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Temporal Reset

December 7, 2012 Leave a comment

This is a three-sentence story I wrote back in June, but forgot to post until now. Yet again, it was for a contest over at terribleminds.com. Enjoy!

Temporal Reset

Ralph released the button, shrugged when nothing happened, then resumed mopping the floor. “What the hell,” he said when he finished, and went back to press the button on Dr. Einstein’s Temporal Reset Machine one more time. Ralph released the button, shrugged when nothing happened, then resumed mopping the floor.

© Avri Burger 2012

Categories: Uncategorized

Could You Take My Picture? (Or Three? Or Five?) ‘Cause I Won’t Remember.

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

This week I made my first HDR photographs! What is HDR, you ask? Well, it stands for High Dynamic Range. Basically, where the human eye can make out differences in brighter and darker lighting at the same time, a camera is unable to capture those same nuances in a single exposure. An HDR photograph bridges this gap by compiling a single image from multiple exposures of the same view. To get as much lighting detail as possible, the pictures range from underexposed to overexposed. The end-result is a highly-detailed photograph that, in comparison, could be considered hi-def. At the very least, the picture is incredibly cool!

Now, I need to amend my first sentence. While I created my first few HDR images this week, the pictures I used for them were actually photographed a few years ago. What can I say? I leave projects unfinished all the time. In any case, I first found out about HDR photography back in the summer of 2008, from a desktop wallpaper art website called InterfaceLIFT. I was stunned by the clarity and surreal look of some of the pictures and had no idea what “HDR” meant, so I quickly did some research. Armed with a basic understanding, I immediately set out to try to duplicate the process with my pathetic digital camera. I only got half-way through, though, since I did not have the necessary software to complete the task, and so it wasn’t long before I forgot about the whole thing (read: “gave up”).

Flash forward to a few days ago. I got into a discussion with someone on twitter regarding an HDR app that a programmer was working on. The discussion quickly led to my checking out another person’s HDR photographs taken with the same camera phone as mine. The pictures were beautiful. Naturally, I wanted capture my own shots like them. Thus, I finally decided to finish my years-old project.

It turns out that compiling an HDR image isn’t so difficult—you just need the right software. While there are quite a few programs that can do the compiling and subsequent tweaking, the most important one is Photomatix Pro. Armed with the very detailed, yet simply-followed tutorial by Trey Ratcliff, I was shocked at how easy it was to make the HDR. When I finished, I thought these exact words: Why didn’t I do this sooner?! Incidentally, Trey Ratcliff’s website, Stuck In Customs, has some of the most beautiful and stunning photography you will ever see. After viewing his gallery, all you will want to do is grab a camera and take pictures for the rest of your life. Anyway, enough yapping and on to the pictures!

Essentially, the best way to capture the necessary shots for an HDR photograph, is to attach your camera to a tripod and set it to burst mode, with each image having an greater amount of light exposure than the last. My camera didn’t have a burst mode, so all I had going for me was that I had a tripod. Thus, I painstakingly took multiple shots of the same subject with different settings. I’ll be honest with you: I never had high hopes for the series. I just wanted to try to do it. Boy was I surprised!

Here are the images I used. (Click on the images for a larger view.)

And here is the resulting HDR.

Not bad, eh? Of course, as can be seen in my next pictures, the software can make almost anything look good.

About half a year after I took the pictures of that plant (a potted maple seedling, by the way, which I have since planted in front of my house), I was at a wedding in New York. The wedding took place at the Marina del Rey, which is located between the Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges. My camera was unable to take decent nighttime pictures of the bridges, so I decided to take some time-lapsed exposures in the hopes that I might get something. Since I didn’t have a tripod with me, I set the camera on top of a low wall. The wall was not level, thus the angularity of the shots.

Here are the pictures I used of the Throgs Neck Bridge.

 

And here are two different HDRs I created by using different settings.

As you can see, a couple of tweaks to the settings can yield very different images.

Finally, here are the pictures I used of the Whitestone Bridge.

And here is the resulting HDR.

I think I like this last one the best. I’m not sure why, but I guess it’s probably because it looks the most real. Which is strange, really, since the whole “hyper-real” aspect of HDR images is what drew me to the form in the first place!

Well, I hope you like my humble (very much so) photographs. Perhaps I have even inspired you to try to make your own. If you do, however, do yourself a favor and don’t take three-and-a-half years!

Categories: Uncategorized

If It’s in a Picture, It Must Be True!

January 2, 2012 1 comment

Every now and then we experience something that calls up memories from long ago. When the memories are pleasant, we like to call that “nostalgia”—even when those memories come from a time when there was no internet. (Yes, I’m old enough to remember such a time. Rub it in, why don’t you?) A while back, my old friend Hillel Fuld (@HilzFuld) inadvertently reminded me of an event that occurred … 18 years ago?! NO, WAY! THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT! [checks date] Oh, man! I’m getting old!

