Confused about busy

I still use RSS feeds for most of my reading and one of the feeds I enjoy the most is Seth Godin’s. I think I tend to save a few dozen of his articles for when I most feel the need for extraordinary inspiration and then dive in. His post titled “Two kinds of busy” is one which is going to take a little time to really sink in. This suggestion is particularly intriguing:

if what you’re doing isn’t working, if you’re not excelling at what you set out to do or not getting the results you seek, it might be because you’re confused about what sort of busy is going to get you there…

Don’t be bitter, be better

I wrote a post last night about my frustrations with a trend I have seen in local digital agencies. The post is the result of something that has been on my mind for months and, last night, I decided to get it out. This morning, I took that post offline because of a conversation I had with someone who reached out to me.

I didn’t take the post down because it didn’t reflect what I believe to be true, I took it down because I realised, during the course of my conversation, that it reflects a bitterness and frustration I have increasingly felt for some time.

We have a choice how to experience our life each moment we are awake. The big question is how awake we really are, how conscious we are of our choices from moment to moment? What struck me this morning is that my choices have not been as constructive as they could be.

When I think about why I do the work I do (even as that morphs), I keep coming back to working to support innovation and creative expression through smarter ways to manage digital risk. I’ve been involved in the digital marketing space in SA since it essentially began. I saw the high end agencies we have today being formed and growing.

Although my post probably gave the impression of an industry that is largely derivative, I don’t see it that way. I see tremendous innovation and potential to do even more creative work. As usual, I am probably getting ahead of the industry and the market it serves. I seem to have a knack for that – being so far ahead of the curve that my ideas seem ridiculous until they’re not (well, some never quite catch on).

I remember the dotcom boom. I was at Wits back then and I kept thinking about some Web thing I could do to tap into that new wave of innovation (this was when the big thing on the Web was probably having images in pages) and I couldn’t come up with anything before it all came crashing down. Even then, it was clear that this Web thing wasn’t done yet and it wasn’t.

Its easy to take what we have now for granted because it is so prevalent but this is so new, still. 7 or 8 years ago the social Web was mostly about blogs and RSS feeds. Twitter and Facebook were still a year or 2 away and still pioneers like Mike Stopforth, Angus Robinson, Carl Spies, Rob Stokes and others were almost willing a new digital model into existence, which they did and, boy, they have done a remarkable job.

Despite my criticisms, they still inspire me because they succeeded where I just couldn’t get my head around the value proposition with an agency I hoped to start with a friend at the same time (so much for being ahead of the curve – I missed that one big time).

The reason I chose to leave active legal practice and wind down Jacobson Attorneys, a business law firm I started in 2005, is because I can see the tremendous potential in the digital space. My fundamental belief in this potential to dramatically improve our lives and our relationships underpins Web•Tech•Law although I clearly haven’t done a terrific job expressing that particularly well. Last night’s blog post definitely doesn’t reflect that belief. It doesn’t reflect what excites me about going back to work on a Monday morning and leaves me buzzing when I tap into that innovation and creativity. That is why I took the post down.

I owe the person who reached out to me a big “thank you” for his intervention. He also said something which I appropriated and changed a little:

Don’t be bitter, be better

Make a decision and don't be an ass about it

I’m warning you now, this is going to seem like a pretty petty post but here I go anyway.

I was sitting with my iPad last night catching up on some reading. I have developed a habit of saving stuff I want to read to both Instapaper and Pocket. Both are terrific apps and each does a couple things better than the other. At the moment I am leaning more towards Instapaper but I’ll probably swing back to Pocket at some point for a while. That is sort of how I use app alternatives, I switch between them from time to time.

I noticed that my Instapaper subscription was marked as “inactive” and when I investigated I discovered that I had just paid for 3 months, although I had paid using a PayPal subscription I’ve been using since 2010 and it occurred to me that I hadn’t updated the payment references since Betaworks bought Instapaper from its creator, Marco Arment.

