State of the Chuq, revising the five year plan edition

Even before recent events, I’d been evaluating my online presence and my time commitments and trying to decide if my time and money expenditures were in line with my priorities (how to figure this out might make an interesting blog post or two if there’s interest). Then I had my recent little oopsie, and it became clear some things needed to be re-arranged.

Life at Cisco (six months in, they haven’t discovered me as a fraud and fired my butt) continues to be awesome, but keeping me extremely busy. That’s not going to change. I am having a ball and they keep throwing crazy stuff at me to do, but I’m finding it a challenge to make sure I stay focussed on that work and try to get everything else I’m doing done well. That alone says “time to simplify things”

And then, the one message given to me repeatedly in talking to the doctors recently is that it’s time to stop talking about finding time for exercise and start exercising. And so I am, slowly, but it’s started. And so I have to carve out time and energy for that, and I can’t give myself excuses to let it slack (again).

Last I looked, there were only 24 hours in a day. I’ve learned the hard way that cutting sleep time is a bad idea. While I’m not a morning person (repeat after me: I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON. HAND OVER THAT COFFEE NOW AND NOBODY GETS HURT) much of my team is east of me, including members I work with a lot in England and Spain — so I’m shifting my work schedule earlier to better accommodate them without forcing them into working into their evenings quite as often. (and hey — had my first day since Apple with meetings with both Europe and Australia in the same day, old times, baby…). One nice thing about cisco is work hours are pretty flexible, so I’m probably heading back to what I did at Apple, which was schedule heavily into the morning, try to use some of the afternoon to get out and get things done or get some birding/photography/walking done, and then put in some time later in the evening to finish off the work day, and perhaps schedule in some meetings with the folks in far away timezones late in my evening. Unlike Apple, I won’t do this by pushing my workweek out to 65 hours a week, but instead keep things saner.

I’ve spent the last few months doing very little new photography and a lot of work on other things like fixing up the web site, getting the stock photography going, pushing out the first portfolios, printing images, and now I’m really feeling the need to start making new work again. Summer is always me least productive season, so this isn’t too unusual, but it’s time to start shooting again, and the winter refuges are starting to fill up with the birds that will be visiting us until spring. I’m working out plans for where I’m going to visit and when now.

To make sure those things get done and done well, some things I’ve been doing have to be cut back or eliminated. After thinking through priorities and where my interests lie (more photography, more reading, catching up on home/yard projects, and getting my regular walking routine more routine) I’ve decided to make a number of changes in where I’ve been spending my time. I just cancelled my subscription to Elder Scrolls, which I’ve enjoyed a lot more than I expected and which has been a fun distraction when I’ve been too tired and stressed to work, but I’m ready for a break.

I’ve also just announced my retirement as lead of the Bird Photography community on Google+ as part of a significant social media diet. I decided I wanted to reduce the amount of time I spend on the social networks significantly and to focus more on creating a more interactive and personal interaction with the time I do spend there, rather than a passive, constant scramble to try to keep up with all the traffic flowing by. This deserves a separate blog post so I’ll talk about it in more detail soon.

This should — if I follow through as planned — actually make writing for the blog more consistent, and it doesn’t mean using Twitter or G+ less, it means using the time more constructively with a focus on people I’m interacting with and less on trying to keep up with the firehose. I think that’s a healthier use of social media for me, and we’ll see how that goes.

As to photography, I have a trip to the Eastern Sierra coming up soon that I’m really looking forward to. Laurie and I will be starting up our visits to the refuges around the first week of November — I expect to make the day trip to the Lodi area and Staten Island, Isengard Crane Refuge and Cosumnes three times this winter, and I hope to get to Merced NWR and/or San Luis in the Los Banos area at least three or four times. I’m also planning a trip to Northern Klamath NWR and Tule Lake in December, to Morro Bay and Piedras Blancas in January for the Elephant Seals and hopefully, find some time to get out to Pixley and Kern NWR sometime this winter. I’m also trying to ramp up my birding activity again in the area, since I haven’t done much since Spring Migration ended.

