On Blogging and Maintenance (and my Website Refresh)

I updated my website look-and-feel for the first time since 2010, which is when I migrated it from Blosxom (!) to WordPress. The overall architecture is the same. I just wanted to update the theme to something more modern — responsive on mobile, more photography-friendly, support for the latest WordPress features including the new Gutenberg editor, etc.

I built the new theme on top of CoBlocks, which saved me a ton of time, gave me a bunch of things for free, and will hopefully future-proof me a little bit better than last time. (My previous homegrown theme lasted over eight years, so it did well all things considered.)

Still, the update took a long time. I had to get clear about what I wanted and research the available themes. I had to experiment with different themes to see which ones worked best. I had to brush up on CSS and the wonders of responsive design so I could create a homepage that looked more or less how I wanted it. I had to go down many ratholes, because that’s just what I do.

My impetus for all of this was that I missed blogging, and I want to do more of it this year. Updating the site was akin to buying a new outfit — not strictly necessary, but feels pretty fresh.

What do I miss about blogging? Becoming less dumb by chewing on half-baked ideas and having others help bake them further.

When I first started in 2003, blogging was like exchanging letters out in the open. The act of writing things down (especially in public) forced me to slow down, reflect, and crystallize my thinking in whatever state it happened to be at the time. The act of curating links helped reinforce the lessons learned from others (and myself), while also giving me a chance to acknowledge them publicly. Doing this out in the open meant anyone could jump in, which helped me get out of my silo and discover wonderful new voices. All of this helped make the web a more useful, humane place.

I’ve done pretty well over the years, but the tenor of it all gradually changed. Social media has cannibalized a lot of people’s attention (including my own). Because it’s not a slow medium, the nature of how I engage with others (not just where I engage with them) has changed. It’s more frequent, but it’s also more shallow. That’s actually a nice complement when I have a face-to-face relationship with people, but it’s not generative otherwise.

Last year, I only wrote five posts on this blog, my fewest ever. It wasn’t for lack of material, and it wasn’t even because I didn’t have enough time. I did lots of journaling and drawing, I just did most of it in private.

Some of it was social media backlash. I was on social media a lot for my 365 photo project in 2015, and while the experience was overall positive, I think it burned me out on sharing so much of myself. I’ve been much less active on social media — and on the Internet generally — since.

Some of it was an unexpected professional side effect, one I’m actively trying to counter. Most of my current colleagues don’t blog, and when they do, it’s rarely half-baked. (I have lots more to say about this, which I’ll probably share on Faster Than 20 in the near future.) This had the effect of lowering the bar for me, which is not what I want. I want to raise the bar for others.

Because of how I blogged when I first got started, I have about eight years of archives of a lot of my early thinking about collaboration. It’s so valuable for me to be able both to mine and to share this with others. Unfortunately, that’s not true of a lot of what I’ve been working on and thinking about for the past eight years.

I want to re-adjust. I’m inspire by my friends, especially Alex Schroeder, who have kept it up consistently over the years. I want to think out loud a lot more, especially about my work, while also still sharing the occasional personal tidbits. I’ve worked hard to balance my life so that I have more reflection time, and I want to make better use of this time by sharing more. I’d also love to experiment more with mining and making what I’ve already written more visible.

I’m sure the experience won’t be the same as it was in the early days, but I’m going to keep at it. I’ll continue to share what I write on Twitter and maybe Facebook, but the better way to track is to subscribe to my feed via your favorite feed reader (I use Feedly) or via email below. As always, I welcome comments below (or on social media), but I’d especially encourage you to try commenting the old-fashioned blogger way — by responding in your own blog with a link to the original source. Either way, would love to hear from folks!

365 Photos Project: By the Numbers

New Year's Eve Selfie

I made and shared one photograph every day last year. It was an amazing experience, and at some point, I’d like to share what I learned and what it all meant. For now, here are some numbers from the project.

I made 365 photographs.

70% were candids.

47% were made outdoors.

50% had people in them.

180 people I knew made at least one appearance. 50 of those people appeared twice or more. The person who appeared the most? Me at 20 appearances, ranging from straight-up selfies to body parts to shadows.

The photos were made in 43 cities across six different states (California, Ohio, New Mexico, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Maryland) and D.C.

84% were made in the Bay Area. 78% of my Bay Area shots were made in San Francisco. 36% of my San Francisco shots were made at home or my office.

