It's a Resolution, Baby!

52 Weeks. 52 New Year's Resolutions.

Week 4. Resolution 4. Read 3 books a month. January 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 11:25 AM
Tags: , , , ,

At the start of the year I counted all the books I had to read and the answer was 42.  And while this may or may not be the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything, it is certainly a lot of books.  Especially since this number only includes the books I have recently acquired and not those dusty tomes that take up precious bookshelf space, which I gave up on long ago.

This collection came about because I felt like reading a graphic novel one day, so with the stellar Australian / American exchange rate, I bought a bunch from Amazon.  Then I started working in a bookshop which is a mistake if you like books (and obviously you wouldn’t be working in a bookshop if you didn’t).  Not only do you have access to free books from a limited selection of damaged or pre-release books (called readers), you are also continually faced with practically every book you’ve ever wanted to read.  And this, combined with a 25% discount makes for a packed to overflowing bookshelf.  Or, in my case, a suitcase full of books hidden under the bed because the shoddy Ikea bookshelf won’t sustain the weight.

I felt it was important to have this as a resolution, and probably one of the few which will be ongoing for the whole year, as life often gets in the way if reading isn’t actively prioritised.  Although, I suspect my motivation is more because the other girls at work seem to read every second of their spare time so they’re more likely to read 42 books in a month, unlike me who whiles away most of my spare time watching my favourite TV shows or using Twitter.  This makes them perfectly capable of recommending you the perfect children’s or paranormal romance (ie. vampire) book (which, let’s face it, are the biggest selling categories of books) while I am pretty much incapable of recommending anything since my taste is rather eclectic and most people don’t need help in choosing a ‘classic’ to read.

Really, I should be trying to read about six books per month but three feels like more of a comfortable number, less than one a week, although I will strive to read as many as I can.  Luckily, since graphic novels make up a sizeable portion of my collection, I am going to allow them to count towards the total, even though they usually take less than a couple of hours to get through.  So with that in mind, this month I have managed five and here they are with a little review of each.

  1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid:  Dog Days by Jeff Kinney.  The 4th in a cute series of
  2. books aimed at primary school aged boys which combines ‘handwritten’ text and sketches to detail the misadventures of Greg, the main character.
  3. A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire.  This is the third book in the Wicked series.  As always it is a creatively written take on the main players in the Wizard of Oz but is best read closely together with the rest of the series as it is very reliant on details of the previous books.
  4. Hey, Wait… by Jason.  The most touching and heartbreakingly tragic story ever rendered in graphic novel form.
  5. Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox.  I put off reading this for years because I didn’t want to face the realities in it however it is beautifully written and a really interesting tale of celebrity and Parkinson’s.  I am now addicted to bios.
  6. Digital Photography: An Introduction by Tom Ang.  Well I think I’ve harped on about this one quite enough.  Even though I read it for a challenge, I still read it cover to cover so I reckon that counts towards the tally!

Sadly, even with five books down I am still at a total of 42 books to read.  Collecting books is a terrible compulsion!  I shall endeavour to update on this resolution each month.

Advertisements
 

Week 3. Resolution 3. Learn To Use Photoshop. January 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 9:26 AM
Tags: , , , ,

Well week 3 has come and gone and mostly found me glued to a computer screen manipulating photos to within a pixel of their life.  As I previously mentioned, this week I hoped to become better friends with Photoshop.  We have been colleagues in the past when I’ve had to manipulate the odd image back in my video editing and production coordination days but being the busy bee that I was we never really got to spend any quality time together.  Then, when my mum got sick just over a year ago and I had to quit work to look after her, I saw it as an opportunity to get to know Photoshop a little better.  So after acquiring a copy of Photoshop I also invested in Total Training’s DVD for Photoshop CS2.

These guys have formulated DVD and online training for most of Adobe’s products and came highly recommended.  I figured I’d work through one of the 36 lessons every day and be a master in no time!   What I didn’t count on is that each video lesson which runs for approximately 40 mins would end up taking around 2-3 hours out of each day once I’d completed the demonstrations and taken notes.  So, like all good time-consuming tasks, I eventually lost interest about half way through.  I tried to take it up a few months later by starting over again but that was doomed from the outset.

