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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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More to Read
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- How not to be a doofus with a camera
- Beyond 'Vacation Snaps'
- A teachable moment (or why I love birding, even when I make a fool of myself)
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- An audience of one....
- Talking about 'Stuff'
- What I do for a living…
- 50 reasons Why I Haven’t Been Blogging
Want more? Try this list...
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Yearly Archives: 2010
A quick review of 2010 (and some history that leads into it, too)
I’ve been trying to summarize 2010; it’s really the first year in a while I give a passing grade (so to speak). I think the bottom line is that 2010 is the first year in the last few that I am kinda sad to see go, as opposed to wishing it a fond farewell and that the door not hit it on the butt on the way out. The last few years have brought some challenges, but for the most past, they either seem in the past, or things I now have under control and I can move forward from to other, more fun things. So if I have to grade 2010, I’ll give it a B, and life in general a B+.
2010 was a year of transition and starting the process of moving forward after years of stasis. A body at rest really wants to stay on the damn couch, so it takes some time and energy to get everything going again. 2010 was about figuring out what the priorities are and getting the motion going in those directions, and I’m hoping that translates into momentum on a number of projects I’m trying to get off the ground.
I entered 2010 recently diagnosed with Diabetes — a bit of high blood pressure, triglycerides above 500, A1C about 13% and a blood glucose above 400. For those not versed in medical geek speak, those are numbers that are getting dangerously close to a diabetic coma or some other health crisis. Today, my A1C is normal, my cholsterol and triglycerides are normal, my blood sugar is well controlled and rarely hits 160 after meals, and is more typically 145 or below. My doctor is happy, I’m pretty happy, and I feel great. 2010 was about learning to manage and thrive as a diabetic, because for the rest of my life, no matter what I do, that’ll be part of my life.
There are some challenges remaining; so far, the best I’ve done is battle my weight to a tie. Taking that next step, getting the weight off, is a key goal for 2011. The good news is that my weight is what it was before the diabetes hit, back in 2007; the bad news is that this number needs to be a lot smaller than it is. I’ll be talking about that down the road — one of the things I’ve been doing is figuring out what changes I need to make to make this happen. Now, I actually need to do it.
I feel like I took some positive steps forward in my photography, and I’m quite happy with my work. I still have work to do and areas where I need to grow; I have some ideas on what I want to do in 2011 to move in those directions. I was able to revamp the blog, and I’ve gotten my writing going again on a pretty consistent basis — and I expect to continue that and move it into some new directions in 2011 as well.
Work’s taken up a lot of hours, a lot of energy and created a lot of challenges. The good news is that we did well enough that HP put a billion dollars into us and said “now, go do it better”; in 2011, you’ll see what that means, and I’m looking forward to when we can show that off. Still a lot of work to do, and in reality, that job is just starting, but I like what’s happening and the direction we’re taking, even if I can’t talk about it yet.
So overall, it’s been a good year. More important to me, it’s been a gateway from some pretty sucky years into what I hope and expect to be an even better year. Because of the apnea things started grinding to a halt in 2005; with the apnea and diabetes dealt with, I feel like we put the jumper cables on the battery and we have the bandwagon in gear; we’ll see in 2011 how far we can drive it.
And so, a last look back at 2010, and then we’ll turn the page, and start making 2011 happen. And thanks to all of you for being here and being part of it with me, with your thoughts and ideas and feedback and help. It’s appreciated, and I’m looking forward to seeing 2011 unfold for all of us, together.
2010 Blog Highlights
- January 29: in The Apple TV has not failed, I argued against the geek-echo-chamber-pundits who were writing off the Apple TV as a failure. Since that time, Apple has released the new generation of Apple TV (which many of those same geek-echo-chamber-pundits declared a failure, because it’s not geek-worthy hackable) and of course, they were seriously wrong, since Apple’s noted they sold a million units so far. Ring up another one for the geek community not realizing the consumer device market is very different than the geek market (and much larger) and declaring anything not geeky enough for them a failure. Secondary note — I got my new Apple TV for christmas and installed it today, and it rocks. Not because it’s geeky, but because it sits there and works when I ask it to.
- January 29: I also wrote A few thoughts on lenses, which I still think hits the mark with some interesting ideas on how to decide what lenses you need. Laurie decided she wanted a new lens for her camera for christmas, and I ended up getting her the Sigma 18-125mm f/3.8-5.6, which I decided was the best of the moderately priced wide angle “street” zooms. I ended up choosing that instead of 18-200 because while it doesn’t have quite the zoom power, it’s sharper across the range. I’ve come to think that the superzoom lenses have their place and are growing in prominence in the field, but aren’t always the best option. In my case, I’m rarely using my Tamron superzoom in those zoom ranges, so for me today, the sharpness factor is more important than getting the extra magnification.
- March 31: I hosted I and the Bird. For that, I wrote The Bird(ing) and Me.
- May 27: I fell down and go boom, sprained the left side of my body, and put myself on the shelf for about six weeks.
- July 29: I bought a new laptop. And for the first time in forever, didn’t feel a need to buy the top of the line beastie from Apple (and then talked about it after I settled in and used it a bit. months later, I’m thrilled at the decision I made, I love this unit).
- August 12: Vacation part deux (and part two): two days photographing on the central coast. Man, I gotta stop being so slackworthy at work and slow down at taking so much time off.
- August 18: and then I talked a bit about why I decided to hold off on going pro with the camera. Something I need to explore further here in the blog. soon.
- October 18: I wrote up my thoughts on defining and using keywords in Lightroom. By far my most popular piece of writing in 2010 — thank you for the links and feedback.
- December 25: A special gift from me to you, the story Downtime; a previously unpublished piece of fiction from me. Expect to see more of my older writing, and more talk about writing, in 2011.
A funny thing happened when I was shooting this game. I shot most of these images with the Canon 1D Mark IV (which shoots 10 pictures per second) but also decided to use the Canon 5D Mark II with a Fisheye lens, like I did at the Winter Olympics. At the beginning of the second break, a gentleman came up to me, a little perplexed, and asked which lens I was using for the close-up shots. I told him about my setup with the Fisheye lens and he told me that he saw and liked my previous wide shots from the Olympics. As I explained to him, there are times when the athletes are right in front of me and I can not photograph them with a long lens (I was using the 70-200mm), so it is fun to try the wide lens to see what I get with that focal length. As you can tell from the image above, it really can pay off. This wide view really makes you feel like you are on the ice with them!
That person was me. I’d seen Jeff’s photography at the Vancouver Olympics and knew he was a bay area photographer, so I’d been quietly not stalking him via his work and his blog, so when I realized he’d shown up at the photo hole at the game, I thought I’d say hi if he wasn’t busy and I had a chance.
Then I saw the lens.
Since Laurie and I are both photo geeks to some degree or another, and we’ve sat down by the tunnel near one of the main photo holes for many years, we tend to keep an eye on who’s down there, and we’ve gotten to know some of the photographers over the years (on the other hand, we know many of them are running on deadline, and we try to leave them alone). When a new face catches our attention we (obviously) check out the gear and try to figure out who they are and where the publish (if they do).
In all the years I’ve been sitting there, I’ve never seen a photographer shoot out the hole with a fisheye. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that’s what it was, which is why I made sure I went and verified that’s what he was doing. It was a great chat, and it’s a fascinating technique. Mostly you see white lenses (or the Nikon equivalent), mostly things like the 200mm or a 70-200, which is to me the sweet spot shooting from a hole in hockey. A lot of photographers will carry a second wider body, but it’s typically something like a 24-70. And most of them can’t focus on the action right out of the hole; most of them are actually bailing if the action comes at them that close — and I don’t blame them, I’ve seen a couple of lenses dinged and we know one of the photogs who got dinged for stitches a few seasons ago.
But a fisheye? That’s not a sports lens! But in fact, it is, What Jeff said he did was set the focus to be about 2 feet out, and then he gaffer taped the focus in place so it wouldn’t move, and if the action comes near him, he can just aim at it and spray shots. it’s a fascinating technique and a great use of that lens, and if you go look at some of his olympic work, it’s quite successful. I never would have guessed how he did it, either, without having that chat.
And it’s a technique I’m already thinking about how to translate back into my nature photography. There’s some interesting concepts there.
Thanks for the chat, Jeff! And it’s always fun to actually say hi to another one of the local photographers….
I’ve had a few people ask me my thoughts on the Sharks this year, so here are a few thoughts about them so far.
