24 Jul 2014 / Excerpts From October and November 2013

I’m not bad at capturing my life in photos. I take a camera almost everywhere I go. I am however pretty bad at actually editing and uploading my photos. I’m always months behind in editing and even further behind on posting to this blog. I don’t even post up all my photos. Many of them sink into the blackhole that is my Lightroom catalog.

While looking through my catalog the other day, I rediscovered many photos from weekend outings and day trips that I had forgotten about. Mostly, because the trips weren’t long enough to justify a whole post. So, I decided to combine them into one post, like this one. Expect more to come.

Nihon Whisky Lounge & Bonobo

Sometime in the middle of 2013, Jeff got obsessed with Scotch whisky and started a collection. The obsession started rubbing off on me after I bought a bottle of Yamazaki 12 year. We decided to take this interest in whisky and convert it into an idea for our next party, a whisky lounge!

I started doing some research on Reddit and compiled a list of whiskies to try. Jeff and I took this list with us to one of Jeff’s favorite lounges in SF, Nihon Whisky Lounge.

Untitled

Nihon is a lounge in the Mission District that blends Japanese fusion food with an extensive selection of whiskies. Basically, it is the perfect place to taste a few whiskies before buying bottles. However, I’ll warn you about the price. Our check was much higher than at other lounges I have been to, something that for me was not offset by the intimate atmosphere or the whisky selection.

However, the quality of the food and service are great. If you are looking for a place to take someone special and don’t mind the price, then Nihon fits the bill.

While Jeff and I were tasting, Jennifer and Nish joined us for a few more drinks. Shortly after, we all headed to the Bonobo concert.

Untitled

Bonobo was fantastic, but you probably knew that. If you didn’t, Go listen to him or read about him and you’ll see. Bonobo’s recordings are great, but he is even better live. The energy in the crowd and the lighting combined to create an amazing experience.

UntitledUntitledUntitled

Brohaus Party #4

Brohaus Party #4 was our first party after a long hiatus and also the first after Dustin, Eric, Jeff and I came back from Burning Man. The four of us were all in awe of how people on the playa were able to design such deep and enjoyable experiences. We took that inspiration and poured it into the party.

The party was the day after Halloween. So, we encouraged everyone to come in costume or wear costume items that we provided. The fight room 1 was converted into the whisky lounge I mentioned before. We set up shark races outside using remote controlled shark balloons.

Many people brought some pretty creative costumes: Linterest, lumberjack, light up suits, asian horror girl, inflatable sumo wrestlers. I loved all of them.

IMG_7138IMG_7151IMG_7149IMG_7119IMG_7124

Blizzcon 2013

Blizzcon 2013 was my first Blizzcon. I’ve been playing Blizzard games for more than 10 years, but only made time to attend their conference last year. We went as a large group, an annual event that the rest of the TAMS/UT people have been doing for some time.

UntitledUntitled

The convention had plenty to offer to every type of attendee. There were pro tournaments right on stage, announcements for new products, plenty of chances to play games, cosplay, merchandise, art for sale and more.

UntitledUntitledUntitledUntitled

While walking around the convention center, I saw famous figures in the Starcraft community, well known Blizzard employees and professional cosplayers that I recognized. However, the only person that I really had to stop and take a picture with is John Romero. He is the co-founder of id Software and helped design Wolfenstein 3D, Quake and of course Doom, the first widely popular first person shooter and one of the most significant games in history.

I saw him out of the corner of my eye and did a double take. I didn’t expect such an important person to just be casually walking around the hall.

Untitled

Of course, the most important part of Blizzcon is hanging out with friends. Jeff and I went for a run around the convention center and Downtown Disney one morning. A bunch of us waited in line a few times to crush noobs in Heroes of the Storm (which wasn’t yet available to the public at the time). We rooted on our favorite Starcraft players in the 2013 StarCraft II World Championship Series Global Finals. I got Hafu to autograph a screenshot of Chuan losing to her while she was streaming Hearthstone. We had late night food at IHOP.

