"Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

2013: The End of Privacy

12/31/13, 9:12 AM

I suppose the idea that there were some things in our lives that were "none of your business," died in 2001. But that was really just the beginning.

When privacy really died was when corporate America, chiefly in the form of Google and, later, Facebook, decided that there was a vast amount of money to be made from knowing everything about everyone, and that it was technologically possible to actually do so.

Google wants to organize the world's information. All the world's information. Including everything there is to know about each of us. They don't want to do that to make your life better, they don't really care about you. They want to do it to make money from their customer, and the customer is not the user.

What the NSA has been doing may be unconstitutional, the final determination will come from the Supreme Court. But what Silicon Valley has been doing is just the natural product of the toxic brew of unbridled capitalism, technology, egoism and myth.

Ego is the dominant "voice in our heads." It's the running commentary we call "self-talk." It's the narrator of our experience. Except it doesn't so much narrate as fabricate. It assembles narratives from preferred beliefs and frames our experience within those preferred beliefs. We promote and reinforce preferred beliefs in our culture, chiefly through commerce, because that's what sells. Like the Silicon Valley entrepreneur being an heroic figure in our twenty-first century western culture. Many, if not most, of these preferred beliefs are myths. There is no factual basis for their validity. They're simply stories we like to tell ourselves.

It's ironic that so many of the tech people I follow on Twitter are anti-religion because of its "irrational" belief systems, yet you never once observe any of those people questioning their own beliefs. And they won't, because they're happy with who they are. They have a belief system that allows them to feel good about themselves, superior to those with "irrational" belief systems. It's simply the opposite side of the same coin where "In God we trust" is minted. The "rational" people are no more rational than the irrational ones they mock. They're merely people, exhibiting the same behaviors, just with different beliefs.

Which is why we get irrational "tech bubbles." Which is why we get CEOs saying utterly tone-deaf and clueless things, like Eric Schmidt suggesting that maybe we shouldn't be doing some of the things we do if we're worried about someone finding out. Or Scott McNealy a decade earlier, two years before 9/11, telling us we had no privacy, we should just "get over it."

This is ego speaking, it's not the product of rational, cognitive effort. It is the product of the preferred belief system, the one that makes them feel confident, secure and successful.

It's also just another myth.

We are being consumed by our myths. Myths about capitalism being "the best system" (or even just less worse than everything else). Myths about individual achievement. Myths about what represents "progress."

And, once again, irony is shown to be the fifth fundamental force of the universe, because it is the rational "myth-busters" who are leading us to our doom, not the religious faithful, even with their wars and conflicts and irrational beliefs. Those most qualified to understand the implications of what the trends of technology, capitalism and commerce are doing to us, our culture and our values, are the least able to actually see those implications, let alone act on them, because the data all lie outside the preferred frame. They just can't see it.

And this goes for all your favorite tech pundits. Every single one of them. They are every bit as irrational as the people they mock, the religious, the ignorant, the clueless.

The same is true for those in government and commerce. To the Supreme Court, "money is speech." To corporate capitalists, "corporations are people too." The preferred beliefs facilitated their success, they will not be challenged.

Meanwhile, our atmosphere is altered by the effects of commerce, our oceans are polluted and stripped of life by the effects of commerce, and our planet, our home, becomes inhospitable to our civilization. At the same time, with all this "commerce" all this "progress," millions of people go without food and water and medicine, not because we lack the resources, but because we lack the necessary, rational, beliefs to distribute our resources equitably.

And so privacy dies.

And so democracy dies.

And so millions of our brothers and sisters die.

And so our planet dies.

Because none of us can see what is before our eyes.

Wealth and Empathy and Ducks

12/30/13, 12:42 PM

If you haven't seen the video I shared the other day, you should watch it. It's about how wealth impairs empathy. One of the experiments involved seeing if luxury cars were equally as likely to yield to a pedestrian as non-luxury cars. They weren't. They were three to four times more likely to not yield to a pedestrian than drivers in a non-luxury car.

And one of the obvious criticisms of the study was that it's from Berkeley, that bastion of leftist, liberal thinking.

Except the study wasn't about political beliefs, there are rich liberals.

Which brings me to this report.

A New Hampshire state representative, David Campbell, Democrat, Harvard grad, ran over a flock of ducks being fed by a pedestrian in front of a hotel in his BMW.

He is reported to have said, "They should have moved."

Maybe there is something to this wealth and empathy thing.

If You Got a Camera for Christmas

12/29/13, 11:17 AM

If you got a camera for Christmas, good for you! If you got a camera for Christmas and you've been shooting for years, then this likely doesn't apply to you. This is intended for people who might be a little like myself. I got a DSLR back in 2008 and just started firing away, and then wondering why I wasn't getting some of the results I could see other people were getting. It took me quite a long time, but I learned a few things along the way. I'll share them here, and maybe someone can make progress a little more quickly, and a little more affordably, than I did.

Part of my difficulty was that I had more money than brains or patience. So whenever I felt like I wasn't doing well enough, I bought something that I thought would solve the problem. In most cases, it did improve things significantly, but not nearly as much as if I'd spent the time to actually learn how to use the camera.

The first thing you should do with your new camera is run out and take some pictures! Because that's the most fun part. Get creative. You don't know any of the "rules" yet, so many of your shots will be "Meh." But others will be wonderful, because you're feeling unconstrained in a way that you may not later on when you're more knowledgeable. It's weird. And your new camera likely takes the kinds of pictures you could never take with your phone or your point-and-shoot.

After you've taken a bunch of pictures, look at the ones that didn't turn out the way you hoped. What was the thing that didn't turn out correctly? Is part of the picture out of focus? Is too much of the picture in focus, you wanted just your child's face in focus and nothing else? Is the picture blurry because of movement? Is it too dark or too bright? Are the clouds just big smears of white with no texture? Are the shadows just big dark areas? Does it look grainy? Does it look too "flat" or not "punchy" enough?

Those are the pictures that have something to teach you.

