SMICK.NET | Website of Mike Smick Graphics and Web Developer

New Obsession – The 1904 Worlds Fair

My wife is from Japan. So it makes absolutely no sense that she would fall in love with the World’s Fair. But she did. And then she got me obsessed with it.

worlds-fair-daily-programFor years now, I’ve loved the artwork of past eras. Bioshock was such a great game for me because it took a past era and built a world around the design that I could explore.  When these Worlds Fair books started showing up around the house from the library, I began looking at them.

I don’t have this sense of pride in my town necessarily for making the World’s Fair happen. I have a pride for humanity, in what they can build in a short amount of time.  And there’s also a sadness, because so much of the amazing palaces that once stood just a short car ride from me, were torn down, burned up or simply couldn’t withstand time and environment.

This new obsession combines a strong curiosity on the innovation of the time period, the design, the audacity of it all. I’m not sure many people were ever big thinkers, but when I look at the old photos, I think, would we ever be able to do something like that again? Does anyone get to think so big anymore?

I’ve got more to write here about it, but I’d like to point out a few interesting things.

October 30, 2013 at 11:21 am | inspiration, interesting, Japan, photography | No comment

Photography from a motorized paraglider

A fascinating twenty minutes of photography in this video. I was just in awe and wanted to share it.

George Steinmetz: Seeing the World by Paraglider from National Geographic Live on

February 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm | inspiration, photography | No comment

Our last night in Japan

This is the sixth time I’ve been to Japan. This visit has been the longest, nearly two months. I’m a little nervous for some reason the night before the flight. Perhaps the large coffee I made myself, or just jitters for everything to work out ok. But it already has worked out ok. I suppose if my plane goes down in the ocean tomorrow, in my last moments I hope I could remember how great everything has been. We’ve been treated so well. Many outings and terrific meals at home and at various places. There has been a lot of good humor, surprises and interesting conversations. I came here hoping that I would have learned a little more about myself, perhaps came back a changed person. I do feel changed, but I realize now that no visit to another country helps you become the person you want to be. These changes are more involuntary. Nearly too subtle to report or specify, but I can feel them a little bit.

Every other time we have this final night, I always well up with tears at some point. It’s thankfulness you know. The part of me that can’t express properly I internalize and spills out of my eyes I guess. This time I want to hold it together. I’ll be just as thankful, but I want to save it for the plane. We are nearly packed, only a few accessories like this laptop and some trinkets are left to jam into my bag. Tomorrow, I imagine we won’t rush at all being we have a later flight. We’ve done this a few times now, so no real uncertainties.

So what have we done? Well it has been a mix of everything. A lot of mundane activities around the house, which I like. I enjoy spending entire days around the house as a matter of fact. I don’t even mind on some days that Japan is right outside and I don’t even step off the porch. We’ve had many day trips, some for shopping, some purely for scenery. Obsessed with taking pictures, I’ve burned through memory cards and entire camcorder hard disk. I’m happy I haven’t had to copy more than one set of cards and the camcorder because I am out of space on my laptop to backup to. We went to various locations to view cherry blossoms. This was the point of coming this time of year. I went on a run at Camp Zama military base (United States) during their festival. I went on training runs around the neighborhood. I’ve had special moments drinking in the beauty.

Family came over several times and we drove to visit them as well. Recently we went with Grandma and Grandpa to see Mt. Fuji from a secluded lookout point. Juri and I spent a night in a small village of historic build called Shirakawa-go. We went on a picnic bike ride over one of Dad’s long lunches. We played a few putt-putt golf challenges behind his animal hospital. We watched Mom’s favorite concert DVDs of the ultra-popular boy band called Arashi.

Unfortunately, I wasted a lot of downtime too, where I could have been building many new work initiatives. I did work, but I also let go of many proactive work possibilities in exchange for nothing special. On this last day I’d like to be able to say I went down my to-do list, the one that I wrote and rewrote several times while here and did everything on it. I’d like to say that but I can’t. Even if that makes me not bad, but just normal, I’m still regretting it. I did a few things, but not nearly enough. Even though I have a lot of fun working on the design projects I do, I trade that sometimes for letting my ‘Mr. Hyde’ take advantage of time-wasters.

