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Disparate Value

If I could just get my cat to wash the dishes and mop the floor, I’d have a cat worth millions of dollars. It doesn’t matter that you can hire someone to do the work for several dollars an hour. If the cat did it, it would be special and worth far more. Any sort of animal, for that matter.

Does that mean that the cat’s work is intrinsically more valuable than mine? Not in the slightest. In fact, it’s not as safe to have the cat do housework. Cats aren’t skillful homemakers. My cat has no proven track record, nor does her species. Who knows when she will tire of the work and start breaking stuff. She has to take naps every few hours. For the same work, a person should be paid far more than a cat.

Why then, is the value the cat commands so disparate, so far in excess of that of a normal person? Simply because it’s packaged in a unique, original, unheard-of form. People will pay you big money if you can do something that no one else can do, even if it’s totally useless. What real value do clowns contribute to the world–besides entertainment? If everyone is paid by the intrinsic value of their worth, clowns would get nothing.

To harness the power of disparate value, you need to be doing something that is eye-catching, entertaining, and different. It’s easy to have negative, disparate value. Just break a few limbs, and then see how hard it is to work efficiently. If you go to the bookstore and start ripping the covers off books, they really aren’t worth any less. There’s no unique information on the cover that the books’ contents cannot be without. All the informative and practical value remains untouched. Yet try selling them next to the others–or for any price at all, and you’ll see how disparate their value is. For no logical reason.

It’s easy to think of situations that will generate positive disparate value, which is a far better place to be at. Say I’m a typist. I type 75 words a minute, accurately, swiftly, and without losing focus. That’s a pretty good skill, but I’m not special. Lots of other people can do what I do.

Now let’s say instead, through some magical forces, I type 750 words a minute. When I type, all you see is a blur because my fingers are moving so fast, they disappear. The screen floods with text. If I was paid $10 for my efforts at 75 words per minute, would $100 be a reasonable pay at 750 words per minute?

Nope. I’m worth more than the aggregate of my efficiency. I could provide my services to businesses that need last-minute transcribing, at a high cost. Perhaps $1000 an hour would be more reasonable.

But in reality, I’d make far more for my talents, perhaps millions. Think of all the television shows and magazines I could be featured in. I could start a course to share my talent with others. Even if it was impossible to share, there’d still be plenty of followers who would gladly waste their money. The value (money) I can demand is disparate to the raw value of my services.

Let’s say I can only type 100 words per minute, but I can also play the piano, tune a guitar, write moderately-good articles, ride a skateboard, build houses, paint, draw, create websites, and do electrical wiring. All these things I do moderately well. Perhaps even better. If my mastery is quantifiable, I’m above 90% of the crowd with all these talents. Does that make me more valuable as a typist?

Not in the slightest. I may be a dynamo and a fascinating person, but those are worth nothing on their own. I’d be better off if I could have all my other skills erased from my brain, and replaced with the ability to type 750 words per minute. From a monetary standpoint, at least. The reason I keep coming back to money, is that it’s our primary means of representing value. Typing 750 words per minute should not trump an arsenal of normal skills, but it does.

If the Mona Lisa is worth $100 million, does that mean a painting 1% as good is worth $1 million? Nope. If I can define something 1% as good as the Mona Lisa, it’s a painting that you couldn’t even give away. 1% is not enough. Even a work of art 75% as good would not be worth half as much. One razor-sharp knife is worth more than a hundred dull knives.

Excellence is exponential. On a scale of 10, going from a 9 to a 10 is hundreds of times harder than going from a 1 to a 2. Anyone can go from a 1 to a 2. It requires nearly no effort whatsoever. But if you can make the jump to the top of the mountain, you have something of true, preferential value. Oftentimes, it’s better to pick one skill. One feverishly developed skill. You’re so good, you make everyone else in your niche look like piles of garbage. The problem I find with this, is that it doesn’t feel right to pick one skill. That’s why most people don’t do it, remaining uneventfully ordinary.

The best way, however, is to develop a suite of skills that all play off each other rather than being disparate. The underlying connections between them create a wall of strength rather than islands of weakness. Chaos theory in action. Often, this is the same as developing one skill, but from a different angle. This is easier said than done. In fact, it’s harder than becoming a one-hit wonder. But it’s a true path, a road you can look to every day with eager anticipation. I can never feel the same passion for practicing scales and songs all day long, or taking pictures from dawn to dusk. Picking one path is the best way to harness disparate value, but it isn’t human. People aren’t meant to stick to one thing. We think about everything: we ponder, analyze, reflect, multi-task, pray, think, forget, lose focus. Animals don’t do this. They work all the more efficiently for it.

All the things that “waste time” are actually our strengths. They endow us with our own disparate value separate from everything else in this world. I’m happy to be a human rather than a cat, or a bird, or a flea. Once you become happy and committed to your existence, you can leverage disparate value to unlock exponential growth. I’ll be with you.

A Series of Near-Hits

In life, it’s easy to go through a process called a series of near-hits, where you get close to the mark many times in a row without ever succeeding. An invisible wall stops you from reaching the goal, but you expend an increasing amount of effort for ever-reducing gains.

Sometimes, this is the story of a person’s whole life: a series of failures which were almost successes. “Failure,” of course, is a relative term. Perhaps he succeeded in supporting his family, but failed as a businessman. Perhaps he was a successful businessman who ignored his family. For my purposes, the shortcoming can be anything.

More often, the leech attacks you for just a day in your life, or perhaps in a minor hobby over a period of months. It could be just a few minutes. I had one of these experiences last week.

The night sky in my front yard was flashing with bolts of lightning; not a common sight in this area. Usually the sky flashes, but there are no bolts. As impressive as that is, it looks like nothing on film. This was different. I ran out with my camera, and, not owning a tripod, I braced the camera against the fence and took dozens of two-second exposures of the sky. These were the 15 best:

Mediocre lightning series

Click above to enlarge the thumbnails. If you can’t tell at this size, there are a bunch of shots of lightning; usually just a couple small branches across the clouds, or light in absence of a trunk. The top-right one looks good, but it’s blurry because I slipped with the camera. There is no bolt, so you can’t tell what it is except in this context. None of the photos are particularly good. They are a series of near-hits.

At this point, my excitement from seeing the awesome flashes had disappeared, and I was thoroughly ravaged by the Florida mosquitoes. There were a lot of good shots to be had, but magically I’d missed all of them. My outing was a complete waste of time.

It wasn’t really a complete waste of time; it just seemed it. Since I’m a photographer, nothing I do with my camera can be a complete waste of time, unlike for you non-photographers. I have an in-built advantage. However, if my next several shots are like this, the series of near-hits may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ll subconsciously sabotage my efforts because I’ll become afraid of taking a good photograph, or I’ll want to prove to my mind that the world is against me. Either way, it becomes a repetitive cycle.

Personally developed people enjoy exponential progress, because it’s so much faster than advancing linearly. While with 5 + 5 + 5 you have 15, with 5 * 5 * 5 you’re way ahead at 125. It’s a lot nicer to have your income double each month than increase by 2 dollars (unless you’re making pennies!). If you’ve ever played with a calculator, though you’ve noticed a strange thing happens south of 1. Instead of increasing, the numbers decrease. .5 * .5 * .5 is .125. If each multiplication is a day, continuing the trend, your progress goes down, each and every day. You can never quite hit rock bottom (zero), because you’re experiencing inverse exponential growth. Even if your calculator, after a few more operations, reads zero, you know it’s a lie. A “rounding error,” we call it. If your goal is zero, it’s forever fleeting.

This sickly kind of growth is exactly what a series of near-hits looks like. You get closer while never succeeding. It’s called logarithmic growth, and it’s the opposite of exponential gains. Whereas exponential operations race toward infinity without ever meeting, logarithmic operations reach for zero but never make it. There is an asymptote at zero; an invisible wall which can never be touched. The numbers get closer and closer, with more and more decimal places, but they’ll never match in a million years.

