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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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Monthly Archives: December 2011
At some point in your progression as a photographer, you realize that new gadgets don’t make you a better photographer. That doesn’t end the gear lust — but it hopefully makes it easier to resist it. If you listen to photographers like David duChemin and Zack Arias, they also emphasize the “learn to use what you have and get the most out of it” concept, and encourage photographers to upgrade slowly and wisely. It’s something I’ve tried to take to heart.
In my case, when I bought my 7d body about two years ago, I made myself sit down and write up exactly why I thought the body would improve my work, and what weaknesses in my current gear it improved. (as it turns out, I would say I hit the justification pretty closely, too). And I told myself that once I got it, I’d stop buying gear until I was convinced I needed an upgrade and could justify it to myself objectively.
But I’ve just committed some serious gear upgrades. Thinking about this goes back to early this year but when I realized that I was likely to be leaving HP and taking with me some significant accrued vacation pay, the idea of investing that lack of vacation on the camera kit became a real option, and I started a serious exploration of what my goals would be and what my possible upgrades were.
I’ve ended up retiring this from my kit:
- Tamron 28-300 F3.5
- Canon 100-400 F4.5 IS
- Canon 30D
I retired the 30d a few months ago; I came to the realization that the difference in quality between the 30D (about four generations old) was so much different than the 7d that I could tell which body I used for a shot just looking at the previews in Lightroom. The 30d was a good body for the time, but it simply didn’t compare to the 7d, and so I tended to carry it but swap lenses to the 7d for most shots. Once I noticed that was what I was doing (it took me a while), I simply stopped carrying it. I prefer a two body kit, but only if I am willing to actually use both bodies.
It’s been my plan to upgrade the wide angle lens for a while. I’ve written about the Tamron before http://www.chuqui.com/2010/01/a-few-thoughts-on-lenses/ and it’s a nice lens for what it is, but I never really got past the “look not love” phase with the lens, and while it’s a step up from a kit lens, it’s — it’s still an inexpensive lens that’s good for some things, but not enough of the things I want it to do.
People who know me probably are suprised that I’ve retiring the 100-400. I originally didn’t plan on it, but as my research evolved, it started to make sense. it’s six years old, and it’s been used a fair amount. It spent a chunk of time with Canon for repair (twice!) after it got dropped in Yosemite this spring, and I know others who’ve had problems with dust in the lens (because of the trombone design), and some general drop in quality over time because of the normal bumps and bruises of being used. And, frankly, it’s a big, heavy beast of a lens.
While the 100-400 was in the shop, I started shooting more with my 300F4+1.4x combo, and really coming to appreciate that as a bird and wildlife setup. It is — frankly — noticably sharper than the 100-400 at 400mm, with faster AF. It is also a big, heavy beast of a lens, but any lens at this length is going to be. But what it convinced me was that my kit of lenses didn’t need to stretch from 20-400; I could go to a 70-200 and still use the 300 to do what I wanted to do. Hopefully lightening the camera bag along the way. Because of this, I decided if the money was there and the right lens was available, I’d upgrade everything.
In trying to decide what to upgrade to, I started out by deciding what my “budget is not an issue” kit would be. I quickly honed in on the following parameters:
- EF lenses, not EF-S
- L Glass where it made sense
- IS where it was available at a rational cost
These are Canon specific, but basically, these mean lenses compatible with full-frame sensor bodies (EF-S work only iwth crop sensors); the L glass is Canon’s pro quality lenses, and the IS is Canon’s vibration reduction system. The L glass not only implies top quality optics and coatings, but weather sealing, and other features seen on “pro” lenses like internal focus.
I also made one other restriction: If the lens rental places weren’t renting it, I decided that was a hint to avoid the lens because that implied that (a) it was too expensive for the quality, (b) it was too fragile, or (c) it just wasn’t that good. By seeing what Borrowlenses.com and lensrentals.com kept in stock (and I found that the mini-reviews you find on lensrental did a good job of saying what the extended reviews found around the net said, but without all of the geeky verbiage!) I got a good first approximation of what good and reliable lenses to choose from.
For my basic “any budget” kit, I quickly settled on three lenses:
- Canon 16-35F2.8L II
- Canon 24-70F2.8L
- Canon 70-200F2.8L IS II
For those keeping score at home, that’s about $4000 in lenses if bought new. In theory, a great combo. In practice, no way I was going to spend that kind of money. So I started exploring options. The first obvious option: buy used. But since one of my goals was reducing the weight of my bag, moving from F2.8L to F4 lenses would shrink their size and weight — and cost — significantly. So would making a decision to go with an EF-S lens for the wide angle.
I seriously considered the Canon EF-S 17-55 F2.8 IS. I seriously considered the Sigma 23-70 F2.8. I seriously considered the Canon 24-105 F4L IS. For the telephoto, I quickly narrowed it down to the Canon 70-200F4 (and to decide on IS depending on budget), although I must admit to be tempted by the 70-300 as well. And to be honest, I kept hearing the 70-200 F2.8′s whispering at me that siren song that said “Arthur Morris keeps saying use me with a 2X teleconverter, and life will be wonderful…”
When I finally got the logistics of the job change settled and I knew I was moving on from HP, I started shopping. Both Lensrentals.com and Borrowlenses.com sell off their gear and lensrental did their winter sale about the time I started shopping, but most of what I was interested in went quickly and before I was ready to buy. I also was watching KEH.com and B&H’s used sales to see where the right lenses were at the right price.