The first thing to do is look at the manual regarding those issues. The manual won't teach you about photography, but it will teach you how to operate your camera. Some of your problems can be solved by using the features built into the camera to address those issues, without really knowing anything about photography. Always go back to your manual. Most aren't written very well, and so you'll have to do a bit of trial and error out there with your camera before you really understand what the manual is trying to tell you.

After you've kind of looked at the manual, pick one or two of the pictures that didn't turn out the way you wanted, and try to take something like them again, this time using what you've learned in the manual. Maybe you'll use "Sports" or "Action" on the mode dial to freeze your dog's motion. Maybe you'll use the "Sunset" mode to get that nice red sunrise you wanted to record. Maybe "Portait" mode for your new infant. Some things can be fixed easily by reading the manual.

Keep doing that until you feel as though you're pretty familiar with what the camera can do.

Then go to the library and check out a few books on photography. Or you can go online and look at photography web sites. Nowadays, I prefer books, but this is the twenty-first century and maybe I'm just getting old. But this is when you need to start to learn a little bit about the science of photography. Science in the service of art.

Good books will teach you about light, and how it behaves, and how lenses gather and focus light, and how sensors convert that light into images composed of ones and zeros. If you've read your manual, some of the things it was saying will begin to make more sense. You'll learn about the "golden hour," and want to get outside to shoot when the sun comes up, or just before and just after it goes down. You'll learn about depth-of-field, which is how you make portions of your image in focus and other portions out of focus to draw attention your subject. You'll also learn about composition, which is a somewhat more subjective topic that relies on "rules" that you need to internalize, whereupon you'll have to learn when to break them as well. But that's down the road.

If you read about this in books, you're less likely to succumb to "gear acquisition syndrome." This is the pernicious belief that your biggest limitation as a photographer is the equipment you've got. On the web, there are always too many people promoting their particular brand of gear as either a status thing, or as a way of asserting their knowledge or expertise. It's not total bullshit, but for our purpose, which is to take better pictures, it's a huge and expensive distraction. So don't listen to the Marco Arments of the world.

Let's talk a little bit about "sharpness." This is just a huge bogeyman. It's not bullshit, but it's not something you need to concern yourself with until you've learned everything there is to know about the gear you have, and how to get the best images from it. If you go on the web, you're going to find endless debates, arguments, fights even, about the sharpness of different lenses. It doesn't matter. These people are gear-heads, and that's what they do. If it wasn't lens sharpness, it'd be microprocessors, or engines, or guitars, or power tools, or operating systems. If you want to be a gear-head, then by all means, have fun.

If you want to take better pictures, ignore those bozos. You can occasionally learn something, but there are more productive ways to spend your time, and your money.

Most lenses made today, even "kit" lenses, the ones that come with your camera, if it's an interchangeable lens camera, are what may be called "acceptably sharp." You'll get vastly better images than you can from any smartphone or tablet, and most point-and-shoots. One of the things you'll learn as you read about photography is that lens sharpness can vary as a function of its aperture. At its largest aperture, when the diaphragm is open as much as it'll go (often f3.5 for a kit lens), a lens is usually not at its sharpest. You can close the aperture a bit, say f4 or f5.6 and it'll be a bit sharper. Something to play with some day is to take the same image at different apertures using aperture priority mode, and then compare the images on your computer. You'll probably have to view the images at 100% or more (known as "pixel-peeping") to really see a difference, but you'll know something about your lens that'll be useful, as compared to the useless theoretical bullshit bandied about by know-it-alls on the internet.

Another knock on kit lenses is that they're "slow." That doesn't mean they don't focus quickly, though that can be a problem. It means that they don't have a very large maximum aperture, which determines how much light they'll admit to the sensor. It is also one of the lens characteristics that determines the image's depth of field. The gear-heads like to argue about depth of field, and the shallower, the better, as far as they're concerned.

For certain kinds of pictures, you may want a shallow depth of field. Or, you could be like me, and run out and buy a mid-tier lens with a max aperture of f2.8, feel really clever that you're shooting with available light with a shallow depth of field, but half your friends' faces are out of focus because you have all the auto-focus points turned on and they're focusing on your friends' shirts or blouses and not on their eyes. (Now you know why they invented eye-detection. For morons like me with more money than sense, and who never read the manual.) And when you did get the focus on one friend's face, if there was more than one person in the shot, and they weren't all in the same plane, the others will be out of focus! Gah! Shallow depth of field is not always desirable.

So you really need to learn about depth of field for your particular camera and lens combination. There are calculator apps for your smart phone that can help you out. But this is one of the hazards of reading gear-head forums instead of actually reading and learning about photography.

If you read, and practice, and keep returning to the manual, you'll be taking the best photographs of your life with your new camera in a matter of weeks. (It took me years, and I'm still inconsistent.) Many of which will be the equal of images shot with much more expensive gear. And you won't have spent a dime, except maybe for a new hard drive to store all those images.

Even so, you may have some symptoms of "gear acquisition syndrome." You may feel like you want to buy some equipment to "up your game."

A couple of recommendations before you buy a new lens, depending on what you like to shoot: The first thing you should buy is either a good tripod, or a good external flash. If you like to shoot landscapes in low light, buy a tripod. If you like to shoot people indoors, buy a good flash. A good tripod or a good flash can cost as much as a good lens (though many lenses will cost much, much more). But they have applicability for a broad range of photographic applications, more so than even a good prime lens, I think. And I would say that you would do well to buy both before you buy your first lens.

And by then, you should begin to have some feeling for what kind of photography you like to do, which will go a long way toward making good choices on which new lenses to achieve the results you're unable to achieve with the gear you already have. And you'll be able to put that new lens to good use sooner too, because you'll understand how it performs differently than the gear you already have.

As a bonus, you may find that images from your new lens have a little more "punch." They will likely be a bit sharper, but things like contrast and micro-contrast, may be better as well. But you'll be a better photographer too, and that's the most important thing, not the specs of your equipment. You need to exercise your mind, not your ego. You need to spend time and effort, not money. There is a lot of great equipment out there, but it doesn't have anything to do with how good a photographer you'll become.

