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.

Photo: Flash in the Night

Flash in the Night — a bolt of lightning brightens the dark sky

A bolt of lightning flashes through the dark sky. This was from the storm during my vacation. My grandmother forbade me from going outside ( :neutral: ), so I shot this through the screen window. You can see the pattern of the window on the sky, though it’s out of focus. The blurred spots may have been water drops on the window. I snapped fifty photos, and was lucky enough to get this one as the lightning struck. I put some of my tips from Torrential Rain to good use.

I closed down all the way to F22 in aperture priority mode, yielding a 1.6 second shutter speed. I braced the camera against the window, and fired away. Before this, I set the exposure compensation to -2, so the lightning would not be too bright.

The source image looks brighter than it should. I purposely underexposed when shooting, so the lightning would not be too bright when it popped up. I shifted the colors to be more bluish, removed some dust spots, burned in the corners, and darkened a bit. That’s all the lightning needed!

Canon Rebel XTi, EF 50mm 1:1.4, 1.6″, F22, 50mm, ISO100, 2008-06-26T18:08:28-04, 20080626-220828rxt

Download the high-res JPEG or download the source image.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.

Photo: Modern Lightning

Modern Lightning — a white tree branch against an ominous sky

Lightning reborn. This is what I get for leaving the flash on. I’m proud of this for its uniqueness.

More contrast, darkening, and switching to black and white makes this awesome. :big-grin:

[sniplet 4×6-glossy]

Canon Rebel XTi, EFS 18-55mm, 1/60, F10, 18mm, ISO400, 2008-01-12T17:43:29-05, 20080112-224329rxt

Download the high-res JPEG or download the source image.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Credit me as Richard X. Thripp and link here.