Friday, October 31, 2014

Flag Identification Tips & Tricks

Happy Halloween & Happy Friday!

Last night I was being indecisive about what flag to do for Flag Day. Or any other blog post. I've really been in a blog funk this week -- it happens. But then a lightning bolt of inspiration struck (bam!) and I remembered something I've wanted to write about for a while. It feels nice to really get into writing a post. If it were up to me, it would always feel this way.

So anyway, back to the point of today's post. Some context:

I'm a lifelong lover of flags. Since I was a small child I remember being fascinated by them. I used to study the World Almanac a lot, if you know what I'm saying. At some point during high school I got 100% on a test that required me to write the name of every country in the world on a map. I'm honestly still not sure how I did that, and I certainly couldn't do that now -- oh, to be 14 again (not!). At any rate, the point of all this is that I've been a student of geography for my entire life, and since I graduated from college, I've remained fairly dedicated to this pursuit, most recently in the form of an app I use to quiz myself on geography-related matters. It's the nerdiest app ever, but it's awesome.

I have been thinking for a few months about writing down my tips & tricks for flag identification. I've created a lot of brain tricks/mnemonics over time that help me differentiate between flags, and I think they're really interesting. If you're interested in flags at all, maybe you'll like this too!

Here's some of the stuff I've discovered:

Often, flags of certain geographically similar countries have similar color schemes or designs in their flags. Examples of this would be Scandinavia, Central America, parts of Africa, and Muslim countries. If you can remember what group each falls into, you're already halfway there. For example, you can remember that of the Central American flags, Nicaragua's is the darkest blue.

Often you can figure it out by omission. The brain game I play on my phone (GeoQuiz) gives four options for each flag, and sometimes the only way I figure out a given flag is if I know what the other three look like, and they aren't what I'm seeing on the screen.

 Sometimes there are little tricks you can teach yourself. For instance: the flag of Thailand and the flag of Costa Rica are very similar, except the colors are reversed. I taught myself to remember that Costa Rica's flag "has the ocean on the outside" ie, it has blue stripes on the top and bottom. Then I know that it's Thailand's flag that has red on the top and bottom:

Left: Costa Rica // Right: Thailand
Many African flags have similar color schemes, and that's no coincidence -- they're based on two sets of official Pan-African colors: green/yellow/red and red/green/black. Here's a screenshot of all of the countries in Africa (excluding the Caribbean) that use Pan-African colors in their flag:

(Source: Wikipedia)

Identifying Pan-African colors can be a tool to differentiate between these flags, but be careful, because some of them really look alike and I still get really tripped up with the Burkina Faso-Ghana-Cameroon-Guinea-Mali-Guinea Bissau-Senegal group. Like, all the time. In fact, I'd say it's my biggest struggle in flag identification right now.

Muslim countries often have the star & crescent design on their flags. Green is also an indication that you're dealing with the flag of a Muslim country. A green star & crescent? Yeah, that's the stuff. But not all of them will be green. Turkey's isn't. And Libya just went with a plain green flag, with no star & crescent (they're like the Rothko of flags, right?). But once you start remembering these things, it will come easier to you over time.

If a flag comes from a country in the Southern Hemisphere, sometimes they'll have some obvious markers. For instance, Nauru (an island in the Marshall Islands) has a blue flag with a horizontal line through the center, with a starburst in the lower left quadrant. Flags like this can be read like a literal map: the blue represents the ocean, the horizontal line represents the equator, and the starburst represents the island, which is geographically located at 1 degree south:

(Source: Wikipedia)

These are just a few of the things I take into consideration when trying to identify a flag. I've found that quizzing myself on this stuff regularly really does make a difference -- plus, I think it's really fun!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Do what makes you happy

Many years ago I decided to teach myself how to play the clarinet.

This isn't terribly far-fetched, if you know my history: I first played the trumpet, then the baritone in 5th grade, then had a change of heart (Gemini Problems!) that summer and decided to teach myself to play the flute so I could re-join the band in the fall. I had this weird belief (hope?) that maybe if I played the flute, I'd figure out how to be more feminine. After all, the girls in the flute section were all girls, and Tomboy Amber felt like she never got the memo. I'm not sure why I wanted to be more feminine, other than out of curiosity, but whatever it was, I played the flute in my school band for another three years, until I got to high school and quit band entirely to take up singing in the choir and working on plays.

I've always been fascinated by the clarinet. I love how it sounds. I love reeds. I've always wanted to play an instrument that used a reed. Plus, lets face it: all the weird girls played clarinet. I'm a weird girl. I think I missed my band calling! So I've always wanted to learn how to play.

