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Yearly Archives: 2012
Was having an interesting conversation this morning with Om and Hunter about the recent firing of Richard Williamson from Apple over the Maps debacle. Hunter posed a question that, in hindsight, seems like such an obvious one to ask:
How does that make rest of co feel? Enforces â€˜only ship qualityâ€™ or makes people risk averse?
It depends greatly on why he was fired. We don’t know for sure, since we aren’t there, but was he fired because the maps software was seriously flawed?
Or was he fired because he lied to his bosses about the quality of the maps software, or misled them about the status?
I’m willing to bet, from my time working at Mama Fruit and dealing with Eddy and his teams, that the latter has a big part to do with this firing.Â
If you think about the reality of shipping something like IOS and the Maps software, it’s tightly integrated with the entire OS, so it’s not the sort of thing you can simply decide to not ship and stick the Google Maps back in. This isn’t the podcasts app, it’s a key, low-level part of the operating system. So if you think of this beast from a view of project management, the “go/no-go” on including maps was a year or so ago (or further), and after that, the train has left the station. If you don’t ship the maps stuff, it means you don’t ship IOS6. And if you don’t ship IOS6, it means you aren’t shipping iPhone 5. (the whole “why they had no choice but to ship Maps as they were” would be its own blog postâ€¦)
And that’s really bad.Â
So you’re shipping. After that, it becomes a question of how you manage the situation. Do you keep everyone aware of the problems and work with all of the involved teams (marketing, etc) to set the right expectations? Or do you tell everyone it’s going to be great, craft a demo that avoids the problems and makes it all look perfect, and hope to god you get the bugs wrangled before anyone finds them?
One of the mis-steps of the IOS6 announcement to me in light of how Maps turned out in reality was the disconnect between how Apple sold it to us, and how it really worked day 1. That mistake was completely avoidable. Apple could have positioned the Maps software in a very different but positive way, acknlowedged the flaws and that they needed the users to help them identify and fix things — turn this into almost a game, give away store coupons for being the first to find problems. And said up front that there were going to be hiccups, but that in the long-term, this switch made the birthing pains worth it and everyone would benefit in time.Â
The situation could have been completely defused. Instead, they way oversold Maps as awesome, and set themselves up for the face plant.Â
Why? I kept going back to my view that if Apple management knew they were going to have to ship a buggy maps app, they wouldn’t have bugled how wonderful it was. But what if the real problems were hidden from them? What if the maps team hid the real problems? Crafted great demos and told everyone things were fine?
Then the rest of the teams wouldn’t know they were stepping on a landmine until it went off.Â
And if you’re responsible for managing that fiasco up to your management and to the other teams relying on you?Â
Well, you deserve your walking papers.Â
Not saying that’s what happened here, but — it sure seems like a reasonable scenario based on my time there. And it sure seems a lot more rational than Apple knowing the Maps stuff was going to suck Day 1 and still selling the hell out of it at the announcement. I keep thinking that if Tim Cook knew the tool was going to be iffy on initial ship, he would have handled the announcement differently.Â
So perhaps he didn’t know. And perhaps now, some heads are going on up pikes. Not for the software being bad, but for hiding it from the bosses…
And to tie that back to the original question, if he was fired for misleading the company about the quality of Maps, then frankly, most of Apple is probably cheering this (probably quietly). That’d be a good thing and a strong message to be sent through the company.
Sometimes, software doesn’t come together as fast or as well as you hope (I know, most of you are going “duh!” right now). That’s something that we all understand, and we can deal with in some way or another. Like, oh, not making it the focal point of the announcement keynote.Â
But lying about it or hiding the problems so those you work with get sideswiped?
If there’s one thing bosses and co-workers hate, it’s unpleasant surprises.Â
In the current fight over the CBA between the owners and the union, a big aspect of how it’s all going to turn out (I believe) is how united the players are against the owners. Traditionally, the union has been fairly weak — in 2004-2005 the league lost an entire season, and ultimately, the union lost the battle, giving up a salary cap and other concessions. The union’s had trouble keeping the players united and standing firm; once the paychecks don’t come in, various parts of the player’s group start second-guessing and pushing for resolution. Given how short most NHL careers are, you can understand that; if you only think you have four or five years in the league to make money (if that), losing one is hard.
But right now, the union seems very much behind Fehr and his policies, much more than in previous years. And if the union holds firm here and pushes the owners into compromising, I think there are two key actions the owners have taken that may be the catalysts for this solidarity.
If you think back to the 2004-2005 lockout, one thing the owners talked about a lot was turning the league into a partnership with the players, and in some cases, they made mild moves in that direction (like the competition committee; even there, players like Marty Brodeur quit because he felt it was all for show and not a real partnership). In reality, the owners made strong words about changing how they worked with the players and turning this into a league where everyone worked for the mutual benefit of everyone, and as soon as the CBA was signed, the owners threw 99% of that out, and made “the players are our partners” something reserved only for token situations where the owners could control the situation or ignore the players when they felt like it. If there was a single thing the owners did to prove to players that the players can’t trust the owners, this is it.
And now, it’s becoming more and more clear that some of the owners signed really large, significant, expensive contracts with players just before the CBA expired and they locked out the players — and did so knowing the plan was to use the negotiations and new CBA to claw back large chunks of those contracts. In other words, they lied to the players about those deals and never intended to honor them 100%. That’s something the players are not going to ignore or forget soon.