And then, after lunch…

So I don’t exactly plan on lots more leisure time with these changes, but more productive time for what I’m trying to accomplish. Now, all I have to do is do it…

Posted in About Chuq

Not Dead Yet #3 — A Week Later

So, it’s been another week and I’m not dead yet. About ten days from the event, and probably time for an update.

For the first couple of days everything moved hyper-fast, almost in a blur. And then it slowed way, way down. I got cleared to go back to work on Friday and planned to start up again Monday, and then didn’t — I realized I needed to get away a bit and start getting my head around this, so I grabbed my camera gear (remember that stuff?) and headed down to Moss Landing, where I shot for a few hours. Nothing epic but that doesn’t matter.

Moss Landing Harbor/Jetty Road

It gave me a chance to get away from phones and email and noise and distraction and just spend some good quality time with myself and my thoughts. And, it should be noted, I’d realized the worst thing I could do for myself was come out of that event and just jump right back into work as if nothing had happened. Most of the weekend was spent resting, and then Monday I took half a day and made it for me. Then I came home and started digging through the email…

First full day back was Tuesday, and for the last couple of hours I was dog tired. Wednesday I paid for it and I was feeling worn out the entire day. By thursday, I was back in the swing and feeling normal, and things seem pretty much back to normal now (and I’m caught up on email and projects are back on track, mostly).

So what happened?

Some of it is still being looked at. I’ll ask for a bit of understanding about being vague, especially since there’s no formal diagnosis, but I think a lot of it’s understood now, but the previous sunday I’d had a strong and unusual amount of heartburn, and I think that indicates when the thing that changed changed. That seems to be the source of some of the chest pressure and probably the underlying cause of the raised pulse. Then, dehydration, and in retrospect, I clearly was, although how that happened I don’t know. I shouldn’t have been and I don’t see an obvious cause for it. (shrug). Dehydration can also raise the pulse, and as far as I can see, the two things collided and amplified each other, leaving me with a really high pulse.

The good news is that each thing is manageable and without major lifestyle emergency changes. The better news is that the heart checked out healthy and wasn’t involved in any way.

So the bottom line is that as long as I’m not an idiot, I shouldn’t have a recurrence and I understand the triggers that might lead to it. Beyond that, knowing that the heart is healthy removes one of those “back of the head” disincentives to exercise.

Two Minute Warning

I’m trying to treat this as my two minute warning. Overall, I got lucky. There were many things this could have been that it wasn’t — but that it wasn’t those things doesn’t mean I’m not at risk. The marching orders from talking to the doctor are simple: get moving and lose weight. Of course, that’s always been part of the marching orders but now I have motivation — motivators and de-motivators about exercise have been a big part of my thinking recently for obvious reasons. That’s something for a later posting, but soon.

In reality, I haven’t done too badly on the weight, sort of. I’m down 20 pounds from my high a year ago, at my lowest weight since 2011, and within 10 pounds of my weight in 2007 when my sleep apnea was diagnosed, which is a convenient marker for when I started getting serious about fixing my lifestyle. On the flip side, I have to lose another 120 pounds to get down to what I weighed on my 30th birthday.

The good news is that it’s clear if I can ramp up the exercise, the weight should come off. the challenge is the body is so de-conditioned and fragile that doing that is going to be a challenge — but I’m so out of shape that even small things are going to help. 395 was my first goal weight, as the weight I was when the diabetes kicked in. That’s finally met (there were times when I wondered if I’d ever get there), so the next one is the next 20, because that’s what I weighed when I left Apple, which was when what I was doing was about the worst possible thing I could be doing to myself.

It’s also clear that if I get the exercise off, the weight will come off; currently I’m eating well below what typical weight maintenance for my size should be — by about 1,000 calories a day. That’s because my metabolism is suppressed, because I’m in such poor shape. Fix the exercise, the rest should start falling in place.

Ah, but words are so easy…

One final note

Have you ever stopped and thought about what 20 pounds means? If you talk to your doctor, they’ll happily show you their fake fat prop (and if you’re curious, these things are available on Amazon, so you can look them up). But I realized there was a different way to show it in a way that I think makes it more relevant both to myself and to others.

four-bottles

A liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds. A two liter bottle of fluid weighs 4.4 pounds. Gain 20 pounds? you’ve just strapped on four two-liter bottles of soda onto your body.