Wealth and Empathy

12/27/13, 11:01 AM

Could probably call this "Wealth and Dickishness," but you get the point. It's worth watching. And bear in mind, it's not a liberal/conservative thing. There are plenty of rich liberals. The point is, the studies seem to suggest having wealth may have some deleterious effect on our capacity for empathy.

Of course, it could explain why some people strap their dog to the roof of their car. Ya know?

Arrogance

12/27/13, 9:08 AM

One encounters varying degrees of arrogance, hubris, narcissism, and other forms of general dickishness all the time on the web. Especially in the tech and political blogs, and I'll include photography in tech. Unfortunately, if one is interested in technology and politics, one has to suffer these fools because they seem to be the ones who, just like in real life, like to dominate the conversation.

And it's like anything else, some people are dicks once in a while and you can tell that they kind of regret it when they're called on it. Others are dicks once in a while, and get all defensive and more dickish when they're called on it. Others are just dicks all the time and seem to revel in it. I ignore those. It's easy and makes life better for me.

Marco Arment seems to be in the middle category. He's a successful software developer, and he's made a good deal of money from Tumblr, and Instapaper and some other products. He's working on a podcast client now. He's not a dick very often, but he's always arrogant. I suppose if you're smart and successful, you feel you're entitled to be. And I certainly don't have to read his blog or follow him on Twitter, but occasionally he offers some useful insights into software development on iOS, or design, and those have been interesting and have, for the most part, been enough to overcome the general snottiness of much of his commentary.

I can overlook his fetish for the BMW he flew to Germany to personally select and have shipped back to America. Some of his insights into bathroom fan fixtures were entertaining and illuminating. And lots of people obsess about coffee, so who cares? I think the whole shaving thing is a bullshit affectation, and it begins to become part of a pattern, but again, who cares?

Clearly, he's intelligent. But he's one of those smart guys who knows a lot about something (software development), and who thinks he knows a lot about everything. It's really annoying, but when he's talking or writing about something he genuinely knows something about, he's tolerable. I don't know much about BMWs, coffee or razors, nor do I care, so it's relatively easy to ignore. When he deigns to opine to we, the unwashed masses, about something he thinks he knows something about, but I do, like photography, it's harder to ignore.

Arment wrote last May:

Kit lenses and low-end zooms produce blurry, distorted, drab images — they can look decent on blogs or phones, but the flaws become apparent when you see them on big Retina screens or printed at larger sizes.

Which is complete and utter bullshit. Again, a case of someone who's smart about one thing and thinks he's smart about everything else too. Kit lenses today are damn good and can take remarkable images. The limitation is usually the photographer. But I guess one does sound so much smarter and more sophisticated when one dismisses kit lenses as producing "blurry, distorted, drab images."

Here's a tip: If your kit lens is producing those images, you don't know how to operate the camera. Read a book, not Arment.

At some point, however, the conceit, the arrogance, the general air of entitled dickishness becomes too much to handle and it's time to stop reading, stop listening, stop following, stop giving any attention whatsoever, to Marco Arment.

That point came today with this post regarding another small, independent developer. The dick-move that sealed the deal was this line:

Fuck iA and their products. I’m glad I never bought iA Writer or iA Writer Pro — now I never will.

Up to that line, I would have agreed with his point; but this was just too much and too consistent with how his personality has been unfolding on the web. iA is just another small developer, just like he is. They exhibited some poor judgment regarding how they would try to compete in the marketplace, but who hasn't? Arment whined and complained about Read Later copying Instapaper. I guess whining and complaining is about as effective as applying for a patent, and just about as attractive, so who's better than whom?

I can get along without whatever occasional insights Arment offered on the state of software development on iOS. I sure as hell didn't need all the coffee, remodeling, car, and photography advice he was dispensing, covered with steaming piles of arrogance and conceit, and who knows how much pure bullshit.

So, I'm done.

But I didn't want to let the moment pass without comment.

There Is No "It"

12/23/13, 9:06 AM

(Editorial preface: I am an authority on nothing. I make all this shit up. You are strongly encouraged to do your own thinking. No one can own what does not belong to them.)

So, Christmas. "It's the most wonderful time of the year."

Yeah. Kind of.

It's also a bit challenging for some people. A bit sad, maybe.

I'm doing okay. Running again, though everything seems to hurt more. Entropy sucks.

But I've been getting that some of my friends and people I know are struggling a bit. Sometimes when you're in that state, you really don't want to be there, and so you try to distract yourself rather than deal with it. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is talk to someone about it, because then you're really in it, and talking doesn't really make it go away. It's just worse around the holidays because of all the nonsense about "joy" and "glad tidings."

And buying shit.

But there's alcohol, and Netflix, and football, and chocolate, and Facebook, and Twitter and Pinterest, and Amazon, so if you make a little bit of an effort, you won't have to deal with that gnawing ache that just never seems to go away and threatens to consume the inside of your chest until you feel all hollow and empty.

It'll get better when the days start getting longer again. It'll get better when I get a new job. It'll get better when I finish school. It'll get better when I pay off the car. It'll get better when I divorce this asshole. It'll get better.

Then there are those thoughts that won't go away in the wee hours of the morning when you can't sleep. "Is this it?"

"Seriously? This is it? This car. This house. This spouse. This job. These kids. These bills. This is what I work for? This is my life? This is living?"

Tough questions.

Of course the answers are "yes and no." The "one weird trick" is knowing which is which.

The answers, at first, appear unsatisfactory. And I'm afraid they always will be, until you make them your own. And that's where the real work of living comes in, but it's not the kind of thing that follows a flow chart or a recipe. It's not something you can get from a self-help book, though don't think I'm dissing self-help books. "Seek and ye shall find." Books do help, so by all means, read some. Seriously.

But you still have to do the work. Books can offer insight and inspiration, and we can all use some inspiration.

But the work involves looking within, and really looking. (Metaphorically "really looking." I mean, you do most of the work with your eyes closed. Though you don't have to.) And not listening to the running commentary inside your head. You want that guy to shut up, because he (or she) has no answers. That running commentary in your head isn't even "you," really. But that's for later.