And as it turned out, when I was ready to buy, Borrowlenses had what I wanted. Even better, they’re local, so I could drive over and pick it up (which I did), and I’ve worked with them and have talked to them about rental options in the past, and everyone I’ve talked to about them gives them rave reviews. All of that made for an easy decision I could trust, unlike the risk that sometimes come from sites like eBay.
Originally, I hadn’t planned on buying a second body, but during this time I went shooting with a friend who happened to have the lenses I was considering, because he was ready to upgrade his body and wanted some advice. He got his advice (and new body) and I got some hands on time with some of my lens options, and we all won. He then came back later and said he’d realized he could buy the body using his Amex points, which reminded me I had some Amex points sitting bored and restless as well — and while they didn’t pay for the entire body, they let me buy it as a significant discount (so I did).
In the end, I have picked up a couple of lenses and a new body:
- Canon 24-105 F4L IS
- Canon 70-20 F2.8L IS (not the IS II)
- Canon T3i body
The more I looked around the web at what photographers had in their bags, the more I saw photographers who’s work I liked and respected carrying the 24-105. In the end, it won out over other options, even though it didn’t meet a couple of initial goals: I’ve given up on the widest part of the range (only going to 24mm, not 15mm) and it is not a smaller, lighter lens than the Tamron in any way. In fact, by the time I was done I saved no real weight out of my kit, becaues the 70-200 F2.8 is actually heavier than the 100-400 by a bit, and I also get to carry the 2X teleconverter to pair with it. I’m going ot be curious when I can go head to head between the 70-200+2X combo and the 300+1.4x combo how the sharpness compares. If it’s close, hopefully it’ll mean I can stop carrying the 300mm and maybe sell it to put away towards the 500mm lens fund or something. Too early to tell yet — with the holidays and the new job, shooting time has been basically zero other tahn some really simple test shots to verify everything’s working.
In all honesty, the amount of time I’d be working in the 15-25mm range is pretty small. It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of cash to extend my kid to that range, not when I can rent a lens when I know I”m going to want it. So while I didn’t meet that original goal, I met my key needs, and I can add a lense to cover that when necessary at a reasonable cost. I definitely could use a 500mm more than I need something like a 10-22.
Total cost? about $2800. If you think back to the “any budget” option, I was looking at about $4000 for lenses, plus another $1500 for a 2nd 7D. By making some informed compromises, I cut that by about half, with little significant loss of functionality — and what I have is a big step up from what I was using before.
I did a little shooting with the 24-105 with the family over the holiday. I hope to go out and put the 70-200 though some serious paces shortly. I’ll talk about both in more detail as I get some images and experience with them, but with limited use, both are impressing the hell out of me.
The reason I ended up getting the T3i is more complicated; every time I go out shooting at a place like Merced or Isenberg for the cranes, I find myself really wanting to experiment with video of the fly-ins and to try shooting some timelapses. I also want to start capturing audio to try to bring the experience to those who can’t get out there. Those are things I couldn’t do with the 30d in any way; and in practice, I am going to want a unit to shoot the video or timelapses AND a unit to shoot regular images while it’s chugging away, so I couldn’t start exploring that without a second body. The T3i seemed a good compromise between not having the capability and not wanting to pay for a 2nd 7d body. Time will tell if I’m right, or if I’m any good at that stuff… But at least now, I have that option.
Well, as soon as I buy a few things, like filters and an intervalometer, and… (it never ends, right? but that’s half the fun).
So now, all I need to do is get out and start shooting again, right?
One of my projects for 2012 is going to be to ramp up my work on the blog, write more and write more in-depth pieces, and to add some new functionality and content areas that have been on the back burner for a while.
- John Scalzi, Whatever: If there’s a blog that I think is a model for what I want my own to be, it’s whatever. Scalzi posts a nice combination of informal/personal material and “serious” pieces that really brings out his personality as well as his opinions in an entertaining way. It doesn’t hurt that he’s one of my favorite authors these days, and that I’m compatible with his sense of humor.
- John Gruber, Daring Fireball: John’s not afraid to hold an opinion, and even when I think his opinion is all fugged up, he’s an interesting read. I like how he finds information of interest for his readers without the blatant push for pageviews by churning trivial posts or updates — his stuff all seems pretty meaty and relevant, rather than feeling like he’s trying to hit his quota. And he’s fun and entertaining, and a good source of pointers to things I’d otherwise miss — and his attribution policy is stellar.
- Duncan Davidson: I absolutely love the site design. I just want to steal it, lock, stock and barrel. He’s taken great care to build the site so that it takes equal care with both his words and photos — very few site designs give both equal respect. I wish he had time to blog more; he’s been a great support as I’ve tried to push my own photography forward, and a great inspiration for what is possible for me.
- MG Siegler, Parislemon: Another site I’m attracted to for the information — but even more so for the opinion that makes the information interesting. Like Gruber, but with more cuss words; that’s not a negative.
