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.

Cal Newport on Building a Remarkable Career

Last weekend, I attended the World Domination Summit. It’s a brilliant “un-conference” but together by Chris Guillebeau, whose blog and adventures I’ve been following for many years.

One of the speakers at the conference was Cal Newport, who I’ve been following since my time at Georgia Tech. Cal has finished his PhD (and post-doc) studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is now an assistant professor at Georgetown University.

I attended Cal’s breakout session on Saturday afternoon and his main keynote on Sunday afternoon, and I wanted to present some takeaways from Cal’s talks.

“Follow Your Passion” Is Bad Advice

Cal Newport came into the conference professing that his argument might stir up some controversy at WDS, since it’s a bit unorthodox. The gist of his argument about building and leading a remarkable career: “the follow your passion” advice is not only bad, it is wrong. Newport’s claim can further be broken down:

Sitting down to figure out what you’re passionate about and then being disappointed when you try it and it doesn’t work out is a mistake. Instead of following your passion, you should pick something that is of interest to you you and that is going to give you interesting options. Once you get into this interest, build it into a craft with hard work and dedication. Once you are skilled in that arena, leverage your knowledge and skills to prioritize the things that matter to you in life. This is the foundation for what can be a remarkable life.

This isn’t just a hokey hypothesis put on by Newport. He has spent significant amount of his free time (the guy isn’t on Facebook, Twitter, or any social media: any effort that he doesn’t put into his work goes into this other interest of Newport’s, namely, how students think, behave, and choose their careers).

How To Develop a Remarkable Career

Cal Newport summarized the path to a remarkable career (and doing what you love):

1. Get good at something that is rare and valuable. 

2. After you get good, leverage yours skill for things that really matter to you (e.g. a lifestyle with more autonomy, freedom), allowing yourself to focus on the parts of that skill that truly matter, or convert that value into a part of your life you really care about. Understand that you cannot convert anything to what matters to you unless you have first developed necessary and valuable skills, because otherwise you’ve got nothing to leverage.

3. But it is only when you become really good at something and have the opportunity to leverage your skills that you will face the most resistance from outside forces (family, internal struggles, your boss). In other words, at the moment when you can take    the leap and do something extraordinary, you’ll have the greatest resistance to stay complacent (in status quo), continuing on your current path.

4. What you do for your work might be a lot less important than you think. The general traits you leverage are more important than the work itself, as counterintuitive as that might appear. Cal talked about a number of things that Steve Jobs could have done and been successful at, besides starting Apple Computer. In fact, Steve Jobs was successful in leading another company: Pixar.

Case Study: Bill McKibben

To drill down to Cal’s hypothesis, Cal offered the example of one of his favorite authors: Bill McKibben. McKibben went to Harvard University, where he worked for the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. After a strong career at the paper (where he ended up becoming an editor), McKibben went on to write at The New Yorker. He spent six years working at The New Yorker, developing his career and honing his skills as a writer.

But then McKibben did something unexpected. Instead of taking a promotion at The New Yorker, he quit his job and moved to Adirondocak Mountains in upstate New York to write a book called End of Nature. The book became a critical success, cementing McKibben as one of the authorities on environmentalism. What’s important to realize here is that McKibben used his leverage that he developed pursuing his writing career to go out on his own. At perhaps the apex of his career, instead of choosing to continue on his path at The New Yorker, he had enough attention (and skill) to know that he can go out on his own and write this book. When he quit his job, he already had an “in” with various publishers and other notables in the publishing industry such that he could get a big advance and go out and write End of Nature. Had McKibben not paid his dues, so to speak, at The New Yorker and decided to write this book right out of Harvard, he would have probably been ignored. At the same time, McKibben faced massive resistance from those around him when he decided to go out on his own and spend time writing End of Nature.

Conclusion

The key to building a remarkable career isn’t following your passion, necessarily. It’s doing something interesting, developing valuable skills, and then leveraging your opportunities. On Saturday’s conclusion to his keynote, Cal offered this brilliant advice to the audience: Do as Steve Jobs did, not as he said.

Cal Newport has written about his experience speaking at World Domination Summit in this post.

If you are interested in this topic, then I recommend giving Cal Newport’s upcoming book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love a closer look. It comes out in September.

The Best Moments of Euro 2012

Roger Bennett distills the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament to the top 11 moments in his post for ESPN:

1. Shevchenko’s golden goals

In a tournament blighted by the occasional inability to fill stadia, the noise that greeted the brace of goals headed home in the opening group game by veteran Ukrainian icon Andriy Shevchenko still resounds. The 35-year-old striker’s body may be creaking, but muscle memory kicked in to provide his team with a fleeting moment of glory against Sweden. This was Kiev’s version of a Hollywood ending.

2. Danny Welbeck’s flick against Sweden

Had this late game-winning goal – an improvisational 360-degree flick between his own legs – been scored by a player wearing a Brazilian jersey, it would have instantly been hailed as a masterpiece. Because Welbeck was wearing an England shirt, the world media’s first instinct was to wonder whether he had really intended it. England would soon flounder. But the goal’s lasting significance may lie in the glimmer of false hope it offers long-suffering England fans that a youth revolution is poised to transform their team before the 2014 World Cup.

