The value of photographs

This post is a revision of one I published in 2015. The topic came to mind again as I was discussing my Adobe Lightroom workflows with an acquaintance who is currently making a switch to this software.

The question at hand is how to decide which of your hundreds or thousands of digital photos you should delete and which you should keep.

I have observed amongst some friends that the subject of culling engenders lengthy discussions including picking keepers, hiding duds, rating schemes, multiple passes, and the passage of time to try and make sure the right photos went in the right direction.

My approach does away with this angst, for the most part, by flipping the triage process on its head. Instead of deciding which photos to throw away, I decide which to publish, and keep the lot.

Back when I wrote the original piece, I had just seen the beginning of a training video in which it was claimed that 99% of the trainer’s photographs ”don’t work” and 95% of them should be deleted. He was making selections based on how well he had executed the art of photography and any frame that was slightly out of focus, unbalanced, misaligned, or poorly composed did not deserve to be kept. Even a good frame did not deserve to be kept if there was a better one of the same subject. But I contend that photography is not just art.

I have thousands of photos of aircraft that are not pleasing enough to my eye to publish, but they are a record of a particular aircraft at a particular time and location. I follow blogs which publish hundreds of such photos from years gone by and these generate a lot of interest. I can imagine some may consider photos of trains, cars or boats in the same way.

I would also consider bird photos in a similar vein. For instance, I have a handful of photos of New Zealand Dabchicks, almost all of which aren’t great to look at, but represent a lot of work I did to stalk these shy birds and to some extent serve as an aid in recognition for the future.

The trainer was a street photographer, and at first, I considered that subject matter unlikely to fall in line with my thinking. But what if you capture something which only has meaning much later than when you first review your photos? There are photos of people before they became famous, or claimed to be ”the last” before they died, many of which are artistically unremarkable, yet historically important or at the very least interesting.

What about photos of family which are memories? How many times have you seen a story about a tragic death in which the person is remembered by a photo which, usually, shows them in happy times, but also usually, is a not a great piece of photographic art? It’s the memory that is important, whether in focus or not. Even if you have 5 photos of a person in the same place at the same time, maybe there’s something in the background of one of them – a favourite toy; a cherished painting; something that takes on a deeper meaning after later events unfold. You might even have an unremarkable photo of a landscape that later undergoes dramatic change.

It was this concept of ’later significant’ photos that was explained to me many years ago after which point I haven’t deleted a single photo except a small handful which were massively out of focus or accidental shots, say, of the ground. With my shift to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to manage my photos I have doubled down on my keywording – cleaning up as much as I can – and in the process, I have come across photos I forgot I had. Ones never before considered for publishing to the world but fascinating to rediscover and some I have cleaned up and now published.

Furthermore, the phrase ”storage is cheap” continues to ring true. Granted my photo library is not enormous (~32,000 photos @ ~375 GB) but I now have it comfortably resting on a fast external SSD. Even if it were 10 times the size, I could spend a few hundred dollars on a 4TB USB drive.

So, I do not cull my photos and have no plans to start. Rather, I organise everything to be held for posterity and then select my best or most interesting for publishing.

Here’s the first one I stumbled across in my cleanup. I have no idea what was my frame of mind that this very interesting and unique (in New Zealand) aircraft didn’t warrant publishing straight away…

 

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…whereas the very next frame from my camera did get published.

 

Is this a photographic work of art? Or a memory of a young Maine Coon called Snickers?


The header image on this post is of Fouga Magister, ZK-FGA, taken on January 25th, 2004. This aircraft tragically crashed less than two months later. It’s not a fantastic photo of the aircraft, but it is the only (digital) one I have.

Inattention

TV3’s current affairs/magazine program Story tonight aired yet another piece about pedestrians walking around distracted by mobile phones. Leaving aside the fact that someone walking around in a furry suit is hardly a reason for attention in Wellington, once again the focus was on the wrong side of the equation.

