Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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Monthly Archives: May 2011
And here we are in the finals. 28 teams are golfing, two are playing. And it’s June. At least four, any maybe as many as seven, games of hockey left. I’m already kind of missing the game since there are nights when I can’t stick a game into the background while I work.
Round 3, Boston vs. Vancouver. This should be a great series. Sedins vs. Chara. Thomas vs. Luongo. Some nice stories and challenges here. And the Cup has a chance to return to Canada for the first time in a while. I’m disappointed (but honestly, not surprised) that San Jose isn’t in the finals, but if any team was going to get past the Sharks, it was the Canucks. (side note: there were only two teams in the west that could really beat the Sharks, the Canucks and the Sharks.)
I’ve had a pretty good playoff run myself: Picked the east, missed the west, so I’m 11-3. I guessed wrong on Boston in the first round, Washington in the second round (who didn’t? Other than Yzerman) and San Jose in the third. One wrong, one implosion, and one flukey goal off a stanchion (but the Sharks shouldn’t have let themselves get to that point). I’ll take it.
If you think I’m NOT going to pick Vancouver, you’re crazy. the Bruins are going to have trouble controlling the Sedin twins. The big piece that worries me with Boston is Thomas, and whether he can out-duel Luongo. I think that’s a very distinct possibility. He could steal this series. If he does, that’ll be awesome.
But I expect that the Canucks will win out in six, and take the Cup back to Canada. And if they do, they’ll have well earned it and deserve it. And if Boston somehow takes it instead, just hand Thomas the Conn-Smyte and all of the Canadian press can go spend a couple of months writing articles blaming Bettman for it somehow….
I’m really looking forward to this series. There’s been a lot of great hockey in these playoffs (too bad some parts of the Canadian hockey press seems to be blacked out from those broadcasts and are instead writing about stuff they think sucks and the whole Winnipeg cluster. Guys, there’ll be plenty of time for that in the offseason, how about the hockey?) and I expect this series to be pretty epic.
Can’t wait. but honestly, I’m ready for a bit of a break, too. But camps open not too far away, right?
Go Canucks Go!
Recently I’ve been evaluating my blog and online presence, to see what works and what could be improved. To be honest, I don’t pay much attention to the analytics and readership numbers most of the time because I’m not trying to write for a mass audience and I don’t want to get in the mindset of doing things to grow the numbers — I want to stick to trying to write what I find interesting and what I hope others find interesting and entertaining, and let that find its natural audience over time.
The numbers, however, are useful for helping you understand what is interesting, but raw numbers need some thought and interpretation and to be honest, there are lots of numbers that all mean different things, and the ones most people focus on seem to be ones that I don’t think mean very much. So I’ve been chewing on the numbers trying to figure out what they mean and what that tells me about what I’m doing.
This implies, by the way, that I’m starting to redesign the blog; it’s been about a year, I’m ready for a new look, but not a radical change. And in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing some quiet tinkering to experiment with some ideas to see if they change certain behaviors in any way (or even if they don’t, if I like the look they bring). most of them are things you aren’t likely to notice and don’t deserve talking about in any depth; a lot of it is trying to understand how to improve discoverability of material by people who come and visit the blog, and to improve interconnections between the different pieces of my online universe.
When I redesigned my blog a year ago, the big weakness that I saw was discoverability. people brought in by an RSS link or a search engine search or a link from another site looked at the page they landed on and then left again. There was very little exploration, and there was nothing on the old site to encourage people to explore. The two numbers I paid closest to on Google Analytics were the average length of visit and the number of pages visited per visit. Before I redid the blog, they were terrible — with average stay on the site under a minute, and average number of pages visited under 1.2. The blog design actively discouraged people from finding anything other than what they came to look at and the front page, so they didn’t.
In the redesign, I tried to bring into view a few key articles and other things that might be of interest to people visiting the site; this is typical split out into a semi-permanent list of “best of” articles and a regularly changed list of most popular pages on the site in the recent past. I haven’t found a wordpress plug-in that does that the way I want to do it, and it doesn’t take long to manually update, so I manually do that every 4-6 weeks. each blog post also has an auto-generated list of related articles, and that’s worked pretty well.
I’ve experimented with a few ways to do the same with photos, and haven’t liked any of them; they all clutter the pages up and/or compete with the front page slide show. I’m currently trying something rather less kowabunga, a couple of widget boxes with one photo each for the portfolio and the wallpapers; I like the look, it’s too early to tell if it’s doing anything useful — but I do like the look, and I can tie it back to the saturday or sunday blog posts and create some linkages there.
Overall, the blog redesign did what I was hoping for; average time on site has grown from under a minute to about 1:40. That may not seem like much, but it’s just under double (55 seconds to 95 seconds); pages per visit has grown from about 1.15 to 1.6, up about 25%. Can this be better? I dunno. I certainly don’t want to do things that get in the way of the users primary goal (which is read whatever they can to look at) or be annoying. I can continue exploring how to make sticking around interesting, but I understand most folks are focuses on their task, and I am not going to interrupt that for the wrong reason.
For instance, you’ll never see me do pop-overs or other things that prevent you from reading the article until you do something (like register) or dismiss the dialog. There are a couple of photo sites who aggressively try to get you to subscribe to their newsletter; I know that annoys me, and eventually, I stop visiting links pointing to their sites when I recognize them. If it annoys me, why would I do it to others? So I won’t. I think this comes from thinking about the wrong numbers — total subscribers vs engaged readers. It’s easy to track total subscribers, but I think it’s basically a meaningless number if the subscription isn’t actually read. And I can only wonder how many people those kind of techniques actively drive from the site. I can’t see it as a net positive.
I don’t want to force you to subscribe. I want to convince you to want to. Hijacking your eyeballs won’t make you happy, I can’t see that as a way to build a positive relationship. Because of that philosophy, I’ve played with how to make sure you can figure out how to subscribe (if you want to), but without making it pushy or obnoxious. I’ll take smaller subscription numbers but actively interested readers any day.
So how many subscribers/readers do I have? That turns out to be a suprisingly complicated number. And how does that compare to a year ago?
That turns out to be even more complicated.
You can get content on my site a few ways: you can bookmark it and come visit any time you want. In reality, very few people do this; I know if your site doesn’t have an RSS feed or some way to get notified of updates, I’ll lose track of you — and I know pretty much everyone I talk to is like that now.
