Kintsugi heart

Even though I won't really be able to claim to have been married to you for 18 years anymore, at least not until I'm 60 years old or so... nonetheless the traditional gift for the eighteenth anniversary is porcelain.

Kintsugi heart vase by Marcantonio from Seletti

Kintsugi is, it's kind of corny to say, the JaPaNeSe ArT oF repairing broken pottery with bright, metallic glue. But, like all this "Japanese art of xyz" stuff, it has a philosophical component. The breakage of the object, and the repair, is part of its history and is interesting and worth remembering. It makes the object more beautiful and more perfect, in a way, in that it becomes more real, having almost "lived" a life and having something to show for it.

This thing is not true kintsugi—it was just made to look like it—but the sentiment still stands.

Of course the object is interesting and pretty—an odd heart vase for an anniversary present. But the fact that it's kintsugi, and porcelain, are just too meaningful.

I'm not sure that it's appropriate for me to talk about finding the beauty or some greater perfection in your broken heart. But there is beauty in this reassembled heart and there will be in yours—not because it's perfectly healed, since I understand that it will never be—but because the new heart has more life in it.

I hope to be there when it comes together. I hope to be one of the people that puts it back together.

I love you. Always did and always will.

Art, and pretty pictures

In a previous post I noted that, as I’ve grown up, I’ve become more comfortable in the understanding that art is usually more than pretty pictures—the implication being that, to date, I’ve focused on just the pretty pictures in my own work.

But as I’ve been writing something around a series of pictures I took at a bridge some time ago, I realized that often I would indeed have these bigger-picture thoughts in mind as I snapped my pretty pictures. It’s just that I would discount those thoughts, assuming they were not all that interesting to anyone but me.

I think I have a little more confidence now. I need it, considering that I hope to build up a portfolio and, perhaps after winning a few million in the lottery, pursue an MFA in photography…

Art is often, or usually, more than just pretty pictures

I used to wonder why someone can't just make pretty pictures and be an appreciated artist. It does happen, but it seems that more often one needs to have a body of work with clear themes. (Clarity of theme can be pretty questionable given some artsy doublespeak I’ve read rivaling in nonsense much of the corporate doublespeak I’ve been subjected to in the business world.) But anyway, these themes are often not technical like studies of composition or color, but rather they have to explore something roughly philosophical.

However, as I'm finding—or making—time to think more deeply about my own stuff, I find myself ever more forcefully drawn to certain themes and concepts beyond the raw photographic technique. I want to study these ideas more and explore them more and integrate them with the particularities of my photographic style to flesh them out into coherent works that can appeal to people on both a visual aesthetic level and a more abstract, thoughtful level.

It took me a while to get to this point. But here I am.

On the Virtues of Travel Photography with Only a Basic Camera

In which the photographer purposefully limits himself to minimal equipment while hunting the Aurora Borealis in Tromsø, Norway.

In January 2015 I took a trip to the city of Tromsø, above the Arctic Circle in Norway. It is known as an excellent place to score an Aurora sighting and caters to quite a few tourists year round. (I totally recommend it, by the way.) I had just bought myself a Fuji X100T, she and I were still in the honeymoon phase, and I was feeling a little nervous about packing too much stuff for a transatlantic trip. So I took the plunge and committed myself to just that camera and a few critical accessories like a lens brush and extra batteries. In fact, I didn't even bring a separate charger—the camera can replenish the battery internally over USB.

To be fair, as photographers go, I am a little odd to begin with. I don't have a particularly bad case of gear acquisition syndrome. As a rule I am generally suspicious of bells and whistles. And I think knobs are better than buttons and icons. That said, limiting myself to one camera—with its one built-in, fixed focal length lens—while out of the country for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is fairly unheard of for a hobbyist photographer worth his salt.

For those of you that don't know, the X100T is a digital rangefinder (technically a viewfinder for you pedants) with a fixed focal length lens set at a moderate wide angle, more or less equivalent to a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera. At that field of view, things are pretty close to how they look in real life, while still getting a good amount of the scene in the frame. The camera relies on knobs for the core settings. Like in the good old days, if you want program auto-exposure, you turn both the aperture ring and shutter speed dial to 'A.' If you want aperture priority, you leave the shutter speed dial on 'A' and simply set the aperture to whatever you want. Shutter priority is similar.

