Musings, Rants, and Random Thoughts

Facebook/Plurk/Twitter/etc updates

So now Plurk has a plug-in that lets you send something to them (to “plurk” I guess) and have it update your FB status.  Twitter has had this for a while.  

I have been torn ever since I started seeing people use Twitter for FB updates, and am now even more so as I try to use plurk effectively.  I don’t have nearly as many people following me or whom I follow in plurk so it’s a bit more manageable right now that my Twitter “existence” and lets me work around in it a bit more.

The first time I used twitter extensively, it was at the ELI Annual conference, so most of the people whom I follow are professional peers.  Not that we don’t exchange random stuff via twitter now and then (Educause ’08 was fun), but for the most part the stuff I put up as my status on FB is not of the same vein as that which goes up on twitter. 

And now plurk can connect to FB, too.  Now, I have been having more fun on plurk because of the smaller number of followers and etc, but that is actually the cause of my dilemma.  I feel that one needs some separation between all these systems.  

I don’t know.  It’s a tough one with which to deal.


Debbie Schinker posted a comment in response to another post of mine that has me wanting to write a bit more…

I always take what the “experts” say with a grain of salt. Expert analysis lags real life – they wait for the numbers to “confirm” what the rest of the world – literally – already knew: we are in a bad recession. You and I and everyone else on the street knew this at least 6 months ago. The prices were going up, people were losing jobs, and belt tightening was necessary for nearly everyone. But the “experts” refused to use the word recession.

The National Bureau of Economic Research is one of the major organizations that help define when we are or are not in a recession.  While I agree 100% that just about any moderately educated person would have said “heck yeah we’re in a recession” months ago, there kind of has to be some official rules and/or body that defines rules to determine when the economy has hit such a point.  The common rule is “2 consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.”  Note that this not declining growth.  This is actual reduction in GDP, which is driven primarily by productivity.  Which means an actual decline in productivity for two consecutive quarters.

The NBER uses many more stats, though, and determined that we actually have been in a recession since around the beginning of 2008.  So forget about 2 consecutive quarters (I think we hit that only in Q3 last year, possibly Q4).  According to the NBER it’s been a whole year.  That’s pretty scary.

Another reason why defining recession is useful came up yesterday in my macroeconomics class.  How can we define “depression” if we don’t define “recession?”  Technically, there is no definition of when we are in a depression.  Which is kind of scary.  That we have some dry definition for recession feels comforting in that light.

The major issues to watch for are the unemployment rate, because GDP growth is based on productivity, and we can’t be productive as a society, on a macroeconomic level, if people aren’t working, and inflation/deflation.  If the dollar becomes weaker or prices drop and return on products goes down, then we have serious problems ahead.  The specific issues we’re seeing are in many ways responses – no credit because banks are scared about risk and their own futures is a reaction.  One that has massive side effects, sure, because in an economy that relies on people spending money whether they have it or not, when banks don’t lend to the population we have a problem.  But still a reaction.

Read on for more…


OMG! I better watch what I say now or people realize I have no idea what I’m talking about

It’s kind of strange – if you add in the “lost posts” from the first version of this blog, where what turns out to have been a stupid mistake on my part cost me a couple years’ worth of posts, I’ve been writing for a while without any real expectation that anyone reads anything I write.  That’s probably why I let myself get away with sentences as long and as poorly formed as the one I just wrote.  

However, I have found out recently that a few friends actually subscribe to my blog, one friend got mad at me because I didn’t tell her I had one, a former colleague commented on a post out of the blue, and a few other people I know here and there have apparently read a few posts now and then.  Also, since I review my classes at the my business school here on my blog, people at the school whom I have never even met know me from those posts.  Very, very scary indeed.  I am actually accountable somewhat for what I say.  

Debbie Schinker, who has her own blog that is quite good, as well, has been kind enough to read some of my recent writings, and has commented here and there.  One comment in particular actually made me want to write another whole post in response.  That’s one heckuva comment.  

That’s coming up next.

Wedding photography is serious business

Let me qualify this post by saying that I am not bashing those that are trying to get started in wedding photography, I realize that many are “sucked in” by friends and family and get in over their heads, and that I know that wedding photography is hard.  

But, I was one of those “getting started” photographers not too long ago, and I think I went about it in a very serious manner.  I did not do anything until I had my lighting and techniques down, and took every opportunity to learn more and more so that the next wedding would be that much better.  But I didn’t let up on any of the first ones, either.  

Recently, I helped a coworker who got married back in June. She knows that I do wedding photography and asked if I could help with some of the photos.  I usually would not go editing someone else’s shots but she said that she and her husband were so upset by them that they have not given any to their parents and really wanted to give a frame or two of images.  

When I did even some rudimentary work on them in Adobe Lightroom, she started crying.  Just color correction and some exposure, but she was crying.  I’m just trying to give you an idea of the situation.