I typically walk around Wellington City 5 days a week and when I do, I’m often “plugged in” to a podcast or sometimes music, through a set of in-ear earbuds. Occasionally I will try to do something on my phone, or my watch, but I am always acutely aware that my attention is distracted and I only do it when and where it makes reasonable sense. This is one of the reasons I love walking along the waterfront – no dangerous traffic!

Earbuds are not enough to block out all noise. I can hear most cars, all sirens, all buses (noisy, dirty things!) and many other things besides. But even if noise is blocked, I still have my eyes, and for almost all occasions they are enough. I always look several times in each direction before crossing a road. DOESN’T EVERYONE?

That’s the real problem. People do not pay attention to their surroundings. And guess what. It doesn’t take a mobile phone to distract them. I see people walking along reading hard cover books! Yes, many times! I see people walking along talking to a friend who is beside them and they look directly at the friend, not where they’re going. Heck, I even see some people off in a day dream with no form of distraction. I’ve seen people walk across busy streets without looking in any direction other than straight ahead. In some cases cars have come close to hitting them and they have still been unaware, or uncaring, even with zero distracting devices.

Banning looking at mobile phones or fining people for doing so is utterly ridiculous and that it has even been suggested is just another step towards the all controlling state, that decides it must legislate protection for people from themselves.

The answer to the problem is personal responsibility, which is something I was taught when I was growing up. The thing we need to figure out is how to wake people up. And if you think it’s not a big deal – just imagine this attitude applied behind the wheel of a car.

Actually, no need to imagine.

Banner image by Urban Muser

Dare to care

This is a post I’ve been meaning, wanting, to write for a long time. Years. I’ve often shied away from it because… well… I think it might be controversial. Maybe controversial is not the right word. Maybe I think people will think I’m nuts. Oh well, here goes…

Pardon the language, but what the world really needs right now is for everybody to give a shit about the little stuff. There, I said it. Most of what I’m about to write applies to New Zealand because that’s where I’m observing the behaviour, but I’d wager it applies to a lot of other countries, too.

Let’s start with the road toll. Roughly one person a day dies on New Zealand roads. Our police force campaign mightily against the twin evils of drunk driving and speeding. I cannot make an argument that both of those things shouldn’t be policed, even though I’m prone to a little burst of speed myself now and then. What annoys me is the slavish focus on just these two things. This is in complete ignorance of the root problem with New Zealand drivers. We’re selfish, ignorant, incapable and lacking confidence.

People who fail to give way at an intersection – too selfish to wait, ignorant of other vehicles, or lacking the confidence to stop safely and get moving again? People who tailgate – too ignorant of the risk, or impatient (selfish) with the person in front? People who make sudden and dangerous lane changes – ignorant of the risk, ignorant of other vehicles around, or just selfishly taking the space they want? People who run orange or red lights – too selfish to wait their turn, or lacking the confidence to stop safely and get moving again? And so on…

In the past I’ve supported the idea of tougher licensing and testing of all drivers, including additional compulsory training and regular re-testing. But I think even this is not going to get to the root of the problem. Because the root of the problem isn’t even in our driving. It’s in who we are. To see who we are, we can ignore the car and turn to the world of the pedestrian.

I’m not even talking about pedestrians in the context of vehicular traffic. I walk along Wellington’s  fantastic waterfront area 5 days a week. One of the reasons is the view, another is it means less crossing of roads. But that doesn’t save me from conflict. Every day I encounter the same selfishness I described above.

When you’re walking in a public area in New Zealand, take a look around and you will see that, in general, people will walk on the left when there is bidirectional foot traffic. It seems reasonable to me that we follow the convention of our cars in doing this and just as reasonable that the basic rules of avoiding vehicles could be applied to pedestrians avoiding each other.

The selfishness comes out in people who insist on walking in the most direct line they can to reach their destination, even when that is in conflict with others. Having studied this behaviour for a long time, I now delight in seeing what happens when I do exactly the same thing. Reasonably often I ‘win’ the encounter, especially if I employ one of my ‘tricks’ such as looking out to sea so they know I can’t see them. But from time to time it turns into a confrontation. In the worst case I deliberately collided with another person to make this point and managed to break a pair of earbuds in the process. Normally I just move on without looking back, but having lost my earbuds I turned to retrieve them. The other fellow had ended up holding them in his hand and looked at me like I was crazy. I was annoyed at the now broken earbuds so I uncharacteristically vocalised my feelings. “Well SOMEONE had to get out of the way!” I said as I grabbed them back off him and turned and left.

