Rethinking rituals for a new workforce

Cross-posted from the Tink Tank.

Yesterday, I came across this article on the economic and political impact of job automation on FiveThirtyEight. Their analysis was done by looking at the percentage of non-“routine” jobs, under the theory that those jobs are most at-risk for automation. It mentioned that these jobs accounted for all job growth in the United States since 2000, with the Bay Area, where I live, occupying two out of the top three metropolitan areas in smallest share of routine jobs, largest job growth, and largest average wage growth.

Let’s focus on the the discussion of “non-routine jobs.” Given that job growth is pretty much only in this sector, it is just another term for what is a clear change in the workforce of America. Consider that in 2002, sociologist Richard Florida referred to “no collar workers in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class—a distinction he drew up between the dress code of creatives from the blue collar and white collar workers of the previous generations. In 2006, business writer Daniel H Pink said that these new jobs were either “high-concept” or “high-touch” requiring right-brained thinking.

Notice the similarity in non-routine work of a no-collar worker that is either high-concept or high-touch doing work that is not-automateable because it requires right-brained, creative thinking. Ignoring the social and political implications, the reality is that this is a different workforce than the generations that preceded it.

And yet, the rituals that surround that work are firmly grounded in the past.

Our grandparents had their blue-collar wages negotiated under collective bargaining. Our parents had their white-collar salaries determined by performance reviews that were later modernized into 360 degree feedback. What do we have in our no-collar jobs?

As an engineering director with thirty direct reports in my final year at a top 10 internet company, I had to do 360-degree annual review. It was the most tedious part of being a manager and one of the most dreaded thing among my people. Doing a good job with it felt like a constant fight against the natural order of what motivated and inspired my engineers.

And yet, the cutting-edge job performance idea is taking that same process and increasing its frequency and adding big data-esque quantitative metrics. They believe that if you take incentives designed for a non-creative work, automate its application to evaluate non-automateable jobs, have them suffer this dread on a routine basis instead of once a year, and apply arbitrary qualitatively evaluations of right-brained, non-routine, high-concept/high-touch work that this will magically inspire these non-collar wearing creatives to perform better, and not the opposite.

That’s some serious wrong-thinking.

The Seagull 1963

If I keep processing only old photos, I’ll never get ahead, so I thought I’d process some photos I took recently with four different cameras . They’re all of the same subject so you can see how camera/lens choice affect composition and processing. But since this article is not about photography, I’ll put that discussion the the photo captions.

Instead I’ll talk about a watch I “splurged” on: the Seagull 1963 Re-issue. Here it is after I just opened the box (taken with a Nikon D810):

Seagull 1963 just opened
The Richmond, San Francisco, California

Nikon D810, Nikkor 24-80mm f/2.8G
0.4sec @ ƒ14, iso 100, 62mm

Since I already set up my tripod and lightbox for a different shoot, I used the same setup to photograph the unboxing of my newly purchased watched. This image is nothing to write home about as I only take unboxing photos to document how to return something to its original packaging.The nice thing about a tripod photo is that long exposure times don’t matter (as long as the watch isn’t running). The only adjustment I had to do was in exposure and contrast.

I guess they ran out of commemorative tins.

Continue reading mabout this watch (and more photos) after the jump

Ce Soir

Photo from October 9, 2005

Sorry for the delay in posting photos. I got sidetracked trying to understand how Lightroom organizes the world.

Ce Soir (California Aster)
Point Lobos, Monterey, California

Nikon D70, Lensbaby 2.0, Tokina macro adapter
1/1000 sec, iso 200, 50mm (75mm)

Continue reading about how to organize in Lightroom and how this photo was taken and processed after the jump

On being a beginner (again)

Compiled from three separate discussions on IRC, twitter, and in person:

“Whatcha do with your time these days? Learning Rails? 😈”

I did pick up Objective-C again after an aborted attempt at learning Swift. Mostly I’m trying to catch up on the javascript frameworks that have come out since I stopped coding. Right now it’s AngularJS—I figure I can jury-rig React into it if performance becomes an issue.

On the non-programming side, I’ve been messing with Ansible because I just got tired of doing things by hand—and I never needed to learn this because I’ve always had operations engineers working with me.

The ripping on Rails thing is over with me because there’s no point in arguing over how to solve a solved problem—today, the web problem is the easy part. What I find strange is people still feel the need to defend Ruby on Rails. I mean who the fuck cares what your middle layer code is written in when everything is an API to something written in Javascript?

