Better Is the Enemy of Good Enough
It's been a busy month. Best part is, we'll have our second Pfizer shot tomorrow. But I didn't spend much time here. Anyway, here I am, what's on my mind?
Late last year I decided to do some reading that wasn't related to politics or current events. I decided I wanted to learn more about the history of our understanding of electro-magnetism, chiefly the work of James Clerk Maxwell of "Maxwell's Equations" fame. Maxwell did more than perhaps anyone else to usher in the modern era.
More about Maxwell some other time, that's not what this is about.
But reading about Maxwell got me interested in the history of radio, which kind of got me interested in the current state of radio, which kind of got me interested in buying a radio.
And here we are.
And that's not really what this is about either, but the experience of looking at radios currently on the market brought home an experience I've had over and over and over again, and I'm sure you have too. And I suspect it's something we all have in common, and we're not conscious of all the ways it seems to pervade the way we perceive the world and those around us.
Because of the nature of our culture and our economy, the "free market" and so on, competition seems to be the central organizing principle. "Compete" is a verb which seems to be about the action of establishing superiority. "May the best man (woman, product, service, etc.) win."
Ideally, competition advances "the good." We get better products, better performances from athletes, better political policies, etc.
But what seems to capture our attention isn't so much the products, athletes or policies, as the "competition."
It's not enough how the product performs in the market, how the athlete performs on the field, or how the policy affects the populace; it's about how we, as individuals, perceive the intrinsic (superior) merits of whatever product, athlete or policy we embrace. And we somehow become advocates for those things, and those with different views become, in effect, our competition.
I've seen this over and over again, and I'm sure you have too. I think my earliest experience is probably with car brands, Ford, Chevy and Chrysler. If you were interested in cars, somehow you became aligned with one of these brands, defended yours and disparaged the others. Of course, back then, it was mainly limited to conversations among friends in the backyard or the bar, perhaps the occasional letter to a periodical. And it probably didn't occupy much of your time, because the opportunity to talk about cars didn't come up that often.
After cars, I think it was computers. Apple versus Radio Shack, versus Atari, versus Commodore and we'll be polite and not mention TI. Then, after competition did its thing, it was Apple versus IBM, until it was ultimately Apple versus Microsoft. Only here, if you had a modem attached to your computer you could carry on the fight into the wee hours of the morning, typing in forty columns, all upper case, about the inherent superiority of the slots in the Apple II versus the closed architecture of the C-64, while the Commodore guys would laugh at Apple's lack of a video chip or sound chip and its inferior graphics.
Then, for me, it was cameras. Nikon and Canon being the two dominant players, I went with one of the underdogs, Olympus. Partly because I felt Olympus offered better value for me in terms of features versus cost. By then, the internet was a thing, and you could really start diving down rabbit holes in the debate about which camera brand is superior.
Perhaps it's an encouraging sign of my maturity, or something, that I don't engage in that sort of thing anymore. But many people do, and you can find them all over the internet in forums that cater to that sort of thing because it helps sell advertising.
I was reminded of this because I was looking at various radios and reading customer "reviews." Oy! Sometimes these are useful, mostly for commodity type products. But for anything technical or pricey, it's a minefield.
Sometimes it's not just about brand loyalty, it's about one's personal brand as an "expert." Someone with special insight, refined taste, able to discern the subtle differences that make one product stand out as truly superior to another, though sometimes it's just as useful to point out how everything is crap.
It's not helpful, and I wasn't finding it helpful in making up my mind about what radio to buy. But it did make me think about my camera experience.
Here's the thing about cameras, and why the smartphone has pretty much decimated the camera industry after its brief flowering in the early days of digital cameras: Better is the enemy of good enough.
Smartphone cameras are "good enough" for the vast majority of people. In fact, talented people can produce beautiful images using a smartphone that rival anything produced on a Nikon or Canon (or Sony, mustn't forget Sony. Sorry, Fuji.)
My Olympus cameras use a sensor size that's smaller than those used by Canon or Nikon, and so we are routinely disparaged for our inherent inferiority in sensor size and "noise" and lack of depth of field control. But both Olympus and Panasonic make cameras with that sensor size and lens mount, and, of course, partisans of each brand bash the other for their supposed glaring flaws. Despite the fact that a talented person can produce beautiful images with either brand, that are every bit the equal of an image produced by any other brand.
And it gets worse. Within the brand, there is the competition between customers about which products of the brand they use. There are "kit" lenses, "premium" lenses and "pro" lenses. Same experience. And I've succumbed to some of that, as I own a number of "Pro" lenses, and I doubt you could tell which of my images I made with a "Pro" lens versus a kit lens. Having spent $1200 for a lens, you're much inclined to embrace its unique advantages, its remarkable "rendering," its beautiful "bokeh." Meh. I like my expensive lenses, mostly for the way they feel (except after carrying them for a couple of hours), and they do offer a marginally better image. But it's mostly the guy behind the camera, not so much the lens mounted on the front of it.
To be fair, each product level affords some degree of performance advantage, but they're, well, marginal. The price differences aren't, and that's why the manufacturers make them that way. Trying to maximize their profits.
