That Professional Photography You Love is Probably Fake

Learning how to professionally develop digital photography is hard. It’s taken me years to learn how to set the colors, tone curve, and detail just right. It’s even harder when developing astrophotography, and I’m still learning. In weeding out the good techniques from the “faking it” ones, my eyes have also learned to spot a lot of the fakes. You may be disappointed to learn that quite a lot of today’s professional, award-winning photographers and ambassadors have come to depend on techniques that fake their photos, in order to earn those awards – and successfully doing it. Many, brazenly enough so as to teach others the same through expensive workshops and paid tutorials. A good photo will usually have a little bit of embellishment worked in, just like a good story does, but today’s landscape photography has gotten almost as fraudulent as food photography, and companies like Epson, Zeiss, and Canon are rewarding professionals for creating sometimes blatant fakes of otherwise mediocre shots. A lot of professionals are faking it just as badly as amateurs with photoshop, they’re just better at it.

It’s difficult to explain the extent of this endemic problem without outing the professional photographers who depend on them for their livelihood, and my goal here isn’t to make enemies or to publicly shame anyone. Without providing samples to prove my point, I’ll simply give a few examples of typical fakes, and explain some of the techniques they’re using.

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Tourism is Changing the Face of Iceland

There’s a long held belief in the concept of “leave no trace” when visiting a place, but there’s one very noticeable artifact western tourists have been leaving on Iceland that you unfortunately can’t simply pick up and throw away. With tourism growing 500% in Iceland over the past decade, western tourists have placed higher demands on the country than it’s been capable of adsorbing without affecting the country’s foundations. While the economy in Reykjavik has no doubt experienced a boost, this has come at the expense of cultural and geographical changes that are not necessarily welcome by many Icelanders.

In 2010, the number of international visitors to Iceland was 488,600. As of 2017, that number swelled to 2,224,600. As a result, Iceland built out infrastructure. Significant infrastructure including large excavation efforts to build attractions, tour bus companies, and expansion of roads and bridges. During this period, local economies also adapted by building out their own tourist infrastructure within previously rural, untouched cities. The end result has been a very large tourist industry that has both changed the culture and the face of Iceland to conform more closely to western tourist ideals. Much of this change has been driven from the western sense of tourist entitlement which has changed local economies in many ways that are foreign to Icelanders. Money is a powerful thing, and because the economy has become so dependent on tourism, rather than the fishing and farming industry that Iceland used to depend on, it’s become easy to manipulate a country into change that many otherwise wouldn’t want.

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Living with Depression in Tech

I’ve been trying to avoid writing about depression for a while now. Almost nobody in tech wants to talk about things like this. A stigma still very much exists around mental illness, and in tech with all its flaming, trolling, and fragile manhood egos, people have learned to be thick-skinned. It’s taken me years to realize that I never stopped struggling with depression throughout my dysfunctional childhood, and I’ve carried it through my teens and adult life with me. I was diagnosed and medicated as a teen, but didn’t fully understand that it still haunted me, playing the same old record grooves in my brain in adulthood. As my thyroid disease began accelerating, I needed to work even harder to maintain balance or the world would come crashing in. Struggling through my career and relationships, things became easier after I understood what was going on inside of me. I feel a certain responsibility to bring to light what is likely a widespread issue in the tech community.

Depression can manifest itself in various forms for different people, and my story isn’t “everyone’s” story. I can only write from my own personal experiences. Most of this has had lifelong personal struggles unrelated to work, and while one can probably deduce this, the focus of this post is handling professional challenges. You might identify with some of these issues, and that’s great if this post helps, but it also shouldn’t be used for self-diagnosis. Depression has been far worse than the details I’m willing to share publicly, and if you think you may be depressed, you should seek professional counseling.

I have no background in psychology; I’m just sharing what works for me. I have no background in medicine either, and having been on and off medication, I can’t recommend one way or the other. I do know that all medication has its limits, so learning how to cope is an important part to having a complete life plan. At the end of the day, I can’t solve your depression (or mine), but I can share how I’ve coped with it, and won some victories. This is a survival story that hopefully might have some meaningful advice for others.

