The best tool for the job

While attempting to find a purpose for my photography, I began looking for patterns in the things that I took photos of. I asked myself, "why did I want to capture this?" After several weeks of doing this, the only all-encompassing thing I found was beauty.

When I see something that I moves me--be it an interesting bug on the ground or the way the sun reflects off the bottom of low-hanging clouds during a sunset--it's always beauty that triggers something within me to take action.

But if it's beauty that turns on the photographer in me, why is there a photographer in me in the first place? Why take a photo of something that I find beautiful? Why not just enjoy it for myself?

I think the answer to that is sharing.

I have an innate desire to share things that move me, be it an interesting idea, a thought, or a beautiful flower. When it comes to thoughts and ideas, writing is my capture tool of choice. When it comes to visual experiences, a camera is usually my capture tool of choice.

But why should I have separate tools for capture? Why not just use writing to capture all experiences and describe in vivid detail what I have witnessed?

I think it's because I'm always seeking to use the best tool for the job.

Sometimes writing is the best tool and sometimes it's a camera. When I hear a dozen birds chirping in a tree and I want to capture that, I don't start writing down in a notebook or hauling out an expensive video camera. I use the mic on my iPhone to make an audio recording and share it via SoundCloud 1.

The best tool to share the thoughts that I'm sharing here right now would not be a camera or an audio recorder, so that's not what I use. (The exception would be an audio recording of this text for readers with a hearing impairment.)

I wonder why I do this, why I'm always seeking to use the best tool for job.

Emerson wasn't able to take out his iPhone and capture things that caught his attention. Some may argue this was good and that modern technology ruining us, that things were better off back then. I disagree. Technology may certainly be changing what once was, but what's wrong with that?

Perhaps the reason I'm always seeking the best tool for the job is that I embrace the fact that technology changes what it means to interact with reality, that what's always been the best tool for the job might not be the best tool today.

We need to experiment, adapt, and evolve like never before. We need to do these things not so that we can keep up, but rather so that we can slow down, so that we can embrace now instead of holding onto the past.

We're living in a time of extreme technological evolution. 'Now' is constantly changing. If we want to remain present we need to be constantly changing. We need to be dynamic.

As you go throughout your day, ask yourself: "Is this the best tool for the job?"

We're not lab rats, damnit. We're humans!

Are you a dreamer? Do you frequently find yourself gazing off into the distance getting lost in a world of "What If"?

Back to work. You can't daydream forever.

But what if you could? What if you had the freedom to daydream when you felt like daydreaming? To work when you felt like working?

Humans aren't supposed to spend their days in office buildings. We're not supposed to spend large amounts of time moving ourselves from one place to another in giant hunks of metal while our bodies slowly deteriorate and our relationships slowly fade.

We're not supposed to spend gargantuan amounts of time plopped down in front of electronic devices moving our fingers and eyelids, absorbing radiation, and spending more waking time in the virtual world than in the real one.

We not supposed to arrive at home and focus our attention on a box that has been pre-programmed to brainwash us while simultaneously allowing our bodies to atrophy. Continue reading

My swim trunks and a tiny island

Today at my parents house I swam 1/4 mile to a tiny island (the lake is called Little Island Pond, but it's actually a lake and it has two islands; a little one and a big one). I wasn't planning on swimming all the way there but I decided it was a nice day so why not. I've been wanting to start training for a triathlon and swimming is definitely an area where I need to work on my endurance and technique. I tried to stay close to shore and raise my hand and splash my feet whenever it looked like a boat coming towards me might not see me.

When I got to the tiny island (a big pile of rocks with a few shrubs and lily pads all around) I found a suitable sized flat rock and laid down in the sun. It was so peaceful. Boats and jet skis would roar by every now and then, sending waves rippling towards the rocks, eventually crashing and lightly splashing water on me. My iPhone was a 1/4 mile away. No buzzing. No ringing. Not even the possibility of it. It was literally just me, my swim trunks, and a bunch of rocks in the middle of a lake.

I had no way of tracking time and I don't know how long I ended up staying there. I wasn't thinking about time. I was just enjoying the moment. It's amazing how quickly time can pass when you're thoroughly enjoying the moment. Eventually I slipped back into the water and made my way back. I practiced the combat side stroke, a technique used by the Navy SEALs. It's amazing how well the technique moves you through the water. When I looked up at the shoreline, it seemed like I was moving at the speed of a slow jog!

One thing I like to do is track my distance in various activities. If I spend an hour swimming, I'd like to know how far I swam so I can try to improve on the time. A few days ago I started using an app on my iPhone called RunKeeper. It tracks distance and time using the built-in GPS and even plots your route on a Google Map. Awesome. So I thought, "Hey, if I could get my iPhone in a waterproof case and drag it along behind me while I swim, I should be able to track the distance in the same way!"