Juri has a fun and unique family here. They appreciated that we spend time with them. They enjoyed even short opportunities to chat and drink tea together. Juri does a fantatic job quickly translating my little quips and jokes into something that works on their end. They are always laughing with us, and that is why we came. As much of a physical burden we must be, I thought that we could bring some happiness with us for them. Winter was long and cold for us and it had been too long. We thought we could bring some variety or some sunshine to the family.

I have a few pictures from the last couple weeks. We are happy for what we’ve been able to take part in. We are thankful to our family here and back home for taking care of us and our things. Stories and humor live on when the moment is over. We look forward to the next chance to come back again. We want it to be an ongoing exchange because it feels right, makes it less sad, and most of all, I haven’t climbed Mt. Fuji yet!

Japan_2009_30 Japan_2009_29

Japan_2009_28 Japan_2009_27

Japan_2009_23 Japan_2009_24

Japan_2009_22 Japan_2009_15

Japan_2009_17 Japan_2009_20

See The Flickr Slideshow Here

April 21, 2009 at 9:05 am | family, Japan, photography | 1 comment

Nice Primer Video on Digital Photography

A new favorite website of mine, Academic Earth is attempting to compile and make more efficient, the university open courseware sites video content. I was obviously interested in what kind of classes might be available in design and related computing. There is a category of computer science, but not design. Fortunately due to overlap, a few classes in my field are there to enjoy even though they don’t exactly hit the mark.

I think you’ll like this workshop on Digital Photography given by David J. Malan at Harvard University. It’s quite detailed, but not out of range of the novice.  I appreciated some of the examples and analogies given. It’s nice to be clear on technical equipment and it’s limitations. Particularly, since cameras are products nearly all of us buy, we all benefit from knowing a little more before we buy.

Workshop – Digital Photos by David Malan via

Dear Universities offering open courseware. Please add design, typography and more. It’s fun, and valuable and useful for so many people. I suppose it would involve a lot of screen capturing which might not be as easy as video production, however, that doesn’t mean it’s not viable or not worth the resources to try.

February 1, 2009 at 5:12 am | computers, gadgets, graphics, photography | No comment

Lost my camera in Current River

 Juri and I went camping with my family this past weekend. We drove to St. Louis, and from there, down to Poplar Bluff (Van Buren) Missouri. I have quite a few memories of that place growing up. It was a spot we’d go to for vacation when I was little. Saying the Smick’s are outdoors kind of people is an understatement. I don’t do it enough, but when I do camp with family, I love it. You have the little nuances of the woods, creepy crawlies, animals that rustle the leaves nearby while you are trying to sleep, frying up potatoes and bacon outside over a flame.  A chill of the morning and warming up with a nice fleece and putting a few sticks on the fire.

The main purpose of the trip was a family reunion.  Dozens of family were there, some stayed in the park, some lived a few miles away. I got to talk to a lot of relatives, gave and received many hugs and kisses. Also, Juri and I went on her first canoe trip. I had my camera, safe and sound in a plastic baggie, even got some nice shots off with it.  Everything was fine until I neglected to take it out of my pocket when I was helping my cousin fish out his lost paddle and life jacket from the river. The current sucked the baggie with my camera and driver’s license right out of my pocket.  I try not to form attachments to things, but it’s hard you know.  That camera took really great macro pictures, even good video.  It cost me about 200 bucks, so I’m expectedly bummed. But the photos from the reunion including some nice canoe pictures were lost. That’s just heartbreaking.

But I noticed something kind of special.  For me at least.  As outgoing and goofy I sometimes can be, I’m actually pretty quiet.  Since I don’t remember names all that well, I always feel a twinge talking with cousins that I don’t see very often.  I’ll not know their girlfriend, or their married name or their kid’s names, so that bind makes me stay off to the side.  But those missed opportunities to talk to family are wasteful, even rude.   I was actually happy that my dad had told a bunch of people about the lost camera.  Some family members came up to me to sympathize a little.  And though I didn’t need sympathy, that loss was a perfect conversation starter. You wouldn’t think you’d need an icebreaker to talk to family, but you know how reunions are, there’s just as many strangers as close kin.

