Blog Break

I am going to be taking a break from updating this blog for about two weeks. I’m headed on a long road trip out West, hitting up Kansas, Colorado, and ultimately Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

I’ll have sparse internet access throughout my trip. If I don’t post any new updates here, be sure to check out my other space on the internet, Erudite Expressions, where I will post photos from my trip as often as I can.

Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!

UPDATE (9/4/2012): I am posting a lot of photos frequently on Instagram  (user name: eugenephoto). You can also find me on Flickr.

Everything You Think You Know About China Is Wrong

The byline for this Foreign Policy piece reads: “”Are we obsessing about its rise when we should be worried about its fall?” So, it gained my attention for a quick read:

The disconnect between the brewing troubles in China and the seemingly unshakable perception of Chinese strength persists even though the U.S. media accurately cover China, in particular the country’s inner fragilities. One explanation for this disconnect is that elites and ordinary Americans remain poorly informed about China and the nature of its economic challenges in the coming decades. The current economic slowdown in Beijing is neither cyclical nor the result of weak external demand for Chinese goods. China’s economic ills are far more deeply rooted: an overbearing state squandering capital and squeezing out the private sector, systemic inefficiency and lack of innovation, a rapacious ruling elite interested solely in self-enrichment and the perpetuation of its privileges, a woefully underdeveloped financial sector, and mounting ecological and demographic pressures. Yet even for those who follow China, the prevailing wisdom is that though China has entered a rough patch, its fundamentals remain strong.

Americans’ domestic perceptions influence how they see their rivals. It is no coincidence that the period in the 1970s and late 1980s when Americans missed signs of rivals’ decline corresponded with intense dissatisfaction with U.S. performance (President Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “malaise speech,” for example). Today, a China whose growth rate is falling from 10 to 8 percent a year (for now) looks pretty good in comparison with an America where annual growth languishes at below 2 percent and unemployment stays above 8 percent. In the eyes of many Americans, things may be bad over there, but they are much worse here.

The rest of the piece here.

On Looking at Yourself Objectively

Beginning with a (great) history lesson on Ignaz Semmelweis, Aaron Swartz crafts an excellent blog post with some tips on looking at yourself objectively:

Looking at ourselves objectively isn’t easy. But it’s essential if we ever want to get better. And if we don’t do it, we leave ourselves open to con artists and ethical compromisers who prey on our desire to believe we’re perfect. There’s no one solution, but here are some tricks I use to get a more accurate sense of myself:

Embrace your failings. Be willing to believe the worst about yourself. Remember: it’s much better to accept that you’re a selfish, racist moron and try to improve, than to continue sleepwalking through life that way as the only one who doesn’t know it.

Studiously avoid euphemism. People try and sugarcoat the tough facts about themselves by putting them in the best light possible. They say “Well, I was going to get to it, but then there was that big news story today” and not “Yeah, I was procrastinating on it and started reading the news instead.” Stating things plainly makes it easier to confront the truth.

Reverse your projections. Every time you see yourself complaining about other groups or other people, stop yourself and think: “is it possible, is there any way, that someone out there might be making the same complaints about me?”

Look up, not down. It’s always easy to make yourself look good by finding people even worse than you. Yes, we agree, you’re not the worst person in the world. That’s not the question. The question is whether you can get better — and to do that you need to look at the people who are even better than you.

Criticize yourself. The main reason people don’t tell you what they really think of you is they’re afraid of your reaction. (If they’re right to be afraid, then you need to start by working on that.) But people will feel more comfortable telling you the truth if you start by criticizing yourself, showing them that it’s OK.

Find honest friends. There are some people who are just congenitally honest. For others, it’s possible to build a relationship of honesty over time. Either way, it’s important to find friends who you can trust to tell to tell you the harsh truths about yourself. This is really hard — most people don’t like telling harsh truths. Some people have had success providing an anonymous feedback form for people to submit their candid reactions.

Listen to the criticism. Since it’s so rare to find friends who will honestly criticize you, you need to listen extra-carefully when they do. It’s tempting to check what they say against your other friends. For example, if one friend says the short story you wrote isn’t very good, you might show it to some other friends and ask them what they think. Wow, they all think it’s great! Guess that one friend was just an outlier. But the fact is that most of your friends are going to say it’s great because they’re your friend; by just taking their word for it, you end up ignoring the one person who’s actually being honest with you.