From my camera experience, I conclude that the $100 radio will probably deliver 95% of the performance of the $300 (or more) radio. I bought an $89 radio, and the one thing I wish it had that it doesn't would be an external antenna jack(s). For a radio, having a good antenna is probably one of the most important features. (I bought a C Crane CC Skywave radio, AM/FM, Wx, ATC and HF shortwave. It doesn't do single sideband, another feature I might have wanted, but that's $169.)
Anyway, the experience of looking at radio reviews reminded me of how people become partisans over so many products. And we're arguing about minute, minuscule differences when viewed in perspective. And this is only to the manufacturers' advantage. To be sure, maybe some of us learn some things we didn't know before; but in the heat of the debate, in the anonymizing, disconnected arena of the internet, people get mean, people get angry, the experience becomes negative and probably toxic.
The same thing has spilled over into politics, though it's probably always been this way in politics because the product is power. And the differences aren't minuscule, they're enormous. But we need to focus on the policies and the politicians and less on each other. I don't know how we do that.
Anyway, that's what was on my mind and the dog is up now so I've got to step away from this and look after her.
Hope you're well.
Nothing to Shoot
So I just dropped $129 on an out of print paperback. Why? Probably because I'm not very bright.
But I'm in a place that's familiar to me. One of discomfort and restlessness and frustration. It's kind of unpleasant, but I know it has value. I'm stuck and I can't stay here so I've got to move. This is me trying to figure my way out.
The book is It's Not About the f-Stop, by Jay Maisel. I've also got two other books sitting on the little table behind me. One is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and the other is Betty Edwards' Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain.
So, something's gotta give. I'm gonna try and go make art. Who knows? Stranger things have happened, right?
Once, writing seemed to scratch this particular itch. Still does, but it's hard to write. I need to be alone, it needs to be quiet, and I need to feel as though I have something to say. These days, those things seldom align.
Which is probably why I spend so much time on twitter. 280 characters, how hard can it be? But it's unsatisfactory. I'll do a thread, when I really should be doing a post here. But then I have to be at the desk and then there's the dog, and the noise and endless other distractions.
It's Sunday. Schotzie's sleeping at my feet. Mitzi has gone to the store. There isn't a leaf-blower going. And I just spent $129 on an out of print paperback and I'm like "WTF are you doing, Rogers?"
But I know to pay attention, and this is where the universe has conspired to lead me. So here I am. I'm trying to see again.
I mean, I can see just fine, for a guy who's terribly near-sighted and has presbyopia and all that nonsense. But nothing I see inspires me. I don't like what I see.
I live in a brand-new gated community, an over-55 community. It's all beautiful and shiny and new and homogenous and boring. When I take a walk with the camera, everything looks like a real estate brochure. And it's suburbia. Although the houses are close together, it's all private property. When I lived at the condo, everything that wasn't inside your front door was "common property." The landscaping belonged to all of us. I could get right up close to the roses, the azaleas, the shrubs with the bugs and the little flowers. Here, all I can do is zoom in and capture a distant frame of a bunch of flowers. Distant. Not immediate, not intimate. Boring.
And this landscape has consumed, and is consuming, so much of Florida's natural landscape. And our interior landscape as well. We all seem to look alike, and, around here, far too many people seem to think alike. So nothing changes. Inertia.
So, I'm going to try Julia's exercises. I'm going to do the whole drawing program, try and liberate the right hemisphere of my brain. See if I can't "see" something different.
I was reading a post in the micro four thirds forum at DPReview about simulating Kodachrome 64 in Lightroom, which led me to some comments by Jay Maisel that you can read here. Which made me check Amazon to see if the book was still available. It's not, hence the price. But a little alarm was buzzing that said "Get that book!" Can't always trust that alarm, but this feels right. So, we'll see.
I don't know. I just can't sit around and watch nothing change. Maybe I'm just not looking in the right places. Maybe I'll make art, maybe I'll make change. Who knows? But I can't stay here, in this mental state. I've been buying a lot of gear, thinking it'd inspire me or change my perspective. (I've got the Oly 8mm f1.8 fisheye coming in tomorrow or Tuesday. Because I recently learned the E-M1x can defish that lens if I want it to.) But in the piece I linked to from Maisel, he mentions that he now (then?) shoots with one lens, a 28-300mm zoom. Well, the lens that I use the most is a 14-150 zoom, which in 35mm "equivalence" (don't go there), is 28-300mm. And my little Oly Stylus 1s has a 28-300mm effective focal length zoom on a tiny 1/1.7" sensor. So, that spoke to me as well, helped set off that alarm.
Well, an itch seems to have been scratched! And little pup is still asleep. Wonders never cease.
Apologies for not dropping by more often. I'm working on it. Just a lot more work to do, I think.
Be well. Got my first shot of Pfizer yesterday! May not die of COVID now. Or go on dialysis. So, things are looking up.
(Editor's note: This was written last Sunday, which is when I discovered I no longer had FTP access to my web server. I upgraded the hosting earlier in the year with some big ideas I had, and then got distracted. Same old story.
Well, upgrading the hosting means a new server and a lot of logistical plumbing changes that I wasn't familiar with at the time. I'm a lot "smarter" now.)