The Roundup for April 14-20, 2018 Edition

Walkways by Christopher Parsons

Earlier this year, I suggested that the current concerns around Facebook data being accessed by unauthorized third parties wouldn’t result in users leaving the social network in droves. Not just because people would be disinclined to actually leave the social network but because so many services use Facebook.

Specifically, one of the points that I raised was:

3. Facebook is required to log into a lot of third party services. I’m thinking of services from my barber to Tinder. Deleting Facebook means it’s a lot harder to get a haircut and impossible to use something like Tinder.

At least one company, Bumble, is changing its profile confirmation methods: whereas previously all Bumble users linked their Facebook information to their Bumble account for account identification, the company is now developing their own verification system. Should a significant number of companies end up following Bumble’s model then this could have a significant impact on Facebook’s popularity, as some of the ‘stickiness’ of the service would be diminished.1

I think that people moving away from Facebook is a good thing. But it’s important to recognize that the company doesn’t just provide social connectivity: Facebook has also made it easier for businesses to secure login credential and (in others cases) ‘verify’ identity.2 In effect one of the trickiest parts of on boarding customers has been done by a third party that was well resourced to both collect and secure the data from formal data breaches. As smaller companies assume these responsibilities, without the equivalent to Facebook’s security staff, they are going to have to get very good, very fast, at protecting their customers’ information from data breaches. While it’s certainly not impossible for smaller companies to rise to the challenge, it won’t be a cost free endeavour, either.

It will be interesting to see if more companies move over to Bumble’s approach or if, instead, businesses and consumers alike merely shake their heads angrily at Facebook’s and continue to use the service despite its failings. For what it’s worth, I continue to think that people will just shake their heads angrily and little will actually come of the Cambridge Analytica story in terms of affecting the behaviours and desires of most Facebook users, unless there are continued rapid and sustained violations of Facebook users’ trust. But hope springs eternal and so I genuinely do hope that people shift away from Facebook and towards more open, self-owned, and interesting communications and networking platforms.


Thoughtful Quotation of the Week

The brands themselves aren’t the problem, though: we all need some stuff, so we rely on brands to create the things we need. The problem arises when we feel external pressure to acquire as if new trinkets are a shortcut to a more complete life. That external pressure shouldn’t be a sign to consume. If anything, it’s a sign to pause and ask, “Who am I buying this for?”

Great Photography Shots

I was really stunned by Zsolt Hlinka’s architectural photography, which was featured on My Modern MET.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

Footnotes

  1. I think that the other reasons I listed in my earlier post will still hold. Those points were:

    1. Few people vote. And so they aren’t going to care that some shady company was trying to affect voting patterns.
    2. Lots of people rely on Facebook to keep passive track of the people in their lives. Unless communities, not individuals, quit there will be immense pressure to remain part of the network.

  2. I’m aware that it’s easy to establish a fake Facebook account and that such activity is pretty common. Nevertheless, an awful lot of people use their ‘real’ Facebook accounts that has real verification information, such as email addresses and phone numbers.

The Roundup for March 10-23, 2018 Edition

Granada Cathedral by Christopher Parsons

For many years I’ve kept paper records of the things I’ve done in a given week. The rationale for keeping track is that I can be very busy, get a lot of real work done, but quickly forget about it because I routinely task shift between major projects. The result of this shifting is that I often produce thousands of words a week and forget about them once published. Keeping records has helped to ameliorate this forgetfulness problem.

In more recent years, rather than letting my week get filled up with ‘what I’ve done’ I’ve developed lists to try and keep me focused on the most important things. That has worked reasonably well, save that a lot of ‘extras’ get added to my week and then I’d typically just list them down with all of the planned tasks. So it looked like I was getting a lot done but, when I reviewed those lists a few weeks or months later, I couldn’t determine which were intentional versus unintentional tasks. During this period I also started to have a master list of my professional and personal objectives for a given week, and crossed them off as I finished them up. Tasks that didn’t get done tended to be moved to the subsequent week and, at the end of a work week, I’d have a short narrative explanation for what I did, why I did it, and how I felt about my professional and personal life during that period of time. That narrative component was important because it forced me to reflect at the end of the week on how the week had gone: pure lists didn’t compel that kind of introspection and, as such, weren’t as helpful for facilitating my personal development.

