A great, new-ish photo resource for bloggers

Anyone who’s spent more than a few hours putting together a new blog or website knows how hard it can be to find good photos. Not only is the right subject and resolution hard to come by, but photos on the internet are often protected by copyright and not available for re-use on your website (especially if your website is or includes a commercial venture).

To avoid copyright issues, I’ve often used WikiCommons photos for websites I put together. This can be tedious, though, as sifting through WikiCommons for quality photos is like looking for Brooks Brothers at Walmart. Most photos there are just downright bad.

So I thought I’d share a new resource I discovered yesterday while building a website for a new business. It’s called Unsplash. Its talented curators publish 10 new photos every 10 days under a Creative Commons Zero license, which means you can “copy, modify, distribute and use the photos for free, including commercial purposes, without asking permission from or providing attribution to the photographer or Unsplash.”camera-man

That makes things easy. I’m not sure who’s behind this project, but it’s a blogger’s jackpot. The photos are all superb. They all have a similar look and feel to them—I think the word is “vintage.”

One downside is that you can’t search photos by keyword. And their collection is pretty large by now, so sifting through every single photo to find your subject really doesn’t work. But I actually like that feature (or lack of, to be precise). It forces me to view photos I otherwise wouldn’t see. And again, they are all such great photos, I usually end up spending more time there than I intended anyways.

Just my two cents for the day. I want to get back to a regular posting schedule. I’m out of town this weekend, but plan to resume one-a-day posts when I return.

Optimism: A choice and a duty

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.
– Helen Keller

As a teenager, I thought optimism was a personality trait. That some of us are just hard-wired to see things in a better light than others, and that I, by nature, was a pessimist.

As I grew older and got out more, I learned that this isn’t quite right. Optimism is a decision we must make anew every day—a decision to look on the bright side of things, even when the dark side looms large. It’s a battle we must fight every day, and battle we are capable of winning every time. I pick up my sword daily.

But only recently did I come to understand that optimism as a choice doesn’t go far enough. It’s a choice, yes, but it’s also more than that. It’s an obligation. It’s a duty we have to one another. It’s our job, as human beings who care about the good of those around us, to be relentless optimists. When do we really have the prerogative, anyways, to stop what we’re doing long enough to look around us and decide that the world is going down the drain? What help does such an opinion offer to those around us—to those trying to solve serious problems? What useful action-items can anyone take away from such an observation?

I remember riding bikes with my little brother a few years ago. I didn’t want to go at first. Dark clouds were building overhead. But eight-year old Grant convinced me that we wouldn’t be be gone long. “A little rain never hurt anyone,” he said. He’d been looking forward to a bike ride all day, excited that I even considered the possibility in the first place. So we set out.

Ten minutes later, a loud crack shook the ground below us. The sky lit up. Lightning struck something nearby, sending me and my brother veering off the road to the shelter of a small tree in a neighbor’s yard. The lightning picked up, louder and brighter. It struck something close by again.

The storm was getting closer. I didn’t feel safe getting back on the bike, but I didn’t want to get soaked, either.

“I’m scared,” I said, scanning the horizon. I really wasn’t too scared, but the words just kind of slipped out of my mouth. We weren’t far from home, and getting struck by lighting is extremely unlikely.

But that’s not what I said, so that’s not what Grant heard. From his perspective, I was scared, and I was the only one of us who knew anything about what it means to be out in a storm (that it’s no more dangerous than riding a bike). His face went pale. He started crying. He looked up to me, his 19-year old brother. If I was scared, sure as heck he was scared.

I immediately realized what I said and how it affected him. I changed my demeanor and told him I was only kidding, and that storms aren’t scary. He cheered up a bit, but was still apprehensive. Then I raised a fist and shouted playfully, “We’ll conquer you, storm!” Grant laughed. I hopped on my bike, told him to follow, and we were home in a matter of minutes.

I’ve never forgotten this experience because, for the first time, I realized how much people in my life might look to me for guidance, and how my negativity might leak out into the lives of people around me. I’m not special or possessive of some “natural authority,” but I realized that some people just look up to me, for whatever reason, and that what I say and what I do affects their life in sometimes very significant ways. Maybe an employee one day. Maybe a friend who thinks I’m cooler than I actually am. Maybe (definitely) my wife or my kids. Whoever it is, they’ll drink some from whatever cup I give them.

Granted, I wan’t being especially negative saying “I’m scared” because of a storm. From an eight year old’s perspective, however, that’s about the worst thing in the world. Fear is very influential in the lives of young children. But that made the lesson all the more pertinent for me: What I say, and how I say it, and who I’m saying it to, matters. It matters because people around me learn from what I do. Their attitude toward themselves, their lives, and their circumstances depend, in some small way, on how I carry myself when I’m around them.

