Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tweaking photos

I've been thinking too much about how to prepare photos for userpics, 'rogues gallery' framing, or to use in tributes or invitations for milestone birthdays, anniversaries, awards, funerals, etc.  Here's my primer of things to consider.

Choosing a pleasant 'happy snap' of the subject is the beginning, not the end of the process.

By the way, the subject limits the use of her image to this post only.

Some judicious cropping will help keep the focus on the subject.

Head and shoulders is often more flattering than waist up or three quarter. Especially if you are cutting someone out of a larger photo.

A head shot will usually look better than a torso shot. Its about capturing the essence of the person, not every detail.

Less detail makes for a more timeless image - you notice the person, not the unfortunate mid-noughties fashion choices, or the incriminating evidence of where the photo was taken.

You can choose an oval, which keeps the visual focus even tighter.

An oval can create a classic, traditional or retro feel. It depends on the original photo.

There are other frame shapes but oval/circle or rectangle/square are classic for a reason. A star-shaped cut out, for example, can look too-cute very easily.

An 'average' photo - wrong exposure, wrong light, etc. - may look better in black & white. You may want to increase the contrast.

If you're feeling brave, tinker with the mid-tones to get the right amount of detail. You don't want to emphasise every spot or wrinkle, but neither do you want the face to lose definition or character.

Some photos look good in sepia. In this case the subject looks somehow 'happier' in the golden tones, which pick up the sunshine effect. There's more depth too.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

High maintenance life

I'm beginning to be frightened - I kid you not - by the amount of time I spend maintaining stuff in my life.

It could be that my standards have improved over the years. I can recall times when I threw things away because they needed a nail or a screw and I couldn't be bothered or didn't know how to fix them. Or there was a brief phase when I succumbed to the "I am too spiritual and intellectual to bother myself with material things". These days I think it's a bit immoral to own something and not take care of it. If you despise it or don't need it, get rid of it rather than neglect it.

So I clean stuff, repair stuff, and of course - my all time favourite - move stuff around while trying to work out where to will live on a more permanent basis.

The positive effect of this is that I'm reluctant to acquire new stuff unless its a consumeable or I'm convinced it's going to be more than a short fling. I'm also motivated to get rid of stuff that no longer has a purpose in my life.

I once visited friends in the UK who were there for six months only. They had a flat which contained a bed, a portable wardrobe, a couch and 2 arm chairs, a table with folding chairs around it, and one bookshelf. When we visited they had to buy extra plates, cups and cutlery for us. When dinner was over we had to the do the dishes or we wouldn't have clean plates for breakfast. Cleaning the house took about 40 minutes once per week, if you moved at a gentle amble. While staying there I had so much time…

I get the same feeling when I'm travelling, only there I'm not even cooking my own meals. Sure, I don't have as much control over my environment or what I'm eating, and I can't do crafts, but it's simple and there's plenty of time.

It makes me realise what a high maintenance life I lead.

Monday, November 28, 2011

One little thing

It's hard for most of us to overcome inertia. We may know we're in a rut, or stuck, but we can't work out what to change to make, we can't work out what's for the best. We avoid small changes because we're saving up to make big changes… any minute now.

My experience tells me that when we're caught by inertia, we can overcome it with one little thing. Choose something to change (it can be anything) and do that.

  • Walk to work by a different route.
  • Buy a different brand of something at the supermarket.
  • Wear your underpants on your head instead of where you usually. (Ok, maybe not that one.)
  • Eat half that chocolate bar instead of the whole one.
  • Update one item on your resume, just in case.
  • Send that 'thinking of you' card to a distant friend.
  • Do 5 sit ups or a brisk 20 minute walk.
  • Buy a plane ticket.
  • Plant a flower or a tree.
  • Decline an invitation you'd usually accept only out of politeness.

One little thing can make a big difference.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Who's afraid of a bit of boredom?

What prevents us from trying new things?  Faced with a new environment, a new art event, a new social gathering, we retreat because our inner voice whispers..."what if it's boring?"

It's just anxiety in a new suit with a haircut.

I'm not sure that a bit of boredom is such a bad thing. I don't think it should stop us from trying new things. So what if we experience some boredom? We're not committing every Saturday night for the rest of our lives… at least I hope we're not. We often feel a bit bored when we're not engaged, but it's unlikely we'll feel instantly engaged with a new pastime or social group.

It's worth the sacrifice of a couple of hours of potential mild boredom to find out if we enjoy that new activity, that new class, that new discussion group. I say mild boredom, if you feel paralytic boredom coming on you should definitely leave.

It amuses me to realise that we don't run the boredom meter over the status quo. What would we be doing if we don't try that new thing…washing the dishes? watching a tv show? starting at the phone wishing it would ring? arguing with our housemates? reading random blogs on the internet?

Really, who's afraid of a bit of boredom?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What were they thinking?

A friend brought this little "what NOT to do" to my attention. Australia Post have a nice little promotion on until the 25th:
You complete an entry form, and have your $20 spend validated by a customer service person. 

The obvious next step is for you to go about your day with a little happy glow knowing AustPost have noticed that you're one of the few people sending snail mail these days and keeping them afloat and is actually a bit grateful and trying to reward your behaviour.

