General

DSC_0127_1

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.

DSC_0127_1

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.

YouTube Preview Image

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.

Cloud Atlas Banner

You Want My Money? Fuck Off Your Artificial Scarcity Bullshit.

You know who gets a ton of my money these days? Game publishers. Whilst they might not get the same amount per sale that they used to the amount I pump into the industry per year has rocketed up in direct correlation with my ability to pay. Nearly every game you see reviewed on here is purchased gladly with my own money and I would happily do the same with all forms of entertainment if they provided the same level of service that the games industry does. However my fellow Australian citizens will know the pain that we routinely endure here with delayed releases and high prices, so much so that our Parliament subpoenaed several major tech companies to have them explain themselves.

If I’m honest though I had thought the situation was getting a bit better, that was until I caught wind of this:

Cloud Atlas Banner

I saw the trailer for Cloud Atlas sometime last year and the concept instantly intrigued me. As someone who’s nascent years were spent idolizing The Matrix I’ve always been a fan of the Wachowskis’ work and so of course their latest movie was of particular interest. Since I’m on the mailing list for my local preferred cinema (Dendy, in case you’re wondering) I simply waited for the email announcing it. For months and months I waited to see something come out until I started hearing friends talking about how they had seen it already. Curious I checked my favourite Usenet site and lo and behold it was available, which mean only one thing.

It was available on DVD elsewhere.

That email I was waiting for arrived a couple days ago, 4 months after the original theatrical release in markets overseas. Now I know it’s not that hard to get a film approved in Australia nor is it that difficult to get it shipped over here (even if it was shot on film) so what could be the reason for such a long delay? As far as I can tell it’s the distributors holding onto their out dated business models in a digital era where they have to create artificial scarcity in order to try and bilk more money out of the end consumers. I’ve deliberately not seen movies in cinemas in the past due to shenanigans like this and Cloud Atlas is likely going to be the latest entry on my civil disobedience list.

I seriously can’t understand why movie studios continue with behaviour like this which is what drives customers to seek out other, illegitimate means of getting at their content. I am more than happy to pay (and, in the case of things like Cloud Atlas, at a premium) for content like this but I do not want my money going to businesses that fail to adapt their practices to the modern world. Artificial scarcity is right up there with restrictive DRM schemes in my book as they provide absolutely no benefit for the end user and only serve to make the illegitimate product better. Really when we’re hit from all sides with crap like this is it any surprise that we’re a big ole nation o pirates?

A decade ago many of my generation simply lacked the required disposable income in order to support their habits and piracy was the norm. We’ve all grown up now though with many of us having incomes that we could only dream of back then, enough for us to begin paying for the things we want. Indeed many of us are doing that where we’re able to but far too many industries are simply ignoring our spending habits in favour of sticking to their traditional business models. This isn’t sustainable for them and it frustrates me endlessly that we still have to deal with shit like this when it’s been proven that this Internet thing isn’t going away any time soon. So stop this artificial scarcity bullshit, embrace our ideals and I think you’ll find a torrent of new money heading in your direction. Enough so that you’ll wonder why you held such draconian views for so long.

 

FR0001

My Stance on Instagram Explained.

Ho boy, rarely have I copped more flak for a post both online and offline than my piece early last year on how the general population of Instagram made me feel. In all honesty whilst I knew there were a few people it would piss off, which was one of the reasons it sat in my drafts folder for ages, I still felt like I had some valid points to make based on my observations based around the Instagram user base at large. Many people took offence to this, arguing points ranging from “Why should that matter to you anyway?” to “You’re using it wrong, there’s great communities on there”. I was hoping that the comments section would have been the end of all of it but late last week the topic came up again and I lost an hour in the ensuing debate so I figured it was time I made my position on this whole matter more clear.

FR0001

I recognise that for every example I can dredge up of someone posting a horribly framed and filtered picture of their breakfast someone else can just as easily show me something like this. My criticism wasn’t levelled at people who use the service in this fashion but reading back over the post and the ensuing comments I never really made that entirely clear, so mea culpa on that one. However I don’t feel that the general thrust of my argument has been invalidated by that as many users agree that the vast majority of stuff on Instagram isn’t particularly great. This isn’t unique to Instagram however as any user generated content site suffers from Sturgeon’s Law and honestly the mentality of users on said sites really doesn’t vary that much but Instagram hit closer to home thanks to my interest in this particular area.

