Cortisone Day

Monday was Cortisone day. It is a day I both look forward to and dread. Off to visit the Orthopedist, wearing sweats that I can pull up over the knees easily. Back in 2007, I was out for a walk, and doing some birding. Trying to get a better look at a bird, I stepped backward, into a gopher hole. The lower part of my right leg twisted and rotated, the upper part didn’t.

The knee is not a pivot joint. Many of us find this out the hard way. The knee didn’t heal. The swelling went down, but every time I started using it, it got wonky. Unstable, and it’d lock up on me. Every so often I’d take a step and it wouldn’t carry my weight. So, off to the surgeon to get the meniscus I’d torn in the gopher hole fixed. Except the surgeon took one look at the x-rays and told me they weren’t operable.

That wasn’t what I’d expected to hear. The knees were arthritic. Which, I guess shouldn’t have been a surprise to middle-aged me, but it was. We had two options: drugs or knee replacement. Knee replacement is — routine — but has all sorts of challenges. Not the least of which is that they only last for a couple of decades (or less) and then you need to replace them again. If we could delay needing the first replacement, we’d increase the chances I’d never need a second. Not to mention to replace both knees is about four or five months of fun (and physical therapy).

So we started simple. Relafen, an NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory). Close relative to Motrin, one of the family of different things you probably generically call aspirin. Fortunately, I tolerated it well, and the knees reacted to it. The pain went away, the knee stabilized, and I could walk again. We started at 500mg (the Motrin you can buy at the store are 200mg). That held the fort for about 18 months, then we boosted it to 1000mg a day. That was good for another couple of years.

Arthritis is a progressive disease. It never gets better, the best you can do is fight it to a draw. So ultimately the Relafen wasn’t enough any more. My doctor didn’t want to raise the dosage (you can go to 2000mg a day, but you can also eat your liver doing so), so he suggested Cortisone.

In walks my doctor, syringes in hand. We talk over how the knees are getting along, they poke at the knees and mark the injection points, and they carefully cover the areas with iodine and then a local anesthetic. I joke about getting the injection points tattooed to save him time. He picks up the first needle, which seems like it’s a foot long, and I close my eyes.

I’m not a fan of needles, but I tolerate them okay, as long as I don’t look. For some reason, the needle hurts a lot more if I see it go in, so I close my eyes. The iodine is cold. The local stings the skin, just a bit. The needle goes in, finds its way under the kneecap. It’s not so much pain as pressure as the liquid flows in and redistributes. Still, it’s not what I’d call pleasant. The needle leaves, the hole is covered with a bandage, we compare notes on how it felt and when to chat next, and I’m gone.

Over the next few hours, a miracle occurs. My knees transform from sore, achy, old people knees into younger knees that actually move without creaks and snaps. The transition itself isn’t painless — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but once it settles down, things work a lot better for a while. This time, the right knee gives up mostly without a fight and within 12 hours felt great. The left knee, which has a lot less damage to it, swelled up a bit and got sore and took about 36 hours before it felt better.

One thing getting cortisone shots has done is give me a new appreciation for what professional athletes go through to entertain us. My doctors don’t want to give me shots more often than every three months because of the risk of doing damage to your connective tissue: it can turn your tendons and ligaments to jello if you hit them with it too often. Yet you hear about pro athletes injecting an injured joint routinely, sometimes before every game. A lot of these guys are taking risks of lifeline orthopedic problems to win — for our enjoyment (and the money and fame). Something to remember next time someone starts up the “athletes are paid too much” rant.

Cortisone doesn’t heal. Cortisone is a quality of life drug. It reduces pain and improves mobility, but it’s temporary. If you use it too often too close together it can make things worse. The big challenge in my life right now is that I’m too sedentary, but moving around more is great in theory, not so great when moving hurts. Cortisone spackles over that gap, at least for a while.