Evil, logarithmic growth

That’s a graph of logarithmic growth. And you want to avoid it. If your stuck in a cycle of logarithmic progress, a.k.a. a series of near-hits, something is wrong. You’ve got to try something new, because you’ve reached a dead end. In the game of life, every turn you waste in this downward spiral is one more turn off your life. It feels comfortable, because you can never crash and you’ll never hit zero, but it’s ultimately a waste because there’s no growth to be had in it. Your in a worse situation than stagnation, because you’ve been tricked into thinking you’re making progress. You could expend years stuck in logarithmic growth. Don’t.

It’s really easy to have “near-hits” in gambling. What they really are is wishful thinking. If the lottery numbers were 4-8-12-16-20, and you picked 5-9-13-17-21, you could say you were really close to winning a million dollars. You “almost” won. Surely, you’re on a lucky streak. You can’t stop; quitting gambling now would be foolish. But in truth, you were no closer to winning than if you had picked 1-2-3-5-6. Either set of numbers lost, unequivocally and irrevocably. There is no middle ground. Either you won, or you lost.

When you’re stuck in a series of near-hits, redefine life in black and white terms (binary) instead of shades of gray (analog). Analog has it’s place, but it’s a poor substitute for definiteness. You didn’t have a “near-hit,” you had a “complete miss.” You won’t hit till you do, and when you do, there will be no modifiers; it will be a “hit” and nothing else. Once you start thinking like this, you might give up entirely on some goals. It’s okay; that proves those goals weren’t important to you anyway. If you can survive many cycles of utter failure, then you know you are on the right path, because you have the strength to persevere through all hardships. “Near-hits” are just an illusion. They may try to waste your time and muddle your vision, but you shall triumph.

Subject vs. Persona in Blogging

I’m seeing bloggers in two categories:

1. Ones that stick to one subject so as not to alienate their readers. These bloggers always put their readers first, doing anything to make them happy. They keep everything short and pithy, and make five posts a day. If it’s a photography blog, three-quarters the post are about Canon and Nikon’s latest cameras and other industry news. These blogs are often have several writers, who follow rules like “use short paragraphs” and “capture the reader’s attention quickly because otherwise, it will go away.” These are clearly subject-oriented blogs. This category holds many popular and focused blogs. Check out Photolog for an example. A writer of this style would never dare to mix personal development in with photography, even if they can be bridged. If he wanted to write about growth, he’d start a separate blog and at best link it the footer from his photography blog. Because the footer link is so small, only 1% would come on over. The audience for the two blogs would be totally separate. The blogger may as well be a different person on each blog. Readers come to read about widgets, then leave.

2. The blog is not so much about the subject, but about the person or group writing it. It doesn’t even have to be personal. People come back because they like the subjects, but more importantly because they like the style they’re written in. They come back because the blog is about you, not widgets. Blogs like this are timeless and become insanely popular, but often less than 5% of their traffic is driven by search engines. A friendly email is always more attractive than an ad or a search result, because it’s unpaid, unfocused sponsorship. These are definitely persona-oriented blogs. Lifehacker definitely comes to mind. It’s all over the place, but people go there to feel a part of the life hacking scene, one of intelligence, versatility, and smart computing. There may be posts about widgets, but people don’t go there to read about one type of widget.

One of the things I found fascinating when I was part of the Animal Crossing Community (a site about a video game), is that the community that builds up around the game makes it so everyone wants to talk about all sorts of other stuff. There was one off-topic forum, but people loved to hang out there even though they had no idea what would turn up, just like people love to watch the Oprah show. You can’t keep people on one subject; they’re going to want to talk about anything and everything with their new friends. And you can’t expect them to know what they’re looking for. Often their waiting for you to surprise them, even if it’s a non-photography article on a “photography blog.”

Persona-oriented bloggers usually have only one blog for everything. No partitioning. It might be messy, it might be all over the place, the blogger might share a lot of unreleated talents. But the truth is, our lives are messy. Placing ourselves so firmly in these little boxes is unique to blogging. It isn’t natural.

My challenge for you is to mix it up a bit. If you belong to category 2, try doing some really focused writing in category 1. And if your firmly in the subject category, try doing some engaging writing in the persona category. You don’t have to go off-topic. If it’s a photography blog, instead of writing about the latest press releases, take some time off and write a riveting account of how your camera was almost stolen, or how you grew up longing to start photography but couldn’t afford the equipment. The consummate of the two is rounded blogging, where you have a blog that people come to not to obtain a factoid and leave, but to challenge their minds and digest everything. If you follow this path for a few months, you’ll have people that literally spend hours at your blog, because you’ve written so much fascinating material. They love it, because when they click their bookmark they’re returning to wholeness rather than being bogged in fragmentation. They don’t even come for a reason or subject, because they know whatever there is going to be great. You have a captive audience. Use that greatness, leverage it to brighten their days and inspire them to action.

The Perils of Redundant Linking

Sometimes I’ll write a post, and I’ll mention something twice. Often it’s my wonderful camera, a Canon Rebel XTi. And then I wonder: should I make the text a link twice? In the Rebel XTi case, it’s a link to Amazon.com (an evil affiliate link). Sometimes, the link will be with different text, or in an entirely different context than the first, though it goes to the same page. That could be linking to Glass Drops once while talking about night photography, and then again when discussing raindrops, in the same article.

I’ve noticed other people doing this, and I’m finding it ever more annoying. I’ve found there are two approaches to double-linking:

1. Link redundantly, because your readers will be annoyed and confused that your talking about a subject so much but not linking to it, if they missed the first link. Or do it to really get people to click your affiliate link. More commonly, readers scan your content rather than reading closely. Either they scan by default, or find your writing useless. To accommodate that group, you have to mention important stuff as many times as possible and hope it won’t be missed. Your writing for the unengaged rather than the engaged, and your putting the wrong ones first.

2. Don’t link redundantly, because you choose to cater to thorough rather than casual readers. Readers who take in every word and click every link in perfect succession. Readers who will be annoyed and confused if they find the same page twice in their tab bar after a work-out session with the scroll button. I click every link if I like what I’m reading, because I know the author will have good recommendations about the topic. And I’ve been finding it quite disconcerting when a good author is type 1.

I’ve decided to abandon double-linking because my audience should be type 2 rather than type 1. This goes along with blogging selectively and writing insightful, comprehensive articles rather than shallow, fleeting posts. Stuff like Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value rather than a Quick Post on HDR. Stuff that’s unbelievably useful rather than unbelievably useless. Gold rather than garbage.

I don’t mind redundant links outside of a single post. Even if the same links are in the categories list or header, it’s okay, because that content is generally fixed and largely ignored. A contextual link going to the same place is fine, because it adds to the content of the article, unlike saying “check the sidebar.” The problem also is that the header and sidebar are expensive places, because they show up on every page. I can’t be sure how long a link will stay there. If its value is transient it can’t stay up once the value is gone. There is no space for clutter. A services link is still worthwhile now, but in three months I may stop taking commissions entirely, and “check the header for services” would be out of date. The other problem is that it’s better to show than to tell. A direct link is always better than saying “see here” or “search Google.”

Within a single post, Type 1 linking just doesn’t bode with this style at all. It’s fine if you don’t value your readers’ time and assume they don’t read what you write. If you assume no one’s reading, it will come true, because you’ll start writing stuff that’s valuable to no one. But if you’re writing for the heart first, and profit second, it just doesn’t work. Type 2 is the only way to go.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value

Something that is valuable without strings attached has intrinsic value. I find intrinsic value is far more reliable than extrinsic value, because it’s self-reliant, independent, and free of the influence of others. The opposite of intrinsic value is extrinsic value. I like “extrinsic” as a word, but don’t see it used much. What it means is the value is assigned to the item by external forces. The item is worthless on its own. Or perhaps it has a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic value, so it is simply less valuable.

