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RIAA’s Decline Might Be a Sign of Changing Times.

It’s no secret that the digital age has brought on a lot of headaches for content producers and rights holders alike. Where once their traditional business models served them well they have struggled to migrate them to a world where the traditional barriers no longer existed and customers began demanding more from them. Where this demand wasn’t met by legitimate means many turned towards other methods, many of which provided a better service and higher quality product than they’d otherwise have access to. In all honesty it should have come as no surprise to us as this trend has been going on for some 100 years with the rights holders always being brought kicking and screaming into the modern age. However there are signs that they might finally be starting to get it, even if that isn’t directly translating into the product they’re willing to offer us.

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There’s been a few examples of executives from some high end content producers, like HBO for example, who’ve gone on record saying that piracy isn’t a big concern for them anymore. Indeed many of them are now starting to see piracy as an ancillary marketing tool and indeed there’s been a couple studies that have shown the biggest pirates are among the ones who spend the most on the products they pirate. Unfortunately whilst they might have a positive outlook on what piracy does to them they don’t seem to be warming to the idea of addressing it directly such as providing a service that out-competes the pirates. This is especially true for countries like Australia which are bereft of good, legitimate options which, unsurprisingly, leads to us being some of the filthiest content pirates in the world.

It does seem that this sentiment from some content executives isn’t just hollow rhetoric either as there seems to be tangible flow on effects that I honestly didn’t expect. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the primary body responsible for pursuing litigation against users who’ve infringed on their member’s copyrights, has recently reported a huge downfall in revenue. Primarily this comes from a decline in membership fees which is a direct result of rights holders no longer wanting to continue their membership with them. Much of their spend has decreased as well with their legal budget declining sharply over the past couple years. I haven’t seen anything stating similar outcomes for the other content associations but I’d assume it’s a very similar picture which is good news for both legitimate and illegitimate consumers of content.

The next step that the rights holders take from here though is what will ultimately determine whether or not they will be able to compete in today’s market. It’s one thing to stop wasting your money on pursuing small cases of copyright infringement here or there and another thing completely to revamp your business model in order to compete against those who are peddling your product illegitimately. For now that second piece of the puzzle is still missing and until the rights holders take a page out of Valve’s book their piracy problems aren’t going to go anywhere. They might not care so much about it now but it won’t take long until some little upstart comes and eats their lunch.

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Pony pony: Pony?

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Pony pony pony pony pony pony.

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This Suit is From The Internet.

If I’m honest clothes shopping isn’t one of my favourite things to do. Whilst I’m somewhat lucky in that I’m not particularly hard to fit the whole process just seems to take too long and the recovering introvert in me doesn’t enjoy discussing my appearance with the store staff. Still I have something of a passion for suits ever since I discovered the difference between the cheap, polyester suits of my youth and the down right exquisiteness of the full wool suit I bought for my sister in-law’s wedding. However I’m still a financial conservative at heart and whilst I’d love nothing more than to drop a couple thousand on a bespoke suit tailored to perfection I’m quite happy with something cheaper if it’s of quality and fits relatively well.

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My previous work suit was a decently priced affair from yd, it’s only downside being that it used the cheaper blended fabric so as it aged it started to show rather obviously. The suit I had had before that was pure wool and only went to retirement due to the fact that I naively bought a single pair of pants for it and finding a matching pair (it was grey) proved notoriously difficult. So I figured it was time to invest in another wool suit, one that would hopefully last me for a couple years and, hopefully, wouldn’t break the bank. After searching around for a while I stumbled ASOS’ range of suits and was quite surprised at their prices.

For comparison the best you can usually do on a full wool suit in a store is going to be around $500~600, usually a little more if you’re going to invest in another pair of pants to go with it. Online you might be able to get away a little cheaper, SuitSupply goes down to about $450 with full tailoring, but getting below that usually means a trip to Vietnam, if you want something of decent quality. ASOS though had a full wool suit for about $270 as well as everything else you’d need to kit out a new work wardrobe. In the end I figured it was worth the risk and for about $470 I was able to get a suit, 2 pairs of pants and 4 shirts delivered to my door in about 5 days.