Overall, I’m satisfied with what i see. There are some rough edges, but name me a team in the NHL that doesn’t have them? We’ve been hit with some injuries, especially on defense, and that’s both shown that we have impressive depth in the organization, but that some of that depth is young. Justin Braun has been a real eye opener to me, he has a very rare ability to get a point shot through traffic and on goal, and isn’t afraid to do so — but he’s taken some time adjusting to the speed of the NHL, and he’s made some mistakes along the way. He pretty much singlehandedly gave up all of the goals in that bad Detroit loss, where the Wings schooled him and fed him his jock (but they do that to a lot of good players); he and the Sharks dealt with it appropriately, and he ratcheted back his pinching and played more conservatively, and he’s progressed very quickly. I expect he’ll go back to Worcester at some point, but he’s shown he’s got a good future as he continues to mature.
The two questions I seem to get asked more frequently are — what about our defense? and what about Nabby?
Nabby first. As big a supporter of Nabokov as I was, I felt the Sharks made the right move. Nabby wasn’t going to get better, and we’d seen what he brought to the team. With what his contract was going to require, I agreed with us moving on to another option, because goaltending that good was available elsewhere, and for less money, allowing us to spend more of the cap space on other needs. I’m not as convinced as some pundits that Nabby will end up back in the league this year, but he well could. Nittymaki was an adequate replacement for Nabokov, and when the Sharks got Niemi as well, I was thrilled. Niemi had a rough start, but he’s found his game, and he’s showing why he beat the Sharks in the playoffs last year. This is definitely an upgrade.
And on defense? we miss Blake, although I don’t miss his once-a-game 2 minute penalty for “I’m old” (usually a hook). While I wouldn’t mind an upgrade, I think the crew we have is good, when healthy. Wallin and Huskins as our 5-6 dmen is pretty good, but when we have injuries and they need to bump those two up to 3-4, it shows. Overall, though, I’m not worried. I like Jason Demers and he’s maturing nicely, and our top four D (Boyle, Vlasic, Murray, Demers) is pretty darn good. I don’t see much need to do anything, but if Wilson finds the right fit, I wouldn’t complain if he upgraded Huskins onto the black aces. the big thing is being healthy in the playoffs, and not depending much on the depth. Joslin is good as a physical body, Braun is a bit of a wildcard but in a year or so, watch out. I’m really impressed overall.
The player the Sharks really miss right now is Manny Malhotra, but I don’t blame them for not matching Vancouver’s money. Nicholl fills part of it and Jamal Mayers isn’t much of a downgrade on ice, but we miss Malhotra’s and Blake’s leadership and work ethic. The team is still figuring out who the new leaders are, and I think that shows in some of the inconsistency. I see no reason to panic, and I expect it to be sorted out by the playoffs.
Marleau is in one of his “enigmatic” phases, but I’ve come to realize at some point in every season we seem to wonder about Marleau, and at the end of the year, his numbers and contribution are there. He’ll kick it in and the questions will stop. Again. I expect that’ll be the way he is the rest of his career. Given the numbers end up being there and he shows up in the playoffs, I’ll live with it and not worry about it so much.
Thornton/Heatley is a great pair, and speaking as someone who was against the Heatley trade, I’m happy to say I’ve been proven very wrong on that deal, and I say that with great enthusiasm for what he’s done since coming to San Jose. Coture is a great pairing with Ryan Clowe, and ought to win rookie of the year. More amazingly, he actually might, despite playing out west were the eastern hockey media doesn’t see hi, regularly because the sharks games are up past their bedtime.
All in all, I give this team a B right now. I expect more, but this team will figure it out and bring it as the season progresses. I don’t see any glaring holes, I don’t see any significant problems that need to be fixed — but this isn’t a team beyond tweaking, and I expect at some point Wilson will. Most likely to not be in teal come the end of the season? Maybe Setoguchi, although I’m in no hurry to move him.
Final question: cheechoo? I think it’s great the Sharks have given him an opportunity in Worcester, but people who think this indicates Cheech might return to San Jose are thinking with their hearts and memory, not their heads and Cheechoo’s current abilities. The best Cheech could be in san jose is a part time player and black ace, if that. If he makes it back to the NHL, it’ll be with a lower tier team, and god help him, I hope it’s not the Islanders.
Every so often I get an email from someone asking why I don’t write about hockey anymore. I figure it’s probably time to talk about it here, if only so I can point to it later and stop writing it multiple times…
Short answer: I haven’t. But I have taken an extended break. I’m starting to write a bit this season, and I have some stuff I plan on writing when I get the time and motivation.
The primary reason I took a break is pretty simple — writing about hockey stopped being fun. I’ve come to believe that some things in your life need to be reserved for fun — if you turn everything into work, then you’re never NOT working. When writing about hockey started feeling more like work than fun, it was time to step back and get back to what hockey really should be — a diversion from real life and something to just relax and enjoy.
A second reason I felt like it was time to step away for a while is that so much hockey and sports writing is really negative; there are writers and bloggers that seem unable to write anything but rip pieces — this is especially true in much of the Canadian press, where it seems if you actually say something nice about a team you cover, you get fired. it seems a lot of writers have taken the “good news doesn’t sell newspapers” concept seriously, to a fault. I find many of them unreadable.
But worse, since I always wanted to try to show both sides of the situation, to write with a balance (and promote what’s good about the sport as well), I tended to end up a target for fans who respond to things they disagree with using abuse. After a while, I just got really tired of the trolls, to be honest, whether those trolls are bloggers who can’t handle someone saying something doesn’t suck, fans who see anything they disagree with as something to be attacked, or professional trolls like Bruce Garrioch. It seemed impossible to try to hold an intelligent conversation without attracting the reactionaries, and so I decided to stop. There didn’t seem to be much of an audience for someone who wasn’t reinforcing the “it all sucks” motif. I’m still not convinced there is, although there are some writers out there (like David Pollak at the Merc) who still have that balance (although, god, read the comment section on just about any posting on his blog, and you’ll see why I stopped)
And finally… there are some really good writers out there, which allows me the ability to sit back and let them write instead. If we’d invented the blogosphere 15 years earlier, maybe I’d have done things differently, but today, with folks like Pollak, Jon Swenson over at Sharkspage, I don’t feel a great need to wade in and have my say these days. I much prefer sitting back and watching and having a good time and not worrying so much about whether they’re using a left wing lock or a modified trap.over on SB Nation and
And here’s a hint: if you hate everything going on about the sport, why are you watching it? If you’ve hit that point where hockey (or sports in general) is nothing but a reason to complain about stuff, go do something else. If it’s not fun any more, why do you inflict it on your eyeballs? And then inflict yourself on us?
That’s a rhetorical question. Please don’t answer it in the comments. I already know the answer….
Mike Modano has undergone surgery after suffering a laceration from a skate blade on his right wrist during a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night. The veteran will be out of the lineup indefinitely depending on the progress of his recovery.
This is a sad situation, and probably ends his career. It’s not the way Modano wanted to leave the game, and not the way he deserved to go.
But what really worries me is the increasing incidence of skate cuts in hockey. When Clint Malarchuk almost died 20 some years ago, it was horrific not just because of the cut, but because of how rare skate cuts were in the game.
Even five years ago, skate cuts were fairly rare. The last couple of seasons, however, have seen multiple cuts each season, some of them quite serious. Achilles tendons severed, significant cuts to the quads — this seems to be a growing problem in the NHL and one that NHL has a chance to grapple with before it becomes a crisis.
What isn’t well known is that this is the second skate cut on an arm this season. The Sharks Jason Demers is currently on injured reserve, and while the Sharks have been typically quiet about the cause (all we know is “day to day”, not even which body half), the incident happened in front of us at the game in a scrum around the crease, and Demers immediately skated off holding his arm near the glove cuff — it looked to me like a skate blade came up and nicked him in the same general area that Modano was cut. Fortunately, though, the damage seems much less serious to Demers.
Why is this happening? I’ve thought about this a while, and I think I understand what’s going on. Players are now big enough, fast enough and strong enough that hits are becoming violent enough that they no longer are able to control what happens when they get hit — so body parts flail and legs are starting to kick up more frequently, with those razor sharp blades on the end.
This implies that this isn’t a situation calling for rule changes or a fix to enforcement, but we need to improve safety equipment. More and more players are wearing kevlar sleeves in the socks, which prevents the blade from penetrating the flesh. Many levels of amateur hockey are requiring similar protection for the neck.
My hope is that the NHL sees this as the problem it’s becoming and the union doesn’t get stupid about making this a “personal choice” issue they way they’ve fought visors, and that the league starts mandating kevlar protective sleeves on the legs and arms. I’d love to see manufacturers look into whether this protection can we woven into hockey pants to protect the quads and hamstrings.
This really shouldn’t be a hassle for players or a controvesial safety call (but I bet it will be) — I’ve seen no sign that players adopting these leg sleeves have complained about it impacting their performance the way they kvetch about visors. And since we seem to be up to 4-6 incidents a year causing an injury that causes a player to lose at least one game — it’s in the league’s best interest to get on this before someone gets their career terminated or they die from a cut to a sensitive location.
