Knowledge – Ideas – Skills


I’ve been thinking about this triangle consisting of three elements: Knowledge, Ideas, and Skills, and how people have these three things.

Knowledge is the things that you learn. The bits of data that you collect over the years, either from reading, or experience, or just taking in the world around you.

Skills involve actually doing things. Building things, writing code, designing stuff. Going beyond theories and ideas to create.

Ideas are what you bring to the table. Your own thoughts and dreams, as it were. The spark that ignites the creation of something.

Ideally you’d want to be right in the center, and be equally strong with Knowledge, Ideas, and Skills. Though perhaps as you exist in the center your strength at each one diminishes. Perhaps there are the rare individuals who can excel at all three, but in thinking about people I know (and myself) it’s probably more likely that people hit one or two of them strongly, and a third not as much.

I used to know a guy who was a phenomenal guitar player. His technical skills were amazing, and his knowledge was up there, he knew tons of songs and could play them perfectly. Sadly, his ideas were lacking, and he wasn’t much of a songwriter. Luckily he was in a band (a team) where others could provide the ideas. This is what teams should do, right? Bring together members with different strengths to create something better than what just one person can do.

In my own work (and play) knowledge is something I’m always chasing after. I spend a lot of time reading, and occasionally I ask questions. I tend to make a lot of notes as well, which helps, because I just can’t remember everything. I figure if I can remember where I stored some bit of information, that’s good enough.

And then there’s skills… Acquiring skills takes time, and practice, and doing things over and over again, and applying the knowledge you’ve acquired to the thing you’re trying to do. Design work, using tools, manipulating materials, writing words, capturing images… they all fall under skills.

As for ideas, I have plenty of them, I’m sure some (ok, most) of them are bad, or ridiculous. Often I go with the ridiculous ideas to see where it takes me, and along the way I hone my skills and acquire more knowledge. Occasionally in doing so I create a thing, and I enjoy the process and the journey.

Maybe I should call this the KIS Principle (Knowledge, Ideas, Skills) for short.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to know what I’m talking about, and when I write this sort of thing it’s really just an exploration of my thoughts, typed out on the screen. Occasionally I feel like sharing these thoughts with the world.


A Guide to Video for Smart People

The Interview

Every now and then I see a post that talks about photography, and how many factors go into the cost of hiring a “real” photographer (and by “real” I mean “professional”) so for my own reference in the future, I wanted to write up my thoughts on the topic of shooting video. (For our purposes today, assume you’ll be shooting a few talking-head videos for a presentation.)

I’m calling this “A Guide to Video for Smart People” because someone very intelligent, who I greatly respect, hired me to do a video shoot. Since, we had to talk about pricing, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts.

1. When you hire a professional, you get a professional.
What is a professional, exactly? It’s someone who uses pro-gear, and has the knowledge to use it. Someone who has experience, and has done professional shooting before. Someone who knows about shooting, and lighting, and pacing, and talking to talent, and audio, and composition, and dozens of other things you don’t even think about because it’s second nature after a while.

2. Professionals use professional gear.
Everyone’s got a camera nowadays, but there’s more to shooting than a camera. For a typical interview shoot you might have a camera, lens, lights, audio recorder, microphone, studio headphones, tripod, stands, spare batteries, spare cards, spare XLR cables, reflectors, and a dozen other things you bring on every shoot. I’m not suggesting you need top-of-the-line everything, but even on the low-end it can be $2,000 for a basic set-up.

3. Professionals are thinking.
If you haven’t had the luxury of scouting locations, you might show up and get a quick tour of the location so you can pick a spot to shoot in. When I walk into a room, I’m looking at the layout, the lighting, determining where all the outlets are, looking at the height of the ceiling, figuring out where the tables and chairs can go, etc. If there are windows in the room, is it cloudy outside? How will the changing sunlight affect the lighting during the shoot? And that’s all before setting up the tripod.

4. Professionals respect your work.
Besides taking the shoot seriously and doing a great job capturing the footage, a pro-shooter will make sure your work is preserved. Anyone with clients will know that even though you might provide them with files, there’s a chance they’ll come back a year later (or five years later!) and ask for it again. For a recent shoot the raw footage came out to be about 9GB of data. After editing it was about 30GB of data. That all gets backed up, and archived, and managed so that you can go back a year later and provide the footage again.

5. Professionals edit.
Even if the client thinks it’ll be quick and easy and there won’t be any editing… there’s always editing. Unless you’re just doing camera ops for someone else and they want the raw footage, you’re editing. So much DSLR shooting is done today with secondary audio that at a minimum there’s the syncing of audio with the video. Add bump-in and bump-out, a few cross-fades, choosing the best take, and render time, and you’ve got some time invested. (I’m not even getting into the copying, burning, and delivering of the work, but hey, that’s another aspect.)

OK, that’s part one of my “Guide to Video for Smart People”. We covered five points. There are more, but I wanted to keep this brief. The great thing about working with smart people is that they’re smart (duh!) so educating them to some of these facts shouldn’t be too hard to do. Chance are after the first shoot you do, they’ll get it, and it’ll be the start of a great (working) relationship. :)


It’s not the Gear, it’s the Gear!

TWIP - Gear

In the latest This Week in Photo there was another round of the talk of gear, and how gear doesn’t make the photographer, and while I agree with this, I also disagree with this.

The photographers who tend to say “Gear doesn’t matter!” are the ones who have really good gear. I’m not saying that it’s not true, but that it’s partly true. Over the last four years I’ve shot with a Nikon D40 with the 18-55mm kit lens, and I’ve shot with a Nikon D3x with a 28-70mm pro lens. the D40 was the entry level DSLR from Nikon in 2006. The D3x was the top of the line model a few years ago. The 18-55mm lens is a cheap consumer-grade lens that costs about $100, and the 28-70mm is a professional lens that costs close to $2,000.