Anyway, here's the thing: No, this experience that you're feeling this existential angst about isn't "it." It is, but it isn't. Try not to get too frustrated by that. You want to grasp at something and think that you've got hold of the right "it." That's why you think that when you get rid of one thing and replace it with something else (job, spouse, house, car, smart-phone, breast size) "it" will get better. Temporarily, you may feel better, but "it" will remain the same. That's a mistake.

"There is no spoon." There's nothing to grasp. So, relax. This non-existent spoon is as good as the next one. It's not about the spoon. It's not about grasping. If you can hold it, it's not the thing you're looking for. Oddly, if you can articulate it, it's not the thing you're looking for either.

"The Tao that can be named is not the Tao."

That's not to say there aren't wonderful things you can hold, or there aren't wonderful things you can say. But they aren't "it."

You'll know it when you've found it, but there is no "it," and the "knowing" isn't like any knowing you know now. But you'll know it.

Sorry I can't be more helpful. You'll understand.

The work:

Be still.

That's it.

Well, mostly. Really, you have to practice. You have to do the work. Make some time every day to be still. It's often called "meditation" and if you're looking for information about ways to practice, that's a good word to use while you're looking.

So it's partly about training your attention, training your mind. Learning how to not listen to that running commentary in your head that is mostly just noise. I'm older now, and I have creaky knees. That running commentary in your head is the sound a creaky brain makes. It's just noise, it's not "reality." Reality is found in stillness. So be still.

A lot harder than it sounds. And when you "think" you've got "it," well, that's just the voice in your head too, so, no. The voice in your head wants a reward, wants to feel in charge. The dopamine reward system is a good thing, mostly. But not so much in this case. Really, you've got to learn to ignore it.

Good news though, while doing the work, you'll find the questions aren't as troubling. Because your life will be doing what your life is meant to do. (Which is really all this stuff, including all the angst and suffering, but it's all supposed to get you here — to where you do the work. We're all on the same train. Don't think the riders in First Class got a better deal. They didn't.)

The work.

Be still.

Do the work.

You'll still have to get up in the morning and go to your job. The litter box will still have to be emptied. You'll still be too many dollars short at the end of the month. But you'll be a little bit more able to see the choices you need to make to resolve those challenges. They will still be challenges, difficult and daunting, but not the things that define "your life." That idiot voice your head won't be leading you around by the nose. As much. Your partner won't be so wrong for you. Your kids won't be so much of a disappointment.

Traffic will still suck. Sorry. Not gonna lie to you.

You have a life. You are life. Life has you.

Do the work.

Be still.

Let your life work.

Be your life's work.

Be still.

Just be.

You'll be better.

Merry Christmas.

Birds In Flight

12/22/13, 8:57 AM

I've never been a birds-in-flight, or "BIF", shooter. Most of the time, I shoot them wading in ponds or sitting in trees, or in the case of woodpeckers, boring holes in the fascia boards of our roofs. But I've always admired the shots of birds in flight, so I've been looking forward to an opportunity to practice. With the weather being so warm, and no clouds, yesterday seemed like a good day.

I went to the beach late in the afternoon, about an hour and a half before sunset. I knew that, standing on the beach, the birds would be well-lit by the sun. In the morning, they're backlit over the water. I knew I wanted a fast shutter speed to freeze their motion, so I chose shutter priority and picked 1/1000 of a second. After looking at the images, I think maybe 1/1200 or faster might have been better. I turned off image stabilization, because it shouldn't have been necessary at that shutter speed. I don't know though. I think I'll try using it in the future, configured for horizontal panning, and see if it helps. I picked spot exposure, continuous auto-focus, and the slower speed continuous shooting mode, which gives me 6 fps while maintaining focus, and auto-ISO.

I was shooting with my new Oly E-M1. The latest micro four-thirds OMD model from Olympus. The sensor is configured with phase-detect auto-focus sensors, so you can use the older lenses from the Zuiko four-thirds line. My best zoom lens is the Zuiko 50-200mm f2.8/3.5. I didn't use the EC14 1.4x teleconverter for this effort. I wasn't sure how well I was going to be able to track a bird in flight at 200mm, I didn't want to try for 280mm. (Four-thirds' crop factor is 2x, so the effective focal length is 400mm without the t-con.) It's a sharp, bright, heavy lens. I connected the camera sling to the tripod socket on the lens collar. It balances well there, and doesn't put any strain on the adapter that allows you to mount the four-thirds lenses to the micro four-thirds bodies. The camera is small, so you mostly handle the rig by the lens. Since I was shooting away from the sun, I left the lens shade off (it's huge), and I put a UV filter over the objective in case of blowing sand.

My chief problem was the wind. It was 20-25 knots out of the south (I'm guessing on the speed, but it's close). Apparently the birds don't like to fly when the wind's that strong. They were mostly just standing on the beach, facing into the wind. Fortunately for me, a kid was amusing himself by running into them and scaring them aloft.

I took about 500 frames, but most of them are of birds just standing on the beach. I picked what I thought were some of the best ones, and some interesting sequences, and I've posted them in a gallery at SmugMug. It's not great photography, I'm just kind of documenting my efforts at learning how to shoot birds in flight.

The camera performed well. Auto-focus against the sky was good, though occasionally it would begin to hunt and then you're better off just pointing the camera at the horizon and let it grab something. It's done this before on the E-30 (my best Oly DSLR), so I'm not attributing the behavior to any particular deficiency in the camera. Continuous auto-focus appeared to work well, though it would sometimes get confused by waves.

I was reasonably able to track the birds between frames using the electronic viewfinder. I don't think that's a show stopper, though many critics of micro four-thirds believe you have to have an optical viewfinder to track well. They may be right, I've never tried this before, but I was able to track birds between frames.

Looking at the exif data, I had a couple of stops of aperture I could have used if I'd needed it, and the camera stayed at ISO 200 the whole time, so 1/1200 or even 1/2000, wouldn't have been a problem at all. I'll definitely try some higher shutter speeds next time.

Overall, I enjoyed the hour or so I spent at the beach. I'm looking forward to trying it again and getting better at this.

