Gary Winogrand on Risk Taking

I just read a post on the O’Reilly Digital Media Blog about a prolific photographer named Gary Winogrand. I hadn’t heard of him before, but the guy shot well over 300,000 photos during his career, all on film.

“You don’t learn anything from repeating what you know, in affect, so I keep trying to make (the process) uncertain. The nature of the photographic process – it is about failure. Most everything I do doesn’t quite make it. The failures can be intelligent; nothing ventured nothing gained. Hopefully you’re risking failing every time you make a frame.”

- Gary Winogrand, in an interview with Bill Moyers (1982)

Gary also had an interesting take on the editing process. He would apparently leave film undeveloped for at least a year (or longer) after a shoot, so his editorial decisions weren’t clouded by the emotions felt during the shoot. He didn’t want to be selecting the best shots while he could still remember any details of doing the actual shoot. That is an amazing level of self restraint, something that is probably much, much harder now in the days of instant digital processing and cataloging.

Online death threats are still death threats

I just found out via a Twitter post that Kathy Sierra, the author of the Creating Passionate Users blog, which I read religiously, has been receiving a series of threats. Cyberbullying, even death threats. Threats of violence. To the point that she had to back out of presenting a session at the ETech conference, and is canceling all public engagements.

[ED - I removed a paragraph that could be perceived as inflammatory. I wasn't trying to imply that any specific individual(s) made a death threat, only that some had been named in Kathy's post.]

This is seriously not cool. I don't have the entire story, but from Kathy's post, a group of people self-organized to inflict threats on her and a few other people online. She suggests that some of this goes with the territory. I disagree. This is not acceptable.

[ED - I removed another potentially inflammatory paragraph that didn't add to anything]

Starting the bike ride again

I started riding again this morning. I'd been on my butt for far too long, and almost 2 weeks of constant eating and relaxing on tropical beaches didn't help by any means. I'm not going to be hardcore. There's some craptastic weather scheduled for tonight, and the next couple of days, so I'll likely wuss out and bus it if it's white out. But at least I started.

I picked up a bike computer on the weekend, so I don't have to track stuff manually (or through my blog). It turns out that the ride is actually farther than what Google Earth calculated. It's just a hair over 13km, as opposed to the 12.54km I'd thought it was.

First Ride, 2007

I’m a cell phone luddite

It was pointed out to me in a recent email exchange that it’s a little odd that I don’t have a cell phone.

There. I said it. I don’t have a cell phone.

My wife has one, for work, but I don’t have one. Never have.


The cell telcos in Canada basically suck. By design. Every transaction with the phone is intended, designed, counted on, to suck cash from my pockets into theirs.

Samsung CellphoneTake the new family (i.e., her) cell phone. It’s a relatively uncrappy Samsung. Has a decent-ish built in camera. Actually takes pictures that don’t make me cringe. And I can take lots of pictures with it. But, if I actually want to KEEP any of those photos, they cost me 50 cents each, because the only way to get them off the phone is via Rogers’ email service. I can’t use the bluetooth functions of the phone. And the phone ships without a USB cable.

Hitting the “menu” button is another example of who actually owns the phone. What’s the most common action I’d want to do with the menu system? Probably look up a phone number in the contacts list. What’s the default-selected menu item when activating the Menu? Rogers Store. Yeah. By default, they expect me to shop for crap on the Rogers Store. When I’m done with that, maybe I’ll remember to look up that phone number…

Want to change the ringtone? SURE! Enter the Rogers Store. They’re only a couple of bucks. Never mind that you’ve got a computer capable of processing audio files, and should be able to add your own sound clips as audio files (I have the absolutely perfect ringtone sitting on my hard drive, but no way to push it to the phone).

Want to check email or view a web page? Sure! First, it’s painfully slow. Second, it’s even more painfully expensive. I’ll pass.

So, when a Canadian cell telco gets hit with a clue, and decides to make the phone work for me, instead of for them, I might have an incentive to get a phone.

On top of that, I hate phones in the first place. They’re all about “stop what you’re doing! someone else has something they need, right frakking now!” synchronous communication. Maybe I’m spoiled with email and IM, but there is very little of my communication with anyone that demands RIGHT FRAKKING NOW responses. I don’t really look forward to bringing that level of intrusiveness with me in my pocket…

Maybe an iPhone with the ringer turned off most of the time? Except I have very little faith in Canadian cell telcos to not completely screw up the iPhone by locking stuff down in order to maximize revenue generation. In the meantime, this is my ideal phone:

Wainright lobby phone

Back in town

We got back into Calgary early this morning (possibly the last flight to land at YYC for the night). Maui is great. A little more developed than I'd have liked (CostCo and Wal-Mart don't fit into my ideal mental image of relaxing tropical islands) but we had a blast nonetheless. Photos are now on Flickr, and I will try to do a braindump about the trip so I don't forget the details.