These things really defined my convention experience and left me with fond memories.

Untitled

  1. After JJ moved out, we converted his part of the room into a second living room. It ended up becoming the de facto location for playing Street Fighter. Hence, we started calling it the fight room.

28 Jun 2014 / Pre-Christmas Yosemite Trip

After graduation, my core group of friends from Columbia (Mecha Bananas) ended up either on the East or West coast. In 2011, the first winter after graduation, everyone flew or drove in to the Bay Area around Christmas time to eat, drink and explore the Bay. This get-together has become an annual tradition that I think will continue for a long time to come.

Last year, two of our annual east coast visitors, Vinny and Meixin, joined Sean and me on an adventure to Yosemite National Park.

Untitled

Yosemite in the winter is a peculiar place. As it is a valley, different sections of it receive vastly different amounts of sunlight. While one patch of ground my be complete dry and warm, another a few feet away could be cold and covered in a thick layer of snow.

The following picture captures it well. If you crop the top half off, you have a beautiful winter wonderland. Crop the bottom off and you have a typical California mountainside in spring or summer.

Untitled

The weather in the valley also poses some interesting problems for getting into and around the park. We took my car into Yosemite. Even though it has four wheel drive, it still needed tire chains during sections of road due to the ice on the roads. I never thought much of it, but driving with chains is a pain. You can’t go very fast and the chains create noise and vibrations as you drive.

At first glace, my car may not look like an offroader considering that it is basically a family van. However, I think it looks well suited to the snow and icy roads.

Untitled

On the first day, we arrived in the park in mid day. We knew that we wouldn’t have enough time to go on a long hike. So, we instead explored a bit on foot and then dropped by the visitors center to scope out a trail for the next day.

Untitled

With the help of the park rangers, we chose the Yosemite Falls Trail. It is 3.4 miles of beautiful scenery that takes you 2700 feet up from the bottom of the valley to the top of the valley, above Yosemite Falls

Untitled

I put together this video in Google Earth using GPS data I got from RunKeeper. It should give you a good idea of the terrain.

As you look through the pictures in this post, pay close attention to the terrain and to what we are wearing. It will give you a good picture of the extremes in temperatures that we experienced. Here we see Vinny towards the beginning of the hike wearing quite a few layers.

Untitled

And soon after here is Sean wearing far fewer layers.

Untitled

Asians taking photos of scenery!

Untitled

The view from the trail was breathtaking, but I don’t need to say that. Just look at my photos.

If you are wondering if the photos are completely natural, my photos have been only minimally post-processed. I shot RAW on my X100 and applied a VSCO 04 Velvia preset. So, the beauty is just a result of the lighting that morning and the clear air.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

I think Vinny’s smile is proof of how much fun we had along the way.

Untitled

Even though the top is open to direct sunlight, it was covered in a bed of snow. It was so tranquil that I forgot how far we had hiked to get there.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Some steep icy parts required climbing up and glissading down.

Untitled

We were one of the first groups to reach the top that day. While at the top, aside from the footsteps of hikers before us, we were alone.

Untitled

This isolation from other hikers and tourists is one of the best reasons to visit during the off season. Yosemite is one of the most visited National Parks and can be quite crowded in the summer.

Untitled

Untitled

There were some pretty steep drop-offs, but fortunately they were lined with handrails. I wonder who installed them. Getting them up there and installing them must have been an interesting task.

Untitled

Untitled

The hike was great, but best part of the day was lunch. We brought with us sandwiches that we prepared early in the morning. Nothing can beat cold cuts and cheese on bread after a few hours of walking

Untitled

Untitled

Surprisingly, we had great cellular data at the top. We Facetimed from the top. It felt like an Apple commercial.

Untitled

Fallen icicles were embedded in the snow along the way, like bizzare fossils.