I’ve also had people try to bring me back into the Instagram fold in order to convince me that there’s something in the platform for me. Now whilst I wasn’t an active user for quite some time I did have the application installed on my Galaxy S2 for the better part of the year, mostly so I could view pictures linked to me on Twitter without having to use Instagram’s then rather shitty web interface. From time to time I’d look at pictures on there and see some genuinely good ones but not often enough to convince me that it was worth investing my time to better my feed by subscribing to said users. The fact of the matter is I already have many other avenues for discovering photographers that I like, ones that share a critical characteristic with.

Our preferred platform of choice.

For me the undisputed platform of choice is my DSLR. I’ve tried many other camera systems from high end point and shoots, film SLRs and yes multitudes of cameras in phones but in the end I always end up coming back to my DSLR. The reasoning behind this is because of the amount of control and influence I have over the final image, something which I struggle with on any other platform. It may sound weird if you prefer the simplicity that’s granted to you by camera phones (something which I do understand) but I find it a lot easier to take pictures on my DSLR, to the point where using anything else just frustrates me. I think that’s because I know that whilst I can do a lot of things in post should I so desire there are some things I simply can’t unless I’m using my preferred platform of choice.

This is somewhat at odds with the Instagram community which, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t take particularly kindly to those who take photos outside of their phone and then upload them via the service. If I was going to use Instagram again that’s the way I would use it but I’d rather not antagonize the community further by breaking the current social norm on there. For now I really only use Facebook to distribute pictures (mostly because my recent photographic endeavours have involved friend’s weddings) but I’ve been a fan of Flickr and 500px for a long time now as they seem to be more my kind of people.

I’ve come to realise that even my beloved DSLR community isn’t immune to this kind of malarkey either as there are far, far too many people who I walking around with a $1000+ camera with the shocking kit lens on it shooting in auto thinking that they’re the next Don McCullin. The criticisms I’ve levelled at Instagram apply to them as well although they’ve yet to congregate onto a platform that’s as ubiquitous as Instagram has become.

After the backlash I received I set myself a challenge to try and use my camera phone to produce pictures that I’d be proud to share and the above is probably one of the dozens I’ve taken that’s anywhere near what I wanted it to be. 6 months of trying have shown me there’s definitely a lot of effort required into creating good pictures, arguably the same amount as required by using a DSLR, but I still feel like I’m constrained by my phone. Maybe that’s a personal thing, something that I could overcome with more time and dedication, but in saying that I’d propose the same thing to all the Instagrammers out there. Borrow a friends DSLR and see the world from our side. Maybe you’ll come away with an appreciation for the technology that helped give birth to the platform you so love today.

Rapid Domestication (or OMG Cute Foxes!).

I have this obsession with esoterica; things that are hard to find or to track down trigger this thing in the back of my head that just won’t go away until I find them. Most of the time its pretty harmless stuff, usually only sending me down a flurry of Google searches, but sometimes it can drive me to apparent madness like when I scoured eBay for hours looking for a copy of Uncharted 3 Explorer Edition when I found out they were no longer available through stores. One of the weirder times this desire for the esoteric hit me was back when I was researching dog breeds for a potential new puppy and I stumbled across something quite intriguing.

Back in the 1950s a Russian scientists by the name of Dmitry Belyaev began a breeding program with wild foxes. His aims were simple, he wanted to study the origins of domestication and gain insight into the differences between our dogs and their wild counterparts. For this experiment he selected the Silver Fox and began selectively breeding them for more domestic tendencies. The results were quite remarkable and within a few generations Belyaev had foxes that were nothing like their wild counterparts, even to the point of them developing different coats, curling their tails and behaving much more like your garden variety canine than anything else.

YouTube Preview Image

It didn’t take me long to track down a breeder that had them available (SibFox, who appears to have shut down) and the low low price of US$6000 seemed reasonable, at least compared to some other types of dogs. Australia’s quarantine laws and a concerned wife thankfully put this idea firmly out of the realms of plausibility but I still think that a domesticated fox would make for a pretty good pet.

