I just completed my “2007/365″ project, where I took at least one photograph per day for the entire year. I didn’t realize going in just how hard it would be, but it forced me to see things differently and I did learn to be a bit more proficient with the technical aspects of photography.

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2007 in Photographs

Taking a cue from Dean Shareski, I’ve put together some of my favorite photographs taken in 2007. I maintain a “Photos I Like Most” set on my Flickr account, where I keep 100 photographs that I personally like. As I add a new one, I have to drop an older one. So, I just selected the photos from that set that were taken in 2007. This isn’t a “year in review” or “my top 10 photos” – just some of the photos I took this year that I personally like. They’re listed in reverse chronological order, with newest at the top and oldest at the bottom. Kinda bloggish that way…

My Faves of 2007

I ♥ Aperture, episode #423

This post is another in what feels like an endless series of love letters to Aperture. I’ve been using Aperture exclusively for a year now. At first, I was in way over my head. A complete amateur, lost in a professional tool. Now, I’m a complete amateur, able to salvage photographs pretty effectively in a professional tool. I’ve dabbled with iPhoto recently (using it to manage the photos from my son’s Fisher Price camera, because sending a 5 year old into Aperture felt like overkill) and I’m positive I could never go back. I’ve imbibed deeply of the Aperture Kool-Aid. It’s entirely possible that other apps (Lightroom?) could do what Aperture does, but Aperture works so amazingly well that I won’t bother to check out the other apps for awhile.

To illustrate just how amazing Aperture is, here are 2 photos I took this week. When posted to Flickr, they looked decent, even passable as non-crap. But that was only after some photo rescue applied from within Aperture.

Photo #1 (12 Mile Coulee Road on Christmas Day) was taken on Christmas Day, as I went for a bike ride around my community. I was booking it down a country road (the first country road you get to in my neck of the woods, and the one that marks the NW corner of the city of Calgary). I saw a pretty breathtaking view of the foothills, including a farmer’s field with scattered hay bales, and the Rocky Mountains off in the distance. I pulled over, and took a few shots. After getting home, I opened them up, and noticed that the photos all looked flat and lifeless. Drab. Dreary. It was a pretty much overcast and flatly lit day. But 15 seconds twiddling bits in Aperture brought the photo back to what I remembered seeing.

12 mile coulee christmas day, before and after

The left half of the image was “in camera” without touchups. The right half is after (literally) 15 seconds of tweaking in Aperture. I set the white balance (eye dropper on the snow) and tweaked levels and exposure. Bumped up contrast and saturation. Done. 15 seconds from boring, flat shot to a half decent photo of the foothills.

For the second shot (Santa Ball), I’ve been dabbling with a DIY lightbox. I’m just using whatever lights I have laying around (in this case, halogen and CF lamps collecting dust in the basement), so the white balance is pretty much crap, and not bright enough to make the images pop. I took this photo today to try a new combination (having been thwarted by Boxing Day closed stores and unable to pick up a set of more consistent lights).

Santaball, before and after

While the final image isn’t bad, the “in camera” version is absolute crap. The warm light makes it look orange, almost brown. And it’s not bright enough. This one took a bit longer to clean up properly. I think I spent a whopping 2 minutes. I set the white balance (eye dropper just below the bottom of the ball), bumped up exposure, saturation, contrast, and tweaked levels a bit. Hopefully after picking up some decent lights, the amount of lightbox post-processing tweakage will drop dramatically.

Although there’s no replacement for getting a photo right in camera, there’s also nothing like having the tools available to consistently rescue a photograph with pretty minimal effort.

Yahoo! Shortcuts!?

Jim posted about Yahoo! Shortcuts, and while the WordPress plugin sounds cool (it claims to scan a blog post and automagically find links to blog posts, flickr photos, and other sources of info), I’m not sure how well it’ll translate into real life. It looks like it scans the blog entry as you’re writing it, and when done it’ll run some code to insert stuff into the post before publishing.

I’m wondering if this is like StructuredBlogging with some automated lookups. How does the output look? Is this something worth using? How accurate is the logic for finding relevant links and photos? I’m just going to leave this post however Yahoo! Shortcuts generates it, as an example. And maybe to get the free t-shirt…

Jim raises a very important point – is this just a tool to embed content from Yahoo! endeavors? Will we be able to add other sources? Automatic lookups of Wikipedia pages? IMDB lookups? Or, is this just a tool to increase the Google Juice of Yahoo! properties?

So far, it looks like it just inserts hyperlinks around some predefined keywords, and points them to Yahoo! search pages. Not very useful, and something I find very annoying on the big sites that use this strategy. A link should point to a page, not a generic query. Anyone can do a search for a keyword without having these blasted hyperlinks inserted all over the place, with their annoying pop-in preview windows. Ick.