It then occurred to me that although the lessons were comprehensive they weren’t actually showing me how to apply what I’d learnt to my own photos in an easy to follow manner, which was the real reason for my waning interest.  I was trying so hard to get to know Photoshop when what I really needed to know was what Photoshop could do for me.

At the start of this challenge I turned once more to Tom Ang’s ‘Digital Photography – An Introduction’ but  found its preachy “this is what Photoshop can do” approach was going to be a waste of time when what I really needed was “this is how to make Photoshop do what you want”.

As fortuity would have it I was shelving some freshly released books at work when I noticed one called ‘The New Digital Photography Manual (4th ed)’ by Philip Andrews, just as I was contemplating how I was going to manage this resolution in the space of a week.  I skipped straight past the section on shooting (although was happy to notice that it wasn’t afraid to tackle the areas Tom Ang barely touched on) to the manipulation chapters which outlined step by step instructions for most conceivable photo problems.  I felt pretty hopeful about it and although I have a horrible habit of buying books I probably will never get around to reading (the perils of working in a bookstore) I felt this one was a must have.

I have been working through the exercises in the book all week while giving my zoo photos quite the work out.  The book is really easy to use and I’m sure would suit someone who has just opened Photoshop for the first time.  There are three or four areas that are vague on details but this is where the knowledge I picked up from the Total Training lessons really came in handy.  Now I know I can go back to the DVDs whenever I feel I need more knowledge in certain areas and will actually be able to apply what I’ve learnt.  Finally, I feel confident enough to work with many of the various tools at my disposal to get my photos to a place I am happy with.  And while I still have so much to learn at least I now have a base to work from.  At this point I returned to Tom Ang and finally found his book useful as I could understand his more detailed descriptions of Photoshop procedures once I had some understanding of the basics and the terminology.

I’ve also picked up a few Photoshop apps for the iPhone which provide lessons and ‘how to videos’. (Rick Sammon’s looks particularly good and was featured in the app store this week which was how I clued into the existence of these kinds of apps in the first place:  yet another fortuitous event.)

Photoshop is truly a miraculous tool when it comes to beautifying the mundane and although personal choice and opinion are the biggest contributors, Photoshop certainly provides countless ways to get to your final results.  I constantly found myself amazed at what it was possible to achieve.

So here are a few of the results (before and after).  If you click each image once and then again on the second screen you can see them fullscreen.  Admittedly, most of these photos still aren’t at a stage where I’d be happy to print them but as my intention was to learn the program (and not to have frame worthy prints) then I am satisfied I have met this aim!

As I have enough vouchers from various photo printing companies to get 80 free prints done, I spent the last day of the challenge going through all the photos I’ve taken since I started using digital cameras (this took me ALL DAY – why am I so trigger happy?!) which I intend to get Photoshopping over the coming weeks so I can proudly hang some of my better photos among the art pieces I value so highly.  I will be sure to post some of the results.

Something else I’ve learnt from the challenge is that it really is incredible what you can tackle once you put your mind to it.  We are all guilty of putting off things that we don’t want to do or that we feel will be too hard but instead of wasting time complaining about our lot or feeling frustrated that things never get done, with a little persistence and the right frame of mind you will be truly surprised what you can achieve in next to no time.  The crazy thing is, I’ve read quotes to this effect in countless books but it wasn’t until I embarked on this challenge that the words really began to take on a personal meaning.

I’ve always watched those who use Photoshop with a mixture of admiration and jealousy but within the space of a week, with a useful book and the dedication to devote my free time to the challenge I can now be one of those people – and could have been years ago had I not filed it in the ‘too hard’ basket.

 

Week 2. Resolution 2. Be a Better Photographer. January 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 11:48 AM
Tags: , , ,

I figured the best way to make the ‘resolution challenge’ more interesting would be to document my progress with photos – so this week’s resolution was to learn to be a better photographer.  I’ve always loved photography and even studied black and white SLR photography at school, however having never been able to afford the equipment these skills fell by the wayside.  In the years since, I’ve done my best with various ‘point and shoots’ but beyond framing of the subject there’s not a lot of creative control that can be had without an SLR.  You can see some of my earlier work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/starlsy/.

