Sep 27, 2013

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An open letter to Twitter

Hi Twitter,

I’ll keep this short, I know you’re busy. I know you want to make Twitter an awesome place for people, so do I. Sadly, that’s not what’s happened in this case. My @CancelThatCard bot was suspended for 24 hours and I was told it could be banned for tweeting to people. I know you have rules, but other bots that do the same seem to operate fine. They’re funnier than mine, but a public service has a harder time making people laugh.

I turned off my bot after that suspension and I’ve been trying to get a conversation started about it with you, but all my attempts have led me nowhere. So rather than just let @CancelThatCard go to waste I’m planning to turn it back on. One week from today.

I still want to discuss this with you, but I also want to keep helping people and be a tiny part of making Twitter better. You can ban the bot at any time, but I’m hoping you won’t. You can ignore this letter too, but I’m hoping you won’t. If you ask me to keep the bot turned off I’ll respect that wish, but I’m hoping you won’t.

What I hope is that nobody else has their credit card details at risk of being used by a stranger because they made a mistake and posted them online. My personal twitter account is @serenecloud, hope to hear from you this week :)

Regards,
Ben

Jan 2, 2013

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2012 redux

It’s the first days of 2013 and I can’t decide what kind of year I had in 2012. Were it not for this past week of holiday I’d leave 2012 feeling exhausted and run down. However, with time to dwell on the year, moments taken where I didn’t think “I need to do X” remind me of all I’ve been blessed with this year. I do feel it ending on a good note.

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I started 2012 in Shanghai, in a taxi cab trying to get to the Bund to see the new year fireworks. I saw Shanghai in a new way, saw real ice castles, terracotta warriors and Hong Kong. I attended a few weddings, including my best friend’s. I went to Parachute Festival, the best weekend event of my year. I saw Chinese fireworks on the waterfront, Jenn Lim and Tony Hsieh speak about happiness at Webstock 2012 and got sick of taking photos (but got back into it later). With the help of others I ran a PC fix up day for the community. I attended my first ANZAC day dawn service saw P.O.D play live in Wellington and started a new yoga class on Thursday lunchtimes. I spent a lot of time rewriting and tweaking the NZ Post Address & Postcode Finder. I saw friends leave for Australia and Christchurch, renewed my passport, did a SCUBA diving course and got my open water dive card. I flew to Auckland for OWASP Day, gave two Backbone.js training courses and introduced NERF guns to the office :). I made new friends in my church and others, visited friends in Australia for the first time, made my second book (wedding gift), and did camera operating for Porirua Christmas in the Park. I kept in contact with friends overseas for the whole year!

I accepted that I wasn’t going back to Hawaii in a great rush and struggled to find something to fill the gap, but not very successfully. I ended up drifting away from the Standby Task Force Tech Team. I spent less time in prayer and bible reading than I should have. I lost focus on why I was doing things, asking “what’s the point” rather than “what’s the purpose”? I poured time away on Facebook instead of putting it to use. I worried what others thought of me. I thought of lots of cool stuff to do, but didn’t do it. I remembered my own failures and forgot my successes. I made 2012 harder than it needed to be.

2013 will be different. This year I’ll be asking “what’s the purpose?” when I do something. I’ll rant less and fix more. I’ll have an “awesome jar”. I’ll worry less, pray more, seek God and make time for the things that matter by taking it away from the things that don’t.

Oct 24, 2012

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Instapaper and some of my Likes

Instapaper is a website I regularly use to save web pages that I want to read when I have the time. I mostly use their app on my phone, which lets me read articles on the train.

There are plenty of other options out there, the main one I’ve heard about is Pocket. This isn’t a review of either, but if you find yourself half reading articles at work or keeping lots of browser tabs open that you don’t ever get to, you may want to consider one of these.