(and for what it’s worth, I’m in favor of the league making neck protection encouraged but optional — injuries to that location are exceptionally rare (twice in 25 years), but when they happen, they’re catastrophic, but the hockey players I’ve talked to that use those protectors invariably hate them as uncomfortable. Perhaps this is another place manufacturers and research, but as nasty as Malarchuk’s injury was, I’m more worried about the more common skate cuts we’re seeing on arms and legs and protecting players from those — unless you’re a goalie, and if you are, I hope you’re smart enough to already be wearing throat protection….
Debate continues over hit that brought Sharks’ Joe Thornton a 2-game suspension – San Jose Mercury News
Sharks radio analyst Jamie Baker wrote in his blog on the team’s website that the Blues themselves had some responsibility, citing among other things the pass from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo through the neutral zone that put Perron at risk. Baker, as well as several Sharks players, also accused Perron of embellishing the damage by lying prone on the ice, noting he quickly returned to action once penalties were determined. The Blues forward, however, missed his next two games because of headaches.
There is a continuing controversy over the ejection and suspension of Thornton after his hit on Perron. It’s devolved somewhat into a lot of sub-arguments, including whether Perron embellished the injury and whether the Blues erred in letting him play later in the game.
My feeling was that given the hit to the head rule and that referees don’t have instant replay or slow motion to evaluate a hit with that the penalty and ejection were fine. The speed and angle of the hit was such I don’t blame a referee at all for making that call. I was convinced, however, that there wouldn’t be a suspension. I don’t understand the two games off. Still don’t.
There is a legitimate issue involving larger players hitting smaller players, and the larger player has to work harder to not hit the smaller player in the head. Player safety should be a priority, my recommendation on this is that larger players get used to it. Believe it or not, they’re not stupid, and they’ll figure out how to make the hit without hitting the head once players realize they’re going to get penalized for it. A few hits will end up called — but I’ll take healthy players here over a few unfortunate hits.
The whole diving/embellishment thing is a thorny problem. How do you solve it? the league hasn’t figured it out yet. But — combine it with the question of whether Perron should have been allowed back into the game, and I think you have an angle towards a solution.
It’s simple. If a player is injured on the ice to the degree that a trainer has to go out an attend to them, that player is not allowed back into the game until seen by a doctor and the doctor clears them to play. That means they have to go to the locker room and be seen. Period. That prevents a player from going back to the bench and convincing a non-doctor he’s okay. It also is a strong disincentive for that player to — embellish. No more “he’s dead! he missed a shift!” and the trained personnel has a chance to evaluate the injury and make sure he really is okay before coming back. In the case of an injury where a player goes down to a hit to the head — the player can’t come back until the doctor and referee talk and the referee approves him back into play (in other words, in between periods). That way, hits to the head have time to be carefully evaluated AND the referee has a chance to be sure proper procedures were followed in evaluating.
The one exception to this rule are goaltenders, but the referee in that case should be given the authority to send the goalie off for evaluation if he goes down and has to be attended to.
Player safety becomes a higher priority, and in a way that discourages diving. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
If you follow me on twitter the other day, you probably saw that I had an “oops!” moment. It’s a great example of “best laid plans….” situation.
I was doing some work on the server we host our sites on, and I ended up in a different location than the one I thought I was in, and did a “rm -rf *” in it. And as soon as I did, I went — “oops!” because I realized I wasn’t in the right place.
The NEXT thing I realized was I hadn’t synced up my backup before starting work. So that’s “oops!^^2″, I guess.
And yes, the folder I deleted was the one with all of the web site files in it.
Now, the good news. The blogs are all database driven and the database wasn’t touched. the backup existed, it just wasn’t 100% up to date. So it was a minor annoyance instead of a major catastrophe. I had pretty much everything restored and the sites back online in about 20 minutes, and I spent the evening looking at things and cleaning up. My blog lost some patches (which I put back in tonight) and as it turns out, the graphics for two of my postings went poof, and I’m going to have to recreate them.
So all things considered, it becomes a teachable moment instead of a gut-wrenching disaster. And I love teachable moments.
This is the classic reason why people use say things like “I don’t need to wear seat belts, I’m a careful driver” are fooling themselves. “careful driver” doesn’t save you from being rear-ended by the guy on a conference call with the sales team in Cleveland, “careful driver” doesn’t save you from the bee that flies in through your open window and stings you at a stop light, and “careful driver” doesn’t prevent that carefully timed sneeze just as you’re reaching for the brake pedal.
In other words — “careful” is no protection from Lord Murphy, and Murphy’s Law will win, sooner or later. In this case, I made two mistakes that cascaded. One was I skipped a step in my safety process for working on the hosted server (“step 1: back it up. Step 2: BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN YOU HAVE NO NET”), and then I made a simple mistake, which I realized just after doing it. Nobody’s perfect. I’ve spent more years dealing with servers as a root-capable geek than many of you have been programming — and I still make mistakes. Rarely, but I make them.
Which is why I love backups. And because I wasn’t pristine in doing them, this went from being a 20 minute pain in the neck to being about a six hour cleanup, and I have about two more hours rebuilding the missing graphics. That’s a hell of a lot better than “oh my god, it’s gone”, so even though the backup wasn’t perfect, it saved me major troubles.
How are your backups?
Well, mine are now pristine. Both copies (because I immediately made the old one read-only and set it aside, just in case i need a file in a week or a month. Don’t you?)
Some days people give you a gift without even realizing it. Here is a gift I am pleased to pass along to you.
This gift started out as a tweet from Vonda McIntyre, noting that Ursula K. Le Guin is now blogging. That in itself was enough to make my day; back in the ancient of days when I was involved with SFWA and writing a bit I got to know many of the authors in the field, but Le Guin is one of those rare writers that changed how I viewed the field, and through her non-fiction and criticism also changed how I thought about life. She is one of those rare people that I bestow the “I will happily read your shopping lists” honor on (the others I’ve given that award to being Ray Bradbury, Gene Wolfe, Terry Carr, and Damon Knight — each of which deserves its own discussion point at some point in the future). She is also one of the most gracious and nice people you’ll ever meet.
It turns out that Le Guin is blogging at a site called “Book View Cafe“, which describes itself as an online consortium of writers; effectively, it’s a shared blog and publicity resource that somehow I hadn’t discovered before today. That’s my loss, because there are a group of really interesting people involved with that site, and the blog looks to be chock full of Interesting Stuff You Probably Want To Read. A quick glance at the authors involved with the site shows a long list of names I can recommend to you as well worth your time, including not only McIntyre and Le Guin, but Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Brenda Clough, Katherine Kerr, Laura Anne Gilman, Phyllis Radford, Judith Tarr (and her horse), Sarah Zettel, and Sherwood Smith. All of which are extremely nice and interesting people to spend time with as well as writers worthy of your time.
So please consider wandering on over to the Book View Cafe blog, and attach your eyeballs to it for a while. Your eyeballs will likely thank you and ask for a return visit.
I got this in an email today. Since I’ve been thinking about similar things over the last week or so, I figured I’d continue mulling it over here in public for the amusment and horror of all…
There is, of course, an implied “and if you don’t fix this, I’ll have to unsubscribe from reading you” in the sub-text.
Which is understandable. Managing the firehose of information that is the internet is a challenge. So much to follow, and there’s always that implied worry that you’re missing something, so there’s a quiet pressure to keep broadening your reading, which means if you don’t keep an eye on it, it becomes an infinite time sink and then nothing useful gets done.
I’ve struggled with this over the years. I think we all have. It’s nothing new here, either — one of the challenges we always faced with mailing lists is that whenever a mailing list got onto a topic that the group was motivated to talk about, message volume would spike, and that would shortly be followed by people clamoring for QUIET because the volume of messages was bothering them. Imagine that — the best mailing lists were ones that weren’t used, because if you use them for things that the group was interested in, you got told to shut up.
And I say that somewhat facetiously, but it was a serious issue in using email for one to many communication, one that we never really solved well. Digests for mailing lists were at best a nasty hack, one I always hated. client filters solved the problem better if users took the time to learn them and use them, and too few did. It was easier just to complain that people were actually enthusiastic about a topic and that was bad, because it generated too much content. This was ultimately a key reason I gave up on mailing lists — they were from the “well, all I have is a hammer, so this must be a nail” era of the internet, and I’ve been exploring alternatives to mailing lists for group communication since my first painful attempts to use forums in about 1998.
The web and RSS changes the equations but to some degree doesn’t solve it; there’s still way too much content out there and the challenge is how to edit and filter it so you get what you want and need without drowning.
The tools to do this are still pretty young and immature, but we’re getting there, slowly. Here’s how I do it these days, and in that is the answer to my friend’s question.