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Just Following Orders

“In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” (Joseph de Maistre)

The President recently reversed his own decision to separate children from their parents after crossing into the United States, an action that the United Nations office of human rights condemned as a violation of basic human rights of children. They weren’t alone. The Pope spoke out citing such a disgraceful policy as contrary to Catholic values, and immoral. The Methodist Church called it child abuse and racism. Other religious leaders echoed this sentiment. Business leaders spoke out publicly condemning it. All five living first ladies spoke out against it. It was clear to the world that the United States, under the direction of the Trump administration, was committing violations of human rights of children. Yes, it was disgusting and disgraceful, and the world was ashamed of us. Yes, I blame the Trump administration as the root cause of it. I also blame the people that carried it out, who all too often get away with no accountability for “just following orders”.

Such a mandate to violate human rights should have never gotten past the terrible leadership call; the orders should have been outright refused by the people who were tasked with handing them down, and ultimately by the ICE agents carrying them out. But they weren’t refused. They were carried out. From many reports, some agents enjoyed what they did. There are many horrors beyond family separation being reported, and what’s most disturbing is that these were done by Americans. Not faceless machines, but by members of our society. Yet refusing inhumane orders is what separates us from a history of atrocities. Why didn’t these orders get refused on a large scale? We should consider this very seriously. There are only two possibilities: either the agents who carried these orders out didn’t realize they were abusing the children as they were removing them from their parents’ care and putting them in cages, or they were willing to commit acts they knew to be immoral and inhumane. If even a small portion of lawsuits about living conditions are to be believed, there is no question that agents knew what they were doing. In either case, we are dealing with a very dark part of humanity that would do such a thing, even under orders.

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On Christianity

I’ve often been asked why an intellectual type guy such as myself would believe in God – a figure most Americans equate to a good bedtime story, or a religious symbol for people who need that sort of thing. Quite the contrary, what I’ve discovered in my years of being a Christian is that it is highly intellectually stimulating to strive to understand God, and that my faith has been a thought-provoking and captivating journey.  I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, nor did I have any real preconceived notions about concepts such as church or the Bible. Like most, I didn’t really understand Christianity with anything other than an outside perception for the first part of my life – all I had surmised was that he was a religious symbol for religious people.

Today’s perception of Christianity is that of a hate-filled, bigoted group of racists, a title that many so-called Christians have rightfully earned for themselves. This doesn’t represent Christianity any more than the other stereotypes do, and even atheists know enough about the Bible to know that such a position is hypocritical. Since 1993, I’ve been walking in the conviction that God is more than just a story, that he’s nothing like the stereotypes, and that it takes looking outside of typical American culture to really get an idea of what God is about. In this country, I’ve seen all of the different notions of what a church should be; I think most people already know in their heart who God is, and that’s why they’re so averse to the church.

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On the State of Open Source

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-11-40-10-amI was just a teenager when I got involved in the open source community. I remember talking with an old bearded guy once about how this new organization, GNU, is going to change everything. Over the years, I mucked around with a number of different OSS tools and operating systems, got excited when symmetric multiprocessing came to BSD, screwed around with Linux boot and root disks, and had become both engaged and enthralled with the new community that had developed around Unix over the years. That same spirit was simultaneously shared outside of the Unix world, too. Apple user groups met frequently to share new programs we were working on with our ][c’s, and later our ][gs’s and Macs, exchange new shareware (which we actually paid for, because the authors deserved it), and to buy stacks of floppies of the latest fonts or system disks. We often demoed our new inventions, shared and exchanged the source code to our BBS systems, games, or anything else we were working on, and made the agendas of our user groups community efforts to teach and understand the awful protocols, APIs, and compilers we had at the time. This was my first experience with open source. Maybe it was not yours, although I hope yours was just as positive.

It wasn’t open source that people were excited about, and we didn’t really even call it open source at first. It was computer science in general. Computer science was a brand new world of discovery for many of us, and open source was merely the bi-product of natural curiosity and the desire to share knowledge and collaborate. You could call it hacking, but at the time we didn’t know what the hell we were doing, or what to call it. The environment, at the time, was positive, open, and supportive; words that, unfortunately, you probably wouldn’t associate with open source today. You could split hairs and call this the “computing” or “hacking” community, but at the time all of these things were intertwined, and you couldn’t tease them apart without destroying them all: perhaps that’s what went wrong, eventually we did.

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Free Software Always Costs Something

Back in the late 1960s, University of California, Berkeley, published its first public BSD licenses promoting free software that could be reused by anyone. A few years later, in the 70s, BSD Unix was released by CSRG, a research group inside of Berkeley, and laid the foundation for many operating systems (including Mac OS X) as we know it today. It gradually evolved over time to support socket models, TCP/IP, Unix’s file model, and a lot more. You’ll find traces of all of these principals – and very often, core code itself, still used 50 years later in cutting edge operating systems. The idea of “free software” (whether “free as in beer” or “free as in freedom”) is credited as a driving force behind today’s technology, multi-billion dollar fortune companies, and even the iPhone or Android device sitting in your pocket. Here’s the rub: None of it was ever really free.