Fujis are also known for the "look" of their images. They use a different type of sensor and do some processing behind the scenes that results in a film-like vibe in the pictures. They handle low light exceptionally elegantly. In fact, that was the biggest selling point for me. But I'll get back to image quality in a bit.

I don't like to have a lot of things dangling around, especially when I'm trying to get through airport security, so my X100T sat nicely at the top of my Boreas Bolinas pack, just under the roll top. (That bag is another piece of equipment that I would recommend, by the way, were the company still in business. It was my everyday carry, EDC as the kids call it these days, and it would come with me on transatlantic trips, with scarcely a compromise either way.) The camera is fairly compact and solid; the lens extends just a little in front of the camera so the whole thing fits in a uniform rectangular space.

So you can tell I like the size and shape. As I hinted at before, I really love the images the camera produces as well. The moderate wide angle is appropriate for just about every style of photography except, perhaps, wildlife, sports, and portraiture. The lens is reasonably sharp and the maximum aperture of f/2 is wide enough to provide some background blur if that's what you need. For typical travel photography, I think you can't beat it. Landscapes, lifestyle details, and the such are so natural with this camera. In low light, the sensor (and I suspect some behind-the-scenes processing) produce images with very low noise. And the noise that is there feels more like film grain than digital splotches.

There are, of course, problems with this camera, such as a lack of sharpness at wide apertures and close focus (ostensibly fixed in the new X100V). But as Cartier-Bresson is supposed to have said, "sharpness is a bourgeois concept." This camera is more about the feel rather than pixel-peeping. And that is what I'm really trying to talk about here—the vibe, the feel, the size, the way the camera is a part of you rather than something you have to lug around because you spent a million dollars and don't want to feel like you wasted it.

Again, I cannot reiterate enough that the simplicity and quality of the camera, both in physical form and image output, really make for the one piece of equipment this photographer needs on hand at all times.

After looking at my pictures from the trip you may disagree, but I believe that I missed hardly a single shot due to the equipment limitations. I might have liked to have used a wider angle lens for a couple of the Aurora shots, and I pretty much refuse to photograph people with anything less than a 50mm equivalent (normal) lens. But aside from that, I feel like I missed out on very little if anything.

Could it be that I am an “Artiste?”

Or am I just another whiny Peter Gibbons from Office Space?

I am notably not in touch with my emotions, deep motivations, and similarly abstract parts of my mental and spiritual being, so this is an unsurprisingly difficult question for me to answer. As I try to figure out what the actual heck my deal is and why I often feel so uncomfortable in my own skin, my latest thought, which has been brewing for some time now, is that perhaps I'm simply not suited to my lifestyle of regular, daily work doing something I'm good at but don't care all that much about.

I know artists often talk about flunking out of their previous lives in the daily grind. And I do mean flunking out, in the I-basically-got-expelled-from-the-real-world kind of way. Whereas, I appear straight-laced and not at all a rebel except for maybe being the first at work with a light undercut before it became the cool thing among Nazis. And even when I do look like a “rebel” with my funny print shirts buttoned up to the top, no one really believes it. (I might need to finally get those tattoos I’ve been thinking about.) Anyway, I do a good job and get rewarded with more responsibility—and, more importantly, more money. I really do somehow outwardly fit the mold of an engineer that distinguishes himself well and for which management has great things in store.

But it's all just a slog for me, and with no end goal.

So, back to the title. One intersting thing to note is that Mike Judge, the creator of Office Space, was himself a physicist and mechanical engineer working at a Silicon Valley startup and some other nominally plum jobs until he left to play bass and make TV shows.

I suspect that the whole point of Office Space was not necessarily to answer these questions. Indeed, Tom Smykowski calls Peter a whiner. Is that Mike Judge talking to himself? Is he asking more questions? Is he just reminding us to be careful as we carve out our own paths?

Australian jewel beetles and our own non-reproductive sexual proclivities

Donald Hoffman used the Australian jewel beetle as an example of how our senses and even our whole perceptual apparatus are really just a user interface over a universe that we can have no understanding of. I mean, clearly. Look how confused those beetles are as they nearly go extinct making love to beautiful, shiny glass bottles instead of other beetles.