Now, you have to be, in my opinion, a good photographer with a good sense of timing and quick composition to be a good wedding photographer.  But you also need to know equipment and lighting.  The usual maxim in photography is that equipment does not matter.  Well, with wedding photography, it kind of does.  You must have backup cameras, a full spread of lenses, and you need to know how to use flash and artificial lights.  Perhaps not a full blown set of off-camera flashes, but you need to know how to use your stuff, period.

Well, some of these photos were taken at ISO 1600, which is not an ideal setting since you get a lot more noise.  It also wasn’t really appropriate since they were situations where artificial lighting seemed like it would have been okay (ie – not during the actual ceremony, etc).  Also, even at ISO 1600 the shutter speed wasn’t fast enough – there are blurred formal photos.  Of all photos, set-up formal ones should not be blurry.

And, as far as I can tell, almost no flash was used.  Flash is so critical unless you’re shooting with the very latest set of full-frame digitals which can get away with ridiculous ISO settings.  

I really mean no disrespect to this photographer – I don’t even know his or her name.  But the bride cried, in front of me, in my office here at my day job.  A wedding is an important day, an emotional day, and one which, as a photographer, you need to be ready for and must have nerves of steel.

(Camera) Format Wars

One of the most popular and perhaps famous camera formats out there is 6×17. This is medium format film, which is 6cm tall that is shot in a really wide camera and a big lens, producing a 17cm wide image. Nor surprisingly, it’s very panoramic in appearance. Many famous photographers have used cameras that shoot specifically in this format. Thomas Mangelsen, whose photos adorn our walls at our apartment, is the first that comes to mind.

Most of these cameras come in at a minimum of $1500. And that’s for a chinese company (Fotoman) – the “name brands” are thousands more.

I wonder if there is something about shooting a camera that is a particular format that makes one compose differently.  Would I compose a specific way, looking through a viewfinder on a 6×17 camera than if I were looking through one with a much bigger frame and trying to imagine cropping?

Recently, I found a homemade 6×17 camera that looks very intriguing.

credit the guy who made this - image basically taken off ebay

In case you read this after the ebay link goes away, essentially it’s a 6×6 camera (common format) that has been cut in half and expanded, an enlarger bellows (the expanding part which allows the lens to move back and forth for focusing) and a large format lens.  It’s a real frankenstein’s monster of a camera, to say the least. And as of right now it’s a “steal” at $400 compared to those other ones, and the examples the seller gives indicates this camera can do some nice stuff.

Now comes the dilemma.


One never has enough resources, but that doesn’t hurt any less

I know that every manager faces the issue of not enough resources.  I can’t think of anyone I know that has enough or too much, certainly.  There’s always one project that one wishes can be done, but can’t due to budget, resources, etc.

But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.  We operate basically with one person-per-area, which means almost no redundancy.  It’s a small staff so once we try to build staff redundancy everyone is doing 3 jobs.  I’ve done what I can to reduce the issues – we’ve taken all of our servers virtual, we’ve been pushing the use of students to get more and more everyday work done, etc.  But some things require full timers, and when all hell breaks loose, like it did yesterday (and bleeding into today), that means someone stays for 40 straight hours getting servers back up and running.

I know this.  I know we could use more resources.  I know that there are not any additional resources to be had.  But that doesn’t mean I can sit here and not be immensely bothered by it.

Twitter hits its stride (at least for me)

If you haven’t heard of twitter, you should check it out, at least for reference and general knowledge purposes.  But basically, it’s a “micro-blogging” platform where you post 140-character maximum messages about…anything.  Kind of like facebook status updates (and many tie the two together), except that you can “follow” twitter feeds of certain users, much like one subscribes to a blog.

There are some major differences from a blog that violate the “micro-blog” concept, such as the sheer volume of tweets negating the chronological nature of the feed (imaging if you subscribed to a blog and every day there were 100 entries – you’d never keep up).  But the analogy holds up well enough, and the character limit makes people be creative, in my opinion.

When I was at ELI 2008, in January, Twitter was heavily featured.  They even had a screen where a user, named “ELI2008,” followed as many users as possible and there were LCD displays showing the feeds.  This was a laudable effort, but the problem was that a select few people that used Twitter heavily and especially during sessions just overwhelmed anyone else trying to keep track.  A colleague from another school and I challenged each other to actually keep up with and “compete” with such uber-twitterers, but did so at the cost of actually paying attention to the sessions which we were attending, respectively.  So Twitter was a distraction.

However, at this past Educause conference in October, I think Twitter may have hit its stride.  Yes, I follow a relatively small number of people – about 50 (many have 150-200+) so my feed isn’t quite as insane.  And yes, I paid more attention to some tweets than others (yes, individual posts are called “tweets”).  But I really do feel that I was able to be in one session, take notes, throw an important concept in twitter for others to read, and read similarly important concepts from a few others so that I had an idea of what happened in another session.  A few times, I then went and found that person from the other session and got more information on one of their tweets.