This Just In

12/22/13, 8:11 AM

I'm lying in bed this morning, in that pleasant near-waking state, when I seem to notice this reddish color. I open my eyes, and the room is all red, and the blinds are closed but there's red light pouring through the little gaps between the slats.

I get up, discover I seem to have some kind of cramp in my left foot as it hurts like hell to stand on it. Not plantar fasciitis, this was up near the toes, mostly the left side. I open the blinds and the sky is a riot of color. I know this never lasts long, minutes tops, so I pull on my shorts (It's 70 degrees out at 7:00 a.m. on December 22nd — ridiculous.) and a t-shirt and hobble out to the kitchen to grab a camera. I bring Bodhi along because, well, it would be unkind not to.

Moving around a bit seems to relieve whatever was causing the pain in my foot. By the time we get downstairs, the sky has settled down into something a bit more mundane, which is about what I expected. You really have to be outside waiting for things like this, but most of the time, when I do, nothing happens. But, I have a bit of a cheat.

I dial up Sunset mode, which changes the white balance to Cloudy and decreases the exposure by .7ev. Works just as well on sunrises because physics! Had I been fully conscious, I might have done this manually and decreased the exposure by only .3ev. And for some reason, I was shooting .jpg only. I need to develop better habits. But where have I heard that before?

Anyway, not too shabby:

Photograph of a red sky at morning

Ten Things Google Knows to Be True

12/18/13, 11:10 AM

This bit of corporate bullshit is still up on Google's web site. Thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at it and offer a few comments. Might be fun.

"1. Focus on the user and all else will follow." The user is the target, the "mark," the prey. So, yes, by all means, "focus" — the clearer the picture they have of you, the more money they can get for their advertising.

"2. It's best to do one thing really, really well." Oh, how true. Otherwise you might get distracted by offering self-driving cars, buying robotics companies, developing wearable personal surveillance devices, buying a phone manufacturing company, building a set-top box (or HDMI dongle), developing a smartphone OS, scanning the contents of books, developing a computer OS, developing a web browser, making maps, and lots of other distractions from your one true mission: Collecting data on people. Er, I mean, organizing all the world's information.

"3. Fast is better than slow." Well, they're right about that! It's important to be faster than government law makers and regulators. Otherwise, you know, some of your great ideas might not make it out of the data center. And if you really took the time to stop and think about any of these ideas, you might be horrified by them. And then what?

"4. Democracy on the web works." Well, it kind of did. Until companies learned how to stuff the ballot boxes. So now it's not so much a democracy as a benign dictatorship. Well, it would be, if Google gets its way.

"5. You don't need to be at your desk to need an answer." As anyone who's ever had to stop and ask for directions can tell you! These keen insights that Google has are truly amazing.

"6. You can make money without doing evil." Well, you can; just not as much. So, yeah, the evil thing is pretty much the way they roll now.

"7. There's always more information out there." Which is why privacy is such a quaint notion.

"8. The need for information crosses all borders." Including the borders of privacy. See #7 above.

"9. You can be serious without a suit." You don't look as sinister in a polo shirt either. Seriously.

"10. Great just isn't good enough." Yeah, that's so true. Like giving 110%. Or building, you know, the thousand year reich. Humility is for losers.

Yeah, that was fun.

Busy-ness

12/15/13, 11:28 AM

It's been a bit hectic around here lately. We just had the annual meeting of our condominium association, which is followed by our Christmas party. The preps for both the meeting and the party kept me busy. The party was a good time, and the clean-up the following day kept me busy too.

The weather's been pretty inconsistent, oscillating between beautiful and miserable. Not sure what it's doing today yet. But I was able to get a couple of nice pictures.

This is something I don't think I've seen before. I thought it was a new shoot from a palmetto; but an image search didn't turn anything up that looked like that. The whole thing's about 2 inches long, those little blossoms are tiny. I didn't have a macro lens, but I had the 12-50mm lens on the E-M5, which has a kind of macro ability, probably best described as a close-focusing mode. Liked the picture though.

Photograph of palmetto shoot?

It was very overcast yesterday, but there were a few visitors at the small pond. The big guy is a Blue Heron. The second one appears to be a Tricolored Heron. It's about half the size of the Blue Heron. Some gulls were harrassing it, and the Blue kind of lunged at the gulls, which I thought was odd. The gulls flew away, and later the little heron flew away too, but the Blue stayed behind. It wasn't hunting while I was there. It was just sort of standing there. Cool by me. I liked taking its picture. Used the E-M1 with the Zuiko 50-200mm and the EC14 1.4 teleconverter.

Photograph of a Blue Heron Photograph of a Tricolored Heron Photograph of a Tricolored Heron

This is a Web Site Too

12/11/13, 2:24 PM

Zeldman mourns blogging.

Back to the future! Get off Facebook! Get off Google+! Get off Instagram! Get off Tumblr! Get off LinkedIn!

Get your own web site. Yeah, it's a little bit hard. It's good for you. Like vegetables and exercise.

If I did it, you can too.

Government or Corporations Spying - Is Either Better?

12/11/13, 8:23 AM

The ACLU has posted a rather clever fictional briefing of what "the government" could do with the location data it gathers from cell phone records.

It's all very troubling.

But please bear in mind, the ACLU is following the conventional narrative. That government uses domestic surveillance to preserve the entrenched political order, the power élite. In America, we have mastered the art of preserving the entrenched political order without the use of domestic surveillance or secret police. We use money.

The new narrative is being written today, by Facebook and Google.

All those troubling inferences made from the data in the ACLU's example can be made by Google or Facebook.

Imagine you're a Google or Facebook executive, and you have a problematic government official or two who are keeping you from achieving some desired corporate aim. Is anyone going to tell me that those folks aren't going to look into what their data centers have on those officials?

Enron would never cook the books. Exxon would never let a drunk drive a super tanker. Goldman Sachs would never bet against their clients.

Yeah, and Google and Facebook would never use the phenomenal amount of data at their disposal to further their own interests at the expense of the public interest.

Care to think again?

