Archive for August, 2010

Forced Perspective

Friday, August 27th, 2010

One of the tricks that gets used in art is called “forced Perspective.” God reminded me this week that a little forced perspective can be a good thing if you find yourself a little short of the non-forced kind.

Now that I’ve integrated my iPad into my life, I find myself with a perceived lack of downtime. I’m not putting in any extra hours at work (if you don’t count my hour-long commute), and I’m not, at the moment, getting any significant work done on my myriad artistic or entrepreneurial projects. But I’m also never (well hardly ever) just staring into space anymore.

Forced perspective is an optical illusion. There’s a number of different systems of perception that we use to determine size and distance. There’s binocular vision, the way we see 3D because the view seen by each of our eyes is slightly different. There’s also the arc of vision that something takes up, that is, how much of our field of vision it fills. It’s this latter clue that forced perspective plays with. By making something physically smaller the artisan makes it seem bigger. To be a little more precise, by making the part of something that is further away from us smaller than the part that is near, it makes it seem as if the thing is actually bigger because we know that for it to look that much smaller, for it to take up that much less of our field of vision, and still conform to our expectations of its geometry, that it must be a certain distance away.

A good example of this is in one of my favorite places in the world, Disneyland. On “Main Street, USA,” the stores along the street are all built with the second floors on a smaller scale than the first floors. This is done to make the buildings seem bigger and grander, it’s a subtle thing that adds immeasurably, though not immensely, to the ambiance. It allows them to make a barely two lane wide street feel much larger.

With the iPad, I find myself filling in all the cracks of the day. I’ve always got something I can do. I keep up on the news more than I ever have before. Thanks to social networking, I can keep up on the lives of my friends like I never have before. Thanks both to computer A.I.s and to network access, I get to play more games than I ever have before. Now to be fair, when I was younger I used to always carry a book with me and used it to fill in those small moments of downtime, but with the book I could see progress and I could measure (by space on my shelves) a certain kind of advancement over time. With the constant and massive deluge of things on the web, I only ever feel like I’m falling behind.

So God’s advised me to find a way to skip more of what interests me, so that I can do more of what interests me. In a way, I’ve got to both narrow what I’m willing to spend time on and go into it less deeply than I’d like to. It’s just like the technique of forced perspective which gives you less while seeming to give you more. The trick will be to do it without feeling guilty.

Keeping Score

Friday, August 20th, 2010

So last time I talked about going to a baseball game, and how it reminded me of going to church. This got God and I to talking about sports in general. Of course “sports” is up there in the list of most talked about subjects, so really it was rather more mainstream of a conversation than I’m used to having. As a subject though, it’s up there in the company of things like the weather and politics.

Now baseball stands out from other sports in that it’s been singled out as The Great American Pastime. I think I’ve got a good idea of why that is. It’s a game you don’t need to pay attention to, and Americans like things they don’t have to follow too closely. Things happen, in baseball, at a leisurely pace. It’s not like basketball, football, or hockey where the action is frenetic and sometimes hard to follow. This means you can chat with your friends while watching the game and not generally feel like you’ve missed much. You can go get something to eat, you can shop for souvenirs; you’ve got the time.

In other ways though, baseball is just the same as every other sport. It has its passionate fans, its devoted followers, its sinners and saints. And also, like every other professionally played sport, it has one big thing in common with religion: Everyone thinks that their team is the best, whether they win or lose, but which team is theirs is mostly just an accident of birth.

American Religion

Friday, August 13th, 2010

I feel like I went back to church yesterday.  I went into a large, publicly accessible building, engaged in arcane rituals, partook of, if not sacred, at least ritually specific food, and witnessed the public excoriation of the unfaithful.

Did I do this in a church?  A mosque?  A temple?  Of course not, I did it in a ball park.  I watched the San Francisco Giants take on the Chicago Cubs.

No one was called a sinner, but the unfaithful, the Cubs fans, were derided, shouted down, and then loudly booed when one of them caught a ball that had been hit into the stands.

There was music.  There was the sacred sing-along to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”  There was the playing of John Fogerty’s “Centerfield,” which is surely a baseball hymn or there is just no justice in the world.

And there were call outs and responses, though I don’t remember what they were.

Now I don’t know much about baseball statistics, so I don’t have any clue which team was favored to win, but I can tell you the outcome was far from Biblical.  In the Bible David defeats the Giant, but in this case the Cubs failed at the same task.  Maybe they should have used a sling.

Worker Training

Friday, August 6th, 2010

So I’m working now in downtown San Francisco.  I’m not actually in the financial district but I share a BART station with those that are.  God asked me to look around at my fellow corporate drones and see what I could see.  I wasn’t sure what she wanted, but I went ahead and looked.

Now I didn’t grow up in the fifties but I did grow up watching reruns of fifties sitcoms and TV broadcasts of fifties movies.  Where today we have “knowledge workers” in the fifties they had “office workers.”. Both kinds of workers sit at desks all day.  Both kinds of workers get to and from work on trains and busses.  Both kinds of workers spend time filling in cells in spreadsheets.  And more often than they’d like, they end up taking those spreadsheets home for a little more tweaking.

Of course today the spreadsheets are files on computers and in the fifties they were actual large sheets of paper, with blank cells printed on them to be filled in by hand and bound into books.  So to take your work home with you in the fifties, you tossed real paper files into your briefcase, but now you bring home a laptop computer…  Then I noticed…  There were no briefcases.  They’ve gone the way of button-down shirts and black ties.  Lost to a sea of “business casual,” the briefcases have all been replaced by backpacks.

So there’s progress for you.  We never got the “paperless office” that they kept promising computers would make possible, but for the most part, they did get rid of the need to carry all that paper around with us.  Now if only we could get rid of homework entirely.