I allocate a chunk of time to following the news, much as my mom and dad allocated time every day to read a newspaper. I don’t do it at the morning table — I tend to browse throughout the day, lots of the time comes while I’m waiting for “stuff” to happen or finish. Since I’m constantly exploring and finding new stuff to follow, it’s safe to say I’m always bumping up against the “credit limit” for my time budget here. When I find myself doing that, I look at what is in the feeds and I delete feeds that are least interesting (or more correctly, ones for whom the time it takes to process those feeds outweighs the content or enjoyment of processing them). Quiet feeds have a lower barrier of entry; busy feeds need to more consistently bring in useful information for me to keep following them.
I typically find having about 400-425 feeds in my Google Reader fits in my time budget. When it gets over 450, I find myself feeling like I’m wasting too much time on it; if I drop it below that, I feel like I’m not reading widely enough. So that’s my comfort level.
Ditto things like facebook and twitter and all of the other places that have streams of data passing through. They all get a time budget; that budget is a subset of the overall time budget I allocate to following “stuff” out there.
You get into my feeds if I find you interesting. You leave my feeds if there are other feeds more interesting than you and I run out of time consistently before getting to your stuff. And, of course, my interests are constantly evolving — I used to read a LOT of Apple-oriented feeds (for obvious reason); today, it’s about four. Those feeds didn’t become uninteresting — my interests changed. it’s not you, it’s me. Honest.
I don’t play the “I’ll follow you if you follow me” game. Most of the people doing that, in reality, are doing the “I’ll pretend to follow you to get you to follow me” game, and I have no time or interest in playing that game. I find it disingenuous, but not as disingenous as getting the notification of someone following me on twitter, only to see they’ve already unfollowed me by the time I go and look at whether I might want to follow them (which I do). Amusingly enough, that is a very common occurence among “social media experts” who follow 10,000 or more people. I’m sure they read those feeds religiously, too.
I post stuff to the various services for a very specific audience: me. I have an audience of one. I put it out there because it’s the stuff I find interesting enough to be the stuff I want out there when I’m looking. To the degree that what you find interesting is the same as what I find interesting is what makes reading my postings worth time in your browsing time budget. Or not.
I am sensitive to the time issue. That’s one reason why I consciously keep the blog relatively low-volume and focussed, and have shifted the more casual link-love and the chattering conversational stuff over to twitter. It gives people some options to subset what I do to fit their interests if they want. I long ago gave up the presumption that my every word is to be studied and cherished. Please, god, don’t archive me and turn me into a PhD thesis in 30 years, okay? I really wonder sometimes about people who feel everything they say has to go to every channel and be archived forever, and why they would even want that. But that’s just me…
The twitter to linkedin bridge is one I’ve wondered about. It seems to me Linkedin might better be served as a tighter, more formal communication channel. But right now, I think the balance and volume is okay, and to date, I’ve gotten, well, one complaint about it. So I’m leaving it alone, but I might decide it warrants a smaller firehose than facebook gets down the road. This is all new, and we’re figuring it all out as we go along…
Which is my long-winded answer to the question: if what I do has enough value to you to read and follow, great. If not, that’s great, too. If you feel you want subsets of the material, I’ve set up ways to do that in various ways (blog only, photos only, etc) or you can build your own filters if you care. Or you can choose not to follow it and use your time on something better fitting your interests. That’s the joy of this; nobody’s forcing you to do anything, there are always options.
I do hope you find me interesting and choose to read what I put out there. But if you don’t — life goes on. For me, what’s important is that what I put out there is what I find interesting. Too many people go into this trying to create content for an audience they hope to attract, and far too often, turn out uninteresting or commercial stuff. Me, I’m just trying to do what’s fun and interesting for me, and to the degree that there are those out there that also find it fun and interesting I’ll have an audience. I try not to pay much attention to “the numbers”, but I will say they’re growing slowly and I’m quite satisfied that the time I put into creating content is a good investment of my time.
And that’s all that matters. If it’s a good investment of time, do it. If if it’s, do something else. to view it any other way is to overcomplicate things. …
Scott wrote a comment on my post a couple of days ago that makes a good opening as I shift gears a bit:
Chuq, do you think the weight gain triggered the sleep apnea or did you have apnea first, which led to weight gain? Sleep apnea shows itself as a lot of different symptoms — it’s great that you decided to get to the core problem.
And the answer to that is complicated, and the experts are still figuring all of this out.
But first, a few notes before I dive in:
- I am not a trained medical professional. I am an interested layman who’s been trying to learn as much about this as I can because it interests and affects me. Do not use me as your medical doctor replacement.
- Be careful who you believe on the internet. Including me. There’s a lot of bullshit out there, some of it spouted by loonies, some of is published by people who want to sell you crap, and some of it published by people funded by large companies who want to sell you crap. Be wary of who you believe.
- If they use the words “easy” or “foolproof” run away fast. Or toddle. Or waddle. Or whatever it is you do, as fast as you do.
- If you are offended by someone making fat jokes, well, sorry. It’s okay. I’m fat. I can do this….
There does seem to be interesting research (also here) coming out that indicates that sleep apnea, and that inadequate sleep can both be a trigger for obesity. There are now some studies showing particularly strong links to inadequate sleep prior to the age of 5 being linked to obesity later in life. If you burn your candle at both ends, it seems to affect your metabolism, and your body is more likely to go into a defensive mode where it tries to collect fat.
Weight gain and apnea is a particular conundrum, because it looks like the apnea leaves you in a state of chronic exhaustion, and that exhaustion mucks with your metabolism and slows it down, which encourages fat storage. And as your weight goes up, it can enhance the apnea, creating a nasty feedback cycle. Apnea does a lot of other things — if you’re always exhausted, you’re rarely functioning at your best. Your mental processes slow down, you don’t think as clearly, your reaction times slow down — you know that feeling you get after an 18 hour day or pulling that end of project all-nighter? When you hit that point where no amount of Red Bull brings the edge back, and you have to think twice about how to tie a shoelace? Apnea takes you to that point and leaves you there is it strengthens. It saps your energy, meaning you’re less likely to exercise, also encouraging weight gain and muscle loss. You end up stressed; when you’re exhausted, you’re more likely to feel negative and unhappy and the stress and anxiety pile up.
Ultimately this all turns into a negative feedback cycle. And let’s not forget that there are strong correlations between apnea and insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes. And it all tends to happen slowly, over time, so you don’t really see the results until you’re far into the process.
I’ve always been hefty. I’m 5’8″ but with a seriously heavy bone structure. As a sophomore in high school, I wrestled at 142, and in good shape it was a struggle to meet weight. If you look at a recommended weight chart, a 25 year old at that heigh with a large frame is suggested to sit in the range of about 145-170. A 15 year old still developing and in good physical shape hitting that range is sort of off the chart, so one word never used to describe me is svelte. or petite. I exited high school about 175 in decent shape, and then got lazy. I was 280 on my 30th birthday. My doctor and I have done some work reconstructing my weight profile, and I started gaining about 7-10 pounds a year out of high school, and just kept it up, until close to the end at Apple when I hit that point where it spiralled and I put on about 60 pounds.
When I left Apple, I weighed 380. Today, four years (and a month) later, I weigh — 385. That in itself is a victory of sorts, but not a complete on. In those four years, I gained at least 20 pounds (maybe more; I stopped weighing) and joined the 400 club, and then lost it again. And then in 2008, I took of 35 pounds, only I wasn’t trying to, and that was one of the things that caused me to go get tested and we caught the diabetes fairly early on; I know I wasn’t diabetic in early 2007 when I got tested. I seem to have flipped this particular switch in late 2007. Since I and my doctor both know I’m was a good candidate for diabetes (as well as having a family history of seriously high cholesterol) we’ve kept a fairly close watch over time while I tried to figure out how to get the weight loss. Unfortunately, in 2008, my dad got sick and I spent much of 2008 helping mom deal with that, and then deal with the funeral, and then deal with the estate, and I never got around to the tests until fairly late in the year, when in all honesty I already knew. I emailed my doctor and suggested we should do some tests, he agreed, and the numbers came back seriously sideways. We retested and added in some other checks, the urine test came back “HEY! YOU CAN MAKE POPSICLES FROM THIS!”, and that was that.
Diabetes, according to a friend of mine, is nothing much at all to worry about, but you have to keep a very close watch on it. What he means by that is that as long as you take it seriously and pay attention and manage it — it really isn’t a big deal. he’s right. That’s a whole set of discussions for down the road, but suffice it to say, the best control I can put on the diabetes is to get the weight off and keep it off. Right now I’m controlling it by managing my diet and with some drugs, but the goal state here is to manage it by diet alone, and that means getting in better physical shape, getting the weight off, and eating a diet that keeps the body in balance. I’ve made good progress on that third part; I’m still struggling with the first two.
