Subsequent staircase thoughts on black and white

Yesterday Karen commented that she liked the black-and-white quality of the middle staircase photo. And that was really interesting to me, because even though it looked black and white, it was actually a color photo. Something about the way light was reflecting caused the green slate of the steps to fade away.

So then I fooled around with trying out some of the black-and-white filters in my iPhone camera, just to see what the image might look like in black and white. Here are the results.

First, here is the original photo. You can barely make out the green tint of the stairs’ natural color. (I can tell at a glance that this one is my original, though, because of the little triangle of green at the upper right corner. I’m not sure what that was, but it was background that showed beyond the staircase riser. I thought about cropping it out but decided not to because I didn’t have time. Now I’m glad I didn’t because that little green patch is my quick “cheat” for telling the original apart from the mono black-and-white 😄)

Here is my first pass at black and white. It’s the “Mono” filter.

Next the “Silvertone” filter.

And finally, the “Noir” filter.

Of all these, I think I may like the original best, with its tiniest hint of green underlying the overall black-and-white effect. But they all appeal to me in different ways. Which do you like most?




(Side by side here in the same order: original, mono, silvertone, noir.)

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Thoughts on the Staircase

Coming upstairs just now from my department meeting, I really liked the patterns of shadow and light on the staircase. Took a few quick pictures, natch 🙂

As I walked up the stairs . . .

Near the top step at the second floor landing . . .

On the second-floor landing, looking down . . .

I think I like the photo in the middle best, mostly because in the absence of carpet and railings to orient you, it’s easier to lose track of what this actually is and take in the image as an abstraction more “form” than content. Anyway, I like it!

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Top Down

I took this photo of our birch tree this week on a sunny early evening as I arrived home from work.

Trees die from the top down, something I learned from the arborist years ago when our birch tree was attacked by birch borers. Most of the uppermost center branches lost their leaves, many small branches themselves started to fall, and the entire crown started looking very sparse. That’s when we began to take serious care of all our trees, and the birch tree most of all. Birches are very fragile, which is why you rarely see one as large (and old) as ours. They need plenty of water during hot, dry spells, and they need to be fortified against insect infestations regularly.

A couple more interesting birch tree facts.

First, birch trees are highly allergenic. Not only will the pollen itself make you miserable every spring (runny nose, sneezing, etc.), but it may also lead you to have allergic reactions to FOOD. This is actually a thing! So let’s assume you’re not particularly allergic to a certain food, say walnuts. A birch tree can cause you to become temporarily allergic. That is, if you eat walnuts anywhere near a birch tree during its pollen-producing phase, you might have an allergic reaction to the walnuts BECAUSE of the birch pollen. Isn’t that crazy?

Second, birch trees do an amazing job of removing contaminants from soil, especially heavy metals and petroleum products like diesel fuel or crude oil. A scientist I used to know from UWM (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee) told me about that, and I just now looked it up online to confirm that my memory (from like 15 years ago) was accurate.

Anyway, since trees die from the top down, I guess it makes sense that their “little” deaths each autumn would occur in the same manner.

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What’s in a tagline (Part 2): Changing my blog’s identity AGAIN

Welcome to, version 3.0. Today marks the launch of a new tagline for my blog’s “identity,” and I think I’ve FINALLY found something that fits.

Version 1.0

Starting out in 2012, I subtitled my blog “Ideas on creativity, innovation, lifelong learning, and other random stuff.” That tagline served me well for nearly five years. Well, maybe “served me well” is an overstatement. I thought I was going to be writing a lot more about those first three topics than I ever actually did. What saved it was the “random stuff” add-on at the end, which had initially been an afterthought. As my blog hit its one-year, two-year, three-year, four-year anniversaries, I came to realize that “random stuff” pretty much constituted my blog’s entire bread and butter.

Version 2.0

In January 2017 I decided it was time to address the rift between what my blog purported to be and the reality of how it had actually turned out. Changing my tagline was a big project for me, one I took seriously. I made lists of blog topics and descriptors, drafted potential taglines, edited the heck out of them, and painstakingly made my eventual way to a new tagline that I hoped captured my blog’s heart and soul.

Searching for meaning. Making connections. Noticing beauty. Discovering insights. Finding inspiration. Tending imagination. Trying to say yes.

Ugh. I hated it from the start. It was aspirational, but it definitely wasn’t me. Too sappy, too pretentious. Very embarrassing, like who did I even think I was? Yet I had nothing better, so I just left it. I didn’t have the heart (or the time!) to go through that whole exercise again.

However . . .

Version 3.0

After not paying attention to that sappy tagline for the past year and a half, I finally noticed it again yesterday when I put up the “Ha-Ha” post.

UGH!!! I think I’ve been in denial: avoiding it, ignoring it, pretending it didn’t exist. I’m even shorter on time now than I was in January 2017, but I realized I just couldn’t stand the idea of that disgusting tagline representing me online for even one more day.

So this morning I had maybe fifteen minutes before a meeting. I pulled up my WordPress dashboard and started typing a new tagline right into the little box. No lists, no rough drafts, no agonizing over my blog’s identity. (Or, God forbid, my “brand.”) I just tried to think clearly about the kinds of posts I put up and describe them as simply as possible. And quickly, racing to finish before my meeting began.