Both of those seem to be rallying points for the players, and are uniting them against the owners. And I wonder if, given I think the real plan in these “negotiations” is to fracture the union and hopefully oust Fehr so the owners can continue to dominate the player/team relationship, whether they’ve made a misstep here. It seems to me they may well have.
I’m not entirely sure where to go about the current hockey situation. It sucks.
Basically, a third of the season has been cancelled. The All-star game and Winter Classic are rumored to be cancelled within a week. December’s games probably aren’t too far behind that, so that teams can start booking other dates into their buildings.
This now looks to be a long-term, perhaps all-season, thing. Right now, to put it bluntly, this is primarily because the owners are taking a hard line and refusing to have meaningful negotiations.
Unless you want to define “meaningful negotiations” as “take this offer or starve”, because however the NHL owners want to spin it, that’s their position right now. They’re willing to discuss which fonts to use to print out the CBA on paper and whether or not first lines in paragraphs are indented or flush, but that’s pretty much the only things they seem interested in offering any flexibility on.
Up until now, I was more or less just ignoring things and not getting worked up over it because it was clear early on that these two sides weren’t going to find an agreement until it hurt, and it wasn’t going to hurt until some games were lost. I didn’t think it was going to be this entrenched.
It seems as if the league is fully willing to give up an entire season and take all of the bad PR and fan unhappiness that implies to get the deal they want, or something very close to it.
I look at the deal, and the differences between the league proposals and the player alternatives, and I can’t for the life of me see the logic of being willing to give up an entire season for that. If it was ONLY the financials of the deal as it’s being proposed, there’s a deal to be made here. The owners aren’t interested in making it.
Why? Good question.
This is about the union. And/or Donald Fehr.
Alan Eagleson. Bob Goodenow. Ted Saskin. Paul Kelly. Donald Fehr.
Eagleson, who was convicted of fraud for his actions running the union. Goodenow ran the union for many years, but led it through the contract fight that cost the league an entire season — and lost, giving up a salary cap and most of the concessions the union had vowed not to give to the owners. He was replaced by Ted Saskin, who immediately walked into a fight among the union members over his hiring and ended up being removed. the union brought in his place Ted Kelly, who immediately walked into a fight over his leadership and was ultimately fired.
See a trend here? A weak, factionalized, ineffective player’s union, one that repeatedly has been walked over by the owners In the 2004-2005 got a lot of concessions, but gave up the one key one the owners demanded, which was the salary cap.
And now, the owners are insisting the players give back a number of those concessions; the owners, of course, are keeping the cap, and in fact, insist on reducing it.
The owners are staring at the fact of Donald Fehr, The first true leader the NHLPA has had, and behind him, it looks like the players have gotten beyond the internal factions and fighting and are united behind Fehr.
This seems to have the owners scared to death. They have never had to deal with a strong union in the history of the NHL, and it looks to me like they want to keep it that way.
This lockout is about two things:
First, I think it has always been the league’s strategy that in 2004-2005 was to give up whatever they needed to give up to get the salary cap, and did, fully intending to claw back as much of it in the next CBA as they could. Given the history of an ineffective NHLPA, that’s not an unreasonable strategy, if you can buy into the idea that the owners are willing to plan things out ten years and then actually do it. (I do. the owners are many things. stupid is not one of them)
Second, the owners see the union coming together and buying into what Donald Fehr is telling them they need to do, and I think this is freaking out some of the key hardline/old-school owners. It looks to me like they want to freeze out the season until the union fractures and hope that the union does to Fehr what they did to Goodenow and Kelly. If the union does ultimately split into factions again and one of them is able to oust Fehr, the chances that the NHLPA will ever get a qualified union leader to work with them again is basically zero, which puts the NHLPA back in the world of being a chaotic weak organization that can’t really protect it’s members. Which is exactly what the owners seem to want.
If I’m correct, then this stoppage is going to go on for a long while, and the entire season is at risk. Only time will tell, but it’s hard to see this ending as long as the owner’s idea of negotiation is “take it or starve”.
I’m wondering it the owners are miscalculating here. The way they’re handling this seems to be turning into a rallying point for the union to stick with Fehr, and he’s a savvy enough relationship building and politician that I don’t think it’s going to be easy for unhappy groups to organize a push to get him out; Fehr’s track record is such that it’s hard for anyone to say “we can do better with someone else” with a straight face, and that really hurts any hope the owners might have to force a regime change.
I think the owners may regret this; worse, when I speak of “the owners” I don’t speak of all 30 owners, but of the smaller group that controls the plan around the CBA negotiation, and that’s primarily driven by the folks from Philly and Boston, supported by the high-revenue teams like the Rangers, Leafs and Canadiens, because the high revenue teams don’t want to give up more of their share of revenues into the revenue sharing pool, they want the revenue taken back from the players to fill out the revenue gaps with the less successful teams.
So at this point, I don’t see this as being about what percentage of hockey revenues go into which pile for what rich person, or when players get free agency or if a player gets a single room instead of sharing on the road.
This is about the league seriously trying to prevent Donald Fehr from turning the union into a, well, a real union, and the owners see that as a huge long-term threat to their ability to dominate the team/player relationship — and a threat to their pocketbooks. So they seem willing to take a really hard stance now to try to force the union to fracture, because what they want is regime change within the union, or at least chaos and an inability to work together, just like the good old days.