The results, as the above picture shows, speak for themselves.

First off the construction of their suits is top notch, at least on par with my store bought suits of years past. The fabric has a very subtle diagonal lining on it which makes it look a little more welcoming than a solid black fabric suit tends to. As for sizing their provided guide seems to be spot on as I ordered their long versions and they fit my rather tall frame well. The pants will probably need a bit of tailoring to take them up a bit but I much prefer that to the alternative. The suit jacket also feels like it will need a couple wears to settle in properly as the collar has a rather annoying tendency to flip itself up at the moment.

Probably my one major complaint will be in the variability of the shirts as I bought 4 of their Smart Shirts in the same size but they all fit differently. For instance the charcoal button down collar ones seem to fit perfectly in almost all regards (the sides might need to be taken in a bit) however the herringbone one has almost uncomfortably tight sleeves, especially when you bend your elbows. I had figured that since they were all pretty much the exact same design there wouldn’t be that much variability but unfortunately there is. I haven’t looked up other reviews to see if this is a widespread issue however so it might just be an isolated case.

For the price I have to say I’m quite stunned as whilst I was expecting something that was serviceable I wasn’t expecting something that would exceed the quality of what I can source here locally. There are a few quirks here and there of course however apart from getting something fully tailored this is something that should be expected. It doesn’t approach the quality of my good dinner suit however but the price of admission for that particular garment was almost double of this one. So if you’re looking for a daily suit then you really can’t go past ASOS, especially for the price.

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Beware (and Do Not Exploit) The 10x Engineer.

There’s something of a mythology in the developer community around high performing employees who are seemingly able to output much more work than anyone else is in the same amount of time. The concept isn’t strictly limited to software development either as I’m sure anyone from any industry can regale you of a tale of someone who did the work of multiple people, whether through sheer intelligence or dedication to getting the job done. Whilst I have the utmost respect for people with this kind of capability I’ve recognised a disturbing trend among projects who contain people like this and, to the betterment of the wider world, I believe we have to stop seeking these mythical people out in order to exploit their talents for our own ends.

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Long time readers might remember a post I wrote a couple years ago about how I tanked my university project due to my lack of any project management skills. A big part of this was my failure to recognise the fact that I had a 10x worker on my hands, someone who was able to do the vast majority of the work on the project without aid from anyone else. In the short term it was a great boon to the project, we made fast progress and we all felt like we were getting somewhere with the idea. However it didn’t take long for all the additional work that 10x person was doing to turn into a dependency, something which the whole team was relying on. My failure to recognise this (and to pitch in myself) was what led to the inevitable demise of that project but I’ve since learned that this is not an uncommon occurrence.

Typically the situation develops from the best of intentions with a high performing employee put on a task or project that’s in need of some immediate attention. For them it’s not too much trouble to solve and the short time frame in which it’s achieved means that they quickly establish themselves as someone that can get stuff done. What happens next depends on the person as once that reputation is established the stream of requests will only intensify. From what I can tell it goes one of two ways: either the 10x in question sets a hard limit (and sticks to it) or they continue to take everything on board, right up until breaking point.

For the former it’s not too much of a problem and indeed would go a long way to highlighting resourcing issues with a project. I firmly believe that whilst the occasional bouts of additional hours aren’t too detrimental long, sustained periods eventually lead to burnout and loss of productivity. So setting limits on how much work you do and staunchly refusing to take on additional tasks shows where additional resources need to be placed. This also requires you to be comfortable with things you’re personally involved with failing on occasion, something which a lot of people find hard to do.

Indeed the latter kind of 10x-er can’t let things fail, especially for anything that they’ve had direct input with. For tasks on the critical path this can be to the project’s benefit as you can rely on the fact that it will get completed no matter what else happens. However as more and more people start to go to this 10x person for help the breadth of things they’re involved with, and thus feel responsible for, broadens to the point where almost anything is within their purview. Thus a terrible feedback loop is established, one whereby they become critical to everything and feel compelled to continue working. This continues until they burn out or some forcible action is taken.