89% were shared on the same day. There were an average of 20 social media (Flickr and Facebook) interactions (likes, favorites, and comments) per photo.

Here is the breakdown of my photos by time made:

2015 365 Photo Project by Hour Taken

I made the vast majority of my photos after 12pm, with most of them shot between 5-8pm. Ten were made after 11pm. This very much reflects my personal rhythms as well as my story focus. I’m an early riser, so taking photos in the morning when the light was good wouldn’t have been a problem. However, I often spend my mornings in solitude focusing on my work, and the story of the day usually doesn’t start to unfold until the afternoon.

74% were horizontal in orientation.

52% were made with the equivalent of a 50mm lens. I shot 22 photos with a borrowed Fuji X-T1 while my Olympus OM-D E-M5 was in the shop. I shot 16 photos with my Moto X cell phone, and one with a borrowed iPhone.

95% were shot with natural light, but I really had fun playing with the other 5%, including light paintings and HDR.

56 photos prominently featured food or cooking, including three when I was sick with a stomach bug. No surprises here. I love to eat.

52 photos were made during work (i.e. project-related meetings, meetups that I organized, or work-related artifacts). Most of these were related to my Collaboration Muscles & Mindsets program and my DIY Strategy / Culture Toolkits, my primary experiments of the past few years.

24 photos had a computer in it.

10 photos were basketball-related.

At least six photos were used in other people’s articles or blog posts, including one in the Washington Post.

Three photos appeared in Flickr Explore — days 227, 250, and 293. (A fourth that was not originally part of my Photo of the Day project became part when I included it as a screenshot.) I’ve been a Flickr member since 2005, and up until this year, I had never had a photo appear in Explore, so this was a huge thrill.

Speaking of screenshots, I also posted one photo not taken by me. (It was taken by my friend, Dana Reynolds.) On both of these days, I did take photos (in one case, really good ones), I just felt compelled to make exceptions.

Finally, I took about 20,000 photos overall in 2015. (This is an estimate based on my Lightroom numbers, which are under-reported, because I do a rough cull as soon as I start processing.) This is about the same as 2013 (when I started taking photography seriously) and 2014.

Of these 20,000 photos, I marked about 500 them as “good.” Many of my photos from my 365 project did not make the cut.

In other words, for every 100 photos I took in 2015, I considered two or three of them good. From what I’ve heard from other photographers, this is a pretty typical yield.

365 Photo Project: Two Months Update

Another month down! I knew February would be a challenging month for my photo-a-day project. In January, I had lots of activities scheduled, and I saw lots of people. In February, I knew I’d be in my office and at home a lot, which meant fewer organic picture-taking opportunities.

A few weeks ago, I was updating Alison Lin, a colleague and fellow photography enthusiast, about my difficulties with the project. She nodded and said, “You’re exercising your muscles around letting go of perfection.” I found that articulation super helpful. As much as I had been talking about practice, I had been putting a tremendous amount of unrealistic pressure on myself to achieve a certain standard.

That pressure was counter-productive. As my friend, Sarah, told me recently, these kinds of projects are valuable because of the structure they provide. Some days, you’re not going to take good pictures, but what matters is that you’re doing it every day. Furthermore, every photo is a learning opportunity.

I’ve been consciously trying to shift my attitude ever since.

After I spoke with Alison, I found myself sitting in my coffee shop, having taken zero photos that day, wondering what I should photograph, and thinking about her words. I started going through my feed reader, and ran across a blog post that my friend, Amy Wu, had just published. To my surprise and pleasure, she had used one of my pictures. I didn’t have my camera on me, so I used my phone to capture the moment.

The resulting picture wasn’t very good, but choosing and posting it made me realize some simple things I could have done to have improved it. It also let me tell a story of something nice that had happened that day. Most importantly, it’s lowered the stress of the project ever since.

I’m not as worried about posting great pictures every day. That was never the point. Stay focused on my goal (storytelling), do my best, take a picture and post it everyday, and learn something in the process. No one’s grading me on this project. I’m not practicing to become a professional. No one is going to think any less of me if I post a mediocre picture. This is not that hard… if I maintain the right attitude.

I had to send my camera in for some minor repairs this month, and because of some misunderstandings, I ended up going half the month without it. My friend, Justin, loaned me his Fuji X-T1 (arguably a better camera than my beloved Olympus OM-D E-M5) and two tremendous lenses, including a wider lens (equivalent to 21mm on a full-frame) than any that I own.