I know that ultimately, I’m going to lose this fight and need to go through knee replacement.  If I can put it off another five years I’ll be thrilled. Right now, that looks practical, but time will tell. And in my long term goal to not be that old guy in the scooter, I’ll take any advantage I can get.

So that’s why I’ll keep taking the cortisone, even though it means dealing with those needles….

 

 

Posted in About Chuq

Getting going in Photography on the Cheap

I had a comment on my post about not blogging any more that I felt deserved to be answered in some detail.

But the main topic isn’t what got me interested, nope, it is mentioning of photography and Mac. I use Mac and I am a photographer wanna be. Wanna be as in still have to buy my first DSLR. But I loooove photography, so my question today would be recommending some apps on Mac that would be useful for us wanna be people, that aren’t ready to get a $200 app before they learn the basics?

Here’s what I’ve recommended to people about this:

If you use a Macintosh, it’s an easy answer: all modern macs come with a free copy of iPhoto. If your mac is older and you want to get the most recent version of iPhoto, it’s about $15. There is zero reason to consider buying anything more expensive or more powerful to get started. iPhoto can take you a long way down the path when you’re starting out, and when you feel like you’re outgrowing it, an upgrade to Apple’s Aperture is trivially easy — that’s one thing Apple definitely did right here.

So, iPhoto and whatever camera you have. If you don’t have a camera, then I’ve been talking a lot about the Canon SX50 recently, and at about $400, it’s a great, moderately priced camera you won’t outgrow soon. You can get really good starter cameras for less, too. I haven’t evaluated any myself recently, but there are good starter cameras available for under $200 if you do some research. Or maybe use your phone: if you have an iPhone 4 or later, you have a good phone built it. If you use some other phone, check out the quality of its camera.

We are at the beginning of the end of the DLSR era. DLSR geeks are going to hate hearing that, but it’s true.

The point and shoots are eating the lunch of the lower end DLSRs: When I look at the capabilities of a camera like the SX-50, it’s hard to see why I’d pay double that for an entry level DSLR camera if I were getting started. There are reasons to do that if you’re more advanced, but as a first camera? These mid-range all in ones kick their more expensive brother’s butts.

At the same time, at the low end, cameras have pretty much kicked the butt of the “casual” camera. There’s really no reason to buy a pocket camera any more — those things in the sub $200 range. A modern smartphone has something that good, probably better.

The growing “thing” is the so-called mirrorless cameras such as the Fuji or Sony mirrorless lines or the Micro 4/3 cameras. I spent some time earlier this year with the Fuji X-Pro1 and I mostly loved it, even though I decided not to buy one right now.

I currently carry a Canon 7D and a Canon T3i as my backup body. The T3i can do about 90% of what the 7D does for half the money, and it’s a really nice camera. But in my life, it’s relegated mostly to being stuck on tripod doing timelapses or as my video experimentation unit — and to be honest about it, I’ve started experimenting with a GoPro which I expect will take over 90% of my video and timelapsing down the road at half the price of the T3i.

Things are changing rapidly — two years from now, I expect the “standard kit” for most street and portrait photographers will be mirrorless. I’m pushing beginners and newer enthusiasts at their phone cameras and these mid-range all in ones more and more. I haven’t recommended a beginner DLSR in over a year, and I expect I never will again. In 2-3 years, I won’t be surprised to find DLSRs back as the “prosumer and beyond” market territory. There’s increasingly few reasons for amateur photographers to need a DLSR (vs. wanting one for some other reason, like ego. and the camera companies will happily sell one to your ego. Or mine).

Where it’s hard to replace the DLSR is in the big glass world: Bird and Wildlife photography, for instance. It’s harder to replace a good DLSR system for serious landscapes (but to be honest, if you don’t routinely use filters for your landscape, you probably don’t need a DLSR any more, but there are still definite conveniences).

So, think long and hard about buying a DLSR if you’re starting out. You’re talking about a serious commitment of money — $1000 and up including lenses. You can get most of that from a camera like the SX-50 for a lot less. A camera like the SX-50 is more portable, less conspicuous, less likely to attract the attention of a thief, easier to pack and carry, and more forgiving of a beginner — yes, don’t put down the “training wheels” ability to help you learn how to take good images.

