part of a cluster of galaxies. Where forces, known and unknown, bring new possibilities. A destiny shared amongst the denizens of a universe, itself but one in a myriad of universes.

And so, why look down when you can look up. And see the world.

Saturday Prime

I’ve been reading (and looking) at a lot of books and pictures lately. I was inspired to go out with nothing but prime lenses and just take pictures of what’s around me. Sooner or later this pandemic will be under control and life will be back to some sort of normalcy. I am struck by how photographers like Diane Arbus and Don McCullin, who took very different types of pictures in very different types of environments captured the humanity of the world they were in. There is dignity in all of us, no matter what our plight and circumstances may be. So last Saturday afternoon, I just went out and took pictures of the world around me. I think that every once in a while, we just need to see the world and remember what it is that makes it whole. Not the grand things. Just every day things.

A Beautiful Soul

This is about a book about a beautiful lady. Beautiful pictures of a beautiful woman. Decades ago, when I was still in college, I happened to turn the channel and watched a young lady with so much poise, so much charm glide so elegantly across the small screen. The lady was Audrey Hepburn. The movie was Roman Holiday. They say that your love for something starts with something small. I think that in that day, in my small room with that small tv set, my love for movies was born. I feel lucky that the movie that first piqued my interest is a classic that today remains, for me, one of my favorite movies of all time. Who couldn’t love that luminous actress with those soulful eyes? Who could not love Audrey Hepburn? And heck, Gregory Peck wasn’t bad either. And Eddie Albert, in a fantastic supporting role. And who can forget Rome, after watching the princess and the newspaperman speed through its streets in that Vespa scooter. It’s strange to remember that what made them happy was doing ordinary things together. Just enjoying what life has to offer.

And one of the joys that life has to offer, at least to me, is reading books. The pandemic has given me a chance to go through my library and get rid of books, Kondo style, that have never given me pleasure. Perhaps if I actually read them, but no. I thought I would trim the fat, so to speak, but I bought “Always Audrey” and I was hooked. Yes, I sold a lot of my unread books, but I ended up buying a lot more books. Mostly books on photographers and their photographs. Some books on how to become a better photographer. Though in truth, I really cherish looking through the pictures in the books I purchased. Discovering new places, new people, new things. Learning about life through the eyes of others.

All these wonders unfolded because like the movie she starred in, Audrey Hepburn got me hooked. “Always Audrey” is a fantastic book. It’s a book about a beautiful woman. It’s a book about six photographers who were extremely gifted in what they did. And how the same person can be so different when seen through a different person’s eyes. Truly a magnificent book to own.

Sometimes, I wish that fashion photography would just be simply showing something beautiful as beautifully as you can. There are many photographers who have done that and though they’ve all done the same thing, they did it differently. There is artistry in simplicity.

I watched the Audrey Hepburn documentary on Amazon Prime. And it struck me how beautiful those eyes were. And how those eyes were windows to something even more beautiful. A beautiful soul.

A few years after graduating from college, I saw Audrey Hepburn being interviewed after returning from Somalia, on a mission for UNICEF. I didn’t pay much attention to it. She had gotten older and now she had time for her causes. I realize now how callous that view was. She was older and she had time to do anything she wanted. And what she wanted to do was go around the world, to give voice to those that didn’t have a voice. To bring attention to the famine, to the hunger, to the suffering of the people of Somalia. A great human tragedy. And the world was largely ignoring it. And there was Miss Hepburn. Showing the world that we can be better. We don’t have to watch the suffering. That we can all try to make this world better.

And the words she said ring so true to me. “I don’t believe in collective guilt. I believe in collective responsibility.”

Truly, those eyes were windows to a beautiful soul.

A Christmas Present

As the day winds down, I turn the TV on and sit transfixed. Mesmerized by the colors and the beauty of the latest Pixar movie – Soul. What can I say. This is another masterpiece from the geniuses at Pixar. This film has so many levels that I think it will take dozens of viewings before I even begin to digest the messages that the movie has to say. The most important thing that it brings to my mind, however, is that we as people waste so much time thinking that things can be so much better that we forget how to live life. It isn’t the glories, the heights of fame and success that defines a person. It’s how we live with our family, how we live in our community. How we touch the ones we love and the people around us. We live a life and we forget that every moment is special. I needed this reminder today. I need to remember this message every day. We obsess and work hard to get somewhere and then when we get there, it often feels like a disappointment. There is an emptiness, a feeling that we must have missed something. What we miss is the part of life that makes it worth living. Being alive means looking around, taking a breath, and watching the world around us. Whether it is in the company of others or in our quiet corner of the house, life is around us. In the warmth of the early morning sun. In the cold stare of Orion as he marches in the winter sky. Life is everywhere. Each step forward, backward, sideways takes us somewhere new. Each step is an opportunity to give meaning to the lives of others. And in so doing, give meaning to our own lives.