For Christmas my dad gave himself a new SLR which meant his old one became mine – hooray!  Wanting to learn the ins and outs of this new machine I picked myself up a copy of Tom Ang’s ‘Digital Photography – An Introduction (3rd ed)’.  This guy is apparently the best in the business and has published a tonne of books on the subject.  I started resolution #2 by reading through the first half of the book which is dedicated to shooting (the 2nd half talks about retouching) but was quickly disappointed that there was very little of value to be learnt from this book, however it did give me a basis to explore some of the technical terms on my own.  After venting my frustration to a friend, who is also a stunning photographer, he explained a number of the areas that were causing me grief in ways that my research failed to do.  Here’s a little blog he whipped up for me and others who might be confused by the basics of SLR photography – http://www.stevenlippis.posterous.com/the-joy-of-depth-of-field/.

Next step was to read the camera manual for my Canon EOS 350D, which resulted in me taking far too many test shots

Test - Laptop & Blinds

of the TV, my laptop, and the blinds.

To make the challenge totally authentic it required a photography excursion.  Dad was also keen to try out his new camera so the family decided to go to Alma Park Zoo, which is just down the road and even though my folks have lived nearby for seven years, none of us have ever been.

Between Dad and I we took 800 photos (the majority of them mine).  Unfortunately I had my camera set on the wrong ISO setting for half the day, but I suppose that’s all part of the learning process!  Dad has a swanky zoom lens and only ever uses the automatic settings but you can see from the results just how much more interesting his photos are.  Although it was nice to have both cameras, with one documenting close-ups and the other getting a little more of the environment.

I planned to spend the remaining time getting to know Photoshop a little better so I could dazzle you with my photo skills however on Thursday I was struck down with an unusually painful cold and was bed-ridden for the rest of the week.  I expected the challenge to be thwarted at some point, but not so damn early on!  So unfortunately all the above photos are untouched.

As a result I’ve decided to tackle Photoshop as next week’s challenge.  I know it’s a cop-out but I think I’d really appreciate the extra time to spend with it since my knowledge of the program is only at about 7%.  And it’s something I’ve really wanted to do for years and only ever had the time to half-heartedly commit to it.

I am really passionate about taking photos and I loved this challenge so I plan to do a more in-depth photography course sometime within the next two years.  I’ve been a frustrated photographer for long enough!

 

Week 1. Resolution 1. Start A Blog. January 9, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 7:27 PM

Yep, you guessed it.  Resolution 1 is to start a blog.  This has been one of my goals for sometime but my fears kept getting in the way.  Fears that I wouldn’t find the words to express myself; that I wouldn’t be interesting enough; that I’d put a semicolon in the wrong place and the grammar police would shut me down.

I like to write and it was a skill that once came very easily to me but as the years have rolled by and my defences have built up I’ve become too self-conscious to commit pen to paper or text to screen, fuelled by a quiet concern that I may well be the least creative person on the planet.  Some people have no problem expressing themselves by throwing words at a page and making them form eloquent, entertaining sentences.  I am not one of these people.  I suffer an unfathomable amount of angst when writing and really need to think about every word choice.  It’s also particularly off-putting that, when stumbling through the blogosphere, every blog seems to be far more witty and coherent than anything I could pull together.

So in a quest to be a better writer and regain the talents I had as a youth I realised that I needed to heed the advice of a trusty old adage:  Practice makes perfect.  So keen am I to learn to write like the pros, that last year I enrolled in a professional writing course which touches on both corporate and creative writing.  To date I’ve been managing high distinctions but that’s because I haven’t really gotten to the writing part of the course yet and *I*am*terrified* of how far my marks will drop when I do.

Those that know me may say, but Hayley, you’ve had a blog before!  Which is true, I have.  But it was kept purely to document my travels in the UK region for my family and friends back home and with no pressure to maintain it, or really to appear even slightly interesting, it was relatively easy for me.  Especially when you are so lonely you’d unload all your thoughts on anyone with ears (or in this case, eyes).

This time I’m out to prove something to myself and failing in your own eyes is truly the worst kind of failure, particularly when you are as unforgiving on yourself as I am.  With 51 more entries to go I desperately hope this becomes easier with time.

So I started out by considering where my blog would live.  A half hour’s research indicated that there was an intimidating amount of choices and being particularly un-tech-savvy I threw the question out to Twitter which met with the resounding response of one reply suggesting that WordPress was the place to be.  I’d previously blogged with blogger.com and although relatively easy to use, it didn’t offer a lot in the way of variety.  Plus, in keeping with the theme of stepping out of my comfort zone I figured I should try something new which is how I ended up HERE.