Hawker Hunter

12/11/13, 7:52 AM

Somebody around here owns a flyable Hawker Hunter aircraft. It's just about one of the most beautiful jet fighters from the 50s. I've seen it flying overhead several times in the last year or so. It's not in active service anywhere that I'm aware of, so I'm pretty sure this is a collector's plane. I love seeing it though, and I just wish I had a longer lens this time.

Photograph of Hawker Hunter aircraft overhead

Services Competition Favors Device Manufacturers

12/11/13, 7:29 AM

I read an article this morning where AT&T's CEO, Randall Stephenson said that the carriers can't afford to keep doing subsidies, now that they've achieved higher percentages of customers on smart phones. They can't afford to subsidize the upgrade cycle.

He's right. But he didn't offer much about the reason why. I think there's a reason that isn't mentioned in the article

I don't know the percentages, I'm guessing most people have been upgrading their phones every one to two years. I have two phones on my plan (I'm a generous father), and so one has always been upgrade eligible each year. I get the new one, my son gets my old one.

I've been thinking recently that the curve has to begin flattening soon, with respect to features. So I was thinking I would get my son off my plan, and I would likely not upgrade next fall and wait and see what came alone in the subsequent model releases and simply pay full price for an unlocked model and avoid the contract nonsense altogether. But that's just me.

The carriers are becoming like cable. They're becoming dumb pipes. Bandwidth is a commodity. The revenue is in services. They don't have any insight into the manufacturers' plans for their respective platforms. Chiefly, this plays to Apple's advantage and Microsoft's. Almost as much to Samsung, and less so to Google in general except for its Nexus platform.

The manufacturers can build hardware into the phones to support their services. Case in point: Touch ID. Case in point: iBeacon. Case in point: M7 chip.

Apple's iPhone has hardware that supports Apple's services. Revenue for those services flows to Apple, not the carriers. The carriers offer services, but who uses them? Does anybody use AT&T's navigation app?

It's to the carriers' advantage to slow the rate of mobile phone hardware upgrades. It gives the manufacturers a greater advantage in competing for services dollars.

I think that horse has left the barn though, and the carriers are going to be left with little to offer but bandwidth. Unless they do something like Comcast and buy a content producer, or a service provider. Would AT&T buy Garmin? Square? SmugMug? I don't know, but they need another play, because the service competition favors the device manufacturer.

Yesterday Morning's Fog

12/10/13, 6:30 PM

We've been having a bit of morning fog lately. I love the fog. So much better than just being cloudy. Adds an element of mystery to everything. Makes a walk more than just a walk. Anyway, here are some other reasons why foggy mornings are cool:

Clubhouse in fog Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Spider silhouette in web. Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on spider web Dew drops on Pompas Grass Dew drops on Pompas Grass Dew drops on Pompas Grass Clubhouse at dawn pic

On the other hand…

12/10/13, 12:07 PM

It was a pretty morning…

Sunrise over the retention pond

Source of My Sleep Loss

12/10/13, 12:01 PM

I've been hearing this guy and his friends for a few nights now. Last night, he (she?) perched right outside my window at about 2:00 a.m. Endless hoo-hoo-hoooooo-ing ensued. I tried to get a shot through the window, but it was just too dark. Went outside with the 50-200mm and EC14 on the E-M1 and got this. Didn't want to use the flash because I didn't want to disturb anyone who might have managed to sleep through all the racket. So, yeah, the shot sucks.

Owl picture

Merry Christmas?

12/10/13, 11:03 AM

While I'm indulging my inner curmudgeon, I'm going to note another bit of evidence supporting my theory that irony is the fifth fundamental force of the universe.

Fox News, that outrage-manufacturing corporation, has a large number of its viewers believing there's a "war on Christmas" with politically correct "Happy holidays!" replacing the more Christian greeting, "Merry Christmas."

Many of these people insist on offering their "Merry Christmas" with the tenor of one who is making a point, instead of one who is offering a wish for happiness during the season.

So a certain group of people, unjustly feeling oppressed and aggrieved (that is to say, manipulated by a corporation competing for attention in order to sell advertising), while seemingly intending to affirm the best traditions of the season, instead diminish them by using them as a stone upon which to grind their axes.

Thanks, Fox News.

It's a sure thing that if he were alive today, old Ebenezer would be a Fox News viewer.

The Throbbing Vein in the Temple

12/10/13, 8:37 AM

I suppose there's a danger of being too cynical; but, to me, there is far greater danger in being too enamored with one's own fevered dreams of utopian perfection. These sales pitches attract too many true-believers, and people looking to make money exploiting them and the favored salvific idea of the day. The internet attracts a lot of these guys. It's a circus.

And we know what P.T. Barnum said.

Let's recall something: Technology does not "change everything." Never did, never will. Technology changes how we do things. In general, it compresses those activities in time, and expands them in space. What we do is often the problem. (Parenthetically, yes, energy production/consumption by means of fossil fuels and the concommittant release of CO2 gas is a problem. One could also offer that over-consumption, which is what we do, amplifies that problem significantly.)

But there are certain kinds of people who are enamored by technology, who feel they have some unique insight into how it can solve a problem they perceive in the world (usually not the real problem), and they often get very passionate about it. They can be gifted communicators, even very nice people. But that doesn't make them any less wrong.

At the turn of the century, it was guys like Doc Searls and Dave Weinberger and The Cluetrain Manifesto that were going to upend marketing once and for all. True believers are often fond of the snarky, arrogant, condescending manifesto format. That's because their real audience is the people who share their common delusion. In the Cluetrain case, it was the pernicious lie that "markets are conversations." This was the notion that was supposed to end "marketing as we know it."

Now we have "social media" platforms where everyone gets to be a celebrity spokesperson for a corporation for 15 minutes.

You can thank the Cluetrain guys for that. The idea got traction among the unwashed masses yearning to look hip, the marketers saw that, took the ball and ran with it. That's what they do. They will exploit every popular idea to sell shit. They call it a "meme." Voila! Free social media software platforms using conversations to offer marketing messages. All the while extracting as much information from their users as possible, under some unexamined pretext about us wanting/needing "personalized" interactions with our corporate masters.

