One Second Every Day of 2019

Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s one second of video from every day of 2019:

Here’s the two second version from December:

And here are all the two-second videos from previous months:

This was a super fun, relatively low key, and very meaningful project. Many thanks to the good folks at 1 Second Everyday both for the inspiration and also the app. I highly encourage folks give it a shot. Try it for a week or a month, and see how you like it.

I also highly encourage folks to take on a making-everyday project, whether it’s for a week, a month, a year, or even longer. This was my second 365 project — I did a photo a day project in 2015. Once again, I learned a lot, I got to exercise some new creative storytelling muscles, and I had a lot of fun (I took this one much less seriously than my photography project). Most importantly, it helped me deepen many of my relationships, and it reminded me of the beauty that surrounds me every day. It was a great way to end the decade. Happy New Year!

Two Seconds a Day in January 2019

Toward the end of my photo a day project in 2015, several people asked me if I was going to do it again in 2016. “Heck, no!” I responded. That project meant a lot to me (still does), and I loved doing it, but it was a lot of work, it took up a lot of mental and emotional headspace, and I was burned out on sharing.

Still, once you get into the habit of making, it’s hard to break. It just feels good to make something every day, to watch a little bit of incremental effort become a body of work. And it’s especially nice when it serves as a kind of journal of your life.

Even though I was saying no to doing another 365 photo project, I had started toying with the idea of doing a one second of video a day project. I had seen a few of these floating around on the Internet, and I was amazed by how much a single second of video could capture.

I started playing around with this at the beginning of 2016 and didn’t even get through a week. Over the next few years, I tinkered with other daily project ideas, but wasn’t motivated enough to do one.

I decided to revisit the one second a day idea this month. You can see the results above. I started with one second a day, and really liked it, but when I showed it to others, they said it was too fast. I decided to go with two seconds instead, and I like it even better.

Doing this was much less stressful than my 365 ever was. First, it was only 31 days. I might do another month, but I haven’t decided yet. Second, I’m not sharing every day. Third, video is much more forgiving than photography. You get two more dimensions — movement and sound — to capture something interesting. Fourth, I don’t care that much about getting good at video right now. I’m just playing, which is pretty liberating.

That said, I’m slightly more primed to capture video than I was three years ago. I’ve been inspired by several friends and colleagues (and, in some cases, their kids) who often produce simple, but really fun and compelling videos. My experience with photography helps. I also read Walter Murch’s outstanding, In the Blink of an Eye, a few years ago, and it made me see video in a whole different light. Finally, the 1 Second Everyday app makes it super easy to compile and edit your videos. (The iOS version is superb. Sadly, the Android version is terrible.)

Darkest Hour: Nuanced Historical Flick or Meme-ish Schlock?

Darkest Hour is about the World War II events that took place in Great Britain from May 10 through June 4, 1940 — Neville Chamberlain’s resignation as prime minister, Winston Churchill’s ascension, France falling to Nazi Germany (including the siege at Calais), the miraculous evacuation of over 330,000 British troops at Dunkirk, all culminating in Churchill’s decision not to enter into peace talks with Hitler, which led to the Battle of Britain.

I enjoyed the movie. It was entertaining, well crafted, and beautifully acted, and I think the choice to focus on that single, eventful month was an excellent one. Gary Oldman is physically the exact opposite of Churchill, yet he absolutely disappears into the role. I also thought the movie was nicely and importantly nuanced until the end (where it devolves into a schlocky mess).

In particular, it highlighted Churchill’s spotty track record prior to his ascension, his politically precarious position, and the strategic, emotional, and moral complexity around decisions that will unavoidably cost lives. It offered a little taste of coalition politics, which I find especially fascinating these days as I wonder about the future of the two-party system in the U.S. I also felt more empathetic to the strongly differing viewpoints of the time, especially to Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax. It’s so much easier to judge when you have the benefit of hindsight.

I wouldn’t say the ending ruined the whole movie for me (a surprising sentiment, given that I knew what was going to happen), but I didn’t like it. It lost its nuance. First, there was an incredibly grotesque, entirely fictional scene where Churchill decides to take the subway to Westminster Station so that he can mix with the people. It’s a cheap, gimmicky device made even worse by the inclusion of the one person of color in the entire movie.