I use RSS, Twitter, and Facebook for new content notifications. Whenever I post a blog entry, it goes on the RSS feeds and Twitter. The Twitter updates flow off to my facebook page. Â Stuff that goes onto facebook tends to stay on facebook; it’s very sticky about data, so a comment stream there will not end up tying back to the blog; most of the comments I get on postings happen on facebook now, but it doesn’t integrate well with the rest of the universe (in Facebook’s view, this is a feature, not a bug; I don’t care enough now to try to “fix” it and get that data back on the blog. someday, maybe I will).
Twitter has links that point back to the blog; not all twitter clicks have referer data that point back to twitter, so the exact percentage of clicks twitter generates isn’t accurate. In general I’m finding about 15% of my blog visits start with Twitter these days. That’s pretty good (and the real number is somewhat higher; 35% of my visits have no incoming referer, and a chunk of those are from Twitter; it’s not unreasonable to think that 1/3 of my blog visits come from Twitter)
RSS? It all goes through Feedburner, and since I use full feeds, you can read my postings without actually visiting the blogs. This is convenient for readers, inconvenient for trying to maximize pageviews and complicates generating analytics and statistics no end. Since I don’t care about pageviews for advertising and I can live with complicated statistics, I’ll stick with with making it convenient for the reader. I have considered putting some limit to the size of an article in the RSS feeds (say, 750 words) or tweaknig RSS and how it presents the photos, but deep down inside, my view is — not broke, don’t fix.
So really, people who read my blog read it in two places; one is on the blog itself, and one is inside their RSS reader via the RSS feeds. So to answer the question of how many readers I have, I have to figure both of those out. And the data on the RSS feed doesn’t include how long they took to read it, so unless they actually click on a link, it’s hard to tell if they read it, skimmed it, or merely marked it as read while answering the phone…
So how many subscribers are on the RSS feed? Somewhere around 550. the number is variable (if you don’t fire up your reader, you don’t get counted). And that number is down from a high of 700 in January, but in clearly fell off a cliff and so that change was a change in how Google manages or interprets numbers, not a massive die off. It looks like the data slowly inflated and then was corrected (if Google told anyone they did this, I missed it). If I look at that number from a year ago, it’s down from about 625.
But as I’ve said, I find that number rather bogus, and there are clearly problems with that number given the obvious artifacts I see in my two years of data. Feedburner gives you another number, called “reach”, which is an indication of how many subscribers actually interacted with an article (active vs. passive) — and a year ago, my reach number was typically in the 50-75 range. It sometimes spiked into the 200s, and if i wasn’t actively posting, dropped down around 5, so reach is the number I use to gauge how many users are actually looking at the content or doing something with it, not just subscribing to it.
Think about these numbers from a real world perspective. If you hire the post office to deliver a flyer, they’ll stick one in every mailbox on the route for a modest fee. You can claim a huge subscriber base — but a 1-2% response rate is considered great in the bulk mail world, and 90 or 95 of the 100 flyers gets tossed in the trash unread. That’s what your feedburner subscriber number is, it’s a bulk-mail number, and says nothing about whether someone actually looks at your article, just that they have a mailbox it gets stuffed into.
Reach is a number that gives some indication that the reader did something — looked at it, clicked at a link, something. It’s the indication there’s actually a reader there, not just that someone subscribed sometime in the past. So to me, that’s what matters. I spent too much time at Apple fighting the “wives and cattle” mentality of amassing huge subscriber lists of people who mostly wanted off those lists to ever see that as a good thing (I was known to say “Anyone who comes and tells you how large their list is, instead of how many users did something based on that email, should be fired” — which did not sit well with people who liked to brag about how large their lists were).
So a year ago, my average reach was about 50-75. Today, that number is around 200; tripled or more. Even though my “total subscribers” is down (in theory), the number of users actually reading or clicking on a given article is significantly larger. Not remotely “engadget” numbers, but still, that’s a huge grown in active readership.
On any typical posting, about 200 RSS users view the article within the first 18 hours, and that number will grow to between 260 and 400 over the next week. It’s interesting that the time between posting and first read is that short and the curve this sharp; RSS is still very much about finding content fast and then moving on; because there’s always more content arriving. After two weeks, I’ve seen 99% of the RSS reading I’m going to see for any given article.
Based on all of this, I’m now consciously trying to write fewer posts, but longer and with more original writing and less “drive by blogging” crap. My target now is 5-7 pieces a week. two of those are photoblog entries. I’m trying to do 1-2 more extended (over 1000 words) pieces if I have time, and the rest of the articles I’m trying to do 500-700 words. What really matters is that whatever I write about gets the attention it deserves and that it’s me writing, not me just filling space by cutting and pasting from what others are blogging.
If I get too busy to do that properly, I don’t blog. No filler crap any more.
So that’s my goal: two photoblog entries a week; one long-form review piece around 1500 words. one long-form piece on something worth writing about. and 1-3 shorter pieces that don’t require as much writing time. Â I’ve said for a long time that successful blogging isn’t about posting every day (one of those things “experts” say I’ve always griped about) — it’s about writing consistently with good content. I made a commitment this last year to try to do that, and I think the readers are showing me I was right. So moving forward, I’ll be trying to do it even better, and more consistently. But I like this format and I like this structure.
And added benefit of sticking to the “one piece a day and a link summary” format is I have to think through what to write about. There are always things I put in the “to do” pile that get thrown out. That’s a good thing — it forces me to think about what the more interesting/important issues or topics are, and that also leads to better content and writing. The idea of throwing everything against the wall and hoping some of it sticks just doesn’t work very well. IMHO.
So over on the RSS side, the change has been massively to the good; tripled active readership, lots more engagement and interaction. The link summaries turn out to be really popular, and they create some visibility and help spread the word on other sites and writing of interest without a lot of clutter; I’ve experimented with ways to do that, and I think I finally have a setup that works well. I do have some wish for a short form, where I could maybe write 25-100 words on a link and give some context; I haven’t found a way to do that I like yet, and it’s not a huge priority. But some day…
What about on the blog itself?