The key thing here is I behaved no differently to the other guy. I just walked in a straight line across the bridge. He made no move to try and avoid me and neither did I try to avoid him. Bang! If he had made the slightest move to avoid me I would have reciprocated.

This is not the only heated encounter I’ve had. I once had the presence of mind (and the lack of haste) to simply stop dead in front of a woman in a busy shop one day. She clearly thought I should just get out of her way and I disagreed, so I just stood there. She eventually sighed, gave me a look like I was crazy and walked around me with all the airs of someone who has been grievously wronged.

That’s the selfish people. There are plenty of them around. Now to the ignorant. Queues. They’re all over the place. A queue in my favourite lunch spot begins to reach the door and people come along and join the queue outside of the shop – stretching it across the footpath. Despite there being considerable frontage to the shop along which the queue could bend. My favourites are the ones who repeatedly move out of the way of other pedestrians and then continue to block the footpath. Inside, the queue continues after the cash register so that patrons can choose their fillings for the pita pockets. Sometimes the post-register queue gets a little backed up. The other day when this happened, the person in two behind me in the queue completely ignored the awkward tail and not only ‘cut in’ as if it wasn’t there but also remained standing such that they were blocking the register. I ended up forcefully moving ahead of him before he realised he wasn’t following the flow of the proper queue.

Just down the road from my office is a major bus stop. It’s a stupidly placed stop (well, most in the city are, to be honest) in that it is in front of a shopping arcade. Bus patrons awaiting their ride all spread out in front of the arcade and almost always if I want to go into a shop I have to force my way through a crowd, and again on the way back out. Even if I am just trying to walk past, people will arrive in the vicinity of the bus stop and simply stop where they are in the middle of the footpath.

It’s an epidemic. And this is where I think people will say I’m nuts because they don’t see this sort of behaviour. And this is where I think I may even be controversial – because if you don’t see the problem, it is quite likely because you are part of the problem. Maybe people aren’t prepared to confront you when you are being ignorant or selfish.

When I see how people behave when walking I have no trouble understanding the behaviour of drivers, because it is the same behaviour. I guess some drivers have the added lack of confidence, but if they weren’t also ignorant and selfish, maybe that confidence would come.

Now… I speak as if the whole country is like this, and it isn’t. Of course I notice all the people who behave badly. But… there are so many behaving badly that I also notice those who act selflessly. The driver who motions me across when I am perfectly prepared to wait. The person who deftly steps out of my way (as I reciprocate). If I were to become fabulously rich, one of my plans is to walk around the city handing out cash to people who visibly give a shit about others,

Having thought about all this long and hard over the years, in conjunction with other selfish behaviours such as in the workplace, I have come to a startlingly simple conclusion.

People need to care about their surroundings. Their surroundings including other people. If we all just cared I think this whole problem would melt away.

I give a damn. Please, will you?


Banner image by Remco Wighman.

That’s not an argument!

Monty Python had a great sketch called The Argument Clinic in which the concept of an argument is rather humourously discussed. Although intended to be humour, it contains the following exchange which I feel stands well outside the context of the sketch.

Man: An argument isn’t just contradiction.

Mr. Vibrating: It can be.

Man: No it can’t. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.

Mr. Vibrating: No it isn’t.

Man: Yes it is! It’s not just contradiction.

Mr. Vibrating: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position. 

Man: Yes, but that’s not just saying ‘No it isn’t.’

Mr. Vibrating: Yes it is!

Man: No it isn’t!

Man: Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.

The line I would like to highlight in this piece of comedy is Mr. Vibrating’s.

Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.

We could debate the definition of ‘argument’ but this concept of “automatic gainsaying” is seemingly what some of the most vocal people on the internet seem to believe.