So if you’re starting out, start cheap: get a copy of iPhoto, grab something like an SX-50, and go out and take photos. If you’re still tempted to buy an entry level DLSR, consider this instead: Buy the SX-50 for $400, and then spend the other $600 that DLSR would have cost you on a trip somewhere to take pictures. Like a week in Yosemite or Yellowstone.

When you think of it that way, doesn’t NOT spending money on a DLSR when you don’t need one seem like a good idea?

 

 

Posted in Photography

Why I’ve decided to stop blogging….

One of the things I’ve been mulling over the last few months is where this blog ranked in the priority of the things going on in my life and how much time (if any) I wanted to commit to it. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I ultimately decided that I am going to stop blogging.

Stay with me for a minute on this one, okay?

Head off to your favorite search engine and go search for, say, Blogging Best Practices. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Read through the links it returns.

Notice how so much of what they talk about is about things like “engagement”, and SEO, and “punchy titles” and linking and frequent posting and the like? Notice how pretty close to zero percent of the advice and discussion about this says anything about the writing itself? Except in vague generalities like “be interesting” “be yourself” “be casual” “be engaging”…

When you boil it all down, blogging today, at least as the so-called experts preach how it ought to be done, has been turned into a big marketing engine. It’s more important that it SEO well than if it’s actually well written. Or interesting.  Short and punchy, and break it up into pieces posted over days, so you can get more hits and pageviews out of it. Blogging has been turned into writing daily press releases in hopes of gaining attention. It’s now a PR function, not a creative one. And frankly, most of the time, it fails miserably at that, too.

The Problem with Blogging

  • Too many keyboards chasing too few ideas.
  • Too many people following “the rules” rather than the material.
  • Too many short, shallow, forgettable, thin pieces of crap.
  • Lots of opinions without backing facts or expertise.
  • The answer?
  • Don’t blog. Unless.
  •  You’re actually saying something.
  • What you say actually adds to the conversation.
  • You’ve taken the time to think through the material and your opinion.
  •  You actually explain WHY, not just what.

Looking for Answers

One of the things I’ve been doing the last couple of months is surveying photography blogs, trying to figure out what photographers I ought to be reading and looking at what is being written and why I find it interesting. Along the way I’ve sampled hundreds of blogs, far too many which seem to have swallowed the advice of the “best practices” preachers hook, line and sinker. Many of them, to be blunt, should be spending a lot less time writing blog posts and a lot more time working on their photography. All the marketing and blogging in the world isn’t going to do much for you when your portfolio is an endless army of badly rendered images surrounded by blown highlights. And yet it’s clear they’re putting a huge effort into all of this social media stuff in an attempt to sell, well, crappy photos. (god help me, that was probably me five years ago, too… I’ll save a stone to throw at my own house here). It all got rather depressing after a while.

So I give up. I’m not going to blog any more.

Writing stuff every day that someone comes and looks at — for 30 seconds — is pretty easy, actually. But not very fulfilling. I don’t want to write stuff that causes people to come to the site and bounce off to the next site two paragraphs later. I want them to stop and finish the piece and then pass it along to their friends to read. That kind of writing — not so easy. What I want to do doesn’t segment out well into 500 word chunks posted five times a week. I’ve tried in the past to build that cadence into my writing, and what I find it does is it pushes you into writing simple, forgettable, easily created chunks of shallow and not terribly useful words.

The other reason I’ve been wandering photography blogs like a hobo the last few months is I’ve been trying to understand how I could add to the conversation about photography out on the net and not merely repeat it. Lets be honest: nobody, anywhere, under any circumstances needs to write another blog post that tries to explain Aperture mode to a new user. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of people who’ve written about that, so if that’s your idea of useful content to write for your blog, just stop and go get your camera and go take pictures instead.  The universe does not need another blog full of generic 500 word tutorials on basic camera concepts — except that if you follow the best practices experts, that’s the kind of material they tend to push you at, because it’s easy, it’ll SEO well, and it’ll drive PAGEVIEWS. Quality? Good writing? Interesting topics? Kiddo, that stuff doesn’t SEO, why waste your time?