Whilst this is a two sided problem I do feel that we, as the regular workers of the world, can do a lot to ensure such people aren’t destroyed by the burden that we place on them. It can be so easy to fob a task off onto someone, especially when you know they’ll do it quicker and better than you could, however if you know that person is similarly being burdened by multiple other people it may be better for you to learn how to do that task yourself. Then hopefully that 10x worker can continue operating at that capacity without approaching those dangerous levels where burnout becomes all too common.

Oh The Clicking (or Planes, I Like Planes).

Came across this video the other day, it’s the start up sequence for a Boeing 737 jet:

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I knew the process for getting a jet off the ground wasn’t exactly easy but seeing the whole thing play out gave me a whole new perspective on it. What particularly got me was how much of it still relied on the pilot switching things around even though it was one of the newer models with a glass cockpit. I’m sure there’s a good reason for that (regulatory I’m guessing) but you’d think that eventually a lot of those manual processes would become part of the flight software.

That’s probably just the software developer in me however, wanting to automate anything and everything.

The Code Behind The Refined Geek

New Server, New Theme, New Beginnings.

On the surface this blog hasn’t changed that much. The right hand column had shifted around a bit as I added and subtracted various bits of social integration but for the most part the rest of the site remained largely static. Primarily this was due to laziness on my part as whilst I always wanted to revamp it I could just never find the motivation, nor the right design, to spur me on. However after a long night spent perusing various WordPress theme sites I eventually came across one I liked but it was a paid one and although I’m not one to shy away from paying people for their work it’s always something of a barrier. I kept the page open in Chrome and told myself that when it came time to move servers that’d be the time I’d make the switch.

And yesterday I did.

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My previous provider, BurstNET, whilst being quite amazing at the start slowly started to go downhill as of late. Since I’d been having a lot of issues, mostly of my own doing, I had enlisted Pingdom to track my uptime and the number of reports I got started to trend upwards. For the most part it didn’t affect me too much as most of the outages happened outside my prime time however it’s never fun to wake up to an inbox full of alerts so I decided it was time to shift over to a new provider. I had had my eye on Digital Ocean for a while as they provide SSD backed VPSs, something which I had investigated last year but was unable to find at a reasonable price. Plus their plans are extraordinarily cheap for what you get with this site coming to you via their $20/month plan. Set up was a breeze too, even though it seems every provider has their own set of quirks built into their Ubuntu images.

The new theme is BlogTime  from ThemeForest and I chose it precisely because it’s the only one I could find that emulates the style you get when you login to WordPress.com (with those big featured images at the top with a nice flat layout). The widgets he provides with the theme unfortunately don’t seem to work, at least not in the way that’s advertised, so I had to spend some time wrestling with the Facebook and Twitter widget APIs to get them looking semi-decent on the sidebar. Thankfully it seems the “dark” theme on both sites seems to match the background on here quite well otherwise I would’ve had to do a whole bunch of custom CSS stuff that I just wasn’t in the mood for last night. Probably the coolest thing about this theme is that it automatically resizes itself depending on what kind of device you have so this blog should look pretty much the same no matter how you’re viewing it.

I also took the opportunity to try and set up caching again and whilst it appeared to work great last night upon attempting to load my site this morning I found that I was greeted with an empty response back. Logging into the WordPress dashboard directly seemed to solve this but I’m not quite sure what caused W3 Total Cache to cause my site to serve nothing for the better part of 5 hours. For the moment I’ve disabled it as the site appears to be running quite fine without it but I’ll probably attempt to get one of them running again in the future as when they’re working they really are quite good.

Does this change in face mean there’s going to be a radical change in what this site is about? I’m not intending to as whilst my traffic has been flagging of late (and why that is I couldn’t tell you) this was more a revamp that was long overdue. I’d changed servers nearly once a year however I had not once changed the theme (well unless you count the Ponies incident) and it was starting to get a little stale, especially considering it seemed to be the theme of choice for a multitude of other tech blogs I visited. So really all that’s changed is the look and the location that this blog is coming to you from, everything else is pretty much the same, for better or for worse.