A liter of body fat weighs about 2 pounds. it’s less dense than water. So 20 pounds of body fat is five two liter bottles worth — in weight AND volume. So every time you put on ten pounds, you’ve taken what you see inside almost three of those bottles and found nooks and crannies inside your body to stuff all that, um, stuff. Wanna know what it’s like to be 20 pounds overweight? grab four bottles, stuff them in a day pack, and walk around carrying it all day. (hint: it’s not fun)

This model is simplistic, of course. When you put on that 20 pounds, the body beefs up other systems to be able to carry it to the best of its ability, and you put it on over time so you adapt to the change along the way. But the end result is the same.

Now stop and imagine being a hundred pounds overweight. You don’t want to go there, trust me. you’d probably need a cart to haul that around…

I’ve gotten rid of the first four bottles. I’m going to try to get the next four off twice as fast if I can. Easier said than done, which is the problem.

Think about those bottles when you find yourself thinking “I need to lose some weight, but it’s only ten pounds…” — how many bottles do you want to haul around for the rest of your life?

Posted in About Chuq

Portrait of my house mate, Tatiana

I was testing the Fuji XT1 and the 55-200, and what better subject than what’s in the room? I don’t take pictures of the local universe often enough, something I’m going to try to fix. Here’s one of one of my house-mates, Tatiana, the Umbrella Cockatoo who rules over the front half of the house.

Home

In Tatiana’s world, a thing can be one of three things: food, toy, and danger. Every Sunday, for instance, we have the “close the drapes already” race when the neighbor attacks us with his lawnmower.

Tatiana is about 20 years old now and has been with us since she hatched. The best way to describe her is as a precocious four year old with an air horn and a claw hammer.  That beak can open up a brazil nut if it chooses to… If you’re ever on a phone conference with me, you’ll probably hear her at some point, which is why I spend most meetings on mute when I’m not actively talking….

By the way, I really like the 55-200. I’ve picked up some extension tubes and plan on experimenting with it in some macro work. I feel like the focus is a bit on the slow side, but autofocus is reliable, and it means my mirrorless setup can now handle zoom range from about 25mm to 300mm (in 35mm equivalent with fuji’s 1.5x crop factor).

 

Posted in About Chuq

Three-Dot Lounge for October 5, 2014

Three dot lounge is a mostly-weekly collection of things that deserve more than a retweet. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

I’m fascinated by Ello because it reminds me of when the social web was still new

I’m fascinated by Ello because it reminds me of when the social web was still new

I think the reason we’re looking at finding the next new social service is because the existing ones (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) have matured and their focus is on revenue and “building the business” and not on innovation. That’s a basic reality of any service or technology. Rarely does innovation come from the entrenched leaders.

That said, I’ve gotten my Ello account and I must say it has “app.net” written all over it. Lots of people are signing up for it, and most of them seem to be waiting for everyone else to dig in and make it interesting. Myself included.

My general response to Ello’s design is a combination of curiosity and frustration. It feels like they played the “minimum viable product” game on steroids, and it also looks like the designers got too interested in showing off how talented they are, and not interested enough in making the site usable. I’m having lots of “how do I get from here to there?” problems, and stuff works curiously but not necessarily well. I’m frankly not that impressed nor motivated, but like app.net, I’ll watch and see if they iterate the product into something usable and whether the people around me fill it with content. If they do, I’ll join in and make content for it as well, but for now, I’m on the sidelines and think this one will end up in that long list of fad sites that head off into “oh, is that still around?” status fairly quickly — with app.net, yo, quota and klout.

Moose Death Prompts Crackdown on Wildlife Photographers

Moose Death Prompts Crackdown on Wildlife Photographers

Sad, but not surprising. A group basically circled a moose until it stressed and freaked a bit and injured itself trying to break free. It had to be euthanized for the injury.

Also sad, but not surprising, to hear people start griping about “constitutional right” to do things, even if it leads to the death of the animal they looking at. I’m glad, though, that the rangers are cracking down and going undercover to do it; it’s unfortunately needed, and more parks and reserves need to consider that tactic to catch the idiots.