Update: wtf? looks like it uses javascript to embed the links and content. so the content doesn’t really exist, and the links don’t really mean anything from the perspective of search engines etc… this isn’t an intelligent structured blogging at all, it’s a javascript insertion. don’t like that one bit… And for some reason it’s adding the span tag several times for some of the identified keywords. Think I’ll be disabling this plugin. It’d be pretty cool if they released the cool CC Flickr photo finder as a separate plugin, perhaps with a more fully-featured Flickr photo inserter function…

on creative commons licensing

Long ago, I made a decision to publish everything that I do under a simple Creative Commons Attribution license (CC:By). With all of the licenses available, and all of the clauses listed as part of Creative Commons, why did I choose not to invoke them?

I don’t publish things online for fame, nor fortune. I started doing this primarily as an outboard, searchable brain. Over time, the network effects kicked in, and I’ve kept doing it for the additional reasons of sharing thoughts, experiences, and information with the rest of the class. The conversations that take place across the various bits of the social web have become far more important to me than simply publishing content. In order to honour the spirit of the network, attribution for use of content is required – a simple hyperlink – which then teaches Google, Technorati, and the rest of The Machine about the semantic connection between pages (and people).

Why not invoke the Non Commercial clause, as many do? Technically, someone could just collect every blog post I’ve written, and every photo I’ve published to Flickr, and print a book for sale at every bookstore on the planet, without sending me a penny. Yeah. Someone’s going to do that. Hey, if there’s a market for it, go for it. As long as the Attribution clause is honoured, so the millions of people who buy that book know where the stuff came from. Maybe I’ll be able to do the book-signing-circuit and see the world.

The printing-everything-for-profit example is a bit extreme, and silly, but there is a real chance that someone might use a chunk of content, or a photo or two, in a commercial work. Without paying me a single penny. And I’m completely fine with that – as long as Attribution is honoured – because if nothing else, that means that someone is getting some value out of something I’ve done. There’s no harm in including it in a commercial work, and perhaps more importantly, there’s no reason for me to discriminate against projects that have commercial interests. Open content is open content, no matter who uses it, no matter how they use it.

Why not the Share Alike clause? Personally, I feel that’s a bit onerous – saying “I’ll share with you, as long as you adopt the exact philosophy toward sharing content that I do. Otherwise, forget it.” I think it’s a bit conceited to require anyone to adopt a particular license in order to use/reuse/remix/mashup my content.

Why not just release the content into the Public Domain? Well, as I understand it (thanks to clarification by David Wiley and friends), there are legal measures that prevent that. It’s not feasible to cleanly “release” content into the Public Domain – once you publish it, copyright is automatically yours, and various jurisdictions interpret that differently. Given that, the next best thing is the Creative Commons Attribution license – it maintains copyright, with very little friction.

What’s the result of adopting CC:By as my license? For my blog, I think it’s had no real effect. Most of the bits that get reused would have been covered under Fair Use, even if I had adopted a strict license. So, CC:By just makes it clear that I’m cool with people doing whatever they want with my blog posts.

The largest impact of CC:By has been on my photographs that have been published to Flickr. Everyone is free to download the original, full resolution versions of each image. And they’re free to use it for any purpose. That sounds pretty risky. Someone might just grab a bunch of photos and use them in a book, or a game, or a magazine! Yeah. That’s what people have done. So far, I’ve had dozens of photographs republished in dozens of websites, in one board game, in 2 magazines (one as the front cover). And one organization even insisted on paying me for a commercial license (which we arranged separately from the CC:By license so they didn’t have to provide attribution, and only after I repeatedly told them they could use the image for free as long as they provided a link).

Honestly, I’ve stopped keeping track of websites that use my photos – I used to keep a list, but that got too difficult to maintain. I periodically check Technorati and Google for links, and am surprised every now and then by a new website, article, blog post, whatever, using one of my photos. And that makes me smile.

So, while I can’t go to the local CostCo™ and pick up a copy of The Unabridged Works of D’Arcy Norman (handy for those bouts of insomnia), I know that there are people who are getting value out of something that I have created. I’m a firm believer in karma, and what better way generate more of the good stuff?

Which brings me back to the question “why share the content, if it’s not going to pay the bills?” I already have a job, and it pays the bills. To me, the value of contributing to the network far outweighs the cost of locking my content down. Adding any friction to the process of using content will mean one of two things will happen:

  1. the content will be avoided, and something else will be used instead
  2. the content will be used anyway, and the license will be ignored

Either way, the network loses. It costs me absolutely nothing to share my content. I’m already publishing blog posts and photographs primarily for documentation, and secondarily for feedback. Use and reuse are “free” from my perspective. I don’t have to do anything extra to let people use my stuff if they want. But, I’d have to work hard to lock it down.