Enough with the specs… I’ve taken the same photo with both cameras, and the results from the D3x look better. And I’m talking about studio shots, I’m not even getting into low-light, event photography, sports shooting, and other comparisons.

They also talked about the Nikon D3200, which oddly enough, is what I’ll be upgrading to very soon. I’m not expecting D3x quality from it, especially since I’ll be shooting with cheaper glass, and I’m not letting that 24 megapixels number fool me. I’d be fine if it were 16 megapixels, or even 12. (The D40 is 6 megapixels, and yeah, I have come to find that a bit limiting.)

I’m not buying into the idea that to become a better photographer you need better gear, because I do believe that shooting and trying new things is the road to getting better, but I do believe that gear does play a part it helping you make progress, or holding you back.

So my upgrade from a D40 to a D3200 comes with a set of expectations. I expect to be able to get better results in low-light (6400 ISO versus 1600 ISO.) I expect to have more choices in focus points (11 versus 3.) I expect more megapixels (24 versus 6.) And I also expect to be able to shoot video with the D3200, which is something I can’t do with the D40.

That’s about it… I’ll let you know how it goes.


Skill Badges (Part II)

Welcome to Part II of my self-awarded skill badges! (See Part I for background.)

Speaking of badges, there’s been some talk of badge systems, and some hackerspace/makerspace things happening where we might get to the point of awarding badges to members, maybe using Les Orchard’s Badger code, or maybe something else. It’s in the works… that’s all I can say right now. (And that’s pretty cool, right!?)


Programming: I will award myself the Programming badge based on the fact that I’ve gone from BASIC in the 1980s to Perl in the 1990s to PHP in the 2000s and Processing in the 2010s. That’s like 30 years of programming!

QR code

QR code: Flags on cupcakes for Bay View Gallery Night at Milwaukee Makerspace last year… Done!


Robotics: I’ll pitch Friday Night Drawbot for this one… Some of the other things I build have bot in the name, but this might be the only true robot. (Plus, I just built a second Drawbot.)


Soldering: Heck yes to soldering! I first learned to solder when I was a teenager, and I did take electronics classes in high school. I’ve learned in the last two years though that my technique was crap. No matter, it’s much improved lately. I’m only doing through-hole stuff, but I think that counts.


Welding: This one is questionable. I did a bit of welding at a demo we had at Milwaukee Makerspace, but I’m still not at the point where I could do it all on my own. I should do more welding this year…


Skill Badges

I decided to award myself some badges, I mean, no one else is gonna do it, right? Badges? Badges! Yeah, all those awesome badges you’ll find over at Adafruitthose badges.

And, no, I’m not the first to show some badges, and hopefully not the last either. At Milwaukee Makerspace we often refer to ourselves as “Skill Collectors” so these badges fit in nicely with that idea.

3D Printing

3D Printing: I think I’ve earned this one. While it’s true my RepRap is only (about) 80% done, I’ve managed to tame the MakerBot CupCake we have at Milwaukee Makerspace.

Bike Repair

Bike Repair: As a kid I used to fix my bike all the time. Also, when I was in college I managed to rescue a bike from a dumpster behind a frat house in Madison and re-built it into a completely usable ride.


Catapult: I seem to remember building a small catapult out of scrap wood and rubber bands when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure I scared the cat with it. (Since I have no photographic evidence I should probably try to earn this one again.)

Circuit bender

Circuit bender: I supposed I did do this thing… but let’s be honest, that was pretty simple, and again, I should do much better to earn this badge.


Drawdio!: I have built a Drawdio! I wasn’t really happy with it though, and I want to rebuild it into another device, but that’s a project for another time.

Dumspter Diving

Dumpster Diving: I’d actually have a sash full of these. Besides the bike I mentioned above, things I’ve gotten from dumpsters include: stereos, books, money, a photocopier, food, clothing, tools, and on and on and… I’ll stop before I embarrass my family any more.

(ESD) Electrostatic discharge

ESD (Electrostatic discharge): Have you ever grounded yourself by touching something metal before installing something new inside your computer? In the olden days when I had a Macintosh IIvx I used to put on rubber soled shoes, attached a wrist strap and treat RAM like it was highly explosive. Of course nowadays I install new RAM while eating pizza and sipping whiskey. (RAM also costs about 1/10 what it did back then.)

Hacked Kinect

Hacked Kinect: All I’ve got so far is that we did some 3D scanning of heads at Milwaukee Makerspace, and then reduced the complexity of the models, and 3D printed one of them. (It’s a work in progress.)


HTML 5: I’ve built more than one thing using HTML 5. The first one was probably the Evil-O-Mator.


Lasers: Although it’s been a learning process, I’m getting good results from the Laser Cutter now.


LEDs: I’ve definitely done projects with LEDs. My CheerLight is one of them.


Linux: Although it took me a few years to get into Linux, I now own about 3 Linux machines and administer 5 more. I like Linux. (Well, for servers anyway.)

Magic Blue Smoke

Magic Blue Smoke: Sadly, I have released the Magic Blue Smoke at lease once… and at least once it wasn’t my own equipment. Oops!

Metric System

Metric System: Ah, the good old Metric System! I really didn’t use it much until recently. Working in the RepRap world, and with the laser cutter, and other hacker/maker things, I’m starting to get used to it. (Sort of.)


Micro-controllers: Do Arduinos count? Does the Teensy count? Then yeah, I got this one…


Multimeter: I probably first used a multimeter in 1986, and while I still have a lot to learn about them, I can handle the basics, so that’s something.

Whew, I didn’t realize there were so many badges!

That said, I’m going to break this post into two parts, and I’ll cover the rest of my skills (or lack of skills) in the next post…