Next I needed to draft the Intro, About Me and first entry to make sure I was even up to the task.  It seems I am, although it took far longer than I’d care to mention before I finally ended up with something I was reasonably pleased with.

The WORST part has been naming the damn thing.  I’m a play on words kind of gal and there’s just nothing interesting you can do with ‘resolutions’ that hasn’t been done by a gym before.  The more I thought about it, the more brain cells I could feel imploding in my head.  Even at the time of writing this I am still completely stuck so I apologise for whatever appalling choice I’ve ended up with.

Then it was simply a matter of slapping it all together, tweaking a few settings and hoping upon hope that I can keep this thing going!

 

The Resolution Challenge January 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — H-Ro @ 12:24 AM

“The moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves as well.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen accidents, meetings, and material assistance that no one could have dreamed would come their way.  Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.  Begin it now.” – Gregory Maguire quoting W. H. Murray quoting Goethe.

Roll up roll up one and all to the latest in blogging experiments.  For your enjoyment, actually no, for my betterment, I have decided to tackle one New Year’s resolution per week for the entirety of 2010 (circumstances permitting) in an endeavour to fix the myriad of problems in my life and hopefully to provide some amusing anecdotes along the way.  52 weeks.  52 resolutions.

What’s that you ask?  The purpose of all this?  Well, over the years I’ve painted myself into the proverbial corner, packed myself in cotton wool, and all those other relatable clichés that basically describe how someone can extricate themselves from society at large to unintentionally enter a life of isolation and hermitude.  This all happened so slowly I was virtually unaware.  You see, I am shy, clumsy, don’t think before I speak, and have found it difficult in the past to laugh at myself when the situations that result from these unfortunate traits make me wish for nothing more than to crawl under a rock for the rest of my days.  This was fine when I was young and malleable but as the years progressed and the tally of painfully embarrassing moments grew, my inclination to withdraw just that little bit further, accompanied with a stern warning that the offending experience was not to be repeated, has found me like a rabbit in the headlights when faced with the prospect of a social outing.

So now I much prefer to stay at home and do things on my own terms which has made my withdrawal all the more easy because I live a fair way out of town and have a ridiculously unfounded phobia of “chatting” on the phone so my friends know not to call me.  Excuses that are just the right shape to hide behind.

I believe our success in life depends on how much ‘necessary discomfort’ we are able to tolerate.  Currently my barometer for ‘necessary discomfort’ is low to nil.  If I can avoid it, I will.  Who cares about success, right?

But I do care about acceptance and while stressing all New Year’s Eve over the most ideal way to spend a few hours to absolutely ensure 2010 would be full of brilliance and shiny things I discovered that very few of my friends gave a toss about what I was up to.  This, combined with a list of New Year’s resolutions that had passed double digits and a desire to no longer be one of those people who dotes on my problems but never does anything to change them, culminated in the resolution challenge.  A plan that would see me leaving behind the baggage of the last decade and making 2010 the best year yet.  And once I decided to commit to the plan suddenly there were indicators everywhere that I was doing the right thing, hence why I’ve included the above quote.  You will never meet your fate if you keep yourself locked away.

So here I am, ready for a fresh start.  I figure by completing one resolution per week not only will I overcome some of my fears and become more skilled and knowledgeable in areas that interest me, I also hope to include my friends as much as possible and maybe connect with a few more along the way.  And I’m sure I’ll have some regrets but isn’t it better to regret the things you did do than the ones you didn’t?

These resolutions won’t be ground-breaking. I won’t be jumping out of any planes (unless a certain someone manages to talk me around) or running with bulls at Pamplona, or generally doing anything that requires a large outlay of cash.  There will be no John Safran or Morgan Spurlock type moments.  Breaking out of your comfort zone takes baby steps.

There won’t be any longer term goals; lose weight, quit something, make money.  They require too much commitment to fit into the handy week-long compartment. They are also dull, and destined for failure.

The resolutions I choose may be something you do every day.  Lucky you.  But for me they will either be completely new or something I haven’t done in a long time and hopefully my fresh take will bring them an interesting perspective, plus I’d love to learn from your own experience.  I hope to achieve these resolutions with a large dollop of humour and hopefully you might learn something along the way.  And voila with all that guff out of the way, let’s get started!