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

That was Steve, This is Now. And We’re Just Getting Started

Daring Fireball: ‘This Is Our Signature': iOS 7:

This is the first product of the post-Jobs Apple. The result shows that in some ways Apple’s software design has gotten better, because it was Jobs (and Forstall) who had a penchant for exuberant textures and gimmickry. Jobs’s taste in hardware was nearly perfect, but his taste in software had a weakness for the saccharine. Wood grain, linen, Rich Corinthian leather, etc. It was all just sugar for the eyes. This is a weakness Jony Ive’s software taste clearly does not suffer.

A lot of questions were answered with the keynote today, although obviously, not all of them. One thing we need to remember, there is much to be seen in the details, and many of the details won’t be known until fall when all of this ships and people start using it (for real, en masse). 

But many of the things answered today were answered quite positively. 

One thing I hope we can all come to terms with now is that while Steve was an exceptionally intelligent person and a genius at understanding what a thing needed to be to succeed, he was not perfect. A complex man, he had his strengths, but also his weaknesses and his foibles and blind spots. 

It should also be painfully obvious to everyone who’s job title does not include the word “analyst” that Steve Jobs is not the only person at Apple with a clue and was not the only person who could actually design something people wanted. In fact, it should now be pretty obvious that one of Steve’s main strengths was not product design — but it was his ability to define what he wanted, find the right people with the right skills to create those things, to get the hell out of their way, and to critique the details until what they created was aligned with what he believed would be successful. 

It should also be obvious that both Tim Cook and Jony Ives have that same skill, but see the world somewhat differently than Steve did. Not better, not worse, but differently. Apple has put the stake in the ground showing they will continue to BE Apple and continue to innovate as Apple, but that those innovations are clearly going to be different than they would have been under Steve. Not better, not worse, but different. And if today’s keynote is any indication, wildly successful.

It should also be noted now that some of the executive and management changes that happened after Steve died were not a ‘brain drain” or not signs of the death of Apple, but because whenever the head person changes, the management chain tends to, also, because they have to be aligned with the strategy and management styles of the boss. And that includes someone like Scott Forstall, who’s management style was clearly more closely aligned to Jobs than it is with Cook. 

I found it fascinating, and I haven’t seen anyone else comment on this, that Apple made a decision to switch away from cat names and align OS X “for the next decade” of using names of significant locations within California — and yet didn’t bump the version number from 10 to 11. it’s OS X 10.9 Mavericks, not OS X 11.0. 

I am not entirely sure what the significance of the naming/version decision is, but if you look at it, there were significant reasons why most of us probably would have bumped the major version number for this release. And yet Apple didn’t, and Apple doesn’t do these things without significant thought and a damn good reason. So there’s a message in here, somewhere, that they are telling us but which they haven’t illuminated.

The obvious possibility is that the REAL technological upgrades to the OS X line of software are still down the road, and what you see today in Mavericks is just an appetizer. 

I also found it curious that their first naming choice for this was Mavericks, and not, say, Yosemite or some other higher profile landmark. That also says to me that bigger and more significant things are down the road and that some of the more “obvious” names are being reserved for them. 

But really, the big message from today’s keynote is a simple one, but a huge one. And that is this message: “That was Steve, this is now. And we’re just getting started”. 

Posted in Computers and Technology

2013 Playoffs, stanley cup finals edition

So here we are, June 9. It’s down to two teams. Depending on how the finals go, it may be almost July before before the cup is awarded.

this bothers me. I’m frankly ready for something other than hockey, as good as the playoffs are. And it’s a reminder that this lockout-whacked season is, well, whacked. Not a reminder I particularly wanted. But then, I didn’t want June hockey, either. ohwell.

That said, there’s been some great hockey, some really good teams have been sent golfing (the good news: it’s late enough in the year that snow won’t ruin your golf date), and we’re down to Chicago and Boston.

Okay, seriously. Did anyone who hasn’t seen a game live in Boston Gardens pick the Bruins to beat the Penguins? Did anyone in the universe pick them to sweep? No, me, neither. Upsets this drastic are typically first round things, not conference finals. And it’s not like Pittsburgh played badly. It’s not like their goaltending faltered. Instead, it’s that Boston had a really good idea how to play against the Pens — and executed their gameplan very well. My respect for Tukka Rask has gone way up, too. it’s not that I didn’t think he was a solid goaltender, but he’s exceeded expectations.

And in the West? I thought Quick and the Kings would beat the Hawks — and Crawford and the Hawks refused to let it happen. That was a great series, two very good teams playing well, and playing hard. There’s very little I can say bad about the Kings, other than the Hawks were simply a bit better.

But that means I was oh-fer for the conference finals. 0-2, which makes me 8-6 for the playoffs, which means no matter what, I’m over .500 for the playoffs this year, but I’d rather be 9-6 than 8-5.

The finals are hard to judge, though. I like the Hawks. I like the way the Bruins are playing now. I like Crawford, but Rask is impressive. I can make an argument for both teams. I can make arguments against both. And I’m unsure which way to go. I want to see Chicago win, but my gut keeps saying watch out for Boston.

So I think I’m going to pick the Bruins, in six games.

I’ll be happy either way, really. Especially because it means that hockey will be over. for a few weeks, and then it’ll be time for training camp. Don’t expect either of these teams to be able to repeat in 2014 — this schedule makes it impossible.

