Photo of kite photography at Crissy Field.
art, cool

Trip the Kite Fantastic

It’s fun to take pictures from high up. A few years ago, a friend working as a wedding planner let me roam around the top floor of the Bank of America building as she set up someone’s wedding ceremony. These were the best sustained views of San Francisco I’ve ever had.

northpoint.jpg

In the picture above, you can see hundreds of boats clustered on the Bay. They were out watching the annual Blue Angels airshow. Whenever the jets buzzed past the tower, the wedding party, killing time until the ceremony, would rush to the windows.

a view to the north

It was around this time, I think, that I stumbled across the work of Cris Benton on Flickr. I didn’t know who he was or how, exactly, he did it, but he was taking great aerial photos. Over the years, I discovered that he is a professor of architecture at Berkeley. (Even later on, I’d find out that one of my closest friends actually worked for him at the school.) But I kept coming back to Benton’s photography, and his multidisciplinary Hidden Ecologies project.

Benton makes his own radio-controlled camera rigs and then hoists them into the air with kite-power. I wrote about Benton’s work in the latest issue of California magazine, in a story titled “A View from Above.” That’s him in action in the photo at the top of his post.

That picture was taken at Crissy Field last Easter Sunday, a popular spot for windsurfers (and kite-flyers) because the wind blows so powerfully through the Golden Gate. The kite at this moment is still relatively low, compared to the altitude he’d reach a few minutes later. But it gives a good sense of what he’s doing. I drew this up to help illustrate:

benton_diagram_crop

Over the next 40 minutes or so, dozens of people stopped to watch. Eventually, so many came by to ask questions that I was answering on his behalf as he worked to keep the kite under control. (He later told me that when someone stops to ask what he’s doing, he’ll explain and then ask them to stick around and act as a docent, handling all the gawkers who inevitably follow).

Benton’s been doing this for about 15 years, but kite photography has been around for a lot longer. One of the most compelling historical images of San Francisco was taken soon after the 1906 earthquake, and it was taken using kites. The photographer George Lawrence fashioned his Lawrence Captive Airship from a train of kites and a huge camera (I’ve heard something like 50 pounds, with a negative suitable for 18×48-inch prints). He took what I think of as the iconic picture of San Francisco in ruins — from 2,000 feet up.

SFLawrence_6a34514r

Benton’s an incredibly sharp guy, a great interview and a lot of fun. If you’re curious about kite photography or how to get into it, check out his Notes on Kite Aerial Photography. It’s a few years old, but the message boards continue to be a active, a lively set of discussions and a good resource for anyone looking for tips or guidance from the kite aerial photography community. His work put him on the cover of the first issue of Make magazine, and if you have eight minutes or so, I urge you to watch Make Television’s video of him doing his thing:

Story: The View From Above
Outlet: CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE
Issue: May/June 2009

Standard
China, cool, video

Monkey

I haven’t been watching the Olympics, mainly because the rabbit-ears on our television don’t pick up NBC. But if I were, I’m sure I’d be just as disappointed with NBC as everyone else seems to be–the tape delays, the incessant commentary. Since NBC is blocking international video feeds online, I can’t see any that way, either (the software NBC streams is created by Microsoft and requires a PC or an Intel Mac). So I’ve missed out on the counterfeit fireworks, the counterfeit singer, the allegedly counterfeit 16-year-old gymnasts, [update 8/15: counterfeit ethnic children, too!] and all the other hijinks.

One thing I don’t regret missing, though, is the promotional marketing that NBC must be constantly playing. Boring, I’d guess, but designed to appeal to everybody. Boring. So points to BBC SPORT for choosing something inventive, and specific. That’s Monkey. Fans of Damon Albarn and the Gorillaz will be pleased.

A high-res version with more info is available at the BBC.

While we’re at it, here’s an old favorite:

Standard
China, cool, earth, light, science

Nerd Ecstasy: Exploratorium Eclipse Extravaganza

wide view of the total solar eclips in china on august 1, 2008, from the exploratorium

This morning, NASA and the Exploratorium webcast live from Xinjiang, China. You can watch their hour-long production at the Exploratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse web site. (That’s a photo from the Exploratorium blog above.)

The broadcast starts about 30 minutes before totality, when the moon completely blocks out the sun. The first fifteen minutes include a lesson from scientists on the ground about what happens during an eclipse. That’s followed by some back-and-forth between the scientists and a local Chinese news anchor, which includes a few minutes of classic Chinese journalism/propaganda/travelogue that touts the wonders of Xinjiang. Xinjiang has quite a few ethnic minorities, notably the Uighur, some of whom agitate for independence from China. Words like peace, harmony, and unity are sprinkled in this section of the show. The astro-drama begins at about the 33-minute mark.

