This year for the holidays I decided to try something different with a couple of my gifts. Every year, I try to make christmas gifts for the family a little personal, and in the last few years, that’s meant something using my photos.

This year, rather than a standard framed print or a calendar, I had prints done via ArtisanHD on Plexiglas. It looked like an interesting, modern alternative to the standard matted print. These images in the 12×18 size (good for 11×14 prints) ran a bit over $50, and to be honest, I was blown away with how they looked.

If you’re looking for something different and memorable, with good quality, something that’s going to leave an impression — this is something you might want to consider. I liked the quality of the final product, I was very happy with the quality of the print, and in fact, I did one for myself, which is going up in my cube at work tomorrow, too. And I expect it’ll get people to come into the office and ask about it.

Definitely recommended.

Posted in Photography Tagged , |

How not to be a doofus with a camera

The one thing that marred the visit to Merced was that I ran into a couple of doofuses. Here’s a quick guide on how not to be a doofus with a camera (or binoculars).

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The “Area Beyond This Sign Closed” sign evidently didn’t apply to this couple, who entered the refuge shortly after I did and headed back into tour area ahead of me. The car is significantly beyond the “do not enter” sign, and they are significantly beyond that. What you don’t see or hear here were the three or four coyotes that were actively making a lot of noise somewhere off to the left of this scene but between me and them. Sorry, but “it’s okay if the ranger doesn’t catch us” doesn’t sit well with me. I guess it’s also okay if the coyotes decide not to catch them, too.

These two seemed to be fairly knowledgable birders and at first glance their gear seemed to be of the “okay, they’re serious about this” quality. Not “take out a mortgage” glass, but “we’ve upgraded once or twice” glass. One would hope that serious birders would know to stick to the rules and not do things that impact the birds. Unfortunately, for some birders, “getting the bird” is most important, even to the detriment of the bird.

In fact, this is a minor transgression. They’re on a maintenance road. It’s just annoying to me when I see someone who’s first act when they arrive at a place like this is to put themselves above the rules. Rules which are there to protect them and to protect the birds they were interested in enough to come and visit. I just don’t have a lot of patience with the “it’s okay if I don’t get caught” mentality. Of course, you never know who might know the rangers and email them a picture of them, their car, and their license plate

Just saying’.

But the big doofus was in the afternoon. I’ve made my fourth trip through the refuge, this one to sit with the geese until the light fails or they leave. The geese are being moderately cooperative, with about 10,000 sitting in a large group with the close edge about 50 yards off the road, just past the back observation area. I’ve found a parking spot where I have good views, good light, good angles, I’m off the road, and I’m in the car shooting, watching and hanging out.

And along comes a photographer, walking up the access road, camera, tripod. Pro-caliber Nikon body, pro-caliber nikon lens. expensive tripod. He walks up, and proceeds to set up and start shooting. Right directly in front of me, directly in my line of sight.

Okay, say freaking WHAT? It’s not like my car’s invisible. I decided to defer having a cow and give him some time to get some shots in. Instead, I grabbed my long lens and started taking flight shots around him, since he only moderately impacted that. When he heard my camera going off, he looked, saw the lens, and asked me if he was in my way. And I noted that yes, at some point he was going to be impacting my shots. So he then said “well, tell me when I am” and turned around and went back to shooting. After about five minutes of that, he graciously decided that was good enough and moved to a new location off my rear fender that was out of my line of sight.

This is wrong on any number of levels. First of all, you don’t just plop yourself down in front of someone and start shooting as if they aren’t there. He compounded this — his actions and the way he said things made it clear to me that until he realized I was also a photographer that this was okay. It was only once he realized I had a camera that he worried about impacting my sight lines. It doesn’t matter if I have a camera or if I’m just there for, say, a gorgeous sunset with the geese, you don’t have the right to decide to just set up camp in front of me.  I was mildly annoyed when he did it. I was majorly annoyed when I realized he thought it was okay until he realized I was another photographer, because that implies that he does this to others as well, because, evidently, his camera gives him right of priority view or something. And that he did it without acknowledging my presence until I hauled out a lens about as big as his.