Update: I almost forgot about some of the places where my photos have wound up as a result of CC:By. One was used in a kid’s book on patterns and shapes. Several have been used in travel guides (for Calgary, Banff, San Francisco, Honolulu, Vancouver, and a couple other places I’m forgetting off the top of my head).

The one reuse of my photos that I wasn’t comfortable with, but still allowed because of the license, was a straight reuse of the banner images I use for my blog. For some reason, that really struck me as an odd thing to do – the banner images all have a personal meaning for me, and seeing them stripped of that meaning and displayed just because they are purty pictures just felt wrong. C’est la vie, as they say in Sweden.

The best time in history

This post is intended to counteract the funk that I was feeling (and generated) when I made my previous post. Things aren’t quite as dire as I made them out to be. Yes, there is much room for improvement, both locally and globally, but this is statistically the best time in the history of humanity, so far. And the trends show that things are getting better, overall. See Hans Rosling’s excellent TED presentation, where he backs this up with some powerful statistical animations (and even sword swallowing).

He does end his presentation on a sombre note – all of this progress comes at the cost of increased CO2 emissions. We need to figure out ways to improve the economic foundation of all countries, without roasting the planet.

on long(er) term thinking

Rambling, less-than-coherent writing alert.

I’ve been wrestling with a bunch of large-scale demons for the last few years, trying to figure out why things are just so generally shitty in the world today. It feels like things are spiraling out of control into some giant, unseen cesspool. Why is that happening? Why are we letting/causing it? Why aren’t we stopping it?

I went through a stage where I blamed unchecked capitalism – the mad rush to acquire the almighty dollar. This is why our important mass media sources are pandering to the lowest common denominator – because their primary duty isn’t to gather and disseminate “news” – it’s to sell advertising space. This is why we have to question all media sources, because at a very basic level, they have to tune their “stories” to attract and retain advertisers. This is why people actually aspire to owning a pimped out Hummer H2 full of the latest bling. This is why kids need “need” the latest toy/clothes/craze. This is why citizens are called “consumers” – we are described by our most valued traits.

I went through a stage where I blamed democracy. The idea of democracy is great. The implementation, where uneducated, uncaring hordes vote (or neglect to) based on messages spewed across various mass media outlets (see above) means that government and politics must be questioned. Why did (party X) take such a stand? Was it really in line with their beliefs? Or, did they get a large contribution from somewhere so they could afford an ad campaign during an election? Did they have to cut a deal on that in order to get something else? etc… Democracy corrupts and fails spectacularly without transparency, and without a substantial base of educated and committed voters providing effective direction to their elected representatives. They work for us, but we need to stand for something other than demanding sound bites and swiftboating drama. We have the technology now to enable us to implement effective democracy at the individual level – where everyone gets a direct and immediate voice – but we fail to do so.

Now, I’m going through a stage where I blame short term thinking. This was prompted, surprisingly, by watching a demo of the gameSpore” by game/toy designer Will Wright. In demonstrating the game, he talked about his philosophy of design, and why he has designed his series of open-ended “toys” (he doesn’t call them games). It was especially clear in watching the Spore demo, that the design was specifically crafted to allow an individual to effectively see and interact with things and events across several orders of magnitude of scale and time. From nanometer sizes and real time, to parsec sizes and time scales measured in millions of years.

Why did he design such an open and wide-reaching toy? To help people perceive, and begin to think, in longer terms. Time is a difficult thing to feel viscerally. Even 50 or 100 years is too long and abstract to get a solid feel for, intuitively. But, if a person is playing/living in a world where they can see a century flash before their eyes as they craft a world and evolve a species, they start to get a feel for what long term really is.

Which brought me back to my first 2 stages of understanding the mess we find ourselves in. Although the symptoms of short term thinking can be seen in both economics and politics, they are not the cause but rather the side effects of this short term thinking, amplified over time and scale.

One of the effects of this is that the responsibility for making educated decisions evaporates. Screw up on some policy? That’s ok. There will be another government formed in 1, 2 or 4 years, and they will deal with it. Want to help reduce the effects of global warming? That’ll take longer than a government has, and they’ll have to do things that will make them look bad in the mass media, so they’ll shoot themselves in the foot by doing so. Which, in short-term-thinking-world, is worse than flooding millions of people out of their homes as a result of global warming. Someone else will deal with that…

How do we start thinking longer term, as a population? First, we need to value the longer term. We need to be patient. We need to be able to give things time to percolate before pulling the plug. We need to give our leaders (both governmental, and corporate) some breathing room. We need to stop salivating at the prospect of juicy sound bites. And we need to get involved. What does this all look like? I don’t know. I’m still chewing on it.