Category Archives: Methods

Writing prompt: Submarine day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Submarine day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.  Because St. Pat’s would be too obvious!)


The sub was beginning to stink. It reeked of sweat and mildew. Jansen had been short-circuiting the timer on the air-lock. It was his fault, I knew it. We wouldn’t get fresh air for another month, and the filtration system was already going at max.

Something long and tentacled swam past my window. I knew why Jansen rushed the air-lock—there was something wrong about this planet. The little submarine felt like an oasis in a wet desert, a safe space in a world of monsters. The survey had revealed some large native lifeforms, but our sub, which apparently resembled a good meal, brought them out in numbers we couldn’t anticipate.

But the company said it was alright, and we had signed contracts, so we would stay until the next crew arrived.

Construction was behind schedule. The initial design specs were insufficient in light of the lifeforms in the ocean. If one of the large ones rammed the base, the original design wouldn’t take that.

Another creature, head like a folded umbrella, long like an eel, swam by. Several of its eyes blinked. I wondered if it could see me.

Writing prompt: Middle name pride day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Middle name pride day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays. This one is a little dumb, but that’s what is freeing about writing prompts. Sometimes they can be dumb, but they didn’t take very long.)


“Hey Jane, what’s your middle name?” Anka asked, her voice swaying with song. She hung upside down from the hover monkey bars, her pigtails dangling by her ears.

“I told you, I don’t have one.” Jane walked toward the hyper see saw.

“Is that so? I saw you name on the attendance list. ‘Jane X. Stuart.’ You liar.”

“Well why should I tell you anyway! We’re not friends!”

Anka rolled down from the bars and pursued. “Oh Jane, are you keeping a secret? Your middle name’s not anything embarassing, is it?”

Jane went cold. Anka smelled blood. This wouldn’t end well. “No. Go away. Stop following me.”

“What could it be…” she mused. “Xylophone? No…. Xavier? No… oh no… it couldn’t be…”

Jane didn’t turn, she just kept walking.

“Could it be Xagolonix?!” Anka cried.

That was it, Jane couldn’t take it anymore. She turned and pushed Anka. “ I said, go away!”

“You’re named after a monster! Do you know how many people Xagolonix killed?”

“I was born before that. Before that, it was a perfectly normal Martian name.”

“Jane Xagolonix Stuart!” Anka sang. “Jane Xagolonix Stuart!”

“Anka!” Mr. Svetloff barked. “Are you picking on Jane?”

“No, Mr. Svetloff,” Anka simpered. “Jane was keeping secrets.”

“Miss Anka Hitler, I don’t suppose you see anything odd about your name, do you?” Mr. Svetloff intoned.

“No, it’s a perfectly normal Earth name,” Anka said.

“About that,” Mr. Svetloff began.

Altering reality in wide angle

Wide-angle lenses are lenses that, as the name suggests, capture a wide angle of view. They’re great for fitting a wide scene into a single shot. A wide-angle lens can catch a long parade marching down the street, spreading to left and right; it can catch a massive sprawling mountain range.

Wide-angle lenses can be tricky, too. Humans don’t see in wide angle, so these images are distorted and unnatural to our eyes. Sometimes, that’s a feature.


Wide Angle to make something feel large

Large things loom. Whether that large object is your parents when you’re a child, a huge skyscraper, or a thunder cloud, big objects have a sense of hanging over you. Wide-angle lenses can capture that sense, even for modestly-sized objects.

Below is a shrine at the Albuquerque Botanical Garden Japanese Garden. It’s maybe 15 feet wide and 15 feet high. But with the help of wide angle, it can fill a whole frame. The top frame is as a 16mm wide-angle lens captures the shot. All the lines that should be straight are curved, because this lens is a type of wide-angle lens called a “fisheye”. This could be the desired effect, or you can correct the curvature, as in the second picture. This time, I was pursuing the second image. Sometimes, the other is the goal. That’s one cool thing about digital photography–both are available in any given image.

The shrine at the Japanese Garden

Shrine at the ABQ Biopark Japanese Garden, with fisheye distortion uncorrected.

The shrine at the Japanese Garden

With corrected perspective.


Wide Angle to capture a wide scene

This one’s obvious, but still awesome. Some images need a lot of space. Sometimes, you can get a wide-angle image by stitching several traditional images together. But as in the top image, only a single capture can catch the ducks taking flight.