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Getting Over The “Not My Kind of Photography” Barrier.

My stance on phone based photography is pretty well known (some would go as far as to say infamous) and is probably one of the only issues that causes me significant cognitive dissonance on a regular basis. You see I’m not in the hard against camp where anything below a pro-level DSLR doesn’t count but nor am I fully vested in the idea that the simple act of taking pictures makes you a photographer. It’s a matter of personal opinion, of course, and I’m not going to make myself out to be the arbiter of what is and isn’t photography, especially when I firmly believe in the “Photography is 50% photographer, 40% light and 10% equipment” rule of thumb.

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Indeed I thought I had gotten over all my angst about phone based photography after my last post about it all. Heck I even spent an inordinate amount of time trying to learn my current phone’s camera, using it almost exclusively whilst I was in New Orleans in order to source some eye candy for my daily travel posts. I’ll be honest when I say the experience was a little frustrating but there was more than a few pics I was actually proud of, the above being one of them. My chosen toolset was not that of Instagram or any of its more well known competitors however as I prefer to use SnapSeed due to the flexibility it grants me (and the fact that they make some amazing Lightroom plugins as well) and I haven’t uploaded them to any of my regular sharing sites. Still for someone who had essentially written this whole area off I felt I was making progress until I read this article:

Since the launch of the original iPhone and the arrival of the App Store, the differences between those photographs taken on a smartphone and those taken on regular digital cameras have become far less apparent. Not because the phone cameras are getting better (despite the ever-improving optics, sensors, and software on smartphones, there’s still a huge difference in quality between an iPhone camera and a Canon 5D Mark III), but because of where photographs are being viewed. The vast majority of imagery is now seen in the exact same places: on smartphones and tablets, via apps such as Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, Flipboard and most importantly, Instagram. At 1024 x 1024 pixels, who can really tell whether a photo was taken on an iPhone or a Canon 5D? More to the point, who cares?

There’s a lot in Bareham’s post that I agree with, especially when it comes to the way most photographs are consumed these days. It’s rare now to see pictures materialize themselves in a physical medium or even at a scale where the differences between photographic platforms starts to become apparent. Indeed even I, the unabashed Canon DSLR fanboy, still has none of his work on display in his own house, preferring to show people my pictures on their laptop or other Internet connected device. Indeed many pictures I love on my phone often fail to impress me later when I view them on a larger screen although that’s probably more due to my perfectionist ways more than anything else.

Still I’m not convinced that the introduction of the iPhone, or any camera phone really for that matter really (I had a camera phone for a good 4 years by that point), changed everything about photography. Sure it made it more accessible thanks to its integration into a platform that nearly everyone has but it hadn’t really been out of reach for quite some time. Indeed many people had said similar things about the consumer level 35mm cameras back when they were first introduced and whilst the camera phones provided an added level of immediacy it’s not like that wasn’t available with the cheap digital point and shoots before it. Indeed the act simply became more public once the apps on our phones allowed us to share those photos much quicker than we could before.

Thinking it over a bit more it’s actually quite shocking to see how my journey into photography is the inverse of Bareham’s. I had had these easy to use and share cameras for ages thanks to my love of all things technological but that creative spark simply never took hold. That all changed when I got my first DSLR and I began to learn about the technical aspects of photography; suddenly a whole new world had opened up to me that I hadn’t known about. I felt compelled to share my images with everyone and I started seeking out photographic subjects that weren’t my friends at parties or the sunset from my front porch. It has then graduated into what I do today, something that’s weaved its way into all aspects of my life regardless of what I’m doing.

Perhaps then the technology is simply a catalyst for the realisation of a subconscious desire, something that we want to achieve but have no idea how to accomplish in our current mindset. We all have our favourite platforms on which we create, ones that we’ll always gravitate back to over time, and for many people that has become their phones. I no longer begrudge them, indeed I’ve come to realise that nearly every criticism I’ve levelled at them can be just as easily aimed at any other creative endeavour, but nor do I believe they’re the revolution that some claim them to be. We’re simply in the latest cycle of technologically fueled progress that’s been a key part of photography for the past century, one that I’m very glad to be a part of.