But that got me thinking. What about oral sex? Or pornography? Or simply wearing a condom? People do all sorts of things for fun that are not beneficial to reproduction, or even survival for that matter.

Maybe the jewel beetles enjoy humping bottles so much they don't care that ants are chewing on their junk. How could something so wrong feel so right?

Is there an alien somewhere showing to its students to demonstrate how dull human senses are to the actual world?

Where is Keynes's three-day workweek?

Famous economist the Right Honourable John Maynard Keynes predicted that we would all be working three days a week by now.

He did not predict the top-turd-in-the-toilet mentality that the human mind finds so effortlessly natural and which causes many of us to race, or push, our fellow humans to the bottom in an attempt to win some employer's fleeting favor.

Some day I'll write up a whole thing on my theories on why this is. And hopefully someone will tell me where this has already been studied so I can reference it and feel smart. But in the meantime, I feel like employers, politicians, popular people, dictators, bosses, everyone in some sort of position of power has figured out how to co-opt the enormous human need to cooperate with others to keep society together. (Honestly it's not hard. Apparently you just have to ask.) And we blindly oblige their every whim to our own personal detriment, to the detriment of our souls, and even to the detriment of society and the human race overall, contradicting the whole purpose of this social instinct to begin with!


Backdated inspiration from artist Emilio Sánchez

I've only fairly recently become aware of the work of Cuban-American artist and printmaker Emilio Sánchez through the stamps the USPS put out last year. But I'm all-in. If you know my work, you'll know why.

And that's where I want to go with this.

My mother was a big fan of Georgia O'Keefe—to the extent that she painted a replica of one of her skull paintings on a homemade cabinet—and while researching this post I was reminded that, as a child, my favorite works of hers were the New York City stuff, like this. I guess I appreciated the graphic nature. Shapes.

I also liked Edward Hopper, again for pretty obvious reasons if you know me. You know, the aching loneliness of negative space and flat, graphic compositions. Fun stuff like that.

I wasn't really paying enough attention at the time to know if O'Keefe and Hopper influenced my work, or if I only noticed the connections later. What work, you ask? Are you just trying to get me to talk about myself? Because I will gladly do so!

(Re-read those last two sentences in a deep Kiwi voice and they might ring a bell.)

My very first pictures outside of high school photography class were just a bunch of flowers. But once I developed a style, many of them became studies of divisions of the two-dimensional frame, often leaning heavily on negative space as, somehow, a source of interest. Check out how oddly fascinating that big blank area in the left half is:

Or is it just me?

We also have lonely, contrasty, suggestively beckoning stairs akin to "The Upstairs" by Charles Sheeler. (That's another guy I learned about recently but that should have been a long-time inspiration, and will be now.)

Being born and raised in South Florida, along with several generations of my family, and being somewhat sentimental and romantic, I've grown attuned to the particular nature of the light and the sky here. When a movie is filmed here—and similarly when it's supposed to have been filmed here but wasn't—I always notice. I figure the climate leads to certain types of clouds and foliage while the latitude gives the light a certain angle. We have very distinctive light and clouds, and I love it and get all excited when the seasons change and we get a new angle and color and timbre of light. I try to capture that feeling for everyone else. But, alas, I imagine that feeling is lost on most, since how many sentimental fourth-generation Floridian would-be artists and photographers are there?

Not all my pictures were flat. But just about all tried to harness our particular qualities of light. Take this Kodachrome shot off my back steps at the time:

So, it turns out that our climate here in Miami is, as you would expect, similar to that of Cuba. We have bright light with harsh, graphic shadows which make for excellent design elements. From what I've read so far, this informed the work of my new favorite artist Emilio Sánchez. And I can say I imprinted on those shadows, too, as I developed my eye.

Some things I've seen written about Emilio Sánchez can be copied and pasted straight into my artist's statement. Carol Damian of FIU and the Frost Art Museum called his work "not a picture of something, but the application of pigment [or pixels] onto a flat surface to become a singular object to its own definition." I've tried to say the same of my own photographs, but substantially less eloquently.

In more recent times I've been drawn to our skies, incorporating bold graphic elements of bleak architecture with the drama of distant exploding cumulonimbus.

Our friend Emilio Sánchez has some of these, too, but without the bleakness.