One thing that’s hard to accept about intrinsic vs. extrinsic value is that it’s a sliding scale with different paradigms. Nothing is binary. Something that has intrinsic value in one context and have no value in another. You might think the item has extrinsic value, and from a completely objective perspective it might, but it’s entirely okay to call its value intrinsic for the sake of comparison.

A great example of the two types of value is money. At the extreme end we have currencies made of paper and backed by nothing more than military might. These are called fiat currencies, because they’re valuable by legislative fiat (an order). The United States has fiat currency. My money has no value unless other people agree that it does and will exchange goods or services for it. It cannot be turned in for anything of value (besides coins), more of it can be created at virtually no cost at any time, and if all confidence is lost in it, it doesn’t even make good toilet paper. The money’s value is entirely extrinsic. In fact, it’s declined considerably in my short life. I remember in 2002 when gasoline was 85¢ a gallon, but now it’s over $4. It’s not because of shortages—there’s plenty of higher priced gas available. In terms of fuel, my money is one-fifth as valuable as it was six years ago. Granted, the increased prices are also due to the oil companies joining to form monopolies, but if our money had value that was fully intrinsic, such massive losses would be impossible.

Now, the U.S. dollar has not always been fiat. Before Nixon abandoned the Bretton Woods system in 1971, you could trade in a dollar for 1/35 an ounce of gold. So it had intrinsic value. During the world wars, convertibility was abandoned so more money could be printed, so for a time there was no intrinsic value. But even under Bretton Woods, paper dollars didn’t even have intrinsic value so much as representative intrinsic value. They’re still worth nothing on a deserted island, but as long as we were under the current system of things, their value may as well have been intrinsic, because they could be exchanged for something solid. The value was never fully intrinsic, or else Nixon wouldn’t have been able to pull the plug.

A step up from paper currencies are metal currencies, like the dimes and nickels in your ash trays. Though illegal, in times of panic they can be melted down to build real things, because they’re made of metal, not worthless paper. Gold and silver coins are even better, because people universally value those metals. However, as building materials, they are less valuable. Going back to paper, the bills in my wallet have some intrinsic value I forgot about. If it’s very cold and I need kindling to start a fire, I’ll be happy for my stack of $1’s.

The king of all currencies is gold bullion. It’s never going away, because people universally believe it has value. Its value is unchanging and largely intrinsic. When I see the worth of an ounce of gold is soaring above $1000, I don’t buy the hype that the gold has more value. What’s actually happening is that our dollar is becoming less valuable, but gold is the same as ever. Now, if you can buy more with $1000 of July 2008 money than you could with, say, $500 of July 2001 money, that’s doesn’t mean gold has gained value. It just means everyone is taking losses, by providing goods that are worth more than the money they charge. When the empire (the United States) is dying, everyone takes losses.

Even gold doesn’t have the true, objective type of intrinsic value I talked about at the start. If you’re back on your deserted island, all the gold in the world won’t do nothing to get you out of there. An airplane is something with solid intrinsic value. But you still need fuel, a pilot, and lots of other stuff. Heck, you even have to depend on the laws of physics remaining stable so that it continues working. But most of us would agree that little of its value is extrinsic, so those concerns are small. If all 6.5 billion of us agreed tomorrow that gold is as worthless as water, it would be that way in an instant, though.

Some things have intrinsic value that’s fleeting. The apples at the grocery market are valuable as food, but as soon as they turn rotten, the value is lost. The same can be said for human life: my Grandfather has no intrinsic value, because he’s dead and burned. Nor does my cousin, in spite of being dead and preserved in a coffin. The only value of his body is assigned, because many of us believe in stuffing and preserving corpses for some reason. We believe a corpse has value, but that’s extrinsic to the corpse. A person does have intrinsic value, but only while living. Value shifts from intrinsic to extrinsic upon death. Extrinsic value is not universal, either. My family values my cousin’s corpse much more than my neighbor’s. Extrinsic value can be fleeting. A lottery ticket is valuable extrinsically, but only till the numbers are called. Then it’s worth nothing. If it’s a winner (never happens), the value shoots up all at once, but it’s still extrinsic, just like the coupons in my wallet, because it’s reliant on fulfillment by others. Intrinsic value is not, or in relative cases, it’s reliant on unlikely-to-change entities like society or a humongous government, so it’s always a safer bet.

Where you can use the two types of value in your life, is in analyzing the time and money pits around you. Recognize that if you’re pursuing goals with extrinsic value, your goals belong not to yourself, but to other people. Sometimes, supporting the goals of others is inevitable. Florida Power & Light will cut off my family’s power if we refuse to continue to pay them in extrinsically valuable money. Could we live without power? Probably, but it isn’t practical. I couldn’t even share this writing with you without the power for my computer. Money is something most people value by mandate, despite being extrinsic. It even says on my $1 bill, “this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private,” so I’m required to accept money as a valid form of payment even if I open a business. The business isn’t truly mine if I’m required to give people valuable stuff for in return for crap (fiat money). But I accept that I have no alternative with what power I have now. There’s a massive gulf between this lost freedom and the lost freedom you are probably subjecting yourself to.

One thing that definitely has no intrinsic value is a college degree. A college education has intrinsic value, but only to the person receiving it, and then only if it is applied. A modern college education is utterly worthless. College is a crock. You’re trained to be a docile slave for any master and brainwashed to tell lies as truth to support the state. Lies like global warming, the cancer myth, and politically-correct language. Instead of learning real stuff like history or how to spell, you have to read and write garbage about The Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s worth less than nothing. College saps your mind and spirit. It is a self-accepted prison and you are a self-accepting prisoner. I am currently a prisoner with you, unfortunately.

What a college education does have, is plenty of extrinsic value. Employers, in cahoots with the universities, agree to accept only mind slaves with worthless degrees for jobs. Or perhaps they’ll accept anyone, but pay you much more if you’ve gone through four to six years of obedience school (on top of thirteen years of mandatory training). College is a job where instead of being paid, you pay. Can’t you see the irony there? You learn B.S. subjects like humanities and calculus, wasting upwards of thirty hours a week “studying,” when really you’re just memorizing pointless trivia and useless formulas to reiterate for a test and then forget. A typical collegiate essay is a series of citations, footnotes, references, maybes, “he or she”s, “what if”s, and semicolons. Nothing is from the heart, everything is crap, and no one would read it if they weren’t being paid. There’s no growth and you’re not developing as a person, despite how you may protest. College is at best an expensive social experience, and even that is on shaky ground.

A college education is firmly in the category of extrinsic value. Unlike universal concepts like serving others, inspiration, and passion, and working for yourself, college is ultimately a waste of time. It’s okay to do things with extrinsic value, even if they cost huge amounts of time and money. Repeat after me: “I, Richard X. Thripp, allow myself to pursue projects that have no intrinsic value.” BUT, you cannot live in fear by deluding yourself into believing you’re acting on some higher purpose. There is no higher purpose to my college education. Tasks with only extrinsic value must only be pursued for utilitarian purposes, should you claim to be living courageously.

Buying things that have mere extrinsic value, unless to resell, is something I cannot live with. Diamonds are an example. Unlike gold, they have no intrinsic value because they’re as common as dirt. One company (De Beers) controls all of them, releases very few, and advertises how wonderful and valuable they are. De Beers has managed to make diamonds extrinsically valuable to an insane degree. If you can make yourself (or a product) highly valuable, you can make a lot of money, even if it’s extrinsic.

Intrinsic value is the only path that has a soul, though. In sociological terms, coordinated efficiency (i.e. teamwork) represents intrinsic value, whereas allocated efficiency (i.e. buy the best people) is to extrinsic value. Money has its place: it represents you contribution to the world (either type of value), and it can be exchanged for goods and services of either type (food vs. diamonds). But if you do something for money alone, that means it has only extrinsic value, be it to yourself, the world, or both. With my website, I hope I’m doing something of intrinsic value to others, and I know it has intrinsic value to myself. I take, post, and give away creative photos, write free and hopefully insightful articles, and develop as a person through all of it. If you’re doing something of intrinsic value, you’ll know it because you’re energized, dedicated, and excited about it. If you don’t feel the heat, you might be providing a service that’s intrinsically valuable to others, but not to yourself. If I fixed computers for a living, it would be an important service to others, but it wouldn’t do anything for me. The other thing that can happen, is that you’re doing something you love (intrinsic value for you), but its worthless to others. Perhaps it is painting, playing piano, or taking nature photographs. What you want to do is to find something that’s intrinsically valuable to you and others, or convert what you’re presently doing over. Often, this just involves publishing your art online, or releasing a music album by burning the CDs on your home computer. But when you’re on the path of good for yourself and the world, everything will feel right.

