Because Ken Jennings Said So

I recently finished reading Because I Said So, a fun easy read from Ken Jennings.

The premise of the book is simple: Jennings does some research to either prove or disprove various chunks of wisdom and advice that have been passed along from generation to generation. A few topics that I found interesting:

  • Dropping a coin from a tall building – how bad could it hurt someone?
  • Whether you should drink 8 glasses of water each day
  • If peeing on your feet can cure athlete’s foot
  • What would happen if you ate the “Do not eat” silica gel packets

As you can see, some of the topics are more serious than others… as I shared some of the insights with my wife, she noted that some of them had also been themes for episodes of the Mythbusters TV show.

Each topic/chapter is pretty short – a few pages – which makes this an easy book to read intermittantly. This probably makes it a good candidate for bathroom reading :)

Here’s an Amazon affiliate link if you’d like to purchase Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.

Success: Pants Optional

Lots of folks talk the talk about being a new/revolutionary/distributed/non-traditional company or workforce, but who’s really doing it? And is it really working?

What about a company with:

  • over 100 employees
  • employees all around the globe
  • only one office, and it’s an office that’s rarely used, even by the folks who live in that city
  • every employee working from… anywhere. At home, in a coffee shop, a coworking space…. anywhere they have connectivity

Sounds neat… but you wonder about what this company makes and whether it’s successful.

That Company Is Real and You Can Learn From It

The company is Automattic… they’re the folks behind and they work with the open source community to build and maintain WordPress, the popular web platform that now powers over 17% of the internet. Things seem to be working out.

Experienced project manager, author, and speaker Scott Berkun spent over a year working with Automattic as a team lead for – and one of his terms for his employment was that he be allowed to write a book about the experience. That book is The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work, and it’s now available for purchase. I had a chance to read the book. The tl;dr summary is that it’s really good.

Stories Lead to Observations

There are a few ways Berkun could’ve gone with the book and I’m pleased with the approach he chose. Most of the book is narrative storytelling, relaying experiences (both specific and broad) that he had while leading his team as part of the larger organization. Some of these are specific to a product challenge faced, while others are broader topics such as company culture. As a team lead, he worked with a variety of personalities (on his team and others) and he provides interesting insight into working with various situations in the distributed workforce… something which might have been a quick water cooler conversation is different when your teammate is thousands of miles away.

Most of the narrative chapters contain little observations and analysis weaved into the stories. After several of these narrative chapters, the author interjects chapters that are intentionally higher-level… less storytelling and more analysis. Aptly titled “The Future of Work”, this series of three analysis chapters could stand on their own as a short business book… but interspersing them among the storytelling chapters provides valuable context. The stories support the conclusions and the conclusions aren’t as deep without having read the supporting stories.


I came into this book as someone who knows several Automattic employees; I was previously familiar with the distributed workforce and I knew a bit about some of the tools and processes that allowed it to happen. That said, I was curious about conclusions – what would an outsider say after a year as an insider, and how would it be said? I walk away with these key points being made or reinforced:

  • Personality and Skills Trump Job Titles – it’s important to hire smart people. Ideally they have a deep knowledge of a specialty but also a broad familiarity such that they can help with tasks outside that narrow topic.
  • Tools Matter – much like traditional workplaces require the infrastructure of an office, conference rooms, parking spaces, and centralized phone systems, a distributed and timeshifted workplace requires an infrastructure of its own. Text and video chat, group discussion software, and other tools allow for team members to communicate both with themselves and with the company as a whole. It’s not just that any tools are needed: good tools are needed. Automattic rarely uses email. There’s a section in the book about that… it doesn’t mean that Automattic doesn’t exchange text communications, they do it in different methods which seem to be more manageable.
  • It’s Really About Trust and Communication – while the methods and madness might be different when a company is in one building versus hundreds, ultimately the success of the organization and the teams within it depends on workers’ abilities to trust each other and to communicate. Whether that’s big-picture vision stuff or in-the-weeds details, communication is key, and faciliating that communication, regardless of environment, is essential for success.