Looking at the last two weeks of the blog, here’s what I see: compared to the same two weeks a year ago (and both two week periods are “typical” of blog performance at the time — you need to be careful about grabbing data that isn’t representative of overall usage); visits are up 30%; pageviews are up 67%. 25% of traffic is coming in with no referral, and I think a large part of that is twitter. 25% from search engines. 30% from twitter with a referer, and about 12% from RSS, and 7% from Facebook. The rest is from random sites.
quick digression: a meme out on the net is “RSS is dead”. Mostly, I think, from people addicted to always going off and playing with the new and bleeding edge: my response, based on my numbers: “no, it’s not. but it’s been commoditized”. And the twitter traffic I see driven to the blog seems to be close to the amount of activity I see on the RSS feed (since I use full feeds and they don’t necessarily click over to the blog to read, there’s some guessing and handwaving here), but I think close to 35% of my total reader engagement on a given post is now via twitter, 35% RSS, 25% search and everything else combined is “other”. Most of what is happening on twitter probably would have been RSS subscriptions 2-3 years ago, so to that degree twitter has replaced RSS as a primary interaction channel. Twitter, however, is having its own fight to prever commoditization of twitter as it tries to capture its own feed and give it an economic value; if I had to guess, I’d say they’ve already lost that fight and twitter will end up like RSS, something in the background that moves data around where other things turn it int information of value. Whether twitter can also be the thing that creates that value (and monetizes it) I’m not so sure.
The last thing I’ve looked at is what kind of content generates the most interest. One first problem with that concept is defining “most interest”. I decided that meant two things: how many folks read it (on the blog; sorry, RSS readers, but it gets too crazy otherwise; if you like something, CLICK THROUGH TO THE BLOG; easy, and it leaves an indelible mark on that article for later analysis) and how long they spent reading it. Since I’m trying to focus more on long-form writing, I think it makes sense that the stuff people spend the most time reading is the kind of stuff both I and the readers want more of. Make sense?
This is all really subjective. Without going down a rathole with lots of lists of individual articles without any real context, here’s what I’m finding.
The photo essays I’ve done about my trips seem to be popular (such as this one); people seem to spend some time enjoying those.
I’m a little surprised to say this, but the pieces I write about thinking through the planning process of a shoot or trip seem to be a lot more popular than I’d expect (this one is a good example). This to me indicates there’s a lot of pent up interest not so much in the geeky aspects of photography, but in learning the logistics of being a photographer (shoot planning, visualization, trip planning, etc). There’s definitely interest in the geeky stuff as well, but it seems a lot of us are trying to figure out the mental aspects as much as the bits involving a camera. I know that’s why I post it — it helps me focus my musings and structure the ideas.
It is still too early to make any real judgements, but the “wednesdays in review” series is seeing some nice responses. People seem to be reading them in good numbers, and spending some time reading the pieces. And I’ve made FOUR whole dollars in Amazon affiliate referrals. John Scalzi owes me for the six books of his I’ve sold so far… I thought this would be an interesting thing to do on a regular basis, and the early response is justifying that. Another couple of months and I’ll be able to afford to go to Starbucks. Once. (as I have more experience with this under my belt, I’ll write in some detail about the whats and hows).
If I wanted to maximize readership, I’d write about two things: hockey and Apple. Writing about Apple is off the docket as long as I work for HP/Palm due to conflicts (and honestly, my massive enthusiasm for that is a bit past as well), and while I’ve picked up again on the hockey side again, I’ve done it only to the degree I want to write about it. It’s about writing what’s interesting to me and not just maximizing pageviews. And there’s no reason I should be seen as an expert in the photo field — but it’s really where my head’s at much of the time, and so it’s where i spend a lot of my time and energy. And so that’s why it shows up on the blog so much. Maybe, over time, it’ll help build a reputation, but mostly, it’s a chance for me to learn so I can share, and occasionally to teach. And sometimes such as my lightroom keywords piece, they catch on and become something that benefit large numbers of people. That piece now accounts for about 6% of the pageviews on my blog (and I’m damn proud of it…). Now, I need about 20 more pieces that good and popular.
Which means it’s time to shut up about this and get writing… But hopefully, if you’re trying to think through how to evaluate your own site and you are looking at feedburner or Google Analytics and going “none of this makes any sense at all”, this will help give you some ideas on how to view your own data. And if not, at least give you some comfort that you’re not alone at looking at this stuff and thinking to yourself “this is all gibberish!”
Even more musings about the end of the Sharks season.
First, Dave Pollak has the full list of sharks injuries. Joe Thornton not only played with a separated shoulder (surgery evaluation to come later when the swelling goes down), but Robidas separated the end of one finger from the rest of his hand an d he’s been playing with it since. The wimp. he’s scheduled to get it wired back together now.
Clowe didn’t have a concussion, he also had a separated shoulder. Demers, high ankle sprain. Heatley a broken hand from the regular season (explains why he couldn’t score) and a high ankle injury earlier in the playoffs (explains why he looked slow). the wimp.
There were knees, skate cuts, broken noses, ankles. The surgery count stands at two, with three more under evaluation.
Gotta love hockey players, the wimps.
Notably absent on the list from my expectations was Setoguchi, now a restricted free agent. I’m really tempted to make him my whipping boy but if you look at his numbers (18 games, 10 points), that’s actually not bad. His -7 is weak, but that’s true of a number of sharks I have no intention of yelling at. So I’ll give him 2/3 of a pass, but to be honest, I thought his performance in the playoffs was substandard, and ditto for various parts of the regular season. There’s a fine line between streaky and “oh, c’mon and get it going”, and right now, Setoguchi’s career path seems closer to Jonathan Cheechoo than Ryan Clowe. If there’s a top 6 shakeup on the sharks, I would be picking him as the player to shake up, if I could. I certainly would be trying to sign him for a shorter deal for not so much money with incentives.
If your interested in the free agent list, Pollak has it as well.
(Eleven players who saw action in the post-season have contracts that are about to expire. Restricted free agents are Setoguchi, Benn Ferriero, Jamie McGinn, and Andrew Desjardins. The unrestricteds are Nichol, Wellwood, Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Niclas Wallin and Kent Huskins.)
Setoguchi is the only restricted I’m on the fence over. If someone wants to sign him off our hands, I’ll take the compensation.
Unrestricted? I’ll bring back Nichol happily, and Ian White (who impressed me beyond expectations). I like Wallin for what he is as well.