In talking with my doctor about all of this over the years, and with my therapist when I was in therapy, and with nutritionists, I’ve learned a lot about what makes me tick and where my struggles come from. Bad lifestyle habits don’t get fixed overnight; if you try to fix everything all at once, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll fail. One of the best pieces of advice my doctor gave me was to grab one thing I felt I could fix, and fix it, and keep working at it until the habit was relearned, which takes weeks. Try to do too many things at once, and as soon as you muff one, or you hit a patch of stress, or something comes up — you fall back into the old habits and lose it.
Try to pick up a mountain, and you’ll fail. Pick it up one rock at a time, and it’ll take a while, but if you keep at it, you’ll find you moved it. Slow and steady. My last year at Apple, I was on the burger and fries diet — five, six times a week (at least). Whatever was fast and didn’t require thought, since I only allowed myself 15 minutes for lunch, including acquiring it.
Today, there’s very little to complain about in my diet. One of the most effective tools in fixing a diet is the food diary, where you track everything you eat. Since i decided I needed to get serious about this, I spent a week tracking what I ate and did an analysis of it. The good news: I was right, I was eating to maintenance (no gain, no loss), and the food ratios where just about where I expected them to be. The bad news: the total calorie count AND what I thought an appropriate was an appropriate calorie range for maintenance were off by about 20% — I was eating more calories than I tallied mentally, but I also had the goal number off — so in practice, the result was accurate but the scale was off. That’s easy to recalibrate. The food ratios were just about where I expected them to be, more or less 30% fat, 35-50% carb, the rest protein. That’d be a great diet — unless you’re diabetic. As a diabetic, that’s too many carbs, and one of the diabetes drugs I take works by encouraging the liver to sequester blood glucose (i.e., stuff it into fat cells); hence losing weight with that going on is even more complicated. So I have to change that ratio to something more like 30% fat, 30% carb, 40% protein. Thank god I like deli sliced turkey…
There is, in our culture, this weird aspect that can best be described by the words “Just say no”. it drives me crazy sometimes, because it’s incredibly naive — and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work with kids and drugs or alcohol, it doesn’t work with kids and sex (or priests and sex, or married adults and sex, or…). And it’s embodied with weight with things like “just put less on your plate” or “you just need to walk 15 minutes a day”.
Here’s the hint: if it was THAT SIMPLE, all of us would be thin and healthy, okay? Notwithstanding that I take full responsibility for some bad choices I made, if you look around, there’s a huge obesity epidemic. there are more things driving that than being lazy and eating badly. Wherever the western diet gets introduced, obesity and diabetes follow. Here in the states, the combination of the western diet (heavily processed foods, carb heavy foods, fast food places everywhere, sweetened soft drinks, etc, etc) AND a culture of “don’t walk, get in the car” the obesity issue is magnfied. In places like Canada and New Zealand where there’s still a culture of “go outside and play”, it’s a lot less prominent. Just saw a study the other week where the average New Zealander takes twice as many steps per day as the average US person. And it shows in the average waistline.
I’m convinced that we’re going to find that there’s a direct link between the growth in usage of high yield corn syrup and many of our societal issues here. I would non be surprised if we end up coming to realize that this is our generation’s tobacco, and if you’re old enough you remember when the tobacco companies spent megabucks telling us it really was healthy. Where my mother’s generation in many ways died of lung cancer and deal with emphysema, our generation and the kids growing up today are as likely to die of heart attacks and strokes and suffer from diabetes. The evidence is still being built — but I expect it’ll happen, with the mega-food companies fighting it the entire way. At least until they can find a graceful exit strategy to convert their processed foods back to sugar.
In my case, there are a couple of things that have complicated this further. One is that I’m wired to eat under stress. When I stress out, I eat. That’s not something that “put less on your plate” remotely deals with. You deal with it by learning how to not be stressed. Which, if you’re stressing out about your weight, is an interesting challenge.
The other thing is a piece of biology. There are two hormonal signals tied to eating. One is the hunger signal, which tells you to eat. The other is a second signal called satiety, which is actually the trigger that tells you you’re full and you to stop eating. You start eating when you’re hungry. You stop eating when you’re full. In my case, the satiety trigger is sluggish. I don’t get the signal as quickly as the average person. That means that you eat longer, which means you tend to eat more, before you stop. Which means more calories.
All of which, I guess, is a long-winded rant on the stupidity of our culture that goes after simplistic answers to things that clearly are complicated and difficult. We set ourselves up for failure — and then beat ourselves up when we fail. And then go eat a donut to make ourselves feel better, which is okay because we suck and we deserve to be fat and everyone hates us. And so the cycle starts again.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand it in the context of myself. I’m now ready to make a serious stab at the core problem — my weight — because I believe I’ve finally dealt with all of the OTHER things that tie into it and complicate it and get in the way of dealing with it or trigger it, whether it’s a crappy diet because I was so tied to my job I didn’t allow myself enough life to eat properly, or stressing myself out over things that honestly didn’t deserve to control my life that much, or any of a dozen other things that all pile on and get in the way, like, oh, if you’re a stress eater and your dad is dying, losing weight just doesn’t hit the top of the priority list…
The reality is — this stuff’s all incredibly complicated. It’s a different path for everyone. Maybe I’m finally on mine. Maybe not, but I know I’m closer to it if I’m not there. And that’s why I’ve started writing about this — not because it makes my situation any easier, but because maybe it’ll help you find your path a little faster and easier. And even if not, it never hurts to know that you’re not alone in the struggle, right?
(the last few days have been heavy and deep. thanks for sticking with me. we’ll switch gears and go lighter for a while, but we’re not done here, not remotely. And if you have thoughts or questions, drop me a note….)
Sherman, set the wayback machine to February, 2004.
It’s the standard weekly team meeting, only this time, it was a bit different. My management recognized me for finishing (surviving?) 15 years at Apple, and I got my pin, my plaque, and cake. the team we’d put together congratulated me. It’s something not a lot of people can claim.
Afterwards, I went back to my office and sat down to check email, and started crying. And couldn’t stop.
I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I blamed work and stress — I know better now. It wasn’t the first warning. Even six months prior I was noticing changes. I was honored to be invited to Tim O’Reilly’s Foo Camp 1 and found myself spending the time feeling isolated and distant from everything. I came home from Foo inspired to do a number of things — and instead dug a hole and crawled into it and pulled the sides down on top. It slowly got worse, too. Laurie and I took a long-planned trip up to Victoria and Vancouver to spend christmas. That was the year of the great freeze, with snow in Victoria, sub-zero (F) temperatures, and a mad dash out of Portland to the 101 on the coast to try to get home before the entire state of Oregon got snowed in. We made it, and those who weren’t smart enough to do the same waited about 5 days for I-5 to re-open at the california border.
That was the first time my body sat me down and said “DUDE! Stop! Listen to me. THIS ISN’T WORKING”. It was also the first time I ran into something I couldn’t just out-stubborn. Here’s a lesson learned that I wish I’d known then: if you’re blaming work and stress for how badly you feel and you take ten days off and go on vacation and you rest and relax and don’t think about work — AND IT DOESN’T GET BETTER — then hey, dude — it’s not work. And you probably ought to look into it.
I know that now. Learning that lesson saved me a lot of fun later down the road. When something’s going south, it rarely does so without some early warning signs. It gives you a chance to intervene and deal with it before it turns into a crisis.
If you’re paying attention. If you don’t think you can simply out-stubborn it.
In my case, I ignored it until the crisis hit. Then I tried to ignore it for another couple of weeks until I realized it was winning. That was a tough time for Laurie, one I regret to this day. I was seriously manic. By the time she told me to get help or else, I’d already made the phone call.
The words “nervous breakdown” cause interesting reactions in people. I was amazed at how many people I ran into that when I admitted it to them said “dude, yeah. Me, too”. And how many also said “whatever you do, don’t blog about this.” Maybe they’re right. We’ll find out. Mostly, my view today is any potential employer who reads this and won’t hire me because of it isn’t someone who deserves to have me work for them. Their loss, not mine. Better to find out those things before you commit.
My therapist was awesome. One of the first things he said in our first meeting was “You wouldn’t believe how many people in your industry end up in my office”. Later, as I talked to people about it, I found he was right. it’s one of the dirty secrets of high tech in Silicon Valley, how people commit themselves to work themselves until they fall apart, and how companies take advantage of that and create project demands that encourage it. The “sleep under your desk” mentality isn’t healthy, and it catches up with you eventually. When it does — the company rarely makes it up to you. In my case, I was lucky. My management was extremely supportive and did what they could. My team was even more supportive, and for a while, simply worked around the problem and took care of things until I got my act together enough to be a functional part of the operation again. For a while, I was pretty literally a basket case. In a lot of companies, they toss you to the curb and put another body in your cube. That’s something you ought to remember before you commit to chronic 60 hour death march schedules. The company benefits when you do. You probably won’t get a cookie. Just sayin’
I spent a couple of months in therapy, understanding my situation and learning what it meant and how to manage it. Some people need pharmaceutical help, I just needed some perspective and some ideas on how to cope. It took me a couple of years, but I finally learned how to like myself, something that’s always been a struggle, and how to not let the stress and angst pile up until the container is full and it all spills out in a badly timed mess. For me, it came down to getting an outside perspective and some trained advice on how to change things I was doing to cope with life challenges (and failing at coping). Everyone’s a bit different, but the big lesson is — don’t be afraid to ask for help. I always believed I could do anything, that I could make it happen by working longer and harder. Look where that got me. Maybe the hardest lesson I had to beat into my thick skull was that I have limitations, and sometimes I need help — and not to be afraid to ask.