Untitled

I had a great time at Yosemite. It was a chance to bond with friends and get away from civilization.

If you haven’t visited Yosemite in the winter and live close by, you are missing out. Going in the winter offers you the chance to see a unique and beautiful side of this California landmark.

18 Feb 2014 / The Art and The Streets of Chicago

You many not believe it, but Eric, Kailing and I actually did things other than eating and drinking when Eric and I visited Chicago late last year. One of them was soaking up the art and architecture of America’s 3rd largest city.

The Art

First is one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Flamingo, a 53 foot tall “Calder red” colored stabile by Alexander Calder.

A passerby might mistake it for a piece by Mark di Suvero. He has made such a big name for himself with his public art that I don’t know many large American cities without at least one large scale piece by him. Di Suvero’s pieces might be newer than this Calder, but the Calder feels so much fresher.

Calder is most famous for his kinetic mobiles, but I find his stabiles to be more interesting. Unlike human-sized sculptures, their sheer scale allows them to stand with the buildings around them as equals instead of just being accessories like fences, lamp posts and mail boxes.

I love the large arching forms contrasted to the jagged diamond pieces. The structural ribs along the edges of the arches make them look like they are single extruded pieces instead of the welded sheets that they actually are.

DSCF5715

One thing I immediately noticed was the juxtaposition of the asymmetrical, continuous curves of the Flamingo against the clean rectilinear lines of the Kluczynski Federal Building. The International Style building isolates the sculpture from the rest of the city and serves as its backdrop. Even though the lines and textures of the building and the sculpture don’t match, they are both monochromatic and similar in scale. I think this is why they work so well together. A more intricate, multicolored sculpture by someone like Dubuffet or Miró would definitely not work in this space.

DSCF5721

There is even a scale model of it! It was shown in the adjacent Loop Station Post Office for some time, but was moved to the Art Institute of Chicago, where we got to see it.

DSCF5759

Speaking of the Art Institute, we visited in order to among other things view a special exhibition, Beyond the Great Wave: Hokusai’s Images of Mount Fuji. It featured a large number of Hokusai‘s wood block prints.

I have been a fan of Hokusai’s work for a long time since I first saw The Great Wave off Kanagawa. However popular the Great Wave may be, my favorite at the exhibition is A Gust of Wind at Ejiri. I love how Hokusai is able to portray movement in a medium that otherwise lends to very flat and static looking images.

travellers-caught-in-a-sudden-breeze-at-ejiri-ca-1832-a-woodprint-by-katsushika-hokusai

A Gust of Wind at Ejiri by Hokusai

 

Why is there a pile of candy in the corner of the museum? It is actually “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. According to the Art Institute it is, “an allegorical representation of the artist’s partner, Ross Laycock, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. The installation is comprised of 175 pounds of candy, corresponding to Ross’s ideal body weight. Viewers are encouraged to take a piece of candy, and the diminishing amount parallels Ross’s weight loss and suffering prior to his death. Gonzalez-Torres stipulated that the pile should be continuously replenished, thus metaphorically granting perpetual life.” Wow.

I wonder how many museum patrons actually read this description and leave understanding the meaning of the piece.

DSCF5749

Naturally, we each took a candy.

DSCF5751

The next work is titled Hinoki. It may look like a log but is actually a copy of a log in California that was carved by expert artisans in Osaka, Japan. The whole story is fascinating and worth a read.

DSCF5753

Kailing’s shoes match this painting!

DSCF5755

Another Chicago landmark is Cloud Gate (aka the Bean) made by Indian British artist Anish Kapoor. Just as the 5th Avenue Apple Store is the most photographed landmark in New York city, Cloud Gate could very well be the most photographed landmark in Chicago. It at least seems like that by the number of times it pops up in my Facebook News Feed.

