A bit of a dichotomy of a book. In one sense, rocket science is the very opposite of simple strategies. Unless being really smart and doing the math again and again is simple. The book is a fast and easy read, full of much the same stuff that similar books have.
There is a spot where he talks about failure, and good thing. The early years of rocketry were filled with failure. Failure is one of the best teachers.
Then later that evening, surfing the internet, I got to thinking about a particular youtube channel, and wondered what he thought of rocket scientists. Destin of Smarter Every Day posted this video late February 2020. Yes, it's 54 minutes long, an eternity for an internet video. The rocket scientist is Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance. The video is a tour of a facility where they build rockets.
The video is amazing on several fronts. First of all, Tory walks you through their facility, starting with sheets of aluminum, and ending up with a rocket. You could eat off the floor. The machinery and technology used is amazing, as you'd expect. They use a welding technique I'd never heard of.
Second, this guy seriously knows his shit. Destin himself is an engineer interested in technology in general, and rocketry in particularly, and you can clearly see he is totally geeking out. Yet Tory is answering almost all the good detailed specific questions, with specific detailed answers. It's clear he isn't reciting a memorized script. Where he doesn't answer, it's "I'm not allowed to tell you that." Not, "I don't know."
Third, Tory looks like an amazing guy to work for. He's clearly a team player, giving full credit to his team of people and the skills they bring to the factory. Some of it is computer controlled, as you'd expect, but some of it is done by people controlling the machines. Throughout the entire tour, he is wearing a huge genuine grin that says, I'm enjoying doing this even more than you are.
I'm going to have to look up the other videos with him, and watch them.
It's easy to get down on humanity. There's doom and gloom and climate change and COVID and Trump and many other things to be depressed about. On the other hand, if you think about all of the smartest people that have ever lived, half of them are alive now, with tools and techniques that were undreamed of even a generation ago. Yes, the problems seem huge, but all they want is a chance to deal with them.
This video is evidence that really cool, really precise things can happen when you take the time to truly understand the world. Idiots like Trump and Kenney might get all the attention, in the sense that a spectacular demonstration of driver incompetence tops the news, but ignores all the other people that got to their destinations safely.
Of the Day
Curtis has requested we move to a part time photo schedule. Naturally, since he asked so politely, I'm willing to oblige. I'll let you know when he shows up again.
When I saw the curl, I thought Fibonacci numbers, and tried to get the curl to line up with the spiral. I didn't quite succeed, but you should feel a little more harmonious.
Our minds are a funny place some days. I wasn't sleeping well last night, and ended up thinking of a multi-part blog series, and writing the first part. I should have got up and actually wrote it. Now it's gone. Maybe if I leave some milk and cookies at my bedside, the idea fairy will come visit again.
But part of it was to go back and look at some of my earlier photos. It was sparked by this photo, or rather, these two photos.
Two really similar photos, taken 40 seconds apart. The first pass through editing I zipped right past the first one, and edited the second one, mainly because of that petal and the ant mooning me. (Look for it.) The second one shows the detail in the petals that is there, and that's what I'm usually aiming for. The details.
It's only when I was going back and adding the keywords I actually took a good look at that first one. Technically, it's a bad photo since it's out of focus which is why I skipped past it. I knew that I'd nailed it in a later shot. (Flashing on the Men in Black bench scene, with the Tommy Lee Jones character explaining what previous people "knew", and finishing "imagine what you'll know tomorrow."
And yet, the overall feeling of the first one rings my chimes. I love how the yellows and oranges slide into one another, and the edges are a bit soft. It makes me wondering what else I've missed along the way. I know from editing batches (sometimes really big batches) of raw photos, that either the first one in a sequence is the good one, or the last one is. Sometimes I'll know right away what shot I want, and nail it first time. Other times I might know the shot and have to sneak up on it, tweaking the settings as required. When I get it, I stop. And yes, let's just say there's been some regrets along the way, where I should have taken a few more shots.