Now that I'm getting my head back into the mainland side of things, instead of being a haole-wannabe-local with my head in the waves, I'm realizing how successfully I was able to ignore things back home. I did have the laptop, but internet connectivity was crappy enough to make it useful only for checking email for emergencies (of which there was only one, thankfully).

Next up is the Web 2.0 Online Learning Festival. I have been graciously allowed to put my name on the billing, which means that since I was away for the last 11 days, I'm really just riding on some coat-tails. Brian, Jim, Gardner and (at least nominally) myself will be hosting a session at the NMC Online Conference on the Convergence of Web Culture and Video – tomorrow (March 21). Nominations are open, so if there's some awesome web-2.0-ish video that should be featured, add it to The List, and it might make it into The Envelope.

Away for awhile

I'm heading out of town on vacation for a few days. Offline. No phone. No internet. No Flickr. No RSS. I'll have to settle for sun, sand, and mai tais. I'm going as far as disabling comments on my blog while I'm away, because I don't want to have to even think about punting spam before Google indexes it. There shall be no spam while I'm on vacation.

I'll see you on the 21st! I'm sure I'll have a couple photos to post to Flickr. Maybe even an entire set or two.

Away - Back March 21

Political Faux Pas

On Monday, I attended a memorial for a family member that passed away recently (part of the reason I was in a bit of a funk during Northern Voice). It was the culmination of a long illness, but was still a shock.

At the memorial, a friend of hers stood up to say some words. Not a bad speech, and a nice gesture. They had met while working to pass some legislation to protect self employed individuals in the province. I talked with him after the service, at the reception upstairs. And then he did something that really unsettled me. He handed me his card. He is a politician, working he crowd for support. I saw him handing out cards around the room, making sure to talk to everyone at every table.

At the time, it didn't bother me too much. He was a friend of the deceased, trying to make contact with other friends and family members.

But, the more I think about it, the more incensed I get. Dude. You're handing out BUSINESS CARDS at a MEMORIAL??? I don't care if you're the freaking widower. That's just plain and simple NOT COOL. I don't care if you're a politician, a salesman, or a dotcom billionaire. Using a family memorial to work the crowd to gather support (no matter how subtly done) is a huge faux pas in my book.

I was asked by several people during the reception about the "guy handing out cards" – people were surprised that anyone would have the gall to do that. I'm stunned. Even though I could never bring myself to vote Progressive Conservative in the next provincial election, I will not be able to vote Liberal either. If this is the type of person selected by the Liberal party of Alberta, it isn't a good sign.

Not cool, Len. Not cool. 

Northern (Voice) Reflections

Update: Added photos from my Flickr set from Northern Voice.

I’ve been meaning to make the time to put together some reflections on Northern Voice 2007 before the memories start to do that thing that memories do. Life intervened, and so here I am, almost a week afterward, trying to remember with as much clarity as I can muster, the defining moments of NV2007 (for me).

First, the openness and generosity of the Lamb/McPhee family continually blows me away. I had the pleasure of imposing on them while I was staying in Vancouver, and I truly felt (feel) like I’m a member of the family. As H. put it “You’re a Lamb boy, but you’re slow because you like the Stampeders.”

East Hastings 1I spent much of Wednesday in a meeting hosted by the Donat Group, where participants in the Social Learning shared hosting project affiliated with BCCampus were planning the next steps. It was interesting, but I have to wonder if a shared hosting model is really necessary. The recurring theme from the leaders at Northern Voice is that decentralized, individually controlled personal publishing trumps institutional endeavors every time. I wonder what would happen if the energy was put into finding a way to make that happen, rather than hand-holding institutions. Maybe that’s a necessary first step to bring them into the era of social software, but it’s not the target destination. I hope I don’t get punted from the project for saying this, either…

Ceviche FixinsThursday was spent hanging out at Brian’s place, planning sessions for MooseCamp. Brian and I tossed some ideas around for our “Mashups for Non Programmers” session (lead by Scott, with Chris Lott, Brian and myself). Brian and I had an idea that would have been cool to show – how to display a social network visually, on the fly? I spent too much time chasing that idea down the rabbit hole, then brought myself back and settled for making a mashup circa 1997 – a Northern Voice Zeitgeist using iframes and meta refresh to show a control panel view of the conference at a glance. The zeitgeist displays the most recent posts tagged with “nv07″ via Technorati, a slideshow of NV07 images via Flickr, and a live java applet displaying the realtime IRC channel (the IRC channel has since been removed, because it’s rather quiet after the conference).

