My 365 Days photography project: reflections and lessons learned

This post is overdue, but I still think it needs to be written.

Starting on 2009-01-02 and ending back about a month ago or so, I did a 365 Days self-portraits photography project. I still have about two months’ worth of pictures that need posting on Flickr, and I still intend to post them. Most of them will not be edited, and a lot of them only qualify as self-portraits because of the presence of a finger or other body part.

My original goal was a perfect 365. That is, one picture every day for 365 consecutive days winding up on 2010-01-01. I believe I gave it the best I had to offer. I try not to think of my 365 Days project as a failure. Some may call it that because I didn’t finish, but I think this is a mistake, because I learned a great deal from what I did.

I know enough about taking self-portraits now that for about 90% of the times I need a picture of myself taken I will have no issues whipping out the old Nikon Coolpix L18 (or its replacement, or whatever DSLR I finally get when–not if–that day comes) and a tripod, and doing the time-honored self-timer routine. Unless of course, I have a remote. Oh, the number of shots that would have been so much easier with a remote…

I learned some days I’m just not as photogenic as I’d like to be. There were days I was pretty sad. In fact, the final two weeks or so of my 365 Days project, there were personal, emotional, mental struggles that pretty much ensured I was crying every day at some point. Most of those pictures will show only a body part. Amazingly I felt good enough about myself in the middle of that to try to take at least one last decent face shot in Hermann Park. At that point my tripod finally gave out, so then body part shots (sometimes as little as a finger) were really all I could do.

I learned life is about the journey, not the destination. I think it is actually better for me personally to learn the lessons I learned from not completing the 365 Days project, than to have tried to complete it. Maybe it’s because I had no idea, by the halfway point, what completing the project would actually symbolize for me.

I learned a day is pretty short, a year is a long time, yet apparently a year or even a decade isn’t long enough for some things.

Am I unhappy about not reaching the goal I set for myself, completing all 365 days? In a way, yes. It’s never good to set a goal and fall short of reaching it. It’s yet another goal I’ve set and not reached during my life. But in a broader sense, this is something I can at least analyze and learn from my mistakes.

There are other situations where I probably will never know enough to know exactly what I screwed up. Just that I did screw up. Once, I can deal with. But twice, or three, four, five times? It really tests my ability to just pick up the pieces and try to move on.

I’d like to offer my thanks to my loyal readers, especially those I know well enough to consider friends, who have stuck around through the best and worst of times. I have no idea who has stuck around since the beginning. Most people start a blog with a circle of friends that read it every day and it kind of grows from there. I just kind of started mine when Twitter’s 140-character limit got burdensome.

I intend to leave the pictures I took online indefinitely. No true artist is ashamed of his art. I believe those who impose shame on others for their art, in whatever form, simply do not understand it. I have seen my share of art that I find revolting, but never once have I criticized an artist’s willingness to make a statement in whatever media he/she felt most appropriate.

I probably will try again. At the very least, I will try a 52 project (one picture per week) if I decide another 365 is not in the cards.

I will probably do a lot more self-reflecting in the future. It’s probably time to shift my focus away from current events a little bit, as even I am finding some of the topics repetitive. At the very least I’m looking at ways to keep it fresh.

I am allowing comments on this post, however due to its nature there may be some I simply cannot approve or that I feel more appropriate not to discuss further in a public forum.

“Library of future” initiative becomes corporate battleground

Wired reports on Sony’s decision to side with Google in a highly contentious lawsuit between Google and rivals Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon.

The lawsuit centers around privacy concerns and the fact it would give Google monopoly-like status on book rights that would be impossible for other companies to acquire without their own lawsuit.

Worse for Google, the Department of Justice is also investigating the settlement–a rather ominous and foreboding development.

I have never been all that positiviely impressed with Sony; they are probably the only company with a hand in consumer electronics and entertainment (the latter through their acquisition of Columbia Tri-Star in 1989 and CBS Records in 1987). The second DVD player my mom ever bought was a Sony, and it was the first to fail; the RCA player purchased a few months before still works today as far as I know. It has always seemed to me that Sony built up a good reputation in its early days, and somehow managed to keep it afloat enough to justify some kind of premium pricing even though the reputation it has is probably less deserved today.

Still, today, I’d really like to give Sony the benefit of the doubt. Yes, even though this is the same Sony known for the doomed Betamax and Digital 8 videotape formats, and the XCP and MediaMax copy protection scandal of 2005.

