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

Faux G

parislemon • “4G”:

As Sullivan points out, the iPhone and the Galaxy are getting the exact same speeds. That’s because AT&T’s network is actually HSPA+, which the iPhone supports but refuses to call “4G” even though AT&T does.

Why does AT&T call it 4G? Because they were one to two years behind their competitors in rolling out an actual 4G network. In other words, when all hope fades, lie.

In AT&T’s parlance, real 4G is “4G LTE”.


You didn’t hear this from me, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if asking the right people, you might find out that AT&T wasn’t the only carrier seriously working to play the “Faux G” marketing naming game…



Posted in Computers and Technology

The next CBA fight begins…

NHL delays realignment after NHLPA refuses consent – – News:

The National Hockey League announced today that it will not move forward with implementation of the Realignment Plan and modified Playoff Format recently approved by the NHL Board of Governors for the 2012-13 NHL season because the NHLPA has refused to provide its consent.

“It is unfortunate that the NHLPA has unreasonably refused to approve a Plan that an overwhelming majority of our Clubs voted to support, and that has received such widespread support from our fans and other members of the hockey community, including Players,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.  “We have now spent the better part of four weeks attempting to satisfy the NHLPA’s purported concerns with the Plan with no success.  Because we have already been forced to delay, and as a result are already late in beginning the process of preparing next season’s schedule, we have no choice but to abandon our intention to implement the Realignment Plan and modified Playoff Format for next season.”

“We believe the Union acted unreasonably in violation of the League’s rights.  We intend to evaluate all of our available legal options and to pursue adequate remedies, as appropriate.”

So the player’s union has balked at realignment, and the owners have delayed implementing.

Are you surprised? I’m not.

For all the rhetoric, this issue has almost nothing to do with realignment. It’s about jousting for power, and aligning up the forces for the next labor negotiation, coming to your sports talk shows way sooner than most fans want to believe.

If you think back to the last labor negotiation, one of the things the owners talked about was making the players a partner in the business, and everyone shook hands and said nice things to each other and signed the CBA and went back to work. And the owners have brought the players into discussion on policy — in very limited ways, practically speaking. Things like the competition committee, which has seen players resign from it because they felt it was being ignored.

I think the owners intended well here. I also think, ultimately, that we have to remember that the owners are owners, and the players are, well, employees. The players would like the owners to continue putting up the money, but the players would like to be a able to tell the owners what to do as well. Oh, sorry. be more involved in decisions that the owners are making.  And since the owners are, in fact, putting up the money, they don’t seem to agree.

So this fight was inevitable. When the players brought in Donald Fehr, they telegraphs that this was going to happen. And this is really a fight over what things the players should have a say in, and what things the owners feel the owners should be able to decide on their own.

In other words, a typical battle between management and labor that will be hashed out in endless detail that will bore the crap out of even the lawyers involved before it’s done.

So I now invoke my “labor negotiation recommendation” — both sides are now in full rhetoric to sway and influence the fans and media to listen to and support their side in the upcoming labor talks, so believe nothing either side says. It’s all posturing. Take none of it seriously.

By deferring this out of next season, the NHL has removed it as a possible short term lever of influence from the NHLPA, and made it something that will ultimately be hashed out in the CBA negotiations. My prediction: the owners will get what they want. they union will get some concession for “allowing” it. Both sides declare victory. Fans will grind their teeth and wonder why the two sides can’t just work these things out — and the answer to that is “because the way labor negotiations are structures, that’s not possible”.

Remember, in labor negotiations, there is never a deal until the last possible moment, or somewhat beyond that moment, because no matter what, if the two sides come to agreement earlier than that, someone will criticize one side or the other (or both sides) that if they’d pushed harder, they’d have gotten a better deal. Therefore, as fans, simply plan for lots of screaming and yelling and threats and bluster, and then expect a last minute deal of some sort (where “last minute” may include ‘losing’ stuff that doesn’t matter much, like pre-season, games in october, or as in the case of the NBA, anything before christmas when the owners aren’t making much money, the TV networks don’t really care, and the players would rather be on the beach surfing… If you don’t think the first have of a pro sports season isn’t filler to make time and sell tickets until the real season kicks in later, think again. If the owners and players could figure out how to convince everyone to pay for 45 game playoffs, you can bet they’d do it in a minute and throw the regular season away. and the Networks would love them for it…)

This is simply the union starting labor negotiations early, and letting the owners know they don’t plan on being patsies. The owners pretty clearly knew exactly what was going to happen. It almost feels scripted from both sides, which it probably was. And now, the jousting begins.

To me, this is actually good news. If they start the arguing now instead of waiting for formal CBA negotiations to begin, I have hopes they’ll be able to solve more of the issues early, and have some idea how to generate a new CBA without any (or any significant) stoppage in the league. Better they start drawing battle lines early and figuring out how to work out the framework of the next deal early than not talk to each other and let it drag on deep into a locked-out season later.