You don't hear much about The Cluetrain Manifesto anymore. Pretty much because the idea has been taken to its logical conclusion and we have Facebook and Google+ now, and all the other social media platforms. Doc is now pursuing some idea about "vendor relationship management," presumably mediated somehow by technology and customer "intention" signals. And he flies all over the world, making his own contribution to the CO2 increase, somehow advancing this notion that will finally, once and for all, end marketing as we know it. If it ever gets traction, it's pretty much assured it will turn out just about exactly the opposite of what he intended.

Was that too cynical?

Then there's Tim Bray. Smart guy. Computer-science kind of dude. Which is to say, he's likely a bit more than your average developer. By definition, all developers are above-average when compared to non-developers. So Tim's a Really Smart Guy, whose credentials as such were validated by his employment by Google. As we know from Interns, Google only employs Really Smart Guys, so there you have it.

Anyway, Tim's a true-believer, and like any supremely confident true-believer, he publicly articulates his rationalizations to assure his hero-stature to his fans and fellow true-believers. You can read it all right here. tl;dr version: Apple bad. Google good. Tim Bray joins the good guys! Hurrah!

So for the last three years, while Google built a surveillance apparatus rivaled only by the NSA (Prior to Snowden, I wasn't sure whether the NSA was going after data as hard as Google was. Though I often remarked that if Google didn't exist, the NSA would have to invent it.), Tim Bray has been offering an ongoing (I crack myself up) apologia of Google and its corporate conduct.

The most recent example, and the subject of this post's title, deals with Canadian media coverage of the tech industries' sleight-of-hand effort at reformgovernmentsurveillance.com. The reaction is unsurprising, what's infuriating is that a supposedly smart guy can dismiss the questions about his own employer's data-gathering efforts with this:

Indeed, most (not all) of the RGS companies track a whole lot of information about a whole lot of people, and use it to help sell ads and make money. ¶

That's it, Tim? Just to "sell ads." It's all pure and simple, just selling some ads? It's not about managing what people see, so some ads do better than others? It's not about identifying which customers might be more responsive (one might say "vulnerable") to a particular ad than others? There's nothing nefarious going on as Google and Facebook compete to "sell ads" to their corporate customers? Where's the transparency, Tim? What is Google doing with our information in their data centers? And why should we trust them, or you for that matter?

Tim reads science fiction. He plays online games. He can't lack imagination.

One can only conclude that Tim Bray chooses to be willfully blind to the unsettling implications of his employer's efforts and business model.

Hey, something's gotta pay for that nice cottage on the island, right? Why bite hand that feeds you? Nobody said Tim Bray wasn't smart.

More about reformgovernmentsurveillance.com another time. Just a bunch of tech companies doing damage control. Don't be fooled. I wouldn't think anyone could, but Tim makes me wonder.

Dragonflies In Flight

12/9/13, 3:34 PM

The weather here is ridiculous right now. 82 degrees, and sunny. I'm not really complaining, it's just that it doesn't feel at all like December.

Anyway, a few Dragonflies were active, so I took a brief stab at trying to capture them in flight. I think if I keep practicing, I might get good at it. Need a better vantage point though.

Dragonfly in flight picture Dragonfly in flight picture Dragonfly in flight picture

Facebook as Filter

12/6/13, 3:01 PM

From time to time I meet friends and acquaintances who say they "miss" me on Facebook. They miss my photographs, or the articles I linked to. I find it somewhat flattering, but I don't miss Facebook.

Here's an article discussing some of the things Facebook is doing to manage your "feed."

If you read the article, it doesn't sound sinister or anything; in fact, if I were still on Facebook, I'd welcome banning those "meme" pictures ("Like if you support the troops!"). It was the cheesiest form of emotional manipulation and an utter waste of time and attention.

But the unstated and potentially sinister implication is that you only see in your newsfeed exactly what Facebook wants you to see. They control it. You have some control over it. You can hide "friends" who post endless political commentary. I think you can kind of vary the position of the knobs a bit in terms of what kinds of posts you see from which friends. But ultimately, Facebook decides what you see in your timeline. And you can bet they're experimenting with various approaches to managing your feed, and your responses to things like ads.

Do you like being a guinea pig in an ongoing experiment? If Facebook and Google discover effective ways of manipulating actions and opinions by "personalizing" search results and news feeds, do you think that's okay? When I ask people in person, almost all of them say they don't care, and that they're immune to such efforts at manipulation; that, ultimately, every action they take is strictly one of volition predicated by cognitive choice. Apparently these folks have vast resources of will-power unknown to science.

I have a news feed as well. I "subscribe" to a number of blogs and web sites that offer new content by means of RSS (Really Simple Syndication). I use an RSS reader to read these articles. I control what sites appear in my feed. There are no ads, though sometimes blogs offer posts that identify their sponsors and offer a blurb or endorsement for them. Those are a form of advertising, but it's kind of like the announcements at the end of shows on NPR.

There is no "algorithm" designed by the smartest people on the planet figuring out when to present sponsored posts in my news feed. It just pops up in the stream when the blogger or the site posts it. Maybe I'll be interested (sometimes), maybe I won't (nearly always).

Facebook and Google have some insight into your emotional state of mind, events coming up in your life, and they can present ads to you that are specifically tailored to be effective in your specific emotional state. They're "personalized." You give them all that data. How you're feeling. Where you're at. The things you "like" and comment on are all fed into their analytical models to refine their predictive algorithms. All for the purpose of making you more likely to do something that people who are paying Facebook and Google want you to do. Buy a new tablet, donate to a cause, vote for a particular candidate or party. Facebook and Google don't exist to make your life better or richer. They create the illusion of making your life better or richer for the purpose of delivering specific behaviors on your part to the people who are writing checks to them, their customers.

You are the product.

You are not the consumer.

You are the consumed.

Get the hell off Facebook.

And Google.

Seriously. I mean it.

Stills

12/6/13, 10:20 AM

Yesterday was a beautiful day, almost too warm for December. But it was the first productive morning of the fall in terms of birds. The Bluejay disappointed me. Very shy, and wouldn't stay put for long. Got kind of artsy with the last couple. But after a month of November clouds, this one morning did a lot to raise my spirits.