I just couldn’t take it out to my parents farm, however.

Interestingly enough there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that cats and dogs actually domesticated themselves, foregoing their wild behaviours in favour of living side by side with humans in order to increase their chances of survival. This has certainly worked well for them with domesticated animal numbers far exceeding that of their wild brethren and suffice to say its a much easier existence for many of them. It’s quite a recent phenomenon too, in evolutionary terms, as the first evidence of domesticated animals only dates back 9,000 years or so.

Pretty wild (ha!), isn’t it?

Merry Christmas To You All.

As I do every time this year I just wanted to wish all my readers a {SEASON GREETING}[Merry Christmas|Happy Hanuka|Happenin Kwanzza]. Hope you’re as happy as I am, in great company with a stomach full of festive treats. I don’t have much else to say so I’ll just leave you with this video of a house with lights set to dubstep since that’s what the holiday spirit is all about, right? 😉

YouTube Preview Image

Hopefully this post will also let Google know that my site isn’t gone forever after I found out that my Apache server took a dive for the past 2 days >_<

Dealing With The “Skills Shortage”.

Canberra is a weird little microcosm as its existence is purely because the 2 largest cities in Australia couldn’t agree on who could be the capital of the country and they instead decided to meet, almost literally, in the middle. Much like Washington DC this means that all of the national level government agencies are concentrated in this area meaning that the vast majority of the 360,000 or so population work either directly or indirectly for the government. This concentration of services in a small area has distorted many of the markets that exist in your typical city centres and probably most notable of them all is the jobs market.

To put it in perspective there’s a few figures that will help me illustrate my point more clearly. For starters the average salary of a Canberran worker is much higher than the Australian average even beating out commodity rich states which are still reaping the benefits of the mining boom. Additionally Canberra’s unemployment is among the lowest in Australia hovering around a staggering 3.7%.  This means that the labour market here is somewhat distorted and that’s especially true for the IT industry. However, like the manufacturing industry in the USA, there are still many who will bellyache endlessly about the lack of qualified people available to fill the needs of even this small city.

The problem is, as it always has been, simple economics.

I spent a good chunk of my career working directly for the public service, jumping straight out of university in a decent paying job that I figured I’d be in for quite a while. However it didn’t take long for me to realise that there was another market out there for people with my exact same skills, one that was offering a substantial amount more to do the same work. Like any rational person I jumped at this opportunity and have been continuing to do so for the past 6 years. However I still see positions similar to mine advertised with salaries attached to them that are, to be fair, embarrassing for anyone with those kinds of skills to take when they can get so much more for doing the same amount of work. This has led to a certain amount of tension between Canberra’s IT workers and the government that wishes to employ them with many agencies referring to this as a skills shortage.

The schism is partly due to the double faceted nature of the Canberran IT market. One the one hand the government will pay you a certain amount if you’re permanently employed with them and another if you’re hired as an outside contractor. However these positions are, for the most part, identical except that one pays an extraordinary amount more at the cost of some of the benefits (flex time, sick/annual leave, etc.). It follows that many IT workers are savy enough to take advantage of this and plan their lives around those lack of benefits accordingly and thus will never even consider the lower paid option because it just doesn’t make sense for them.

This hasn’t stopped the government from trying however. The Gershon report had been the main driver behind this, although its effects have been waning for the past 2 years,  but now its the much more general cost reductions that are coming in as part of the overall budget goal of delivering a surplus. The problem here however, as I mentioned in the post I just linked, is that once you’re above a certain pay grade in the public service you’re expected to facilitate some kind of management function which doesn’t really align with the requirements of IT specialists. Considering that even outside of Canberra’s arguably inflated jobs market such specialists are able to make far more than the highest, non-managerial role in the government it comes as no surprise that the contractor market had flourished the way it did and why the implementation of the Gershon report did nothing but decimate the government’s IT capability.

Simply put the skills/labour shortage that’s been experienced in many places, not just Canberra, is primarily due a disconnect between the skills required and the amount organisations are willing to pay for said skills. The motivation behind the lower wage costs is obvious but the outcome should not be unexpected when you try to drive the price down but the supply remains the same. Indeed many of the complaints about a labour shortage are quickly followed by calls for incentives and education in the areas where there’s a skills shortage rather than looking at the possibility that people are simply becoming more market savy and are not willing to put up with lower wages when they know they can do better elsewhere.