At this stage in my life, it’s hard to find friends, let alone honest friends…

I am trying to look up, not down in one area of my life at the moment: fitness.

Want a Book Review? Hire Me.

The New York Times has a fascinating piece on people who write book reviews for cash. If the publishing industry isn’t a crapshoot as it is, people like Mr. Rutherford aren’t really helping the cause:

In the fall of 2010, Mr. Rutherford started a Web site, GettingBookReviews.com. At first, he advertised that he would review a book for $99. But some clients wanted a chorus proclaiming their excellence. So, for $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50.

There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm’s-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.

So why is Mr. Rutherford in this business?

Mr. Rutherford’s insight was that reviews had lost their traditional function. They were no longer there to evaluate the book or even to describe it but simply to vouch for its credibility, the way doctors put their diplomas on examination room walls. A reader hears about a book because an author is promoting it, and then checks it out on Amazon. The reader sees favorable reviews and is reassured that he is not wasting his time.

“I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things,” Mr. Rutherford said. “These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”

In essence, they were blurbs, the little puffs on the backs of books in the old days, when all books were physical objects and sold in stores. No one took blurbs very seriously, but books looked naked without them.

One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention.

The most shocking statistic from the piece: about 1/3 of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake. So I’m now going to be more vigilant than ever checking Amazon for glowing reviews.

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Also, I don’t mention this often, but yes, if you’re a publisher you can send me books for review.  There’s no guarantee that I will provide a positive review, however, since I do it for free.

 

Nightfall: Stunning Time Lapse of Los Angeles and the Surroundings

This is an absolutely gorgeous time lapse video of Los Angeles and the surrounding area, created by Colin Rich:

Colin explains the motivation behind the making of the video:

I shot “Nightfall” in an attempt to capture Los Angeles as it transitioned from day to night. As you probably know, LA is an expansive city so shooting it from many different angles was critical. Usually I was able to capture just one shot per day with a lot of driving, exploring, and scouting in between but the times sitting in traffic or a “sketchy” neighborhood often lead to new adventures and interesting places.

Nightfall in particular is my favorite time to shoot time lapse. Capturing the transition from day to night while looking back at the city as the purple shadow of Earth envelopes the eastern skyline and the warm distant twinkling halogen lights spark to life and give the fading sun a run for her money- this will never grow old or boring to me.

In this piece, it was important to me for the shots to both capture and accentuate the movement of light through the day and night and the use of multiple motion control techniques allowed me to do so.

Highly recommend seeing this one in full screen mode.

On Food Trucks and Twitter

Nick Bilton, writing for The New York Times, comes up with a great metaphor for Twitter:

In 2006, a small restaurant called Twitter opened for business.

This wasn’t your typical restaurant. Twitter didn’t have its own chefs creating food. Instead, it invited anyone from the public to come into its kitchens and freely use the stove, pots, pans, plates and knifes. There, they could make little scrumptious bites for anyone to consume.

Soon, word spread, and Twitter was bustling with people making their own food. Others, hearing about the wonderful bite-size snacks being made at Twitter, came in to consume them.

Twitter grew so quickly that it started to have major problems dealing with all the customers. Twitter’s lights would often go out. Plates and silverware were often dirty. There was never enough room for people to sit. Sometimes, unable to handle all the customers, Twitter would just be closed for hours at a time.

So Twitter came up with a plan: it told people that they could take the food being made in Twitter’s kitchen and give it away by creating new places for people to eat. Twitter called this the application protocol interface, or A.P.I.

Soon there were food trucks, delivery services, meal messengers, all taking what was coming out of Twitter with its A.P.I. and redistributing it to people all around the world. Some of these distributors gave away Twitter’s stuff free. Others who had hired much prettier and reliable waitresses and delivery boys than Twitter started charging. As things grew, some decided to take hefty sums of money from investors to build specific businesses around Twitter.

Everyone seemed happy.

But now those food trucks are facing a problem: Twitter wants to cut them off. Read the conclusion to Nick’s piece here.