“I don’t like that everything is an API to something in Javascript. As a user, the Web feels slower and flakier than it used to.”

I don’t like that everything on the front-end is pushed toward a single-page application. The reason for this is that the DOM-based model of front-end javascript (e.g. jQuery) gets so taxing when the application gets big because you’re bolting feature-on-feature, library-on-library to get it to work as smoothly as you envision. At a certain point, a true MV(VM) javascript framework (e.g. AngularJS) gives you much more because it abstracts all that in a consistent manner.

As soon as you buy into one of these, you’re invested into a huge initial javascript payload which causes you to not want the user to leave the page to unload anything, which then forces you into an API-based model with HTML partials and a client-side route/sitemap and more crap in the payload until you have a single-page application.

And then pretty soon your website is like Flickr where I swear every tenth click I’ve got to reload the page because the UI became non-responsive and I’m deciding to open the app in my iPhone just to do something without that frustration. How fucked up is that?

But then I look at Bootstrap and I figure, I’d rather have a SPA than everything looking like it was designed by some Apple-loving hipster (and this coming from a person who has used and loved Apple products longer than they’ve been alive).

“I’ve always enjoyed your talks and lamented that you didn’t remain on the PHP speaking circuit.”

Maybe I’ll start speaking when I have something to say. Like I’ve said before, PHP solves the “web problem” very well, but the web-problem is not a hard problem anymore.

Remember, it’s been four years since I’ve done any UI programming so everything is new to me. Basically, I’m a newbie, and I don’t think anyone wants to hear from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

But I did notice this from managing engineers: the worst problem a coder can get into is fear of having to start over. You get good at what you’re good at and when things pass you by, you feel the need to protect what you have because its what you know.

That’s how I feel about Ruby on Rails and that’s how I feel about me and PHP.

So, I’m a beginner again.

A.J.

Photo from February 28, 2015

I had just written an article mentioning my old high school, when a classmate of mine messaged me on Twitter when he realized why he friended me. It turned out he was in Mountain View on business, so I drove down to visit him. The last time I saw him was 25 years ago!

We picked him up at his hotel and I suggested Clarke’s because it’s one of the best burger joints around. While waiting for food, I snapped this photo.

A.J.
Clarkes Charcoal Broiler
Mountain View, California

Leica M8, Cosina-Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm F1.2
1/350sec, iso 160, 35mm (47mm)

I keep forgetting the razor-thin depth-of-field, so though one eye was in focus, the other one wasn’t. As I mentioned, I prefer monochrome images when I shoot with my Leica, so I used nik Silver Efex Pro. Control points helped me separate his hair from the background and add some sharpening in the blurry eye.

Continue reading another story after the jump

Top Gun

Photo from May 18, 2008

My friend Andrei called me and said that today was Bay to Breakers. A friend of ours, Kara, invited us to Orange Photography which back then was on the race route and would set up a free photo booth. But by the time we got there the race was long gone.

Kara introduced me to Gene Hwang, one of the co-founders, and after helping them clean up, we drove to the panhandle to see if we could catch the tail end of Bay to Breakers.

One of the great things about this event is that every stranger enjoyed their photo taken. Thus, armed with my Leica and Nikon, I started snapping away. At one point, this pilot in a sick costume started to salute me until I snapped her photo.

My only criticism is that it looks like she’s piloting an F4, but the mirrorshade aviators really are a great touch.

At that point her commander, Lt. Thurston, noticed me too and they allowed me to take a portrait of them.

Top Gun
Bay to Breakers
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

Nikon D3, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G
1/1250sec @ ƒ2.8, iso 200, 24mm

Now I didn’t realize the Navy flew any F-117s and I’m not sure why a lieutenant is sporting captain’s bars, but from the naked people I saw, I’m sure everything is okay on Bay to Breakers day.

Continue reading about how this photo was processed after the jump

Xmas at SFO

Photo from December 20, 2014

Sometimes there not much to a photo, because it’s just a snapshot:

Xmas at SFO
San Francisco International Airport, San Mateo County, California

iPhone 6
1/17 sec @ f/2.2, iso 250, 4.15mm (35mm)
/caption]

When dropping my friend off at SFO, I noticed the Christmas lighting and Golden Gate Bridge decorations at the airport and snapped this.

It’s impressive how good the cameras in mobile phones are nowadays. The only issue is JPEG processing means that Lightroom noise reduction + sharpening posterizes the image somewhat (look at the embankment to the right).

I wonder what SFO looks like now that the Super Bowl is in town.

Starry Night at Yosemite

Photo from June 24, 2005

We arrived at Camp 6 late in the evening and without a reservation, but Mark found someone kind enough to allow us to pitch tents at the edge of their campground. I stayed up late, set up my tripod, and took 30 second bulb exposures of the night sky in Yosemite. I had never seen a night sky so bright, even when I drove 40 min from Champaign to see Comet Hyakutake.

I had no trouble picking out the Milky Way and you can even see part of it in this photo.

Starry Night at Yosemite
Camp 4, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California

Nikon D70, 50mm f/1.8D
30 sec at f/1.8, iso 800, 50mm (75mm)

To get a wide field of view and maximize light coming into the camera, I used my 50mm f/1.8D wide open and the sensor gained to iso 800. IIRC 30 seconds is the longest exposure in the Nikon D70, which, because it is a CCD and heats up isn’t the best astrophotography camera around. An earlier photo of the star field told me that I needed to have something in the foreground for the photo to seem other than noise.

Even just 30 seconds, you can see the earth rotates so fast that the star streak is clearly noticeable.

If you look at this version of the same image, you can see that processing and noise-reduction has improved a lot in the last 10 years. However I did like that the colors of the bark and leaves of the evergreen were visible in the gained up version I made back then, so I masked that part back in, even though I’ve long since lost the photoshop file I had of it.

It’d be nice to take photos with a wider angle lens and a more modern sensor that can be gained even higher. I’d probably also use a flashlight to light the tree a bit in the future as it turns out you can’t do an HDR of the night sky if you have foreground interest.

Doorway to the secret beach

Photo from January 28, 2003

There were so many great photos taken this weekend even though it was a 2.5 megapixel camera purchased in the previous century! Little did I know these would be among the last exposures ever taken with this camera.

I’ll definitely have to stitch and post some more photos fro this trip.

Sighting the doorway to the secret beach
Sculptured Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Olympus C-2500L
(8 exposures, 1/1000-1/10000 sec @ f/2.8), iso 100, 9.2mm (36mm)

It was the morning of the second day of a hike along the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. From our campsite we took a short hike down to the Sculptured Beach and walked along to the south end where we sighted the arch doorway to the Secret Beach.

It was not yet negative low tide so we were going to have to prep a bit to get down to the beach before sprinting through the doorway. That was a lot of fun. Getting almost stranded (again!)… not so much.

On the next day, a wave would smash me against the rocks and destroy the camera that took this photo.

Because I knew it’s nearly impossible then to stitch a panorama with moving waves, this was actually intended to be two separate panoramic stitches. Unfortunately, my overlap wasn’t as good as when I started using dSLRs and there’s no optical distortion formula for such an old camera so PTGui couldn’t fix the horizon correctly. It’s especially bad around my friend Sean (I kept the exposure of him looking at the arch doorway).

I tried fixing the mask as much as I could in Photoshop and then added a crop, color saturation, sharpness, and noise reduction in Lightroom CC, in addition to some last minute cloning out of some ghosts. The noise reduction is pretty strong and smooths out some of the rock detail that’s actually there in the photo because Olympus CCD cameras of the era were notoriously bad with blue channel noise.

Here’s a crazy thought. The stitch ends up being 8.7 megapixel. Today I could get the whole scene in a single wide angle photo on my camera and still have better resolution. I should revisit these beaches, even though some are now inaccessible.

My South Bay Uniform

Photo from August 27, 2007

In the fall of 2007, my friend Megan McCarthy wrote an amusing article on valleywag on the wardrobe of Silcon Valley: a blue oxford button down dress shirt and khaki pants. It’s basically a safe bet at tech meet ups that you’ll see more white guys in blue button downs than anything else.

Later that month, I hadn’t ironed my clothing in a while so all that was usable in my closet were those aforementioned blue button downs. So this particular day, as I was wearing “the uniform,” I took a self-portrait to show I’m as original as all the west. Granted, it’s a little bit different, but that’s because San Francisco is a bit colder than valley 40 miles to the south.

My South Bay Uniform
North Beach, San Francisco, California

Panasonic DMC-LX1
1/4 sec at f/4.9, iso 200, 23.2mm (103mm)

I actually took and processed this image a long time ago for a blog post I never did.
Continue reading about how this photo was taken and processed after the jump