Posted in Sports - Hockey

Calaveras Bald Eagle Nest 2013

I finally made it out to look at the eagle’s nest for the first time in weeks. Since it’s June, I expected the nest to be empty, and it was. While as far as I know there’s no absolute confirmation the chicks successfully fledged, the nest looks to be undamaged and empty so I think it’s likely this pair once again fledged out one or two chicks. (my intention was, as usual, to watch the nest more closely than I did. Reality amuses itself by inserting complications…)

This year the eagle’s moved the nest, so it wasn’t in the very visible and well-protected power tower location. I was able to spend some time earlier this year with the biologist who’s doing environmental monitoring of the Calaveras Dam project, and management of the species of concern in the work area and the watershed of the reservoir is a large part of his worry-list — with the bald and golden eagles being very high on that list. Any negative impact to those species could create a problem for the dam project, so they were quite sensitive to potential disruptions of the birds while they were nesting.

They invited me out to the project and we had some time to talk about the area, the eagles and how they were managing the impact of the dam project on the local environment, and they took me out and showed me the location of the nest. Because the nest is (a) on private land in a closed area, (b) and somewhat obscured from view, they were very worried about disclosing the location of the nest because it might encourage birders or others to trespass for better views. On top of that, the biologist twice tried to get a better look at the nest himself and both times flushed the adults off of it at 80 yards or further, so he felt that this pair was at high risk of being displaced off the nest if people started wandering out onto the watershed land to get a better look.

Looking at the location and situation, I agreed with him and agreed not to disclose the location until the nesting was done and the nest was empty. Now that this has happened, I’m writing this up as a bit of an info dump on this eagle pair for those interested and so I have this info for future reference.

As it turns out, the eagles moved the nest to a tree nearby the old nest; if you knew exactly where to look, you could see it from the public road. I do know a few of the local birders found it independently. I showed a few birders the location on a one-on-one basis. I had intended to set up a weekend where members of the local birding list could come and get shown the location, but I never had the time to set that up (sorry!).

The general location of the nest is 37°27’48” N 121°49’58” W. The original nest we’ve monitored is in a power tower visible from the road. Two years ago this pair moved the nest to a tree near the tower, but the limb that nest was on failed in a winter storm, and last year they moved back to the tower. This year, they moved the nest again back to the tree they nested in two years ago, on a branch about 10′ higher than the previous nest. The nest is about 40′ above ground level.

I’ve been watching this nest since 2008 (images on flickr here). I believe the first year they nested at this location was 2007. their first successful fledge was 2009 with a single chick. They raised two chicks in 2010, 2012, and 2013, and I believe a single chick in 2011, but I was out of the loop that year.

These maps give a general view of the location. As you drive along Calaveras you’ll pass the old nest on the tower, easily visible. There’s a pasture gate at that location, and just beyond it (driving north) is a pull-out under the trees where you can park. Parking is limited, three cars, roughly, and on a couple of occasions I’ve found it occupied by cows that have let themselves out of the pastures and taken advantage of the shade…



Here I’ve set up the scope about 15′ S of the pasture gate on the side of the road.


Across the pasture is a single large oak tree. When you’re there, you can’t miss it.


Look through that tree, just to the right of the trunk and under the canopy. If you’re in the right place, it’ll frame the view to the nest.


There is some worry that this nest is at risk at going down in a winter storm; it’s heavy, and it’s stressing the limb. I was out there one day in some significant breeze and it bounced around like crazy. We’ll see if it survives the winter and if they re-use it next year.

If you look at the location of the nest, you can see why the dam officials are worried about trespassers. It seems like an easy hike to hop over the pasture gate and wander down for a better view. In fact, just past that first tree there’s a significant bluff and a drop-off, and the nest tree is well down the slope and the nest itself about 40′ off the ground.

Given how skittish the eagles were when the biologist approached, there’s no way someone could get a better view before pushing them off the nest. Beyond the general worries about trespassing on private land and the landowners worrying about legal liability issues if someone got injured while trespassing, none of us wanted the eagles to be disturbed. The old tower nest didn’t have much risk of that, but this new one does.

Beyond the general wish to let the birds nest and fledge their chicks without harassment, the dam project had another worry; if the birds were harassed enough that they abandon this nest and relocate, if they relocated into the work area on the dam project, it could require significant mitigation or a complete stop to the dam work while they’re nesting. That could be a very expensive problem — and there is an older bald eagle nest within the work area that shows that bald eagles have in fact nested at locations that would have required a complete stop to the dam work in recent times. It’s unclear whether that nest was built by this pair before moving to the tower, or whether we’ve had multiple pairs of bald eagles nesting on Calaveras Reservoir at the same time, but there’s a history of nesting at the North end of the lake and the dam project managers wanted nothing to occur that might encourage the eagles to move back there. I can’t blame them.

That’s why we tried to be discrete about the nest location. Now that they’re done for the year and the nest is empty, it’s safe to talk about it in more detail.

When I last talked to the biologist, he’d identified this bald eagle’s nest and three golden eagle nests active in the area close to the reservoir, none in areas requiring work mitigation, fortunately. He also had identified the one unused bald eagle nest (which they got permission to teepee) and a number of unused golden eagle nests, plus many red-tailed hawk nests.

In my limited snooping up there this year, I located two red-tail nests in the area as well as strong evidence of an American Kestrel nest (the joyous sound of chicks screaming for food and a male kestrel flying out from that location). This region is a really strong area in the county for raptors of many types — second only to the Coyote Valley area — and one that isn’t as well travelled, but one that we need to make sure stays protected.

Posted in Birdwatching