The purpose of using this app is so that I can read more articles, which I have. Here are a few of the ones I’ve read that I thought important enough to mark for easy reference:

I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave | Mother Jones

A reporter goes undercover and works in a warehouse for an online store in the USA. Her story has given me a better appreciation for the conditions people work in to provide me with gadgets that I order online. I can’t fix this issue by myself, even buying from a local supplier can involve this kind of distribution chain, but I have noticed that DX.com has opened in Australia and for a little more you can buy products from there. Minimum wage in Australia is AUD15.96/hour, (USD16.46), minimum wage in Hong Kong is HKD28 (USD3.61).

mnmlist: being OK with things as they are

We constantly strive for perfection, but what if we took a second look at all the things we want to change and see if we could accept them? Wouldn’t we be happier with what we have and have more time to change the important things?

This hasn’t been an instant thing, but a big part of it for me has been identifying and letting go of “First world problems” like my coffee not being warm enough, my phone not being fast enough or missing a TV show I wanted to see. Flip that around and I have a delicious coffee that I made for free on the work coffee machine, I have a phone that can surf the net, play games, music and videos as well as make calls, and I can watch TV from a comfy couch in a warm, water tight house. I have friends who don’t have clean running water or smartphones, but they still love life, why shouldn’t I?

Are you an asker or a guesser?

This one was a big one for me, I won’t even try to condense it down, have a read of this excerpt:

In Ask culture, people grow up believing they can ask for anything – a favour, a pay rise– fully realising the answer may be no. In Guess culture, by contrast, you avoid “putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes… A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer.

As a guesser, this article challenged me to say no when I need to and realise that Askers are genuinely (perhaps cheekily) enquiring, aware that the answer could be a no.

The Blind Shooting The Blind

This one genuinely caught me by surprise. I’ve seen blind people use computers, I know that apps with text can read to them but I would never have guessed that the iPhone Camera app could talk to a blind person and help them take a perfect photo. Apple have set the benchmark, is your app accessible?

What have you been reading recently?

Apr 6, 2012

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On why I take a long time to edit my photos

I’ve blogged about photography before – it’s one of my passions, both doing it and just seeing the impact of photography around the world. My passion has led me to buy good camera gear and learn how to use it. I love to capture holidays, parties and events for my own memory and I like to share my photos with others, because sharing is awesome.

Take this shot for instance, editing took it from being too dark with bad shadows to be my favourite shot of those two, who have just celebrated one year together :) Who knows if this photo will be used in their future?

I’m not skilled enough as a photographer to have every photo I take turn out as I’d like, but since I shoot digital this is not the biggest worry in the world, because I can tidy up my shots later. Another other big joy of digital is the ability to shoot rapidly, even wastefully and delete the excess later. Every time I take photographs I delete more than half later, I also take photos in the hundreds, so this is no small task. For me, photography is a craft. You wouldn’t ask a craftsman to do an apprentices job, that would be an insult to the hours of learning and practice a craftsman has.

That’s not to say that if a photo isn’t taken with a big camera that it’s bad. Polaroid did instant photos back in the film days and we still love them. The next day you can check Facebook and see pictures from your party already there with you tagged in them. That’s where Point and Shoot cameras (and to a greater extent phones with cameras) excel – they don’t cost a lot and they’re easy to use. The truth is that you may not care how sharp the photos are or that people look ghostly or that some are a bit blurry and I’m not going to ask you to start caring, but you need to know that I care about stuff like that.

I have thought about just taking photos and not doing any editing or deleting but the reason I take photos in the first place is because I’m passionate about photography. I want to capture emotions, tell stories or preserve a moment, all through the lens I’m carrying. I want to take clear shots that are accurate and show what’s happening, without distracting imperfections that capture your attention. I want people looking at my photos to go “wow” at what they see, not because I’m great at taking photos, but because the scene is great and I’ve managed to capture it.

Sometimes I take shots because I’m asked to. I try to show that I care by putting effort into the finished product, but too often I’m perceived as not caring and taking too long to give people their finished photos. In truth I do care and because of that I come, take photos, leave, review, delete, edit, edit again, probably edit a third time, colour balance if needed and pick the final shots for the collection. That takes hours, but I still do it.