What we didn’t do, what we didn’t realize was hanging out there, was look for the root cause. I thought it was work and stress, and my therapist saw no reason to think it might be something else, since dealing with mewling blobs of protoplasm caused by work stress was his stock in trade. And if you look at the dates involved, it’d be another three years before I did get far enough into this to get the root cause identified and treated.
The root cause here was the apnea. And while I don’t have many regrets in life, I do wonder at times how things might have been different had I made the connection and gotten it treated earlier. Would I still be at Apple? Perhaps. What I do know is that a number of people I know and love got caught as collateral damage along the way, and whether I was able to avoid any of this personally, I wish I’d been able to keep them from having to come along for the ride.
The lessons to take out of this?
- Listen to your body. If something’s wrong, don’t out-stubborn it, and don’t wait until your body pulls out the sledge hammer to get your attention. Things you catch when they’re small are a lot easier to fix.
- Make sure you’re finding the cause, not just treating the symptom.
- There are large chunks of silicon valley whose business plans are based on working you into the ground, and then replacing you with someone fresh and ready to go back into the grind. What are you getting out of this relationship? Deathmarches are a fact of life, and deadlines happen; but if every day is a deathmarch and the deadlines are never rational, do you really want to be there? And will they really make it worth what you go through to ship that product? Really?
- Too many companies demand loyalty but offer none. I know way too many people who did way too many 70 hour weeks to get a project done, only to find out their job moved to india (but thanks for making our quarterly numbers. oh, and we stripped the package. sorry). Find the companies that see you as an asset, not a cog, and make the relationships work both ways.
The reason I stuck at Apple for two years beyond my breakdown was simple: my management and my team kicked serious butt for me when I needed it, and I wanted to do everything I could in return for them. So let me close tonight with this final thought. To Axel and Dean and Michelle and Jason — the more time passes and the better perspective I have, the more I understand just what I put you all through, and the more I appreciate how you all helped me through it. It’s a debt I can’t repay, but it’s one I am happy to recognize and honor. Thanks.
That goes doubly so to my wife Laurie. I’m convinced I wouldn’t have made it without her.
Hey, can someone push the big green button on the Wayback machine? the one labeled “return?” thanks.
How time flies when you’re having fun. It was four years ago that I left Apple after 17 years to go do something else. I announced my decision in July, and spent eight weeks transitioning, and in September 2006 walked out of Apple for the last time and into — well, at the time, I had no idea what I was going to do. Something different. I redid my blog into Chuqui 3.0, and four years later, again for my birthday, redid it again into its current form.
I tried my damndest to get hired by Yahoo! at the time. It’s still a company that looks to me to have huge potential — but right now, it’s just not clicking, and it looks like AOL is seriously gearing up to make a run at doing what Yahoo ought to be doing and isn’t (and some really interesting yahoo! talent keeps sneaking off to AOL land) . Not really sure why a Yahoo job never happened, there was plenty of interest in both directions, just never quite the right match (and in one case, an internal transfer that tooks a slot I was waiting for an offer from). Having lived through all of the bad years at Apple, not being hired by Yahoo turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and the best things are the things that don’t happen.
I wrote a series of blog entries about all of this, the Apple Post-Mortem series:
- Part 1: Why I left: and more on this in a bit..
- Part 2: Jobs I Wish I could Have Taken: most of which are jobs I STILL wish I could have taken, and ones that I still think a company like Apple (or most companies) should create for some one…
- Part 3: no longer online (and I don’t even remember what it was, or why it’s offline. Doesn’t really matter)
- Part 4: Why Apple doesn’t have a blogging policy (and it ain’t what you think); by far, the piece that created the biggest kerfluffle, way back when. And of course, there was great hue and cry about how Apple had to blog, or it was going to fail and the universe was going to shun and scorn it. We see just how badly faltered by failing to understand this basic requirement of the universe… This is the one where folks called bullshit on me without in some cases seeming to notice I’d actually left Apple.
- Leaving Apple after 17+ years was both an easy and tough decision. Part of me really wanted to stay, wanted to, as I put it a few times, get carried out on my XServe. Not exactly, looking back on it from today, a ringing endorsement. Most of me understood that I needed to make some fundamental changes to my life or they would in fact carry me out on my XServe, and that would have been bad. I was physically exhausted, I was emotionally exhausted, I’d gained close to 60 pounds in the previous year. I worked myself into pneumonia, and then hid from my doctor and bosses that I worked through treatment for it.
I was a wreck. I’d spent a good part of a year trying to find ways to fix the job situation with the help of my bosses — and failed. In many ways I blamed Apple for this; in reality, there was nothing that happened that I didn’t volunteer for and jump into with both feet and great enthusiasm. I was physically and emotionally bankrupt, and I had no idea how to resolve the problem; I honestly wondered if I was simply too old to keep up with silicon valley. I didn’t know. What I did know was that the current situation was pretty literally killing me, and I was doing myself no good, my project no good, Apple no good and the people around me no good.
So I jumped, deciding that some time off would help me recharge and give me some time to reflect and decide on what to do next and how to fix my life. At the time, I was somewhat bitter that Apple didn’t do more to convince me to stay. In reality, it did me a great favor by not trying, and in reality, I didn’t work too hard to find a place to land, either. That was just exhaustion speaking, and now, I see that and I feel that Apple — and my bosses all those years — worked their butts off to try to make things happen. It was just a situation where nothing Apple could do could fix it.
Because what I didn’t know at the time, wouldn’t find out for another six months, was that I was really sick.
When I did finally haul myself off to my doctor and talked, he sent me off to the sleep clinic to be tested. They wired me up — and the results were stunning.
I had sleep apnea. I didn’t just have sleep apnea, I was seeing an average of 50 “incidents” an hour. An incident, by the way, is when your breathing passage blocks and you start to suffocate, at which point your body has to react (i.e “wake up”) and do something to allow you to breathe again. I was — pretty literally — snoring myself to death.
I started wearing a CPAP that night, something I’ve been wearing every night since. it’s basically the inspiration for the Darth Vader mask. I’ve talked about this a couple of times in the past, but now that some time has passed, I have a better perspective on all of this. it’s now clear, for instance, that I was suffering from Apnea for at least a decade prior to my diagnosis. The more I look at that time of my life, the more I realize how much it was impacted by this.
In the year prior to deciding to leave Apple, I gained about 60 pounds. At the time, I blamed work and the stress of the project I was on. I strained friendships (and lost a couple I still regret). I had no energy, I was always worn out and exhausted. I was starting to suffer from high blood pressure. I was not a lot of fun to be around, and I didn’t particularly want to be around anyone.
In the two weeks after putting on the CPAP, my blood pressure dropped 20 points and I went off blood pressure medicine. I slept well for the first time in years — and so did Laurie, because she wasn’t having to deal with sleeping with a fog horn. She stopped wearing earplugs to bed, and her sleeping improved, too. After about six weeks, my energy levels started coming back, and so did my attitude.
At that time I realized I had to get serious about lifestyle changes. I decided to try to adopt a new attitude. The easy way to sum it up is:
And that’s been the foundation for what turned into a major effort to rethink every aspect of my life, how I lived it, and how I needed to live it moving forward if I wanted to be around for a while and actually have a quality of life that made being around worth it. I feel for the first time in decades comfortable in my own skin and satisified with how I’m living. For the first time in decades — warts and all — I like myself.
And here’s why I’ve decided it’s finally time to talk about this.
Your health is like a credit card; you keep putting purchases on it and making minimum payments against the balance, eventually it’s going to hit the credit limit, and if you go over, bad things happen. Lifestyle choices I made in my 20′s and 30′s came back to bite me in the ass in my 40′s when the bill came due, and here I am now in my 50′s, “restructuring the debt” and realizing that there are things I’m going to have to live with the rest of my life.
Things that were completely avoidable if I’d made different choices and taken a different path.
I can’t go back and do that, but I’ve decided this is my time machine, and hopefully I can help someone else who is just starting to move down a path to understand the options and maybe make a better choice than I did.
It’s probably not as much fun as geeking out over HTML5 transforms or complaining about the ref’s call in last night’s hockey game — but it might save someone’s life. I promise not to lecture and not to whine or play “poor me” games. I have no intention of telling you how to live your life. But if I can help some people better understand the implications of some of the decisions they need to make, then this will be worth doing.