While it takes a lot of soul-searching to reach the goal, I can tell you some of the clues that you’re on the wrong path. If you’re not sharing it with others, it can’t have any value to others. The first step to converting something that’s valuable to you but not to others is to show it to them. If you’ve written an awesome book but can’t find a publisher, just set up a blog and give it away free in installments. Tell a few friends about it. If it’s interesting or useful, lots of people will pick up on it and visit. You’ll know this because you’ll be getting lots of comments and trackbacks, and your bandwidth meter will be maxing out quickly. If this doesn’t happen, it means you suck. It’s okay. Right now I suck. But sucking is the only way to progress.

Once you’ve built you a following and love what you’re writing, you’ve already made it. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving everything away and losing money. If you have a website, and a lot of visitors, it’s impossible not to make money. Then put ads across the site. Register for Amazon Associates too, then start dropping product links everywhere, like this. Soon, you’ll be making money off something that’s intrinsically valuable to everyone, which is great. A lot of people will try to tell you that you can’t do it, you have to pick between money or heart, and that you should keep your day job and just follow your passion on the side. Ignore them and forge ahead.

If you’re working for a corporation with no intrinsic value, it probably puts up a smokescreen of purposeful charity to substitute. Instead of changing the world directly, the company donates a couple percent to charity. This is the “throw money at the problem” mindset, and instead of integrating charitable practices into the business, it’s just tacked on as a “me too” afterthought. Corporations like Wal-Mart, Target, and Publix do this. Then, they’ll come up with some phony mission statement for their employees, like Office Depot’s “delivering winning solutions that inspire worklife.” I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically when I first heard that one. Next, require all the employees to wear shirts with the mission statement and chant it over the intercom.

Ask any candid Office Depot employee if he cares about the mission, and the answer will be an obvious no. Very few people who work there, or have any sort of job, do so for an intrinsically valuable purpose. “For the greater good of all humanity” is an excellent purpose, but most companies that bandy it about don’t believe it. It is of extrinsic value to them. It’s fake, a charade to fool dummies and investors. You’re never living intrinsically if you’re living fakely. It’s better to work for a company with the mission, “to make the most money possible, at all costs.” Or live your life like it. But that’s a petty experience. Most companies are not that bad. They have a decent amount of respect for their customers and employees. But to call themselves charity cases is false and pretentious.

What else is only of extrinsic value? Certification. Education. Expensive clothes (unless radiation proof). Rites of passage. Careers. Tradition. Rules and procedures. Legacies. Religion. Sleeping at night. Clocks. Being an employee. Corpses. Funerals. All these have no value on their own. Only if other people agree, or demand them, do they become valuable, and then only extrinsically. Don’t be too worried about them. They’re red herrings.

What things do have intrinsic value? Love. Doing what you love. Purpose. Learning. Passion. Discipline. Wealth (for leverage). Power (the power to know better). Respect for human life. Serving others. Serving yourself (you have to to serve others). The list goes on, but you can see that aligning yourself with these principles, and paying no attention to the ones of extrinsic value will alienate a lot of would-be friends. Do it anyway.

The Cancer Myth

Our “treatments” for cancer are no good, kill everyone, and waste a lot of money. The cure for cancer is simple and has been widely known for thousands of years, but is kept hidden from the typical American. But first, let’s tackle some of the arguments for our beloved cut/burn/poison regimen.

Investment is nothing. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been “treating” people with cancer and letting people die. It doesn’t matter that we have billions of dollars and lives invested in our phony treatments, or how many relatives and friends you’ve lost through traditional treatment. No matter how far we’ve gone, we must turn back. There is no progress to be had on this path, no matter how we are invested in it. We were invested in alchemy too.

We are told there are many different types of cancer… and many different treatments… and no easy solutions. The best recommendation is to be constantly tested for cancer, to constantly avoid “known” carcinogens, to constantly fear everything. We have to check your skin, your breasts, your cervix, your ovaries, your prostate, your colon, and a whole bunch of other stuff, every year for the rest of your life. The most prolific unveiler of known carcinogens is the state of California. Everything causes cancer there. I bought a computer mouse with a tag on it warning that the cord has lead in it and can cause cancer, says California. Obviously, there’s somewhere the money is going. The money is going to the companies who produce the goods that continually replace the goods that are supposedly cancer-causing. Our cars cause cancer. Smoking causes lung cancer. Drinking causes liver cancer. Sunshine causes skin cancer. Radiation causes cancer, yet also kills it when it’s convenient to us. Really, what’s up with that? If radiation causes cancer, how does chemotherapy work? It exposes you to radiation. So the best it can do is riddle you with cancer, following the cancer industry’s rules. Pesticides cause new and exciting types of cancer. Cell phones cause brain cancer. Everything causes cancer.

Cancer is no ordinary disease. It’s a legend. You don’t overcome cancer like any normal disease. You “fight” a long and unsuccessful “war” against cancer, then die. Cancer makes you sick, tired, emaciated, and hairless. Really, none of this is the cancer. It’s the phoney-baloney treatment of cancer. You aren’t losing the hair from the disease, you’re losing it from being irradiated in the name of destroying it. The best it can do is kill off the cancer for a while, followed by its return (because it’s a vitamin deficiency). Then, we hit you with more gamma rays, and instead of the disease killing you, our treatment does you in. You’ve weakened, but the cancer is stronger than ever. Because it isn’t something that can be solved by treatment.

Cancer is caused by a deficiency of vitamin B17, also called laetrile or amygdalin. According to the Food & Drug Administration, vitamin B17 isn’t a vitamin anymore. It has no value, it does nothing, it could even be dangerous, it can’t be in stores, and doctors can’t dare recommend it. The vitamin isn’t added to our foods. In fact, if it’s there, that food is dangerous to us, and the vitamin is removed before we buy the food. You find vitamin B17 in the seeds of fruits, seeds like apricots, peaches, watermelons, and loquats. Common knowledge tells you that eating seeds is a dangerous, deadly thing to do. They have cyanide in them. Cyanide? Won’t that kill you? It’ll kill you the same way sodium chloride (table salt) kills you. The deadliness of the ingredients means nothing, because when they’re assembled in a different order, there is no danger. This is why your breakfast was delicious and didn’t make you sick, but if you ground it all up (milk and orange juice included) in a blender, and then drank that, you wouldn’t be feeling so well. It’s the same concept with vitamin B17’s cyanide.

We don’t eat seeds anymore. You parents probably told you to throw out the seeds from those apples. “Never eat the seeds,” they say. If you buy an apple pie at the bakery, you can bet the seeds have been taken out. At the same time, many victims of cancer get better from the chemotherapy. Why? Because they were deathly afraid of the disease, and while pursuing traditional treatment, they went to the local health foods store and ate everything in sight. One of those foods had vitamin B17 in it. The patient doesn’t even know what it was, but he continues to eat it as his miracle cure. Perhaps he bought a jar of pumpkin seeds. Either way, it works. But his doctor says, “it looks like the radiation finally started working!” That’s how chemo gets its 5% cure rate for cancer (otherwise it would be 0%). Yes, nineteen of twenty die, despite radiation treatment. What kind of odds are those? What other disease do you claim to be making great progress on, you pour a third of the nation’s medical expenses into, you have more people treating than suffering, and 95% of your people still die? Old age is the only one I can think of, and that’s not a disease to start with. The only effective treatment we have is to screen you constantly and then cut pieces out of you when we find cancerations.