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Why You Should Uninstall Firefox and do Some Soul Searching

Today, I uninstalled Firefox from my computer. There was no fanfare, or large protest, or media coverage of the event. In fact, I’m sure many have recently sworn off Firefox lately, but unlike the rest of those who did, my reasons had nothing to do with whether I support or don’t support gay marriage, proposition 8, or whatever. Nor did they have anything to do with my opinion on whether Brendan Eich was fit to be CEO, or whether I thought he was anti-gay. In fact, I would have uninstalled Firefox today regardless of what my position is on the gay marriage issue, or any other political issue for that matter. Instead, I uninstalled Firefox today for one simple reason: in the tendering of Eich’s resignation, Mozilla crossed over from a company that had previously taken a neutral, non-participatory approach to politics, to an organization that has demonstrated that it will now make vital business decisions based on the whim of popular opinion. By changing Mozilla’s direction to pander to the political and social pressure ignited by a small subset of activists, Mozilla has now joined the ranks of many large organizations in adopting what once was, and should be considered taboo: lack of corporate neutrality. It doesn’t matter what those positions are, or what the popular opinion is, Mozilla has violated its ethical responsibility to, as an organization, remain neutral to such topics. Unfortunately, this country is now owned by businesses that violate this same ethical responsibility.

Corporations have rapidly stepped up lobbying and funneling money into their favorite political vices over the past decade. This radicalization of corporate America climaxed in 2010, when what was left of the Tillman Act (a law passed in 1907 to restrict corporate campaign contributions), was essentially destroyed, virtually unrestricting the corporate world from holding politicians in their back pocket through financial contributions. Shortly before, and since then, America has seen a massive spike in the amount of public, overt political lobbying – not by people, not by voters, but by faceless organizations (without voting rights). What used to be a filthy act often associated with companies like tobacco manufacturers has now become a standard mechanism for manipulating politics. Starbucks has recently, and very rudely, informed its customers that they don’t want their business if they don’t support gay marriage, or if they are gun owners – in other words, if you don’t agree with the values of the CEO, you aren’t welcome in their public business. This very day, 36 large corporations, including some that have no offices in Oregon, are rallying in support of gay marriage in Oregon. The CEO of Whole Foods has come out publicly in protest of the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of your views on any of these, there’s a bigger problem here:  it has now become accepted that corporate America can tell you what to believe.

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The Fan Club Effect

I’ve known for a long time that fan clubs affect my selection of a particular product or technology, and have been trying to articulate just how they affect the thought process involved in selection. My recent experience in the world of photography has helped me work through that enough to write about.

I generally remain neutral about the technologies I get involved with, as I believe each technology has it’s own place and purpose. I learned this holds true in computer languages, operating systems, and nearly everything else in life. It is interesting, though, to watch the fan clubs of all camps and the impact they have on neutrality and public opinion. In many cases, it actually works against many manufacturers to have such zealous fans. This too holds true of all things, ranging from computer languages to cameras.

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On Expectation of Privacy

Many governments (including our own, here in the US) would have its citizens believe that privacy is a switch (that is, you either reasonably expect it, or you don’t). This has been demonstrated in many legal tests, and abused in many circumstances ranging from spying on electronic mail, to drones in our airspace monitoring the movements of private citizens. But privacy doesn’t work like a switch – at least it shouldn’t for a country that recognizes that privacy is an inherent right. In fact, privacy, like other components to security, works in layers. While the legal system might have us believe that privacy is switched off the moment we step outside, the intent of our Constitution’s Fourth Amendment (and our basic right, with or without it hard-coded into the Constitution) suggest otherwise; in fact, the Fourth Amendment was designed in part to protect the citizen in public. If our society can be convinced that privacy is a switch, however, then a government can make the case for flipping off that switch in any circumstance they want. Because no-one can ever practice perfect security, it’s easier for a government to simply draw a line at our front door. The right to privacy in public is one that is being very quickly stripped from our society by politicians and lawyers. Our current legal process for dealing with privacy misses one core component which adds dimension to privacy, and that is scope. Scope of privacy is present in many forms of logic that we naturally express as humans. Everything from computer programs to our natural technique for conveying third grade secrets (by cupping our hands over our mouth) demonstrates that we have a natural expectation of scope in privacy.