I think I may have successfully balanced Twitter such that I gained information from two presentations at once.  Was I multi-tasking?  Absolutely.  Was it continuous partial attention?  I don’t like that term, so no.  Was I switching rapidly from 100% my presentation to 100% Twitter feed?  Yes.  But that attention to the Twitter feed was for a split second (140 characters – you just can’t spend that much time there) so I wasn’t really distracted.

I think I may have found a place for Twitter for me.

Oh, and btw – I have made some really valuable contacts via Twitter.  They might not think much of me (I’m not posting all that exciting of material, really), but I have learned a lot, and follow blogs of other people quite a bit as a result.

The Marketing of a Business School

Some discussions between…various people and I have covered the issue of how the Leavey School of Business, where I am pursuing an MBA, markets itself.

First, I’m not really sure how the school sees itself.  On the one hand, I think it’s well-known that the biggest benefit of the MBA program at SCU is that it’s an evening program that is pretty flexible.  In fact, the slogan at the top of the Evening MBA program page says “Where Flexibility is Key.”  Since most students are in the Evening program (and not the weekend or accelerated ones), this is a pretty important branding effort.

And the program is very flexible.  You can finish the program in 2-6 years (though 2 would be really hard), you can take quarters off, etc.  The faculty are so far universally understanding of the fact that students are working professionals that one of the first things they say is that they realize we might have to go on business trips and that missing a class here or there is not a big deal.  Classes are only offered at night or on weekends, and I know of only one course that has any events that start before 5PM (Management 701, the subject of my next review…).

For me, certainly, this flexibility was why I am getting my MBA at SCU.  Just the honest truth.  I like my current job, I think I am working on some interesting stuff, and I don’t want to give that up.  Yet here is a program that is academically sound and, more importantly, flexible and allows me to work on a pace that makes sense to me.

It’s pretty clear, then, that the school is about flexibility.  If you look at what other programs are offered, it’s about flexibility, too.  Sure, the Executive MBA program is pretty much standard fare these days, but they also offer a program for applicants with less than 3 or so years of corporate experience.  This option is pretty hard to find.  FWIW, while I have friends in this program that are way smarter than I am, I am a bit concerned that I go to a school where 3 years of corporate experience isn’t a flat-out requirement.

The concern, therefore, is why the school doesn’t make a bigger deal out of its academic credentials.  I mean, I still care quite a bit that it’s a good school, after all.  And it is highly ranked – in the top 15 for part-time programs (that includes executive programs, I believe).  But other than a blurb when the rankings come out I don’t see much about how good the program is, academically.

Which I find a bit weird…

From Badwater Basin to Electrode City

Two evenings ago, around 1AM, I was 2 miles out from the viewing platform at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the lowest point in North America.  I was in the middle of the valley, under an almost-full moon (86% waxing gibbous), taking an hour-long photograph (yes, 1 shot for a full hour) of the trails in the salt created by thousands of footsteps as tourists before me have wandered around.  The paths they had created were white and glowing from the moonlight, while the rest of the area was dark, the 6″ tall ridges of salt covered in dirt and hard as rock.

It was absolutely silent.  I am not sure if I have ever been in a quieter setting.  The only sound were those of the salt crunching under my feet as I wandered around during that hour, gazing at the clear sky and watching Orion slowly rotate around Polaris, the North Star.

Right now, having already gone through waking up before dawn, driving 8 hours back home to shave and change my shirt and running off to a half-day of work, I find myself sitting in the lobby of the business school where I am studying for my MBA, Blackberry on my belt, MacBook on my lap, downloading the Second Life viewer so that I can work on my avatar that has lain dormant for a couple of years now.  I have my bluetooth headset in my pocket – the one that can connect to my Blackberry and my other phone, which I use for my side job.

Tomorrow night, I will be at a Sleep Disorders Center, electrodes glued all over my body, probably sitting in a chair before going to bed so that I can utilize the free wireless to do work before I find out how bad my sleep apnea is.

Yes, they have wireless at the Sleep Center.

It’s amazing that one can go from one extreme to the other with an 8 hour drive and over such a short period of time.  Completely disconnected to not just wired but wireless and in a completely backwards way.  I’m all wired for my sleep.  And completely wireless for my computer.  And just a few days removed from Badwater Basin…

So now he’s African American…

I kept meaning to write this earlier – the day after our election, when Barack Obama was elected to office – but things have been busy.

As a very quick note, it has been interesting seeing how after the election, a lot more has been made of the fact that he will be the first African-American president ever.  Yes, it was brought up before, especially in the context of how the “you can do anything you want in America” would have a whole lot more meaning should he gain office.  But for the most part people and pundits talked about how the issue was the best person for the job, the person most capable of fixing the economy, etc.

But just hours after he was declared the winner it was all about race.  Very interesting.

Even more interesting was that on CNN’s “best political team” of analysts, the one African-American among them, when asked about the significance of the election, talked about how it was really about the voters picking the person they thought was best for the job.  The other four analysts all talked about race.