Local journalist Heather du Plessis-Allan often writes thoughtful pieces in her New Zealand Herald column and sometimes, like me, she pokes at the fallacies of the topic, rather than coming down on one side or other of the debate. Today was such a day when she penned a piece about the recent TPPA protests in Auckland.

The column does not actually fall on either side of the TPPA debate, though it does list arguments for both sides. What it is really aimed at is the apparent ignorance of those people out protesting who could not string together a half decent reason for why they were there and yet, in some cases, felt empowered to create civil unrest, rather than simply protesting peacefully.

A valid response to the piece could be to attack the news item played on Heather’s Story current affairs show, from where this view of ignorant protesters emanated. I have my concerns about how it was conducted. I’m sure there were people there who could have given informed and eloquent responses but they were probably not amongst the banner waving, shouting forefront of the march.

But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the fact that so many people fail to understand an important part of arguments. If arguments are based on “a series of statements intended to establish a proposition” then those statements must stand up to scrutiny. While one way to attack an argument is to “take up a contrary position,” another is to point out fallacies in the argument without necessarily taking a contrary position. Heather’s entire post is poking at the fallacies of the protest, not taking an opposing view to the protesting of the TPPA. In fact, she actively encourages the debate to continue.

Here’s the tweet that made me write this post.

The short version of this post appeared in a tweet I sent in response to that.

I probably wouldn’t be writing this post if I hadn’t repeatedly hit this problem myself. I once posted (now offline) about a spat between Leo Laporte and Adam Curry who disagreed on whether the moon landings occurred. While I agree with Leo’s position that they did, I also have to allow for Adam’s position to be tenable because to do otherwise is arrogant and in ignorance of many of history’s fallacies. I tried saying that a few places and suddenly I’m a fool for not believing in the moon landings, even though I clearly claimed I did.

There was a New Zealand web site I used to visit regularly. Daily if I had the time. There were some fantastic debates, but in the end I quit going there because of this problem. Turns out that by trying to shoot down dodgy data that purports to support anthropomorphic global warming theory, I’m branded a “climate change denier.”

Although I strongly believe in eradicating sexism, I’ve been “spat at” for daring to suggest that poor arguments do not help the cause. Maybe I really am wrong on that one, but once again, I was assumed, despite openly supporting the cause, to be “part of the problem.”

We wonder why this country, heck much of the world, has an apathy toward confronting controversy like this. We wonder why, apparently, only uninformed fools can be found fronting a protest march. We wonder why the term “lurker” describes the vast majority of enrolled participants in social media debate. I don’t think we need wonder. I think it’s pretty obvious that intelligent debate is too often drowned out by people who insist on black and white arguments. I am, once again, prompted to point everyone to this.


Banner image by This Year’s Love.

Right and wrong

A version of this first appeared in November 2011 on the Sitting Duck blog, a forerunner of this blog.


No matter what you think, no matter what you believe, no matter your intentions, there will always be someone who disagrees.

While the only meaningful course of action is to stand up for, stand behind your beliefs, just remember that – to the other person – you’re just as wrong as you think they are.

Because there’s every chance they have the same level of conviction as you, that makes you wrong. Even if you don’t believe it.

The better person, while standing up for their beliefs, keeps an open mind.

Failure to understand this fundamental fact leads to political, cultural, ethnic and religious conflict. Conflict which gives neither party any lasting gain.

Mutual respect and understanding makes winners of everyone and leads to the best outcomes.


Banner image Creative Commons by Metropolicio.org.

Open mind, open ears

Right up front here, let me first admit that I have Abba and The Carpenters in my CD collection (and thus in iTunes).

I’ve written recently (well, recent in this blog’s timescale) about my discovery of new music. Of how a series of events have built up to make me take a closer look. In this way I found The Naked and Famous and London Grammar. And now it has happened again, but this one is somewhat surprising and that’s the reason for my opening paragraph.

I’ve often said (if not here, then in real life) that I tend to avoid hype. Mostly that applies to movies but in some measure also to music. The more ‘screamingly popular’ a musical artist is, the less likely I am to check out their work. This is as a result of becoming seriously jaded by “mainstream” music over a lot of years. I still rarely listen to the radio and when I do I am rarely impressed by what I hear.