Ah, to be in China again. The story I want to see stemming from this is the story of Yiwu County, perched among desert and mountains, a 16 hour drive from Urumqi and its airport, with, according to Wikipedia, 20,000 inhabitants. Over the last couple days, busloads of telescope-toting nerds and media have laid siege. In anticipation, the government set up a tent city to accommodate all 10,000 of them (as well as what one scientist calls a “Gobi Stonehenge.”). All that planning leading up to a two hour show. And now that this place has had its moment in the sun, so to speak, what next?

Here’s what the moon’s shadow looks like on earth during a total solar eclipse. Taken on the Russian Space Station Mir, 11 August 1999.

View of total solar eclipse from Russian Space Station Mir. 11 August 1999.

The next total solar eclipse is scheduled for 22 July 2009. Totality will occur from northern India, across Bhutan, and along the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) to Shanghai.

Standard
China, cool, really?, talent, technology

The Shanzhai Huaxiangji Question

An unusual video showed up on the Ifgogo blog that’s created a ripple on the internet over the last few days. It’s a video of a Chinese farmer piloting a flying machine that he is supposed to have built on his own. The shanzhai huaxiangji, or little mountain village glider, if the translation’s any good (山寨 滑翔机), has sparked some debate as to its veracity. Here’s the video that YouTube commenters claim is a fake:

Fair enough. It’s hard to know based on the perspective; and I didn’t watch closely enough to tell if there was much inconsistency between the pilot’s bumpy ride and the background. But Ifgogo blogger Aw Guo has updated his post to include more video to back up the story. The YouTube video is helpfully titled “I don’t think the farmer-made plane is fake.”

Standard
cool, really?, science

The BigDog

Here is an amazing feat of engineering.The vehicles and robots from Star Wars were always fun to watch, but seemed less feasible, because they had articulated legs and moved like animals. Wheels seem much more efficient and, frankly, easier. But look at this:Notice how that guy nonchalantly kicks BigDog about 35 seconds in? It’s just a machine, but it feels weird to see somebody kicking something that looks so alive. You know, if people get used to that kind of behavior, and then the robots gain intelligence–this is why they revolt in the movies, isn’t it? More at Boston Dynamics’s web page, and scattered around Youtube.

Standard
cool, music

Rotation: The Oracular Spectacular

Have been listening to MGMT for a little while, so figured I ought to share.

[audio:MGMT-kids.mp3]

I like the album, Oracular Spectacular. Funny how lots of groups I like seem to have shades of lots of other groups I like. You listen and hear various elements rise to the fore and slip away as quickly. It’s like those people who sample a wine, gargle, roll it around, then pronounce, “Hints of chocolate and raspberries and fricaseed rabbit and oak and tobacco and an old baseball glove.” Depending on the MGMT song, there are hints of Bowie and the Stones and Ratatat and old video games, to start.

Used to be that I would hear something new from a show called “Take Me Live.” Where’d that go?

Standard
cool, money, movies, music, race, video

It’s a Mad World

As is customary when wasting any significant amount of time on YouTube, I stumbled across a cute enough little animation about an ambitious, yearning kiwi. And then another version of the same cartoon, this time with the Gary Jules/Michael Andrew song “Mad World” dubbed on top. It all seemed suitably angst-ridden. Kiwi and other videos, plus attempted exegesis, after the jump. Continue reading

Standard
anticipation, art, cool

I Want One: The Sultan’s Elephant

One of my Flickr contacts is a talented photographer named Simon Crubellier. I like his photos very much. They possess a certain elegance, such as this haunting, lovely photo of Canary Wharf. And there must be something to the kind of person whose interests would run to “urban paranoia and dereliction,” part of the description of Precinct 13, the Flickr group he founded. (He is the Inspector.) With his Canons, many of his pictures have what I like to think of as a “London rinse,” in which the colors of his subjects pop as if just washed and scrubbed. Some photographers, including myself, talk about the light in San Francisco, but it looks as if you can do right by the London light, too.

Need another example? How about La Petite Géante, pictured here. She was part of a performance given in London by France’s Royal de Luxe theatre troupe this weekend. You can read up on this on an informative LiveJournal entry here (read the comments, too), and you can see some interesting video of her in action here.

She was accompanied by the Sultan’s Elephant, photographed by Crubellier as it lumbered through the streets of London on Sunday. In the caption of one of his photos, Crubellier writes of the 11-meter (30 ft) tall mechanical creature, “I want one.” I couldn’t agree more.

All photos courtesy of Simon Crubellier.

Standard