Oh, just shoot me.

So what I’m going to do is this. I’m going to stop blogging. Any pretense of it.

I’m going to write. I have a bunch of stuff to write about, actually, as I’ve been collecting topics and concepts for a while (My evernote has around 70 “blog this!” notes in it now). I’ve also thrown out a lot of stuff I will not write about, because either I don’t feel I’m qualified or I don’t think I’d say anything really original, or because it just isn’t (to me) all that interesting. That’s another 50 items that no longer live in my Evernote “blog this!” folder.  Ultimately, my goal is to create some ebooks, and yes, maybe even sell them (gasp). Along the way, as I get parts written, I’ll post them here, because I believe in sharing instead of hiding, and because I’ve long believed that the feedback and ideas I get from sharing are worth a lot more than the incoming I might theoretically lose by only making the material available freely.

Besides, well, marketing. If I write good stuff, you’ll want the final version, and you’ll tell your friends (you will, right? RIGHT?) — and we all win.

So that’s what we’ll do.

Your friendly neighborhood IT guy

One thing I’ve found is that lots of you are insanely negligent about taking care of your digital darkroom — that computer and the software on it that makes your images happen. I can’t tell you how many twitter discussions I’ve had with people who are wandering around with $10,000 in camera gear, and suddenly find themselves with a dead four year old computer and a copy of Photoshop CS3 and no backups. Usually, this happens (a) on deadline, (b) on a weekend, and (c) just before they’re headed out on a trip.

What these people need are an IT guy to deal with the systems. As someone who spent a number of years in IT as well as behind a camera, I’m going to talk about things like investing in your infrastructure, technical debt, maintenance and scheduling things like upgrades — and backups. (hint: when was your last backup made? If you can’t tell me off the top of your head, or if you know that the date you’d give me would cause me to slap you silly, stop what you’re doing and attend to your stupid backups…)

So you can consider me your IT guy, especially if you’re running on a Macintosh. If you’re a Windows person, not everything I’ll talk about will be of direct use, but the theories will still apply. (another hint: if you are running on windows, and that Windows box boots up and says “Windows XP”, you are an idiot, you you need to upgrade your gear sooner rather than later. We’ll talk about WHY, but don’t wait. You’re a disaster waiting to happen on a number of levels).

Lightroom for Fun and Profit

When I’ve talked to people about my Lightroom workflows, and when I’ve walked people through how I process an image, the feedback I get back is fascinating. So many people seem to be at the “hunt and peck typist” stage of managing their photos, and struggle at finding images later or reproducing an look on some later image. In a lot of cases, this is because they sit down at the computer and push buttons and twist knobs until it looks okay, and haven’t spent the time to really learn the tools.

I’ve had a bunch of requests to teach my workflow or to get it into a form that people can study. So we will.

One thing I’ve thought about doing for a while is doing tutorials and writing my way through how I process a given image. I’ve decided I’m going to try to do at least one of these a month, where we start with a RAW image right out of the camera, and end up with — hopefully — something pretty and useable. One of the things I’m considering doing in the Bird Photography group on G+ is offering to do this kind of processing on someone else’s image and show them how I’d process the image. If I start that up, it’ll happen here as well. The idea is to get down and dirty in Lightroom and give people a chance to see how an image is developed in the digital darkroom, one example at a time.

And Other Stuff, Too

I’ve always used this place as a bit of a journal, and that’s not going to stop. You’re going to continue to see some hockey writing (but probably less than in the past), and more birding, more community management discussion, and a lot more photography. I’ve got a lot of things in process or in planning, and as they surface into reality. I’ve enjoyed doing my road trips in the past, and gotten good response to them. Laurie and I have a trip up the Oregon Coast and I expect to take a lot of photos and talk about it.