So imagine my surprise when I began to seriously consider checking out the music of Taylor Swift. The first catalyst was when she appeared in a performance on Australia’s X Factor show final.

I quite liked the song, Shake It Off. It’s definitely a highly produced Pop song, which is often where I turn off, but it was also catchy and I got a sense that it wasn’t so ordinary as I had expected. There were subtle parts to the song which caught my attention. But what really clicked for me was after the song was finished and Ms. Swift reacted to the audience and spoke with host Luke Jacobs. I saw a real person then. Other “top artists” had performed throughout the show’s run this year and some came across as plastic or even fake personas. Not so, Taylor. Take a look for yourself.

She even took the time to do an audience walk during the number – something all the contestants took advantage of but many of the invited guests did not. Respect!

For a while I didn’t really think much more about it, although I did seek out and watch the above YouTube clip again. Then the next catalyst popped up.

The influencer was Twitter philosopher Zac Cichy. Zac also implored his followers to check out Miley Cyrus, and I did, but her sound is not to my liking. With Taylor’s new album 1989now available (including Shake It Off), Zac said:

So, I decided I should check out the album. But how? It is famously not available on streaming services so that was a bit of a challenge. I’m a huge fan of not just spending my money to see if I like something (hmmm, don’t ask me how many iOS apps I’ve bought, though).

Here’s another admission. I found an ‘illicit’ copy online. I downloaded it with the intent of listening to it from end to end once. After that I would delete it. And that’s exactly what I did. The unknown at the start was whether I would want to own a copy.

Yes, I liked it a lot.

I’ve since listened to the album from end to end a couple of times. There are some real gems on there. Sure, there are definitely a number of straight up Pop numbers with high levels of sound production, but even those are done intelligently. Then there are the slightly less “Pop-py” sounding songs, one of which has become a firm favourite.

Another thing I often say (yes, I do talk a lot) is that one of my biggest musical penchants is powerful female vocalists. Something in my brain just clicks with the female voice belting out epic notes. But I also appreciate real vocal talent – where the singer doesn’t just “sing words to music” but puts real nuance and effort into using their voice as an instrument.

I can’t quite decide what it is about Welcome to New York that ticks my boxes. Perhaps it is the punchy synth (reminiscent, for me, of OMD). Perhaps it is the simple chorus with all its twists in delivery. Perhaps it is Taylor’s subtle and beautiful vocal twists especially in some of the later verses. Probably it’s all of those things together. It’s a good ‘un!

Since the original version of this post was released, the video of Welcome to New York, performed live on David Letterman’s show, has been removed and there are no good performances now available.

So, I implore you, check it out. This is not cheap, over-produced, mainstream Pop trash. It is quality music created by a lady who cares about what she creates. Click on the album cover to find it in iTunes.

 

1989 Deluxe, by Taylor Swift. Click to find in iTunes (affiliate link).
1989 Deluxe, by Taylor Swift. Click to find in iTunes (affiliate link).

 

Brick by brick

After yet another egregious use of the fictitious word “LEGOs” by a mainstream (American) publication, I sought evidence from the wide world of the Internet.

Or is that the Internets? That would be my first question – what are we naming? The parts or the whole? If we’re naming the whole product range of the LEGO company, then surely LEGOs must mean more than one such company? Is “the Internet” a collective term for every computer on the network and every router and every network circuit? Perhaps.

But even if we aren’t naming the whole, I think answers like this are concentrating so hard on the technicalities of the English language that they’re missing a key point. Oh, wait. Are we talking about “English words” or “Englishes?” No, that would be silly. Wouldn’t it?

I need to build a (real) house, so I will need some bricks, some woods and some tiles. Why are “bricks” and “tiles” correct but “woods” is not? Because “wood” represents a system of components (quite broad in this case), whereas a “brick” and a “tile” are an individual item. We can name a wooden component, such as a batten. I need battens. See, if we name a single entity, we pluralise it with the ‘s’. If we name the system we do not. Interestingly, if we head to the game of golf, where a “wood” is indeed a single club, then the word “woods” is perfectly correct.