- Passive Guy, the Passive Voice: if you’ve been following my twitter and the links I’ve been passing around, it should come as no surprise that over the last year, my writing muse has reawakened from her long slumber, and I’ve been researching going back towards writing, including fiction — after all these years. And Passive Voice is the blog that is really the clearing house for information on the disruption of the publishing industry and the emergence of self-publishing and ebooks as the new publishing model. If that interests you at all, this is a blog you need to follow (along with Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch)
- Kirk Tuck, The Visual Science Lab: I find Tuck’s blog endlessly fascinating, because as a photographer, he doesn’t talk very much about taking a photograph. Instead, his focus is on talking about being a photographer. It’s a quiet blog, rather self-effacing, but the concepts he discusses are critical for the person who is trying to make the shift from taking photos to being a photographer — the business, the attitude of earning a living with a camera. At the same time, he’s not afraid to show the raw love for photography and cameras that clearly drove him to taking this career path. This isn’t a “how to build a web site and become a professional photographer” site, no glib generalities here, nor will you find 200 word shallow soundbites of simple advice. But as I’ve read his blog over time, it’s given me a real understanding and appreciation of the attitude and professionalism that underlies being a photographer.
Absolutely, and by thinking about why these sites attract me, it gives me some perspective on ways I can improve my own blog environment.
The big themes?
- Taking the blog more seriously, not as a revenue generator but as a presence.
- Personality and opinion.
- Design; especially a better representation of my photos, but without making my writing a second class citizen. Few sites pull that off properly; it’s one or the other that dominates.
- And making sure the blog properly represents who I am, in a way compatible with what I do.
What does this mean for the blog in 2012?
We’ll get to that…
I’ve been doing a lot of reflection and self-examination the last few months (it’s only a coincidence this occurred as I ended up making a decision to change jobs. really. sort of). As I noted in my look back at my 2011 goals in photography, my trip to Yosemite really got me started on an extended process of figuring out what photography meant to me at this time in my life, and where I wanted it to take me moving into the future.
That has also caused me to think about what about my photography I’m not doing, or don’t do well — that I want to do and learn how to master. Somewhat tied to that I found I had a list of photographers I keep turning to for inspiration and to deconstruct what they’re doing because what they’re doing is what I want to figure out how to do. Hence, my list of five photographers I want to be when I grow up.
Obviously, I can’t be all of them. I’ll never be any of them. But I can understand what they do and why they do it, and learn to integrate that into who I am and what I do. So here are the photographers I’m currently studying so I can continue trying to learn from them, because I believe it’ll make me a better photographer.
Michael Frye: not new to my list but still high on it. I’ve adapted his workflow as the basis for my own, and when I’ve gone shooting at Yosemite, I’ve tried to see the park as he sees it through his images, to help me learn what to look for in visualizing my own imagery. As he has time, he’s been doing a series of critiques on his blog that I find a quiet interesting and useful view into the thinking he puts into deciding how to process an image to make it the best possible image. His willingness to explain those processes and decisions has been and continues to be very useful to me and something I follow with great interest.
Jim Goldstein: Jim is probably the closest to the pure concept of what I want to be when I grow up. He’s a former high tech geek who’s made the leap into professional photographer. His photography is very compatible with my vision of what I want my photography to be. He’s done a lot of work in social media and social marketing, as well as experimenting in ebook publishing, all areas that (now that I’m no longer tied down by HP’s “employees can’t do that” rules) I am looking forward to exploring in my own work. His ebook on White Sands was an inspiration to some of the ebook plans I’m starting to look at moving into 2012, and has some amazing photography as well as being a great example of how this new publishing form can be exploited. And he’s a very nice and accessible guy. All in all, if I were to make this jump to pro photography (which I’ve decided not to do. for now) my jump would look a lot like this.
George Barr: author of From Camera to Computer: How to Make Fine Photographs Through Examples, Tips, and Techniques and Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why, Barr does a style of photography that’s very unlike anything I do — fine art architectural subjects with a strong abstract or pattern sensibility. I find what he does fascinating. When I try to emulate it, I find what I do sucks. Obviously, I need to keep working at this, but it’s a type and style of photography I want to figure out, although probably to translate more into the natural/landscape environment.
William Neill: There are two aspects of Neill’s work that draws me to it; he is a master as painting a natural landscape with light, and he has a strong vision for using abstraction in a natural venue to create very beautiful and moving images that are both representative of nature and not strongly photo-realistic. Both are at essence to me a very painterly approach instead of a more classic photography approach. He’s also been doing some very interesting innovation in ebook publishing of his work which I recommend to you if you aren’t familiar with it.
G. Dan Mitchell: It’s not just his seeming ability to post a strong image every day (but that alone impresses the hell out of me). It’s that the images are invariably things that I feel I’m not very good at creating images of — and they’re consistently images I think to myself “I wish I’d taken that”. His images are less about iconic landscapes (think grand vistas from Tunnel View) and more about pulling out elements and bringing a focus to them. And he consistently nails a style of landscape I find I still struggle with; I seem to be able to take interesting “iconic” images of Yosemite, for instance, but getting down into the valley and making interesting images of the trees and features in the valley? That, to me, is one of Dan’s strengths, and a major weakness of mine and figuring that out will be a focus of mine in 2012. And part of that is continued study of how Dan does it so I can learn to see how he sees and adapt it into my own work.
I’ve been thinking through the goals I want to set for my photography in 2011. I think I’m going to keep it relatively simple:
Push myself into new areas of photography to continue to improve my skills; specifically, it’s time to get serious about learning how to use flash, and it’s time for me to get serious about both field and studio macro photography.
I want to try to get back to Yosemite sometime this spring, hopefully when the dogwood is out and alive. I had planned a trip for 2010 at that time and ended up not being able to.