A photojournalist author I was recently reading talked a bit about not knowing what to select for a book, mainly because she was never sure her work was good enough, and hadn't sat with it long enough to choose between the photos.
That's kind of resonating with me here, especially after overlooking that first one. I've periodically gone back looking for photos for some reason. Our newsletter editor wanting a particular one done in cover quality resolution. Another client looking for a photo. Me looking back at a photo, or for a photo for some reason. (Just lately it's been killing me that I can't find a photo that I know exists. You've probably seen it, the one of Curtis reaching for the front door locks, with an impatient look on his face, saying 'right here! Stupidest human ever!")
Monthly I go back over the photos to pick the image of the month, and do the same for the year. I think this is a good practice to improve. I've been thinking about some of my earlier work, and wondering if I like it because it's had time to grow on me, and the newer work hasn't. Or maybe, the older work was better. I've been making a deliberate effort to separate out photos taken for documentation purposes (such as construction on the ring road, there's no making THAT artistic) and those where I'm trying for some artistry, some particular effect. The latter I try to take a bit more time on, and maybe get some insurance shots.
Going back to that first photo, once I took a minute and actually looked at it, I realized my normal edits would not do. Not at all. As it turns out, between the menu settings in my camera, my normal shooting style and subjects, editing photos means doing very similar things to each of them. That first one needed the opposite things done. It makes me how many of my photos are lurking in my previous work that would shine if re-examined and the proper adjustments applied FOR THAT PHOTO.
Good thing I'm mostly retired.
Of the Day
Not a typical photo of him, I admit. Him being stealthy. Watching for prey. Ready to leap on the unwary.
He is one of the most famous photographers in the world. Behind the camera he led what could be called an interesting life by anybody's standards. Going from being a refugee to hobnobbing with the famous while taking their portraits is not a typical career path.
I'd seen some of the portraits before, of course. The one of Churchill is famous, and it made his reputation.
Getting a good photo of a person doing something ranges from easy to difficult. People themselves are more or less photogenic. The activity might be more or less interesting. Getting to the right place at the right time with the right equipment takes planning and a bit of luck, especially with children. The outdoors light can be a crapshoot.
Get most of it right and we can see something about the person, their personality, how they do things, some of their life experience. Get all of it right, and something unexpected happens. We see the photo come to life, and we something meaningful. A truth, if you will.
Posed portraits are at once a bit simpler, and much more difficult. The time, place, and equipment are a matter of making and keeping an appointment. However, most people don't like having their photo taken at the best of times, and a posed portrait is the worst. There you are, you and the unforgiving camera. What do I do with my hands? Is this too much smile? Where do you want me to look? Is this my good side? What about my wrinkles, skin folds, warts, birthmarks? Props? Clothes?
(And yes, I was taking mental notes about poses, and lighting, and props)
If you're someone famous, you've probably got a publicist standing there, trying to make sure you are projecting the correct image for the latest project. Which if it isn't you, is enormously difficult. I think part of the problem for actors is they are chameleons, and even they don't really know who they are. How then to be yourself?
Karsh had the happy knack of getting people to relax, and knowing exactly when to press the shutter release. In many of his photos we can see, if not 'the' real person, we can see a real person. Something about the interplay of light and shadows creates a portrait. We can tell, or think we can tell something about that person, their mood, their emotions, their underlying personality.
It's said the camera never lies, and that itself is a lie. The camera lies all the time capturing a 2 dimensional representation of a 3 dimensional world. Often in portraits it's further reduced from colour to black and white. Then there's the development process, whether on film or with software, more lies. Then there's how it's displayed, is it nicely framed and properly lit with other such works? Displayed on a crappy monitor? Printed on the wrong paper? It's easy to be deceived by an image.
Oddly enough, we don't do much better with truth and lies face to face in real life. Gladwell explores some of this in a series of related essays in Talking to Strangers.