I had some discomfort with using a foreign tool, but I tried to maintain a positive attitude by using it as an opportunity to experiment with some capabilities that I didn’t have with my usual camera. Specifically, I tried to leverage the bigger sensor for more night shots and the wider lens. Taking wide shots for storytelling is definitely a weakness, and it’s something I want to continue practicing.

I didn’t see as many people I knew this past month, and the numbers reflected that (11 photos with people I knew versus 22 in January). I’ve had a few friends tell me very clearly that they wanted to make it into the project, which I’ve enjoyed. I’m sure they’ll make it in eventually.

I had one particularly hard day when I worked a ton, I hadn’t taken any pictures, and I was exhausted. I was going to just take a picture of the beer I was drinking as I was mindlessly watching Netflix. But my sister encouraged me to get out of the house, so I decided to head up to the nearby Legion of Honor to play with some long-exposure night shots. It was foggy that night, and I thought I would get some cool effects, but the fog disappeared by the time I arrived. I decided to play with putting myself in the shot.

I had a super fun time that evening. I never would have gotten out of the house if I weren’t working on this project.

Here are a few other shots from February that I liked:

365 Photos Project: One Month Update

I managed to make it through 31 days of my 365-day photo project. There were a few days when I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off, including one where I took a picture of my clock at 11:54pm.

The worst was when I took some pictures that I thought would be good, but that came out blurry, missed a few that I really regretted, and ended up posting an artful-ish shot of a bunch of hot sauce bottles from the restaurant where I ate dinner. I felt really deflated that night, as the hot sauce photo seemed to pale in comparison to all of the great things that had happened that day and that I failed to photograph successfully. I thought seriously about giving up.

I’m glad I didn’t. The photo ended up stirring lots of discussion with and support from friends and colleagues on Facebook, which reminded of why I’m doing this project in the first place and which really helped me reset my perspective and attitude. In particular, it sparked an exchange with my friend, Nancy White. (More on this below.)

I’m doing this to practice my photography and storytelling skills. I don’t know if I’ll get through the whole year, but I’m proud and amazed that I got through 31 days. I haven’t spent an inordinate amount of time on the project, but I also haven’t been mailing it in either. I’ve been good about carrying my camera with me, and on days when I have nothing (four in January), I’ve been creative in making photographs. Almost a third of my photos (nine) were taken inside either my apartment or my parents’ house, so I’ve been forced to be creative often.

I love the resulting journal of my life — it evokes happy memories, and it reminds me of the full month that I’ve had and all the people with whom I spent quality time. (23 friends and colleagues made it into last month’s set!) I’m also loving the conversation the project is generating among my friends and colleagues, both on social media and in real life. Shockingly, people find my pictures more interesting than my ramblings on high-performance collaboration. The project is also eliciting a lot of wonderful personal stories from others, further validating the power of pictures.

I don’t think I’ve taken a single great picture this month, but the tracking is helping me recognize what I’m doing well and what I still need to work on. I am much more conscious of light and composition than I was two years ago. I shot two pictures with flash (once on-camera and once off), and I manipulated the external light in two shots, including the aforementioned clock shot.

I’m proudest of my shot of Elena Salazar above. Elena had these great arm tattoos, including one that said, “California,” and another that said, “Family.” Given the nature of the gathering, I asked her if I could take a picture of her with the latter. I chose the background thoughtfully, taking into account the bright colors and also the kids painted on the wall. I chose a wide enough aperture to blur out the background, but also clearly see her tattoo (although I probably could have stopped down the aperture a little more), and I focused on her eyes. I paid a lot of attention to crafting that shot, leveraging skills and instincts that have evolved over the past year.

In general, I’m finding myself more mindful of moments. It’s also been a great impetus for me to get out of the house. But more than anything, it’s reminded me of the importance of practice, of having a learning mindset, of letting go of judgment, and of focusing on craft and process. It’s strange and humbling to have to be reminded of this, given that it’s such a focus of my work, but it’s making me better at everything I do.

Up until our recent exchange, I don’t think Nancy knew how much her own efforts were inspiring me to keep at it. She has a great attitude about everything she does, and this project has been no exception. I watched her plugging away consistently, even though she was traveling halfway across the world for work and using her cell phone and a cracked tablet. It motivated me to suck it up and keep capturing and posting.