I even do it for free, because I enjoy it, but even if you paid me you’d still be waiting, because that’s the nature of this type of photography. Couples wait 2-3 months for their wedding photos because pro photographers also take time to practice their craft. I work full time, so I have to balance my life, my job, my other commitments and my photography work into each week – sometimes weeks get busy and some things don’t get done, that’s life and my photos have to wait too.

I have also been known to forget to edit photos at times. I wrote this post to try and shed some light on what happens when I take photos and explain why it’s not instant like other cameras. If I’m taking a while ask me how things are going, but please don’t ask me “are you done yet?”.

So I hope that explains it a bit more, because until now I don’t think I’ve properly explained that editing takes hours to do, or that if you ask me to take photos you’re also asking me to edit photos. I enjoy taking photos and I enjoy editing photos, so I’m not going to stop doing either, but both take time and effort, which I give freely. In return I ask for your patience.

Feb 28, 2012

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2011 redux

It may almost be March 2012, but I’m overdue for a post about 2011, so I’m going to try and capture my year.

Coming down off the high of 2010 was difficult, but looking back it was quite a ride. I returned to work with a great team, client and new project manager. I made plans to return to Hawaii and got my ass kicked by 40 hour weeks. I reunited with my friends and told them what I’d been up to as best I could. I had too much time on my hands so I started this blog, then I got busy. I moved house. I made new friends including a lifelong one (or two). I started to examine my world view and think about why I act certain ways. I found it easier to sin but I also realised just how crazy Jesus love for us is. I kept the paper I wrote on during DTS in my wallet. I realised that it’s okay to reach out, say hi to someone and try new things. I bought a new camera body, then a new lens. I cried a bit and laughed a lot. I reflected on what makes me happy. I got back into yoga. I turned 25, had to say goodbye to friends who flew to Sydney, started doing theology study with friends, worked on http://eq.org.nz/, joined the Standby Task Force Tech Team, climbed Mount Holdsworth and spent the New Year in Shanghai.

To everyone who supported me last year, your kind words, encouragement, advice and hugs (in person and digitally) really made all the difference. Thank You!

Aug 13, 2011

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Me, myself and 2011

Rather than delve into a topic on this post I thought it would be nice to give a bit of an update on what I’ve been up to. I don’t find it easy to blog about myself, but there are people I haven’t seen for months who have asked me for updates. I can be very bad at keeping up to date with people, but I didn’t forget those who asked, so here it is, my 2011 since leaving Hawaii.

In January I started back at my job, working for Catalyst IT. I got thrown right in the deep end and was asked to teach a group of 4 from the Open Source Academy how to use Drupal to make their websites. The academy partly came about because schools just aren’t teaching skills that are useful in IT classes, so we aimed to fill the gap.

There was of course catching up with friends, coffee (real coffee!) and organising a booster for my Hepatitis A vaccine thrown in for good measure. I also got my first taste of what it’s like to be part of a global family when Chris and Shalom, two of my friends from the USA that I met in Kona, came to Wellington. It’s rather a small world after all.

To end January I went to Hamilton for the Parachute Music Festival. I saw artists like Chris Tomlin, Skillet, Manafest and a whole bunch of others. Louie Giglio was there too and he did Indescribable – such a fantastic weekend.

I’m going back through my calendar to jog my memory, but all the movie nights and other impromptu stuff isn’t on there. I put together two presentations about my time overseas – one about Hawaii and one about Philippines. If you’d like to see them I’m happy to come round and show you. I won’t be uploading them since the stories behind the photos are the most important bit and I don’t know how to story tell online because I can’t see who I’m telling the story to.

