From new perspectives
Sometimes I just look up and see an image that I want to make with my camera. The other morning the sun was coming through the window and shining on a mechanical desk. The desk has a hand crank that moves it up and down. I thought the shape of the crank handle was cool so I started taking some exploratory photographs at different angles.
At one angle I noticed the shadow the handle made and decided to follow that theme. I put a sketch pad down on the floor and tipped the desk over into the light. My final image is no masterpiece. But it is an interesting study in shape, light and the absence of light.
Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of speaking to a leadership class with three of my colleagues from the GIS world. We were tag team speaking since our two separate GIS systems share data and we work together from time to time on projects.
I’m not the world’s greatest speaker. It’s not that I don’t have great things to say. But when it comes to delivery, I often feel less than adequate. There’s a psychological boost that you get from speaking with a team of people though. When you’re up there by yourself you have to have all the answers but when you have someone with you, you have a fallback.
After my speaking segment I was able to sit and watch the others present. It’s beneficial to watch others speak on your same subject because it shows you that all the stumbling, bumbling and uncomfortable pauses are common among normal people who are called on to speak in public. The key to getting better and reducing those problems is to do it more.
I haven’t been sleeping well lately. It’s partly my fault since I’ve been staying up late watching pointless TV shows on Hulu. When I do go to bed I end up thinking too much. I usually come up with ideas that I feel I have to write down. So I get up and write them. Or worse, I use my note taking app on my phone. That kind of late night screen time, even a few seconds, just wakes me up too much. Unfortunately, this behavior can be a detriment to creativity.
I used to not even bat an eye at not getting enough winks. But it’s been affecting me more lately. When I’m tired and sluggish I have little capacity for creative thinking or doing. I’m OK working on left brain analytical projects which is a lot of what I do for my job. It’s after work when I have time to write, build or edit that I find myself flagging with little motivation to do the things I really want to do.
I started thinking about this today after coming across an article on the London School of Economics and Political Science Review website (LSE). The article asserts that creativity isn’t a fixed commodity. It waxes and wanes based on several factors including rest and stress.
Stress is another big creativity killer for me. I get really nervous when preparing to speak publicly. When I’m prepping to give a talk, that’s about all I can do. Forget writing poetry or sketching something the night before an event.
After a stressful event, my mind relaxes and it more easily shifts to creative endeavors. The same thing happens when I’m more rested from adequate sleep. The key, according to the LSE article authors, is in allowing physiological recovery, primarily through sleep.
Of course this isn’t anything new. Last year I read an excellent book called Rest: Why you get more done when you work less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Pang makes the case for not only a good night’s sleep but resting throughout the day to allow your mind the time it needs to work on problems and ideas subconsciously. There’s a lot more to his book and I highly recommend you read it. It’s one of the rare books that I actually read all the way through.
Ultimately, the point is that we’re much more creative and productive when we aren’t running ourselves too hard. Putting in more hours to the detriment of rest and reflection will only make you less effective at what you’re doing.
Now I have to heed this advice, keep Hulu off at night and get more sleep.
Sometimes, when debugging an error that has just popped up in a program, the problem lies in some external parameter that has recently changed. Most of the time, however, the thing that has changed only serves to reveal how some static code had a dormant bug already. The code can work under one set of parameters but not another. Either way, it has always been broken.
A while back I was updating a web app that was targeted to desktop users. I wanted to make it more mobile friendly. One of the ways I did this was by changing the layout on different size screens. The app had a toolbar header that I wanted to collapse into a single icon on mobile devices.
On a lot of mobile apps this single icon takes the form of a hamburger menu. Whether you love this icon or hate it, it’s somewhat ubiquitous so I decided to use it. I wanted a simple version of the icon that when clicked would open an overlay to display the tools the header does on a desktop.
I was able to craft a very simple menu icon using a very small html skeleton and a tiny bit of CSS. Basically it’s an <a> tag with three spans inside. I used an <a> tag but you could just as easily use a <div> or any number of other elements. The spans are given height and width dimensions and a solid bottom border via CSS.
That’s about it. If you want to play around with different approaches to your own icon you can edit this code on codepen.
It’s funny how you can take a hundred pictures and only get one or two that are good enough to keep. The subject may have moved, the camera may have moved, the camera settings were wrong, the light was bad, the framing was crooked, the background was too busy. There are so many factors and variables.
But it’s worth it for those few good images. The ones you look at and realize they could have only been produced by persistent effort. That’s what happened this morning when I had an impromptu photo shoot with my dog Shadow.
The sun was just coming up when I looked down our hallway and noticed a beautiful soft light on the wall. It looked perfect for some nice photography. I knew the light was changing even as I looked at it so I needed to start shooting right away before it left. What I needed was something to photograph. My dog was lying on the couch being lazy so I decided to put her to work.
I called her over to where the nice light was and had her sit. She is usually well behaved and does what she’s told and this time was no different. Even so, I think she badly wanted to run over to me when she saw me crouched on the floor in weird positions with a camera in my face.
Shadow was actually so well behaved she was a little boring. A few times she turned her head or sniffed the air and those were a little more interesting shots. Thankfully she’s cute enough that even the boring shots are fun. It only took a few minutes for the good light to go away. I moved Shadow to a new location and took a few more pictures but by then the moment was over.
Out of all the pictures I took there were only a handful that I thought were worth keeping. But I enjoyed exploring what works with the dog. If I had more time to think before shooting I would have gotten different angles, worked with the depth of field a bit and explored some more ways to manipulate the light. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow morning.
Boredom is a merciless captor;
Hard to overcome
And if allowed to sit and fester
Will take hold and suppress
Desire and motivation.
But a call from a friend,
A magazine’s photo
Or an offhand remark overheard
Can be a jailer’s key;
In an instant
Your sentence reversed
And freedom leads to the desire
A poem that has
Five then seven then five more