I don’t know much of the details and motivation behind why Sony would back Google. I do know that it’s Very Bad to let any one company grow to an effective monopoly; there is a reason we have the Sherman Anti-Trust act in the US and why similar legislation and oversight exists in the EU and elsewhere. And this does smell like something Sony would do not out of concern for its customers, but for its own corporate interests. I also believe we, as a society, should not reward a company that puts shareholders above customers when filing amicus briefs in these legal chess games.

Maybe my instinct is off the mark yet again, but it is what it is.

Uncovered CIA abuses from the not-so-distant past

A recent LA Times article and a recent New York Times article detail some rather horrifying abuses by the CIA from a long-secret CIA report released this week.

The specific acts in question include:

  • Brandishing of weapons, including a gun and a power drill, during interrogation sessions;
  • Firing a gun in the room next door to a detainee in an attempt to convince the prisoner another suspect had been executed;
  • Threats against family members of a suspect (two incidents);
  • The use of cigar smoke during interrogations (two incidents, during one smoke was intentionally used to induce vomiting);
  • Forcing a detainee into stressful positions;
  • Bathing a detainee with a stiff brush of the sort used to clean bathrooms;
  • Waterboarding;
  • A “pressure point” technique: restricting a detainee’s carotid artery to the point where he/she would start to pass out, then shaking the detainee to wake him/her; and
  • A mock execution.

I’m glad to see the reports detailing these horrific and inhumane acts declassified and brought to the attention of the public. I do believe sunlight is the best disinfectant, and hopefully the shame brought on by the publicity of these incidents will deter others from similarly inhumane treatment of future prisoners.

I find the stuff brush bath, weapon brandishing, and mock execution to be the most disturbing of the incidents. That’s not to say the rest aren’t disturbing as well, just those incidents in particular are things I would hope decent people would not do. And I still hold out hope that our government is run by decent people.

But I have to ask the question: If these things aren’t torture, what is?

A look at

When the Free Software Foundation scores a hit, it’s usually a home run. This one literally hasn’t landed yet.

Their latest campaign, Windows 7 Sins, is a brutal, gloves-are-off-now attack on Microsoft’s well-known monopolistic and anti-consumer tactics. Some of them are pretty damning.

I’ll go through each of the 7 sins and reply with my take on each one.

1. Poisoning education: Today, most children whose education involves computers are being taught to use one company’s product: Microsoft’s. Microsoft spends large sums on lobbyists and marketing to corrupt educational departments. An education using the power of computers should be a means to freedom and empowerment, not an avenue for one corporation to instill its monopoly.

To be fair about it, Apple did the same thing–not that Apple’s evil tactics, present or past, are strangers to readers of this blog either. In fact every time I used a computer in school (elementary to post-secondary) it ran proprietary software. This certainly should not be the case; the least Microsoft can do is not use the schools not to cement its monopoly.

2. Invading privacy: Microsoft uses software with backward names like Windows Genuine Advantage to inspect the contents of users’ hard drives. The licensing agreement users are required to accept before using Windows warns that Microsoft claims the right to do this without warning.

I have to giggle a bit when I read anything with “Windows” and “Advantage” in the same phrase. Seriously, the odious, obnoxious, and invasive “product activation” requirements are the reason I no longer use Windows on my PC. I’m different than most of the people who treat a computer like just another appliance; I don’t need a license agreement to tell me Microsoft does not have my best interests in mind. Though it is nice to have documentation.

3. Monopoly behavior: Nearly every computer purchased has Windows pre-installed — but not by choice. Microsoft dictates requirements to hardware vendors, who will not offer PCs without Windows installed on them, despite many people asking for them. Even computers available with other operating systems like GNU/Linux pre-installed often had Windows on them first.

It is possible to get even laptops without an OS already on them (referring here to PC hardware, of course). Local clone shops will happily give you a system with a clean hard drive and will even leave the license cost for Windows off of your final invoice. I, of course, prefer to build my own; my most recent computers were “rescued” so they do have major brand names on them. One was apparently dumped because the Windows XP install on it was busted. It’s now the firewall for our home network, running OpenBSD quite happily.

4. Lock-in: Microsoft regularly attempts to force updates on its users, by removing support for older versions of Windows and Office, and by inflating hardware requirements. For many people, this means having to throw away working computers just because they don’t meet the unnecessary requirements for the new Windows versions.