And that’s going to take a while, and it requires the owners not actually finding a consensus or compromise with the players on the CBA — because they would be seen as a win for Fehr. And that seems to be the one thing they are trying to not give him.
And so this is going to go on a long time, until either the union DOES fracture and the factions fight and concede to the owners, or things hurt enough that the more progressive owners can wrest control from the current group and force the owner’s proposals to change and find that compromise agreement.
I don’t see either of those things happening any time soon; neither are going to happen in 2012, IMHO. The union won’t fall apart quickly, and I think the ruling owners have their power base under enough control that any shifts there won’t happen for a while.
So this fight’s going to go on for a good while, and it may take out the entire season.
And boy, do I hope I’m wrong about that.
For a day or two, it seemed like some hope was shining through the murky clouds of the NHL lockout.
That hope has been dashed. I now feel this is going to go on for a while. It doesn’t have to, but it will.
the NHL put out with a lot of publicity a new, improved proposal. It seemed finally one side had moved off its position enough for some serious negotiation to begin.
The two sides sat down. the NHLPA made some counter proposals working off of the NHL’s proposal.Â
The NHL walked out.Â
And cancelled games.Â
Fan’s hopes plummeted.Â
My bottom line: it continues to be the reality that there’s very little common ground for the two sides to negotiate to a final deal. The league’s position is that teams are losing money, and they will fix that by taking money away from the players.Â
The player’s position is that there’s plenty of money if the owners just share among themselves more, but they are happy to be part of the solution to the problem of some teams losing money. Just not all of it.Â
The League’s view is “take it or leave it”.Â
The player’s view is “let’s see if we can find a way to make this happen, but what you want to happen isn’t going to happen”.
There is no “let’s just split this in the middle and start playing” position to find here. One side or the other has to abandon their position, which isn’t going to happen until there’s enough pain that they feel they have no choice.
This whole — charade — was really for the league to try to put the onus of public opinion on the players. The players were winning the PR war, and this was a game to try to change that. To some degree, it’s succeeded in the short term, although I don’t know if it’ll continue. The pro-player wing of the commentary/feedback PR group is quite effective (just watch twitter. between the players and the player-sympathetic media, they’re doing a good job of tearing down the NHL’s maneuver). The NHL is not as effective at controlling their message, and the pro-team side of the media/commentary group is much smaller and less enthusiastic.Â
But the league made it clear it’s willing to wait out the players, and so I now don’t see an agreement coming any time soon. I don’t expect hockey until at least the end of November now, if then. This seems to have been the plan all along. Try to blame the players for the shutdown, not seriously look for common ground for a negotiated compromise, and keep pushing at the players to simply give the owners what they want or there will be no hockey.Â
This isn’t a negotiation, it’s a game of “take it or leave it” by the owners. Right now, the players are (and, IMHO, should be) playing “leave it”, The players are at least trying to suggest options that might lead to serious negotiations, but even there, you have to wonder if it’s for real or whether they know they’ll get thrown out (or are designed to be thrown out), but make no bones about it, the primary reason for lack of progress on solving this lockout is that the owners don’t want to. They want capitulation, not negotiation.
If I were the league, I’d be worrying about winning the battle but losing the war. But they clearly aren’t, and they know more about this than I do. What I do know is that the league has made a big statement, and that statement is that it’s in no hurry to cut a deal, unless it’s the deal it’s demanding. There’s no real room for negotiation when one side is unwilling to realistically negotiate.Â
Oh, well. Back to doing other things.Â
We’re thrilled to be able to congratulate Pat Curcio and the Bulls on a successful opening night. Laurie and I have been watching them put the franchise together, and I have to admit I’m impressed. It looks like a good first night and a good starting crowd.
Now the hard part begins….
Hockey returns to San Francisco as Bulls open with 4-3 loss:
The Bulls announced an impressive crowd of 8,277 on Friday night, so they’re off to a good start in that regard. They had a stated goal to reach 1,000 season ticket holders, and a team spokesman said they are close to reaching that number.
The Bulls’ first game marked the return of hockey to the Cow Palace for the first time in more than 15 years. The San Francisco Spiders of the now defunct International Hockey League lasted only one season, shutting down operations after reportedly losing more than $6 million in 1995-96.
The way Curcio sees it, the Spiders were victims of playing in an unstable league, as the IHL shut down operations after 2001. He points out that the Spiders drew more than 5,000 fans per game, which in minor league hockey, is a respectable number.
A few bits of history on the Spiders, since Laurie and I were two of the few that actually were there for that little mini-drama. We were the Spiders web masters, running their web site for the entire season. We were also season ticket holders, and in fact had the same seats we had when the Sharks were in the Cow Palace (because it amused us to return to the scene of the crime). We did all of the online material for the team and dealt with getting their marketing info and press releases online as well as team info and stats, and for game days, also made sure the game note package and summaries got posted. Laurie also did most of the photography for the web site and as the season went along (and spiraled) was for some games the only photographer there.
So we were there before opening night, for opening night, for closing night, and for about home games in between, and were interacting with various people in the front office throughout. In fact, it becomes a bit of a running joke that whoever was assigned to be our contact ought to update their resume, because that was a sign they were the next to get laid off. which was unfortunately, as the season went on, more often true than not.