But the seeds, the seeds are what you need to eat to cure cancer. But even if you don’t have cancer yet, you need to eat them every day starting now, or else you’ll get cancer. Cancer doesn’t run in families. People will say, “I got cancer because my father and grandfather had it.” But the fact is that they shared the same diet, a diet excluding B17, and that’s why they all got cancer. Just like if none of you eat oranges, you’ll get scurvy. But you probably won’t even get scurvy, because vitamin C is added to all sorts of foods by government mandate. Not the same can be said for B17. If you and your family has never gotten cancer, it’s because you’re eating something that has the vitamin in it, that is preventing you from contracting the ailment. You don’t “cure” cancer so much as you prevent it, just as you prevent hunger and thirst by eating and drinking. To keep from dying from hunger requires continuous action. You must eat food regularly or you will die, no buts about it. The same is true with cancer. No ionizing machine or ray gun is going to keep you from dying of thirst, just as no mechanical, ridiculously expensive medical treatment is going to save you from death by cancer. There is only one type of cancer, for which there is one cure.

Almost no one treating cancer knows its true cause. No conspiracy works when everyone has all the answers. But the answer has been known in other countries for thousands of years. Even the Bible tells you to eat the seeds of the fruits, and to eat your “daily bread.” Bread used to have lots of seeds in it, seeds that had vitamin B17. But now the seeds are taken out. There is no cancer-preventing vitamin to be had in our food. This is why despite plowing so much money into cancer, more people than ever are suffering from it. We’re told now that one in two of our children will contract cancer at some point in their lives. What kind of disease is this? Obviously one we have no idea how to treat. Whatever we are doing, it’s completely failing.

If you contract cancer, and you dare not to be “treated,” no one will support you. Your family will be against you. Your doctors will be against you. You must do things the “right” way. If you have any chance of living, it’s only by being cut, burned, and poisoned. You have to do it. If your below 18 or there’s any shadow of doubt about your sanity, chemotherapy will be forced upon you, because everyone wants to see you die.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In Central Florida, we have all these loquat trees with fruit (a.k.a. Japanese plums), and they have big seeds in them that have lots of the vitamin. My Dad and I eat a couple of them a day. We froze them when the fruits were in-season, and thaw them out bit by bit, chewing them up and swallowing them with water. So now I know I’ll never get cancer. I’ll never get cancer, so long as I eat seeds with vitamin B17 in them on a regular basis. Just like I’ll never develop a goiter if I eat foods with iodine in them. Salt has iodine added to it. No processed foods have B17 added to them, so you need to find it yourself. Just like you don’t wait till you’re dying of scurvy to start eating oranges, you shouldn’t wait till you’re dying of cancer to start eating seeds.

I haven’t covered the proof behind vitamin B17. Instead, I’ve focused on how our “normal” treatments for cancer are such blatant failures. Anything is better than what we have now, even if it does nothing. But B17 does something. It prevents cancer. We’re not eating it, and that’s why we have cancer. There’s no danger in eating seeds either way. I’ve been doing it for months. But there’s real proof that the vitamin stops cancer, because cancer is a metabolic disease cured by B17, just like beriberi, pellagra, and scurvy, are cured by B1, B3, and C. You can’t cure a metabolic disease with technology. Only restoring the essential food your body needs can solve the problem. I recommend these online pages for further information:

1. World Without Cancer
2. VitaminB17.org
3. Laetrile / Vitamin B17 Treatment For Cancer
4. Cure and Prevent Cancer — B17
5. Laetrile and Information on Vitamin B17
6. Unapproved by the FDA — You’ll never see B17 at the pharmacy, because the FDA refuses to test natural chemicals.
7. Loquat nut any good? — An interesting forum discussion about loquat fruits. Notice how the early posters warn about how the seeds will poison you with cyanide. It’s a lie: I eat them all the time. But they’re just repeating what they’ve been told by the American Cancer Society, because it’s in their interest to keep cancer going. Then the later posters get into the truth: the seeds cure cancer, are not poisonous, and are used all over Japan to prevent the disease.

Good luck, and don’t live in darkness. All the things we say cause cancer actually have nothing to do with it. But that doesn’t mean those things are good. Sunshine still burns, smoke still irritates your lungs, and you still have emphysema to worry about. But if we can get the legendary cancer out of the way, then we’re well on our way to a healthier world.

One thing that definitely does not stop cancer, is happiness. You can’t laugh or motivate your way our of cancer. It just doesn’t work that way. There are plenty of things you can use your willpower on, like becoming smarter, more creative, more productive, more insightful, more courageous, or more disciplined. Curing cancer isn’t one of them. If attitude makes any difference, it’s 0.0001% of the equation, and the vitamin is 99.9999%. It’s so insignificant that it is completely unuseful. Apply your good spirits not to falsehood, but to truth.

Postscript

I’ve learned more about cancer and included the section below in Becoming a Vegetarian (2008-10-01):

Vegetarians don’t get cancer

It’s true. You expect me to say that it’s because we have healthier diets overall, but it’s not that at all. You can eat meat all day and still never get cancer.

When you are injured, your body sends trophoblast cells to heal the wound. But sometimes it sends too many, and your body doesn’t have any way to deal with these cells. The healing cells can split very quickly… and they do, crowding out all the others to form a cancerous growth.

But nature has a remedy for this: amygdalin (a.k.a. vitamin B17) is found in the seeds of almost all foods, and it allows the body to break down the protective walls around the cancerous cells, gobbling them up before they become a problem. It also appears in dark green leafy vegetables, grass, and everywhere else. Most people get none of it because they only eat processed foods which have it removed, and that’s why they get cancer.

Vegetarians tend not to get cancer because they tend to eat more Earthly foods, BUT, you can easily avoid cancer by eating foods with vitamin B17 every day. That means you should eat apple, apricot, pumpkin, and watermelon seeds. Citrus seeds don’t do much. In Central Florida we get yellow, plum-shaped loquat fruits a month out of the year, which have big seeds with lots of the cancer-fighting vitamin. My Dad had frozen quite a few of these and I’d been eating them daily, but we’ve run out so I’m back with apple seeds now.

Cancer is a vitamin deficiency like scurvy, meaning that you have to change your diet permanently to avoid it. There is no “cure” so much as there is prevention. People will tell you not to eat seeds because they have cyanide in them, but in fact, the form it’s in does no harm. I ate two apples, complete with seeds, yesterday, and seeds the day before, and the day before that, and more, without ever feeling so much as a stomach ache.

And I will never get cancer, which is quite nice. If you don’t eat seeds, everything is in fact a carcinogen, because anything that causes the body to dispatch healing cells could create cancer. If you get stabbed or shot, cancer might form there. If you bump your head, you’re open for brain cancer. If you smoke, the irritation in your lungs causes too many healing cells to be assigned, which fester as lung cancer. If you stay out in the sun, you get sunburns which result in skin cancer. But when you’re getting the cancer-fighting vitamin, none of these are a concern. Not even radiation. Of course, it’s still bad for you because it damages your cells, just as smoking will merit you emphysema.

There is only one form of cancer with one prevention and cure. The Rise and Fall of Laetrile (laetrile is a purified form of B17) may say otherwise, but the fact is their testing was on people who had already been ravaged by cancer treatment. Their immune systems were spent, and cancer was festering inside them. That’s like saying your brakes don’t work because you can’t go from 60 miles per hour to 0 over a span of 5 feet. It just doesn’t work that way.

If you’ve ever took a dog for a walk, you’ve noticed he eats grass. It’s instinctive. The grass has vitamin B17, and your dog won’t get cancer. But dogs do get cancer, when you lock them up in an apartment all the time and feed them dog food. That’s because they’re being deprived of a weapon against cancer. Animals in the zoo get cancer too, while animals in the wild don’t, all because of this.