My only disagreement with the piece is that the people who caused this aren’t wildlife photographers, they are tourists with cameras. The photographers who have half a clue wouldn’t do this; the few outliers who are idiots and would don’t deserve the term photographer.

And this is why we can’t have nice things. That, and the idiots who keep crashing their quadcopters into things.

Why This Bot’s Crappy Photos Got Way More Likes, Favorites and Comments than Your Good Ones

Why This Bot’s Crappy Photos Got Way More Likes, Favorites and Comments than Your Good Ones

The short answer is that if you’re putting energy into trying to get likes (or plusses, or favorites) you’re doing it wrong, and they’re basically worthless and those systems are easily manipulated. This should not be a surprise, either.

Introducing Groups.io

Introducing Groups.io

A new mailing list system by a friend of mine, because we really need something to replace Yahoo Groups and Google Groups — email is far from dead, but innovation in email has been massively missing. Mark knows his stuff, his last email system was bought by Yahoo and is now known as Yahoo Groups. We’ve both felt for a while there was a lot of opportunity in a new!improved! system, but Mark actually went out and built it. My only involvement here was occasionally saying things like “doing great, Mark, keep at it!” — but it’s long overdue.

The battle in California to save waterfowl from ending up as dead ducks

The battle in California to save waterfowl from ending up as dead ducks

For the second year in a row we’re seeing major problems with avian botulism in the refuges in the state. Tule Lake is again badly hit. The problem? A combination of the ongoing drought here in the state, and complex, broken water usage rules and regulations leading to thousands of dead birds and no easy solutions.

The Plan to Demolish SF’s Old Bay Bridge Could Be Derailed By Birds

The Plan to Demolish SF’s Old Bay Bridge Could Be Derailed By Birds

Turns out the cormorants really like nesting on the old bridge, and attempts to have them move to the new one — including bird condos — have failed so far. And because they’re protected, if they don’t want to leave, you can’t force them.

Apple, employees raise $50 million for charity, program to expand globally

Apple, employees raise $50 million for charity, program to expand globally

One of my criticisms of Apple when I left was it’s lack of philanthropy and giving back to the community and people that helped make it successful. Steve’s view was this was a personal thing and not something he wanted the company involved in.

It’s very nice to see Tim Cook change this, and Apple employees dig in and make it happen. Well done, all of you. I’m proud to see this.

Should instructors take pictures during workshops?

Should instructors take pictures during workshops?

I think Gary nails this. I don’t expect workshop leads to not take photos, I expect workshop leads to not neglect the people paying to go on the workshop. to the degree you can do both, fine, but the workshop members come first.

It also depends on whether the trip is oriented around instruction or the workshop leads are acting primarily as location guides. For our upcoming workshop, I’m expecting mostly the latter, but you can bet I’ll be asking questions and taking advantage of having time with Michael Frye in person when I can.

Palen solar project dropped by developers

Palen solar project dropped by developers

And a badly designed solar project bites the dust. The reality is that this, like the Panoche Valley project, were being built not because they’re great ideas but because government grants and subsidies made investing in them worth doing (to a point). The Palen project, though, was using the solar tower method, which has proven to be more expensive than photovoltaic panels, less reliable to operate, and has rather nasty ecological side effects. This plant’s plan is being dropped not just because of opposition but because it’s a bad design and it’s unlikely it’ll be used in any significant way in the future — the future here is in panel farms, not these tower designs.

Panel farms aren’t benign, either, but can be designed to mitigate the problems they cause. What’s even better than that is urban infill — there’s a lot of roof space in most urban environments that can be fitted with solar panels that don’t require damaging hundreds of acres of land to build a big panel farm. The problem with urban infill solar is that utilities want to deal with one big interconnect and not many small interconnects, so they fight that idea whenever it’s raised.

QuickLinks

Posted in Three Dot Lounge

Photos now available through Tandem Stills + Motion Stock Agency

One of the things that’s been going on mostly in the background the last few weeks is I have taken the plunge and I’m now licensing some of my images through a stock agency. The agency I’m working with is Tandem Stills + Motion Stock Agency, which is a smaller house that specializes in outdoor-oriented imagery.