Instapaper subscriptions are a way to support app development and includes features like archive searches. It is a terrific app so I am happy to pay my $3 for 3 months at a time. When I saw that I had paid and that my subscription wasn’t active I became a bit annoyed and my first thought was to do what so many Twitterati members do when faced with something that displeases them: declare hatred for the service that didn’t live up to my absurd expectations as publicly as I could before moving completely to the competition. Because that is the mature way to really show them!!

That moment really caught my attention and I realised that so many of us have developed this self-righteous attitude and rather than being a real grown-up and resolving a situation, going public on Twitter with our few hundred or thousand followers seems like the way to throw our perceived weight around. I’m still including myself in this because although I have made a point of not being such a drama jerk online for a while now, my first thought was to be just that. Clearly I still have some way to go to reach a more balanced perspective on life and what it doesn’t owe me.

I sent an email to Instapaper querying this and I received a pretty quick response apologising and confirming that my subscription was loaded. What occurred to me is that it is usually better to try and resolve an issue maturely before exploding in 140 characters. The second thing I realised is that, sometimes, we should just make a decision instead of constantly switching between multiple options. This last lesson is still a little hypothetical because I still like Pocket and Instapaper and still save stuff to both but, really, I should just pick one and be happy with my choice.

We seem to have a knack for complicating our lives far more than we should, if we should.

Also, try not to be such an ass. You are probably not as important on Twitter as you think you are so develop some perspective.

New Year's Day is another day

20131231-225114.jpg

We work ourselves up over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day every year. We debate whether we should have resolutions for the new year or something different. We celebrate late into the night and wake up feeling as if a rare opportunity to begin again has been delivered to us.

It’s an illusion, of course. 1 January is another day like any other. Each morning we have an opportunity to make different decisions, different choices and commit ourselves to a different path. More often than not we make the same choices and walk the same beaten path hoping for something different. As the saying goes, that is pretty much a form of insanity.

When 1 January rolls around, we somehow feel as if it will be different, as if our slate will be wiped clean and we have another opportunity to change things because, on that day, we can set goals, make resolutions or live our dreams.

Why do we wait for 1 January to do that? Why don’t we do that every morning? Heck, why wait for the morning, start now. Make a different choice, envisage a different path and pack some sandwiches for the adventure. Sure, there is something a little magical about the calendar both resetting to Day 1 and, at the same time, carrying us into the next year (I’m particularly glad to see the end of 2013) but what we miss is that we have those opportunities all the time.

We can make a different choice every moment, every day. Waiting for 1 January to make a change in our life is just another form of procrastination. 1 January is another day, just like any other day, when we have another chance to start living a different life.

Great tips for newbie photographers

I just read Simon Dingle’s terrific post titled “Choosing a first DSLR” and it is definitely worth reading if you are thinking about buying your first DSLR camera. I sort of went through this process in December when I decided to splurge on a DSLR after years with Canon point and shoot cameras and my iPhone as my day to day camera.

I say that I “sort of” went through this process because I have had an SLR before. My first real camera was a Minolta 5000 which I received as a Bar Mitzvah gift from my parents back in the late 1980s. I think I still have my Minolta in my house somewhere but haven’t used it since cameras went digital. I took a few lessons about the technical stuff photographers who strive to do more than point and shoot should know and managed to forget much of it in the last two decades.

I did a lot of reading about camera brands and models in the months leading up to my purchase. As Simon pointed out, everyone has their own opinions about which brands are best. One of the best stories I read was Scott Bourne’s post about his switch to Nikon from Canon after 17 years as a Canon photographer. Bourne is a fairly well known photographer in his space and his decision sparked an almost religious war. His point, which Simon echoes, stuck with me:

In the end there are no wrong choices here. Each brand has its strength and weaknesses. The good news is that each makes fine gear and it really comes down to personal choice/preference when selecting which one to use.

