Day Two: Mykines! The Puffin Island!


It has been a long day. Jet lag woke me up at 3 am, which was actually a good thing: I ended up sending edits on my next piece back to my editor at The New Yorker. After plowing through the document, I fell asleep again, only to wake up just 15 minutes before the group was supposed to leave. As part of my diet, I am eating Toosum protein bars, which are 100 calories and gluten free. I feel so much better when I have those for breakfast and as snacks during the day. Unfortunately, today I had to skip breakfast.

The group drove about 45 minutes to the harbor — which is on the other side of the island — and we boarded a ferry to Mykines. Having lived in New York and San Francisco, my idea of a ferry is that it is big. This boat wasn’t big. And if that wasn’t enough, the seas were rough. Rising, falling, rising. Much like life itself, I suppose. I was actually glad that I didn’t have any breakfast! 

As the ferry navigated the choppy waters, the cold spray of the North Atlantic hit me in the face, leaving the camera a little wet. I am glad that I brought my Fuji and not my Leica Monochrom, as I don’t think it would have lasted through the vagaries of the Faroese weather! I took a few photos, but honestly it was more fun to watch the stark scenery: the sheer cliffs, the seabirds, the mist and clouds playing hide-and-seek. Sure, I was hanging on for dear life, but the ferry ride was magical. It made me realize that you don’t have to be doing something to remember and enjoy the journey. 

After reaching the Mykines Islands, we regrouped and embarked on a long walk to the puffins. As they say, good things come to those who wait. After a not-so-gentle climb to the cliff’s edge, I saw the puffins. There were so many! Being the slowest in the group, I brought up the rear. That allowed my to take my time and get close to the birds. I sat still for a few minutes, slowing down my breathing till the birds and sheep forgot I was there. And then I quietly snapped a few photos. Some photos were wide, some were close-ups. I enjoyed using the 50 mm lens, as it allowed me to take some fantastic close-ups, though for some odd reason I forgot to switch the file format to RAW. Oh well! 

The hike was about two miles, and by the time I hit the top, I was enveloped in misty rain and fog, making visibility near zero. Instead of climbing down steep stairs that were wet and slippery, I decided to turn back. Slowly and carefully I made my way. My feet were aching, and my left big toe was hurting. I sat on the cliff’s edge looking down at a steep fall. I knew a strong gust of wind would mean full stop. And yet as looked into the horizon over the angry ocean, I was completely at peace. 

No phones. No distractions. No sounds. Except the bleats of the sheep and the newborn lambs running after their mothers. The fluttering of the puffins’ wings was audible when the wind died down. The loneliness and emptiness of this island is what captivated me. It was perhaps the most at peace I have been in a long time. The harshness of the landscape and the beautiful bleakness, notwithstanding the fact that people love and live on this remote, cold and windy island. The little village that you can see for miles is a patchwork of color. It has fewer people that the number of people who reside on the same floor as me in my apartment building. 

My fellow photo nerds were out there somewhere, but I returned to the village, slowly making my way to Kriskianshus, the only cafe in the village. The owner fixed me a coffee. I sat down and snoozed, listening to the lullaby of an Italian family and their friends, Germans and their kids. They were all speaking English. Like me, they too were waiting for the boat to take us to the main island of Vágar. It would be another two hours. I was in no rush. The sea still seemed to be having a temper tantrum.

All photos made with iPhone6s+ and Moment Lens Wide! 

May 15, 2015, Mykines, Faroe Islands. 

Faroe Islands Bound

I have dreamed of visiting far-off places – lands where people are few, skies are big and quiet is infinite. I don’t seek monuments, when I travel. I look for being lost – in streets, on trails and in my thoughts. It is what drew me to Iceland. That took me to Tuscany. And now I am going to take a week look break in Faroe Islands. According to Wikipedia:

Faroe Islands an island country consisting of an archipelago of small islands between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Norway and Iceland, 320 kilometres (200 miles) north-northwest of Great Britain. The area is approximately 1,400 square kilometres (541 square miles) with a 2015 population of 48,700. The islands are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark. 

I am heading there to participate in a photo workshop organized my Instagram/Facebook friend Dan Rubin and his colleagues. Rubin is a photographer of great repute and is a great teacher. I will join fellow landscape photography enthusiasts on this wet, cold, windy and harsh trip. But I can’t wait to put the cameras to work.

My original plan was to bring my Leica with me, but given the environmental challenges, I am now heading out with my Fuji xPro2 and with two lenses – 24mm and 50mm equivalents. My other camera is my iPhone 6S+ and the Moment kit of lenses. I am not sure what kind of photos will materialize, but I am excited. My Tumi suitcase is packed with all sort of outdoors stuff, and my Tumi backpack is ready to go.