Now, what I need to do is find the photographers in this style for some more inspiration (and, to be honest, some ego massage). Do any of my readers know of any? And perhaps my first question should be, "Do I even have any readers?"

NFTs won't last

Here's why I think NFTs won't last more than maybe fifteen years.

NFTs use the all-the-rage blockchain concept as a way of ensuring scarcity in a digital world. Just like how one bitcoin belongs to one person, even if you copy the code to your own flash drive and carry it around with you, one digital—or digitized—work of art belongs to one person, even if you download it and make it the wallpaper on your Dell Inspiron at work.

But all this really presupposes that scarcity truly is what makes art valuable, and simply maps that on to the digital world using this shiny new blockchain toy. But first, scarcity is clearly not the only thing that makes art valuable. It's obviously a factor that, ceteris paribus, will increase the value of something. But the artist of course matters. Historical events around the art’s creation matter. What other people feel about the art matters.

So yeah, I guess all those factors can, more or less, apply to NFT art. And scarcity, the only thing the digital world can't provide on its own, is provided through the blockchain.

But does scarcity actually matter anymore? Or will it in a few years? Throughout human history, and indeed throughout the history of life itself, scarcity mattered because there were limited resources to spread around all the living beings that needed them to survive. We evolved in that world, maintaining throughout our biological and subsequent social development our finely-tuned sense of fairness over resources (along with the urge to hoard them... also known as greed). At this point in our development, we have become so advanced that we apply these survival concepts to, strangely, collecting art. Why? What's the point? It only sort of makes sense if art is money—not even entertainment, but simply a store of value.

NFTs don't help more people enjoy art. They may help more people own art (good or bad depending on who you ask). They may help more artists sell art (mostly good I think). But they don't really provide value. They just provide a store of value made somewhere else.

So if NFTs serve no purpose other than as stores of value, they have nothing on boring old bitcoin except volatility. Who thrives on volatility? Speculators and the handful of early adopters that get out before it’s too late.

In this framework, then, NFTs simply—or at least largely—aid speculators to foist a synthetic, unnecessary scarcity upon art in a world becoming more democratized by the effortlessness of copying data.

For the vast majority of artists not named Damien Hirsch, their art is often not so much meant to be a store of value for the buyer, but rather an item of entertainment. I’ve bought a few fancy photos over the years because I like them. I have yet to see if the then up-and-coming photographers have become famous and my prints are now valuable. I hope so. But they are so beautiful. It’s not really what I’m thinking about. And I think that’s because I’m not rich. I’m not a speculator and can’t afford to be one. I really believe that us hoi polloi that the speculators argue can benefit the most from NFTs are the ones that already benefit from art as it is, in its pure form, by simply enjoying the work.

OK, so to be clear, I started this essay out a little dramatically. NFTs may serve as an easy way for us consumers of art to send a little support toward our favorite creators while getting a token something in return… sort of like Patreon. And the richest among us can buy and sell million dollar NFTs like they do shiny metallic ballon dogs now. But it just doesn’t seem that different than what we were doing five years ago. NFTs will “last,” of course, but they will just be another thing and not the next big thing.

Home-work and stationary digital nomadism

I was going through my notes and I see that my first post was about being a stationary digital nomad, if that makes any sense. (It doesn't make sense, but you can probably figure out what I mean.)

It seems that in this day and age it warrants a closer look.

With lots of us working from home, we're doing a lot of the things that digital nomads would do, without having to quit our jobs. I'm not entirely sure yet if, on balance, this is a good or a bad thing.

I can say that, in my line of work and geographical location, we're as busy as ever. So even though I'm at home, I have less time to pursue my ideas than before. (I must say that, in practice, the outcome is comparable at precious little progress, so perhaps I shouldn't complain?)

There is also the concern of job security, which seems to be a serious issue these days. I'm in a pretty sweet spot, so I feel safe. But I none the less tend toward anxiety and look for any excuse to not make large life changes (says the yoyo with two kids and third on the way). So I know this will complicate my attempts at independence.

On the other hand, it might simplify keeping my job and cutting my hours to work on other projects. With everyone at home, my absence will be less conspicuous. (I should note that the concern is not management. I plan to work this arrangement out with management. The concern is just nosy coworkers, especially those that would complicate management's life, thinking I'm getting some sort of special treatment.)

Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about lately. No answers. I guess we'll just see what happens as I pursue opportunities.

On applying a dollar value to life

I was reading an article a few weeks ago -- probably a few months ago at this point -- explaining to the layperson how it might be possible to compare the economic damage due to stay-at-home orders against the loss of life that could occur if people continue their daily routines.

Pretty quickly the discussion comes to the fact that this disease disproportionally impacts the elderly and infirm, which then gets us thinking about how to value individual lives as opposed to lifetime lived or lifetime to live. The implication here is that, when we apply a value to a human life, we should consider what it is we value.

Some argue that we should value, essentially, the experience of life. That is, we should value life for the time left to live it. This is pretty clearly reasonable at the extremes, where most of us would feel more sad about a child dying than an 89 year old, terminally-ill, cancer patient. But aside from that extreme example, it doesn't quite sit right. In fact, when the US government proposed a similar method of calculating cost-benefit analyses, they got such vigorous pushback from many, including the AARP, that they promised to never even consider it again.

That said, not thinking too hard about it, the logic seemed sound to me. But it felt wrong. And it took me a little time to understand why.

What we value is not the number of seconds a person has left in their life, or even what their life could be used for. We value the person's life because that person values it. They don't want to lose their life and we respect that.

Put another way, it's a question of property rights. You own your life an no one should be able to take it from you. It's no one's business that you might die tomorrow. Your life is solely yours to live now.

I'm trading in silly stereotypes here -- I apologize and please understand that this is a rhetorial device to make a point more clearly -- but this property rights approach should make more sense to the engineer/libertarian/do-the-math crowd that might initially approach the valuation of life in terms of a function of time left to live.

Response to anti-media nihilism

This post was inspired by a conversation between a couple people on Facebook beneath this image:

Diptych of lioness carrying cub, each image from a different view so one looks sort of like she's eating the cub.

Without linking directly to the conversation, essentially the original poster said the usual thing about the mainstream media manipulating reports and presenting them in a way to warp real events. The solution presented was, of course, to "do one's own research." As you may guess, this person leans conservative and the post was made in the context of unrest regarding police brutality and racism in general.

In one way I might even say I agree regarding the media. Showing video of people looting is way more exciting than people just standing there, chanting for justice. So you will certainly get an unbalanced view of how much looting is going on if one can't balance in one's head the necessary salaciousness of a news story against the always more moderate truth of the comparatively boring real world we live in.

That said, overall, this rejection of basically everything we see on the news sounds uncomfortably close to nihilism. And since pretty much no one is an actual nihilist except maybe those anarchist agitators Soros buses in to rural neighborhoods to fuck shit up, it ends up meaning that people just rely on their gut instinct instead, which is based on even less evidence and has even fewer checks and balances than the mainstream media boogeyman that everyone loves to deride.

What the original poster described sounds more like an indictment of Facebook and similar media aggregators rather than the actual news sources themselves. Facebook, for example, relies on commenting and sharing -- "engagement" -- for their very existence. Facebook shows us things that fire us up because we will then respond and "engage" with each other, thereby spending more time on Facebook, exposing ourselves to more ads and making them more money. So Facebook will feed conservative Cuban-Americans incendiary pictures of goofballs in Che shirts stepping on the American flag not because it's news, but because it will make them mad enough to share and comment, which will get their likely like-minded friends to do the same. All the while, this makes it seem that idiots in Che shirts are a problem of any consequence whatsoever, when out of 7 billion people in the world, or 350 million in the USA, Facebook manages to show us the pictures of the two that actually exist.

The mainstream media, however, are not quite as beholden to this kind of feedback loop, though admittedly they are businesses and do need to make money to survive.

Not having the infrastructure of a large news organization full of rule-oriented nerd editors and scaredy-cat lawyers afraid of defamation lawsuits at our disposal, "doing our own research" ends up being sharing photos of questionable origin from the Facebook page of or whatever the equivalent liberal version is (I wouldn't know).

I'd argue that the benefit of sophisticated, well-funded mainstream media is that, while you can only see the lion eating the cub, they can send a journalist over there and snoop around and eventually snap a picture from the other angle.