As Simon suggests I went with the brand that appealed more to me and felt better in my hands. I went with Nikon. I like how the camera looks and feels and my Dad was a Nikon guy so that also works for me. Simon recommends not going with a camera kit but that is what I did. I bought a Nikon D5100 kit that came with AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5-5.6G and AF-S Nikkor 55-200mm f4-5.6G lenses. On Darren Smith’s advice (the same amazing man Simon suggested you follow) I read a couple reviews by photographer Ken Rockwell, particularly his review of the D5100. Between Rockwell’s review and my budget, I decided to go with that model.

One important decision I made and which I am really glad I made was to buy a 50mm lens even though the kit lenses that came with my camera covered that range. I went with the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f1.8G lens (the 1.4 was considerably more expensive) and that lens is awesome. It is my primary lens and I do about 75% to 80% of my photography with my 50mm.

Of course getting the DSLR doesn’t make you a pro. I quickly realized that I had my settings set up wrong and couldn’t focus very well at all. Its been a humbling experience because I secretly thought I was pretty good. That was largely because my old point and shoot and my iPhone took care of the messy details for me and all I had to do was aim in the right direction. I have probably taken a thousand or so photos since I got my D5100 and while much of it is about taking endless photos of my kids, a lot of the work is about getting a little better at taking clear and focused photos. Its an ongoing process.

I am really glad I went with a DSLR in the end. It was a bit of an expense but photography has been an enduring hobby and buying a better camera has given me an opportunity to take better photographs and, more importantly, capture more meaningful memories.

My not so great Tumblr versus Google+ debate

Never mind the Google+ vs Facebook vs Twitter debate, there are pretty strong similarities between Google+ and Tumblr and Posterous. I used to use Posterous and Tumblr depending on my mood and closed down my Posterous site when I realised I didn’t really have a need for it given my preference for Tumblr anyway. Besides, I have a long standing WordPress blog which seems to keep ticking along and I keep thinking that is a wasted resource I should be tapping.

And then along comes Google+ and I lost myself in it for a couple weeks before emerging with a new appreciation for Twitter and Facebook and their different roles in my social Web experience. I posted a couple more times to Tumblr, tempted to finally just migrate there fully but then I would be abandoning this blog which has a larger following and has a history to it. It is basically my first real blog which I created in December 2004 and took through various incarnations in the last 5 years. That said, I still wonder just how important a long form blog is where so much sharing is on a much smaller and more dynamic scale. I haven’t exactly blogged consistently so my blog’s value to my readers has somewhat diminished in comparison to Twitter, Facebook (for personal stuff) and Google+.

Anyway, back to Tumblr. Tumblr appeals to me pretty strongly. I follow a number of blogs which I enjoy and its really easy to share posts I come across and which appeal to me. I haven’t really felt motivated to work at my Tumblr blog because its been more of a hobby to me than a serious blogging tool. Its fun, creative, inspiring. When it comes to meaningful engagement, Tumblr is a metaphorical dusty street in an old Western town complete with tumbleweed.

Aside from the lack of the sort of formatting options that are available to blogging platforms like Tumblr, Google+ has proved to be almost as capable as Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook (combined) for sharing and engagement. Granted you are pretty much locked into the Google ecosystem unless you use 3rd party browser extensions to share beyond Google+, you can still share stuff pretty easily and enjoy pretty active engagements at the same time. What Google+ does do that you can’t really do with Tumblr, Facebook or Twitter is export your Google+ data using what appear to be open standards and theoretically import that data into a compatible system. In Tumblr’s context, that is a big deal for me. I never liked the virtual lock-in you have to accept with Tumblr (thank goodness for WooThemes’ tumblr2wp service which enables you export your Tumblr blog to WordPress very effectively).

So here I am having a relatively meaningless (in the grander scheme of things) and very 21st century debate about whether I should bother maintaining my better looking and relatively independent Tumblr blog? Or should I just use Tumblr purely to consume content and switch to Google+ for the non-personal/family oriented sharing (Facebook still has that side of my social experience locked down because all my friends and family are there, not on Google+)?

As I type this I am leaning more towards Google+ for that sort of sharing going forward but tomorrow is a new day and I tend to change my mind a lot when debating these sorts of things. What do you think?