Snowy Egret picture Woodpecker picture Bluejay picture Cardinal picture Possibly a Chickadee picture Branch with leaves in morning light Palm frond against sky picture

Not Without Notice

12/4/13, 2:17 PM

On Monday, I was glancing through the online edition of the local newspaper, and I read about an automobile accident where the driver was killed. The name was familiar, but many people have similar names. I waited a couple of days, looking for an obituary, but didn't see one, so I called the office where I used to work.

It was the guy I thought it was.

I didn't work closely with him, but he had a cubicle a couple of squares down from mine. He was part of a new program, and the facility we worked in was making better digs for him, but temporarily he worked out of our office. Eventually he moved down to his very posh new office, and I would only see him from time to time when he dropped by to say hello.

I found out that the accident didn't kill him. He'd had a heart attack behind the wheel. He was likely dead before he ran off the road. He was 55, a year younger than I am. He'd been surfing that morning and was on his way home.

Nice guy. Funny, smart. Didn't appear to be the kind of guy who might have a coronary in his future. I guess you never know.

He was the second guy in his fifties from our facility to die suddenly of a massive coronary this year. The first went just before I retired. He was 58, I think. He was a smoker, and had just gone through a very stressful ordeal losing his wife to a long fight with cancer. It was less of a surprise, but no less of a shock.

Those guys were both what are called Port Engineers. They're the civilians who manage the maintenance of the ships assigned to them. It is often a very demanding job. Peaks and valleys, but when it's busy, it's very intense and it can be frustrating.

My job was nowhere near that demanding. Nevertheless, the environment was toxic. Not in the chemical sense, though I suppose there was some of that, more the emotional. A lot of angry, ill-tempered people, often under pressure. Not that these two guys were that way, but they lived around it every day. A lot of negative energy. I think it takes a toll.

I'm glad I'm out of there.

We're often told we should live each day as if it were our last, but that's a pretty tall order. I try to practice mindfulness as much as I can, though I know I could do better. Much, much better. It pleases me that he was coming home from surfing, something he loved to do. Still, events like this one, coming as it did at the end of Thanksgiving weekend, should give us pause to reflect on the transient and fragile nature of our lives. Ideally, I suppose it might help bring about a change in that work environment, but I'm not optimistic.

As for me, I'll try to remember to be grateful for the moments I have, and to make some effort to live them well.

Apple TV Glitch and Resolution

12/3/13, 11:15 AM

Summary: If you have a 3rd Generation Apple TV (came out in October 2012), and it keeps dropping the wifi connection, you can get it replaced even if it's a bit out of warranty. And they'll replace the replacement if that acts up.

I don't subscribe to the TV programming offering of my cable provider, Comcast. Instead, I just pay for internet access.

When I first heard I could get internet access without paying for Basic Cable (their lowest level of service), I thought I'd be saving $25.00 a month, since that's what they billed me for Basic Cable. It turns out that they simply increase the price of the internet access, so I was really only saving about $13.00 a month. Typical Comcast. Still, it's a 12-pack.

But, I digress...

I subscribe to Hulu Plus, Netflix, and I use whatever free offerings are available on Apple TV. The addition of PBS and Yahoo recently was nice. The only service I can't get through Apple TV is Amazon Prime video, but I can get that through my "smart" TV, a Panasonic Viera plasma (R.I.P. Panasonic plasma TVs. You will be missed.)

So when I watch TV, which isn't every day, I'm usually using the Apple TV. A couple of weeks ago it started acting up, reporting it was not connected to the internet. I'd restart the Apple TV and it'd see the network, and log back in. Then, after several minutes, it'd drop the connection and report it couldn't see any wifi networks. A restart would fix it, and then it'd do it again.

I thought perhaps the most recent software update might have had something to do with it, so I found a micro USB cable and connected it to iTunes and did a full factory restore.

That seemed to solve the problem at first, because it managed to remain connected for over thirty minutes. Previously, it would only stay up about ten or fifteen minutes. But no, about two-thirds of the way through an episode of Agents of Shield (more about that disappointment in another post), it dropped the connection again.

I checked my purchase date, and sure enough, it was about a week and a half out of warranty. Initially I thought I'd just buy a refurb from the Apple Store for about $75.00, but I looked through Apple's Support pages and learned that you could essentially buy a refurb as a "repair" for $59.00. So I booked a Genius appointment and brought my defective Apple TV to replace it with a less expensive refurb.

My appointment happened on time. The rep looked at the serial number on the Apple TV and consulted his iPad. As it happened, the wifi failure is a "known issue," and so my replacement refurb was given to me at no cost. Huzzah!

Happy that Apple had once again exceeded my expectations (They once replaced the LCD in a 24" iMac that was over a year out of warranty for no charge, and they'd recently replaced my iPhone 5 under warranty for a cracked screen rather than use one of my two $50.00 incident charges I had under AppleCare.), I headed home and set up the "new" device.

Once I finally got everything set up, I streamed music from my iTunes library for several hours and everything worked fine. Rented Two Guns on iTunes, and halfway through the movie, the device rebooted. The TV went black, reported loss of signal, then the Apple logo appeared, followed by the spinning wait cursor. I was able to restart the movie where it left off, but it was more than a little disconcerting.

The next day, it did the same thing during a Netflix movie. About an hour into the movie, the Apple TV rebooted.

Works fine, or seems to, for music. Can't stay up for more than an hour for video. Maybe a heat problem? A lot more processing going on decompressing an HD video stream.

So I booked another Genius appointment, brought the defective refurb back, explained what happened to a nice young lady, and she gave me another replacement refurb. That was last Sunday.

So far, so good. I've watched a movie and a documentary and no reboots, no lost wifi. I'll try and give it a bit of a stress test soon and make sure a marginal component isn't lurking in there somewhere. But for now, I'm very pleased.

I seldom have any problems with Apple products, but when I do, they've always been more than fair with me in resolving them.

Present

12/3/13, 10:53 AM

Still here!

November ended in a bit of a frenzy with Thanksgiving weekend, so I haven't been spending any time here. I expect things will remain somewhat hectic with the holidays approaching. We shall see.