In my house I will need some furnitures. Maybe some Ikeas? Definitely some beds and some chairs. See? Name a thing, add an ‘s’, name a concept, don’t add an ‘s’. “Ikea” and “LEGO” must surely be considered equivalent for this argument!

So let’s go back to LEGO. What is it? It’s a company, but like many brands it has come to represent the company’s iconic products. All of them. What is LEGO? It’s a system of interlocking bricks and other parts which fit together in a standard way. We can buy “minifigs”, “bricks” and “sets”. But in the end we are buying lots and lots of LEGO.

If you insist on playing with “LEGOs”, you can also have a lot of fun playing with some Scalextrics, some Meccanos, some K’NEXs, some Marklins or Hornbys. Or you can go old school and build something with woods or sculpt something with clays. You can thatch a roof with straws (that’d be fun to watch!) or write some poetry with Englishes.

PC in a new domain

Political correctness: it has pervaded modern life to an extreme.

In New Zealand, any swimming pool must have a fence around it with fairly serious dimensions and locking mechanisms – all because a handful of people weren’t watching the kids in their care. Smacking a child is against the law, too, as a ‘protection’ against the ravages of child abuse. Those same children can’t fail at school either, where everyone succeeds and it is an offence to even touch a student. It’s a mad state of affairs which doesn’t look like turning around any time soon.

Still, in today’s modern society, that wonderful, free (as in speech) internet must be the last bastion of speaking one’s mind, right? Well, yes and no. Certainly lawmakers are having a hard time catching up with what online publishing means. Publishing a slanderous allegation in the online edition of a major publication will certainly attract the attention of the authorities, but what about a mildly offensive tweet? Yes, even those are starting to gain attention.

But what I would like to draw attention to right now is something altogether more pervasive and worrying. I’m talking about all those places many of us hang out every day. Twitter, sure, but also blog/article comments, forums, Facebook and more. Those everyday places where people hold what used to be water cooler conversations but with generally much wider audiences. There are mini soapboxes that people stand on every day, including me.

It has been my observation in the last couple of years that any form of opposing view or criticism or even observation – no matter how well reasoned – is taken as a personal attack and often met with vitriol. If I might draw upon an analogy: a student stands on a low wall with a megaphone and demands something be done about exorbitant student fees. I, standing nearby, yell out “your fly’s down mate” and am met with cries of “Hater!” and basically painted as a capitalist oppressor. That sounds extreme but honestly, it has the right levels based on what I’ve experienced recently.

I’m as opinionated as they get, but I learned years ago that I’m often just wrong. Sometimes spectacularly. The thing is, I stand up for my views but I am also more than happy to have those views changed by means of a spirited debate. I fear, however, that I am in a minority with that trait. It used to be people just wouldn’t respond to anything I said. More recently I get varying levels of pure disdain or even hate coming back at me.

Sometimes I wonder if I should just shut up. Say nothing. Let it slide. Fuck that! It’s not who I am.

I see society devolving day in and day out. PC laws, coddled kids, over-sensitivity to pretty much any group you can attach a label to, and I don’t like the way it’s going. So I am saying my piece. If we all say nothing, it just gets worse.

If I see a flaw in your thinking – I will say so.

If I think you’re just wrong – I will say so.

If I think you’re not being clear – I will say so.

If I think you’ve missed a key point – I will say so.

If you use bad grammar or spelling to the point I have trouble understanding – I will say so.

If you don’t like it, then defend your position. There’s every chance I’m wrong and I’m prepared to accept that if you can convince me, or just agree to disagree if it turns out our beliefs are not aligned.

But as soon as you respond while failing to defend your argument/position then I will consider you the idiot. But I won’t hate you for it.

When people hate and despise those with opposing views – that’s where wars and oppression come from. If we end up in the much feared ‘nanny state’ with our liberties curtailed to an extreme, I will stand proud and say I am not accountable for this.

Now go on. I dare you. The comments are open… have at it!