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How to Be Happy

My belief is that happiness is a means, not an end. Living for happiness, games, or to avoid conflict is shallow and cowardly. We have an increasingly materialistic society, and that too applies to happiness, because people seek it instead of something greater like service to others, which is a truer path. It’s like focusing on making money rather than providing a valuable service to others (the only persistent way to make a lot of money). Articles like this that say things like “life satisfaction occurs most often when people are engaged in absorbing activities that cause them to forget themselves, lose track of time and stop worrying” perpetuate the myth. Happiness comes from courageous action for the benefit of others, not solitary hobbies like journaling, photography, or music. If those hobbies can be purposed to educate and inspire others, then all the better. If they cannot, then the only value they have is for your personal growth. You can use them to gain the strength to serve others through other means, but the hobbies are just a shell on their own, just as happiness is a shell. A stable job, a house, a car, money, friends, a family, and a ticket to heaven (church lip-service) is misery if it’s all you’ve got and you dedicate your life to maintaining it.

Ultimately, happiness cannot come from your hobbies, spouse, children, family, God, or even service to others. It has to come from within, from strength that you may have built through those means but that has become self-sustaining. Serving others will make you happier, as will engaging hobbies, loving relationships, etc., but only as icing on the cake, the meat of which is your own independence, intelligence, courage, mental resources, consciousness, and authenticity. Sure, you can live without these things. But would you be happy with a cake that is 100% icing? No: it would taste disgusting and make you sick. Materialists live this sickening life every day.

One movie that made me think a lot about the roots of happiness is Star Trek: Generations. In it, Captains Kirk and Picard are trying to stop a man who is going to kill millions of people to get into “the Nexus,” a Utopian realm where you get live forever and have everything you want. The catch is that you have to consciously live knowing that it is all an illusion. Picard gets sucked into it by accident, where he has his dream: a loving family to celebrate Christmas with (he has no family back in the real world). But after ten minutes of screen time he rejects it and leaves, because he wants to live in the real world, no matter what the cost.

When you live for your hobbies, your religion, or your family, you aren’t being real. Being real is the only way to live, which is being intelligent rather than ignorant, and knowing lies and evil so that you can embrace the truth and the good. That’s why God lets us choose good from evil: it would be meaningless if he made the choice for us. Children who live for their video games, their friends, or Hannah Montana may look happy, but they’re in fact quite unhappy. They grow up when they realize how empty and unfulfilled their existence as children was. Or at least, they hopefully grow up. Only 5% ever make the leap. The other 95% spend their lives pursuing childish, mouse-like, fake happiness, and die never finding it. If I can help just one percent of these people, then I’ve done well. If I can grow up myself, I’ve done well.

My mom inspired me to write this.

Investment and Efficiency

Say I have a plain text file of 500 dates formatted as MM/DD/YY and I need to change them to YYYY-MM-DD. There are a couple of options. I can do it all by hand, wearing out the backspace and arrow keys, and opening myself to the possibilities of typos. Or, I can find an automated way to do it. Say I’m slow, and it takes me three hours of fighting to find a good text editor and figure out how to use regular expressions to make the changes all at once. It would’ve been quicker just to do it all by hand. So which method is better?

Obviously, using regular expressions was much more efficient, but the overhead was much higher. There is a comparatively steep learning curve, and it takes a lot more time to figure out and implement than mere manual labor. But it’s an investment, and the investment is all up front rather than being spread over years. Some day I’ll need to do something similar again, and leveraging the experience I gained here will make it that much quicker.

Pursuing efficiency even when the road is bumpier and filled with pitfalls is a hard resolution to make.

Personally, I’d prefer to look for a creative and automated solution to a problem, even if it takes ten times more time and effort than doing it the normal way. The normal way is boring. Being engaged in the mind is always the better choice over being efficient in inefficient processes.

Take my How to give file names to your photos article for example. A pro-progress yet short-sighted person might ask, “Why would you waste time on something so trivial? Just give descriptive file names to your photos like a normal person.” But that’s not the point. The point is to find the better way to do things and follow through, even if the upfront investment is higher. Inventing is always more fun, even if the gains are minimal, for the coolness factor alone. I’d rather be creative but take six hours than to work efficiently but boringly in three.

This website is an example of high efficiency plus high investment. When I post a photo here, all I do is upload a file, link to it, write out a description and some keywords, and possibly a source image, which takes all of ten minutes. Then, an army of automated processes take over to start updating tag pages, category listings, RSS feeds, counters, galleries, posts lists, and more, site-wide and beyond. A URI is created based on my title, automatically (spaces turn to hyphens, etc.). The post counter in my sidebar updates. Three thumbnails with links are dynamically created with links: a small one for the header, a large one for the post, and a medium one for the gallery. The gallery is automated updated and every older photo is pushed back. The small thumbnail appears in the header randomly. The large one pops up right on the screen when you click, and all the code is handled on the server side. Photos pop up at the top of the home page, and at the bottom of the index.

My server automatically mirrors the post to LiveJournal and Facebook, serving as a running backup and giving options to my readers. An RSS feed is updated, and a third party called Feedburner sends out an email for my posts to 150 subscribers each day. Sites I link to are pinged, Google, Yahoo, and others automatically start crawling, and my new post starts popping up around the thripp.com network: on the main page, in the global feed, in the latest posts, and in every site’s sidebar. The local search engine is updated behind the scenes. Three of my other posts are displayed below the new photo through automated keyword matching. A printable, formatted version is created and linked to. The timestamp is saved. Archives by date are created. Social bookmarking links are added. A comments system and accompanying RSS feed pops up. When the second visitor stops by, a static HTML copy and gzipped (compressed) version has been created, and one or the other is automatically served up depending on what my visitor’s browser supports. It’s like magic.

The time investment for all this has been quite large. Despite doing almost no original coding and the extensive open-source community around WordPress MU, it’s taken my hundreds of hours to plan and design everything, to work out compatibility issues between plugins, to experiment, to debug, to get the software to do what I want instead of what it wants to do. I had to get a basic understanding of HTML, CSS, PHP, Apache, MySQL, SEO, etc. just to know where to go. Far harder than plugging away on deviantART. But that is someone else’s website, where they make the profits. You might think the efficient way is to forgo the investment and keep posting there. Then when I get banned on frivolous charges or get fed up with the service, I can move to Flickr or MySpace or SmugMug, confuse all my followers, and start the process anew. But to the leader’s mind, that is obviously the wrong way to go, despite the low barriers to entry.

The literal overhead for all this is very high. I even had to switch hosts recently, because the old one wasn’t cutting it with the weight of the processes. There are hundreds of files and scripts on my server, all handling different pieces of a dyanmic website. This is heavy and slow. But the efficiency outweighs it. It’s not efficiency in terms of computer time (insignificant), but efficiency in terms of human time (very significant). The most efficient way for the server is if I post a static HTML file with some text and one image. But this is no good for me, and it’s no good for my visitors. Computer time is always cheap, but your time is quite important. If a much faster or more complex computer can do what you do, even if it costs five times more, it’s worth it. This is efficiency triumphing over investment.

Efficiency is always the higher road, because it’s human. You don’t see cats coming up with more efficient ways to hunt birds. They spend hundreds of years on the same tried, true, and tired practices. They’re being quite “efficient,” but it’s done in a most uneconomical way, so much so that they may as well be wasting 90% of their time, if they were only using creative solutions in the remaining 10%, like weapons or camouflage or traps.

As an employee, you’ll often be stuck with methods that are battle hardened, but highly inefficient. Perhaps it is the library that has all its employees add bibliographic records by hand, because the administrators are too afraid to change systems. Or it could be the office store that focuses on pushing valueless warranties at the expense of its customers, the government agency that stifles thriftiness by requiring you to meet wasteful spending quotas, or the college that is afraid to shift to digital photography or online classes. Inefficiency is the way of the bureaucracy, just as it’s the way of animals and dull people. It’s easy to take the long, uncreative way; there’s almost no risk of loss because it’s a sure-fire success. That doesn’t make it worthwhile, though, because its accomplishments are meager and unspirited at best. To get somewhere, you have to invest time and money, even if it may yield no benefits.