Wellwood? He showed more than I expected, but… I think there’s a reason why he’s bounced around a lot, and he’s smallish, and he tends to fade as he settles into a team. The name Todd Elik comes to mind. Sign him for black ace money on a one year with incentives and let him earn playing time? sure. anything more than that? No thanks.
Jamal Mayers? another black ace candidate at best. Love his character, wouldn’t mind having that in the locker room. Is there room on the roster for him, given the depth in Worcester and what some of the younger players have shown? I doubt it. His depth chart is fading to black.
Kent Huskins? thanks, Kent. write if you get work.
Ben Eager? Well, that’s — complicated. Brings an awful lot to the table, including, it seems a tendency to let his intention to make a difference in the game get the better of his hockey judgement. Can that be better controlled? Well, Steve Downie is a strong indication that answer is yes. If the Sharks think they can work with him on this, then definitely, he has a spot on the 4th line. But if he’s too much of a loose cannon.. Well, both raffi Torres and Steve Downie are going to be on the free agent market in some way… But I lean towards keeping Eager, with questions I don’t know enough to answer.
Ferriero, Mcginn, Desjardins — Mcginn is on my 4th line. Ferriero and Desjardins probably make my team at least as black aces and playing some 3rd/4th line time. maybe earn more. Braun makes this team next year. I wouldn’t mind seeing Mike Moore on the blueline instead of huskins.
If you think about it, the whipping boys of the last couple of seasons have been Marleau (“at times enigmatic” to quote myself), Thornton (“too easy going”), Heatley, and probably Vlasic. And those were merely our #1, #2 and #4 scorers, and Vlasic was third in blueline scoring and second in blueline +/-. I think they all proved themselves out this year. Not sure who the new whipping boys will be moving forward. Actually, I do. Probably Thornton, Heatley and Marleau, no matter what they do. Me, I guess I nominated Seto for that role.
All in all, I give the team a B, but this team should have been able to get a better grade than that, so it’s good, but underperforming. And it’ll be interesting to see how wilson figures out how to solve that. I sure don’t have an obvious answer.
Over the last seven seasons, the Sharks have one of the best overall records in the NHL; the only team with more regular season victories in the league is Detroit. They’ve won the presidents trophy, won their division five times, have made the playoffs six straight years and 12 of the last 14. Gone to the conference finals two straight years and three times total, and only been eliminated in the first round four times, and only once since 2000.
If you step back from being elminated this season — those are some damn impressive numbers. Yet, I think many sharks fans feel disappointed because the team hasn’t gone to the cup finals or won a cup. Now, in reality, in the last 15 years (30 teams playing) only 16 different teams have made the cup finals and of that 9 of them only made it once. Detroit has been there 6 times and New Jersey 4. So half the league hasn’t made the league finals in a decade and a half. Â In the last 15 years, only 9 different teams have one the cup.
I feel the same way, by the way. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t. The cup finals were very attainable this year, and the team didn’t get there. Not because of the fluke goal, but because the team allowed themselves to be in a position where the fluke goal eliminated them. That situation was avoidable, but they didn’t.
But objectively, there are easily 25 teams in the league that would do almost anything to have the success of the Sharks. Consistently good, consistently competitive, consistently in the playoffs, and consistently going fairly deep into the playoffs. Most teams don’t get that far, and the Sharks show no signs that they’re going to fade.
Yet it’s not good enough, and shouldn’t be.
And so here’s a question for Sharks fans that I’ve been pondering.
What would you be willing to accept to make the Cup finals? Â If you were told the Sharks would win a Stanley Cup — guaranteed — next season, but in return, they’d have to miss the playoffs for three seasons after that, would you take that bargain? Five seasons missing the playoffs?
What Devil’s bargain do you make to get to the Cup? Or are you willing to step back, realize what is going on here is pretty good, keep things Â the way they are, and support the team as they continue to try to push to that next level, but without guarantees?
Honestly, if you could guarantee a Cup, I would in fact take a couple of seasons out of the playoffs for that. Two or three. Five? I don’t think so. I’ve done my time with an expansion team, I’m not looking forward to doing it again. But I’d make the sacrifice of a sucky team for a couple of seasons to get over the top. Would you?
And think hard about that question as the pundits go out and start calling for the sharks to do something drastic to get over the hump. Or when you do. And realize that when Doug Wilson and his team have to make that decision, there won’t be a guarantee.
And remember that 27 teams were sitting at home watching the Sharks play the Canucks and wishing that was them this week.
Every year, 30 teams open camp in august trying to win the cup, and 29 of them fail. That’s why they want them so badly. I’m not for a minute suggest we should settle for what we’ve got with the sharks and not strive for that next level — but realize exactly what we’re asking for, and how hard it is to get there. In 15 years, half the league’s never been able to.
And so what the Sharks have accomplished needs to be remembered and not discounted, and we have to realize that every step that needs to be taken is infinitely harder than the step just accomplished. And no matter how hard the team tries, it might not succeed.
But try it must, and will.
I think most of us go through periods were we do relatively little reading, and so you fall behind on books and authors you like. As I’ve been moving back into a period where I’m doing a lot more reading again, I’m not only discovering new writers like Patrick Rothfuss (review coming soon) and established writers I never got around to reading for some reason (like Michael Stackpole), I’m also taking the time to go back and spend check out new works (at least, new to me) of some of the authors I’ve enjoyed many times over the years.
So if you will indulge me a bit, today is all about saying hi to some old friends.
My first visit is with Michael Moorcock, who’s been writing fiction almost as long as I’ve been alive, and I’ve been reading his work almost as long as I’ve been able to read. There are three authors that I grew up reading that have defined the classic sword and sorcery style of epic fantasy, and Moorcock is one of them (the other two are Tolkien and Fritz Leiber, who I’m sure I’ll talk about some other day). Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone.
Elric is the last Emperor of Melnibone, a sorceror and an albino. He is the owner of — and owned by — a demon in the shape of a Sword, Stormbringer. If there’s a common theme in the Elric stories, it’s that whatever else happens, “lives happily ever after” is not likely, and not sustained. Elric is far from a noble being and the world around him is dark and bleak, but I don’t believe he’s an evil person. More properly, he’s a survivor in a world that is evil around him.