(I should really write more about that majestic, crazy year. Maybe later, especially now that enough years have passed that lawsuits are really unlikely and the bankruptcy stuff is long settled.. except I’m not sure anyone really cares, or that it matters in the grand scheme of things…)
The Bulls need to be really careful about that 5,000 fans a game number. It’s — somewhat fanciful. Attendance early in the season was pretty good, but it trailed off quickly. As the season went on, the team started liberally distributing free passes through organizations as a promotion, similar to the “merchant night” passes you can get for the San Jose Giants minor league team. That 5,000 a night number is some combination of paid, free attending, and distributed but not really used. I’d say that the last ten games of the season the real in-house, butt-in-seat number was under 2,000 consistently. By then, of course, it was obvious that the franchise had spiraled and it wasn’t coming back to San Francisco.
The Spiders were a team with great intentions. To be honest (and I hope they take this as a cautionary tale), life with the Spiders leading up to opening night sounds a lot like what I’ve seen with the Bulls. There was no idea that lurking just out of view was this iceberg… It was the season just after the first NHL lockout of 1994-95, and revenues and attendance numbers for the IHL were boosted. The IHL sold these numbers as part of a plan to expand the league, and the Spiders were one of those expansion teams. They paid, if I remember correctly, about $6m for the franchise. Dave Pasant bought the team; he had made a big push to buy the NBA Minnesota Timberwolves but that deal didn’t happen, and he ended up going for a minor league hockey team instead.
Things started out well when the team traded for a starting goalie who had a solid NHL tenure, and he categorically refused to report. We ended up going into the season with Stephane Beauregard, another ex NHL goalie, and Corrado Micalef, a goalie that had seen some time with the Red Wings and had spent a number of years in the Italian leagues; he was originally brought in mainly to be an emergency backup and/or practice goalie but he backed up Beauregard pretty well. Beauregard was a pretty good goalie — I’d say NHL-backup caliber — but was in the AHL because, well, your backup goalie can’t be high maintenance. Stephane was. And occasionally hilarity ensued, like when he tossed a water bottle at a referee. The team celebrated that later by having bottle-tossing contests during intermission…
The Spiders caught a break when Dean Lombardi and Sandis Ozolish (technically, Lombardi and Sandis’ agenthad a spat over a contract and Sandis sat out. He ended up signing with the Spiders and was in uniform opening night and scored the franchise’s first goal. He also signed quickly and only played two games as as Spider, ending that PR fest. The Spiders knew the Sharks were part of the draw, so they signed a lot of ex-Sharks, including the legendarily infamous Link Gaezt and a personal favorite with Dale Craigwell. Gaetz survived three games (no points, 37 PIM. any questions?) and Craigwell had suffered a nasty ankle injury and had lost a couple of steps off his speed. The fond memories of these guys were attractive, actually watching them play again? A bit sad for the most part.
There were some definite positives to the season — I got to see Rod Langway play hockey. Late in his career or not, he was still Rod Langway. John Purves was one of those classic career minor leaguers who went off and had a career year and scored 105 points, 20 more than his career best and a tally he’d never match again. He really bloomed that year and carried that team.
For Laurie and I, it was one of those things we always wanted to do, work with a pro sports team. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I’m happy to say it also cured me of any real thought of doing it again. But damn, I’m happy I did. And I’m sorry it didn’t work out better, but the Spiders were set up to fail from the start by unrealistic revenue expectations from the league, an owner who didn’t know the league was blowing smoke at him and talked about building a franchise as a long-term investment (but as soon as it didn’t start making money right away, ripped apart the organization to save money and ultimately put it into a death spiral), a lousy media market for minor league sports, and a building that, well….
It took some work to make the Cow Palace, built in 1941, ready to house a team again.
“Here at the Cow Palace, every time we opened a door to correct something, we found something else that needed to be corrected,” said Curcio, who spent 10 years playing in the ECHL and Europe. “It was tiresome, it was stressful, and a lot of times we thought, can this really be fixed?”
At first glance, they did a good job. There is a new scoreboard that is much more high-tech that those found at most minor league arenas, but there remains a certain charm about the old place, which was home to the San Jose Sharks for their first two years of existence.
Our motto on the Cow Palace was “It’s a pit, but my god, it’s OUR pit”. I do wish the Bulls luck, but it’s got lousy sight lines, parking is expensive (and not under their control unless they pulled off a miracle deal), transit is between lousy and nonexistent, and there’s a fine line between “eccentric” and “my god, what is THAT SMELL?” and the Cow Palace was far too often on the wrong side of that line. You can, to a degree, market a barn like that for its character, but only to a degree. Especially in the spring when things warm up.
He’s confident that the Bulls can keep drawing fans on a regular basis after what can only be considered a successful opening night, despite the one-goal loss.
“We had a vision, and I think for the most part it’s pretty much in line with what we imagined.”
I agree, but it’s not going to be easy. the Bulls are actually much further along the path than the Spiders were on opening night; they have broadcast agreements, something the Spiders didn’t get until mid-season (and at that point, it was on a university “around the neighborhood” station). The shift from news reading on paper to news reading online has improved things — the simple fact that CSN Bay Area is talking about opening night indicates the landscape for coverage has changed for the better. Back in the Spiders days, this region and the newspapers had a huge “we are a MAJOR LEAGUE market” mentality, one that went to the two baseball teams, two football teams, the Warriors, Sharks, UC Berkeley and Stanford — even San Jose State was more or less shunted off as irrelevant, so a minor league team had real struggles getting coverage and the online universe was just starting to open up as a new opportunity.