I didn’t make a deal with it with him directly, because nothing good ever happens when you do, but man, this is annoying, because it’s this kind of behavior that gives all photographers a bad rep. When someone with a lens wades in and just plays this kind of game, it makes us all look bad to non photographers. So, kids, when you have a lens out, remember that your actions and how you act leaves an impression on those around you, and that impression is not just about you (and what a doofus you are), but on photographers in general. If you don’t care what people think about you (and I clearly think this man is a doofus) worry about what people think about all of us other photographers. Because it’s actions like this that get all photographer’s access restricted, when enough doofuses do things that annoy non-photographers enough to start making rules.

But it gets better. Or worse, I guess.

The other thing my friend didn’t realize was that he was scaring off the geese.  He was standing out in the open moving around a lot, shifting his camera around. Every time he did, a few geese closest to him took off and flew off or flew deeper into the pack. I figured it was only a matter of time before he spooked a goose that spooked the flock and caused them all to leave.

Okay, a quick digression. Refuges allow access to restricted parts of the refuge. Many parts are out of bounds so that the birds can go places where they don’t have to deal with the stress of interacting with humans. that’s why humans shouldn’t be going into out of bounds places. At refuges like Merced, access is via a gravel road set up as an auto tour. One of the rules they encourage you to follow is to stay in the car, and use it as a blind. There’s a reason for that: the shape of a human scares the wildlife, and they move away from you, or they leave. If you’re carrying a big camera with a long lens, it looks an awful lot to geese like that other long, pointy thing that got pointed at uncle bob before he fell out of the sky and was never seen again. When you’re that close, the geese are going to notice you and react to you, especially if you’re moving around a lot.

What ultimately happened, though, was that another photographer arrived, parked back up the road a bit, and walked out from behind the screening trees to where the rest of us were (three or four cars, the photographer wandering around. fairly big crowd, actually). He was wearing a red sweatshirt, and got two steps out from behind the screening brush. The flock jumped, and suddenly we had 10-12,000 geese in the air in total chaos. Within a minute, they’d organized and flown off, and we were all sitting there staring at an empty pond.

That is why the rangers tell you to stay in the car, and use it as a blind. Because these folks didn’t, the rest of us lost access to the birds, too. Show over. So much for trying to get a picture of the flock in golden hour light.

If the first photographer had been more aware of how is movements were putting the geese on alert, the second photographer appearing might not have spooked them. Or maybe he would have. Or maybe nothing would have happened (but in the previous times i’ve been in this situation, there’s a fairly decent change they’ll find a reason to get spooked, whether it’s person, noise, or raptor. But one can hope). The point is, I guess, is that if people had been following the recommended rules, the chances we’d have had a longer time watching the birds would have gone up significantly. By being that close to the flock and unaware of what their actions were doing to the birds, they messed it up for all of us.

If you’re going to shoot wildlife, you should strive to understand their behaviors and know how to minimize your impact on them. Failing that, at least know what the rules of the refuge are and follow them, because they’re designed to help you do that. It’s sad and frustrating when I see people who seem oblivious to the stress they’re putting on the animals; this isn’t Disneyland, and these aren’t audio-anamatronic robots.

I’m still wondering what that morning couple’s plan was if those coyotes decided to come out and say hi. They were, after all, only 100-150 yards out from their position. Fortunately, a coyote is generally uninterested in taking on a person, but there were at least three in a group together. That’s not a situation I particularly want to be in, out in the open with a coyote between me and my car where I might be safe. What I did was watch from the “do not pass this point” sign for a couple of minutes, just to make sure there was no sign of the coyotes moving, then I wished them luck on whatever they were doing and moved on. I wonder if they even realized the coyotes were there? (they were sure noisy enough…)

And my friend the doofus? I guess I see that kind of behavior often enough now that it’s merely annoying. If he hadn’t moved, I’d have eventually escalated the situation, but I figured if I gave it time, it’d solve itself without creating a fight, and it did. Once they scared off the flock, there was no reason to stay, so I fired up the car and headed back to the front of the refuge, because if there’s no active flock involved, that’s a better place to photograph the evening fly-in (except when it’s not), where I ran into a nice couple who was there for the first time, and I spent some time trying to help them with what to expect. It was, unfortunately, a fairly weak fly-in, with the cranes mostly missing until very late when they all flew in at once, and the geese — well, they’d already flown off to the evening roost for some reason, so activity was low.

