Making Is More Than Robots and 3D

Punkin Chunkin' in Washington State

When you hear the word “maker”, many people think of 3D printing, robots, coding, and makeshift devices like that pumpkin’ chunker in the picture. But, as Josh mentioned in a webinar last week, we should also be including some more traditional creative activities in our thinking, like blogging.

I would also add photography.

When professional photographers talk about their work, they will often not use the phrase “take a picture”. Instead they are “making an image”. It may be a subtle difference, but more than a few pros I’ve read and heard insist that making better defines their process than taking.

Because great photos, ones that inspire and move people, don’t happen by just pointing a camera at the subject and pressing a button. They are made through artful composition, a skillful use of light, and making the best use of the available equipment.

I won’t claim that any of the images I’ve posted here, on my photo site, or on Flickr qualify as “great”. However, I’m working in that direction, through experimentation, learning from others, and lots of practice.

Just like any good maker.


The picture, from Photos By Clark on Flickr, is used under a Creative Commons license.

Edit Your Photos. Please.

The video embedded above may not appeal to everyone but it could be interesting for anyone who takes a lot of photographs. It’s a short (6-1/2 minutes) testimony to the relationship between National Geographic photographers and their editors, and offers some insight into the editing process at a professional level.

I’ve had a number of opportunities in recent years to participate in workshops and other sessions led by professional photographers, including some from Nat Geo. The editing process is one important topic that always comes up and, it turns out, the photographer does very little of that editing by themselves. That’s why they have editors. 

However, those professionals use the term “editing” very differently than most regular picture takers.1 For them, editing photos is about cropping the image, maybe applying a filter or two, changing the brightness. Or just clicking the Auto button to see if the software can improve things. Professionals refer to those changes as “processing” the images.

For professional photographers and their editors, editing is the process of reviewing a relatively huge number of photos and selecting the relatively few that will be used in a project. At Nat Geo that can mean taking 40,000 images (or more) and finding fifteen or so that will best enhance the story.

I can’t imagine that job. It’s hard enough when I come back from a trip with 800 photos and have to pare them down to a collection that my friends and family will actually want to view. Part of my editing also involves writing a title (instead of IMG-1171), a short description, and adding a few keywords for each image I post online to Flickr and/or my SmugMug sites.

I also love viewing photos taken by others but I really wish more of them would do a better job of editing of their pictures. Too many people simply post almost everything they take to their social media channels with little or no culling of the lesser images. As a result, the narrative in those pictures can get lost.

Spend some extra time on editing those photos and they will tell a better story. Thank you.


1. I mean absolutely nothing negative in that phrase. I’m also a “regular picture taker” who is working to improve my skills and I love helping others do the same.

A Modest Cure For The Overload of What Looks Like Information

I have a confession to make. I have not watched television news for more than a year. Not the so-called cable news stations, not regular network programs (morning or night), and not the local broadcasts.

Not only do I feel better, I think I’m also better informed than the people who binge on that stuff. Certainly better than anyone who watches Fox “news”.

It started just before the 2016 election when I took off for a week in Cuba that just happened to include election day. After learning of the results (the family we were staying with was very sympathetic), I decided I needed a new media diet, one that actually contained useful information, instead of hour after hour of “analysts” with little information and grids full of screaming heads.

My information stream may not work for you but it might give you some ideas on how to craft your own break from TV.

I start with suggested content from a few curated sources. Curation is that thing editors of television news, newspapers, and magazines used to do when they had 24 hours or more to consider events and decide which ones were worth including in their limited space. They didn’t always get it right, but trying to find instant value as you watch the stream is even worse.

My current favorite curators include Next Draft (by one person Dave Pell) and Quartz’ Daily Brief. Every weekday, both deliver a short collection of links to the stories they consider most important, along with some interesting stuff of less import. Plus very brief and sometimes humorous commentary.

I also receive a few weekly collections. From writer and edtech critic Audrey Watters (for a jolt of reality and much to consider), writer and artist Austin Kleon (for some inspiration), and UK-based educator Doug Belshaw (for education-related ideas).