Then, all semblance of nuance disappeared, and it became a series of will-of-the-people, fight-until-the-end propaganda piece. Which, in some ways, was accurate. Churchill’s strengths were his way with words and his ability to inspire. Earlier in the film, they did touch on the difficult balancing act between looking disastrous reality in the face while also maintaining hope, which I appreciated.

I get why the movie ended the way it did. It would have been too complicated, for example, to try to explain that the Battle of Britain, while heroic and extraordinary, would likely have been futile had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. not entered the war.

I’m okay with the ending. I just didn’t like it. And I especially hated the fact that the movie ended with this inspirational “Churchill” quote:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Here’s what the International Churchill Society has to say about this quote on a page entitled, “Quotes falsely attributed to Winston Churchill”:

We can find no attribution for either one of these and you will find that they are broadly attributed to Winston Churchill. They are found nowhere in his canon, however. An almost equal number of sources found online credit these sayings to Abraham Lincoln — but we have found none that provides any attribution in the Lincoln Archives.

Falsely sourcing quotes is a pet peeve of mine. I get why they might have created that idiotic subway scene. But why end the movie Internet meme style? It was lazy and unnecessary, and it summed up how the overall ending of this otherwise solid movie was for me.

This Is How to Advertise Your Impact

I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Autumn Hays at Partnership for Working Families today. I was particularly struck by her email signature, which opens with:

The Partnership improved the lives of 1.5 million people last year!

This is so smart on so many levels. First, it shows that the Partnership has a clear impact goal and are tracking it in a compelling way. It’s just good storytelling. I’d love to see more transparency in how they’re coming up with their numbers, but I’m a geek, and I’m nitpicking. The fact that they’re doing this at all is great.

Second, they are intentionally drawing people’s attention to their impact in a simple, innovative way. I’m sure Autumn sends lots of emails, and every one of the recipient now has some sense of the Partnership’s impact. It’s the nonprofit version of the McDonald’s “billions served” sign.

I would love to see others do stuff like this. I’m totally planning on stealing this.

Richard Feynman on Explaining Things Clearly

My dad is a physicist who idolized Richard Feynman, which meant that I idolized him as well growing up. One thing about him that made a huge impression on me was how simply and clearly he explained things. Feynman was a genius. If he could explain physics clearly to anyone, then no one had any excuse to put on airs.

The Long Now Foundation recently republished one of my favorite essays about Feynman, Danny Hillis’s, “Richard Feynman and the Connection Machine.” (Hat tip to William Barnhill.) It not only shares many great anecdotes about Feynman, it also is an oral history of the early days at Hillis’s groundbreaking parallel computing company, Thinking Machines.

The whole essay is fantastic, but I like this excerpt about Feynman’s explaining prowess in particular:

In the meantime, we were having a lot of trouble explaining to people what we were doing with cellular automata. Eyes tended to glaze over when we started talking about state transition diagrams and finite state machines. Finally Feynman told us to explain it like this,

“We have noticed in nature that the behavior of a fluid depends very little on the nature of the individual particles in that fluid. For example, the flow of sand is very similar to the flow of water or the flow of a pile of ball bearings. We have therefore taken advantage of this fact to invent a type of imaginary particle that is especially simple for us to simulate. This particle is a perfect ball bearing that can move at a single speed in one of six directions. The flow of these particles on a large enough scale is very similar to the flow of natural fluids.”

This was a typical Richard Feynman explanation. On the one hand, it infuriated the experts who had worked on the problem because it neglected to even mention all of the clever problems that they had solved. On the other hand, it delighted the listeners since they could walk away from it with a real understanding of the phenomenon and how it was connected to physical reality.

We tried to take advantage of Richard’s talent for clarity by getting him to critique the technical presentations that we made in our product introductions. Before the commercial announcement of the Connection Machine CM-1 and all of our future products, Richard would give a sentence-by-sentence critique of the planned presentation. “Don’t say `reflected acoustic wave.’ Say [echo].” Or, “Forget all that `local minima’ stuff. Just say there’s a bubble caught in the crystal and you have to shake it out.” Nothing made him angrier than making something simple sound complicated.

But what Richard hated, or at least pretended to hate, was being asked to give advice. So why were people always asking him for it? Because even when Richard didn’t understand, he always seemed to understand better than the rest of us. And whatever he understood, he could make others understand as well. Richard made people feel like a child does, when a grown-up first treats him as an adult. He was never afraid of telling the truth, and however foolish your question was, he never made you feel like a fool.