 

What Hath The Internet Done To You, Dear User.

Unquestionably the Internet has drastically altered my behaviour in many ways. In the beginning it was merely a curiosity, something I was able to lord over the other kids in the playground because I was one of the precious few that had it and would become instant friends with many who wanted to see it. As I grew older and my interests broadened it became my primary resource for finding information, leading me to investigate many wild things that I would not have paid any attention to otherwise. Most recently it became my platform for communicating with the wider world whilst also elevating my career to places that I couldn’t of dreamed of.

In short, I feel the Internet has been good to me.

Looking from the outside in however would probably paint a much different picture. My near fanatical obsession for my current object of desire often led me down destructive paths, one of which was my World of Warcraft addiction would could not exist without an Internet connection. My desire for information often leads me down paths that aren’t relevant for anything past satisfying my curiosity, filling my head with facts that I will likely never find a use for. The Internet has also chronicled some of my worst moments and whilst they’re not exactly common knowledge they serve as a reminder of the parts of myself that I’m not particularly proud of.

However whilst it would be easy to lay the blame directly at the tool which enabled this behaviour, an easy thing to do given its current ease of use and pseudo-anonymity that enables everyone’s Inner Fuckwad, I can’t say that these same things would happen absent the Internet. There are many, many people that advocate cutting down or doing away with the Internet (or anything, realistically) will lead you onto untold benefits but as a Verge reporter found these effects are usually only temporary:

It’s a been a year now since I “surfed the web” or “checked my email” or “liked” anything with a figurative rather than literal thumbs up. I’ve managed to stay disconnected, just like I planned. I’m internet free.

And now I’m supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems. I’m supposed to be enlightened. I’m supposed to be more “real,” now. More perfect.

But instead it’s 8PM and I just woke up. I slept all day, woke with eight voicemails on my phone from friends and coworkers. I went to my coffee shop to consume dinner, the Knicks game, my two newspapers, and a copy of The New Yorker. And now I’m watching Toy Story while I glance occasionally at the blinking cursor in this text document, willing it to write itself, willing it to generate the epiphanies my life has failed to produce.

I’m not going to say that the Internet isn’t an enabler for some particularly bad behaviours, my use of it is a great testament to that, but the issues that cause can always be traced back to the person. For me my WoW addiction was an escape from the crazy world I had put myself into, working 3 different jobs while studying full time at university. In my escape I found some control and, unfortunately, also power over other people that was incredibly intoxicating. Only when that power dwindled and I was left with no one else to turn to did I start to realise how destructive it had become and I ended up leaving that part of me behind for several years.

Maybe we need that time away in order to get clarity on those destructive behaviours that we associate with specific tools. My honeymoon was decidedly devoid of technology, even though I smuggled my laptop along with me, and after the first couple days of adjustment I felt oddly liberated. Whilst the revelations I came to at that time weren’t about my use of the Internet (indeed this was several years after I dreged myself out of that rather dark place) I certainly felt I had a better understanding of how I interacted with those things that I was absent from. Perhaps then instead of advocating giving up something completely we should take time constrained breaks, lest we establish the same bad habits using alternative means.

That is definitely something I can attest to as many of my life changing decisions have been made when I’ve been in situations that were decidedly different from the norm, not from giving something up completely. Indeed I feel abandoning something completely often means giving up part of yourself, your identity. Of course there are times when this is appropriate but for something as benign as Internet use I don’t believe that giving it up will solve your problems. However seconding yourself away from it for a time might just give you the insight needed to rectify the worst parts of it and broaden your perspective on the issues at hand.

The Subtle Effects of Different Lighting on a Subject’s Face.

As most readers are aware I’m an incredibly amateur photographer having dabble in it on and off again for the past 5 years but only really started taking it seriously towards the end of last year. I’m still very much in the early stages of my understanding as whilst I can produce some pictures that I (and others) like my hit rate still feels incredibly low, especially when I set out to create a very specific image. A lot of that is comes from my still nascent understanding of how to light subjects properly and how the direction/intensity changes the resulting image.