We’ll try it and see what happens.
In my last post, I talked about refactoring my photo collection, which I’m sure a lot of the non-geeks in the audience (both of you) went “huh?” to.
In the software world, “refactoring ” is a term used today to define what happens when a programmer goes in and cleans up some existing code. In the old days, it was called “maintenance programming” and thrown at the junior programmers. Today, it’s called “refactoring” and it’s still thrown at the junior programmers, but now it has a fancy name to make them feel better about it.
Okay, not really. well, mostly not really. But refactoring is where you take a hunk of something that already exists, and you work on it to make it more functional, faster, cleaner (or simple less warty), add in functionality you wish you’d known you’d want when you did it the first time, and generally do away with all of the bits that annoy you and replace them with new bits that hopefully won’t annoy you as much.
That concept is relevant for software — but it’s just as relevant to your photo collection. Mine had, over time, gotten to be a bit of a mess. My oldest photos started out in a very early version of iPhoto. As I got more serious about my photography and the technology improved, I moved my collection from iPhoto to Aperture (first version), then to CS3 Photoshop/Bridge (when I got tired of waiting for Aperture 2.0), then to Lightroom 2.0 (when I got tired of Bridge not making my life easier and more painless), and now to Lightroom 3.0. Along the way I redefined my keywording schemes at least three times, on at least two occasions I accidently deleted all keywords off of swaths of the library accidentally and didn’t catch it until “later”, and did the same once for captions and again once on image titles — each to a different group of images that might have overlapped but none of them had things in common. All of which ended up in the “some day, I need to fix these things” pile.
Along the way I learned a lot about photography, and a lot about post-processing of images, and I figured out tricks to improve images that allowed me to create much better images than I was previously capable of. When Lightroom 3 came out, the new processing system was also much improved, especially around noise reduction, and “simply” reprocessing images in Lightroom 3 made an image better.
I’ve also gotten pickier about what images are good enough for me to want to have them in public with my name on them. At some point, you look at you online galleries and wince once too often, and you think to yourself “I need to fix this” and put it in the Todo pile with all of the other Todos.
So a few weeks ago I pointed someone I knew at one of my images and winced when I looked at it one too many times, and I decided it was time to actually fix all of this stuff, so I crawled down in a hole, and spent two and a half weeks at the task.
That’s not so bad. I’ve done this once before, back in 2008, and I spent four months at the project. At that time, there were a lot of other things going on (like my dad being sick and dying) and it was a part time project (and therapy) and a lot of it was done late at night in hotel rooms, but I found it a huge help in really seeing where I stood as a photographer and what I needed to work on — and how far I’d come along the way to that point.
Lightroom 3 has a new feature in it that I really wanted to take advantage of, the Publish module. Even better, Jeffrey Friedl has written some Lightroom plug-ins that take this functionality and extend it to be even more useful (and he’s done one for Smugmug, too). In Lightroom 2 and earlier, you could export your images to Flickr (or some other service), but once you did, the two aspects of the image were disconnected. Changes to one couldn’t be merged in to the other. If you found a typo in a caption or wanted to update or add keywords, you’d have to remember to go to the places you had exported the image and make those changes manually to each instance. You did that religiously, right? Yeah. Me, too. But what that really meant was that once you hit that “export” button, it was a major pain to actually update/improve/fix things — so you ended up with a list of “need to fix this” spread all over your online sites. And of course, we all religiously keep track of all of these ToDo’s and work to complete them in our free time in the evenings, right? Yeah, me, too.
So over time, comments on flickr that noted mistakes got fixed in Lightroom (usually), but not re-exported back out to flickr or elsewhere. And as I refined my keywording (or more correctly, threw the crappy keywording systems out and built less crappy ones), did those improvements end up where you and the search engines could see them? Oh. Of course. Yeah, right.
Publish changes that; once you get your flickr (and smugmug) accounts set up and synced up with your Lightroom collection, changes you make to an image can be republished in place. No longer do you have that “damn, that sharpening is off” moment wher you have to spend 20 minutes exporting to your desktop and convincing flickr to replace a photo. No longer do you have to remember which images you fixed those typos in. Lightroom deals with it now. Once you get it set up, the process becomes pretty painless.
Once you set things up. I’ll come back to that in a future entry.
And once I sat down to implement that, I realized i now had a REASON to actually empty the “todo list”, which of course doesn’t really exist. But it was possible to create one and them empty it. So I did. And then exported all of that to Flickr. along the way, it gave me the opportunity to properly create my “serious” portfolio over on Smugmug, and start the process of cross-linking the two services. That’s still in progress as I decide what works and doesn’t — but if you look at my flickr images, they now include links to Smugmug. And with the new lightroom capabilities, as I implement how I want captions on flickr and smugmug to look, making that change and then re-publishing it is relatively simple — for instance, I want to add a short explanation of Creative Commons to my flickr captions. In the old day, good luck. Now?
Possible. And it opens up many options down the road to do things that before were simply too much hassle to warrant.
At a very high level, here are the tasks I undertook to refactor my image collection:
- Make sure everything is in Lightroom and nothing is lost of missing.
- Sit down and spend some time defining what your standards are. What kind of keywords should you use? To what level of detail? What is a “good” caption? What is a “good” title? Do you geotag images? to what accuracy? if you decide on your standards up front, it doesn’t make bringing the library up to those standards less tedious — but at least you’ll be able to make easy and consistent decisions on what needs to be done, which will simplify things down the road.
- Go through my defined keyword library and edit it into a consistent hierarchy and bring it all up to my current usage standards; that includes fixing all typos and doing things like standardizing usage and terminology, grammar, capitalization and thinking through things like your hierarchy. And spell-checking it. Twice. Trust me.
- Implement the publish system for the sites you upload to, and go through the work needed to sync up those services to those collections so that everything is connected and updates will go where they are supposed to go.
- Go through the library one image at a time and bring it up to your current standards: if necessary, re-keyword it. improve the caption and title. verify it’s geotagged and the geotagging is correct. validate the metadata. make sure the embedded EXIF data is complete and correct — especially contact and copyright info (you ARE adding that to all of your images via import presets, right? RIGHT?)
- Are the images well-processed? Do they need to be re-done? Do them. If you don’t want to lose the existing version of the image, use virtual copies and learn to use sets. Are there systemic processing mistakes you’re catching? Congratulations, you just improved your workflow on new images — you know not to do that any more, right? (I found, honestly, that I went through phases where I wansn’t just bad at sharpening, I was “driving the clown car backwards through the car wash with the windows down” incompetent; I finally took great swaths of the library and put a generic re-sharpening on them to remove the damage, and then evaluated them individually again later. And this was on images that were already on flickr and published, at a time I thought that was good sharpening. Oh, god. (wince))
- As you fix stuff, publish the fixed stuff so that the stuff that makes you wince goes away….
- Edit your collection. you’ve become a better photographer; there’s going to be stuff you look at and wince. When you wince, don’t be afraid to retire the image and take it offline. Don’t leave images online that you feel represent you poorly just because at one point you thought they were good enough. Edit. Ruthlessly. (in my case, I retired about 10% of my collection; a smaller amount than I expected to, honestly. In my 2008 refactor, I retired 35%, but that was when I started making the jump from enthusiastic amateur who pushed the shutter and prayed to a more studied amateur who actually tried to plan shots out….)
- And — don’t be afraid, if you get halfway through and think of something, to back up and implement it as well. Do something you decide isn’t working as well as you hoped? think of a way to make it even better? As long as you have the hood open — DO IT. because one of the things you want to do is make sure that once you put the hood down, you don’t feel any interest in opening it up and doing this again for a number of years. If you leave something half-done, or un-done, you’ve already started your next ToDo list.
I’m hoping this refactor will keep me for the next five years or so. I’ve matured enough as a photographer to have a sense of what makes sense (for me) and what base quality I want to show to others, and I’ve experimented enough with keywords and captions and titles to have a feel for what works for me, so I don’t expect to have to make major revisions “for a while”. and the Lightroom publishing option means I can tweak along the way and roll those changes out everywhere — meaning less deferred maintenance and less reason to let problems pile up until I can’t look at things without wincing…
So, how to do your own refactor? In my view, the one thing you need to get right, and the one thing that we all agree is a royal pain in the ass even when you do — is keywords. So before you do anything else, you have to get your keywording setup into some kind of consistent and logical shape… That’s next on the docket.
It’s official. I have committed iPad. I noticed last night that one of the local Best Buy’s had them in stock, so I decided it was time and went and grabbed one. Looking back on what I wrote when it was announced, I think I got it mostly right. I bought the 16G WiFi model, and I’ve been whacking on it since to try to get it set up the way I want and the tools on it I need to get going.