Del Rey has recently come out with new editions of some of his work, with two collections of his earlier short stories, Elric: The Stealer of Souls and Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn. There’s a third volume, Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress which I haven’t read yet, but which is on my todo list for sometime soon. The universe Elric lives in is rich and complex, Moorcock’s language is powerful — and the imagery he builds in these stories is dark and frequently somewhat disturbing. I find I can only read so much of his work at a time, and then I have to stop before it depresses me too much; it leaves me with a bit of a desire for something light and fluffy for a while to counterbalance it. Any time an author affects me that strongly it’s a good thing, but at the same time, I do suggest if you find yourself reacting that way as well, you might want to take your time and read these volumes in bits and pieces.
But read them you should, and if you haven’t discovered Moorcock yet, you’re in for a treat.
Another flavor of fantasy I love is urban fantasy, where the themes and memes of the fantasy world get interwoven with today’s reality in a way that makes you feel that perhaps you’ll cross the street and find yourself slipping into Faerie by chance. There’s no author who does that better than Charles de Lint and one of his better books at exploring this intersection is The Onion Girl. His characters live in a typical city, and then the walls into the Faerie world start breaking down, and much of the story involves them coming to grips with this as their world turns upside down.
In the Onion Girl, Jill Coppercorn is an artist who has long painted a fantasy land that doesn’t exist, the dark and the shadow that hides within the city. When she’s hit by a car and facing a long recovery while unable to paint, she falls into depression and disappears down into her dreams to escape her reality. Her friends face the challenge of helping her through this time — but when things start happening in this reality that seem tied to the land she visits in the dreams, de Lint calls into question reality in general.
I love de Lints’ characters and how he tells their stories. Their stories are rarely fun — but this isn’t the bleak desolation of Elric, but more the sadness of desperation and isolation. His intertwinining of the real world and the faerie world is fascinating and complex, and he seems to love playing with the concept of which is “the real world” by challenging our assumptions that what is comfortable and familiar is what is real. Â He’s another author that if you haven’t discovered you will find a treat. Other works of his I’ll happily recommend include Svaha, Forests of the Heart, and Jack of Kinrowan.
I seem to be on a darkish fantasy kick this week, so let’s continue with one more. Peter David has been in the field for a long time as a writer of comic books and Star Trek novels, and also has a strong set of original fiction works as well. He’s written science fiction and fantasy, light work, dark work. I have to admit that Laurie and once named a pair of bad guys in a story we published after him — and he retaliated by making me the sound effect of one of his superheroes being run over by a tank in one of his comic books. I was honored.
Tigerheart is one of my favorite books that he’s written. It is a retelling of a classic victorian tale that we will all find familiar but which won’t get him in any legal trouble with the J.M Barrie’s estate. It’s the story of The Boy, and Gwenny, and the Bully Boys, and a little fairy that cusses a lot more than she did in the Disney movie.
To the degree that Peter Pan is darkish and without happy endings, so is this. But it’s a lot of fun and a rip-roaring read, and a lot of fun. Unlike Peter Maguire’s Wicked (which I love, but I love the stage play even more — but the play is a much different telling than the book of the same story. But I digress), where Wicked puts the story into another character’s viewpoint and turns it on its ear, David tells the same story, but tells it very differently. Both retellings have an adult sensibility to them, so don’t plan on using them to read your kid to bed.
One final book for this week, one final old friend to share. I’ve been reading Larry Niven since high school. His classic work Ringworld defines the hard SF genre for many of us, and his Ringworld universe is one I’ve visited many times. But today, let me introduce you The Draco Tavern. It’s a bar — Â but it’s a bar that caters to all of the known sentient species with all of their known foibles and vices.
Okay, remember when I was talking about Elric and saying that after a while, I felt like I neede something light and fluffy to read? Well, this is it. Larry Niven gets to invent interesting and weird species and have them walk into the bar (or slither, or fly, or teleport, or…) and then entertainment ensues. They’re fun stories. They’re engaging stories. They are not going to make you rethinking the core of your philosophy, but they’ll leave you with a smile, and like everything Niven writes, they’re well done. Mostly? They’re fun. and sometimes, I don’t know about you, but i don’t want deep, earth shaking fiction, I want to turn off my brain and enjoy myself. And Draco’s Tavern is a wonderful place to do so.
In many ways, Draco’s Tavern is Niven channeling James White’s Sector General, which is the same style and type of stories, only set in a hospital designed to take care of the sick of any species known in the universe (and capable of figuring out ones that get discovered). If you’ve read White, you know what Draco’s Tavern is about. If you haven’t, then when you’re done with this book, go grab a copy of Hospital Station. This stuff is classic mind candy — but sometimes, what you need is mind candy. And these are well worth an evening on the couch.
Until next week, enjoy….
I must admit I’m not happy writing the word “postmortem”. But here we are.
The injury reports are coming in. So far, to the surprise of nobody, Thornton played tonight with a separated shoulder. Can we please put the soft reputation to bed once and for all? What a warrior.
Also, Ryan Clowe played hurt the entire season, and I’ve heard intimations surgery will be necessary but no details yet.
I’m waiting to hear how Heatley was hurt; I’m guessing a pretty bad groin given his lack of power and speed. He gutted it through, too. and I’m wondering whether Setoguchi was playing hurt. I’m sure there are others, but those seemed obviously dinged to me.
We got a “let the boys play” reffing game tonight, especially late and in overtime. The good news is that neither team abused that and focused on playing hockey, but both teams benefitted from non-calls. People who want to whine about the missed icing call that led to the 20 minute goal and overtime should go look at the tape of the Ian White blatant trip that stopped a clear scoring chance that was building. The sharks really benefitted from the reffing tonight, to be honest, and they had opportunities to prevent that goal. Calls happen. Good teams rise to them.
The fact is, the sharks did not deserve to win this series but did deserve to win this game — and didn’t. Luongo was insanely good most of the game, especially early on those first power plays, and gave the Canucks the chance to win. The Sharks had clear chances to win this game, and didn’t. And ultimately it was lost by a faceoff loss, bad coverate that led to the game tying goal, and a bad bounce. None of that involves refs.
And if the sharks took care of their business better, this game would have been over before the canucks got the bounce. So it goes.