But still, even a lousy sunset on the refuge is better than most things…. And I’ll give this one a C+.

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Posted in Birdwatching, Photography

Blackbird IDs…

One of the birds that has been hanging around Coyote Valley this winter is the tri-colored blackbird, a species that is seen almost exclusively in California, and has been in decline in recent years, so it’s one that birders and Audubon is tracking and working to help conserve.

It’s nice that a flock of a couple hundred decided to stick with the blackbirds in the south county because otherwise, adding them to the year list means a trip into the central valley and a bit of luck. I ran into them where you normally run into blackbirds — around the cows.

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At first approximation, the way you tell the tricolor from the red-winged blackbird in the field is the epaulet. In the adult male, the red-winged shows, well, red here in California (in other regions, it’s a red/yellow combo, but in California, the yellow is mostly hidden when the bird isn’t flying or displaying). The tricolor shows a white stripe where the red is mostly or completely hidden.

As I was going through my photos, however, I ran into these birds. One is white. One is — well, more of a cream color. Which led me down the path of taking much closer looks at the birds in terms of the ID.

If I’ve got the ID’s right (always an open question around my life), the one on the right is a tricolor. It also has the black and much thicker bill, a slimmer body shape. The bird in the middle is the red-winged. I’m thinking this is a younger bird starting to move into adult plumage, which is why the epaulet is a creamy yellowish rather than bright screaming yellow honker yellow and red; I think the red is hidden here, and the yellow in the epaulet is in process of arriving. But if you look you can see a much thinner bill, the feathering in general has a different shine, and the bird looks chunkier to me.

A nice reminder not to over-rely on any single field mark, because female and juvenile birds will mess you up badly if you do…

(the bird on the left? it’s a brown-headed cowbird. The blackbird flock, which was extended all over the pastures when I was there, is a few thousand birds, including these two species, plus Brewer’s, plus a good number of cowbirds, and of course, our dear friends the European Starling. Better birders than I estimated the tricolor numbers at a couple hundred or so…).


Posted in Birdwatching

Onward into 2012….

I’m not a huge fan of resolutions. It’s too easy to decide to start something, and then the first time you miss it or get it wrong or wake up without motivation, the resolution is broken — and that gives you permission to say “I tried, oh well” and give up. You’re setting yourself up to not succeed by making it easy and painless to fail.

The change of the calendar is a convenient time to remind yourself to step back and consider, take stock, and draw lines on the map that leads to tomorrow and align the ship to follow those lines. Even if you aren’t sure you know what the destination is, it never hurts to think about it and make sure your course is bringing you closer.

What I try to do is identify what commitments I have, and what interests me — and then prioritize to see where my time needs to go.

A huge part of this is deciding what NOT to do. I don’t know about your life, but in my life, there are many things I’d love to do — from picking up my clarinet again to restarting my needlepoint — but I don’t, because I’ve found if I start doing too many things, I end up doing none of them well. One of the challenges here is keeping the list short enough that the ones that make the list thrive, without making the list so short you end up regretting leaving something off it.

Once I chose those priorities for the next {choose period of time}, it’s about defining tasks and goals to drive them forward. Sometimes this process takes no time at all, because it’s obvious. Sometimes it takes days, or weeks, or months. And sometimes, you just leave it as “to be determined” because you won’t know until you get there…

So my roadmap for the next year? Here’s the 30,000 foot view:

  1. My family — because nothing is more important. We lost Archie this year, which is a painful reminder that it’s never safe to assume for tomorrow, and that makes it even more of a priority to myself that I not take this part of my life for granted.
  2. Myself — one of the realizations I had over the last year is that I was constantly deferring things that mattered to me because others wanted me to do things that mattered to them, and that I had hit that point where I was starting to resent how much of my time was being used by others. The answer (once I realized this) was simple: to make sure I prioritized myself into my list and make sure I didn’t commit myself to the point I had no time for my own needs. I’ve been trying to do that more in the last year, and surprisingly, the universe didn’t implode. So now, I plan on making sure I reserve time for my own interests and needs as a formal part of my planning and not just deal with it in terms of “whenever everything else is done”, because it turns out, “everything else” never is done…
  3. My Job — many people I talk to about this forget to add this item to the list (“it goes without saying!”), but in reality, to find the right balance in life, you have to balance everything in it. Your job is going to take a lot of your time, your energy and your brain. It can add stress or create enjoyment (or both!) — it’s going to affect everything else in your life. And it pays your rent and your bills, and so it deserves to be consciously prioritized into your life (see note 1). My job is important to me. Beyond being my primary income, it’s always an important part of my identity and self-worth. I won’t thrive if i don’t give it proper respect and plan to give it the time and energy it needs to be successful. And if you don’t understand that and plan for it, you’ll tend to under-estimate your commitments to it, and end up overcommitting on other things and have to figure out how to squeeze it all in… (see note 2).
  4. My website — I’ve consciously chosen not to push my online web “stuff” too hard, leaving it more as “the places i hang out” rather than try to turn it into some kind of “personal brand” portal thingie. It’s allowed me to just keep it casual and informal and, like the Apple TV, enjoy it being in “hobby mode”. But as I look forward into things I want to try to accomplish over the next couple of years (see points 5, 6, and 7) it’s clear that has to change, and so now is the time to start shifting gears and work and making my blog and site and the other pieces of online life that touch each other ready so that when these other initiatives start happening the site is ready to support them properly. So I’ve started a project to put in place a better online infrastructure and presence to start creating what I’ll want for these other initiatives.
  5. My photography — as a practical reminder that all your planning means nothing in the face of reality, I thought I knew what I was going to do with my photography in 2011; I came home from the Yosemite trip completely frustrated and unsure what direction to head. I think I’ve figured it out and I’m ready to push myself forward again (but the details will need to come some other time…)
  6. My writing — 2011 was a year where I went from “no, I’m retired” as far as any non-blog writing to “hmm. I want to write”. As it turned out, I did very little writing, but a lot of thinking and a lot of research, especially into the emerging ebook revolution and the disruption it’s causing traditional book and fiction publishing. This also caused me to realize that Palm/HP’s “employees can’t publish apps” policies were fundamentally incompatible with (see note 4) and when it became clear the efforts to fix this were going to get stonewalled again, made me start thinking about choices about what I wanted and what was standing in the way of that. Moving into 2012, I’m still frankly in thinking and research mode, and I don’t know where, if anywhere, this is going. But my novel keeps scratching at the garage door and saying “hey, remember me? let’s talk”.
  7. My app development — I’m not the first person who worked in Developer Relations to wake up one day and say “I have this neat idea for an app”, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. In fact, right now I have three, none of which are related to photography, photo books or fiction. No idea where this is going, or if it will, but the reality is it was 100% incompatible with working at HP and that wasn’t going to change, so I left it in the “maybe someday” place. Now that those conflicts are gone from my list, it’s time to start thinking about what “maybe someday” means. right now, all I know is that the first platform will be IOS (sorry, webOS fans; when HP has hardware to sell again, I’ll think about it), but I don’t know how viable the ideas are or whether I really want to invest the time to head down this direction. Or if I’ll have the time to invest. But it’s been increasingly — interesting — to me, so I’m committing time to figure it all out and see what happens.

And those are the things that made the cut. I expect it’ll keep my busy. And there’s only one given — when I look back at this list in a year, things are going to have changed along the way. But at least I know where I am and what direction to go in to get to where I want to be, and that’s a start….


Note 1: I’ve done a lot of research into this over the years, primarily because there have been times in my life when I realized it was a mess and I had to get my act together. I’ve also talked to lots of folks I know about this to learn from them, or to help them understand things I do they might want to try for themselves. One common thing we do that I believe is a mistake is not include “the given things” into the priority list “because they are givens”.

When you do that, however, it’s really easy to take things for granted, or not put the right priority on things, or to write up a priority list that is what you “should” do vs. what you really end up planning to do. For instance, if your family is first, but you’re putting in 60 hour weeks at work and never home for dinner, aren’t you really lying to yourself (and your family?) — these things do nothing for you if you lie to yourself. It is better to be honest to yourself about this in private than be politically correct about it and share. And if you aren’t honest to yourself, you’re going to end up with problems.

Note 2: This is, ultimately, teaching yourself that there are only 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year, and physics wins; given that, you have to figure out how to allocate your time across your priorities to fit it all in and still get what you want to accomplish done. (see note 3).