My aunt said that a cousin of mine lost his wallet on that same river and somebody found it a few weeks later and returned it. I won’t hold my breath, but if it does turn up, I might actually be able to get photos off the card. Flash memory is pretty durable. I’ve had a thumbdrive go through the laundry once or twice unscathed.  We’ll see if it turns up. So now, I have to decide if I want a replacement camera.

We did not have a good weekend for electronics for sure. Juri has also lost her electronic translator dictionary and that costs more than the camera to replace. On the bright side, I didn’t have any ticks dug into my scrotum this time. That is a good trade.

September 26, 2007 at 7:52 am | family, gadgets, photography | No comment

The importance of optics

Optics is a field I read on occasionally, mostly through more mainstream articles. I find it fascinating and the technology gains from new discoveries have a large payoff in terms societal and world benefits. I follow particularly the advancements in cameras, but any one invention can lead to many other uses in areas such as health and physical sciences. If you could imagine how long lenses have been around, and how hard it might be to make a lens yourself, then you can probably appreciate the sophistication of the field in the same way I do. It’s an active field with a lot of potential. Mostly because we have a long way to go before we get to the level of reproducing the qualities of the human eye, and eyes of other animals.

I wanted to round up a few of the articles that have caught my eye over the past two years or so. Certain inventions stay dormant for a long time, others come out as soon as commercially possible.

Light field photography eliminates blurry photos.

Stanford University research yielded in 2005 the creation of lightfield photography. Using a microlens array, mimicking features of the human eye, an image captured could be refocused after it was captured using special software. I don’t know what kind of file format would be required to hold the data of an image like this, or whether it would be any larger than a JPEG, PNG, or RAW file, but I’m really interested. Unfortunately no new comments or links have appeared on the project website for quite some time, but that rarely means anything. It will emerge somewhere somehow whether it’s in a smaller specialized product or the reason for another advancement in optics.

Kodak’s new low light filter technology

My little point-and-shoot camera impresses me with its size and video features. I recently discovered how well it took macro focus photos. But my camera, and many like it which are purchsed by millions of people every year suffer in low light. Their compact size means the lenses are small glass. This means less light overall gets into the lens than a large lens can bring in. The result is grainy exposure, object motion blurs, and underexposure. We want our cameras to do as well as our eyes in low light. Using the little flash can also destroy the photo, and though many probably don’t think about it much since they use it so often, but a camera flash is very distracting. Especially the rapid fire redeye reduction flash! What if you never needed camera flashes to get an acceptable or great image.

This is coming soon thanks to Kodak. Read the article and you’ll see how Kodak is working to implement this filter technology into the next generation digitcal cameras and phones. This could mean a lot of huge advancements that we don’t even think about. SLRs might be able to be created smaller because the large lens and glass won’t be needed. A camera without a flash doesn’t requires less electronics and computing and could be made smaller, or more room made for a better sensor or larger longer lasting batteries.

Liquid Lenses

The liquid lens is a few years old. They are now able to control the lenses zoom capability electrically, not requiring moving mechanical parts. That was one of the original benefits that I read about it a couple years ago. Read up about the liquid lens at New Scientist. From the liquid lens, a significant improvement was realized in the way computer chips are made. Also another type of liquid lens decreases the cost for making large telescopes. Turns out, spinning a liquid especially a shiny one like mercury creates the ideal concave shape needed for observatory telescopics. More telescopes means more researchers able to discover and advance more things.

The Red Camera (digital video)

Seven years ago, I was really happy with my Sony Digital 8 camera. I thought I was getting good picture video quality. Turns out the image quality is actually pretty bad. In fact, I was using it for a project this past winter and the quality was unacceptable to integrate into the rest of the project. Luckily I was able to fall back on a digital photo instead of the footage. Looking at a lot of cameras out now, there really aren’t much that are impressing me. Despite seeing more HD cameras, none are really raising the bar of imaging, anticipating the next 10 years. Until I saw The Red Camera, from the makers of Oakley glasses, I didn’t think I’d find a camera that would be good for a startup freelance video production company.

The benefits of the red camera go beyond optics, but I’ll take a little freedom here to recommend it anyway. Oakley created a sub-group to work on the camera and a revolutionary image sensor. Video frames over 4000 pixels wide can be captured. This is more than double the size of full HD. This is more than any available TV can display. This is video that’s going to look great on a theater screen. This is video that rivals the 70mm IMAX film. This camera is a big deal and costs far less than a film movie camera.