I want to get out on a photo trip to an area I haven’t been to and photographed and force myself to figure out how to shoot and then publish a piece about that area and tells its story.
I want to see if I can take at least one workshop as a way to push my skills via hands on work with someone else.
I want to take a close look at whether I can be “photoshop free”.
I’m going to do a personal quest to photograph as many species of bird again this year, and see if I can beat my 2010 number of 142 I need to experiment with video more.
And I’ll note for the record that nowhere in this list is “buy new stuff”; which doesn’t mean I won’t, but the gear needs to be defined by how it will implement the goals, not the other way around…
So that’s how I defined my photographic goals going into 2011.
I did, in fact, make it to Yosemite in May. The trip was in many ways a disaster. beyond letting myself get way too dehydrated and ending up feeling like crap (which, surprisingly, affects your motivation to do photography), I found not following my shot plan or working on my shot list, and more or less not really caring; using sloppy technique, and generally just being a not very good photographer taking not very interesting images.
And that set me down a path different than I’d expected, more or less wandering into the “if I don’t give a damn, why am I doing this? and if I do give a damn, why am I not acting like it?” — time to go examine my motivations and interests and figure out what I want to be when I grow up.
I actually put down the camera and didn’t pick it up again for about two months. There were other things going on as well (and my birding suffered during this time; I effectively didn’t bird spring migration, so my numbers this year are way down). I also sent off the 100-400 for repair when it was clear that it’d been dropped once too often. It ended up having to go for repair twice before Canon got it really fixed, and so my “go to” lens was gone for a while. When I did get back to taking images, that got me working with the 300F4+1.4x combo for bird work, which I’ve come to like even more than the 100-400, which… Well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
It wasn’t burnout; I’d love to be able to drama queen this and turn it into some interesting blog posts, but in reality, I just took a break because I didn’t feel like picking up the camera, especially if all I was going to do was point it at stuff and click, and take new images that looked a lot like all of my existing images of birds I’ve already taken images of.
Which doesn’t mean I wasn’t doing any photography. Instead, I went on a journey. The journey was really more of a “what do I want to be when I grow up?” and “what do I want my images to say? what is my personal style?”. The best way to describe it is this: David duChemin’s e-book house, Craft and Vision, has published a free book called Craft and Vision, 11 ways you can improve your photography. It is a series of essays by authors who have published other books through C&V. It is well worth your time, but in it is an essay called “Understand the Stages” by Alexandre Buisse.
He effectively defines the six stages of a photographer as:
- The Photographer has no Artistic Intent, just record what you see. most people are doing this. (the “holiday snapshot” mode).
- The Photographer has discovered an interest beautiful images and is playing around with the camera they have.
- The Photographer has realized their lack of technical knowledge is hindering them, and sets off to learn the craft of image making.
- The Photographer realizes that focussing exclusively on technique is a dead-end, and that composition, quality of light and other intangibles are important in making a good image.
- The Photographer has finished acquiring the technical and artistic tools he needs and starts worrying about what to do with them.
Finally, the Photographer has found his voice and stopped worrying.
I read this when it came out, well after I was down the path of figuring this out on my own, but this crystallized my thoughts, and helped me realize that I’d hit that fifth stage and was fighting to find the sixth. And I still am, but now I understand what I’m trying to do and that’s helped me focus my efforts on things that can help me along that path.
I have found, for instance, that the list of photographers I read online has changed significantly. Photographers who talk mostly about geeky details have mostly disappeared from my reading list; honestly, I just don’t have a lot of interest in another 500 word note on why aperture creates bokeh. That’s not a criticism of those writers — they just are speaking to a different audience now.
Instead, I’ve been exploring and acquiring photographers who are writing about different aspects of photography, and most speccifically, tend to write about being a photographer. These days, the short list of writers I listen to most closely include people like David duChemin, Zack Arias, Kirk Tuck and folks like George Barr and the folks at Online Photographer (especially Mike Johnston and Ctein). One of the things on my list for after the new year is to explain why these people have drawn me to sit at their feet and listen.
This journey continues. The one thing you need for this shift into Buisse’s stage five and six is patience. It’s not something you solve by taking a lighting seminar, or even shooting a thousand images of a spider. As someone who’s written, I recognize it now as the photographer’s equivalent of identifying and harnessing your muse.
Along the way I ended up going through a couple of seminars, both online and both through Chase Jarvis’s Creative Live group. The first was David duChemin’s Vision-Driven Photography, and the second was Zack Arias’ Foundations of a Working Photographer. Both of these deserve some commentary at length, and that’s planned for the new year as well, but let me say now that I recommend both highly, and if you haven’t discovered Creative Live, you should go and explore their offerings. They also stream the live broadcast of new seminars free, so if you can free your schedule, you can take them in without costing you anything — but after you check out one or two, you’ll probably want to start collecting them. Laurie and I both have taken in some of the Creative Live seminars, and every one we’ve seen has been of exceptional quality. (another resource I’ll point you to is Chase Jarvis Live, and this weekend I watched his piece with Allegra Will on portfolio design and criticism, which I found fascinating. And yes, that now means you’ll see me restructuring my online setup to include a “real” portfolio, as soon as I figure out what I want it to be; and what I want to be. And so, we circle back…
The second half of 2011 was surrounded by Leo’s decision to blow up the piece of HP I happened to work with and the chaos and stress of living through that and trying to keep things operating and moving forward despite it — and ultimately deciding to move on and leave HP for greener pastures. Needless, it’s been a stressful few months, which has both gotten in the way of many of my original 2011 plans, but also encouraged me to use things like my photography as a refuge from it. So I did ultimately pick up the camera, but rather than force myself into new paths, I went back and simplified, and went back to my core of bird photography — and I spent a lot of time metaphorically examining my navel for inspiration and answers to questions I wasn’t sure how to ask.