Note 3: And when you come back to this list in a few weeks or a few months, if you find that where you’re putting your time isn’t aligned to what you said your priorities are, you either need to rearrange where you put your time, or fix your listing of priorities. Especially early on, we tend to lie to ourselves about our priorities, doing the “should be” list instead of the “will be” list. And a big part of going through these exercises for me is to make sure where my time goes is in sync with what’s important to me — and making sure I understand what’s important to me, so I don’t waste time on low priority things and later regret not doing things that are important to me. (because if you finish a higher priority thing, then you can add something else to the list and start doing it. If you don’t get to a higher priority thing because you’re off playing with other toys — you’ll end up regretting it down the road. assuming you aren’t lying about priorities, of course. (see note 2).

Note 4: I know I’m going to have to try to explain this; at some point, I will try. Suffice it to say for now that the policy was that if you were employed by them, you couldn’t independently publish apps on any platform (webOS or not), and especially not on webOS. And while some of this was ambiguous (was a Kindle ebook covered? who knows? could I get a straight answer? Hell no) I didn’t want to risk HP making claims on my personal IP (like my photos) because I published them as a photo book that happened to go through an app store. So I just decided to put any work on these things on hold until it was, ahem, no longer a problem.



Posted in About Chuq

Changing of the Guard (and letting it down at the same time)

I want to wish a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012 to you all.

2011 was one of those years where the more I try to explain it, the less it seems to make sense. The early part of the year was challenging and full of potential; the latter half of the year a roller coaster of stress and futility.

What I can talk about now that the dust has all settled is that 2011 started with me actively interviewing, after some rather unfruitful discussions with HP about role and salary. I was, in fact, in discussions with one of the big silicon valley companies that build things you probably have in your data center about coming on board to architect their social media policies when HP did an unusually smart thing and hire Richard Kerris. Richard and I sat down, and he outlined his plans for DevRel and where my role mattered, and he promised to fix as many of my issues as he could, and asked for time to try. He impressed me enough, and the product and team were important enough to me, that I pulled out of my interviews and dug back in for yet another round with the forces of webOS chaos.

For the record, he did solve most of them, except for the employee publishing rules and the salary. And he tried on both of those, but Ruby was strongly against allowing employees to also publish apps, and ultimately, a flotilla of HP Vice Presidents got overruled by a lawyer on that one. And salary, well, once again, HP bureaucracy is in some ways reportable to nobody, including vice presidents. Good luck, Meg. You’ll need it, because when lawyers and clerks set policies the overrule your executive management, good things rarely happen.

(how was life inside the webOS bunker? Let me put it this way. during my tenure at Palm/HP — just under three years — I had six direct managers, averaging about 5 months per, ranging from a first level manager to directors to a couple of VPs. I reported to, or up to, eight different VPs in that time. One of my direct managers (the last one) and two of those VPs are still with HP. Does that give you a sense of how well things were going in the organization? yeah, I think it does. Apple in the worst of days — the dark, damp days of Spindler that made you want to wake up screaming, but you couldn’t because you weren’t asleep — were never as bad as these last few months in Leoville. Seriously).

But early on in 2011, we had hopes. We really were thinking that the TouchPad wouldn’t suck. It shipped. Reality: it didn’t suck. It was a decent 1.0 product. It also didn’t sell. Disappointing. Frustrating. Recoverable. Something to build from, which we were.

And then we woke up one morning, and Leo had decided to take PSG, the PC hardware division, out behind the barn and shoot it. And evidently because the webOS group also had hardware, we got taken out behind the barn and shot, too. Just in case. However badly it was implemented there is in fact a rational reason behind his decision on PSG, although as Meg found out when she ran the numbers Leo didn’t do, it’s the wrong decision. I can’t for the life of me understand why he shot webOS hardware as well, or remotely think that he understood what he was doing of the implications of it. And from that point on, the year turned into a movie based on a Kafka novel.

A kafka novel with what seems to be a happy ending. I gave it a month, expecting HP to get its act together and sell us, hopefully to Amazon. When that didn’t happen and it seemed increasingly remote that it would, I decided it was time to get out and started ringing up the network. And now I’m at Infoblox.