I bought my clarinet at a music store in Berkeley, probably about a decade ago. The store was closing and instruments were being sold at rock bottom prices. This is the only way I could afford a clarinet at the time, so I jumped at the chance. I didn't really get around to learning how to play it, though. You know how it goes. Life gets in the way. Something I've realized over the years is that I have a lot of interests and hobbies, and not nearly enough time to enjoy them all. This fell by the wayside.

I first really took the clarinet out last winter. I think it was because Gabe was re-learning how to play a trumpet for his drum corps show in the Chinese New Year Parade, and he had just bought a bass guitar, and I felt musically inspired to strive for more for the first time in a very long time. So I started slow, fitting in lessons here and there, usually late at night, while drinking wine (duh) -- first learning how to put it together, then learning how to make noise (it's not very different from a flute in this way, so I think I had a head start) and then figuring out how not to make horrible squawking noises when trying to play notes. I've watched videos and read articles about proper embouchure, and I've come to realize that most of my problem is when my mouth gets tired! Then, a few weeks ago I actually set out to learn actual notes, re-learn how to read music and play actual songs. 

It's going better than I'd feared. I do think I have an aptitude for music, and it's really nice to feel like that hasn't gone away, or was limited to my childhood. The hardest part is absolutely re-learning how to read music. I last read music when I was part of the UC Berkeley Women's Chorale in 2005-06, but even that wasn't really straight up music reading. So yeah, my skills are rusty, but as with anything, practice should help me find a groove. 

I'm not expecting to become a concert performer here, but I hope to prove to myself that I can be a decent clarinet player, and play beautiful music. That's all this is about. And it makes me happy. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Treasure Island

When I sat down to write a blog post today, the only thing that made sense was to write about my weekend at Treasure Island Music Festival. It makes sense, considering it took up my entire weekend, and is absolutely one of my favorite weekends of the year. So here we go. I'm going to share some thoughts I had about the weekend. I have yet to recover from it, as I'm in the middle of the crazy photo editing period now (and very little sleep) so hopefully these words will make sense!

This was my 5th year attending and photographing Treasure Island Music Festival, and it was so special, a magical weekend, just like all of the others have been. Each time is a different type of magic, though there are common threads that run through them.

Note: I've now been trying to find the time and the mental stillness to write this post for three days, which basically says it all about the insanity of my week in general. I've been so busy, ironically, trying to meet my photo deadlines for my festival photos, that I've barely been sleeping, eating, or keeping my sanity (also, ow, my running injury is still terrible, and no, I haven't seen a doctor). Anyway, one of my goals for today (Wednesday) is to actually finish this post. 

So, magic.

It's not really about the music at Treasure Island, though sometimes it is, and I always end up discovering something I've never heard before that I really like. They also don't have overlapping sets, so you can catch every set easily (so wonderful). It's not a huge festival, which I also love. It's just a place where people who love music come to enjoy that music. Simple as that.

I love walking around in the non-stage areas, to the DIY camp, the art installations (some of them interactive!) to the small performance van (well, this year it was a van). I love watching the sun set. I love the electricity in the air. I love being a professional photographer and I love that I have actual working relationships (based on mutual respect) with so many other photographers in that pit. And there we are, year after year, building more memories, more of a repartee. It's so cool. It's actually something that, outside of Germany & M'era Luna, I've never experienced anywhere else.

I also attended this festival with Gabe, after attending the last two years alone, and with Scott & Megan (who now lives in Maine) the two years before that. I feel like I've had such a wide range of experiences at this point, and I'm so happy and grateful for that. To me, this is always a weekend that represents the best of my life, whatever that happens to be.

Here are some of my phone shots from the weekend.
Professional shots will be up soon at The Owl Mag and on my Facebook page.

Painted Palms, my favorite local band right now, kicking things off on Saturday. <3
THE REAPPEARANCE OF GIANT JENGA! I am so excited. I saw it for the first time in Omaha last month!


One of my favorite bands of all time, Massive Attack, closed the festival. Flawless. So amazing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Five on Friday


1. Meghan told me last week that one of my superpowers is "finding Fall."  I loved hearing this. I guess it's kind of true. All those years of photographing the changing seasons has taught me to really look for the details in the world around us. Also, I'm outside a lot. Also, I really love fall.

2. This morning I shot a really neat event for San Francisco's creative community. The talk was about transitioning from one job to the next, from one career move to the next. It made me think all sorts of things, but mostly that I'm laughably overdue for a career move, and most of all ... the only thing I want to do, and the only thing that makes sense, is photography. Feeling that so clearly in my heart makes me both happy and sad; happy because it's what I love, and sad because it seems so unlikely that I'll be able to actually make my dreams come true. I wish I could explain why. It's not just fear, but fear is a big part of it. Forging a path of business on your own is hard, and I'm kind of clueless about the hard parts, and I don't feel like I can possibly figure it out alone. But anyway, that was just one part of this morning's reflections. I had such a wonderful time at this gig. Shooting events is really fun for me, and I'm good at it. People can count on me. I really like that.