There’s lots to talk about. What I think is important, though, is not how many things I write about, but how well. Rather than try to write to the cadence of a blogger, I’m going to worry more about writing well instead of writing fast, and so things will happen as they happen. I’m hoping the results will be worth it for all of us, whether I’m updating the blog every couple of days or every couple of weeks.

We’ll try it and see how it goes. If it works, great. If not, we’ll try something else.

Because isn’t that the essence of all of this?

Posted in About Chuq

Thoughts on “The Write Agenda” and “Writer Beware”

I got an unexpected and unsolicited tweet from the folks at The Write Agenda tonight:

I wrote back pointing out that they are spouting absolute bullshit, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured I ought to put it here in the blog, too, for the benefit of future people who might find it via searching on these issues.

The Write Agenda is a group that’s attempting to run a slam campaign against SFWA and SFWA’s Writer Beware group.

For those that don’t know about the group, Writer Beware has been working to identify scammers that try to rip off or leech authors and not-yet authors, educate authors about these shady and (often) illegal business practices, and find ways to fix problems for authors where they can.

This has, obviously, pissed off a number of these people who see authors as a group they can suck money off of without returning a useful service in return.

I know a number of the people who’ve been involved in Writer Beware over the years. Some of them are friends of mine. They are doing tough work on a volunteer basis to try to get these scam operations identified and shut down.

The Write Agenda isn’t happy with this, because the people Writer Beware are trying to save writers from are the people behind The Write Agenda.

I have recommended a number of friends to Writer Beware over the years when they started trying to market and sell their first novels. it’s a critical resource for anyone who’s trying to break into the market as a new author as a resource on what kind of businesses to avoid getting involved with. (Basic hint: if they want money up front, or want you to fund their work for you, run like hell).

Even though I haven’t been a member of SFWA for a number of years, I fully support the operations of Writer Beware; if I were doing any fiction writing at all, I’d be putting some of the income from that writing behind Writer Beware.

Just to make it painfully clear: The Write Agenda is an organization attempting to confuse you about what’s going on so you don’t listen to Writer Beware when they tell you to avoid doing business with the people hiding behind The Write Agenda. Don’t listen to them. Read both web sites. Ask yourself which one is working for you, and which one isn’t. It should be obvious.

Writer Beware has my full backing and support, and if you’re trying to figure out how to sell a book or buy services to help you get your book into the market, pay attention to Writer Beware, and follow their advice about what not to do, and who not to get involved in. And avoid dealing with anyone involved with The Write Agenda under any circumstance.

That is, in case it’s not painfully obvious, my opinion.

 

Posted in The Writing Life

I can’t drive 55

So I’ve celebrated another birthday, which for some strange reason happens every July. One nice thing about having a birthday this time of year is it lends itself to long weekends. The bad thing about having a birthday this time of year is that it’s a lousy weekend to go travel unless you like crowds of amateurs taking advantage of the long weekend.

So my weekend is pretty simple. Sat with the neighbors and watched the fireworks from Santa Clara Central Park on their front lawn. I’ve been spending the last couple of days working on some personal projects and trying to finish up some ongoing work, especially some long-planned restructuring and housekeeping in Lightroom.

It’s also been one of those weeks. A long-time friend was diagnosed with cancer. Another was declared cancer-free. Someone I’ve known here in the Silicon Valley geek world seemingly forever died on my birthday, and he was six or seven years younger than me. None of these are rare occurrences any more, not at this age.

I tend not to make a big deal of birthdays. This one has repeating numbers, which along with things ending in zero, make some people believe they have some special significance. Me, to be honest, I’m just happy I’ve been able to stick around and annoy my friends for another circle of the sun. Not everyone’s been so lucky. I also try not to dwell on that, either; down that road lies a dark place we don’t want to visit.