Learning in public can feel incredibly vulnerable, but Nancy has never been shy about it, and the rest of us get to benefit from that in everything she does. Earlier today, she posted these wonderful reflections about her project, including some excerpts from our exchange. I particularly loved her learning recap around attention, identity, and practice.

But forget about her process. Her personality and her values shine through from her photos. I see color and whimsy as well as her love of food and art and the outdoors. I see that she’s been working a lot, but I’m also glad to see that she’s walking with friends and in nature. Her pictures of the water in the fog are moody, surreal, and calming, and they make me want to be in the northwest right now.

I love what I’ve been learning from this process so far, and I loved how it’s unexpectedly brought me closer to my community. Let’s see if I can make it through February!

Ten Days Into my 365 Photos Project

Toward the end of last year, I started contemplating doing a photo-a-day project. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Take a photo a day, and publish it, preferably on the same day. I pretty much decided that I already had too many commitments in 2015 and that I wanted to cut back, but I just couldn’t bear to scrap the idea entirely.

Then, on New Year’s Day, I woke up, and saw this nice light pattern on my wall, which I caught on camera. Then I decided, “Screw it. I’m going to post this as Day 1, and see how far I get. If I end up giving up, no harm done.”

So I posted it. Ten days later, I’m still doing it. (You can follow my project on Flickr.) I felt ready to give up on both Day 2 and Day 3, but I didn’t. Instead, I got clearer about what I was trying to accomplish, and why.

I decided that my main goals were to document my life and to practice. If I had to choose between posting a mediocre photo that told a more accurate story of my day versus a gorgeous photo that was largely irrelevant, I would go with the mediocre photo.

This immediately raised several problems, the main one being that I don’t lead a very glamorous life. I’m usually indoors in front of my computer or in a meeting. I decided to take this on as a challenge. It would force me to exercise my storytelling muscles in a more creative way. At worst, it would encourage me to get out more — a very nice side effect.

Another problem was that I didn’t always have a camera with me. This was surprising, given that I feel like I’m always carrying my camera around these days. But within the first few days of the New Year, I found myself missing out on what I thought were good opportunities. I have a smartphone, but I don’t like its camera. Yeah, yeah, I know that the best camera is the one you have on you, but I was having trouble getting over this.

By Day 7, I had to confront this problem head on. I knew I was going to have court-side access during the pre-game warmup at the Warriors game, so I brought my camera and long lens, expecting to take some cool pictures of the players. But the arena wouldn’t let me bring my camera in, because the lens was too big.

I was disgruntled, but I knew I had to get a picture, so I got this one of my friends with my phone. And I love it. It’s technically unremarkable, but it means something to me personally. Maybe I would have taken a better one of the same subject with my good camera and lens, but maybe not. Constraints are good.

The last problem was that I had to get over myself. This could take an enormous amount of time if I let it. I’m not a professional photographer, and I’m not trying to be. I want to get better, but I have a bunch of other things going on in my life. I need to be okay with improving at a realistic pace.

When I started taking photography more seriously, I started getting more self-critical. This improved my photographic eye, but it also prevented me from putting myself out there as much. One of the reasons for my improvement these past two years is that I simply share less. That’s legitimate — curation is a huge part of photography — but I could probably improve even faster by putting myself out there more, even if that means exposing inferior work.

Furthermore, taking good photos requires a lot more concentration. Sometimes, I find myself giving up on taking pictures entirely, because I just want to focus on whatever it is that I’m doing, and I know that any photos I end up taking will be mediocre as a result. If you look at my meeting pictures over the past two years, you can gauge the level of my involvement in the meeting based on the quality of the pictures. When I was facilitating, the pictures ended up being mediocre (or sometimes nonexistent), because I was devoting 100 percent of my concentration to my job at hand.

I’m trying to manage my standards and just publish something once a day, focusing on the benefits of practice rather than worrying about my self-critic. I’m enjoying it! I’ve already started to notice key opportunities for improvement, and I’m looking forward to being able to see that improvement over time rather than worrying about not being there yet.

Most of all, I love having a journal of my life. I was never able to keep a daily written journal, even when constraining myself to bullet points. But a picture journal seems easier and a lot more gratifying, and it’s amazing how a single picture can trigger a lot of memories.

It’s also an incredible way to recognize life patterns. This past week, you can see that I was around lots of people, which was great, but not typical. Next week will be similar, but the week after, I’ll start bearing down. I’m curious to see what new patterns emerge and how this feedback mechanism changes my behavior (hopefully for the better).