Why now? I’m looking to move forward on some projects and the iPad will make doing those a lot easier. And in some cases, they wouldn’t be possible without. What are those projects?
Well first, a quick side trip:
Anonymous offscreen voice: Chuq! Don’t you work for that company that said it was going to build it’s own tablet?
Why, thank you Anonymous offscreen voice. Yes, in fact, I do. And yes, they did. And no, it’s not announced or shipping yet, and I have things to do and people to see.
In all honesty, the reality is this — everyone in the industry owns stuff on multiple platforms. If you aren’t seeing what the other guys are doing, you’re going to miss important stuff. I think the record at work is someone who carries (CARRIES, not “owns”) four platforms: webOS, Android, IOS and a Treo. I still have my iPhone, and it sits mostly in my backback and gets used as an iPod, it has it’s phone number forwarded to my main phone, and it carries the few apps that I can’t yet find an equivalent on webOS. But I dogfooded my Pre long ago, and I use the apps on it if they exist — because if you don’t dog food your own stuff, you can’t live through the pain points that need to be fixed. So I do, happily, and I think we do a pretty good job (and it keeps moving forward).
But there is no webOS tablet yet, at least not that I can admit to, carry around in public or use on a daily basis. When there is, I’ll dogfood that, too. Until that happens, I need something now that does stuff, and the iPad makes sense.
I figured I should just be up front about this, because we all know there are folks out there who look for things to take out of context and push as negatively as they can. And they probably will anyway, but I felt I could either pretend I didn’t have one (which only works until the first time someone sees me with it, and then I have some explaining to do), or I could just explain up front. So I am. Heck, I could actually be working on some fascinating cross platform thingie that causes sparkling ponies to fly across the room, and if I am, I couldn’t tell you. In any event, the bottom line is the addition of an iPad to the family doesn’t imply anything about anything else other than the iPad is a useful tool, and when I have other useful tools, I’ll get those, too.
So, why did I buy an iPad?
At the start of the year, I made a decision to stop buying dead trees, and I shifted almost all of my book buying electronic. That’s worked out pretty well — I love the Kindle format and I’ve been doing some interesting research into e-publishing myself. It’s really clear that the iPad is a tipping point in the publishing space and I’ve been doing some interesting research into epublishing (more on that later) and I’m at the point where I needed to be able to try things out to mvoe that research forward further. But mostly, it’s because I wanted something more convenient than a laptop to carry about for my reading, and something with a bigger screen than a phone (and my 50 year old nearsighted eyes thank me!). I like getting away from the desk, away from the keyboard and yet more and more of my “downtime” and research time is spent online. The iPad allows me to nicely sit on the couch with Laurie, or pretty much anywhere, and do that.
Another thing I’m looking to investigate is using tablets as part of my photography. I think the iPad would be a nice way to do keywording and annotation of pictures, and I want to start prototyping up some options and see what happens. I think you could do a lot using a combination of a Lightroom plugin to handle migration, Dropbox and some custom code on the tablet to enable browsing and curation through updating the EXIF. Still a bunch of details to work out, but I’m ready to go work them out, and I can’t exactly do that without a tablet.
Finally, Project management. I’ve started doing some planning on a few fronts, trying to get back and moving on some things I’ve let sit fallow for a few months, and I needed something to help me get and stay organized. I grabbed a copy of Things, and I’m starting to figure out what I need to figure out about the projects I’m trying to reboot.
And yeah — the iPad is a damn good piece of work. but man, I miss multi-tasking of applications already.
A long time ago in a galaxy far away — way back in 2005 — I made a decision to get serious about my photography and see if I could go pro in the field as my “career 2.0″, either full-time or as part of something other than working high tech.
That’s easy to say. Making it happen? That’s the hard part. but when I sat down to figure out a path between that starting point and making the decision to make it happen, I came up with a long list of things that needed to be done.
But if you think about what the critical path is, it’s simple: until the craft you want to build the business around is good enough, nothing else matters. You can build the worlds best website, you can market the hell out of your work, you can promote and twitter yourself until you’re blue in the face, but if the photography isn’t good enough, it doesn’t matter.
So job one was to become good enough — and that’s been my focus. Every few months I’ve sat myself down and evaluated where I stand and my decision has been that I still have work to do to get where I believe i need to get to be successful.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t made progress; I thought I was a pretty good photographer when I started this (and I guess I was at some level), and along the way I’ve become a much better photographer. Many times I look back at my older images that I thought were pretty good and wince; some are salvageable through what I’ve learned about post-processing — many are being retired and put into storage. the more I learn, the more I study — the more I realize I need to be able to do to be successful at this.
Earlier this year I made a winter trip to Yosemite. That trip was (among other things) a test — to put myself into a situation well outside my comfort zone, to create a list of images that I needed to create and do so under deadline conditions, implement that plan when I get on site and adapt to the conditions and situation to see if I could still accomplish the goals (and to see what else was available when I got there, of course), and then see if I could reliably create quality images to the plan. It was a conscious attempt “on assignment” under conditions that weren’t fully under my control and see if I could turn out work that I felt met the requirements of the assignment at a quality I was satisfied with — and most importantly in some ways, that the images were “made”, not just taken.
That latter point is crucial in many ways, because being pro isn’t just about being able to produce an image, it’s about being able to produce the images that are needed and produce them when needed and reliably. It’s about making images, not just taking them. Anyone can get lucky and take a publishable shot. you can’t build a business around getting lucky — you have to make your luck, so to speak, and be able to produce reliably.
I felt that I succeeded at pretty much all levels. I was quite happy with the images, and the images were what I envisioned and planned. Feedback on the images was positive. All of the challenges I put in front of myself to “prove” I was ready to go pro were answered. So a back in April, I sat down and started planning what my next steps were going to be.
And a funny thing happened on the way to going pro….
One of the realities you have to understand about running a photography BUSINESS is that it takes time and energy; you have the bureacracy of running a business (paperwork and taxes, business licenses, managing finances, etc, etc…). You have to spend time and and energy soliciting business and supporting your customers, fulfilling requests, billing, managing inventory, marketing and promotion… Businesses aren’t magic. Things don’t happen, you have to make them happen.
The time to do those things has to come from somewhere. Since I have no intention to “give up my day job” any time soon (if for no other reason I’m enjoying what I do for a living. And there’s this thing called a paycheck) where is the time to start the business going to come from?
Yup. The most likely place that time will be sucked from is the time I spend doing photography. Physics wins, folks.
So I made the decision – surprising to myself at the time — that the best way to guarantee my long-term success as a professional photographer was to wait and leave it to a later time. It’s better for my to put my time into continuing to take photos and work on improving my craft (and especially working to widen my portfolio into areas I’m currently not strong at). I worried that my photography might stagnate if I put cycles into marketing instead of shooting — at the least, I’d be complicating my life, and the reality is, I don’t NEED to create an income stream right now, and it just doesn’t seem to make sense to try to force it to happen now.
My life priorities have changed in the last few years. there have been some speed bumps in my life the last few years — health issues, my dad dying, the hysical realities of middle age — but I seem to be beyond that, I feel better and I feel healthier than I’ve been since probably 2003 and except for my weight there aren’t any life complications I have to worry about. I do, however, have to worry about the weight and focus on getting it off, and the things that have happened the last few years has changed my attitude somewhat, and I am trying to live a little more for now and a less for someday — in the last two years I’ve lost two friends to cancer, my dad to his heart problems and I’ve had other friends my age have major cancer or health scares. It’s made me realize that my situation (diagnosed with diabetes almost a year ago but well controlled, and the joy of middle-age — arthritis) isn’t all that bad. But it also reminds me that you can’t always assume for tomorrow, either.
So my priorities are different now. When I redid my blog in July, it was to bring my photography more front and center in the design and make it a better showcase for my images, but I consciously decided not to try to put out a shingle and creating a business around it. that doesn’t mean I won’t license something if it comes along (I need to work on my smugmug site to make that possible), but that’s different. My attitude today is about simplifying my life and enjoying it more, keeping the stress manageable (and cutting stress out where can), more living in the moment instead of investing for someday. And doing really good photography and continuing to expand my skills instead of marketing and selling it. Letting someday happen and see what it is rather than always pushing to make it be something. Because you never know whether it’ll be there.
I don’t regret the goals I set along the way — and in fact, especially when I was dealing with dad and all of that entailed, my photography was sometimes the thing that kept me centered and sane — but you can’t be afraid to re-evaluate your goals and change them when circumstances change. I still think “going pro” is something I want to do, but later, when I’m thinner and older and ready to step away from silicon valley. But I’m not — it’s way too much fun these days. So while I still want to make this happen, I want to make sure i do it in terms that it the quality of life I’m trying to maintain today as well.
And that means sometimes the answer is a surprising “not now”…..
(and now, the camera is calling…)