This year, things are (again) slightly different. I’ve separated out personal and professional tasks, for one: I continue to maintain a professional notebook but instead of also including a long list of my personal goals for the week, only highlight the top two or three personal items. I also have a section in my professional notebook for ‘extras’, or things which other people place on my schedule and which I accomplish in a given week. This helps me to segregate out how much of my work — and work accomplishments — are ‘mine’ versus belonging to others.

I also now have a pair of ‘personal’ notebooks; one is very tiny and travels everywhere with me. In addition to goal tracking I use it to record highlights from some books I’m reading, record useful quotations, or otherwise collect mental items that I want to retain longer-term. At the end of each week I move the items on the task list into my long-term personal notebook; other items (e.g. quotations, book notes, etc) are moved over when appropriate, such as when I’m done with reading a book for personal development and have concluded taking notes from it. On the Sunday or Monday of each week (i.e. very end of one week or very beginning of the next) I undertake a narrative reflection on how my personal life unfolded.

I’ve found that this system has been helpful for advancing my projects. It means that my work projects are always moving ahead a little each week, or that a single project enjoys a significant advancement if I almost entirely concentrate on it. Because I have a deliberate system planned out I can always find something else ‘productive’ to do if I’m stuck on a task or complete the element of a project I’d assigned myself in a given week. Having a deliberate series of tasks to complete also helps me to say ‘no’ to requests: if it’s important, and will take some time, then it gets moved to next week’s ‘todo’ instead of being taken up right away.1 In tandem with maintaining a deliberate task list I’ve taken to recording monthly highlights: I go through and identify the major victories over a given month (e.g. writing, speaking, planning, etc); this is useful to capture what I’ve been up to in a given month as well as to potentially advocate for pay cheque increases when my contract is renewed.

On the personal side, the system I’ve adopted of establishing weekly goals means I’m genuinely working on my more measurable yearly goals. It also means that I can always identify something ‘productive’ that I can spend time on, rather than just burning away a lot of time playing video games or watching Netflix. That’s not to say that all of my personal time is spent working! Projects I assign myself can range from reading fiction a few times in a given week, working through a backlog of high-quality magazine articles, exercising, or just organizing/cleaning my home. The point is to spend my personal time more deliberately, not to cut myself off from things that bring me joy and pleasure.

So far this system has served me well and keeps me relatively well grounded in my personal and professional life. It’s not as complicated or ornate as some of the task management systems that other people use. It doesn’t entail scheduling each and every second of my day, because I know that such organization systems just won’t work for me. It also means that there remains a lot of ‘gap’ time that’s filled with miscellaneous activities and opportunities, meaning that my life is relatively self-scheduled without being over-scheduled.

What system have you found works best, for you, to advance your professional and personal goals, projects, and objectives?


Quotation of the Week

“I strongly believe that the amount of love and care you put into a project is always apparent. Even if people are not conscious of it, they can sense when you have paid attention to every little detail.”

– Jocelyn K. Glei

Great Photography Shots

I really love these shots that Yuichi Yokota took of Tokyo during snowfalls.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

Footnotes

  1. I’ve been finding that if you promise you can do something, but only one week later, a lot of the miscellaneous tasks that are really about people just wanting fast work done go away, thus freeing up my schedule. Your mileage may vary.

The Roundup for March 3 – 9, 2018 Edition

Bang!
Bang! by Christopher Parsons

I’ve been on a speaking circuit this week, and so living a quasi-nomadic life. It’s a very strange experience to be shuttled between locations and across vast distances, all with only a modicum of awareness of all the places I’m scheduled to attend, persons I’ll be meeting, and expectations I will have to meet. I don’t mean to say that I don’t know why I’m travelling, or what I’ll be speaking about, but that the aspects of travel itself are often almost entire dealt with by other parties. There is no effort to determine where I need to go: someone will take me to the designated address. I don’t need to find a place to eat: I’ll be taken to where I need to eat. I don’t need to figure out where to sleep: someone else will determine that.