Some organizations are more daring and better to work for. Google is known for that. But all of them are going to turn blindly against investment occasionally. The only way to avoid it is to work for yourself, and even then, doing the best thing rather than the safe thing is hard. Anything else is being penny wise but dollar foolish. Like my sociology teacher used to say: bureaucracies are hardy and resilient. So are cockroaches (except in that photo). Do you want to be like a cockroach? It isn’t worth it, no matter how much vulnerability you are shielded from.

You can use investing to garner efficiency in many areas of your life. Why buy a pack of cigarettes when you can save by buying the whole carton? If you’re a smoker, you don’t expect to suddenly quit, do you? Why publish your book through an on-demand press that charges $5 a copy, when you can get it for under $1 by doing a run of 5000 up front, and paying all at once? That’s what my Dad did. It’s expensive to start, but is going to save you so much in the long run. Unless you totally fail. My Dad hasn’t been successful. But if you don’t take the risk of committing yourself, you’re all that more likely to avoid success. You’ll be stifling yourself every step along the way, because your subconscious mind wants to prove itself right for not being willing to invest.

Investment is not a panacea; you must use it on things you are very committed to; things which have a chance of succeeding. I wouldn’t say buying $10,000 in lottery tickets is a good thing. But if you’re doing one thing well, you are efficiently losing money. It’s a much more efficient way than heading to the grocery store each week to buy just one lottery ticket. All those wasted trips…You could’ve just thrown away your money all at once and have been done with it! And that is the best choice, but only if you’ll be wasting the money anyway.

High investment narrows your focus. Instead of working willy-nilly, you pick a specific path and work at it incessantly. Being a jack of all trades is great, but gaining cursory knowledge of ten subjects can take as much time as becoming an expert in one. I’m trying to become an expert with my photography, at all costs. I hardly play the piano anymore, because it just wasn’t working out when I wanted to focus my attention elsewhere. I’m invested in being unemployed, because I want to make money off my passion without having to work (my work isn’t work—it’s fun). But if I stay on the fence and refuse to invest time, money, efforts, and resources, I’m guaranteed not to succeed. If I focus too heavily on maintaining dead hobbies rather than building my strength, I’m also squandering efficiency. The path is always changing, and old goals need to be abandoned unfinished to make way for the new. But this in fact is the highest investment of all: investment not for your comfort, but for your growth.

Being a Free Photographer

break away

I run into a lot of photography purists, but I don’t believe any of it myself. Photography is nothing but a series of manipulations. You’re manipulating the scene by composing it any differently than a non-photographer. You manipulate the appearance of the scene by zooming in or out. You manipulate your viewers’ outlooks by composing to exclude unsightly objects. Motion blur, shallow depth of field, under or over exposing… these are all creative manipulations on your part. You may not have as much creative control as with painting, but you can still be quite expressive. But creativity isn’t “pure.” If we can define any solid definition for “pure” photography, they’re going to be dull, boring snapshots that no one wants to look at. Don’t do pure photography. Anyone can do pure photography; it takes a real master to do impure photography.

The great thing is, when you embrace impure photography, a whole world of creativity opens to you. Pure photographers are constantly wasting time with ethical debates: is it okay to make the world look purplish in Photoshop, or only through the white balance setting in-camera? Can I crop my photos, or is that misrepresenting the scene? Can I add contrast to a scene that obviously needs it, or do I need to stick to my limiting philosophy? Impure photographers have no such shackles. The “code of ethics” is: do whatever is right to make the photo beautiful. No one cares if you change the white balance. Adding contrast is great. Brightening teeth? Spot-editing blemishes? Sure. It makes people look like they should. It isn’t a question of keeping the image true to the camera sensor; the goal is to produce an image true to the vision in your head. Creative photographs come from people, not computers.

Ironically, as an impure photographer, you’re always making the world look like it’s supposed to. Sunsets are supposed to be beautiful, bright, breath-taking, colorful. Raindrops are supposed to be frozen still, black and white, shiny, and contrasty. And darn it, flowers and people are supposed to be bright and animated with nicely blurred, defocused backgrounds. If you’ve ever debated F1.2 as impure for not showing the world like our eyes see it, you’re really steeped in the dogma. Let it go. You’re on to a grand world of free photography.

In truth, the only way to be a photographer is to be a free photographer. As a creative photographer, your task is to create an idealistic reality that is also a realistic ideal. If that means desaturating backgrounds on roses, removing specks of dirt, and burning in corners, then so be it. If it means adding a glow effect, filters, and sunrays to a sunset, it’s all good. Your tool is your camera, but your real power is your mind. It’s like painting, where you get to pick all the colors for the scene, but without all the heavy lifting. You can create so much more because there’s no need to build everything from scratch. You start out with a solid base (the world), and then you take away or alter the elements that need changing, be it by composition, post-processing, or any other method. As a photographer, you unlock your creative mind and become a more free person, because you’re set free from the grunt work of other artistic mediums and can instead work on the big picture. It’s like moving from assembly code to a high-level programming language.

As a free photographer, you will refuse to support film where digital surpasses it in quality and efficiency. There is no purism; hard work does not contribute to the creative value of a piece. It makes no difference if I took 100 shots of the falling droplets on my digital camera, picked the best, then edited out the ugly bits, rather than wasting 100 expensive frames of film and 15 prints in the darkroom getting my exposure and burning right. Even if I do that with the film, it’s not going to be as good, because I’m not good with film. If you’re not good with film, so what? Use digital then. It’s the wave of the future. The finished product is what counts. If it took you three days in the darkroom or thirty minutes in Photoshop, it makes no difference and each medium is as valid as the other, as long as what you do looks good. Your photos have to be inspiring, beautiful, challenging, creative, and fresh, all at once. That’s what counts.

If you’re in any sort of camera clubs or photography classes, your friends won’t like what I’m writing. They’ll spout some spiel about how photography is a time-honored and labor-intensive craft, and it must remain so. It’s not your job to change or influence the world; you’re just a recorder. If you edit your work, you are cheating your viewers. Your taking away from all the good photographers who put the work in (a.k.a. luck) and create one-tenth the beautiful images because of their fear-based orthodoxy. That’s what you’ll be told. Don’t listen to it. It’s not your friends who are talking. Their true thoughts have been stolen by the prevailing spirit of oppression and negativity. It is not your job to change them. Just go into the world pushing forward with your art, and if you are being a free photographer, other people will take note, because you’ll be producing fantastic work. And they’ll start switching over too. We can start a revolution.

A note on “camera clubs”: don’t join one. I’d never join a camera club. If I want to be with my people, I’ll join a photography club–not a camera club. Just like if I want to read, I’ll join a reading club, not a book club. It’s not so bad with book clubs, though. The unfortunate thing that happens with camera clubs, is that people get caught up in the science of photography and forget about the art. And even then, they’re not focusing on the science so much as their own notions: limit-based notions that keep them from pursuing their art form for want of some technical limitation. But there are no technical limitations. Sure, this is all relative. You can’t do much with a cheap disposable camera, and there are just things our cameras can’t capture, like huge ranges of light or certain shades of purple. But the difference between what our cameras can do, and what the camera club participants pretend they can do is quite vast. If you have a Canon PowerShot A590 or anything like it, you can do anything. Practically anything. In fact, by the time you get near the do anything level, you’ll be four cameras up. It won’t even matter. Start creating your best work now, not ten years from now.

I remember when I started getting serious about my creative photography in 2005, and all I had was a Fujifilm FinePix A360. And there were some things that I just could not take pictures of, or they were really hard to take pictures of. I could never get a good shot of lightning, despite numerous attempts, because I had no control over the ISO speed or shutter speed. With the cheap cameras, many things are automatic-only, like the settings on mine were. I wanted a good shot of falling raindrops, and after much perseverance, I got Raindrops. Unlike with my Canon Rebel XTi and fast lens, the only way to do it with the FinePix A360 was in the bright sunlight, so it had to be raining in the sunshine, but that happened because I kept watching. Then I had the necessary light to freeze the rain in motion.