And there's a cold, calculating business reason for this as well. Despite all the talk of "agendas" or whatever, journalists are always first trying to scoop each other. They LOVE to prove other journalists wrong, and if they can get the real news, they win, their paper gets more traffic for this hot item, they get more ad revenue, and so on.

I know this is not the cool thing to say because everyone loves to cry about "the media" and "politicians" or "whatever other source of all our problems (not ourselves)" such that it has no meaning anymore. But generally trustworthy, experienced, established media organizations have value, even through the truth they uncover may not comport with our beliefs. Our beliefs are just that, beliefs, and should simply change a little bit when presented with confounding evidence rather than make us all agitated.

Do not attribute to malice...

Do not attribute to malice what can be attributed to anything else.

We've all heard that before. Though many of us have heard it as "... what can be attributed to stupidity," I find anything else to be more accurate and certainly better for my mental health.

But as I think about it, there is more to the story. Context is critical to the application of this maxim.

This saying is a way for one to interpret the world for oneself: If someone cuts you off in traffic, assume they didn't see you. It'll save you a lot of frustration and they probably really didn't see you anyway.

But when it comes to interpreting the actions of someone toward a third party, we need to approach those interactions in the way that will lead to the greatest good. It pains me to use royal gossip to make a point, but the treatment of Meghan Markle in comparison to Kate Middleton comes to mind. Someone told me that the issue is probably that Meghan Markle is not British, so that's why everyone treats her unfairly -- if even they are treating her unfairly. And that's probably the approach Ms Markle or really anyone on the victim's side of the interaction -- even people of color everywhere -- should take to interpret her treatment for their own mental health.

But when it's me, nominally on the aggressor's side as a white person commenting on royal gossip online, and certainly not possibly a victim in any way whatsoever, I need to view the interaction suspiciously, assuming that the complaints of racism could very well be true.

Why? There is no benefit to me assuming that racism bears no import on the situation. Well, I suppose it would let me feel better about the world being less racist than it is. But that's about it. However, if I assume that there may likely be a racist component in the public's treatment of Ms Markle, then I can look more critically at people's actions to attempt to get closer to the truth, I can look at my own actions to make sure I'm not being racist, and I can look at the actions of people close to me and help them look into their own motivations.

Put another way, it's healthy to accept certain inconsequential injustices on oneself, chalking them up to the stupidity or ignorance of the aggressor. But we need to expose and fight injustices elsewhere so that they can be routed out and eliminated.

The aesthetics of multicoding

I guess esolangs, esoteric programming languages, are my thing. Or one of my things.

I was particularly delighted by this line about a particular esolang called Whitespace from this article:

Whitespace (2003) uses only tab, space, and return. In Whitespace, commands are multicoded as what is normally read as their absence. These characters are treated interchangeably by C and C-derived languages, meaning Whitespace programs can be embedded between words in these programs, creating polyglot programs that function in both languages.


I just like this idea. Give this software an image and it finds a prime number that can represent it in ASCII art.

Like so:


Step back, squint, and you might see Octocat.

Via Esoteric Codes.

Why do meetings exist?

I'm talking about the boring office park cubicle farm conference room meeting that we all hate. So why do they exist if everyone, at least the rank-and-file, seem to hate them?

I have a theory.

When you get to a certain point in your career, your job ends up being little more than forwarding emails or firing off incomplete, one-line responses to the well-thought-out emails of your staff.

I'm sure you've gotten those. You ask your boss two questions and get something resembling an answer to only one of them. This happened to me Monday and I just gave up, made a reasonable guess, and will wait and see what happens. If my guess was wrong, I can at least say, "hey, I asked."

The only way to get those questions answered is to trap the boss in an interaction where they are forced to respond, such as by stepping into their office holding a list of action items with check boxes next to them. Bosses know this, though I suspect they do only unconsciously, and therefore schedule meetings when they think something actually needs to get done.

The problem is that they think the whole team has their inability to attend to detail. Their progression from worker to manager was gradual enough that they didn't notice when they went from producing deliverables to barely keeping up with emails, or Slack messages depending on your workplace.

Managers feel productive after a fair to good meeting because they actually did something other than forward emails. But workers feel unproductive after all but the best meetings because they actually do have the ability to produce just fine at their desks, at a reasonable pace, in response to thoughtful emails bounced around the team.