I contrast it with trips I take for personal relaxation and it’s a totally different experience. Tomorrow, as an example, I’ll be landing in a new place where I don’t speak the language and have no read guidance once I’m there. There are a few tent pole events — nature hikes! — but otherwise time will be entirely unoccupied with designated tasks or todos other than exploring. I actually find this kind of travel deeply uncomfortable because it feels so uncontrolled, but every time I learn a great deal more about the world, and how I should readjust my perceptions of that world.

While shuttling between places for conferences and events is intellectually stimulating it doesn’t tend to push me into uncomfortable spaces that facilitate growth. The exact opposite is true of personal travel. I half wonder, though: if I didn’t travel so often for work where things are scheduled and I’m attended to, would I prefer personal travel that had those characteristics? Would visiting resorts have some resonance if I wasn’t functionally visiting them for work on a semi-regular basis?


Great Photography Shots

I really like these simple compositions which were made with smartphones.

Pier‘ by Nikhil Kulkarni
Bird on a cold tin roof!‘ by Jaz Oldham

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for February 24-March 2, 2018 Edition

Evening Dream
Evening Dream by Christopher Parsons

For the past few weeks I’ve been deliberately constraining my photography by shooting exclusively by a 35mm equivalent lens. This was the focal length that really convinced me that I enjoyed photography as a way of seeing and experiencing the world. I’m a big fan of zoom lenses, and keep eyeing the Olympus 12-40mm 2.8 Pro lens, but I find that I learn the most about a scene by having to walk around it with a bright prime lens.

Alien Reach
Alien Reach by Christopher Parsons

When I travelled to Cuba, having to march around with a 50mm equivalent lens meant I went into entirely new places and angles that I wouldn’t have if I’d had a zoom lens to otherwise get a shot. And while I’ve previously used my 35mm equivalent, I have to admit that I’ve been far more reliant on some of my zooms and the 50mm; I just haven’t focused on learning to use the 35mm lens because there is so much more walking-by-zooming that I have to do with it compared to even my other prime lenses.

Sound Off!
Sound Off! by Christopher Parsons

But that’s silly: I enjoy the focal length, I just have to work a lot more to get things out of the camera. So I’ve been using it at night, during the day, and exclusively attached it to my camera body for the past month and intend to bring it (along with an 80-300mm equivalent lens) when I travel to South America in a week and change. I like the idea of an unobtrusive lens as my walkabout, and then the zoom for when I’ve trekking through nature. And, perhaps most importantly, I really like the idea of forcing myself to get a lot more comfortable with my current gear as a way to inhibit my desire to buy more gear: I have functionally underused equipment, and I should be playing with it, first and foremost, before even considering the purchase of new kit.


Inspiring Quotation

“We start on the path to genuine adulthood when we stop insisting on our emotional competence and acknowledge the extent to which we are – in many areas of our psyche – likely to be sharply trailing our biological age. Realising we aren’t – as yet, in subtle ways – quite adults may be the start of true maturity.”

Great Photography Shots

Mobiography’s landscape photography shots are really, really amazing and showcase just how much you can do with a contemporary smartphone and good lighting conditions.

Jagged horizon, Monument Valley…
Jagged horizon, Monument Valley… by Joseph Cyr
It’s been a good day… full of weather again..
It’s been a good day… full of weather again.. by Fi Austin
Snow & Fishing Cottages
Snow & Fishing Cottages by Jen Pollack Bianco
Windswept
Windswept by lkbside

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

The Roundup for February 17-23, 2018 Edition

Midnight sunrise by Christopher Parsons

I find it really hard to identify the stories in my photographs, prior to actually pushing the shutter button. When I look through, say, my best photos of 2017 I can see which ones have stories embedded within them but it’s a pretty rare thing that I saw, and decided upon, the story before taking the shot. In part, I think that my challenges are linked to only taking my photography more seriously for a relatively short period of time.

But some of the difficulties I’m encountering are also linked with my still learning to take ‘technically’ good photos, after which I think I’ll be more comfortable with more ‘narrative’ style shots. And I want to get better at the latter because I take Martino Pietropoli‘s statement pretty seriously: “Good photos tell stories. Average photos are just beautiful.”

Pietropoli’s article is excellent, insofar as he spends the time to walk through not just the importance of building a story into a photograph but because he also shows examples. In choosing examples he doesn’t merely say ‘here are narrative photos’ but, instead, he spends the time to spell out some of the narratives which might be bundled up in the shots in question. For me, his article was a particularly clear and poignant way of thinking through what stories might be in any given shot, and also as a way to differentiate between what he identifies as narrative versus ‘merely’ beautiful shots.