In the bottom image, the angular distortion from the fisheye lens is fine uncorrected, because there are no straight lines on that rock to betray the distortion. And the wide angle here allowed me to get the sun in the frame. The distortion to the sun here is called a “sunstar.” You can get them by shooting with small apertures, which leads to light diffraction. Here’s a nice brief article if you want to learn more about sunstars.

ABQ Biopark Japanese Garden wide angle, ducks taking flight

The pond at the Japanese Garden

Bisti Badlands and Sun Star

A rock formation at Bisti Badlands


Wide Angle for composition

Wide-angle lenses give a photographer different options in guiding the viewer’s eye in a photograph. You may have heard that long lenses compress depth, thus why they are pleasing for portraits. Wide lenses exaggerate depth. The righthand side-view mirror on cars is slightly wide-angle. This is why “objects may be closer than they appear.” Your side-view mirror has exaggerated the sense of depth.

Additionally, wide-angle lenses can focus on nearby objects. My 85mm lens has a minimum focal distance of 1 meter. My 70-200 varies from 1 meter to 1.5 meters. My fisheye can focus nearly up to the point I bump into the subject.

Both of these factors give the photographer different creative freedoms when composing with a wide-angle lens.

In the first image, I found this hanging rock fascinating. I put my lens right next to this rock when I shot, but because of the exaggerated depth, it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as the shot was. The rocks in the background are only a few feet away, but they feel more distance. Here, I also employ the wide angle to make the rock loom large. That hanging arm was no more than 3 feet long.

In the second image, the ability to get close to the statue in the foreground meant I could fill more of the frame with it. And I can fit the building comfortably in the background. So I can make a relatively small object the same size in the capture as a large object.

Rock formations in the Bisti Badlands

Rocks and sun at Bisti Badlands

160217-UNM-campus-4711

University of New Mexico campus, and statue of school mascot, the Lobo

 

Did I miss anything? I love a good photo discussion, so let me know!

Writing prompt: Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Don’t cry over spilled milk day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

The warning message on my phone had been accurately dire. Only the charred beams of the house remained. I saw Bella and Sadie out in the yard, doting upon a firefighter with a bag of treats. I pulled up behind the firetruck.

“It’s a total loss, ma’am,” one of the firefighters approached me, bearing forms.

“So the message said,” I sighed. “Do you know what caused it?”

“Electrical short, we think. We won’t know until the simulation results are in, and they run overnight. You probably know what I’m going to ask next.” He looked apprehensive. He glanced at the dogs, and back to me.

“I back up every week,” I said.

He relaxed noticeably. “Thank goodness. You don’t know how many fires I see where the family hasn’t backed up in five years. It’s devastating.”

“I bet.”

“Do you know how to initiate the rebuild?” he asked. I shook my head and he walked me through the process.

“By next week, your house will be back at the state of your last back-up. A few details might be less current, say you hadn’t scanned a closet for a while. The insurance will put you up at a hotel until it’s ready.”

I looked over the ruins of my home, ruins of my memories. In a week, they’d all be back. Maybe not the same piece of paper I’d received at graduation, not the same toy my dogs loved to fight over. But nearly. I sighed.

“Are you all right ma’am? It’s a lot to take in,” the fire fighter said.

“No use crying over spilled milk.”

Writing prompt: create a vacuum day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Create a vacuum day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

“Aren’t you the asshole that wiped out Charlottesville?” the woman said, spotting me from across the diner. She walked over.

“Well, technically no, it wasn’t me,” I rubbed my arm. I felt eyes study me from all around.

“Your work then. Whatever. I didn’t think I’d ever see you in person, or at least not without a fake beard.”

“I’m not ashamed of what happened,” I said. “Regretful, yeah, but not ashamed.”

“How do you work that out? Wiping out thousands of homes and businesses because you did something stupid?”

She looked genuinely curious. I was used to being berated. But maybe she would understand. I launched into the speech I’d recited in my head so many times. The speech no one ever let me speak. “Have you ever seen a vacuum chamber setup? A real, scientific one? For trying to create nothing, the suckers are enormous. And chock full of specialized equipment, like pumps that can literally be destroyed if they have to push thousands of atoms rather than tens. Frankly, I thought it was all a mess. I thought I could do better,”

She cocked her head to the side. She looked like she thought I was nuts, but she didn’t look angry.