I’ve been there just long enough to meet my cohorts, start learning names and find the bathroom. I haven’t talked about it much because there’s not much to say right now. They have some interesting technologies, they need some social media and community things done, and the building is full of fun and interesting people. So we’re going to go off, figure it out, get it built and make it happen. I’m going to mostly keep it off stage here for now, because there’s really not much to talk about.

My change of venue does change the dynamics of this place somewhat though. My self-imposed restriction on talking about Apple is dead, given I no longer work for a direct competitor and there’s no longer that patina of conflict of interest (but let’s be honest, we were never a competitor of Apple. Maybe worried them a bit at times, but we never remotely put enough units in the market successfully or sustained our momentum to be considered as competing). Ditto wading into the whole mobile space. How far I’ll wade into both topics, I haven’t decided. But I do expect to.

But one thing I’ve come to realize is how — careful — this blog’s gotten. If you look at the blogs I posted as influencing me the other day you’ll see one common trait is that they aren’t afraid to have an opinion and an attitude. Just by sheer necessity I was always fairly careful about what I said when I was at Apple (mostly), and that caution was encouraged at Palm and HP as well. For a company that paid me to be out there  and conversing with the developers, they were usually worried about losing control of the discussion, so “don’t say that” was a common refrain heard around the offices. I think that bled out onto my personal blog, too, and it’s gotten pretty bland. I need to change that, re-inject my personality and opinions into it more.

Over the last few months I’ve been working with a couple of people to help them understand what I’ve come to call this life of “typing without a net”, the part of marketing where there is no script, you don’t rehearse and ultimately, you can’t control the message, merely influence and contribute to it. this new world of social marketing scares the absolute crap out of traditional marketing folks, and some of what I’ve tried to do is help them understand how to leverage the interactivity and conversational aspects of marketing. With some success, I think.

A reality of this kind of work is that if you slip and screw up, you fall a long, long way. Just ask certain people who found that out the hard way in the last week. I’ve come to realize there’s a flip side to that, though. If you allow yourself to get too careful, you may never slip, but you lose a lot of your ability to motivate and influence, either. So one change to the site I plan on bringing because of my change of venue is to get a bit more energy and opinion to my writing again. No risk, no reward. And now, there’s no real reason to be so damn careful.

So we’re going to try to liven this place up a bit; not be so paranoid about subjects that might upset folks or get me one of those “why did you say THAT?” emails from PR… and we’ll see what happens.

welcome to 2012. I can’t decide which I’m happier about — that 2011 is finally over, or that 2012 is a blank slate just waiting to be scribbled on… either way, let’s go!

Your (not so) humble servant,


(p.s. — a couple final notes on HP and webOS, and then I’ll close the book on that for a while and look firmly forward instead: while it’s been fairly trendy among the webOS fans to blame HP for all of webOS’s problems, in my opinion, most of the damage was self-inflicted. If you want to assign percentages, give 70% of the failure to the Palm side, and 30% to the HP side. And realize that if HP hadn’t stepped up and bought us, we’d have run out of money and failed. Any other buyer most likely would have grabbed the patents and run, so at least HP gave us a second chance to make it work. which we flubbed. HP has a set of challenges that I think are going to make Meg’s life challenging for a while — but Palm had a legitimate chance to make it work with HP’s support, and couldn’t. Mostly, blame us for that. And you’ll have to buy me a beer some time to get my opinion’s of why, at least for now…

And I know it was frustrating to many that it took so long for Meg to decide to keep webOS going and open source the technology, but to be honest, she did the right thing, and she took the time to understand the situation. Leo made some amazingly stupid decisions in haste, without appropriate research to understand the implications, and in reality, I don’t think anything was going to “fix” webOS by the time he was retired out and Meg stepped in — it was seriously damaged by those moves, and while it was painful to live in limbo like we did, she couldn’t fix the problem by making the same mistakes and making decisions quickly in ignorance of the details. So she gets full credit from me for taking the time to make the right decision, not a fast decision, even if waiting for it wasn’t fun. And I think she has the strategy most likely to give webOS a shot at returning from the dead again — but it’s going to take time.  It may not work, but the alternative was to give up and go home, and HP is investing a hunk o’ money in giving it a shot. Give them some credit for that, and support in helping them try to make it happen…)


Posted in About Chuq