If I have one critique of the article — and I think it’s pretty minor — it’s that there’s an assumption that someone understands how to take photographs competently, and using this basic competence they can take shots with story. Put another way: I think that a lot of the efforts to create popular stylistic shots are very helpful in teaching people how to use their cameras and lenses, and to think through the importance of framing. Does that mean the people may end up with a series of ‘generic’ skills that many other photographers can roughly approximate or precisely imitate? Absolutely. But just as it’s important to learn how to write the five paragraph essay before breaking into longer-form writing that breaks all the rules of that high school essay format, learning the high-school format in the first place is an important skill that leads to more advanced writing.

I think that spending time looking at Instagram or Flickr or other places which hold ‘beautiful’ images is entirely appropriate for those who are learning to take photographs, and take them seriously. But I also tend to agree with Pietropoli that a photographer must eventually come to a decision: will their photographic style focus principally on technically beautiful shots or, instead, try to engage with the world by evoking emotions and reactions linked to the stories contained in their photos.


New Apps and Great App Updates from this Week

  • Cypher – a puzzle game about the history of cryptography

Great Photography Shots

I was really impressed with a range of the shots which won in the 2017 International Photographer of the Year contest.

Wave Crashers’ by Emily Kaszton. First Place, Nature: Aerial (Professional).
‘Neon Desert’ by Stefano Gardel. International Fine Art Photographer of the Year
‘Battersea’ by Giulio Zanni. Second place, Open Category: Long Exposure (Amateur)
‘Untitled’ by Pedro Diaz Molins. Second place, Fine Art: Photomanipulation (Amateur)
‘Lighting Clothes’ by Ramon Vaquero. Third place, People:Fashion/Beauty (Professional)
‘Desert Essential’ by Giovanni Canclini. First place, Open Category: Open Theme (Amateur)

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

The Roundup for February 10-16, 2018 Edition

Decisions by Christopher Parsons

One of the most important things that we can do is surround our lives with things, events, and people which bring joy to our lives. I think that it really matters that when you get up that you’re immersed in whatever it is that excites you: it makes hard days easier, and easy days that must more enjoyable.

Part of the reason that I’m interested in photography is to capture, and bring home, such moments of joy. That doesn’t mean that all photos have to be about babies and weddings but, instead, that whatever is captured resonates with my soul in a way that moves me. It also means that I’m delighted to support other artists who generate art that brings a sense of joy to my life. That doesn’t mean spending thousands of dollars on pieces1 but, instead, being slow and careful and meticulous in amassing a collection of pieces that I fall in love with each time I see them.

But I was bad last year: I didn’t print enough of my own photos and while I was buying art I didn’t immediately have ways to display it that brought the works to life.

So over the past few weeks I’ve invested in new frames to bring those pieces to life. I’m super excited to see what they’re like up on my walls and, in the process of getting everything ready, I’m also that much more interested in acquiring some additional frames — both small and large — so that I can print and view more of the photos that I’ve taken over the past few years.2

I really love the experience of waking up and having everything on the walls bring a smile to my face (or a tear to my eye, in the case of some family photos): there is a sense of life that occurs when our domiciles are filled with our memories. I’m looking forward to putting more of them on my walls.


Inspiring Quotations

“What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

  • Jane Goodall

Great Photography Shots

I’m just blown away by some of the shots taken by Paul Hoi in New Zealand, where he used an infrared camera to transform the green landscapes into a gorgeous, if alien, pink-toned wonderland.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

  • I really this modern little me’s ‘January By The Numbers’, and have actually started implementing it for professional activities.

Footnotes

  1. Yet…
  2. I’m now spending way too much time researching different kinds of paper and what is best for which images.

The Roundup for January 27-February 2, 2018 Edition

Sunset, 2018, Toronto by Christopher Parsons

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to structure my life, not just on a day to day basis, but with the intent of accomplishing something meaningful this year. Some of that relates to personal projects I want to pull off.1 But perhaps the most important thing I want to do this year is develop a really boring habit.

