Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Establishing shots in the Rizzoli and Isles opening

Establishing shots are neither subtle nor unique, but they're still the easiest way to show an audience where your movie or TV show is set. When you've got 20 seconds for credits - less than most TV shows, but increasingly common to make way for an extra ad or two - every shot counts.

One of my favorite shows currently on the air is ''Rizzoli and Isles'', which is awesome for reasons I've written about previously. Now that I know Boston pretty well, I decided to attempt to locate the establishing shots in the theme.

In the 21-second intro, there are only three establishing shots. Each shot is on screen for about half a second - enough for our minds to say "Boston" without getting a true grip on where it is. I've managed to track down the locations of all three, complete with a Google Maps street view. (The images were all taken with fairly long lenses; you'll want to zoom in a notch or two on each view.)

The first of these is a cityscape, centered on a small brick building in a concrete canyon:

This is the Old State House, the oldest public building in Boston, dating back to 1713. (It is also, to my knowledge, the oldest building that serves as an entrance to a subway station).

It's fairly easy to identify the location as well. It's a straight shot up State Street, looking west. The Chatham Row sign at right gives us a pretty good location, as do the distinctive green awnings. The tip of the tower is 106 feet tall; from the camera location it is equal in angle to three and a half of the umbrella-carrying figures in the left foreground, or 21 feet. That means the distance from Old State House to the figures (at the corner of State and Broad) is equal to 80% of the distance from the Old State House to the camera. The former is 720 feet; the latter is 900 feet, putting us about in front of 156 State Street:

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The second is an angled upwards view of a similarly famous building:

This is the 1798 Massachusetts State House, located on the edge of Beacon Hill next to the Boston Common. The photograph taken from the sidewalk on the south side of Beacon Street. By tracing a few lines between background buildings and foreground objects, we converge on 32 Beacon Street.

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The final location seems to be a bit more ambiguous, with Boston's characteristic brownstones on a steep hill:

There are a number of steep hills in Boston, with Mission Hill and Telegraph Hill among the most famous. But only one hill has the distinctive close-packed brownstones and numerous trees - Beacon Hill, home of a tony neighborhood sandwiched between downtown and the Charles.

After some trial and error, I found the location on Joy Street. This photograph was taken with a very long lens, which exaggerates the steepness of the hill. The reddish brownstone on the right is located at 37 Joy Street, but the photograph was taken from futher away. The white and green sign is for the Black Heritage Trail and is located at Pickney Street, thus, the photographer was located another half-block up the hill, around 10 Joy Street.

Street View from the camera location:

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Street View from near the subjects:

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why I edit station articles

I do a lot of editing on Wikipedia. A whole lot of editing - to the tune of 3500+ edits, plus 5300 more on Commons. Although I do a variety of work on there, most of my edits - particularly large, content-adding ones - are on articles about train stations. Most are about Boston's subway and commuter rail systems, though I do others when interested.

You probably don't understand why. I mean, of all the things to focus on, why train stations? With the exception of the big downtown ones, no one cares much about them. They're often just bare concrete platforms.

A few minutes ago, I showed my girlfriend what the Lawrence station article looked like before and after I edited it. Her response regarding the old version: "It's so boring."

My reply was this:


And I hate that.

I mean, the mass-produced articles aren't horrible. They're better than nothing, most have pictures (often thanks to me...) and they've got the basic info.

But every station has a history.

Often, there was - or is - a beautiful old depot.

Sometimes, there are remains hidden in the bushes, or down the line.

Every station has a story, and I am the electronic bard.

That's why I do it - it's always the history. Even new stations have a history - a former station on the same site, or the struggle to get a station at all. I aim to collect those stories, to tell them for the world to hear.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

We Live in the Future.

The other day, I was editing Wikipedia when I had a thought. Shocking, I suppose.

At that moment, I was uploading photos of South Attleboro, a commuter rail station on Boston's MBTA system. I'd taken these photos from a passing Amtrak train.

That's not much of a future, is it?

Consider from the perspective of 1835, when the line was built.

Consider, first, that I was taking a photograph. Photography was not unknown in 1835 - a few primitive processes had been created. But the first practical technique, the daugerreotype, was still two years away. Photographic film - the first imaging medium capable of short exposures like the 1/1000 and 1/1600 second shots I took - would wait until the 1880s, and single-exposure color photography until Autochrome in 1907.

But my images were digital. I was able to crop them, improve their contrast, and straighten them long after I took them. Digital photography was primarily developed for astronomy - in order to take pictures of objects too faint for the human eye.

My camera is a mid-range camera, which cost about $150 a year ago. It has a 12x optical zoom, image stabilization, and the ability to shoot HD (1280p) video. All of these things would have cost a pretty penny - or been downright unavailable - even just a few years ago.

Now, consider the subject of my photography. South Attleboro is one part of the MBTA commuter rail system. The system has some 70,000 outbound boardings per day. Every single day, a mass of people equal to the city's entire population in 1835 board those purple trains and leave the city. In 1835, the city was just discovering railroads. Only a few major lines - to Providence, Lowell, and Worcester - were even complete, and they only offered limited, low-speed service.

And now, back up a second. Recall those extremely short exposures - 1/1000 second and shorter - that I used. Those were necessary because of where I was taking the pictures from: the window seat of a passing Amtrak train.

My copy of an Amtrak employee timetable indicates that the speed limit on Northeast Corridor past South Attleboro is 125 mph, which also the top speed of a Northeast Regional train like the one I was on. In 1835, no person had traveled at 125 miles per hour. The first humans to travel at that speed and survive were likely the crew of experimental German railway trains in October 1903. It's now commonplace - for as little as 11 dollars, one can step aboard a train that travels that speed with near-perfect reliability.

Finally, consider what I was doing with the pictures: uploading them to Wikimedia Commons for use on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an incredible thing: one of the world's greatest and broadest collections of information, free for anyone with web access to use, and assembled entirely by volunteers. Some 2.3 billion people worldwide have internet access; although some countries like China censor Wikipedia, none completely block the site. Thus, there are 2.3 billion people who could conceivably see these images - that is, twice the number of people who were alive in 1835.

Welcome to the future. It's pretty fascinating.

Pictured: 177 years later, and some of us still can't take very good pictures.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Weird Error with Picasa (Solved)

Recently, I've been having a weird problem with Picasa. Sometimes, after modifying an image, Picasa would refuse to save it. It claimed a "disk error" that might mean the disk was full or read-only. Well, that's not likely. I have 349 GB of open, writable space on my hard drive.

So I did some Google searching, and it appears that there are at least 6 different things that can cause the problem. A lingering 'export to' address pointing to a now-disconnected external disk can be the issue, as can extremely large (greater than 10,000 x 10,000 pixels) images. But none were causing mine.

Then I found this discussion on the GIMP forums, where "acmespaceship" found the answer. The new Export function in GIMP 2.6 is normally set to add XMP metadata. For some reason, Picasa doesn't play nicely with this XMP data.

So, the solution: when exporting, click the (+) button to see advanced options, and uncheck "Save XMP data". Picasa will stop complaining.