Stock photography as a source of income isn’t what it used to be — it’s been heavily eaten by both microstock agencies and crowdsourced/free imagery out there, but it’s far from dead. It’s a way to potentially generate some income in a mostly-passive way, and since my revenue goal right now is “maybe it’ll help pay for the next trip” it seems like the right move at this time. By handing images off to an agency I don’t have to put time and energy into the business side myself and let them handle sales and marketing so I can continue to focus on the images; I do that realizing that handing that off to others means I’m giving up a cut of the income and potentially giving up incoming using a passive sales model that might appear if I marketed directly and more aggressively.

I still believe that time is my most limited and precious resource, though, and that the upside at doing those is not worth the hours required to do them. Besides, this is a starting point and I can choose to expand and apply more resources and time to this later if I choose to.

Why did I do this now? One of my goals for 2014 has been to focus more on publishing and distribution of my images; that I was acting too ‘safe’ and putting too much energy into creation and processing — basically hiding in plain sight by not promoting my work or attempting to grow my audience or reach. That’s one reason I’ve started publishing the portfolios, as that is a way to force me to start thinking about image selection and the logistics and process of publishing them.

I have long had an interest in moving into stock sales, but every time I evaluated an agency I either didn’t like the terms, or I didn’t feel my images fit into their inventory well (or both). It felt to me that any agency I went in with wouldn’t serve my images well. Then a few weeks ago Creative Live did a class by Ian Shive on photographing the National Parks. Since I’ve been nudging CL on and off for the last year or so over the lack of nature photography in their schedule (there is more to life than weddings and head shots!) I made sure to sit in on the class and bought it so I could watch the whole thing in my off hours. By the way, the class was very well done and definitely worth your time.

Shive, who I hadn’t heard of prior to this, is also one of the founders of Tandem Stock, and as he described the agency, it seemed he had founded it for many of the reasons I’d never felt any of the other agencies fit me well. By the time the class ended, I’d spent some time evaluating their terms (IMHO, quite reasonable) and studying their inventory, I decided it was an agency worth investing some time into. I shoot heavily in a couple of niches — my wildlife refuge work and my bird photography — and with most agencies it always felt like those niches would get lost in the masses, but Tandem Stock it felt like my work slotted in well, and honestly, I felt my images were better than some that were in inventory. They actually had refuge imagery in stock, but mostly from Bosque, so it seemed to me my stuff complemented their inventory rather than duplicated it, but also fit in well with the kind of imagery they were specializing in. What I didn’t know was whether they’d agree…

So I filled out my contributors agreement and prepped up a first batch of images. For those who haven’t worked with an agency, you submit images to them, but they choose whether or not to accept them — you can be rejected if the images don’t hold up to a technical review, don’t fit in with the agency’s inventory, or if the agency feels they already have enough images of that subject (“sorry, we don’t need more yellow daisy macro shots”). Shipped off the first batch of images, and waited to see if any got approved.

As it happened, about 75% were accepted, much higher percentage than I was expecting, and as I’ve been submitting other images, that percentage is holding true. None of them have sold yet — Shive in his discussions at CL noted that stock is a lot like dollar-cost averaging investing, that it’s a long-term play — but the fact that the images were accepted was a nice pat on the back in general. I’m seeing the trends on what isn’t being accepted (birds in action generally yes, bird senior portraits not so much) and that’ll help me shape future submissions.

So I’m a stock photographer, for whatever that means. Yay me.

Doing this has meant a bunch of small changes and mini-projects behind the curtains. I’ve redone my licensing and about-chuq pages to note all of this. I’ve had to rethink my free licensing of images to non-profits, because images available through the agency are exclusive, so my policy has changed, and those images are no longer available at no cost, and that had to be noted. All of the images on flickr and my smugmug portfolio had to be tagged with a note about their availability for licensing, and I had to do some organizing within Lightroom to keep track of what images have been submitted or are licensed through them, which ones I’m considering — necessary bookkeeping to make sure I don’t resubmit images, forget an image that I want to submit, or mess up the licensing when someone should be referred to the agency. Lots of little details to keep this moving smoothly.