If you care about how business is done, I’d highly recommend the book. If you’re a WordPress user and you want some insight into how the sausage is made, there’s a good bit of that as well. Scott Berkun is a smart man and a great writer, and The Year Without Pants is an excellent read.

Up Close: Photography Ebook Explaining Macro

Up Close - Macro Photography EbookIn Up Close, the latest Craft & Vision photography ebook, Andrew S. Gibson guides photographers who are new to the macro and close-up photography world through the fundamentals of this area of photo making. As someone who is used to photographing events, portraits, and abstract work, the field of macro is one where I’ve had curiosity, but not much further. When I learned of this book, I was curious if it would provide me with a good primer on macro photography and the answer is yes. Here’s what I thought (along with some discount codes)…

Like the other Craft & Vision ebooks, this is formatted in double-page spreads. There are 90 spreads, offering a lot of great material (and accompanying photos) for the student of macro photography. As one might expect, the book begins with a definition of macro and close up photography, providing some good diagrams to help explain how this type of photography is captured on both full frame and crop-sensor cameras.

Macro Equipment, Technique, and Lighting

The first major section of the book (nearly half of it!) deals with equipment. This was one of my personal areas of confusion… what’s a macro lens vs. a close-up lens vs. an extension tube? Why would I want each? When is one better than the other? What about reversing a standard lens and using it “backwards” for macro? All of these bits of gear are covered, with practical applications for each and advice on which options won’t lead to desired results. While Gibson notes what he considers ideal gear, he also offers up a lot of options for those just beginning the close-up adventure, including options which are going to be easy on the pocketbook.

After talking gear, the second major portion of the book discusses technique including focus, sharpness, and depth of field. Given the tight tolerances when working at extremely close distances, focus and depth of field play an especially important role in this style of photography. Gibson offers tips on how to best stabilize the camera and make fine adjustments in order to achieve various results. The final portion of the book is a look at lighting… while Gibson makes his preference for natural light known, he also explains and discusses a couple options for adding additional light to a close-up photo. One option is a ring or macro flash and the other is the use of a “regular” speedlight along with a small softbox1.

Up Close: Andrew Gibson Photography Ebook


There are a couple case studies of successful macro photographers and they do a good job of reinforcing Gibson’s material. Overall I was impressed; the entire book covered a good range of material for the beginning close-up or macro photographer. For someone in a position like me and curious about this area of photography, I can highly recommend Up Close – Gibson did a great job at continuing the Craft & Vision tradition of excellent material.

Buy Up Close from Craft & Vision.

Where to Share Photos? SHOOT + SHARE is a New Ebook for That

SHOOT + SHARE photography ebookCraft & Vision just released the latest in its series of photography ebooks. Shoot + Share is an offering by Stuart Sipahigil that explores the world of sharing photography. What does he mean by sharing? It can mean social networking and websites, but it can also mean prints, galleries, or a photowalk. I’ve read an advance copy of the book; read on for my thoughts.

Why, and for Whom?

Assuming one’s goal with photography isn’t to create a collection of work that’s never seen by anyone else, sharing applies to all photographers. There are various aspects explored in the book, but it opens by asking “Why share?” and then explores the various audiences a photographer might want to entertain, such as:

  • sharing with photography clients
  • sharing with other photographers for review/critique
  • sharing with the world

Based on deciding who is the target audience, the rest of the book looks at various forms of sharing photography. Regardless of the sharing method, a photographer needs to edit his or her collection down to the best images, and several pages discuss the editing process as well as creating a portfolio of one’s best work.

Sharing in the Online World

A substantial portion of the book explores various online sharing methods. Sipahigil uses his own experiences with experimentation and indecision about where to share his work online as representative of the various choices that a photographer must make. Several popular photo sharing platforms are mentioned including Flickr, 500px, Google+, and individual websites. He notes that he settled on a plan where he posts his photos on his own website and then promotes links to his site via social media, but that certainly isn’t the only (or “right”) option for everyone. I will note that the material is very current — there’s a reference to Instagram for Android.

After discussing the various consumer photo sharing sites, there’s a brief overview of the “pro” photo hosting services, including SmugMug, PhotoShelter, and Zenfolio.