So my goals changed on the fly, but in a good way (I think). I never did move into flash or macro, because I realized stretching into new techniques wasn’t going to solve the problem I wanted to solve — even though I recognize that once I know the solution to that problem, I’ll need these techniques to solve it. I never did do the bird listing (but it’s on the list for 2012), and I did, in fact, mostly go photoshop free, by deciding to bring in a copy of Photoshop Elements for those few times when I need something beyond Lightroom. I would say most photographers can (and should) go this path instead of paying the serious cash needed for the “full” photoshop. Maybe I’ll explain this down the road.
And as to my last “non-goal”, coming out of all of this, and when I made the decision to change jobs (and cashed in 160 hours of unused vacation), I did end up making my first gear purchase in two years. And I spent about a month planning that out and considering options before deciding what I wanted (and should) do. That is a big blog post in itself, so that, too, is scheduled for the new year; once the new gear shows up and I start putting it through its paces…
So overall, I think I’m existing 2011 in a better spot photographically than I entered the year, even if it’s nowhere near the spot I expected to be at when I started the journey. And as I start planning for 2012 and what I want to accomplish, I’m hoping that it’ll be a really strong year for me. Assuming my CEO doesn’t blow up my organization and stuff it into limbo for months again…. And even if they do, we’ll figure it out and do something useful…
Looking back at 2011 here on the blog, I feel like it’s gotten some traction, if things didn’t exactly go as I thought they would in January. but then, who could plan for a CEO to take a shotgun to your organization mid-year, and then get left in suspended animation until someone could figure out what to do with you?
Overall, pageviews and blog traffic were up about 15%. All in all, a good year for the blog. I went into the year trying to get my writing going again; all in all, given the unforeseen complications in life this year, I think I give myself a passing grade, and hope to do even more as we move into 2012. I wanted to write some meaty, more in-depth pieces, and I think I succeeded at that. I wanted to write more consistently, and I think overall, I’ve done that as well. There are still times when life trumps blog — but I see that as a feature, not a bug.
- Once again, my piece Some Thoughts on Lightroom Keywords was the most popular entry on the blog by a wide margin.
- My writing on backups continues to be popular; hopefully, it helps people avoid losing data. I’ll likely be updating it again in 2012, and I’d like to turn it into an e-book.
Other popular writing in 2011 included:
- So you want to be a nature photographer
- The ever-changing social landscape
- Thanks, Steve
- What’s been going on (where I talk about my decision to leave HP)
- Losing a Friend (on the loss of long-time house partner Archie to cancer)
- Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
- Canon EOS 7d Autofocus Modes explained
- On filters and echo chambers
- Google+ – Lots of win, not perfect (and since then, continuing to evolve in good ways, especially for photographers)
- In defense of Gil Amelio
So as I close out 2011, I have to say, overall, I’m about where I should be, given how things ended up and what went on that was outside of my control. That’s not a bad place to be. And as I plan my way into 2012 and try to figure out what the next steps are, I think this is a good foundation to build from. But there’s plenty to do….
quick note since I’ve got nine zillion things going on and no time…
I started the new gig this morning. I’m now the Technical Manager for Bloxtools at Infoblox in Santa Clara, California. Myself and my new cohort in crime (who will play the part of Community Manager) are coming in to support and build a community around these tools, and to help define a plan for for enhancing the tools and making them a more powerful and useful part of the Infoblox products suite.
What’s this mean? well, when we figure it out, we’ll know. Part of what made this an irresistible challenge was that it’s really a blank slate; great challenge, great opportunity. And it’s going to allow me to help build a new community from scratch, which I was looking to do, and get back more to my roots and be more technical than I was at HP.
Everyone I’ve met so far has been great, the company feels like a nice, comfortable fit, we don’t have CEOs randomly blowing up divisions because he’s bored, and I get to go off and figure out a bunch of stuff. I’m going to be busy for a while, but in a good way.
And then there was the money… Which frankly, HP was rather reluctant to part with, even going back 18 months when I first had that discussion with Ben and Dion…
More on all of this when I have time, and a chance to start figuring out the details…
You’re probably well aware that concussions have become something of an epidemic in the NHL over the past few years. It’s not like nobody’s talking about it. But just recently, the epidemic has taken a nasty turn, targeting star players with sudden aplomb. It’s almost as though the brains of NHL superstars need a tough guy. It’s not just Sidney Crosby anymore. The injury list is littered with big names.
Suddenly, it seems, concussion talk is everywhere around hockey. I’ve been having multiple discussions with people I know about it.
Crosby works his butt off to come back, takes another hit, and is out again. Suddenly, nobody really knows when or how he’ll be back. Or what’ll happen after the next hit. The ghost of Eric Lindros hovers over the league’s move visible player.
And now Pronger goes down. And stays down. Pronger, whether you love him or hate him (probably, both), never stays down.