My current plan (subject to change) is to build an inventory of 150-200 images there and then see what happens. I may adjust that as I get a better feel what works and doesn’t. Shive had some really good advice on how to leverage trips to maximize your stock inventory (it’s in his other Creative Live class on the business of nature photography — also recommended) and much of that syncs up with the kind of photography I need to do this winter to push my refuge project forward, so as I plan out my goals for my winter trips, I’ll be working on those goals as well. A lot of it boils down to thinking like a travel photographer as well as a nature photographer, which makes sense, but it’s something I don’t do well, so I need to work at it.

If you click through to the Tandem Stock site on the links above it’ll show you the images I have available through them. I’m also displaying that group of images over on my Smugmug portfolio. And I’ve removed the word “amateur” from my description of myself, although that’s more a symbolic gesture than an indication of income levels. I think it’s time to change that, anyway.

One of the interesting side effects of this is that I’ve had to start tracking which images of mine have been manipulated — significant changes to the images such as cloning items out of it. I’m also now tracking whether an image has gone through my normal workflow (Lightroom only) or through an extended workflow that includes plug-ins and/or Photoshop. I much prefer avoiding digital manipulation as much as I can so I rarely clone or do extreme modifications to an image. As it turns out, 60% of the images accepted by them were good to go out of Lightroom without extended processing, while 40% took more tweaking. Only two images accepted so far have been flagged as manipulated, because I decided to clone a particularly noxious branch out of it.

White-faced Ibis

Every image I choose to submit is getting reprocessed, or at least re-evaluated. In many cases I’m finding I’m recropping with a less aggressive crop and putting more space into the image. I’m finding I like the subjects less crowded than when I was a less experienced photographer, but this also gives space so that a buyer can tweak the crop if they want and so there’s space for text across parts of the image without running over the subject.

At one point I also fell in love with the 8×10 format and cropped everything to that. I’m now undoing that as I find them, and I’m using one of two crops — the original camera format or a square format, which I’m finding I really like for portrait-type work, and is sometimes useful out in the field to remove clutter as an alternative to cloning. I’m also standardizing on a very minor (-10 in Lightroom) vignette when I choose to use one because I’m more and more convinced that if you can see the vignette, it’s too strong. (on the other hand, when I process specifically for print, I might boost it more; one reason my print versions are managed separately from the masters).

Some images I’m finding really bloom if I put them under the reprocessing microscope, For instance I think this one is massively better than my last processing attempt — which I thought was pretty good.

Baby Lowland Gorilla

That image, by the way, is flagged as manipulated because the baby had some gunk in his fur that I removed — tiny things, but the kind of thing you need to worry about because potential buyers worry about it. For now I’m being careful to flag images that are HDR, that are stitched panoramas, and for manipulation, I’m tracking cloning and significant “gunk” removal like in the gorilla as well as significant color manipulation, like in this image:

Sea Otter at Dawn

The only “manipulation” I did of this image was a major shift of color balance to warm it, but it’s far enough away from an unprocessed raw that it feels manipulated to me.

We’ll see where this goes from here. It’s a big step for me, but just a step.

It does bring up a question we should all ask ourselves — are we just coasting along doing the same thing we’ve been doing for a while because it’s comfortable and safe? Or are we pushing ourselves forward into new territory. It’s easy to get into a habit of showing off images to the same people who always see them and like them; this is one of the traps of places like flickr or Google+ or 500px, that you can create a personal echo chamber of affirmation that is safe and comfortable and gives you good responses on your images. For a while I did that consciously because I knew I needed to work on my craft.

but at some point you have to get out of your comfort zone and start putting your work in front of strangers who aren’t obliged to say nice things about it, because that’s how you grow your audience, reach new people and markets, and get some honest feedback about what you’re doing. And that’s ultimately how you grow as a photographer.

One goal for me in 2014 was to find ways to push myself out of those comfortable spots and see what the cold outside world thought about my work. The results have been, so far, educational and encouraging, and that’s pushing me to push my work in new and better directions as well.

Shouldn’t that be one of your goals for 2015?

Posted in About Chuq, Photography