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Do What Defines You

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

A friend of mine was going on about really knowing people; “people… are not defined by what they do”, he said. The point he was making was not to judge people by the cover of what they do in life. But the deeper point, that he may not have even realized, was the tragedy in the truth of that statement. How tragic it is that we aren’t defined by what we do. It seems to me that, given the finite amount of time we have to live and become, that we spend more of our lives thinking about what we want to do than actually doing it.

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On Mental Health: How Medical Privacy Laws Destroyed Dad

I don’t normally write about such personal topics as family illnesses, but it is my hope that those who have gone through a similarly dark cooridor in their life – whether as a result of government control, or just plain ignorant doctors – would know that they are not alone in such frustrations, and to explain to the general oblivious public and incompetent lawmakers the consequences of their actions.

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Full Disclosure and Why Vendors Hate it

I recently did a talk at O’Reilly’s Ignite Boston party about the exciting iPhone forensics community emerging in law enforcement circles. With all of the excitement came shame, however; not for me, but for everyone in the audience who had bought an iPhone and put something otherwise embarrassing or private on it. Very few people, it seemed, were fully aware of just how much personal data the iPhone retains, in spite of the fact that Apple has known about it for quite some time. In spite of the impressive quantities of beer that get drunk at Tommy Doyle’s, I was surprised to find that many people were sober enough to turn their epiphany about privacy into a discussion about full disclosure. This has been a hot topic in the iPhone development community lately, and I have spent much time pleading with the different camps to return to embracing the practice of full disclosure.

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The Ethics of Hacking

It looks like I missed the 1960s, but I’ve read that there were plenty of free drugs and free sex to go around. One thing that apparently wasn’t free, though, was telephone equipment. And behind all of the groovy things to do back then, the one thing nerds seemed to be more into than panty raids was having fun with the telephone networks. The digital telephone network was brand new, and so consumer ignorance was at an all-time high. This made for easy profiting – AT&T had made a killing by charging their customers not only for telephone service, but to pay usage and equipment rental fees for telephones, answering machines, and anything else you wanted to plug into your phone jack.

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The Fallacy of the Prosperity Sermon

Countless sermons have been preached instructing people to give, and God will let you have the car you want, the house you want, and the life you want. Amusingly, my web logs indicate that this essay is found frequently by pastors Googling for prosperity sermons to preach on Sunday. It seems strange, though, that a people who profess to follow Christ are so anxious to convince the church that God wants them to be rich, when the Bible teaches no such thing – God has promised us no such prosperity, but only trials, tribulation, and possibly martyrdom. James teaches us that there’s something profoundly wrong with a miser, treating the notion of being rich as a sign of poor character in their lack of generosity. So are pastors just in error, wanting to see their congregation blessed in this consumer driven American culture, or are they preaching up promises of breakthroughs and finances because they know they’ll reap some of the benefits? In either case, Christians shouldn’t be so naive, given the role model we have in Jesus’ life.

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Hijacking God

Since the beginning of the early church, men have fought hard against the simplistic and servant-oriented church blueprint installed by the apostles. From the earliest days of the church, she has been plagued by power plays and factions, all attempting to use the church as a means of political, social, or economic power. Over a short period of about a century, Biblical church government had been abused, challenged, and eventually deposed.

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Restoring the Beauty of the Didache

I’ve spent many late evenings over the past month translating and researching an intriguing early Christian manuscript called the Didache. Greek for teaching, this first century Greek manuscript reveals the life and heart of the early Church. It has been the center of much academic interest and controversy since its rediscovery in 1883. Prior to this, it was once thought lost to history, although many early church fathers including Athanasius, Rufinus, and John of Damascas cited the book as inspired scripture. It was also accepted into the Apostolic Constitutions Canon 85 and the 81-book Ethiopic Canon. Many early church fathers including Barnabas, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen either quote or reference the Didache.

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Embracing Senility

A friend of mine proceeded half way home with lunch in hand after being delayed four minutes by an old, senile man who insisted upon checking his sandwich order. Shortly thereafter, she realized that her own turkey sandwich lacked an all-important ingredient – namely the turkey. They say that it’s counterproductive to turn back once you pass the halfway-home marker, and so she did what any other ordinary American would do – Continue reading “Embracing Senility”