SHOOT + SHARE photography ebook

Sharing in Meatspace

The final section of the book deals with various forms of sharing photography that don’t involve a computer screen. There’s a look at making prints and photo books, and a discussion of places to share work such as art galleries, festivals, and coffee shops. The book wraps up with a look at teaching and participation in photowalks as a method of sharing.


I will admit when I first saw the title and idea for this ebook that I was a bit skeptical. I was curious what would be shared that would be of interest to anyone beyond a beginner photographer. Most of the material about sharing online was about what I expected, offering a very high level look at online sharing services but without going into very much analysis or detail about why one might choose a particular online venue over another. That said, some of the material about editing and portfolio selection was excellent, and given the affordable price of the book I would recommend those sections for anyone who’s being challenged in narrowing down their images to the best of the best.

Overall I feel this would be well-suited for photographers who are trying to make decisions about where to share their work and invest their efforts, but it falls a bit shallow in some areas where I would hope to see more depth in explaining just why to choose one sharing method over another. At the usual Craft & Vision price of $5, there are some good portions that make it an interesting read, but don’t expect detailed strategic analysis.

Buy Shoot + Share now for only $5.

Learning Camera Exposure: Understanding Exposure Ebook Review

Understanding Exposure photography ebook by Andrew S. GibsonPhotographer and author Andrew S. Gibson has released a new ebook, Understanding Exposure, that does a good job of breaking down this fundamental photography concept. I’ve previously reviewed Gibson’s Beyond Thirds and Square books, and like his previous offerings this one didn’t disappoint. Unlike many photo ebooks, this isn’t purely for newbies. Even as someone who’s been involved with photography for over ten years (and having done it professionally for four years), I learned some new things that should improve my images.

Subtitled “Perfect exposure on your EOS camera”, there are portions of the ebook which are a bit Canon-specific, but most of the material applies to digital photography in general and will be of value to a Nikon shooter like me (or Sony, Pentax, Olympus, and so on). Understanding Exposure is divided into three general sections.

Exposure Concepts

The first section of the book covers the concepts of exposure. Beginning with the exposure triangle of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, Gibson dives into the building blocks of photographic exposure. After explaining the relationship between these three elements, the remainder of the first section explains some of the common ways by which exposure is referred, adjusted, and measured.

The notion of exposure “stops” is explored in depth, including charts that help a reader understand the mathematics behind stops and exposure values. The final part of section one is a multi-page guide to histograms. I’ve seen many explanations of histograms in the past, but Gibson dives into more detail on both the luminance and color histograms than any other resource I’ve seen (9 pages are devoted to the topic).

Camera Settings

The second portion of the book is devoted to camera settings and controls that affect exposure. This is where things get EOS-specific, but astute readers can find similar controls on cameras from other manufacturers. This section moves in a logical order, starting with the basic metering modes (P, Av, Tv, M) and then moving into exposure compensation. After discussing the camera settings and the “easy” scenarios, there’s a discussion of how manual lenses affect exposure calculations and a quick look at how (and when) one might want to use an external light meter.

Three Exposure Scenarios

Understanding Exposure photography ebook - Andrew S. Gibson

The last part of the book consists of detailed breakdowns of the three exposure scenarios:

  • a scene in which the brightness range matches the dynamic range of the camera
  • a scene in which the brightness range is noticably less than the dynamic range of the camera
  • a scene in which the brightness range is greater than the dynamic range fo the camera

For each of these scenes, an explanation is provided with the photographer’s options for making the exposure. There is a discussion of ramifications of various decisions and a representative histogram is shown.

Summary / Recommendation

Overall this is a great book, I’d recommend it for anyone who creates images although non-Canon users will need to do a bit of translation in the portions which explain camera controls. Whether you’re a photo newbie with your first camera or a veteran shooter, the material in Understanding Exposure contains items of relevance to you. The book is over 75 pages and is provided as a PDF so it can be read on a computer or mobile device. The list price is £7, but if you order by the end of April use the discount code exposure2 to save £2.