Monthly Archives: June 2006

The Great Museum Flash Scam

Virgina Postrel writes,

The anti-photo policies of museums don’t necessarily make sense, except as some kind of revenue enhancer. Prohibiting flash is one thing. And I don’t blame the Louvre for blocking photos in the often-crowded Italian painting gallery. But prohibiting all photos in an uncrowded museum filled with works in the public domain is unnecessary—unless you think it will generate sales in the museum store.

I can understand that a museum might prohibit flash photography because it’s annoying, but I think that gift-shop revenue is the real motivator. When it comes to old paintings, there’s no copyright anymore, so museums have to find other ways to keep you from making copies.

Apparently, some museums imply that flash photography causes paintings to degrade more quickly, perhaps causing the pigments to fade or something. On first consideration, this seems plausible because at close range the flash can be brighter than the sun, and the sun can certainly fade paint.

It turns out, however, that flash photography is essentially harmless.

The key intuition is that it always takes the same amount of light striking a piece of film to expose it properly, and for that amount of light to reach the film, it first has to bounce off the painting. So every photograph of a painting involves hitting it with the same amount of light. It could be a high-speed flash fired in a 1000th of a second, or a 1-second long exposure in a dimly-lit museum gallery.

In other words—and this is the whole point—a flash picture is equivalent to leaving the museum lights on for one extra second.

(My 1-second figure is just a reasonable guess based on some photographic sources and a little playing around with my camera. The actual exposure will depend on the film speed and aperture, the actual museum lighting, and maybe the tones present in the painting. But once those are chosen, it’s still the same amount of light for flash as for ambient light photography. The same principle also applies if you’re shooting digital.)

So, if 300 people take pictures every day, that’s equivalent to leaving the museum lights on for an extra 5 minutes each day.

Technically, a photographic flash usually emits more ultraviolet light than ordinary museum lighting, and paint pigments are known to suffer more damage from UV light. Also, certain types of chemical damage are disproportionately worse for high-intensity light. However, studies by professional conservators indicate that neither of these factors contributes to the aging that art works undergo while on display at a museum.

So, if you want a good picture of a painting but the museum won’t let you take a flash photo, you can always take one in ambient light. Of course, it’s hard to hold the camera steady for a full second in your hands, so you’d have to shoot with the camera mounted on a tripod.

And wouldn’t you know it, most museums prohibit the use of tripods.

I guess you’ll just have to buy a photo from the gift shop after all.

Further reading: Here’s an article on the subject. Or there’s this book: Effects of Light on Materials in Collections: Data on Photoflash and Related Sources, summarized briefly here.

Giving Rush Limbaugh a Hard Time

Rush Limbaugh had another run-in with the drug police:

Rush Limbaugh was detained for more than three hours Monday at Palm Beach International Airport after authorities said they found a bottle of Viagra in his possession without a prescription.

It’s a perfectly legal drug. Who really cares whether or not he has a prescription?

Assholes from U.S. Customs, that’s who.

Someday I’ll have to find out why it is that police need probable cause to search you except when you’re crossing the border. Where is that exception in the Constitution?

I don’t like Rush Limbaugh, and I never would have thought I’d feel sorry for him, but nobody deserves this kind of crap.

What’s even sadder is that I don’t think Rush is going to learn anything at all from his troubles.

(Hat tip: Drug WarRant)

Jeff Fest 2006

Jeff Fest
Larger ImageJeff Fest

I stopped in at the Jeff Fest (a.k.a. The Jefferson Park Community Festival) on the northwest side today. It’s one of the many festivals going on this summer in Chicago.

(My photos can also be seen as a slideshow without the commentary.)

Getting a Ride
Larger ImageGetting a Ride

Here’s Chicago’s most famous Elvis impersonator:

Rick Saucedo
Larger ImageRick Saucedo

A few more sites around the fest:

Camera Girl
Larger ImageCamera Girl
A Couple Enjoying the Show
Larger ImageA Couple Enjoying the Show
Tasty Goodness
Larger ImageTasty Goodness
Girls Posing for Me
Larger ImageGirls Posing for Me

Lots more photos after the jump…

Continue Reading →

From the Halls of LAX…

This happened back in April, but it’s worth telling, because you just can’t make up this kind of stupidity.

At Los Angeles International Airport, employees of the Transportation Security Administration discovered that passenger Daniel Brown was on the no-fly list, so they grabbed him before he boarded his plane and interrogated him, despite the fact that he was a uniformed Marine.

He had his military identification and his travel orders, and he was traveling with 26 other Marines who could vouch for him.

Wait, it gets better.

You might think, as I did, that this was one of those name mixups we keep hearing about where someone has the same name as a terrorist and the TSA is just too stupid to realize this. After all, these are the guys who detained Senator Ted Kennedy because some terrorist once used “T. Kennedy” as an alias.

But no, it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity. USMC Staff Sergeant Daniel Brown really was on the no-fly list. The reason? On a previous trip, when Brown was returning from a tour in Iraq, the TSA found gunpowder on his shoes.

Imagine that. Gunpowder residue on the shoes of a U.S. Marine returning from a war zone.

The same article that reports this story also mentions a recent Government Accountability Office report leaked to NBC News concerning recent security tests. GAO security testers tried to bring bomb-making materials through the TSA security checkpoints. They tried this at 21 airports around the country, and succeed at every single airport. With these kinds of decision-making skills, that doesn’t surprise me.

When the TSA folks finally kicked Daniel Brown loose, he caught another flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul, where he found that all 26 of the Marines he had been traveling with were waiting for him, so they could take the bus home together.

That doesn’t surprise me either.

(Hat tip, Reason‘s Daily Brickbat.)

Opening the Floodgates

One year ago today, the U.S. Supreme court ruled on the Kelo decision, confirming that governments could use their eminent domain powers to take private property and hand it over to private developers for private use. All that was needed was the thinnest of public use justifications, such as that the new owners would use the property in a way which generated greater tax revenue.

In just the past year, more than 5,700 properties nationwide have been threatened by or taken with eminent domain for private development–a figure that compares with more than 10,000 examples over a five-year period preceding the Kelo argument[.]

That’s from an announcement about four new reports just issued by the Institute for Justice and the Castle Coalition.

I’m particularly interested in Opening the Floodgates: Eminent Domain Abuse in the Post-Kelo World which compiles information about a bunch of properties threatened by eminent domain for private use, including a few right here in Illinois. The first one, on page 36, discusses the International Plaza shopping center, which I blogged about last fall.

Best of all, it includes this picture of the mall:

International Plaza
Larger ImageInternational Plaza

I took that picture for my blog entry—I can even see where my car is parked—and an intern at the the Institute for Justice emailed me a couple of weeks ago asking me if they could use it.

That’s just cool.

(Get all the reports from, but be warned that they are huge PDF files.)