I’ve long thought there’s an opportunity for a team like this in this market. When San Jose and the county were fighting over the right to build a new entertainment building (12,000ish seats, concert focus) I did some informal chatting with a few Sharks staffers and some of the people involved with the city about whether the building might be ice compatible, but the day of the general purpose “do 12 things sort of okay, do none of them well” building are dead (and I don’t miss them!) and that building was going to be a concert hall, not something convertible. Of course, once the county won the legal fights and killed the city’s idea on the building, it didn’t matter. And then the economy tanked and killed the county building, so we ended up with neither.
The Bulls are heading into a price point where I think there’s a market. We found out (the hard way) with the Spiders it wasn’t an easy market to crack; it takes time, and patience and consistent marketing and promotion. The Spiders suffered from an owner who thought it’d be easy and panicked when it wasn’t. It sounds like Curcio understands this is a multi-season challenge.
To me, though, the Cow Palace will continue to be the big challenge. There’s only so much makeup you can put on that pig. If I’m Curcio, to be blunt, I’m starting quiet friendly chats with Oakland NOW about moving into their arena if and when the Warriors build their new building in downtown SF and move out (but you do not, repeat, do not, want to be second tenant in that building to an NBA team, even if they’re remotely interested in having you). That building is actually too big for the Bulls, and the footprint is a challenge for hockey, but it’s on transit, I’m guessing Oakland would love to cut a deal to have a tenant, and it’s an improvement over the Cow Palace, which if you haven’t figured out by now, I think should have been torn down years ago.
And at some point this season, I expect Laurie and I will head up there and take in some games. With two seasons of Sharks hockey there, and a full season of Spiders hockey, there are probably few people alive who’s seen more hockey than us in that building, and I’d hate to lose an opportunity to put a third franchise on my life list there… And I’m curious what they’ve done with the place.
When I do, I promise I’ll show up with my Spiders jersey, if I can get it out of storage…
David duChemin â€“ World & Humanitarian Photographer, Nomad, Author. Â» Snake Oil & Comb-overs: A Rant.:
Youâ€™ve heard me rant about the big camera companies flogging cameras that they promise will allow you to â€œshoot like a proâ€ or â€œunlock your vision,â€ or similar desperate crap. So it should come as no surprise that my blood pressure begins to go up when I read about so-called teachers flogging plug-ins for Photoshop or Lightroom that â€œturn snapshots into great shots.â€ Bullshit. Shame on them.
Amazing photographs are not made with plug-ins or Photoshop actions. They are made with the imagination and the heart and the mind.
David is on a rant, and it’s well worth your time. I’ll wait here.
Back? Good. he’s right.
There’s a lot of marketing hype around how buying this latest thing is going to solve your problem. Grab this camera, and great pictures will happen. Buy this plug-in, and it’ll take care of the processing for you. As a society, we’ve become focussed far too much on finding the magic cookie, the secret shortcut.
In photography, they don’t exist. You still have to take a lot of bad pictures as you learn what it means to take great ones. Some days you’ll get lucky and a great picture will pop out, but what you need is to build the ability to make great pictures, not get lucky and have them happen. No camera, no plug-in, no tool is going to be the magic cookie that gets you to that point.
Where I think David goes a bit off message is in giving all of these tools too little credit for what they can do while speaking too much on what they can’t.
I remember my high school days shooting with a manual Nikon on Tri-X and doing my own developing and printing in a dark, smelly darkroom. And loving it. I shot Velvia and sent it off to a lab, not known whether I actually had pictures (much less usable ones) for days waiting for them to come back so I could see them.
I look at the kind of work Galen Rowell did with the gear of his day. On Film. Waiting for the lab to send it back to see if the images succeeded. And I sit and wonder what someone like Rowell would do today with a 1DX and modern lenses. Sometimes I think we’re so used to modern technology we forget just how much better things are than when these classic images that drew us into the field were made, and we kind of take it for granted because it is in fact so much easier for us than to succeed at an image than it was for someone like Rowell.
(my thought on Rowell and the 1DX: he’d probably sell it and buy a 5Dm2 on the used market and plane tickets to somewhere worth photographing. but that’s just meâ€¦)
Rather than just talk about what these modern tools can’t do for you, stop and think about what they CAN. What does digital photography, modern camera bodies and their low-noise, high-ISO capability, sharp, crisp lenses (with image stabilization and autofocus), digital workflows and all of the bells and whistles of these tools give you that someone like Galen Rowell didn’t have?
To me, the primary thing these bring you is a margin of error. Before digital, you couldn’t chimp the LCD and adjust the image on the fly. Either you got the image or didn’t (and wouldn’t know for daysâ€¦.) — and if you didn’t, you might not find out until you were a few thousand miles away and two years from your next attempt. Or you’re shooting at ISO 50 on Velvia and that rare bird refuses to come out of the shadows deep in the brush. Or it’s afternoon and you lose two stops of light just as the mule deer arrive in the meadow for dinner.
Today’s photographer has so manx advantages out of the heroes that dragged us into the field that it’s almost scary. I have found myself standing somewhere like Tunnel View and working on an image and suddenly realizing just what it might have meant to try for that shot on my old Minolta 3xi, or that old Nikon FG.