3. “This is Russia”

After rioting in the streets of Warsaw saw 184 people arrested and at least 24 injured, Russian fans completed their celebration of Russia Day by unfurling a colossal banner taunting their Polish opponents by proclaiming “This is Russia.” This show of power outstripped that of their team, which wilted oddly in the group stage. But the violent scenes do not augur well for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

6. The flood

Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine, is a spectacular football stadium, but five minutes into Ukraine’s opening-round game with France, its man-made splendor was trumped by the force of nature. A downpour of biblical proportions forced the referee to suspend the action as players and match officials scurried to the locker room to seek refuge from the lightning storm. Unyielding Ukrainian coach Oleg Blokhin stood in the tunnel, monitoring matters with a towel wrapped around his shoulders.

7. Pirlo’s Panenka

With his throwback layered haircut granting his deft performances a timeless quality, the creativity of Andrea Pirlo’s play did not just lift Italy, it elevated the entire tournament. Pirlo’s confidence and experience were best captured by the “Panenka” kick he unveiled to embarrass England’s Joe Hart in the quarterfinal shootout. “I don’t practice it, it just comes to you in the moment,” Pirlo would later say about his poetic kick. “I saw that Hart was very sure of himself; I thought that he had to come down off his high horse.”

9. Mario Balotelli reveals his true self

His second thunderous semifinal strike that threatened to decapitate German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was astonishing, as was his shirtless, stone-faced celebration that followed it. But the controversial Italian striker’s desire to run to the terraces and hug his tearful mother, Silvia, in the stands after Italy beat Germany showed a side of him we rarely get to see. Beneath the swirling tournament storylines of racism and Italian multiculturalism, Super Mario proved that at heart, he is just a mother’s boy.

10. Jordi Alba’s goal

Spain’s tactical flexibility and footballing intelligence allowed it to write history, triggering instant debate as to whether it is the greatest team of all time. La Roja played without a recognized striker, but who needs one when you have a left back who can run at the speed of light to latch onto Xavi’s clairvoyant pass?

11. Gigi Buffon’s singing of the national anthem

Few sights at Euro 2012 were more memorable than the Italian captain Buffon bellowing the national anthem before matches with eyes closed, chest puffed out, enunciating every syllable with pride. The goalkeeper revealed that the two grandparents he lost in World War II fill his mind before the game, but his musical rendition served as a reminder of what the tournament is all about beneath the hype – 23 men proud to represent the best of their nation.

Certainly #11, in my mind, is near the top of my list. I am really glad Spain was able to win the 2012 tournament, their third major tournament in four years.

Four years ago, I was in Spain and witnessed Spain claim the Euro 2008 title. How quickly time flies. You can browse through my adventures in Spain via this gallery.

My Favorite Photo of 2011

I spent some time this weekend looking over the photos I captured in 2011. While I didn’t travel as much as I have in previous years, one experience stood out: witnessing a space shuttle launch for the first time in my life. I saw the last launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour, mission STS-134. I actually ended up going to Florida on two separate occasions, as the first scheduled launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour was scrubbed.

But on the morning of May 16, 2011 everything was going according to plan. I woke up early, set up my tripod to get a coveted viewing spot, and waited. You can read my lengthy post of how the day unfolded on my photoblog, but the incredible moment we were all waiting for occurred shortly before 9AM that morning. And so, I captured this glorious scene as Endeavour lifted off:

Space Shuttle Endeavour Lifting off from Kennedy Space Center

Here is what I wrote about the experience the day of launch:

People were cheering so loudly. Now, for the first few seconds of lift-off, we relied on our visual senses to stimulate us: sound had not yet arrived. We were located three miles away from the launch site, and the first boom of the engines and the solid rocket boosters cracked about five seconds into the launch sequence. And what a phenomenal sound it was! There were these crackles, going off and on, like fireworks were exploding about five feet away from you. The sound literally made the hair on your arm and legs stand up. It was absolutely incredible!

Truly, a day I’ll never forget.

Here is my entire NASA-themed gallery for those of you curious to see what other photos I captured while at Kennedy Space Center. What’s your favorite photo memory from 2011?

Ansel Adams and Group f/64

On November 15, 1932, at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, eleven photographers announced themselves as Group f/64: Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Preston Holder, Consuelo Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, Brett Weston, and Edward Weston.

The name f/64 derives from the smallest aperture available in large-format view cameras at the time, and it signaled the group’s belief that photographs should celebrate, rather than disguise, the medium’s capacity to present the world “as it is.” As Edward Weston phrased it, “The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

The group’s effort to present the camera’s “vision” as clearly as possible included advocating the use of aperture f/64 in order to achieve the greatest depth of field possible, thus allowing for the entire scene photographed to be sharp and in focus (by comparison, modern day lenses for SLR cameras usually taper off at f/22 or f/32 aperture).

Following is the manifesto of Group f/64:

The name of this Group is derived from a diaphragm number of the photographic lens. It signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image which is an important element in the work of members of this Group.