A Christmas Message

After listening to Carter Rubin sing Lauren Daigle’s great song, “You Say”, there is nothing that I can say that can be more eloquent than the words in the song. All of us, in our lives, will experience loss; we will hurt. We will have our triumphs. And we will experience happiness. Today is Christmas and it is a celebration not only of the birth of Our Savior, but it really is a reminder that there is no Greater Love than what the Father has for all His Creation. No matter who you are, no matter what your circumstance, you are loved. You are created in the image of God. Loved by Him before you were born unto Earth. Before you drew your first breathe, He knew you. And loved You. We should always remember that God gave us the freedom to love. And be loved. For who we are. Each of us is a gift to each other. From a Creator who loves us all. Equally. Though each of us are different, we are all God’s children.

Remembering Rebecca

One of my favorite musical theater performer died this week. Rebecca Luker. Beautiful lady. Beautiful voice. Beautiful soul.

It was 1985

The year was certainly something to remember. Ronald Reagan started his second term. Atari launched the ST series of computers. Commodore launched the Amiga. And Apple got rid of Steve Jobs. For business reasons. For the Pepsi guy. Nothing against Scully, but Apple lost something when it lost jobs. It’s soul. He was mercurial. He was ruthless. He was imperfect. And Apple was lost without him. It’s a lesson for us all. We all have things that encumber us. We all have strengths. We are imperfect. When we try to remove the imperfection, we lose our balance. Perhaps, it is better to understand the imperfections and strive to do better. Instead of denying, accept. Work harder. And do better.

And Microsoft was just getting started. Windows 1.0, then Windows 2.0 and THEN. Windows 3.0. Not this year, but sooner than later. And that changed the world of computing as we know it. Still, Windows may have looked and worked differently had the Mac, the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga not seen the light of day. You don’t have to be first. Though it often helps. You don’t have to get it right the first time. Or the second time. But if you stop trying, you will never know what you can accomplish.

Do not deny your identity. Be yourself. Be a better version of yourself. Accept who you are. Be willing to work hard and change for the better. It is through the acknowledgement of failures and weaknesses that true strength is found. As Brandon Sanderson said, the most important step a man can take is always the next one.

A Referral Bonus – Topaz Labs

Just something different. Topaz Labs has been running a special sale on their products (a complete bundle) for a large discount. The sale is ending today. I don’t use all the products in their catalog, but the two that I use, I use all the time. Two of the best Photoshop plugins that I have ever used are Sharpen AI and De Noise AI from Topaz Labs. The link below will give you a discount if you choose to purchase any of the products. And give me a little bit in return.

http://topazlabs.refr.cc/winstonl

I can’t vouch for the other products I don’t use, but I can heartily recommend the two products that I do use. Topaz Sharpen AI and De Noise AI are indispensable tools in my workflow. They are class leading.

I did try Mask AI but I didn’t purchase it – I don’t do a lot of masking so I can use other tools to do that task, if I need to. I don’t upscale often, so I don’t use GigaPixel AI. JPEG to Raw AI? Never used it. I’d like to try their video enhancer product, but it takes a lot of compute power to work. In the end, you buy the tools that you use.

Topaz gives you a lifetime license to use their products but you only have a one year window where you can get upgrades for the product. While your license to use the product does not expire, your ability to download and install updates to the product you purchase expires after a year. I was upset when they changed their pricing model, but at least it is not subscription based and you get to use their product for perpetuity. I ended up buying an additional license to use the two products for another year. The upgrades are worth it, even though the version of the products that I had before renewing were already good. In the end, software companies should sell good products at a good price. Topaz, in my use case, sells products that are invaluable to the work I do. Of course, as with everything else, YMMV.