Instead, some bright spark decided you have to buy a 60c stamp and post the entry form:
Because it's not enough that you are actually in an Australia Post branch, spending 20 of your hard-earned dollars in a single transaction. 

My friend was not exactly feeling the love. I guess "Spend $20.60 in store…" didn't have quite the same ring to it. This from a postal service which also advertises Reply Paid Mail so that "your customers can respond quickly, easily and with minimum fuss."

It has all the hallmarks of committee idea dilution. Some marketing person had a neat little idea for a cheap and cheerful little campaign to identify high-volume consumer customers.  Then someone had the brilliant idea of wringing a few more stamps sales out of it.

So congratulations to AustraliaPost, you've annoyed my friend, a rare bird who still sends letters, and moved her from mild indifference to active dislike by revealing the contempt in which you hold your consumer customers.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Letting go of gifts

When you give a gift, the gift then belongs to the recipient.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?

But many of us don't truly let go of our gifts. We want to see the gifts used and appreciated, even treasured.    Our feelings are hurt if our carefully chosen gift is neglected or rejected - however tactfully it's done. We understand the gifts belong to someone else now, but we don't fully give them away, because we unconsciously reserve 'an interest' in what becomes of them.

Thus the angst that comes when our Sharon realises that our Roula never even used the lovely Christmas themed coffee mugs, and Roula is offended because Sharon never wears the sweater she gave her.  Or your neighbour discovers a garden statue at the local charity shop that is suspiciously like the one she gave you for Christmas.

The only strings on your gift should be the glittery ones used to gift wrap it. Remember, once given the gift will belong to the receipient. It is theirs to love and cherish, or neglect, or destroy, or give away, as they see fit. And its really none of your business which it is.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

3 things I'm feeling opinionated about...

1. Public transport stops:
Why have people decided the benches on train, tram or bus stops are for putting their shopping, school bag, boxes on, rather than for people to sit on? It's not cool, people, especially when the other people at the stop are older, injured, pregnant or infirm. Your stuff is not as important as that human being right in front of you. Honestly.

Also, smokers. I've said it before, but its important to move downwind of the stop when you smoke. It's nice that you're considerate and move away from the people, but pointless if you move upwind. I'm starting to think its some passive-aggressive pay back at the non-smoking majority.

2. Climate Change:
Truth is the first casualty in war. When any public debate becomes as heated and politicized as this one is, it triggers my deepest distrust. I count as friends passionate believers on both sides of the 'debate'. The thing I notice about their - endless and not always friendly - debates is that no-one ever alters their opinion by a millimeter, and they quote different authorities. I also notice that all of them recycle (for example), so their differences are basically rhetorical rather than behavioural. I doubt the Carbon Tax will either save or destroy the world as we know it. But hey, I could be wrong.

3. Children and Recreational Shopping:
They don't really mix. First of all, it's too noisy and stimulating for most kids after, oh, about 30 minutes. There's nothing for them to DO. You're not going to approve of them touching everything and you're not going to buy everything they want, are you? (I really hope you're not.) Little kids are strapped into strollers where all they see are legs. And guess what, big kids know that no matter how often you say, "yes, in a minute" they're here for a good two to four hours.

Recreational shopping with other adults barely works. Someone is always being patient, or failing to be patient, with the other person's interest. Witness men in women's clothes shops and women in the software/war/railway/car section of the bookstore (ok, cheap shot and stereotypical but you get the idea). An adult shopping companion won't ususally sigh loudly, demand food, cry, or run off the minute they're bored, but if you people watch you'll see plenty who want to. Adults are socialised, children aren't.

So shop by all means, but don't imagine that it is a good family outing, or a treat for the kids. Unless you're going to spend a lot of money on things they don't need and only want for the next 48 hours, then coming home with your loot via a fast food outlet where they can load up on food with no nutritional value and lots of E numbers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Making space

I spend too much of my time 'stuff wrangling'. Books, tools and craft items top my stuff list. I'm always looking for a space where some new thing can live happily in a 'place for everything and everything in its place' way. I'm also always looking for stuff I can sell, gift, donate, recycle or throw away.

When a thing doesn't have its own space, it just hangs around clogging up your home (or your workplace) and by extension, your life. Having stuff can make you happier, but not if its controlling you rather than the other way around.

I've realised that where I need more space is in time.

There are lots of projects I want to do, and genuinely intend to do. Problem is, they don't have a spot on my calendar yet. Or, if they do, they get bumped by something more urgent, or something more important (usually something for someone else).

Like physical stuff without its own space, things you want to do can hang around clogging up your mental space. So I started committing to particular times to work on different projects. I call it making 'temporal space'.

Even allocating 15 minutes to some planning on a new project gives it a space in which to become real. Add another 30 minutes to do just one bit of it, and you're on your way. Sometimes just deciding to rest the project this week gives you some valuable mental space, because you're not running that internal litany of "I really should be getting on with…"

Ok, its just scheduling. When I think of it as that, it focusses me on how time-poor I am. I don't want to be in a closed mindset about time. I want to be in an open mindset. When I create temporal space, I feel expansive and welcoming. I'm focussing on the possibilities.