Perhaps the most interesting part for me was how the various American spy agencies were fooled, mainly by the Cubans, but also the Soviets. They were beyond chagrined to discover that all their agents in Cuba were double agents, feeding false information to America, and true American information back to Cuba.
These agencies were full of people trained to deal with deception, looking for spies, and they got fooled. One person one occasion you could understand, but it was many people, many occasions. What happened?
We generally expect people to tell the truth, or close enough. We think we know what that looks like, except there's enough exceptions to make it tricky. They've done tests, (some of them are fascinating) and what often trips us up is transparency. When someone's behaviour matches their story, it's easy. If someone looks nervous because they are nervous because they're lying and afraid the police officer is going to tase them to death if they tell the truth, that's easy.
But when someone has behaviours that in our culture are the signs of lying, even when they're not, they get into a world of trouble. Police often assume they're lying, even when the objective evidence says otherwise. That can get bad if you have the wrong colour skin.
And then there's the opposite. People who look and act trustworthy, even when they're lying. One famous example is Chamberlin's meetings with Hitler. We know from his later actions that Hitler was an evil madman, but how did Chamberlin get fooled? It wasn't just him.
Or Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi scheme king. He defrauded thousands of victims out of billions of dollars. Multiple SEC investigations didn't uncover the frauds. Why? Because he looked trustworthy.
The assumption of trust, that people are generally telling the truth, is one of the things that makes the economy go around. We put our credit card number into a computer and someone on the other side of the world ships us some stuff. Or, we used to hand our credit cards to the wait staff in a bar and they went away to run it through the machine, then brought back some paper for us to sign. I've written cheques for lots of money to go to investment firms to be invested on my behalf. We trust that the person we meet at a social occasion is who they say they are, and don't have any intentions worse than getting your pants off, which gets us to consent. This is a sticky wicket at the best of times, and gets worse when booze is involved.
All of which is very interesting reading, and a great start on my summer reading program.
Of the Day
This photo session with Michelle was one of my few actual portrait sessions, and certainly the one I enjoyed the most. We had fun posing in the wonderful light in some great locations. In all of them we see some of her personality. These ones at the end of the evening were the ones where we were trying to project a specific image. There's lots of things to get right, and I was doing some experimenting trying different things. Michelle was patient and helpful throughout.
I've given you three, to show the subtle differences in lighting and mood. The last one is the one I liked best, but it's cropped square as opposed to my usual crops. It makes a difference. All of them are 'a' truth, and the trick is to select the right one. That must have been difficult for Karsh, going through the several photos he got (remember, he was dealing with a big bulky medium or large format camera and could only take a few photos in a session and they were likely all 'good') to get the one to publish. I've more to pick from, but then again, so much is wrong with mine that it would be easy for a pro to eliminate various candidates and be left (hopefully) with one.
If you want to go back and see the first photos from this session, go here and here. The expanded of the day section starts here.
In any case, this is the last of the Michelle photos of the day. Thank you so much Michelle!
Curtis and Celina, taking their supervision duties seriously.
Once upon a time it was fine to make up things as you went along. What was the worst that could happen? Well, aside from you and your family starving to death. Or dying because you didn't think that getting a cut on your hands was a big deal. Often people didn't really know what the risks were, and even if they did, there wasn't much they could do about it, other than carry on as best they could and hope to have enough children to feed them if they got old.
The world is more complicated now. Far more complicated than a tweet, as I like to say. Things are not only more complicated, they are tied together in ways that are not intuitively obvious. Yes, oddly enough, you still need to be concerned about a fresh water pipeline failing. Too much water in the wrong place can be a bad thing.
Until recently there wasn't much we could do about disease. We didn't know what caused it, "bad air" was a real theory for a long time, and typically couldn't cure it, "cupping" was a thing, hard as that is to believe. Typically more people died in wars from disease than died from the actual fighting. Then there were all the diseases caused by malnutrition.