Ironic, right, how sometimes the thrown-together mess turns out to be WAY  better than the work of art so assiduously labored over? It rarely pays to think too much. Which is one very hard lesson for an academic to learn 🙂


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A “Ha-Ha” Aha

In reading a book recently, I came across a reference to something I’d never heard of before: a “ha-ha.”

This turned out to be a fun little piece of landscape trivia to learn about. A ha-ha is a feature of landscaping that allows for both the practicality of a fence or wall while maintaining the illusion of natural countryside. So one might look out across the lawn of a grand country house in England and see sheep grazing picturesquely in the meadows beyond with no worry about those sheep potentially moving out of their proper place in the vista and finding their way right up to the front door.

Basically, a ha-ha seems very similar to the moat in a zoo exhibit. It keeps animals inside their enclosure by presenting them with a wall at the bottom of a slope, yet it allows the people outside of the enclosure the pleasure of imagining that there is no barrier between them and the animals they observe. The name “ha-ha” is derived directly from the the sound of amused surprise one might make upon discovering that a beautiful landscape of natural countryside is actually a fenced-in pasture for livestock.

The deer parks kept by English aristocracy also featured these ditches dug all the way around the sprawling wilderness, again so as to contain the wild creatures within the grounds. In fact, according to the Wikipedia article on ha-has, the deer parks featured one additional barrier, a fence at the top of the ha-ha wall. A deer from outside the park could easily jump in but once inside would find it impossible to get back out. Ha-ha, indeed.

That fence atop the wall turns out to be called a “pale.” Isn’t that interesting? My whole life I’ve heard the phrase “beyond the pale” to describe something egregiously beyond the bounds of decency. Just as my students do with expressions they’ve heard but have no practical knowledge of (a “doggy dog” world, a hard “road” to hoe, etc.), I constructed a meaning for “beyond the pale” that had nothing to do with what it actually referred to. My mental image involved someone encountering behavior so bad that it would cause them to “pale,” in terms of having their face turn white from the sudden loss of blood in their head and coming dangerously close to fainting due to that bad behavior they’d just been exposed to. “Beyond the pale” to me meant behavior even worse than the ordinary brand of bad behavior that might cause a person to pale. It makes sense, right?

Usually I like knowing all the behind-the-scenes info, so you’d think I’d be happy to have learned  that “beyond the pale” means “on the other side of the fence.”

Except . . . how prosaic is that? I greatly preferred my incorrect (but far more poetic and romantic) understanding of the term 🙂

Posted in architecture, Books and reading, Creativity, Learning, Life, Nature | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Some follow-up thoughts on light

Probably the one thing that fascinates me most about photography is the way light makes or breaks an image. Here are three pictures taken on different days this week. I took the first photo, which I posted yesterday, a few days ago when the light of a bright, sunny day made me notice this little corner of my world in a new way.

I took the second yesterday, when the sun was in a different place in the sky. I kind of like the contrast provided by that strip of bright green, but the image has no overall coherence.

And then the third picture is one I took today, when the sun is filtered by cloud cover and a thin, misty drizzle of rain. Blah, blah, blah.

Without the contrast provided by hard light and deep, well-defined shadows (as in the first photo), you don’t particularly notice some features at all (the pipe things sticking out from the wall), while other features (the grass, the cage) become flat and uninteresting.


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Green lawn, white building, angled shadows, caged “works” (and thoughts on blogging)

Something about the bright sunlight and the white building, the slanted shadows and the lush green grass, and finally the caged meters and pipes caught my eye as I was walking down the hill to Starbucks a few days ago. Pretty ordinary and normally not worth a second look. But all those factors taken together suddenly came together as a “subject” worthy of the pause needed to pull out my phone and snap a photograph.

I’ve been away from blogging for weeks. Life happens to us all, right? Although part of me feels an obligation to reenter the blog stream with a big, significant post, the more practical side of me knows I should just slip back quietly and resume posting random stuff. So here I am.

In their early days, like 18-20 years ago, blogs were called “weblogs” or “online diaries,” descriptions that imply brief entries like daily “posts” more than substantial essays or articles.

For whatever reason, though, I always feel compelled to write more in a blog post than what’s appropriate for a “log” or “diary” entry. It’s very satisfying to write a longer piece, and over time it’s those longer posts that continue to draw visitors to my blog years after they were written. All the diary-type posts, featuring throwaway photos and little observations on my daily life, kind of disappear into the ether.

Yet those small moments of insight add up to something—I’m not sure what, but something—and therefore of value.

Which reminds me of this concluding remark from Nicholas Hitchon in the 56 Up movie trailer (which you can watch at the end of this post to gain a quick overview/summary of the phenomenal “Up” documentary series)

It’s how a person, any person, it’s how they change. It’s not an absolute, accurate picture of me. But it’s a picture of somebody.

Isn’t that what a blog amounts to, as well?

Posted in Life, Milwaukee, Photography, Writing, blogging | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments