The Best Thing About CES was Las Vegas

We like to make fun of Las Vegas for its indulgence and over-the-top nightlife. But the fact of the matter is, Sin City seemed more real to me this year than the very reason I was there in the first place: to cover the Consumer Electronics Show.

Sounds like I had one too many watered-down gin and tonics, right? Well, let me explain.

I'll start with CES. Was the show well organized? Yes. Did it have its entertaining moments? It did. Was I treated well as Press? Absolutely.

But after attending numerous media events and exploring North, Central, and South Halls, CES reminded me of cable television - all those channels with nothing to watch. If I were in the market for a new car, or in the mood to cobble together a smart home, I might feel differently. And in the past, I have. There were years when I loved CES.

But this wasn't one of them.

I feel like we've reach a plateau where it's technology for technology's sake. Look at any of the best product lists for CES 2017. Is there anything there you need to have? And that's the good stuff. There were miles of items that paled in comparison. 

I did see some well-engineered upgrades and refinements to existing products. The Blue Ella Headphones, Panasonic GH5, Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate GT, and the Nikon D5600 DSLR all appear to be excellent improvements over the models they replace. Plus, Kodak promised to bring back Ektachrome and Technics announced the Grand Class SL-1200GR audio turntable. Very nice.

But it wasn't until I left those halls that life became truly interesting. I had great meetings with old friends. I talked to Lyft drivers about their life aspirations. And I photographed residents and visitors alike as they immersed themselves in the Las Vegas vibe. These encounters are what made the journey worth my time.

For the moment, I have enough electronics to get my work done. I'd rather spend the rest of my time with humans... even the crazy ones wandering up and down Las Vegas Boulevard on a brisk winter night.


How I Survived SSS

We like to tease Millennials about their smartphone addiction. But the fact of the matter is, most of us have mobile devices within arms' reach. And nothing makes us happier than four bars and a full battery.

I received my own personal reminder recently when my iPhone 6S began to behave erratically. It had fallen victim to the "Sudden Shutdown Syndrome" (SSS), which was plaguing a batch of early production models.

I remember the day clearly. I was happily snapping photos for Instagram when the screen went black without warning.

"What the hell! I have 42% left on my battery. This is an outrage."

The truly evil aspect of this disease is that the phone would not return to life until it was connected to a power adapter. Then it would come to life like nothing ever happened.

"Well, something did happen, my friend. You left me. I didn't even get to post that shot."

I would sulk for a bit, then make up, and finally go on knowing that all relationships have their ups and downs. That is, until it happened again a few days later.

"I think we need to talk. This behavior is becoming a pattern. And I don't think you realize how it makes me feel."

The phone was silent. 

"Oh sure, now you're holding back notifications too. What next? No Snapchat?"

It was time for outside help. I went to the Apple Support page and learned that it wasn't my phone's fault. SSS was a disease, not a behavior. I started to feel guilty about my selfish thoughts.

"We have to get you help," I said with quiet determination.

I logged on to Apple Support Chat and told my counselor what had happened.

"We can't get you an appointment at the Genius Bar right now. Our next opening isn't until next week."

"Oh..." I typed deflatedly.

"But wait. There is an Apple Service Provider downtown that can see you today. Should I book an appointment?"

"Yes, Yes Please!" I typed and hit the Return key.

(Now I was feeling like I had used too many caps in my hurried response. "Too needy," I thought, "Way too needy...")

The good news was that my phone did qualify for a new battery at no charge. (There's a pun in there somewhere.) The bad news was that SSS was a full-blown outbreak, and that the new fuel cells were backordered.

"We'll call you when the battery comes in," the tech said coldly.

I have to admit, the next two weeks were difficult. It's funny how people are sympathetic about those who are sick. ("Oh, your poor iPhone!") But what about those who have to care for them? No matter. We managed to get through it. One day at a time, right?

Then the call came. My battery had arrived. I headed downtown for outpatient surgery.

"This will only take about an hour," the tech said. "Why don't you go get a cup of coffee."

Now, my iPhone 6S is better than ever. Now we're taking pictures together, sending witty emojis, and keeping up on the news. I've never been happier.

My advice to others is simple. Don't be afraid to seek help if your battery begins to fail. I know that you think you can tough it out. But don't put yourself though it.

Nobody likes a martyr.



The Security Myth

Someone asked me the other day if I still liked being a writer.

"I never thought of it that way," I replied.

"Well, isn't is hard not having the security of a real job?"

"Hmm. You probably don't know what an oxymoron is, do you?" I asked with a smile.

We may hate this thought, but security is one of the great illusions in life. Whether it comes to our not so benevolent employer, the government, or nature, nothing is guaranteed. This fact of the matter is, it's just more in your face when you work for yourself.

I know that one of the business mantras is to work smart. You don't want to waste your time with nonproductive tasks. The thing about that is, we can't always distinguish between fruitful endeavors and dead ends. Who would have ever thought that my dinking around with film cameras would lead to a successful online store?

So my business mantra is to do what it takes to stay busy. Pack your lunchbox every morning, go to work, and try your best. Even if you're only right half the time, you'll still make a go of it.

In order to stay busy, however, we have to come up with new ideas. Everything has a life cycle, including that secure FTE job that many count on. If we're not working toward what comes next, we're being short-sighted.

(Dammit, honey, he's talking about the future again.)

When I had the best job in the world for O'Reilly Media, I also ran a freelance photo business, launched The Digital Story, and wrote articles for Macworld Magazine. This meant that I got up a little earlier than most, and some nights, I would finish-off a task after everyone else went to bed.

Those side jobs launched my encore career. And had I not built some momentum with them, I would certainly not be as happy at work today as I am (most of the time).

Now I'm looking down the sites of 2017. And I'm thinking, in addition to what I already have going, what am I going to add to the list? I have some ideas. I'm hoping that a few of them work out.

What are you looking at for 2017? How can you use your talents in a productive way beyond the existing tasks you have? If you're reading this, you're talented. Slackers don't read The Nimble Photographer.

You might be sitting there, phone in hand, wearing your weekend jeans and sipping coffee. (God, I love weekends!) Perfect. You mind is ready to be creative. Do it.

This is going to be a challenging year for all of us. Let's be ready.


The Business of Business on the Internet

In the late 1990s, the Internet saved a lot of stagnated careers, mine included.

Business America realized that they needed a web presence in order to keep up with the Joneses, and the demand for writers, photographers, graphic artists, and eventually, web developers skyrocketed. I landed a job with O'Reilly Media that turned out to be the best gig I've ever had.

What I liked about the decade that followed, what I call the Golden Age of Internet, was that writers and their counterparts were respected. We were paid a good wage, had regular benefits, and we were able to influence the direction of the companies we worked for.

At the same time, we could start our own publishing endeavors. The Internet was wide open and non-discriminating... as long as you didn't have to make money there (with the notable exceptions of porn, gambling, and sweater sales).

I launched in 2005. Apple had just added podcasts to the iTunes app, and I wanted to be a part of online broadcasting. So I bought a mic, plugged it into my Mac, and started my own show. There was no revenue model, only my desire to spread the gospel of digital photography. I didn't realize at the time that my online hobby would soon have to evolve into my career.

Around 2010 the Golden Age of Internet descended into business as usual. Most companies had their online infrastructures built, and they began to replace professional writers and other creatives with entry-level help to lower costs. 

The Internet devolved from "the place you had to be," to a just another revenue stream. As writers continued to lose their jobs, they also saw a decline in freelance gigs that had once helped to support them. Paid assignments dropped from $1 a word to pennies. Suddenly photographers and writers were offered work for "exposure" instead of a paycheck. If you didn't want to do it, someone else would.

The noise level also increased dramatically. The next phase, The Age of Social Media, replaced craft with quantity. There are still great artists out there, probably more than ever, but it's harder to find them. And they are once again struggling financially.

Companies fell in love with Facebook accounts that became the reality shows of the Internet. Articles were replaced with snapshots and cutlines. And substantial writing gigs were in short supply.

So what follows next? At some point, if not already, we'll tire of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, and look for something else. Twitter in particular, has become one of the harshest places online.  And Facebook is now part of the political agenda.

As a writer and artist, my hope is for a Renaissance of quality content. I'm already seeing a glimmer with the excellent programming on Netflix, compared to the painfully dull output from network television.

But it's hard to predict where the business of business will lead us. And my gut feeling is that the dawn of the Internet was an opportunity that we'll never see again.


The Extinction of Ice Cube Trays

When I was eight years old, we used ice cube trays instead of the automatic dispensers that come standard with refrigerators today.

As a family, we weren't very organized in our approach. Instead of emptying both trays into a container, then refilling them both at once, we would instead take singles out of each tray until one unlucky family member was left with a single cube. Then, to add insult, that person (usually my sister) would have to refill both trays.

I just spent a week at WildSPEAK, where some of the best conservation photographers in the world came together to tell their stories. Their images were projected upon a hazy backdrop of our country's direction toward its stewardship of the planet's health.

Conservation photographers are different than you or I. They tend to be scientists and naturalists first, using their imaging prowess to illustrate their findings. So every story includes a healthy dose of the research behind it.

As a group, they are not alarmists. But neither are they shy about discussing where the data are pointing. I know there were many moments throughout the week when I was more emotional than the presenters.

But that's their job. No one, especially these days, wants to listen to a whining, bleeding heart lamenting the loss of polar bears. But to show breathtaking images of them in their declining habitat, and discuss how that situation also affects us... well, that's adult talk. And I think adult talk should be respected.

When I think about what I can do for my boys, I don't want to leave a mess for them to clean up. Or even worse, a problem that cannot be fixed. Sounds simple, doesn't it? And yet, I feel like I'm failing them. 

In the final analysis, conservation policies are really about protecting people. And if we can save the big cats and elephants along the way, all the better. I don't think a lot of folks realize that scientists are really talking about their family, their friends, and their quality of life. 

And that's why I don't understand why this message isn't resonating. Personally, I do care about the African wildlife population. I love diversity of species on this planet. But I also understand why some other's don't. They just can't relate to it. Fair enough.

But what parent doesn't care about their child? That is something that Americans can agree upon, right?

I was lucky growing up. When I turned the faucet handle in the kitchen, there was always fresh water to refill the ice cube trays (the few times that I actually did it). I had no idea at the time what a blessing that mundane task was. 

But then again, I was kid. And a kid shouldn't have to think about such things.