We discovered microscopes, and started understanding biology, and that washing your hands (and body, and surgical instruments) was important. Penicillin changed the world. Vaccines are a thing, and can prevent many diseases. We figured out how to treat water so it was safe to drink, and how to supply it to nearly every home, and treat sewage so it was safe to release back into a stream or lake.
It's easy to say those things now, but it took essentially all human history to figure it out, or more importantly, to figure out HOW to figure it out. What just kills me is that some people don't believe we have figured it out. They just carry on with the same old same old, thinking that their ignorance is as good as someone else's science.
Except that someone else's science is typically the product of decades of study building on what might be generations of previous study. Actual peer reviewed, closely documented study, not 5 minutes browsing some site that makes Wikipedia look like the most authoritative source ever.
Sometimes newer studies refine our understanding, such as when Einstein revised the Newtonian view of the world. Sometimes the studies changed our previous understanding, such as when Copernicus published De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium in 1543. Some people don't understand that, they are looking for a one simple eternal 'truth', with a capital T, that can be stated in a tweet. And you already know what I think of that.
The consequences of making it up as you go along are no longer confined to you and your family, much as you might wish it to be. We are all a part of herd immunity. You can't pipe the discharge from your toilet into the storm water system, or onto your neighbour's lawn. You can't drive down the wrong side of the road or run red lights without almost immediate and potentially catastrophic consequences. You can't yell fire in a crowded theatre. There are many times our individual actions are constrained for the overall good of society.
Now here we are in a pandemic. Really, truly. And what is happening in Sturgis, South Dakota? The very definition of freeform. People coming from all over the country to party at a motorcycle rally, and then go home again. Let's unpack that just a little, shall we?
Coming from every part of the country. They are. About a half million are expected to attend. The town is only a few thousand, so it's almost certain that people are going to freeform their camping. Statistics guarantee that some of these people have COVID, potentially several thousand. They probably just don't know it. Or maybe they do, and don't care. It's just the flu, after all, or so they think.
The party part, having spoken to people that have been there, is loud, raucous, and decidedly individualistic. Whatever freak flag there is to be flown, you'll find it there. And it's not just party, it's PARTY!!! Social distance will be observed far more in the breech than the observance. That's another guarantee. Few will be wearing masks because, freedom! They will all breath each other's moist exhalations, and then they will take the virus everywhere along every path between Sturgis and home, it having multiplied and been fruitful. The virus is going to party as well. In fact, the virus project managers are doing handsprings and cartwheels in project central. This is beyond their wildest dreams. Late August there will be another uptick in the number of cases. You read it here first.
It's often hard to assess risk, even with the best of advice. There is a certain element of society that wants to live big, party hard, and go out in a blaze of glory, so their name will live forever. Others want to hide in a bunker with multiple HEPA filters between them and the outside air, as they bathe in hand sanitizer. Most of us are somewhere in between.
But if ever there was a time in our lifetimes to keep a low profile, to not freeform the whole situation, now is it. Living cautiously for a few months, with more distractions than Carter has pills (to use an expression my grandfather liked) seems like a small price to pay for not getting with a virus that has the potential to kill you, or if not that, mess you up badly enough you might never be considered 'recovered.'
Of the Day
Celina, snoozing in the sun, more
Flowers You might think the roses have been getting ignored this year, but they are doing well.
OK, so I got bogged down in writing a blog post with a cool title that just came to me. Then I got onto a related topic, and thought of the right photo to illustrated it, except, I can't find that photo. It ought to be easy to find, but it isn't.
So I went and de-scaled the kitchen sink drainboard while I thought of it.
Then I thought that after yesterday's long and serious blog, you'd want something lighter. So here you are. Some of you may have seen it already on Facebook.
Just a nice peaceful summer river scene to calm your thoughts. No I didn't to extreme things to the Lightroom settings; those colours were there naturally.
Of the Day
Only a few more of her's to go, unless we do another photo shoot.
Celina loves to curl up in the sun. There are days we think she is part plant.