Posts Tagged ‘control’

Fifty Miles

22 March 2011

Dear J-

You know how they talk about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes to gain an understanding of what they do? It’s the second day of acting like an adult — acting supervisor — and I’m ready to hand over the reins to the next warm body that walks through the door. It may just be the now-expectedly depressing visits to the doctor (every few months he calls me in and, peering over the top of his glasses, sighs and explains how my high cholesterol is dooming me to a life of coronary disease) or the feeling that I can’t even stand still for five minutes without needing to move on to the next crisis.

I’m pretty sure I’d become a pretty bad boss in time. I have a terrible time giving up any work, especially if I can see how to do it. I’d be the one hovering over your shoulder nervously, ready to step in and take over at the slightest sign of going awry. Perhaps that’s why I like the very idea of photography, as a faithful record of things you see but are generally unable to control. The really hard thing is letting go and letting things happen on their own. It’s true no one does it quite the same as you would but there’s no saying that you’re more right or wrong. Letting go is terrifying and exhilarating when you can’t get it all done, but you’re also not expected to, either. The longer I insist on grasping beyond my reach the less time I can actually hold on.

When I go to my doctor he dictates the pace and direction of the visit. Last time I went theVet berated me for forgetting to ask about my itchy ear, which was uncharacteristically moist all week. This time I managed to squeeze in a few words about my eyes and ears (allergies are bringing me low) after the long lecture on cholesterol and changing my life but those got a cursory examination compared to the thesis-level discussion of my various low density solids. Giving up power is one thing but the natural order of doctor-patient is a one-way street, and it’s abundantly clear to me that a little give on his part would make me a better patient, better able to listen to his advice.

Mike

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Time Slot

23 June 2010

Dear J-

Time slides away in great, greasy chunks this morning; you wouldn’t suspect it of moving so fast — doubly fast when you’re trying hard to pin it down and keep it still — if it wasn’t for checking the clock every now and then to see another five minutes gone by. They say that time flies when you’re having fun; I say it accelerates when you’re on the run. Hurrying up and trying to finish something is a sure recipe for having time fly out of control — I like the feeling of a ticking clock on some of the work that I do, but not when it’s down to the final minutes and I’ve got nothing to show but rework and re-checking.

Anything else like time where the harder you try to control it, the less successful you are? Well, three-year-olds for one, I suspect; now that figgy has discovered she has an opinion and a right to express herself, there’s no way to induce her to do anything except through outright bribery (I’m finding that treats and stickers work well), though sometimes the (if … then) constructs don’t always follow. You can eventually force things, but all you’re left with for it is redoubled resistance for the next occasion; nuanced reason plays the same role as toilet paper to a tank.

I suppose it’s all about perception — like traffic, if you look for idiots, you’ll always find them (and occasionally for you, more often than not for me, I’ll definitely find one wearing my pants in my driver’s seat). If I’m always looking out for obstacles, that’s all I’ll ever see; I have trouble keeping my eye on the bigger picture while trying to take care of the day-to-day details, and that’s when time starts slipping away. It’s funny how small details shrink in the bigger picture or given a larger pool of data — I know, for instance, that it takes a good forty minutes to do all the simple chores in the morning, so I shouldn’t be surprised at my rush out the door if I get up late. Bigger picture. Brighter day.

Mike

Sharing Caring

21 November 2009

Dear J-

You can admonish me any way you like later but here you go: Cal 34, Stanford 28; it’s always a big deal when our alma maters play. And this despite the Cardinal running it up against two teams that pounded Cal earlier this year, Oregon and USC. Yes, Stanford had a chance to pull it out in the end and next year, who knows? But for me, I’m curious why I should feel a sense of accomplishment when a team wins or a gnawing sense of disappointment when they lose: it’s not as though I’m personally responsible for them — they are unlikely to hear me yelling at them through the television, and it’s not as though I ever suited up to do battle on the gridiron. All I know is this: after the giant swoon of 2007, all is forgiven (for now), let’s not dwell on the three losses, let’s trumpet the win over a nationally-ranked Stanford team and sing praises for the role of spoiler. By the way, it looks like Oregon’s going bowling for Roses; here’s hoping that the Buckeyes find out how tough the Pac is.

It’s the second day of my weekend, which found me out of sorts early — impatient, crabby, tired (figgy pulled the same early-morning trick on us again — either we need to keep her up later or find some way to graft the sleep habits of a teenager onto her); we revived a bit with breakfast (figgy with her first, voracious taste of egg) and crashed a bit back at the Zoo over little things. It’s always the little things that dismay me: one week she spilled some water, which for some reason brought me to unthinking rage (it’s not as though there aren’t drinking fountains and drink vendors all over the place, so a little spilled water is no big deal in the grand scheme of things); this week, it was her runny nose, perhaps from the flu shots she got yesterday, causing her to completely deplete my stash of napkins. Again, I’m not paying for them, they’re ubiquitous and yet seeing the last one go because she doesn’t like to reuse brought me to some impatient snappiness.