With the plan in my head seeming flawless, I purchased a waterproof case from Eastern Mountain Sports. When I arrived at my parents house I put the iPhone in the waterproof case, stole a shoelace from my brothers' boot, tied the case to my ankle, and started swimming. I took a peek at the case to make sure no water got inside. So far so good. I swam about 100 feet and checked again. Hmm, the app stopped recording the distance. It looked like someone touched the screen. Maybe the iPhone touchscreen was being finicky and responding to the temperature of the water? Weird. I turned around and swam back.

When I got to the shore and looked at the iPhone through the case, I noticed water inside. WTF? That would explain the weird touchscreen responses! I was pretty shocked. There was water in the waterproof case! Luckily, the iPhone still worked. (The Griffin hard case I've kept it in since the day I bought it probably helped.) I returned the case to EMS today.

Thanks to Google, I figured out an easy way to estimate my swimming distance using Google Maps:

Swim Route

The total distance round trip was about 1/2 a mile. I plan to continue swimming on the weekends, even as it gets colder. If the Navy SEAL trainees (BUD/S) can swim and train in near freezing water, then so can I (check out some of these videos if you feel like being inspired).

Slow Down and Listen to Life

When was the last time you voluntarily spent lots of time away from technology? When was the last time you laid in the sun and simply enjoyed doing "nothing"? For myself, spending long amounts of time away from technology is extremely relaxing and healing (and by long, I mean more than six hours!).

Technology operates on a timescale much different than that of life. By constantly surrounding ourselves with and using technology we subconsciously expect ourselves to keep up with it (and to operate on the same level). It's like looking at the road directly in front of your car on the highway and expecting yourself to process and react to changes in the road conditions.

We need to slow down and relax our minds. Try taking a 24-hour vacation from all technology (that includes mobile phones). Light some candles. Meditate. Have a conversation. Play a board game. Enjoy the life-giving sunlight. Listen to the wind. Listen to your heartbeat. Listen to silence. Breathe.

MacBook Pro Keyboard Lights

I didn't realize how cool the MacBook keyboard lights looked in total darkness until I turned off all the lights to, ahem, save energy. I took a few photos with my Nikon D50 using 8, 15, and 20 second exposures, a timer, no flash, and a tripod. For a couple of the pictures (like the one below) I turned my display brightness all the way down.

MacBook Keyboard Lights

Struggling with Online Photo Organization

I've been seeing so many WordPress blogs with integrated Flickr photo streams showing off their photos and it's really making me want to do something similar with my photos. If I had an easy way to share photos I think I would do a lot more quality photography (just as this blog allows me to easily write and publish anything).

I created a Flickr account awhile back and uploaded some photos to my account to try out the features. Flickr is OK, but I hate the idea of relying on someone else's service. Plus, there's the whole paying-for-extra-storage thing that I really don't want to think about. I'm sure I could modify the script powering my current gallery to make it integrate more nicely with this blog and perhaps even take some design lessons from Flickr.

Less is More

I spent Saturday and Sunday working at my parents house, doing yard work and helping my dad tile the front porch. The weather was beautiful and it was so nice spending time outside for a change. I've always loved the outdoors however my current occupation does not allow for much outdoor activity. As a "computer guy", all of my work is done inside. Electronics and nature simply don't mix. Sure, I can use my laptop outside (which is where I'm writing this post right now) but the reality of it is, I cannot run my whole career sitting outside on my laptop. But, some people do.

I've heard stories of computer programmers who make a living accepting contract work over the Internet. They'll sit on a beach somewhere, with their laptop, programming and sipping fruity drinks. Then there are those who make a living running an online business that doesn't require anything except their laptop and a few hours of their time.

But maybe it has nothing to do with using my computer outside. Maybe I'm just sick of using computers themselves. Maybe I've been using them my entire life and have just come to accept that since it's what I know best, its what I'm meant to do. If that were so, why do I feel so undecided? Why am I not sure of what I want to do? That is so unlike me.

I'm a person of assurance. I don't do things because I think it's what I'm supposed to do, I do them because I know they're what I'm supposed to do. I understand that no one person can be sure of everything and that life is full of surprises and unexpected events. We must go with the flow. Never the less, when I feel myself losing control over something, I tend to hesitate and question myself -- question whether I'm doing the right thing. This is not a position I enjoy being in and it makes concentrating on anything difficult.

So every time I gain a new insight, I reanalyze my life. I do a systems check to make sure everything I'm doing still makes sense. I check to make sure what I'm doing is still in line with my goals. But how can I do this if I'm expecting and depending on the results of this and that? I have always followed the motto "if you want something done right, do it yourself" and I live my life that way. Life will always contain the unexpected. In life, as in programming, more variables equal an increased possibility for the loss of control.

My solution to this is to live life expecting nothing. Without expectation there will be no disappointment. Attachment creates waste and drains life. Ownership creates unnecessary work. Expect less. Own less. Attach to less. My Dad has always said "Less is more". I've never understood this more fully than I do now.