The chief object of the Group is to present in frequent shows what it considers the best contemporary photography of the West; in addition to the showing of the work of its members, it will include prints from other photographers who evidence tendencies in their work similar to that of the Group.

Group f/64 is not pretending to cover the entire of photography or to indicate through its selection of members any deprecating opinion of the photographers who are not included in its shows. There are great number of serious workers in photography whose style and technique does not relate to the metier of the Group.

Group f/64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the “Pictorialist,” on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts.

The members of Group f/64 believe that photography, as an art form, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself.

As far as the how the group acquired its name, the story isn’t 100% clear. Per Wikipedia:

There is some difference of opinion about how the group was named. Van Dyke recalled that he first suggested the name “US 256”, which was then the commonly-used Uniform System designation for a very small aperture stop on a camera lens. According to Van Dyke, Adams thought the name would be confusing to the public, and Adams suggested “f/64”, which was a corresponding aperture setting for the focal system that was gaining popularity. However, in an interview in 1975 Holder recalled that he and Van Dyke thought up the name during a ferry ride from Oakland to San Francisco.

The history of the group is fascinating. And while we may agree that Ansel Adam’s photograph has withstood the test of time as some of the best landscape photography the world has ever seen, the group’s definition of pure photography as defined by “possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form” would face opposition from many modern-day photographers. That’s because the process of choosing aperture, composition, ISO, and so on may considered an artistic process. If I choose to shoot a long exposure of a waterfall in the daytime, have I misrepresented reality? If your eyes can’t envision a blurring of water but the camera can, am I deceiver the viewer? While there are technical points that one must understand as a photographer, the actual application of the technical process process is unique.

The Top Five Posts of 2011

As 2011 is coming to a close, I thought I’d highlight the most popular posts from this year:

1) David Eagleman and the Brain on Trial

2) The University of Twitter: Alain de Botton’s Course in Political Philosophy

3) Date a Girl Who Reads

4) The Top Five Longreads of 2011 (So Far)

5) The Top Five Longreads of 2011

So if you want to catch up on some interesting reading, check out those links. Happy New Year!

Is Sitting in Traffic Killing You?

A troubling piece in the Wall Street Journal, “The Hidden Toll of Traffic Jams,” explains the deleterious effects of sitting in traffic jams:

New public-health studies and laboratory experiments suggest that, at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability.

and

Recent studies show that breathing street-level fumes for just 30 minutes can intensify electrical activity in brain regions responsible for behavior, personality and decision-making, changes that are suggestive of stress, scientists in the Netherlands recently discovered. Breathing normal city air with high levels of traffic exhaust for 90 days can change the way that genes turn on or off among the elderly; it can also leave a molecular mark on the genome of a newborn for life, separate research teams at Columbia University and Harvard University reported this year.

The evidence is still largely circumstantial, as the article notes, but it is worrisome. My daily commute is about twenty miles one way, and I sit in traffic for close to two hours daily. That’s one aspect of my life that I would like to change.

Wedding Lawsuit of the Decade

This one takes the cake, folks. Todd J. Remis of Manhattan married in 2003, but he didn’t like the services of his photography studio. He claimed that H & H Photographers, a 65-year-old studio “known fondly among thousands of former and current Bronx residents,” missed photographing the last dance and the bouquet toss.

Forget that the wedding took place more than seven years ago. And that Mr. Remis has demanded to be repaid the $4,100 cost of the photography and and additional $48,000 (!) to recreate the entire wedding and fly the principals to New York so the celebration can be re-shot by another photographer. So what’s the kicker? He is now divorced from his wife, and he doesn’t even know where she lives (supposedly she is back in her native Latvia).

What a totally wild story.

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And a personal call to action: if you hire me to shoot your wedding, I promise to be there from beginning to end. I don’t charge by the hour. 

Are Southern Manners on the Decline?

For those of you living in the South, would you agree that the Southern charm is fading? Today’s piece in The New York Times asserts so:

The Tavern at Phipps case, and a growing portfolio of examples of personal and political behavior that belies a traditional code of gentility, has scholars of Southern culture and Southerners themselves wondering if civility in the south is dead, or at least wounded.

But what is the reason for the decline in Southern manners?

Newcomers still get much of the blame. In the past decade the South has seen an unprecedented influx of immigrants from both other states and other countries. The population in the south grew by 14.3 percent from 2000 to 2010, making it the fastest growing region in the country.

But there is more behind the social shift, scholars say. Digital communication and globalization have conspired to make many parts of the South less insular. Couple that with a political climate as contentious as anyone can remember and a wave of economic insecurity rolling across the region, and you’ve got a situation where saying “thank you, ma’am” isn’t good enough anymore.

Anecdotally speaking, I would agree (living in Atlanta) that living in the South is less about “Yes, sir” and “Thank you, ma’am” than it used to be. However, since there is no stringent way to test this assertion, your experience will probably vary.

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

Today, Steve Jobs has passed away at the age of 56. I am so sad.

Tonight, I watch, again, Steve Jobs’s commencement speech from Stanford.

This is some of the best advice you’ll ever hear:

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

R.I.P. Steve Jobs. You were a visionary. The world is a better place for everything you have done. Thank you.