Back in the “Good Old Days”, it was hard enough to get the shot. Today? We have the ability to get the shot with a lot less stress and angst and worry, but beyond that, with the added margin of error, we have a lot more ability to get shots that earlier generations would miss (or be back in the bar having given up already) — and we have the ability to move beyond getting that shot and experiment with other shots, or other techniques or to try other things to see what happens.
Then, when we get back the post processing tools — and the plug-ins and other helpers — let us fine tune the shots in ways that we couldn’t even dream about ten years ago, much less emulate. For me, these tools aren’t so much about what they allow me to do; almost everything you can do in something like Viveza or Silver Efex Pro you can do in Photoshop or Lightroom — what they do is allow me to be a lot more effective and efficient.
And yet something I see a lot of photographers do is try to take away all of these tools. I understand some of the reasoning behind that — it goes back to David’s rant about these tools not taking the photo for you, not magically creating that special photo. But far too often, it feels more like guild initiation; if you don’t learn to do it the way we did back in the Good Old Days (i.e., “suffer like I did when I was learning this stuff”), you’ll never really be a “real” photographer. And that’s bull.
I see photographers telling people not to chimp. I see them telling them that the only way to shoot is in manual mode. I used to see them telling people that “real” photographers didn’t use autofocus, but if they are still saying that, nobody seems to be listening (so there’s a sign of progress!). A lot of this boils down to “you have to learn to do it the old fashioned way, or it doesn’t count”.
I don’t buy that.
This is one reason I think Trey Ratcliff has become such a popular photographer and teacher online — he’s embraced the new technologies and techniques and works to teach people how to become to become great photographers through modern technologies, not despite them. (that, and he’s a great photographer).
I think this is a transitional phase: teachers tend to teach what they know and how they learned. As we grow up generations of photographers who cut their teeth digitally, this “to become one of us, you must learn as if you were shooting Velvia” mentality will fade. As someone who dropped photography for years and came back because of digital, and have been relearning the craft from scratch on digital, that can’t happen soon enough.
Look at what modern digital technologies are doing to Â enable new and innovative forms of imagery: time lapses and night photography are exploding right now as people are figuring out how to take advantage of modern cameras. In the digital dark room, you’re seeing many fascinating innovations from focus stacking to using blending modes (Ben Willmore showed a fascinating way of erasing people out of an image using many multiple shots and the lighten blending mode in a recent Creative Live seminar), to the joy of being able to decide to convert to monochrome on the spot and not having to worry about swapping film to do that. Or thinking to carry black and white film on the trip in case you want itâ€¦
The thing is, none of what I’m talking about here is about magic cookies. There are none. You still need to learn the techniques. You still need to put in the time and you still need to shoot a lot of really ugly (and/or boring) shots. No tool is going to shorten that circuit to competence. But I think that by pushing the message that the way forward towards competence is through treating it like the past is more of a hinder than a help.
We need to push the message that none of these tools are going to magically make you Galen Rowell. In fact, you can work at it the rest of your life and you won’t become Galen Rowell. In fact, you shouldn’t want to. What you want to be is you. And the best you you can be. To quote Joe Gideon:
Joe Gideon: Listen. I can’t make you a great dancer. I don’t even know if I can make you a good dancer. But, if you keep trying and don’t quit, I know I can make you a better dancer. I’d like very much to do that. Stay?
Victoria: Are you going to keep yelling at me?
Joe Gideon: Probably.
We should be teaching people how to become the photographer they can be through embracing and leveraging this technology we have, not by telling them to avoid it. We have to reinforce the message that none of this technology is a replacement for vision and judgment, and it’s about mastering the technology and being in control of it, not sitting back and pushing the button in autopilot. You need to understand the modes on your camera and how to use them — not hide from them. You need to know how to twist the knob and push the sliders in Lightroom, not just bounce stuff around and hope something good happens.
That takes work and practice. There’s no shortcut, no magic cookie.
And in the spirit of sharing the pain, let me relate a few things I’ve inflicted on myself as I’ve tried to push myself from going out with a camera and hoping for good images to going out with that camera and demanding them out of myself. None of these are things I’ve seen other photographers suggest as exercises (that I recall), but I found them to be very useful is learning how things work so that I could make intelligent decisions on controlling the gear to do what I wanted. Be aware that the goal here is to learn the gear, and you are going to throw out a lot of really bad, failed images as you practice. That is both expected and a good thing.
Go out to a place you like to shoot. Put your camera in aperture-priority mode and shoot for 30 minutes, working to take as many good shots as you can. Yes, you can chimp the LCD, that’s why it’s there. If the images aren’t right, how are you going to fix them? Then fix them and keep shooting. (hint: exposure compensation is your friend. Do you know how to adjust it? Time to learn). After 30 minutes, switch to shutter-priority mode. Shoot the same area, same subjects. Again, you’re going to find that in some cases shutter priority helps, in some cases it’s going to make you crazy. How do you adjust to make the images work? (hint again: exposure compensation. plus ISO adjustments). After 30 minutes, put the camera in manual mode. Now you have to figure out how to dial in your exposure. How can aperture or shutter priority help you nail images in manual mode? What happens when you’re in manual mode and you walk into those deep shadows? Now what? After 30 minutes of manual mode, relax.
Go home and load up all of the images. Now you want to go through them and see if you can figure out which ones technically work and why; which ones technically fail and why. Given what you did on the shoot, when does it make sense to use Aperture priority? When does it make sense to go manual or shutter priority. What does each mode do to help make successful pictures, or drive you crazy and screw things up?