Mike Vardy wrote about his intent improve his personal fitness this year. His description of past attempts to become fit and how that differs from his current behaviours resonated with me. He wrote:

When I was trying to achieve a “body for life” before, I was single and doing it mainly to improve my physique for any potential ladies that I may wind up dating. I wasn’t really doing it for myself.

In contrast, this time he’s doing:

it for myself — and my family. My wife deserves to have a husband who’s in decent shape, and my kids deserve to have a father who can keep up with them. When my youngest turns thirteen, I’ll be fifty. I want to be able to roughhouse with him at that age and not feel it for weeks afterward. I’d also like to give myself the best shot at seeing my kids’ grandkids. Without exercise and proper diet, that just ain’t going to happen

In the past I tried to become more fit by taking it to the extreme. I also felt I had to hide what I was doing to avoid recriminations from family and people I lived with. I exercised when no one was around, or up, and hid the fact I was going on long challenging walks to avoid all kinds of hurtful commentary: getting fit was something that people were bemused about, at best, and openly mocked, at worst. I don’t have that kind of negative energy around me now and, instead, I have the support of people I love.2

I don’t know that my motives are quite the same as Mike: I’m not a father, and don’t intend to become one, nor am I doing this because I think someone else deserves my body in one format or another. No, I’m doing this purely because I would like to be in a situation where I can just say ‘sure, let’s climb that mountain’ and get going. I want to be able to hop on a bike and cycle across one of Canada’s smaller provinces because it would be neat to take that ride. And, more importantly, I want to get in the habit that regular active exercise is just so routine that it’s a normal, established, and boring part of my life.


Tim Cook was asked in the Apple earning call that took place in February about the company had considered whether, and if so how, their battery replacement program might affect replacement rates. The implied comment was the replacements might reduce the likelihood that consumers would upgrade to the new versions of devices, on grounds that some upgrades had historically taken place because people bought new phones as a result of their old ones slowing down or their batteries not providing adequate charge to get through a day. Cook responded that Apple:

did not consider in any way, shape, or form what it would do to upgrade rates. We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do for our customers. I don’t know what effect it will have for our customers. It was not in our thought process of deciding to do what we’ve done.

This is a great answer. Though I do suspect that the battery replacement program will delay some upgrades, I don’t know that such a delay would be inherently bad for the company. Jason Snell wrote that the iPhone 8 — not the X — was a really amazing phone for most people because they tended to be coming from devices that were release two or more years ago. As a result, people that were coming from iPhone 6, 6s, and 5s devices didn’t just get the updates of the iPhone 8 but also all the updates that came to the iPhone 7 and, in some cases, iPhone 6s.

In effect, people who waited three or more years to update ended up being wowed by all of the features in the new iPhone. These are everyday users who really do use words like ‘magic’ and literally utter ‘wow’ when things happen. They laugh with joy when Siri just does something right, or they have calendar items automatically added from their mail. These are the everyday consumers that Apple is making its money from.

These normal users are the ones that are going to be blown away whenever they do an upgrade, and are going to be especially appreciative of all the incremental updates that take place in the extra year they might delay an upgrade. They’re going to talk to their friends and family and co-workers. They might also talk about how the battery situation sucked while, simultaneously, mentioning how no other company offers a similar replacement program. Probably the only equivalent they’ll be able to think of was Samsung’s global recall of devices that were literally exploding in people’s hands.


Quotation of the Week

“By retreating into ourselves, it looks as if we are the enemies of others, but our solitary moments are in reality a homage to the richness of social existence. Unless we’ve had time alone, we can’t be who we would like to be around our fellow humans. We won’t have original opinions. We won’t have lively and authentic perspectives. We’ll be – in the wrong way – a bit like everyone else.”

Great Photography Shots

The best 40 photographs of 2017 which was compiled by My Modern Met is pretty stunning.

There She Waits on Her Throne of Ice by Kory Zuccarelli
Untitled by Nigel Hodson
California Summer Weekend Babe! by Niaz Uddin

Music I’m Digging

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

  1. I’ll update as I’m successful on those projects, instead of indicating what they are then failing to deliver.
  2. It also helps that my father died of a heart attack last year; getting fit isn’t just aimless or directionless, but it’s to reduce the likelihood of a similar event befalling me.