This whole event started quite innocently, as most events do. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was meeting a couple of friends to go out to dinner. We met up at Ayala Gross’s house. Back then, Ayala’s mother, Netty, wrote for The Jerusalem Post. As it turned out, Netty—who was writing an article on the effects of aliyah on teenagers—had scheduled a photo shoot for that afternoon, and needed her daughter to be in that shoot. “Don’t worry,” Ayala said, “we’ll still be able to go to dinner. We just have to detour for this first.” “No problem,” I said, and hopped in the car.

The photo shoot ended up being done on the top of the world-famous King David Hotel. To this day, I still don’t know why that location was chosen. Secretly, I think it was chosen for one reason: There was no escape. Anyway, once everyone got up to the roof and the photographer started setting up, Ayala turned to me and said, “Oh, by the way, you have to be in the picture.” Stunned, I looked at her and stammered, “Um … err … WHAT?!” “Please don’t be mad at me!” she said, “My mom doesn’t have enough guys for the picture and she really needs you to be in it.” I fled to the edge of the roof and looked down. It was a long way down. But there was a pool! Alas, there was no way the pool was deep enough. Sighing, I joined the group.

Now, I want you all to understand that I didn’t mind being in the picture. I actually had a good time being there. I was just bothered that I was never asked to do it. Also, I had a feeling that as harmless as it was, there was some way this was going to come back to haunt me. Damn you foreshadowing!

Several weeks later, the article was printed. I went to town to grab a bite to eat before heading over to my football league game. Everywhere I went, people were smiling at me, waving, and congratulating me. “How does it feel to be famous?” one person asked me. “Can I have your autograph?” another league player joked. I laughed and joked around with them, but inside I thought, “And so it starts.”

It wasn’t long before I started hearing from friends who said their family had seen the article in the international edition of the paper, and were wondering when I had made aliyah. The next time I spoke to my grandmother, she mentioned the article as well. Finally, a month after it was published, I received the call I was dreading.

“When were you going to tell me you made aliyah? I have to read about it in a newspaper?!” my mother asked (in a rather hysterical manner). So, I told her the whole story of what happened. When I finished, she didn’t believe me—even though she told me she did. It figured. Eventually, it took my coming home in the Summer to convince her.

Ah, nostalgia!

Categories: Uncategorized

Well I’m Leaving on a Concord, Don’t Know When . . . I’m Back!

September 10, 2009 Leave a comment

For one who now cannot stand to travel, I certainly did a lot more of it than I thought I would this Summer. There was a time when I used to love to fly, but these days it just isn’t fun anymore. Thus, when I needed to reserve a flight on short notice several months back, I approached the task with great trepidation.

Now don’t get me wrong: for my nephew’s bris I would gladly overpay for a flight that would take me twice as long as it should. I was just hoping that I wouldn’t have to go to such lengths. Naturally, the first place I checked for a flight was with Southwest Airlines, but their prices weren’t all that great, and every time I checked out different flight times, the cheaper flights were gone. So it was with some skepticism that I then checked Air Tran.

To my great surprise, not only did I find a flight that was almost half the price of the cheapest one on Southwest, but it was also direct both ways. This was a very good thing, because as much as I thought I would go to any length to get to the bris, I’m not sure I would have been able to handle flying Air Tran with layovers. You see, there’s a really good reason why I didn’t want to check Air Tran, and though this story happened over four years ago, I still shudder when I think about it.

The time was President’s Day weekend, 2005. My wife and I had decided it would be nice to visit our family down in Florida over the extended weekend, and since we were going to be renting a car, we chose to save a few bucks on the tickets. This meant that we would have a short layover in Atlanta on the way down and back. Thank goodness we didn’t opt for long layovers.

On the way down, our flight out of Baltimore was delayed a little over an hour, but seeing as how we had a two hour layover in Atlanta, we didn’t think much of it. In the end, our 6 p.m. flight left at 7:15, but that still didn’t pose a problem. No, the problem came when we got to Atlanta. Our connecting flight had been delayed somewhere down the line and was “on schedule” to arrive two hours late. So, instead of our connecting flight being at 9:45, it was to be around 11:45. Well, our connection airplane didn’t actually land until 11:45. We finally left the gate at 12:15, and woke up my brother at 2 a.m. Having left for BWI airport at 3:30 p.m. the day before, and finally landed at 1:30 a.m. in Fort Lauderdale, that put our overall travel time at 10 hours. That was the good part.

The best word to describe our return trip would be “Nightmare”. Yes, with a capital “N”. We left for the airport that day at 1 p.m. Our flight was to be at 3:15, but inclement weather (of course) delayed our airplane’s previous flight for two-and-a-half hours. It didn’t even leave from the other airport until an hour after we were supposed to leave from ours! At one point, concerned that we would miss our 6:30 connection in Atlanta, we enquired as to the status of that flight and any other later flights from Atlanta to Baltimore. The answer: No, there weren’t any more flights to BWI after ours, but that was okay, since our connecting airplane was already three-and-a-half hours behind schedule!

Well, as luck would have it, due to missed flight windows and all, we didn’t actually take-off from Fort Lauderdale until a little after 6:30, and so when we arrived in Atlanta, we figured we would actually have a shorter layover than originally planned. Were we ever wrong. We ended up waiting for almost six agonizing hours until, at last, our connecting flight landed at 12:50. We finally unlocked the door to our house at 3:15 a.m., for a grand total travel time of 24 hours and 15 minutes!