At work things had changed a bit too. I had a new Project Manager, Emma, who is truly lovely and I got to work with my friends again on some challenging bits of work. Sadly, Stuart jetted off to the UK, so I ended up inheriting his main project, the NZ Post website, not a small ask for someone a bit rusty in Drupal who hadn’t been with the project from the start. I had a month to get up to speed as best I could before Stuart left and thankfully I had others to ask questions when I wasn’t sure how to approach a problem, giving me all the support I needed to get the work done.

Now that I was working and able to save a bit I took the plunge and upgraded my camera to a Canon 60D. On outreach I’d hit the limits of my 1000D, which has been a wonderful camera that I still have. The 60D in a grade higher in all areas – it has a bigger sensor, bigger screen and better low light performance. It also has video, but I rarely use it.

To be honest I haven’t been doing a lot of photography shooting. At events I’m focussing more on socialising than taking photos, I still carry my Point + Shoot with me, but again, there’s not much to photograph usually and when I do find some free time, it usually goes into something geeky.

Speaking of geeky, when the second Christchurch Earthquake hit it was amazing to see the geek response in Wellington. I was a one of many geeks that joined the #eqnz team. I feel like I played a very small part, but as a combined effort the Christchurch Recovery Map arose.

The map allowed the people of Christchurch to tell anyone with Internet where to find food, water, fuel and where to avoid like closed streets. Tim McNamara got this all kicked off and Catalyst IT (where I work) got onboard too – letting people work on filtering the reports from people during work hours and helping set up a txt shortcode so people coud sms information to us without needing a computer or an Internet-capable phone. It was also the first time I’d seen Nigel McNie in a while too – coding away and configuring not only our server but fixing the Red Cross website too.

I also turned 25 this year and that’s changed my viewpoint a bit. Historically I’ve been a past/present thinking person, not very future oriented. Now I’m starting to think about where I want to be when I’m 30 and what I want to be doing.

You might note that I don’t have much church related to update on, that’s because I haven’t been volunteering at my church. In the past I’ve volunteered to the point of burnout and I’ve done things because they needed doing, not because I felt called to do them. When I got back I decided to say no to everything at first so I could pick what I wanted to focus on, I still give my time in photography, but not a lot of it as there isn’t much demand.

Present day

So fast forward to today, what am I up to? I’m currently quite interested in the idea of using little computers (think smaller than a book size) for…well, that’s the tricky part. I’m using my little laptops at home – one to show you this website and one to backup all my files. They didn’t cost me very much and they mostly look after themselves. I can see something similar being useful in YWAM bases, but I haven’t thought it through all the way yet. I have a USD$40 computer on it’s way from China to see what it can do.

I’m also thinking about making a Dashboard for all the websites I’ve created over time. I want to be able to see on a single page all my sites and if they need updating. The same goes for my servers. This is still in the brainchild stage too, but I’m looking at options.

Three of my friends and I are doing some theology study every third Saturday too. It’s both challenging and interesting and it’s great that we can get together, disagree and still be friends at the end of it.

Future

Well, there are a few things I’m looking forward to doing this year. Kiwicon V is happening in November – it’s a hacker conference organised by people in the security industry here in Wellington with speakers from all over. It’s well organised and packed full of awesome talks – I’m just not taking my laptop or iPod touch, just because.

In December two of my very good friends, Neil and Rose, are getting married. They are having a New Zealand wedding and a Chinese wedding and I’ll be at both, which means a second trip to China! Followed by a bit of a holiday afterwards – right now it looks like I’ll be seeing in the new year in Shanghai and I’m hoping for fireworks.

I imagine that work will continue rather the same as it has. In the past 6 months I’ve been learning new technologies as well as working in/leading a team. I’m spending more time learning about accessibility and user experience when it comes to making websites, I want to continue down this road so I can make better websites for everyone who uses them.

Longer term, I want to get back into missions with photogenX and YWAM – it’s where my passion lies. I really enjoyed my time in Kona and God willing I’ll be back there before too long. I’m not sure what I’d be doing, but there seems to be no shortage of good ideas needing people to make them work and websites allow messages and causes to spread globally.

Until then…