DSCF5811

We had a chance to walk around the Chicago Cultural Center. It is a beautiful neoclassical building that formerly housed the central library. I love the 38-foot Tiffany glass dome above the central atrium. Though, we didn’t get a chance to look at it very close since there was a concert being held under it.

DSCF5819

Another eye-catching piece of public art is a mosaic titled Time is the Enemy by Carlos “Dzine” Rolon in the Sedgwick L station.

DSCF5699

The Streets

Chicago has a great transit system. Though it isn’t as wide spreading as the Subway in New York, the ‘L‘ is still very convenient. Chicago wasn’t the first or the only city to have elevated trains. They existed in many cities and even New York still has some elevated sections of the Subway. However, elevated trains are most prominent in Chicago.

The system itself is very similar to  New York’s. Both use a 600V third rail for power and have train cars that are very similar in size and appearance. The biggest difference is that the interiors of New York’s trains are equipped to fit more riders.

The L covers most of the city and even has a direct line from the airport into the city center. Also, the stations are much cleaner than New York’s, as you can see below.

DSCF5723

I had to take the obligatory long exposure of a train passing by.

DSCF5744

I think that the following photograph captures some of the many layers of a stratified city.

DSCF5709

Some more street snaps.

DSCF5837

DSCF5763

DSCF5769

You all know how much I love cars. So, I had to stop to photograph this one. It is a relatively rare, quarter million dollar Lamborghini Gallardo Supperleggera LP570-4.

DSCF5771

LP570-4 refers to longitudinale/posteriore, the longitudinally mounted engine, the 570 horsepower output of that engine and the 4 wheel drive system the engine is mated to. Superleggera translates to super light. It is basically a Gallardo built for the track.

This one was being driven by a man wearing a scarf. It is an interesting choice of car. I would have expected a Jaguar or an Aston Martin.

DSCF5772

I saw this faucet sticking out of a wall of a building near the University of Chicago campus. How weird.

DSCF5855

The large triangular building in the foreground of the next photograph is a federal prison, the Metropolitan Correctional Center. When I saw the tower with the slit windows, I instantly knew what it was because of a show about it by my favorite podcast, 99% Invisible. I have embedded that show below. I highly recommend that you listen to it and subscribe if you like design, art, architecture or even just interesting stories.

DSCF5708

DSCF5774

Yet another picture that shows the layers of Chicago.

DSCF5825

The Chicago River has a very interesting story. Did you know that it runs backwards due to a large capital improvement project in the late 1800s? Learn more about it in yet another show from my favorite podcast that I have embedded below.

DSCF5834

I loved my time in Chicago. In many ways, it feels like the younger sibling of New York. It has the tall buildings, the great transportation system and much of the hustle and bustle. It also has its own versions of many things that make New York famous.

However, it still feels unique and that is what is important. It can stand alongside New York, London, Tokyo, Paris and the like. It is a real American city with its own culture and quirks that it built and earned over centuries.

From what I saw, I would love living in Chicago and I certainly like it more than my closest big city, San Francisco.

05 Feb 2014 / Arun Has a Blog. Now wider!

If you visited my blog in the last few days, you may or may not have noticed a small change. My blog is now 60% wider!

When I first started this blog in 2008, I tried out a few different themes before settling on this one. That was in 2010. Back then, my monitor was 1440px wide, iPhone screens were 320px wide. A 500px wide blog was acceptable.

Now, my monitors are 1920px and 2560px wide while my iPhone is 640px wide. As my blog has changed to focus more on my photography, 500px just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

To fix that, I have widened the site to 800px. All new posts will be 800px wide while old posts will remain at 500px wide. The font in new posts is also slightly larger. Maybe in the future, I’ll make some more drastic changes to make it easier for me to tell stories and present my photos and video. Until then, I think this change will be great.

As always, feel free to give me any feedback or criticism you may have.

I’ll leave you with a photo from a weekend in San Francisco as a preview of how photos will look on my blog.

DSCF5663