This is mid-December. NHL playoffs generally stretch until nearly the end of June. So in the opinion of the two specialists who examined Pronger this week – and diagnosed him with “severe” post-concussion symptoms – they do not believe his condition will appreciably improve enough in the next six months to permit him to play again this season.
This is not a new problem. Just ask Eric Lindros. Or Brett. Or Nick Kypreos. Or Jay More. Pat LaFontaine. Paul Kariya. Wanye Primeau. Fenando Prisani. Adam Deadmarsh. Scott Stevens. The list goes on, and on and on. I first wrote about concussions back in 2003. I’ve written about it on and off since (2004, 2004, 2005,2007, 2009, 2009, 2011 ). I remember going all the way back to the Cow Palace years and talking to the Sharks medical staff about concussions, back when everyone was first trying to get a handle on all of this.
We’re going to continue to write about it into the future, because injuries are part of the game, and given that the core of the game of hockey is the physical (and violent) collision, injuries are not going to stop unless we fundamentally change the game. Which means to fix this, it has to stop being hockey.
But what’s happening now is I’m having conversations with other fans that are some variation of “I’m uncomfortable being a fan of a sport where player’s health and life are damaged for my enjoyment”. It’s a question I’ve struggled with myself. Along with the uncomfortable question of just how you stop injuries to the head when you allow two players to drop gloves and pound each other in the face. Fighting is an elephant in this particular sitting room, and one that has to be grappled with as part of the solution — and I say that as someone who enjoys a good fight during a game.
Even the most passionate hockey fan would be hard-pressed to remember a time when so many stars were out with concussions. It’s almost as if the scrambled brain epidemic is getting worse, even though body checking is seemingly at an all-time low.
I’ve always been of the opinion that virtually nothing can be done to combat concussions. Nothing, that is, outside of banning body-checking altogether. It’s simply impossible to avoid violent collisions in a game played at such a high speed.
And this has become a hot button within the media, bringing it a lot of visibility and commentary.
That is, in fact, part of the problem.
Let me rephrase that.
This is a complex issue. There is no “concussion problem”. There are lots of problems that end up causing or caused by concussions. And there are “problems” that get raised as part of this that actually make it a lot harder to see the real problems.
One of those “problems” is simply the media making this a high profile issue. It creates a perception that things are a lot worse now than they have been in the past. It gives something Mike Milbury to rant about. It generates headlines. Sometimes, those headlines get in the way of seeing what’s really happening.
Roy Macgregor, I think, gets to a core part of the current “problem” with the media frenzy going on:
It matters not how concussions are happening – head shots, fights, accidents with sticks and pucks, running into one’s own teammate – they have become an increasingly polarizing issue in today’s hockey. There are as many sick of the issue as there are those wanting the issue addressed – even the media has started sniping among themselves – with the only sure truth being that concussions aren’t going to go away even if they cease to be mentioned. They are, sadly, increasing – or, at the very least, the recording of them has.
“Maybe now it’s everybody is more careful with the head injuries,” suggests Boston captain Zdeno Chara, himself out with a knee injury.
“It’s more serious and nobody wants to risk it, so everybody is taking time to make sure they are good before they play again.”
It’s unclear that there are more concussions in hockey today than there were last year or three years ago.
But a lot of things have changed. Our understanding of concussions and the long term health implications is increasing. Some of the recent brain studies, including those of Derek Boogard, that show significant brain trauma, is bringing home the fact that there are problems here that in the past were mostly ignored. It’s not a new problem, some of the NFL brain studies are showing this same brain damage in players going back into the 70′s. I expect if you did brain studies of some of the physical players and fighters of the 60′s and 70′s NHL, you’d find the same.
The NHL has a long history of “shake it off, get back out there”. Hockey players have a high tolerance of pain, and traditionally play though injuries almost beyond comprehension. Even five years ago there was still a culture of “just got my bell rung” and players got back out there.
The league has made huge changes in the last two or three years. The rules for checking players for concussion have become a lot more stringent. Our understanding of concussions in general has gone up massively. Players have been educated on concussions, and, frankly, probably scared by what’s going on enough to stop doing the macho thing and playing through these “bell ringing” incidents that even a couple of years ago they would have ignored.
So the number of RECOGNIZED and REPORTED concussions is going way up. This isn’t necessarily that there are more concussions, but they’re being more reliably diagnosed, and the league is more careful about tracking them, and giving players less leeway to come back from them early or ignore them and play through them.
So some of the spike is better diagnosis, and better treatment, and better understanding. And the media looks at raw numbers and turns that into a crisis, which makes it harder to see the real problem behind it.
Because, don’t for a second think I’m using this as a way of saying there’s no problem here.
It’s a problem without simple solutions. I think the league has gotten serious about understanding it and solving it to the degree it can. I wish it’d hit this point of urgency five years ago, but I have no issue with the league’s response now (and honestly, five years ago, I don’t think concussions were well enough understood to do some of the things that are being done today — but I do think we could be farther along the path towards solutions than we are).
There’s been work done on improving the safety of the arena — such as the rounded glass installed this year to deal with hits like those that injured Max Pacioretty. The arenas that had the immobile seamless glass have been upgraded to use more flexible (and much safer) boards and glass — anyone remember when that glass was first installed and Mike Modano had his head smushed into it, going out for a significant time with a concussion?