Do not be surprised if 95% of the images in the first round of trying this are dings. Seriously. Go out and do this multiple times. Shoot different locations, different types of imagery. When you go out to shoot, you’re not trying to make keeper images, you’re trying to learn how to understand and control your camera and decide which operating styles to use in what situation.
After you’ve done this three or four times, you should be able to show up at a place and think to yourself “aperture priority, F8, exposure compensation +2/3″ Â and dial it in without thinking. And then you’re controlling the image making rather than depending on the camera to make the right decisions.
Rinse and repeat until this becomes second nature. Depending on the material and location you prefer to shoot, you will likely find yourself shooting primarily in Aperture or Shutter priority — but knowing when to switch to the other and when to use them to dial in an exposure and then put those numbers into manual mode is the key to this exercise.
Pop quiz: if Aperture or Shutter priority mode is so good at handling managing exposures for you, why would you ever go into manual mode? (hint: the way your camera is not always consistent because of movement, even if the light is. And consistent exposures can make your life in post processing a lot faster and more efficient once you learn how to sync your post-processing changes from one image to many — if they all start at the same baseline. Consider that an extra credit exercise borrowed from the post-processing class)
Now that you’ve made Aperture/shutter/manual part of your toolkit, time for metering modes. You can adjust how the camera meters a scene in any number of ways — spot, center-weighted, evaluative. If you’re like most people learning this stuff, there’s a good chance you’ve never changed that setting, or you almost never do. Maybe you’ve figured out using spot metering at times. Maybe not.
So once again, grab your gear. For this one, it helps to choose a shooting location with options, especially scenes with shadows, other scenes with contrast, subjects with color and texture, etc. Pick three or four metering modes, and shoot a variety of subjects and scenes in each for 30 minutes. Watch how the exposures and histograms come out. look for patterns on which metering modes work in specific situations and when those metering modes fail. It really helps to do the same set of scenes with each mode under similar lighting, so this is one time when brutal mid-day light and nasty shadows actually helps. REmember, the idea isn’t to generate usable/good images, but to learn how the camera reacts in given situations and how to take advantage of that to get good images by knowing which mode to use in specific situations — without guessing or just letting the camera decide. It Â is also useful to take a set of images in manual (having chimped in a good exposure) to compare against.
When you’re done, back to the computer. Load up the images. Study each set taken in a specific mode, and see if you can start to figure out how the camera is making those decisions. How does your camera body change exposure in center-weighted vs. evaluative? which kind of scenes do each work best? When does spot metering make life better? And when does spot metering screw you over?
After doing this post-processing study, go back out to another location and shoot again. instead of shooting 30 minutes in each mode, take a scene and choose a metering mode to shoot it in. How did that mode work? Or did it fail? If you change modes, do you get a better exposure? why?
After three or four rounds of this kind of shooting, you should be able to look at a scene and choose a metering mode appropriate for it almost without thinking; stick the camera in aperture or shutter priority, dial in an IOS, do your exposure compensation and get the shot. Or realize that what you need is manual exposure, drop into automated mode to chimp in the right numbers, and then shoot away. And know you’re getting the shot, instead of hoping you are.
One more significant tool in that camera you need to learn to control: autofocus. Like metering modes, your camera has multiple autofocus modes: it may be as simple as spot mode and across the field, or there could be as many as half a dozen modes that adapt AF. And you may only be able to AF on the center of the image, or adjust the location point for the AF to adjust to. By now, you know the drill: set a mode, shoot images. Watch how the AF reacts and when it locks on and when it fails, or locks on to the wrong thing. Are you getting AF where you need the image sharp? Are you nailing focus on the eyes? Or like it happens too often, the nose? Which eye?
Try out each AF mode. Learn how to move the AF point around the image. When does spot AF help? when does it screw you?
Oh, is your AF still tied to half-pressing the shutter? If so, how are you going to use AF to focus on her eye and then recompose for the portrait? learn how to move AF automation to another button so you control it rather than fight it. Trust me, doing AF, shifting the lens to manual and then recomposing? It’s lame; you’re doing it wrong. (if you don’t understand what I’m suggesting, listen to Art Morris).
As you get more comfortable with controlling how AF works so it works FOR you instead of you waiting for it to work, start thinking more about depth of field, also. If you have live view, practice using it to dial in and verify focus. If your body has depth of field preview, learn how to use it without fumbling for buttons.
Then go home and load up all of these images and go through them. One by one. At 100%. and specifically identify where the sharp focus hits, and whether that’s where you intended it to be. Or need it to be. Where should it be? And if you missed, how do you get it there next time?
Then go back out and practice your autofocus again. And again. Until you control the AF system and know what ti’ll do, so it serves you, instead of the other way around.
All three of these exercises are aimed specifically at putting you in control of the camera, of leveraging it’s capabilities by knowing how to operate it so it does what you tell it to do, instead of pushing the shutter and praying it does the right thing. And they’re intended to help you master the camera instead of taking on the idea of learning how to do this by disabling all of those capabilities and treating that wonderful modern camera body as a Nikon FG “as a learning tool”.
And when you finish working through them, you’ll be able to pull out the camera, size up the scene you want to take, push a few buttons, and nail the image, because now you’re in control, not the camera’s autopilot.
And along the way, you’ll take a few thousand really bad images that you throw away (if you don’t, you’re not working these exercises seriously enough), but in those bad images you’ll find understanding of how to be in control of the situation so that you can succeed at taking them rather than fail.