“It was a wild idea,” I continued. “So wild I didn’t tell my advisor. But I didn’t need to tell him, I had the materials to get it done on the cheap.”

“Yea, yea, yea,” she waved her hand. “You decided to make a black hole in one instead, I watch the news. And trust me, no matter how you tell that part, it won’t sound clever to someone who lost a house to it.”

I looked away. “I can’t do anything about that now. I ran simulation after simulation that looked fine. I still don’t know what happened.”

“You got it wrong.”

“I really don’t think I did,” I said. “And I’m not afraid to be wrong—really, go find my undergraduate biology professor. I don’t have any data, it all got destroyed, but something other than just a black hole happened that day.”

She frowned. “You got it wrong. Apparently you are afraid to admit it. How sad that you can’t even see that.”

She walked away.

“Excuse me,” an elderly woman with a colorful scarf said from a booth nearby. “I can’t help but have overheard your conversation. And I have a theory about what went wrong that I’ve entertained for a while. Are you willing to try to reproduce your experiment?”

 

Writing prompt: Hugging Day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Hugging Day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

Every species we knew said the Zagadins were the most caring and advanced species in the galaxy. When we finally managed to encounter them, it was with a sense of excitement. At last, we were friends with the cool species.

Cool be damned, thought the military—the Zagadins had technology, and they liked to share. For decades, other species had been able to travel faster than us, able to make ships we could only dream of. And when we asked for or demanded their technologies, they shrugged (or whatever a shrug was to their species) and said it came from the Zagadins. We could finally fleece the galaxy’s biggest hippy chumps and become king of the ant hill.

The Zagadins diplomatic arrival was all over the News Nets. They wanted to meet everyone! Secretary of state, president, secretary of the navy, senators, mayors, professors—for them, it was the more the merrier. They wouldn’t hear of restricting the event. Thousands of people came.

And the Zagadins introduced themselves with their cultural tradition—hugging. The military knew they had these hippies now. Everyone at the arrival got a hug from a Zagadin. And as promised, the Zagadins sent the government files full of technology afterwards.

But a strange thing happened. Those who had met the Zagadins didn’t care about using the technology to conquer. They just wanted to hug, and then the people they hugged became peaceful as well.

We asked other species. They shrugged some more. That’s how the Zagadins work. Their hugs transmit resequencing retroviruses that promote peacefulness. The Zagadins won’t meet a species until they work out the retroviruses necessary. Perhaps it’s a little invasive, but let’s hug it out, the aliens said.

A few hugless humans remained, and they were horrified. They fled to Io and founded a hugless colony. But they should really loosen up. Too bad they can’t hug it out.

 

Writing prompt: dress up your pet day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Dress up your pet day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

My alarm sounds. I hear the pitter-patter of soft feet racing to the bed, and feel those feet step on the softest parts of my torso and groin.

“Good morning, kitty,” I croak. I reach over and slap the alarm. I open my phone. Euler purrs like a bulldozer and nearly nuzzles my phone out of my hand.

“Oh kitty, did you not want me to see today’s notifications?” I coo. I scroll through the day’s appointments and reminders. “Today is Dress Up Your Pet Day.” Euler head butts my hand. In his opinion, I should be using that hand to make him happy. I scratch his butt. He flops over and kneads the air.

“You’re happy now,” I say to him, “but we’ll see about later.”

 

On the way back from work, I swing by WalMart and go to the baby clothes aisle. My mom would love a picture of Euler dressed as a sailor.

Before I even open the door, Euler is crying to see me. I feel bad that he spends so much time alone, but hey, he’s a cat and I work to put food in his bowl. My guilt is not remarkably deep.

I open the door, and Euler jumps on my shoulders. “Kitty!” I shout, dismayed. It’s really my fault, I haven’t trimmed his claws lately.

Whelp, I’ve bled on this shirt now, I think. I take it off, put stain remover on the spots, and switch shirts. Euler purrs and slithers on the bed.

“Dress your pet day,” I say. “And it’s you who’ve made me change outfits. I’m your pet, aren’t I?”

Euler straightens. I’m sure it’s just my imagination, but there is a glint in his eye. A knowing glint. A cold shiver rushes up my spine.

Euler leaps at from from the bed, pushing me into the closet. The last thing I see before I black out is cats holding garments.