I had personally only believed that this applied to the Canberra IT industry but in doing the research for this post it seems like it applies far more broadly than I had first anticipated. In all honesty this does nothing but hurt the industry as it only helps to increase tensions between employers and employees when there’s a known disconnect between the employee’s market value and their compensation. I’d put the challenge to most employers to see how many good, skilled applicants they get if they start paying better rates as I’d hazard a guess their hit rate would vastly improve.

The Dip Results

My Challenge Response Curve.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m a challenge addict, always seeking out new technology or platforms that has new problems which I can solve. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed it as diving deep into an unknown area is something that always gives me a thrill and is arguably what keeps me coming back. This addiction to challenge however is its own worst enemy as whilst I might have dabbled in nearly every piece of technology imaginable I really only know them to a certain point before they bore me after which I’ll dump them for the next intriguing challenge. For someone who’s spent the better part of 2 years dreaming about starting his own technology based company this addiction to challenge is highly counter productive, something which I need to work on.

Like many of my ilk I’ve been trained in the art of pattern recognition, mostly for identifying when something can be automated or a process solidified in order to make it more efficient or reliable. My addiction to challenge hadn’t managed to slip past this process and after thinking about it for a while I realised that I had a kind of response curve to challenges. Initially there’s an overwhelming sense of progress as problems are overcome at a rapid pace, you’ve got momentum and you feel like the idea you’re working on has a lot of merit. Then, after a while, the challenges start to become routine and you start question your motives. It’s at this point where I find myself looking for something new and exciting, usually finding it without too much hassle.

I’ve come to learn that I’m not alone in this kind of response, it’s called the dip:

The idea comes from a book by Seth Godin, a serial entrepreneur and author who penned a whole book about this idea 5 years ago. I’d love to say that I’ve read it but I haven’t and all the credit goes to Matt Aimonetti’s post about how us engineers typically suck at choosing jobs (which I totally agree with, if I don’t wholly agree with the reasons why we suck) for introducing me to the concept from that book. I’d been thinking about writing a post about my challenge response curve for a while now but I hadn’t really figured out how to visualize the idea and the graph above is pretty much exactly what I was picturing in my head, even if I didn’t have the axis labelled (I had no idea what they were, honestly).

This is not to say that putting endless amounts of effort behind something will always yield results though. One of the tricks I’ve learnt since discovering my addiction to challenge is that once you’re in that dip area it’s all too easy to doing “work” on something and really not get anywhere, which adds to the frustration. Typically I found this was when I would just stare at bits of code for ages, thinking about how best to optimize them. Routinely this ended with me being stuck in a loop just thinking about the same ideas over and over again without taking the dive and trying them out for fear of wasting the effort. At that point you either need to break away from that task or simply slug through and try it out. Sure you might waste some time or effort by doing something that wasn’t worth doing or not spending time on the project but that’s far better than wasting time that ultimately results in nothing.

I’m currently working yet another idea (yeah I know, I’m terrible) where I was implementing a search function so that users could discover information without having to trudge through pages of stuff they weren’t interested in. Now for small scale data sets, like the one I have for development, this is pretty easy however for larger sets, like the one I have in production, they simply take too long to run. I had mulled over the idea of how to solve this for quite a while and implemented a solution over the weekend. This solution, whilst better than the original, was still performing unacceptably and forced me to rethink my approach to the issue. That time I spent on the current solution is now technically wasted but had I not spent that effort I would still be sitting here now thinking that it was the best course of action. I guess that realisation that even “wasted” effort has value was something I hadn’t really come to grips with and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that.

Thankfully this is one of those things that once you’re aware of the issue there’s many things you can do about it in order to overcome it. I’m not saying that my particular coping strategy will work for everyone, I know it won’t, but I do feel that the dip applies almost universally even if the curve varies from person to person. How you recognize that you’re in the dip and how you get out of it is something that I’m not sure that I can help with but I know that simply being aware of it has helped me immensely and it’s for that exact reason that I’m pretty excited about my most recent projects.