As bad as that ordeal was, I still smile when I think about it. Now you must be thinking, what could I ever have to smile about, right? However, one of the funniest things I have ever seen was during this trip. No, it wasn’t the 45-minute (instead of two-minute) epic fail test of the Atlanta airport’s fire alarm at 11:30 p.m. While all of us laughed like drunken idiots every time the alarm started again and again . . . and again, it was really just because we all thought how fitting for us to have to endure that as well. No, what was truly special and unforgettable was this: the husband and wife Maryland State Troopers who were laughing their butts off while watching a DVD. It wasn’t that they looked silly, that they had funny laughs, or that it was just plain weird to see State Troopers laughing—I’ve seen stranger and funnier sights. So what made this sight so hysterical that it could be the saving grace of such a travesty of a trip, you ask? Well, after about 40 minutes of the cackles and guffaws, I worked up the courage to walk over and ask them what was so funny. While laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes, the man swiveled his LCD screen toward me so I could see. They were watching C.O.P.S.

Categories: Uncategorized

100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

March 22, 2009 2 comments

Last Tuesday we of the Jewish faith celebrated our bacchanalian of holidays, known as Purim. Commemorating one of the many times that some fool attempted genocide against our nation, it is our duty to alcoholically imbibe ourselves to a state in which we would bless our enemies. Now that I have had sufficient time to recover from the festivities, I would like to reminisce on some Purims past.

We Jews have some pretty quirky customs, as all religions do, but I like to think that ours list among the more strange. Point in fact: this holiday can be celebrated on two different days (four days in Jewish leap years). Basically, the city of Jerusalem celebrates the holiday one day later than the rest of Israel and the world. As you might suspect, with little effort this can lead to some prolonged revelry. A two-day drunk sounds pretty fun to many of the 18- and 19-year-olds that are away from home in various programs in the Holy Land. As if this weren’t enough, when Purim falls (for everyone else) on a Friday, Jerusalem pushes off the festivities until after the Sabbath—prompting some to pull a three-day bender. This leads me to my first story.

During my second year in Israel, Purim fell on a Friday for everyone not in Jerusalem. As luck would have it, my birthday (February 26th, for those who don’t know) was that Saturday. I looked forward to going out and having at least a few drinks without worrying about getting trashed—it’s pretty hard to look like a drunken fool when everyone else is. There was even a great way to get started: the Lubavitch Absolut Vodka Purim Party at the Central Bus Station.

I should have known that I was not going to have the evening I wanted when I got to the bus station and there was no booze left. The party had started less than an hour before and they were cleaned out! So I walked to town, since it would be faster than waiting for a bus. When I got there, pretty much everyone in sight was drunk, including my brother. Resigned to the fact that I probably wasn’t going to do any drinking, I sat down with my brother and some of his friends. One thing I can say about drunks: they make for the funniest conversations.

After ten minutes or so, my brother jumped up, having remembered it was my birthday. He then decided he would get as many people as possible to sing “Happy Birthday” to me. Yelling to everyone present—which was a considerable amount, since we were in the center of town—he led some 50 drunk Israelis and a few others through the song. You haven’t heard “Happy Birthday” until you’ve heard a throng of people singing “Heppy Beeersdayy tuuu yuuuuu!” It was truly a special moment. Coincidentally (or not, since these are Purim stories), the words “drunk” and “Israelis” factor into my second story.

It was my first year at Bar-Ilan University, and the most popular show on Israeli television was “Comedy Store”. This was effectively a cross between “Mad TV” and “You Can’t Do That on Television”. The show was essentially a bunch of skits with recurring characters, one of whom was named Jo-Jo Halastra. Jo-Jo was the prototypical cool Israeli. He wore a leopard-print shirt that was open three buttons down, five or six gold chains that you could hardly see through all his exposed chest hair, a ton of bracelets, and had long curly hair. His primary joy (and the subject of his weekly scenes) was making fun of dorks, nerds, and the like. Oh, he also had a ridiculous laugh. Anyone care to guess how many Israelis decided to dress up as Jo-Jo for Purim?

As for me, I thought I would do something fun for the Americans, so I dressed up as Kramer from “Seinfeld”. It was a pretty convincing getup and every American got it right away. The Israelis, however, had never seen the show and, instead of thinking I was dressed up, they thought I was a completely smashed American. Thus it was that whenever a Jo-Jo passed a Jo-Jo they would laugh that crazy laugh at each other, but whenever a Jo-Jo approached Kramer, Jo-Jo would walk into the street or onto the grass—anything to stay away from the disheveled and drunk American. Some even crossed the street! You tell me, do I look drunk in the picture below? Incidentally, with all the crap I had to use to do that, it took me about four days to get my hair back to some semblance of normal.

Well, those are two of my more fond Purim memories. They certainly are the most memorable, though the time I got laid-off is a very close second (or third, I guess), but I try not to think about that. That’s all for now. Until next time, have a drink on me.

Categories: Uncategorized