I will be posting photos and daily updates, both here and also on my Instagram  and you can follow my adventures on SnapChat. Follow me at Om.Malik on SnapChat.

May 13, 2016, San Francisco

Let’s Stop All This Chicken McNugget Reporting

20nuggets-580x362Compared to the political press, the technology media is a rank amateur. That’s what I kept thinking as I read this New York Times Magazine profile of Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. The piece reveals how adept the establishment is at gaming social media and the write-post-click genre of media. Remember the movie Wag the Dog? Well, this is that, except on amphetamines! At least in tech we still have people writing pieces like Buzzfeed’s takedown of Zenefits and its shocking and fascinating insider view of Palantir. Yet the article is a great reflection on the insidious nature of the relationship between the press and the establishment. Deep down in the piece, Rhodes comments:

All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.

When you think about it, Rhodes might as well be talking about all media — political, celebrity, business, technology, science. The need for speed and cheap has turned everything into a race to post, providing little time for reporters to learn, curate and develop sources and original thinking. You can’t do that when you have to write 10 posts a day. It is completely disrespectful to treat your readers with such contempt that you offer them fluff with the nutritional value of Chicken McNuggets!

At Gigaom we didn’t push our reporters to do 10 posts a day. I always advised folks to write on an average 1,250 words a day. That could be a single piece, two pieces or four. More than 25 years of writing have taught me that if you keep writing more on a daily basis, you get sloppy and repetitive and lose your edge. You end up using the same words again and again. There is a blandness when you have to write 3,000 to 4,000 words a day.

In-person interactions and phone calls always lead to more ideas, fresh thinking and a careful understanding of the person and their body language. A good reporter can find these cues and make decisions based on them. These days due to the time crunch, reporters rely on emails, text messages and other such impersonal means to gather information. There is a lack of continuity in the media as younger reporters keep shifting positions and sometimes moving to different jobs. Burnout is a common complaint. In the end, if the media establishment wants to build a better future, it has to nurture the new talent and give them the same luxury of learning we old-timers had. The grind of the clickbait isn’t going to help anyone!

But instead the media establishment sits around and complains about the wrong things. Two foreign policy reporters are stomping their feet, upset about the insinuations of the New York TimesMagazine profile. Others are bitching about Facebook combining algorithmic editing with human curation in its Trending Topics newsfeed. They say Facebook is editorializing. I don’t see how it is any different than the editorializing by Fox, The New York Times, NBC or any other media outlet. Each one has its own agenda. But just because they call themselves “media,” their slant is okay! The front page has been put together in the past by humans. Except now it is an alogrithim that is doing the work, under the guidance of some humans who work for Facebook.

As Dave Winer says, “Gatekeepers have much less power.” Look, I am as distrustful of Facebook as anyone else, but there is no denying that it is now part of media reality. It won’t be long before it sucks all the attention — and then the dollars — away from television to Facebook Live. In the end, media groups will be squabbling with one another, looking for scraps.

Facebook is doing it right – adding just enough human touch to create trending topics in a world of unending amount of information!

May 10, 2016, San Francisco

Must-see TV: My Top 3 Picks

Marseille, Netflix’s latest series, is making waves: Some love it, some not so much. I am in the not-so-much camp. I found the series to be shallow, and I lost interest by the third episode. It is mediocre enough to skip, if you ask me.

Instead, if you are looking to spend your time watching whodunit shows, especially made with a decidedly non-American sensibility, I can recommend three series that are stunning, haunting and captivating.

  • Hinterland (Seasons 1 and 2) is quite an amazing show. It is the English-language version of the Celtic noir police detective drama series Y Gwyll. (Hinterland, by the way is the stretch of the western Wales coastline.) It’s one of my favorites. If you are a Netflix subscriber, you won’t have any trouble seeing both seasons of this BBC series. Season 1 is also available on Amazon, Google Play, Steam and the iTunes Store.
  • The Night Manager is based on a book by John le Carré, and it stars Hugh Laurie as the bad guy. It is about the night manager of an Egyptian hotel who gets involved in the intelligence business and has to infiltrate an international arms network. It is currently playing on AMC. I have seen three episodes and, boy, it is a firecracker of a show. You can download it on Amazon and iTunes as well. (The Economist has a great story about John le Carré and why he is still relevant even today.)
  • The Last Panthers is a pan-European but mostly French production based in Marseilles, and it spans the entire continent and is tied to the Bosnian-Serbian conflict of the 1990s. It is currently airing on Sundance TV. I couldn’t stop watching and essentially chose to not sleep and watch the four episodes available on Amazon and iTunes. I can’t wait for the next two shows to land. Money well spent.