Research has shown hockey helmets actually don’t help much with concussions, and work has been going on to improve head protection. New style helmets are coming onto the market that improve on this problem. Other hockey gear has evolved over the years from being protective to being an effective weapon against other players, especially changes to elbow and shoulder pads, which have added hard shells and rubber knobs that can be used against a player in a check (I once saw Marty McSorley with his shirt off; his shoulder pads were little more than a couple of slabs of leather — he had traps to die for. Today’s shoulder pads look like something stolen from a bad japanese Manga movie). The league has been working to replace this gear with less damaging hardware, elbow pads without hard caps and less — offensive — shoulder pads. Those safety changes have to get the approval of the players union as well; let’s not forget the players union is the group that has stonewalled mandatory visors choosing “personal choice” over “let’s try not to lose too many eyes” — right, mattias Ohlund and Brian McCabe and Jamal Mayers? — so getting safer gear into the game takes longer than we might hope).
And the rule changes. Rule 48. The OHL just banned hits to the head. There were calls for the NHL to do the same. It didn’t — and they were right to take a more specific approach (but I’ll leave arguing this point to a different article, later); the players are getting it; retraining them takes time (and some will never learn, and as they become problems for the team, they’ll find their careers ending — but if Matt Cooke can figure it out, pretty much anyone can). It’ll take some time to see just how effective these changes are in reducing concussions. It seems to me that it is — but the problem right now is that this real reduction is obscured by the increased recognition and reporting, so it’s hard to see what the difference is. We’re judging numbers based on two very different standards, and trying to make comparisons.
My gut tells me the league is on the right track and making progress; I do think there’s a lot of work to do. I disagree with the view above that nothing can be done here. Lots has been done, is being done, and there’s lots more to do. That’s a defeatist attitude, and probably the most important change being made right now is educating the players and helping them really understand concussions, both to get it through their occasionally thick skulls that making hits that cause concussions is a stupid and dangerous thing — but even more so teaching players that ignoring concussions or playing through them is even MORE stupid. Retraining the league and players that it’s okay to say “I can’t go” isn’t sissifying the game, it’s protecting the future health of the player.
The league can only do so much to stop concussions if the players don’t take them seriously. The big change going on in the league now is that education process; getting the players to understand and accept that they don’t have to “skate it off” when “they got their bell rung”. As this change in attitude gets ingrained in the players, when the players really learn it’s not okay to headhunt — that’s when concussion numbers will realy go down. That process is ongoing, and I think we’re starting to see the effects — the early effect is MORE concussions being reported and MORE man-days lost to them and MORE headlines bemoaning the concussion crisis. But players moving into a situation where they’re safer, and where they’ll be healthier in the future for understanding this now.
Right now, there’s a lot of noise about concussions. That’s good — that’s driving awareness, and that is, if nothing else, motivation to the league to keep looking for ways to make this problem better and the game safer for the players. the tradeoff there is that hockey is inherently a physical and violent sport, and injuries are inevitable — the only way to take injuries out of the game is to ruin it.
That is not, under any circumstance, an excuse to ignore injuries or to think you don’t NEED to find ways to make the game safer. The league has a difficult set of compromises to make on this, and right now, I think they’re doing an overall good job.
We also need to remember that some of this noise is because we’re making progress – because lots of what used to be swept under the rug is now visible for all to see. And that’s the first step in removing move of it to the dust bin of history where it belongs. And this process is not something solved by snap decisions; it’s going to take time, and research, and commitment. which right now, the league seems to be committed to.
And ultimately, I think it means the end of fighting in the game, because at some point we are going to have to come to grips with the reality that we can’t say it’s unacceptable to target the head of a hockey player — unless you take your gloves off for a fight.
But that’s an argument for another article at another time….
And GM Doug Wilson, who never comments directly on any kind of speculation, still managed to make it crystal clear that he supports his coach.
“We believe in this group and we believe in this staff,” Wilson said. “We look forward to this team playing up to its capabilities.”
If you watched the game Tuesday, you undoubtedly heard the pointed criticism of the Sharks by the Versus analyst tandem of Mike Milbury and Keith Jones. Some of their comments about the Sharks’ lack of energy also are rehashed in the print/web story.
When asked about the criticism, several Sharks were careful to say that didn’t want to respond to things that they didn’t actually hear. (And frankly, that’s very smart of them.) But they disagreed with the idea that lack of effort has been the Sharks problem of late.
“I know how hard we’re trying out there,” Logan Couture said.
Thornton and Clowe added that they try not to listen to the chattering on television.
Based on having watched the Sharks forever, and how Doug Wilson GMs this team, when Wilson says this, what he really means is “it’s time for you guys to get your act together, or I’ll get it together for you”. The Sharks are starting a 6 game homestand (they won tonight, playing occasionally inconsistently but putting it all together to finish strong and winning going away). My bet: if they aren’t at least 4-2 on this homestand, Doug Wilson shakes up the roster and makes a trade in early January.
And probably should, if they don’t shake out of this — whatever it is. I agree with the team about how hard they’re trying. What they aren’t doing is playing smart. What they aren’t doing is sweating the details. That shows most visibly in the penalty kill, which is ludicrously bad given the talent here. And the penalty kill is 90% hard work, and 20% sweating the details. They’re two steps out of place, they’re one step late, they’re missing an assignment — all things that happen once in a while, but not things that should happen constantly.