The primary cause of the loss of this series was — the Detroit Red Wings. This sharks team was worn out and tired, and the Canucks were a little fresher and a little better.
So the Sharks fall short again, and congrats to the Canucks. If there’s any team i’m not unhappy to lose to, it’s them. they’re damn good.
So, now what?
well, frist up, the offseason.
I expect changes in the team and organization after this loss. This is not a team that you can look at and say “if we keep it together, we’ll be better next year” — there are some fundamental issues that (as good as this team is, and it’s one of four left playing!) aren’t going to be solved without changes.
The thing most disturbing to me is consistency. This team plays amazingly well with its back against the wall; it doesn’t play that well consistently until its back is against the wall. It squeaked out of the detroit series that way, it’s now going home to golf on a crazy bounce with Vancouver. Say what you will, that has to be fixed. The main difference between the sharks and canucks (or the sharks and the wings) is that consistency. Some might call it killer instinct, but more, it’s mental toughness. This year’s team is a lot tougher mentaly than Â last year’s — but not tough enough, and that won’t change by giving them another year to mature.
So expect some restructuring.
Players on my keeper list: Boyle, Demers, Murray, Thornton, Marleau, Heatley, Clowe, Couture, Pavelski, Niemi. That’s a pretty damn deep list if you think about it.
Guys I like (but if we need to, we need to): Vlasic, White, Mitchell, Nitymaki.
Guys I’m on the fence over: Setoguchi, Â Wallin.
Guys to look to upgrade: Huskins, Mayers.
Also on my keeper list: doug wilson and coach McLellan. I’ll leave the staff to those two to sort out, but these are the guys I want defining this team. This team is VERY close. It’s not there, but it’s very close. We don’t need to blow up,we just need to find the next piece or two.
I read a suggestion today that the sharks should go after Raffi Torres, if only to put him in a position where he can’t hurt sharks any more. I like the idea, and not just for that. He plays like a bastard, but this team could use a bastard on the third line.
Close, but no cigar. Good, but not good enough. Not a situation where I would stand pat and expect it to get better next year. Improve the core and character, but don’t massively restructure.
Trade one of the big players? I think it’s possible. I have a hard time seeing how that makes us better, it just makes us different. Is that a good thing? I’m unconvinced. But if you only swap the depth players, can you really make a change that matters? That’s the challenge for Wilson.
So now, if you don’t mind, I’m going ot go off and root for the canucks. I like the team and the players and the organization, and if the team that beats the sharks wins the cup, that removes a bit of the sting….
Every discipline has its religious fights; wherever there are people with opinions, some of those opinions will oppose each other and people on both sides are going to be sure they’re right. In computers, it used to be Mac vs. Windows, and Emacs vs. VI. With audio, it’s vinyl vs. everything, and whether you get better sound with analog gear over digital.
In photography, one of the constant arguments that breaks out everywhere is whether to put UV filters on your lenses or not.
I’ve always been in the “it’s good insurance” category, but recently, for various reasons, I’ve been rethinking that assumption. And because of that, when I saw this article by Kirk Tuck, I linked to it. And when I linked to it, that generated this anonymous response:
On “Keep you lenses clean … Don’t stick a filter in front …”. The author didn’t make a good case from my perspective. My test shots showed me that a “high end” L lens with a UV quality filter is able to generate “high end” images with nil to nul image impact. The fact that I have cracked 2 filters and 0 lenses shows to me that the aded protection bonus of a filter is not to be ignored.
Now, given that Kirk starts the article with:
Keep your lenses clean. Don’t keep cleaning your lenses. And for God’s sake don’t stick a filter in front of them!!!! It’s obvious the battle line is drawn.
What made me link to the article was this:
I’ve experimented many times over the last few decades and I’ve proven to myself that filters in front of lenses degrade the quality of the final images. Â Here’s how I understand it all: Â Every air to glass interface causes a slight loss of resolution and contrast. Â This tends to make a lens look “flatter” and less sharp than it could be. Â Lens designers have understood for over a century that adding more glass elements increases the compromise.
Now, I like reading Kirk’s blog because he’s sharp and willing to shoot from the hip. I’ve read and talked to other photographers with as many years as a pro as Kirk who’d take the exact opposite view of him. I’ve seen at least half a dozen experiments where photographers have done tests, taking a series of shots with and without filters and asking people to pick out which are which — and I’ve never seen anyone able to do so. I’ve done those tests myself, and I can’t tell the difference in the final print. If you really want to piss off a bunch of photographers, take a half dozen prints, tell them three were taken with a filter, three without, and ask them to tell you which is which (but really shoot five of them with a filter and one without…). The results I’ve seen are invariably random — and some photographers are going to be insistent on their ability to do so and refuse to admit being wrong.
I’ve been thinking about this around the use of the word “insurance” — UV lenses cost money. Broken lenses cost lots more to repair or replace. The core of this is that by putting the filter on the lens, ultimately that will pay off by saving you from having to replace or repair that lens.
Which at some point in your life, it probably will. In my case, I have one time where a filter definitely saved me from a damaged or destroyed front element, and a second time where it probably did. So personally, using UV filters have saved a len, maybe two.
Until recently, I’ve never stopped to ask a different question: this technique can save your lens. But is that a good investment? After all, UV filters cost money. Over the years, you’re going to buy at least one UV filter for every lens. Over the years, you’ll proabably replace a UV filter for a lens once or twice. How many UV filters have you bought over time? And how much money has this cost you?
There’s no question cheap filters degrade your image, so if you’re going to buy filters, you need to buy good quality ones. Without starting another argument over which manufacturer makes “good quality”, for my that’s typically meant Hoya or B+W. And that means my UV filters are costing me $35-80 each. I currently carry four lenses, and the filters on those lenses cost me right around $275. I’ve replaced two of them in the last three years, so my total cost over the last few years is between $350 and $400.
The cost to buy the lens I almost destroyed new: $600. So over the last few years, I’ve spent about 50% of the cost of the replacement cost of that lens to save the lens.
Is that a good investment? To be honest — I can’t answer that. Which is why I’ve been thinking about this. I do know that the more expensive the lens, the better investment a UV filter is, because the more expensive it’ll be to replace or repair.