Mashups for Non Programmers 1Friday – MooseCamp. After finding our way to UBC and locating the Forestry building, we meet up with our co-conspirators for the Mashups session. We’re up first thing, so we head to the room to set up. I go first, and spend some time showing Yahoo! Pipes. It pretty much embodies the “non-programmers” angle on how to do things. No code. No files to manage. Just point, click, fill in some blanks. It was working great, until I got to the third pipe to demo, when Pipes took an abrupt faceplant into the pavement. It must have hurt, because he didn’t get up again. Next! Scott recovered for me, and showed some great mashups he’s working on using non-Pipes applications. It went pretty well, until some of those apps started to fall over. [maybe this was a precurser of Moose Fever?] Brian then gave his vision for AggRSSive, which was compelling and entertaining (as he always is). Chris was last up to bat, but hit the ball the farthest with his in-the-trenches use of mashups (using Ning, etc…). Man, did I ever take the easy way out by focussing on Pipes. Doh. From the feedback I heard after the session, many of the attendees actually appreciated the fact that applications fell over on us, and that we were able to recover and keep moving. That’s one thing you just have to do when dealing with online apps (especially those hosted by third parties). This was a really fun session. I’m humbled by the energy and effort put forth by my compatriots.

Jim Groom - More than just a blogAlso at MooseCamp, I got to co-present a session with Jim Groom called “More than just a blog” – we were showing things you can do with “blog” applications that aren’t just cat diaries. This was a really fun session, especially the discussion at the end, when we devolved into WordPress vs. Drupal cutdowns. Good times. :-)

Following that was the PhotoCamp session. It didn’t have the same groovy vibe that it had last year, where it was basically just a flowing 2-hour conversation. This year was a series of mini-presentations with questions thrown in. Still a great session, but not the mind blowing experience of last year.

Ceviche at Casa del LambFriday night – to the Lamb/McPhee homestead for a Ceviche eating festival. A whole bunch of edu-folk (and many non-edu-folk) hung out, ate, drank and were merry. I got to hang out with Jim Groom and Chris Lott for the first time (aside from our sessions that day). It’s really surprising just how genuine their blogs are, because it definitely felt like I already knew both of them. We ended up talking into the wee hours, coming back to the EduGlu concept several times over the evening (thanks to prodding from Jim). WHAT! IS! EDUGLUUUUUUU! – I just realized: I’m likely blending Thursday and Friday evenings. Jim, Scott and Chris came over after the Pre-Conference Gala and we had some great conversations (and beer). Similar pattern repeated on Friday evening. Blurr…

Saturday – Northern Voice (proper). Keynote by Anil Dash from SixApart. The dude works a Lessigian presentation pretty well. There were lots of cliches in the presentation, but some great lines, like “a date stamp is a social contract… that there will be more content to come”

Chris Lott during Social Software for Learning EnvironmentsOur “Social Software for Learning Environments” session went really well. Brian moderated, attempting to hold us to our scheduled presentation times. I rushed through showing a few sites we’ve set up here at UCalgary – various Drupal sites for online and blended learning communities. I was basically showing institutional approaches. Jon got up and showed the individual approaches he’s been using successfully in his classes, including an example where a student was critiquing a book and the author responded with a very well thought out and deep comment. That’s something that likely wouldn’t happen in an institutional solution (but I could be wrong). Sylvia showed the SCoPE online community, and talked about some of the back-end things they’re working on. Chris followed up with a demo of his work at UAF.

Kris Krug - photography session - 9The Photography session of the more formal conference day ironically turned into the freeform discussion hangout that last year’s MooseCamp/PhotoCamp session was. Kris masterfully led a discussion that wandered around topics such as workflow, composition, camera gear, lighting, using flash and diffusers, etc… One of the best sessions of the conference. Except for when Scoble had to keep piping up because we weren’t talking about him enough. Jeez, Scoble. Isn’t it enough to sit in the front row, shoving your monopod in front of the projector, but you have to throw your 2 cents in on every. single. question?

I was trying to take a fair number of photographs during the conference, especially during the sessions I was involved with. I came out with about 70 photos worth keeping, and of those there are a few I’m actually pretty proud of. It’s also funny how my memory seems to work best when jogged by a photograph. I’ll forget about something almost completely, then after seeing a photo of a session, I’ll remember every detail.

Then there’s the dreaded Moose Fever. I wasn’t spared. I’m just shaking the last of it now (hopefully). We must find Patient Zero, and apply the Atomic Wedgie of Doom.

After last year’s conference, the conversations kept ringing around in my head for weeks afterward, helping me to shape my thinking and pound out some ideas for things to do this year. I’m feeling the same effect this year, but I’m hoping I can actually implement some of the ideas this time. It’s always surreal to see my blogroll come to life and operate in realtime. It’s so much more effective to be having these discussions over ceviche and beer…

Update: I forgot to mention a couple of important things. First, it was definitely obvious that Alan wasn’t there. Several people asked me where he was, and his energy was missed. Also, the Northern Voice session on wikis by Stewart Mader and John Willinsky was a good one. Stewart talked about how his book was authored in a wiki (ala Dan Gilmore), and John talked about how his education students are using wikis to collaborate on lesson plans, and how he’s created a very impressive workflow as part of his curriculum (roles are assigned, and some students contribute content while others contrubute community moderation and “making sense and linking” the content). Very cool stuff, that.