When I saw the requirement of 1G–yes, an entire gigabyte–of RAM for Windows Vista, I was floored. I hear you really needed to have 2G of RAM to get a usable system. That’s insane. I’m still getting by on a system running Debian 5.0 (lenny) with 256M of RAM; it remains relatively responsive as long as I am careful, though I probably do need to find something to replace or augment it in the not-so-distant future.

But to require 1G of RAM when the previous generation of PCs top out at that? That’s inexcusable and cruel to the people who can’t afford to buy a new computer because Microsoft says it’s time to.

5. Abusing standards: Microsoft has attempted to block free standardization of document formats, because standards like OpenDocument Format would threaten the control they have now over users via proprietary Word formats. They have engaged in underhanded behavior, including bribing officials, in an attempt to stop such efforts.

Indeed, this is probably the most unfair, unkind, unscrupulous, thoughtless, sneaky, and nasty thing Microsoft is guilty of. When OASIS released the OpenDocument standards, Microsoft shot back with the confusingly similar Office Open XML, which is despite its name not a true open standard.

Even though Microsoft is a part of the W3C, its Internet Explorer HTML viewer is pathetic enough that I refuse to call it a Web browser. I actually had to program MSIE as a mobile phone user agent because it completely bombs on this WordPress theme as used here. (Which is probably another reason I need to make a custom theme for this site, and now that I have the experience, I will probably start on that in about a week or two.)

Microsoft ignored certain parts of the TCP/IP standards or recommendations when first making a TCP/IP stack part of the Windows OS (Windows’ TCP/IP stack was adapted from BSD, yet none of the code changes or improvements were ever contributed back to that project that I am aware of). UDP port scans on early versions of Windows were much easier than a comparable Unix system. This kind of plays into the bit about security below.

6. Enforcing Digital Restrictions Management (DRM): With Windows Media Player, Microsoft works in collusion with the big media companies to build restrictions on copying and playing media into their operating system. For example, at the request of NBC, Microsoft was able to prevent Windows users from recording television shows that they have the legal right to record.

I’ve ranted about DRM enough times here that I’m not sure what new I can add. This is pretty much par for the course for Microsoft, and something they should have no problem doing. Microsoft does partner with NBC, so it’s not surprising they would cave in easily to such a demand.

7. Threatening user security: Windows has a long history of security vulnerabilities, enabling the spread of viruses and allowing remote users to take over people’s computers for use in spam-sending botnets. Because the software is secret, all users are dependent on Microsoft to fix these problems — but Microsoft has its own security interests at heart, not those of its users.

Again, to be fair about it, Microsoft is far from the only offender here; they are, however, the most egregious. I take any Microsoft initiative to tighten security with a grain of salt, if not a shaker full of it, as the exploits keep coming with no real end in sight. (Hypertension? What hypertension?)

Apple’s squabble over Google’s user interface

The Blade has a recent entry on the Google Voice application for the iPhone. The FCC inquired about the rejection to all three companies involved: Apple, Google, and AT&T (which has an exclusivity arrangement with Apple for the iPhone in the US market). The interesting part here is the reaction from each company.

AT&T denies any involvement in the rejection of the application.

Apple claims they have not actually rejected the application, and is “still pondering at this time.” What is surprising–or not, if you read this blog on a regular basis–is the following quote from the letter:

The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.

I gather that that’s almost the entire point of the Google Voice application. What I take away from this: If Apple can do this to Google, they can damn sure do it to any other iPhone developer–and in fact, in a couple of cases, they pretty much already have.

Ron Schenone (author of The Blade) certainly signs off with a telling question
or three:

When I first read this I wondered why the FCC even cared? Why did the FCC even ask the companies to comment? Doesn’t Apple have the right to accept or reject any application that runs on their iPhone?

In an ideal world, Apple would let anyone write any application they wanted to run on the iPhone without having to play a high-stakes game of “Mother, May I.” It’s entirely backwards to take hundreds of dollars from a customer, and then still claim some kind of ownership on the item being sold to that customer. If Apple still considers the iPhone theirs after it leaves the factory, there needs to be a warning label to that effect on each box.

I’d like to think that would do some good. In the end those warning labels may be scarcely more effective than the ones on cigarette cartons. But that is a whole ‘nother rant for a different day.