On the other hand, Kirk also posted another fascinating piece a few days earlier, titledÂ A second chance at writing a competent review of the Zeiss 21mm lens. And the takeaway of that post for me was this:
As we were putting the lens on the front of a Canon 5dmk2 Paul put on his reading glasses and looked carefully at the front of the lens. Â There were two small spots on the front element. Â Could have been water marks. Â Or dried spit. Â Or some outer space goo. Â But we’re talking maybe one or two millimeters in diameter, tops. Â And quite transparent. Â Paul wiped out a cleaning cloth and ministered to the front element. Â Minutes later we were shooting amazing tests with absolutely none of the flare I’d seen previously. Â As Paul explained (and I should have known) flaws on the lens surface are magnified with wide angle lenses. Â It’s imperative to keep the front element cleaned.
And that’s where this UV filter thing gets complicated. The more expensive a lens, the more expensive and catastrophic repairing or replacing that lens is going to be — but the higher quality the lens, the more chance you’re going to have that UV filter impacting the quality in some way. It probably won’t under good conditions, but when you start talking about flare issues or bad lighting (backlight, strong sidelight, etc) and a top quality lens, I can definitely see where the extra glass of a UV filter is going to start impacting your image — and never have I seen tests for UV filters take those conditions into account.
This is where I think I’m getting off the bus on using UV filters as chronic insurance against damage.
So here’s my current thought on the whole UV filter thing; if you were to ask me whether to put on your lens, my answer would depend on the situation; if you’re one of those people upgrading from a point and shoot to a DSLR like a Canon Rebel, and you were smart enough to not buy the kit lens but instead spend a bit more to buy a good starter lens (like the Tamron 28-300 I use), I’d probably recommend you put a UV filter on it. Why? Because you’re still figuring out how to use the gear, you’re still figuring out how to take care of it, you’re more likely to find damage to a lens catastrophic (where that might cause you to give up on photography!), so in that case, a lens is good insurance. think of it as training wheels if you want. And honestly, for a person like this, they won’t notice the image difference, and probably couldn’t identify lens flare in an image if their life depended on it.
But as your skills increase; as your gear improves, as you move to owning better and more lenses, the cost of buying all of those UV filters increases, too, your skill as using and protecting your gear increases, so the chance of an accident drops, and the chance of the filter impacting the quality of the final image also increases. Add to that two other factors: as your skill as a photographer increases, you are going to spend more time taking images in the type of challenging lighting where the filter could impact your image, and your eye for image quality will increase such that you will see the impact.
So the more skilled you are as a photographer, the better the quality of your gear, the more you need to consider not using a UV filter. Â For me, personally, that means owning a set of UV filters, but for use under conditions where some lens protection is a good idea (salt spray, for instance); treat them like I do a polarizer and own one I can put on as needed, but not use it chronically.
For your situation? you need to answer a few questions. Is the money spent on UV filters a good investment? Are you better off investing that money in other gear? How well do you take care of your gear, and what are the chances of an “oops” that the filter is going to save you from? And what are the chances you’re going to shoot in conditions that might trigger image degradation, and is your gear of the quality where that degradation might be noticeable?
Want an easy rule? If your lenses are F5.6 or slower, I wouldn’t sweat putting a lens on it. If your lens is F2.8 or faster, I’d never put it on, unless it was to protect the lens from conditions.
The bottom line, if you ask me, is thatÂ both sides are right — depending on circumstances. (ain’t life great?)
But that’s not going to stop the argument….
One of the realities of nature photography is that you can only control nature so much — all the planning in the universe won’t prevent some challenges, like a change in the weather. Sometimes you go and epic pictures fall in your lap. Sometimes you go and conditions are such that you just grind it out and hope some of the images are good. And sometimes you sit in the hotel room listening to the rain and wish you’d cancelled….
This week was my spring trip to Yosemite. It’s been a truly weird year weather-wise, in case you haven’t noticed. Spring is late, cold and wet. The wildflower season has been at best, late and erratic. Bird migrations are off as well. All in all, it’s been tough planning around “spring”. But finally, word came out the dogwood was starting to bloom, and I really, really didn’t want to schedule time in Yosemite after Memorial day — as it was, it was clear the park was getting busier and the hotels around it closer to capacity. I finally decided I needed to go, or decide to wait for some other time. So I set everything up for a few nights in the park.
Of course, then I watched the weather, as a late, wet, cold, spring storm decided to hit Northern California and the Sierra. The couple of days prior to my going, yosemite was seeing highs near 70 and plenty of sun. the day before I was due to arrive, the storm moved in and the temps plunged donw into the 40s, and more storms were moving in as the week progressed. There is, unfortunately, a fine line between hitting the edge of a storm and the unbelievable skies that can create for your landscapes and having the clouds move in and close everything down in a sodden grey mass; and many times, you won’t know which you have until you get there and have to haul out the umbrella.
To be honest, I seriously considered canceling. I thought the weather was going to be iffy, but I felt it was worth a shot. So I went, making a later start on Sunday in hopes of trailing the storm and hitting the motel, then driving into the park to scout and see if there was anything interesting to photograph in the late afternoon. I ended up arriving on the Valley floor about 5PM. Â The temp was in the high 30′s, and the clouds were pretty heavy., but there were a few opportunities at shots.
I stuck around for a couple of hours, and then it started sleeting. That was enough for me for the night, and I headed out to grab a few last supplies and hit the room for the evening. Â I chose not to do dawn patrol because of the temps and worry there might be ice or chain issues on the roads, but I got up early and was in the park around 8AM, to bright skies and a rather pleasant set of views.
This was the day I knew I’d have dry weather. What I didn’t plan for was for the clouds to build back in as early as they did. By noon, we were back to mostly drab grey, although it did warm up, that afternoon it may have even hit 50. Welcome to “spring”.
My original plan was to travel out towards Hetch Hetchy for birds and critters. The road out was on chain requirements just after Foresta, and Foresta itself was under a few inches of snow. I scouted out there a bit, didn’t go into the chain areas, and finally headed back to the valley. I decided to head out to Wawona (to scout, and for gas) and it was fascinating to see how much snow had been dropped — 6-8 inches and the drive through that area looked like a winter trip. Other than road construction, nothing really caught my eye, so I decided to focus on the valley floor and headed back.