And that will, when you’re through this, put you a lot further down the path from “push and pray” to making consistently good images — at least from a technical standpoint. None of this technical geekery mastery turns you into a great photographer, though — but the more you control your tools instead of defering to them, the more you’ll be able to consistently create the image you see when you push the shutter. And the more you comfortable you get at controlling your camera and making all of these decisions and mode shifts habit, the less time you spend thinking through how to make the camera bow to your will, and the more time you can spend thinking about the subject you’re trying to capture. And THAT will make you a better photographer.
Although I can’t promise it’ll make you a good one. Neither can Joe Gideonâ€¦ That’s still up to you putting in the time and repetition, just like any dancer has to to unlock the potential within. But if you don’t master the tools, you’re making that process that much harder for yourself.
I got into a twitter discussion yesterday with some people about turning off Feedburner on their blogs, since the rumors are Feedburner is going away (and even if it’s not, it’s been unreliable and is clearly not a priority for Google). I made a decision to turn off Feedburner over a year ago because I felt Google was going to do away with it at some point, and since then, I’ve seen nothing to indicate Google has plans to enhance the tool. It seems to be leaving it to slowly die of neglect. Because of that, I’m glad I stopped using the service, and I suggest everyone consider removing their RSS feeds from it while they can plan the migration rather than waking up one morning to unpleasant surprises and a crisis migration.
As part of that talk, I did some quick research on what needed to be done and I thought it might be helpful to others to put those notes online here. These notes are assuming your site is running with WordPress, but they should be generally useful for most sites on other platforms like Drupal.
There are three aspects of Feedburner that might impact someone trying to migrate themselves off of the service:
- RSS Feed
- Email subscriptions
Most users use Feedburner to redistribute their RSS feeds off their site. In return, they get some stats on usage, and Google spends some of it’s network feeding the RSS instead of it coming off of your site. Migrating from Â feedburner on your WordPress site involves changing your RSS links to point to your local feed instead of Feedburner, and then disabling Feedburner and having it point existing RSS subscribers back to your site.Â
The RSS feeds in your wordpress can be set up either by the use of a plug-in. The first step in migrating your RSS back to your local feed is to disable whichever plug-in you are using. (note: if you read this instruction and go “huh?” then you probably need to find a friendly geek to help you through this).
It’s possible that your Feedburner feeds were hard-coded onto your page, so you need to examine all of the links to see whether disabling the plug-in converted them back to your local RSS (the local RSS feed is typically a URL like <site>/feed). If you still see links pointing to Feedburner, you’ll need to dig into your theme files and find and change the hardcoded links.Â
Once you’ve taken these steps, all of your RSS links should point to your site instead of feedburner, and all new subscribers will subscribe to your local feed. Your existing subscribers are still subscribed to you via Feedburner.
To change that, you need to log onto Feedburner. There is an option to disable the feed. Feedburner will try to talk you out of it (of course), but if you insist, it will disable it, and for the next 30 days when someone goes to the old Feedburner link they’ll get a redirect pointing them back to your RSS feed. Most Â RSS readers are set up so that when it sees that redirect it’ll automatically update the subscription to use the new link directly.Â
So, once you’ve updated your site to stop pointing to Feedburner, and disabled the feed on the Feedburner site, you’re done. For the next month, when your existing subscribers pick up the feed, they’ll be automatically redirected to your local feed. It’s always a good idea to blog about the change for those users who’s RSS readers don’t follow the redirect properly, but it should be automatic for the most part.Â
Feedburner has an option to let users subscribe to your site via Email. If you use that, migrating the email off of Feedburner is going to complicate this, and you should do that before trying to migrate the RSS.Â
The bad news: you’re going to have to choose a new service to handle your email, it’ s not something you can (or should) handle on your WordPress site directly. trust me on this, I used to do email for a living. The good news: there are a number of sites that do this kind of email (but depending on the size of your subscriber list, it might cost you). Here are links to pages that explain this migration for a few services:
Â I’ve worked with aWeber and MailChimp in the past for various projects and both of them I’ve found are reliable and work well with good support. I haven’t worked with Feedblitz. you’ll need to evaluate these options and decide which one makes sense for you and what the costs are. All of these sites should be able to handle a migration from Feedburner.Â
This migration may take some time, especially getting your site updated. I’d suggest setting up and testing the new email setup and then updating your subscription pages, and then doing the Feedburner migration in three separate steps to minimize the possibility of chaos. One nice thing about migrating to a commercial emailer is that if you decide to do a site newsletter as well as a blog posting remaining setup you can integrate the two and do some marketing to get people on the e-newsletter.Â
The big loss in moving away from Feedburner is the loss of some easy statistics on how many subscribers you have. There aren’t any great options for replacing this, but there are a few things that might help. If you use Google Analytics (you do, right?), then check out this solution form ZoomMetrix. It looks like a nice solution, but the negative is that it’ll only work for new subscribers. There’s no easy way to add this tracking to existing subscribers.Â
The other way to get subscriber stats is to parse out your web site log files. There’s a project underway to build a script to create good stats out of an Apache log file; this is something I’m looking to implement for my site. Or you can do what I do, and mostly just not worry about it much. Seriously.Â
Hopefully, these links will help people looking to migrate off of Feedburner. If you have other suggestions, improvements, or corrections, please drop me an email or leave a comment.Â