Now whilst the following video isn’t exactly the greatest introduction on how you should go about lighting your subject (in this a model’s face) it does showcase just how dramatically you can change the resulting image simply by moving the light source:

Showing this to my wife she was adamant that they were splicing video together with different models as the changes are quite dramatic. It is the same person however as if you look at the eyes you can see the light source rotating at a rather impressive clip which is what gives rise to the dramatic changes in shadows. Pausing at different sections also makes it quite clear what the impacts of the direction of light are and how they are reflected in the final image.

I wonder what the effect would be if instead of moving the light they used multiple sources then just cycled through them. Hmmmmm…….

I’m about 20% On My Way To Mastery.

Its almost trite to talk about Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers these days as it seems everyone is familiar with the key concept of mastery requiring a certain level of practice, on the order of 10,000 hours. Indeed the idea even spurred people on to do their own experiments to see how true the rule rang to life and the results of said experiments shows that there’s something to it, even if the hours required may vary wildly from person to person. I have unwittingly been participating in my own versions of these experiments for the past few years and a new milestone came up yesterday that I had completely forgot about.

I hit post 1000.

It seems like a lifetime ago when I hit that milestone that every blogger seems to celebrate publicly: the 100th post. Reading it again it’s clear to see how far I’ve come as the post is littered with smilies (which look horrendous to me now), the tone is completely different and it’s clear that I’m writing it directly to the only people I know are reading, I.E. my friends. Whilst I can’t claim that I’m some kind of blogging superstar now I do know my reach extends much further now than it did back then with my daily readership exceeding that of my monthly numbers back then. Back then however it felt like I had made some real substantial progress in my quest to become a blogger but upon reflection of my 1000th post it feels like I’m just starting out all over again.

Most of my posts don’t take that long to write, comparatively speaking, with most of them going from concept to draft to published piece in the space of 1~2 hours with more than a few being way above that. Putting that in perspective I’m probably about 2000 hours into the requisite 10,000 to obtaining mastery which, at my current rate, puts me at mastery some time in the mid 2020s. There are ways of accelerating this of course (I’d say that my experience writing for LifeHacker probably counts for 2x~3x the hours I spent on it due to the amount I learned whilst working for them) and I jump at the chance whenever they come my way but it’s still daunting to think that I’ve invested almost 5 years at this point and I’m only 20% into my journey.

Does that make me want to stop? Hell no! The opportunities that have opened up to me as a result of my work-daily rantings have been some of the most exciting things I’ve ever done and the more I blog the more those things seem to keep on happening to me. Whilst I’ve never attained the kind of overnight success that I had envisioned coming my way one day the slow and steady build up just never seems to stop. It can be disheartening some times when you write something you believe is brilliant and inspired only to have it fall on its face but, as the past has shown, I’m a terrible judge of what will be popular and for that I blame those little multiplying haters in my head.

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It’s comforting to know that people I respect highly struggle with the same things I do, even if our medium of choice is different. I’ve always had this disembodied version of myself hanging over my shoulder, constantly critiquing everything that I’m doing. In all honesty it’s a great thing and it’s responsible for a large part of why I’ve enjoyed so much success in other aspects of my life but it can be a real detriment, especially when it collides with my almost OCD level compulsions. It hasn’t gotten any easier as the years have gone by but I’ve developed a whole bunch more tools in order to deal with it. That’s probably the biggest insight I’ve had into this whole 10,000 hour thing as it’s more about understanding and overcoming your shortcomings more than anything else.

Unlike my myriad of other hobbies I feel that blogging is one that will stick around for good, just like gaming and software development did before them. It’s something that I’ve made a heck of a lot of progress in and the idea of giving it up just doesn’t seem to make sense like it did back when my daily viewer count was in the single digits. Whether or not it’ll morph into more or less than what it currently is however remains to be seen but I’m sure as I keep chipping away at that 10,000 hour goal more good things will come of it. I might not ever become the blogging starlet that I thought I was going to be all those years ago but I’ll be damned if it hasn’t been a blast regardless.