While I was doing that, the clouds were moving in. And so were the crowds. The park was busy, making parking a challenge in places, and to top it off, I was starting to feel like crap, with a headache building and generally feeling like a bug was coming on. On the other hand, the water flow in the Merced was amazing, and the waterfalls were even more amazing. I mentally shifted away from photographing birds and critters and instead decided to focus on the falls.
There are many falls in Yosemite that are only active during spring melt, and which dry up again after a few weeks, so unless you come during this period, you’ll never know they’re there. Some of them are stunning to watch.
Some of the more familiar falls were kicking, too. Bridalveil was as full and active as I’ve ever seen it.
And it wasn’t until I took these shots that I realized I’d never photographed Horsetail Falls at all.
Unfortunately, I kept feeling worse; by 3PM, I was exhausted. Almost fell asleep twice parked and watching the falls to judge how to image them. Ultimately, I decided I wasn’t doing myself any good and pulled the plug. On the way out, however, I saw the clot of people that signposts “critter!”, and in the middle was the ranger, which usually means the critter is a bear. So I found a place to park, grabbed the binocs and camera, and headed back to where everyone was clustered.
Meet “White 1″, a 28 month old cinnamon black bear — not all black bears are black, but this color is fairly rare in Yosemite. He was busily foraging for grubs in the fallen tree. Ryan the ranger was thrilled — as he said “I have a wild bear doing wild bear things, and everyone is behaving so I don’t have to yell at anyone”. And then he pointed to one person who was busily running through the meadow “well, except him, but he’s a pro”.
That was @yosemitesteve, who films for the park and does the awesome Nature Notes series available on Youtube. If you haven’t discovered them yet, do so — check out his one on Frazil Ice. Â And kids, don’t try that on your own… I ended up with the “wrong” lens on the camera, the Tamron 28-300, which is unfortunately really soft at 300MM, as you can see from that image. If I’d been thinking more carefully, I should have swapped to my critter lens, but didn’t. And when I went back to get it, of course, the bear ran off just as I attached the big lens to the camera body — of course. So all I have are some rather soft pictures as a great practical example of why I try NOT to use that lens beyond about 150mm except in an emergency (and this came up over on the Stack Exchange photo site, and I ended up chiming in on it).
Photographing a bear qualifies as an emergency. As bears go, it’s a rather small animal, being quite young. But still — I wish I’d grabbed the other lens. But still — being able to just watch an animal like that for a while totally made the trip for me.
After the bear skedaddled, I got back in the car and headed back to Mariposa for the night (Having your hotel room an hour away creates tradeoffs, which I talked about on my Wednesdays in Review). It was at dinner that I suddenly realized I was exceptionally thirsty.
So a nice meatball sub and a liter and a half of water later, I headed back to my room, already feeling better.
Dehydrated. Which explained why I felt like crap. And honestly, I know better, I really do. I’ve known since high school that I dehydrate early and often, and when I’m travelling, have to be careful — the air in most hotel rooms is fairly low humidity, and I tend to lose a lot of water in my breathing. And even though I thought I was taking in enough water, I evidently started the trip a bit dehydrated, and it spiraled. So sometimes, even if you think you have details covered, they get away from you (another truism about only being able to plan so many details; the one you miss messes with you). I actually have a protocol for staying hydrated on the road; for various reasons, I didn’t follow it properly, and it caught me. (yes, my life is an endless mental checklist of things I’ve learned not to forget over the years — and which I sometimes forget anyway). That’s a lesson learned — again.
I was asleep before 9PM, and slept 11 hours. And woke up thirsty. And woke up to rain. Which I expected. The new storm moved in overnight, and things looked ugly. I still felt somewhat ugly, and I’d decided the night before that if the weather was bad as expected, I’d cut the trip short and head home, because there was a 2nd, bigger storm chasing that morning storm into the area. The chances I’d had much good photography in those conditions was minimal, IMHO, so I decided to cut and run.
I drank another two liters of water on the drive home; it wasn’t until I was within 10 miles of home that my body started telling me my hydration levels were fine again (do I really need to explain how you can tell? No, I didn’t think so).
So some thoughts on the trip. Instead of the planned 2 full days and two partial days, I got one full day and a few hours the afternoon before. Instead of spring weather, I got late winter blustery and dull grey skies (and sleet). I took a total of 350 images, a percentage of that was pieces for HDR generation. My ding rate was about 10%. I ended up putting about 50 images into my primary library including HDR material, with a total of 27 “keeper” images. the rest went into my retired library (technically good, but overlapping the keepers and not as interesting, but there if I want a different take of need them in some way). I drove 620miles, and I spent about $500 on the trip.
Was it what I planned? Not remotely. Did I come back with some good images? Yes. Was it worth it? Just to stand and watch the bear for a while, absolutely freaking totally yes. Despite being disappointed at having the wrong lens handy for the pictures, I don’t care. Much.
Would I do it again? Yes, but without the dehydration; that impacted the day a lot more than I realized until later (I don’t know about you, but when I get dehydrated, I get slow and tired, low energy, a headache, grumpy and a bad attitude; so I didn’t push myself into doing as much as I would have if I felt better. oh well). Part of that is practical; I wasn’t going to reschedule my time off at work again. I wasn’t going to push my Yosemite trip out past Memorial day. Staying home instead was an option, but hell, a chance to go to Yosemite?
But I do wish I’d hit more spring than late winter. And it’s a bit annoying that a couple of days after I pulled out, the rain is gone and the weather is heading back into the 60′s. This storm was perfectly timed to annoy me.
Still, when you’re doing nature photography, it’s important to remember nature doesn’t always cooperate. And just roll with it. (and drink plenty of fluids).
And I ended up with zero shots of dogwood blossoms, after all of that. Because they were gonig to be a big part of the 2nd day of photography. oops. well, next year.
And that may be the important lesson of a trip like this (other than “drink that bottle of water NOW, and open another”) — a place like Yosemite, you don’t visit once and have a finished portfolio. Too much to cover, too many different things, too many different looks — adding images every trip is how you do this, over time and with some patience. And in the final judgement, the images I added weren’t the ones I’d planned (except the chapel image, which I’ll write about tomorrow), but they were the ones that deserved to be added based on what was going on when I got there. And with that, I won’t complain about a little sleet and a headache. After all — Yosemite? Or going to work.