Point is that there’s so much in my life that’s out of my control nowadays; I used to hate my parents hosting parties partly because it meant that I’d be in charge of the other kids, but more, I suspect, because that meant they’d be touching my stuff. MY stuff. It’s not that I never learned to share; I never learned the joy in it, and I find myself going slightly crazy now that there’s a life and a will I can’t control. Guide, yes; control, no — and it’s going to mean that the things I do aren’t necessarily going to have any effect, but somewhere between the futility of cheering at the television and creating a clone is the right mix to raise a child (crazy daughter that she is); it is perhaps the most fascinating experience (experiment?) I know.

Mike

Developing Issues

22 December 2008

Dear J-

I’m not convinced that developers pay their fair share of costs; the Union-Tribune talks about the brave developers who are gamely plunging forward with building new houses in the uncertain housing market, but I don’t believe that brave is the right adjective for it.  What if the city wasn’t there to fast-track permits and provide infrastructure?  How can banks lend money to them and not extend relief to homeowners?  I know, the answers are not as simple as I make them out to be.

Why is it a lesson to be learned in overextending yourself when it happens to a person, but warrants government intervention when companies are teetering on the brink?  I’ve mentioned before how I’m starting to understand the WTO protests — in this world where money is power, buying protection and access, it stands to follow that the moneyholders also hold the strings; it’ll buy better lawyers, it’ll buy favorable laws.  How are we, as individuals, expected to compete?

This is why brand loyalty amuses me, even as I find myself a vapid, rapid consumer of goods; companies appreciate your business, but your love goes unrequited.  You may buy (or avoid) anything with an Apple, Microsoft, Canon, Sony, Nikon, etc. logo on it, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to love you back by making sure that, for instance, you have a job to pay for your consumer habits.  Cost-cutting is rampant; even as we scale back on consumer spending, so too do companies chase the dollars down by cuttng payrolls and moving production.  Thus with developers — yes, they make homes, but to put those on a market already hypersaturated doesn’t make any sense.  The laws and regulations they seek to streamline are set in place not to protect bureaucracy, but to protect citizens.  I sometimes decry government as too big and too complex, but I still wonder if it does enough to regulate consumer protection, given that purse strings turn into puppet strings with time.

Mike

Shallow Field

16 August 2008

Dear J-

Saturdays seem to turn into photo days, for whatever reason, so let’s talk about f-stops, you and I.  F-stops follow the progression they do because they express the ratio of diameters; at f/1.0, the effective diameter of the lens matches the focal length.  Thus a 50mm f/1.0 (and they exist, at you-gotta-be-kidding-me prices) has a 50mm effective diameter.  At f/1.4, your diameter is 1/1.4-th of the focal length.  It makes more sense when you consider it this way:  since the area of the opening determines the gross amount of light transmitted through the lens (ideal lenses, here, and with modern multi-coatings, transmission ratios are pretty high); thus since area varies with the square of the diameter, it’s actually the square of the f-stop you’re interested in.

Hence, a f/1.0 lens transmits twice as much light as a f/1.4 lens, and thus you can derive the f-stop full stop scale (f/1.0, f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32, f/64, f/128, etc.) by taking the square root of the 2^n sequence (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.).  Consider it for a moment and it starts to make sense.  If you close down the aperture one full stop (f/1.4 to f/2.0, say), you have to double the shutter speed (1/30th at f/1.4 to 1/15th at f/2.0) to make an equivalent exposure — you show the film (or sensor) half the light, for twice as long.  All else being equal, why wouldn’t you keep the aperture as wide as possible?  Well, for one thing, lenses aren’t necessarily designed to be run wide-open, and often hit their optimum performance one or two stops down.  For another, aperture controls depth of field; low f-stops (big apertures) give shallow depth of field, which is useful for the Martha Stewart style of product photography, or if you’re trying to draw attention to one thing over another.

Isn’t it ironic, then, that in real life, opening yourself up to new experiences actually widens your depth of knowledge?  I’ve been reading about some guy out there who has some kind of beef with Democrats; he coauthored a book for the Swift Boat Veterans, blamed by some for torpedoing Kerry’s campaign in 2004 (someone please explain to me again how two draft dodgers came out looking more virtuous than a veteran, especially representing a party that prides itself on supporting the military), and he’s at it again with Obama fear-mongering.  Sadly, it’s not about the accuracy of the message, simple as it is in photography — if you’re using shallow depth of field techniques, make sure you focus on the right thing — but how repeatable the lie.

I remember from debate there were two sources you wanted to use for definitions, each useful to the affirmative (making a case for change) or negative (keeping the status quo) side.  And, depending on the side you had to argue, the standard reasons went like this:  affirmatives wanted to use a “common” dictionary like Merriam-Webster because it was the most reasonable to the greatest amount of people; negatives chose Black’s Law Dictionary because it was the most precisely focussed definition.  Neither was the best answer all the time, and you needed to carry around both, because you didn’t know what side you’d be asked to argue.  So it goes in life, so too in photography; develop your skills and make sure you use the right tools when needed.

Mike