None of these sources takes long to scan through, and I certainly don’t read the stories at the end of every single link. Very often the commentary is enough to get a general idea, especially when it comes to political news.

The articles and posts I do want to read usually get sent to Instapaper, an incredible service that aggregates anything I send to it and then delivers the information in a simplified format (re: no ads!) on any device I happen to be holding when time allows for some reading. It also offers some good highlighting and note taking features for when I want to rant about something in this space.

So, there it is. My simple, curated flow that takes less time and delivers more information than whatever passes for news on television. Chances are, if there is something worth viewing, one of these sources will link to the video anyway.

And what, you say, about “breaking news”?

I maintain that there’s no such thing. Most of what is given that label by the news channels is not of immediate importance and they often have very incomplete (often incorrect) details on what happened anyway. They offer even less on why it’s important. Besides, my Twitter feed will tell me if something big has happened in the world, and I can then choose to follow one of the tweeted links. More curation.

Anyway, that’s my system of keeping up with the news. As I said, it may not work for you. However, I would argue that most people would be far better informed with a buffer of time and thought between the actual event and the report of it. And a few good curators.


The graphic is by Jessica Hagy who has been posting these wonderfully insightful charts every weekday morning at her site This is Indexed for more than decade.

Bringing Back a More Spirited Web

Web Trend Map

That image above, resembling a subway map, is an imaginative visualization of the World Wide Web in 2007.1 The company that created this graphic, the design firm Information Architects, stopped updating it in 2011.

In a recent blog post, they explain why there won’t be a 2018 edition: “The most important ingredient for a Web Trend Map is missing: The Web.”

The Web has lost its spirit. The Web is no longer a distributed Web. It is, ironically, a couple of big tubes that belong to a handful of companies. Mainly Google (search), Facebook (social) and Amazon (e-commerce). There is an impressive Chinese line and there are some local players in Russia, Japan, here and there. Overall it has become monotonous and dull.

How can we fix that, and bring back at least some of that spirit? The folks at iA suggest we need more bloggers, those who used to write online and those new to the concept.

If you are one of those old or young bloggers, please join in. Drop Facebook, drop Twitter and drop Medium for original thought. Own your traffic. You can use them to engage in discussion. But don’t get lost in there. Write daily. Publish as often as you have something to say. Link to other blogs.

Completely agree. I would especially love to see more teachers online, posting content to their own domains instead of to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the other closed tubes. Creating communities of educators that own and control their message. Instead of producing material for greater advertising sales.


Thanks to Doug Belshaw for the link that triggered this rant. He includes lots of interesting links like that in his free weekly newsletter, Thought Shrapnel.

1. Click the image to see a larger, more readable version.

Why Are You Going to That?

Educon

Last week I ran into a former colleague in the supermarket and during the brief impromptu catchup, I mentioned that I would be spending the weekend in Philadelphia at EduCon. After reminding me that I was no longer working, she asked “Why are you going to an education conference?”.

I suppose it’s a valid question. I didn’t really have much of an answer at that point. That kind of encounter isn’t really designed for long-winded explanations. But blog posts are.

Ok, it’s quite true that I’m no longer employed by a school district, or being paid by any other organization. But that doesn’t mean I’m no longer an educator. At least I still think of myself in that way and I’m having a great time finding other ways to help people learn outside of the formal system. So, I was at EduCon to continue growing as an educator.

I was also in Philly to continue my personal learning. We talk a lot about “lifelong learning”, a concept we constantly try to sell to our students. Spending several days interacting with other educators at Science Leadership Academy is me putting that concept into action. Plus the city itself is a wonderful place to explore and learn from.

Finally, I return every year on a usually cold and windy January weekend for the community. EduCon is a unique event that attracts a relatively small, dynamic, diverse group of educators deeply interested in improving both their practice and American education in general. It’s refreshing to reconnect with that community for a few days of face-to-face conversations.

All of which means I already have the 2019 dates (January 25-27) locked on my calendar. Maybe you want to plan to join me?


Picture is of one packed EduCon session being streamed to the world.