Interested in optics yet? Comment here if you have any big ones I’ve missed.

June 14, 2007 at 12:19 pm | gadgets, graphics, photography | No comment

Jurassic 5 in Lawrence Kansas – the best show of my life

Juri’s first concert in the United States turns out to be the best show I’ve ever been to in my life. We were at The Granada in Lawrence last night and saw Jurassic 5. Opening for them was a group called X Clan.

I don’t know if anyone reading this knows this group, but they are one of the best hip hop groups ever. Their lyrics are progressive, clean and unmatched. Seeing all of them in person was huge for me. If their album’s are good, their shows are unbelieveable. The deep booming voice of Chali 2na had everyone cheering all night. What a treat. I was singing along with what I knew and I never do that.

The promoter for The Granada said my camera was too big to have in the show. I looked around town a little for a camera shop because I decided to buy a smaller digital since I’ve wanted one anyway. No such luck. I did manage to get a disposable camera at the corner drug store. So now I have to develop pictures, something I wanted to avoid for the rest of my life. The delay is the worst part, but some how these pictures won’t be part of the collection like the rest of the digital. Heck, I’d be surprised if any of them turned out. Thinking about it though, I was more involved in this show than I ever have been. Being involved and singing along might not have happened if I had my DSLR camera. So not having it increased the spirit of the show I think.

We were up first in line for the show and up front at the rail during the performance. Juri was getting tired from the long day, I was worried she wouldn’t like it, but once the group came out, she just lit up. Minus the show it was also a perfect evening walking around Massachusetts Ave and having a light dinner in the beautiful weather.

Some Jurassic 5 Links
DJ Nu Mark Article
Chali 2na Interview

September 6, 2006 at 9:16 am | music, photography | No comment

images from the past

When I was a junior back in Missouri State University, I spent a lot of time in the basketball courts between classes. On warm days you’d find me out there a couple times of week on my bike riding flatland. It was a great surface to ride on. A couple tricks I have only landed once in my life and that was the place it happened. One day in early spring, a photographer was there shooting around the area. He happened to come by my favorite spot while I was riding flatland and snapped a few pics from afar. I remember the nice photographer waving to me.

The next morning I woke up to find a surprising email. A fraternity brother sent out a group email congratulating me for getting my picture in the Springfield News-Leader. It was a pretty cool shot. I didn’t want to buy a paper, but I was able to grab some tossed copies in the lobby of the dorm. Pretty nice shot I thought.

Tonight I was googling my name. I always like to see what pops up. Crazy I know, but I don’t feel guilty about it or anything, it’s just curiosity. The News-Leader used the old photo again for a story just a few days ago. I’m glad I found stumbled across it. I’ll see if I can actualy get a print this time. Flatland freestyle frozen in time.

May 28, 2006 at 4:01 am | bikes, freestyle, nostalgia, photography | No comment

Busy and relaxing weekend!

Today, er yesterday was a full day. We had some guests over and checked out Union Station and the Liberty Memorial, as well as Hallmark’s Crown Center. My only complaint of the day was that Hallmark didn’t have a throughway to it’s own ice rink. We saw people skating, but we couldn’t figure out how to cross the construction lot.

My neighbor Ben came over yesterday and gave me a movie. He said I must watch it and it was very funny. A french movie with subtitles. I hadn’t seen a french movie in a while, so I took him up on it. I highly recommend Apres Vous. It is very funny and one of the best movies I’ve watched at home in a long time.

Today we drove our guests back home in a more rural part of Missouri. Before we headed back, we had to play around a while though.

January 1, 2006 at 1:15 pm | friends, photography | No comment

Lens focus no more

What if you could take a photograph with a tight zoom so you are focused on a subject. Then after you have taken the picture, decide that you wanted to focus on another part of the picture instead. Within the digital data you would be able to rack focus and actually see other planes of the image. There is research being done on this technology using prototype plenoptic cameras. Check it out Stanford’s Graphics Lab.

Though this next link is a really common site you are going to run across sometime, I can tell you that has a great set of tips / tutorials for you to soak in between Photoshop, Illustrator and others. Check out tips page.

November 1, 2005 at 7:18 am | graphics, interesting, photography | No comment