It’s as if for some reason their heads aren’t consistently in the game. concentration lapses more than lapses of effort. There’s no real excuse for it past the first ten games of the season. By then they should know each other.
The last couple of games looked like they were finding it, but it wasn’t there consistently. Tonight, they got it in the third period and finally got the motor running on all cylinders. The question is, will they keep it going next game? One period is a good start, and got them a good win. But the lack of consistency is making this team both fascinating to watch and immensely frustrating to figure out.
And Wilson’s public show of support is really an indication his patience is wearing thin.
This is not a coaching problem. This is not an effort problem. This is not a conditioning problem. This is a problem of focus and concentration. And those are things only the players themselves can solve, individually.
Thanks for your patience while I was having my little fun here on the blog. hopefully you were at least somewhat amused. Perhaps your curiosity piqued a bit.
If you haven’t figured it out (perhaps by reading this article or even noticed that I made Techcruch for some reason I can’t fathom) today was my last day at HP/Palm/webOS GBU. Because we didn’t announce that I was leaving until the day before it happened, I couldn’t exactly talk about it here on the blog. I felt talking about unrelated stuff was — it just seemed wrong to carry on about apertures or unrelated topics with an unseen elephant standing in the room, but I didn’t want the blog to go completely silent for too long, because that in itself raises questions and gets noticed. (as an aside, I got my name mis-spelled two different ways in those three articles. I’m amused, and even better, it allows you to easily track where all of the “me too” sites go to do their “original journalism”).
I felt strongly that the developers should hear about this from me, on the forums and hear it that way first. In this day and age of the internet, that’s surprisingly difficult, but we pulled it off. As it turned out, the timing of my change ended up tracking right up against Meg’s decision on the future of webOS and the webOS teams, and that made this even more complicated. But Meg was willing to step up to fund webOS and give it a life in Open Source, and now everyone back at the office is trying to understand how to make that work.
I fully support that decision, and I look forward to cheerleading the effort from my new place on the sidelines. Now that I no longer have to speak the company line and try to avoid pissing off my bosses by improvising, I can say I think this is the best opportunity for webOS, and Meg has convinced me she understands what is going to be needed and how commitment it’s going to take. That she has worked closely with Mark Andressen (an HP board member) on this decision gives me a nice comfort level that they get it. That doesn’t mean that success is a given, only that an honest opportunity has been created. It’ll be up to the people in the webOS teams to grab the opportunity, engage the community, and everyone run with it. I think they can.
None of that changed my view that it was time to make a change (and to answer a question I’ve been asked a dozen times this week — “if this decision on Open Sourcing had come sooner, would you have stayed?” — the answer is, frankly, probably not, but part of me would have found the idea tempting); I’d been in that role for basically three years without any real change in responsibility. I was ready for more, or different, or something. That was something Richard and I had been talking about going back into late spring, on and off. When Leo decided to split off PSG and blew up HP in bizarre ways, taking out the webOS hardware teams as (as far as I can tell) collateral damage, that kind of put any talk about career paths on hold, and that holding pattern ended up being infinitely long. Once Richard decided that he couldn’t stay and ended up moving over to Nokia, it was clear to me that my situation wouldn’t be resolved for a number of months.
I know Richard and I would have worked out some growth path that would have kept me there; Leo’s decisions made that impossible. For the first month after Leo blew things up, I was telling recruiters to leave me alone. After that, being in limbo got rather stressful and my belief that we’d end up in a good and stable place (and with jobs) kept shrinking. Recruiters kept calling, and I started listening, and this one company caught my eye, we talked, and the rest is, well — it’s what’s next. I’m not going to go into details yet (sorry, Arthur); I’m going to enjoy my time off and relax a bit. there’s plenty of time for talking about that.
I will say that it is (a) not Nokia [but the day Richard joined Nokia, I rang him up and said “let’s talk”. we did, at some length. But I was fairly far along the process, and I felt it was a better direction for me to go. But of all of the places I chatted with, Nokia was my second choice and I likely would have gone there if I didn’t take the job I did — I think there’s some really interesting challenges and potential there). The new gig is also not in the mobile space (I’m headed back into an enterprise-oriented situation, and yes, it’s community oriented). I’m ready for a break from the politics of phones and carriers and similar joys, too.
In the short term, I’m going to spend a little time with my birding and my camera, with christmas (and christmas shopping), and doing some prep work. I’ll be starting the new gig next week, to sit down and get a start on mapping plans and strategies, and then off for christmas with the family. then back in January in with both feet and onward into whatever this is going to turn into.
(and in case anyone really cares, I’m thinking of headed down to Struve Slough and Jetty Road on thursday, and spending all day Friday out in Panoche Valley chasing mountain plovers and chukars for my life list. Plans which may well change, but you never know; and I’m seriously considering a saturday run out to Merced and San Luis NWR for a shot at some sunset work and the fly-in. Or maybe not….)
There’s plenty of blog fodder here to keep us busy, too.
To everyone on my old team at HP, and all of the folks I worked with there — thanks for everything, for making it a fight worth fighting and helping me enjoy being there even on the bad days. I’ll miss you all. To all my devs — thanks for your time, your energy and commitment, and your willingness to let me get away with saying “I don’t know” or “I can’t tell you” way more often than I wish I had. You made everything worth it, and you did great stuff. Please continue that in the future, because I’m rooting for you all, even if I’m not part of the fight any more.
And now, onward.