That said, I can’t think of a worse way to be than to be a pessimist. Than to preach a gospel of fear and defeat, taking every opportunity to point out how terrible things are or how the world is filling up with bad things. How does this affect those around us? It pulls them down. It stamps out dreams. It quenches flames that may have taken years to build up. And all of these effects are intensified when we’re dealing with people who look up to us.

If you’re reading this, think about people who might look up to you. Consider being more optimistic around them, and ultimately around everyone you meet. Do it for their sake, and for the sake of everyone who’s trying to learn how to think and how to live and what to do with their lives. Do it, too, because a few of us are committed to the always-fragile belief that the future can hold great things and are working toward solutions and creations that can help make that happen for all of us.

And for those of you who might be so down and out that you can’t think of anyone who looks up to you, or of anyone who might need your optimism to keep their fire burning, think of Grant. He’s 12 now and, though a little bratty at tims, sees the world as a place full of promise. The future, in his mind, is full of fun and exciting things waiting to be uncovered. As long as he is this way, he’ll achieve great things. Please don’t be the one to pull him down, because, as we all know, it’s not easy to get back up.

God Blessed Texas

Here’s an interesting chart from AEI‘s Mark Perry.

Texas is solely responsible for the 1.169 million net increase in total U.S. employment in the seven year period between December 2007 and December 2014.

Another highlight from the piece:

The other 49 states and the District of Columbia together employ about 275,000 fewer Americans than at the start of the recession seven years ago, while the Lone Star State has added more than 1.25 million payroll jobs and more than 190,000 non-payroll jobs (primarily self-employed and farm workers).

Perry (Mark, not Rick) goes on to explain that while the oil and gas boom has certainly boosted job growth in Texas, job gains has been strong across several sectors of the state’s economy—especially construction (more permits for single-family homes were issued last year in the city of Houston alone than in the entire state of California).

God blessed Texas.

Specifics on Cuba

From earlier today, some specifics on changes to U.S. law regarding Cuba.

Here’s one notable highlight for those interested in traveling to Cuba, or investing in what’s sure to be one of the world’s most up-and-coming real estate markets over the next decade or so:

In all 12 existing categories of authorized travel, travel previously authorized by specific license will be authorized by general license, subject to appropriate conditions.  This means that individuals who meet the conditions laid out in the regulations will not need to apply for a license to travel to Cuba.

These categories are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain authorized export transactions.

Here’s the New York Times’ two cents, and a notable highlight below:

United Airlines quickly announced on Thursday that it planned to begin regular service to Cuba from Newark and Houston. American Airlines, which operates charter flights to Cuba from Miami and Tampa, said it was reviewing the changes.

The new “I, Pencil”

Here’s a great essay channeling an upcoming paper by Luis Garicano and Esteban Rossi-Hansberg. Highlights below:

There is a problem, though. None of these master explicators have so much as word to say about how the pencil comes into being. Nor, for that matter, does most present-day economics, which remains mainly prices and quantities.

In other words, economics assumes the pencil. Though this approach is often practical, Garicano and Rossi-Hansberg write, it ignores some very important issues, those surrounding not just the companies that make the products that  make pencils, and the pencils themselves, but the terms under which all their employees work, and, ultimately, the societies in which they live.

The next great expositor of economics, whoever she or he turns out to be, will give a very different account of the pencil.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for pointing to this piece on his blog.

Draghi makes his case

Mario Draghi making the case for more stimulus to combat disinflation in Europe:

The risk cannot be ruled out completely, but it is limited. The important thing is what inflation rate people expect over the medium term. Since June, we have seen that these expectations have declined. If inflation remains low for a long time, people might expect prices to fall even further and postpone their spending. We are not there yet. But we need to tackle this risk.

History shows that falling prices can be as damaging to the prosperity and stability of our countries as high inflation. That is why our mandate is symmetric. And that is why we are now ensuring that the risk of deflation you just asked me about does not materialise. You, as a journalist, also have a duty to explain. Public opinion in Germany is very important for us.

Note that this interview was given to a German financial newspaper. German officials are perhaps Draghi’s biggest opponent in the fight for more stimulus.

Some perspective on oil

Vaclav Smil at AEI shedding needed light on the oil price drama:

Falling oil prices have been called shocking, unprecedented, and (most incredibly) a highly regrettable development that will end the rise of American stock market and create unrest and uncertainty around the world. However, what we are experiencing is the eighth oil price decline of more than 30 percent during the past 30 years.

For more reading, here’s my brief analysis at Enhancing Capital of the not-so-great implications of oil’s price collapse. Read mine in light of Smil’s, though—while I do note potential downsides of low oil prices, this doesn’t mean the episode will precipitate an end to “the rise of the American stock market” or usher in some new, oil-less economic era.