3. I'm shooting Treasure Island Music Festival again this weekend, for the 4th year in a row. I wish I'd shot a lot more music this year, and more festivals, but this is it, and I'm going to enjoy it. Plus, Gabe and I will be going together. This will be the first time I've attended the festival with someone since 2012. I love being alone, but I love being with someone I love, too. <3  This is my favorite festival and I'm happy to actually get out there on the island and soak it all in and have day beers and cupcakes and food trucks and most of all music. 

4. This morning I wore boots for the first time in ages. I'm trying to force fall upon myself even though it's 70 degrees out. It was cold this morning, and the days are getting so much shorter. I can't believe we turn the clocks back in just a couple of weeks. I have a love/hate relationship with the changing of the seasons, so I look forward and dread all of these transitions with equal fervor. Mostly, I just don't want seasonal depression to knock me on my ass, and this year I think I'm at greater risk for it. Last year was actually a pretty good year for me, as far as seasonal depression goes, though, so maybe I can use the lessons learned last year to help me this time.

the view from the afternoon
5. Yesterday I took a walk around my neighborhood and read a book in the fading sunshine and listened to someone tell a bunch of land use developers about really cool projects. Hayes Valley is really the neatest neighborhood, and I'm so happy to be here. I also loved walking around hearing the Giants game on every single sound system and TV (even inside a salon where a lone stylist was closing up shop, sweeping up hair and listening to the radio).

Today I took multiple bike trips to other parts of the city, and they just don't compare to coming back to Hayes. I love the feeling of community and the coziness that comes with existing in this little neighborhood. I know some people think it's all ritzy but I still disagree. It's quite nice, but not overly so. My day job, which is on Berkeley's 4th Street, is extremely similar (but has, I'd argue, more higher end stores), and there are several establishments on 4th Street that also have a location in Hayes Valley. What are the chances? Either way ... I'm about to go on another walk, just to get some of that lovely time in before sunset.

Happy weekend

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Snapshots from a happy life

Wow, I had no idea I'd taken so many photos lately, but this post is going to be a busy one. I've spent a lot of this week feeling a bit down because of a painful running injury, but I have a lot to feel happy about and looking at these photos reminds me of exactly how full my life is -- running or no running.

Here are some glimpses into the last week or so in my world:

Last week I ran through the farmers market:

Stuff seen on my walks around my office/runs outside in Berkeley:

On one of last week's runs, I found a new place, and heard the wonderful lapping of waves:

Then, more San Francisco adventures:

And one more piece of fall, from Berkeley, yesterday:

Monday, October 13, 2014

Flag Day: Albania

Happy Monday, internet. 

I know I say this every time, but I'm really excited about this week's flag. 

This weekend I spent a lot of time with my favorite geography quiz app, GeoQuiz (I get really obsessive about this app; it's also how I keep my mind sharp with regard to my college degree, so, you know, it's fun and educational!). I really wanted to feel inspired about this week's flag. I came across many good candidates, but then...BAM! I saw it.  In all of it's gothy goodness. And I knew it had to be this week's flag. There was no question.


How amazing is this flag?!?!

I think we can all agree: this flag is badass.

First of all: a double headed eagle. That's so awesome. So medieval.

Byzantine double headed eagle
Things I learned while researching this flag include: the double-headed eagle is a really storied symbol.  It is primarily remembered as the symbol of the Byzantine Empire, but it goes back farther than that, back to the Hittites, even. It was used in ancient Rome, in Turkey, and the Holy Roman Empire (which was neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire), just to name a few. I had no idea the double headed eagle was so common throughout history. I wish I could take a class just on heraldic imagery and commonly seem types of imagery in flags and other official documents through time. Does that kind of class even exist?

Anyway. Back to Albania. The double headed eagle was most recently re-introduced to the Albanian flag as nationalists fought for independence from the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th/early 20th century. The Albanians won their independence in 1912, at which point an earlier incarnation of this red-on-black flag was officially adopted.

The red in this flag represents blood, which I think we can all agree is also really cool. I imagine what that really means is that it represents the blood spilled by the people of Albania in their various quests for freedom, which, for a country located in the Balkans, are many. This current incarnation of the flag has been around since April 7th, 1992, after the communist regime fell (the previous version had a socialist star above the eagle's head).

There is even an Albanian folk tale that explains the origin of the eagle (read it here).

And finally, in case you were confused about Albania's location (full disclosure: because they haven't been involved in any of the Balkans' ethnic wars/conflict during my lifetime, I didn't even know precisely where it was), consider yourself informed (courtesy of Google Maps):

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