You’ll run into all sorts of limitations like this in your photography. Perhaps you have the Canon Rebel XTi, and you’re finding the kit lens is too slow for indoor low-light portraits (I did). Or you’re filling up the burst buffer too quickly with your rapid shooting on the football field. The limitations can be anything, but the free photographer’s way is to embrace and work with them, at least till you can afford the expensive gear that attacks them directly. Learn how to be still to avoid camera shake with a bad lens, accept grainier photos with a higher light sensitivity setting, or just take three shots for every one so you’ll be bound to get one right. Switch from RAW to JPEG for quicker burst shooting, or buy a faster memory card to compensate (rather than a faster camera, which is much more expensive). Whatever you do, don’t give up saying that good photography is impossible with your current setup. That’s the coward’s way out.

Free photography, as much as it is about embracing all formats, methods, and editing as equal and valid, it is about not making excuses for anyone but yourself. If you miss the moment when the lightning struck the ground, don’t blame your camera, or your lens, or your lack of a college education. If you can’t produce a beautiful image because your source image needs work and that work isn’t permitted by your oppressive photography religion, don’t accept it as fate. Don’t blame anyone or anything else for shortcomings in your work. Have the courage to accept that anything you’ve failed to do or any photo opportunity you’ve missed is your own fault. The reason you can’t create beautiful photographs isn’t because you never see anything interesting. There are plenty of interesting things in your house, in your yard, and around your neighborhood. Or there are dull things which can become interesting when you shoot them in a new light or from a new angle. The “I never see anything / go anywhere interesting” excuse is your own way to excuse yourself from the guilt of not following your artistic passion. But you can stop it, right now. Instead of saying “there’s nothing interesting,” say “I don’t put enough effort in.” Once you rephrase your thoughts and words to put the keys in your hand, you’ll be on your way to putting more effort in, or making whatever change you need for your art form. It’s the first step. No more excuses.

I’ve used the “I never see anything interesting” excuse myself, once or twice. But if all I’ve written hasn’t appealed to you, I have one more piece of advice. Go somewhere interesting. It’s not that hard. Millions of other people do it every day. Go for a walk, visit the park, climb to the top of some high building. If you’re not seeing interesting subjects, it’s your responsibility to change that. It’s all part of being free and empowered, rather than a slave of fate.

Enjoy your life as a free photographer. You’ve just made a huge step above 99% of the other people in your field. I hope to be with you too.

I am no longer an employee

I was fired an hour ago. It took me this long to write this (I’m slow, you know).

If you’ve read my first post about this, you’ll know that I was in trouble for telling my boss she’s in the wrong career. And possibly for teasing her for five months, but she started that and it didn’t become a problem until after my nerve-striking statement, after which she was searching for problems to catch me on. That meets the definition of a red herring.

Bascially, I was fired for being honest rather than fake, by my boss’ supervisor over the phone. When you have a boss (even yourself) who wants attractive but evil fakeness rather than honesty, then that is the only thing that can happen if you refuse to compromise. The only thing.

Perhaps if I would’ve groveled a bit more at several key points along the way, or put up a wall of fake professionalism through the past three months of my job (i.e. not talking about anything deeper than the state of the morning coffee), then I could’ve clung on a lot longer. I also could’ve sucked it up and not asked to be transferred to the Ormond branch, and acted as if I wasn’t being held back.

Or maybe it was sharing Fear is Evil with my supervisor and old friends at Ormond. It was probably too jaded, yet truthful for them. Truth is a scary thing, for people who have sheltered themselves from it. There isn’t one truth, but many, and mine is one of them. I learned this from my year in QUANTA. Mine is a particularly frightening one to someone in the system.

Sharing that article was not a “smart” thing to do, from the standpoint of a normal person. What would the normal behavior be?

• 1. Offend your boss, not by something inherently offensive, but because there’s a shred of truth in it and she is scared.
• 2. Apologize profusely.
• 3. Promise it will never happen again.
• 4. Say it wasn’t true, you were just joking.
• 5. Say it wasn’t true, you were just angry.
• 6. Beg forgiveness.
• 7. Work extra hard and donate money to the library (or the equivalent for another workplace), to prove what a wonderful servant you are.
• 8. Not try to get transferred, because that’s asking too much.
• 9. Go up the chain of command and tell them how sorry you are too, because that’s what it’s going to take.
• 10. Be so wonderfully nice to everyone, you’re bound to be loved. But to everyone else, it’s obviously fake.

… and the list goes on. Do any of these sound like the behavior of a smart, passionate person? If this is the list you’d follow, it’s time to wake up.

In my younger days (12-15), I would’ve been more apt to handle this differently. I’d respond with a month of hatred toward my boss, plus three months of hatred toward the system, and then, because I was never weak enough to seek revenge, six months of apathy. Then I’d just try to forget all about it. But when we forget, it’s just avoidance. Fear. I’m sixteen now, and I hope I’m passed that. You have to face your fears if you’re ever going to grow anywhere. Being an employee isn’t so great after all. This is a blessing in disguise for me.

I’m not angry, I’ve moved above anger. Which is great, because anger drags you down. It’s a weight on your soul which pulls you down to the level of an animal. All I can feel is compassion, which is great because it means I’m moving forward and I’m not permitting negativity in my life.

The big problem, even bigger than being pushed to act fakely, is that since my new boss started (Jan. ’08), she took away everything I used to do. I was relegated to shelving and organizing the shelves (shelf reading), and not helping patrons check out items, or find stuff, or on the computer (unless it was something she couldn’t do), or issuing library cards to new faces in the library, or photographing story-time and other children’s events. In fact, she was bent on a strict code of professionalism in the workplace (no humanity). I used to give out print copies of my photos or articles to patrons and staff often, but she prohibited it, saying it was not my “job.” Funny thing is, it’s exactly my job, because all of our jobs in life involve each other. Not a grandiose title, or a book full of policies and rules. Normal people don’t need a man-made book of policies and rules.

So, where my goal in library services is service to others, I became unable to fulfill the mission by these new restrictions. And if I can’t do the mission, than each day is drudgery. I was dreading going to work today, before the news, because I didn’t want to go through another (half) day where my path was blocked. I’ve seen it in the library, because we get half the patrons than when Lisa was there (the upbeat librarian who was transferred out at the start of the year). The shelves and books are in beautiful shape, evenly spaced (one of my projects was to make their heights equal), and in perfect order. And it means nothing.

Either way, I made 59 cents on my website yesterday, far less than my $8/hour job. But at least this path has a heart.

So what am I going to do now? Besides my precalculus algebra class that I have eight days and two tests left in, I’m going to dedicate myself here. To my photography, and sharing it with the world, and building profits off of contextual advertising. The Volusia County Public Library system is no worse than any other, but that doesn’t mean it’s better either.

There’s a really funny thing here. When I spend twelve hours on the computer on days where I released my entire portfolio as stock imagery, or made dozens of comments on other blogs, it’s a smart and logical thing to do if I make it big (i.e. make money). If I fail miserably and make nothing, than no matter how driven and positive I am, I’m nuts. A megalomaniac, and quite a monomaniacal one. Perhaps I’m even delusional, for maintaining positivity where others would give up in despair. I might even have Attention Deficit Disorder. Whatever it is, there’s something horribly wrong with me, because I refuse to be “normal.”

It’s the same thing for gambling. If you play black-jack at Vegas for twelve hours a day, you only have a gambling “problem” if you’re losing money. If you’re the most brilliant card counter ever and are making money hand over fist, there is no gambling problem. The “problem” status is not dependent on the righteousness of the behavior, but its end results. A curious quirk. There must be a name for this concept. If not, I’ll make one up. But I’ve reached the end of my thoughts for now.

An ode to courage, and to living with it even when everyone else forsakes it. I know I try to.

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