I haven’t been around the blog much; combination of things, starting with a new project at work that’s keeping me busy. I also founded the Bird Photography community on Google+ when they released communities, and it’s taken off a bit and is growing nicely. We’re at close to 2,500 members and now looking to bring on some more moderators to help manage it as the growth continues, and to help us launch some new features. It’s got some great photographers in it and some incredible imagery, and I suggest you check it out. It (and G+ in general) are taking up more of my free time these days, in a good way.

Doesn’t mean the blog is abandoned, but I’ve been trying to figure out how it fits into life. I’m less interested right now in blogging for blogging sake, but more interested in writing. What this means (I think) is a lower frequency of postings, but longer, hopefully more thoughtful pieces. More detail, better content. I’ll blog about that soon.

Another reason I’m not blogging as often: I made a decision that downtime wasn’t a crime, and I’ve made a commitment to myself that it’s okay to do — nothing. Sit on the couch and NOT try to write a blog post. Or watch a hockey game and NOT try to keyword photos at the same time. I’m turning off e-mail. I’m not being anal that I have to respond to things in real-time.

I think many of us in Silicon Valley have bought into the “always on, always going, always working” mentality. You know what? it’s over-rated. Downtime matters, too. Taking breaks matters. Enjoying going out and not worrying about doing three other things… Maybe I’m doing fewer things, but as far as I can tell, the things I’m doing are being done better. I’m re-learning the fine art of focusing on something until it’s done and done well, rather than worrying so much about how quickly I can get those four things done.

My suggestion: you should try it. It rocks.

At the start of the year I did what I normally do, which is try to map out my broad plans for the next year, and think through longer term goals so I can put my energies in the proper places to move closer to them. A funny thing happened. My five year goal wasn’t “Be a full-time professional photographer” or “have three novels on the market” or even “Be lead community manager for flickr”…

it was “sitting on a beach watching the sunset”.

It’s that point in your life where you realize your long-term goal is to stop having long-term goals.

That actually changes a lot of things, starting with assumptions. I’ve always had a project or two on the back burner, planning to launch them when I felt it was time to drop out of Silicon Valley and move out on my own. As it turns out, I really like the work I do (and it pays pretty well), and the projects I’ve wanted to do have usually scoped out at requiring a larger time commitment than “after work and on weekends” would cooperate with. I’ve come close to launching a couple of times — but always pulled back. Correctly, I think. Better not launch than crash and burn.

What this means is that I’ve shuttered plans on projects that have long-term trajectories. “Relaunching my fiction writing” is a long-term project. you don’t write a novel, you really need multiple books over time to build an audience and launch a business around the books. Does this mean I won’t write a novel? I dunno. If I do, I’ll serialize it here on the site, package it as an ebook, and if it makes some money, great. But am I going to build a business around that book? No.

Ditto photography; it’s really a business for the long run. It makes more sense to invest in making images, and not in building a business around them. (and that’s a lot more fun, too).

 

This is about understanding where to put time and energy; it’s understanding what NOT to do, because it doesn’t fit your strategies. I currently really like what I do, and I don’t expect to exit Silicon Valley any time soon — I can see myself working another decade, god and creaky knees willing. I can also see myself ending that sooner if the right situations occur.

All of this, by the way, leaves me way more things on the “to do someday” list than I’ll ever get to. And room for new things. Deciding about things you’re not going to do doesn’t close opportunities  it merely allows you to shift those opportunities in new directions…

I hesitate to use the word “retire”, because I always see it as shifting my activity to other things, not stopping. I’d love at some point to find a way to mash together my geek side and my photo side, but I’m also not particularly worried about making it happen.

So much to do. I mean, seriously: my “blog about this” folder in Evernote just broke seventy topics… I have no problem keeping as busy as I want to be. The trick is to not let myself get scheduled into being too busy, and not putting the time into low-priority things that I ought to put on other projects that matter more.

And that’s why it’s sometimes nice to step back and think these things through….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in About Chuq