For me, I’m going to watch this with interest. But believe almost nothing that’s said. I suggest the rest of you do that, too. Anything said from now until they sign the next CBA is going to be posturing towards the next deal, and therefore, assume they’re lying. Because they probably are…

(by the way, as far as I can tell, the NHLPA has no legal right to demand a say in this decision; this is an issue which is traditionally something the owners have had complete control over without union input. They seem to be invoking language involving travel rules, but that seems — stretching it. That, of course, is what Donald Fehr is all about. And why the union hired him.

The union could have tried to force the issue into court or arbitration, and probably would have. Given that, it makes sense for the owners to delay implementation and add it to the list of things to negotiate in the CBA. If the next labor negotiations were a couple of more years out than they are, they probably would have pushed back. And it seems obvious the owners believed this was going to happen and more or less intended to let it happen all along, given how I’m reading Bill Daly’s formal response to the union’s formal response…)


Posted in Sports - Hockey

Horrors! Fans pick the all stars they want in the All Star game!

NHL names All-Star Game starters:

The NHL has just revealed its All-Star Game’s final six fan voting leaders and starters: Ottawa Senators forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek will be joined by fellow Sen Erik Karlsson and Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf on defense, and Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas will start in goal.

It must be all-star game season again, because the fans have been voting, the players selected, and the usual suspects are complaining about it. Typically, this means some members of the press and media bitch and moan, because it seems the fans are not actually competent to choose who the fans want to see in the All-Star game. Instead, if you listen to these media people, that responsibility should be passed over to the people who really know best — the media.

No conflict of interest or enraged egos here. Nope.

My take: it’s a silly All-Star game. who cares? To some folks (mostly media types, it seems), that the fans are actually interested and motivated to get involved and vote is a bad thing. These media types seem to prefer the fans stay quiet and uninvolved, and simply do what the media tell them to do instead of think for themselves. I wonder why?

Me? I’ll take anything that gets fans involved and motivated and active and noisy. Especially since — ultimately, it doesn’t matter WHO is chosen, just that players get chosen. If they all want to band together and send the backup goalie from Muskegon? Great! At least the fans are involved. And 48 hours after the game, not only will nobody care, nobody will remember — except that backup goalie, who will have a weekend he’ll never forget.

There are some members of the media who take everything way too seriously, and need to chill out. There are other members of the media who simply look for any excuse to find fault with the NHL and the game and complain. And there are some members of the media who seem to think they should be in charge, and we should all shut up and listen to them (hello, Ken Campbell) and just do what they say.

My suggestion: anyone who is complaining about how the voting is done for the All-Star game is a media person you should serious consider no longer reading or paying attention to.

I think the NHL has done a very good job of creating a way for fans to get involved, while limiting the problems of fan voting filling the rosters full of semi-qualified players. the current system seems to work quite well in limiting the politics and removing some of the common challenges of roster building.

But beyond that, it’s an All-Star game. A time to relax, party a bit (and let the league help their sponsors party and network), honor some players, have a good time, and not think too hard about it. Anyone who starts worrying about this like it’s the end of the world, I honestly suggest you turn off the TV that weekend and go skiing instead. Or stop listening to the media folks who keep trying to turn things like this into crises, because honestly, all they’re looking for is lazy columns that are easy to write. Or chances to write about how much smarter they are than everyone else. Either way, not the kind of stuff I feel like reading.

Me? I don’t vote for All-stars, haven’t for years. I don’t worry about who gets voted in. I don’t worry about how the team is chosen. I went to the game in San Jose, got mugged by both the mascots from Tampa, gave the Florida panther mascot some cough drops because he needed them even more than I did that year, and had a great time. And every year, I sit down and watch the All-Star game, unless I have something I want to do more. Either way, I have fun. Both ways, I take this about as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

And I suggest everyone do the same. Relax. Vote (or not). Watch (or not). and have a good time. There are serious issues in the league that deserve attention and consideration (and column inches). This is not one of them.


Posted in Sports - Hockey

A last bit on 2011 and 2012, before you all shoot me for writing novels…

One last piece on leaving 2011 and entering 2012, before you all have me shot for writing endlessly on the topic. But for me, the reality is that the timing of the job change and some of the things that went down in the last year turn this transition into a big thing, both in reality (because of the timing of the new gig) and symbolically (because I really like being able to lay 2011 down and watch it fade into the past, even if that’s really just a symbolic thing). I had hopes 2011 would be a pretty good year, and in ways it was, and in other ways, thanks in large part to Leo, it really, really sucked. oh well. We’ll give it a C, because right now for some reason I’m into letter grades for things. (or maybe going back to my 2nd grade report card, something like “English: A, handwriting: F” — the good was really good, the not so good was, well, really good-not-so).

So we’ll try again in 2012, and do our best.

I’ve gotten the usual “why do you post this stuff?” of which their is a common subtext of “Oh my god, I’m too afraid of what people might think to post stuff like this”. I understand the fear completely. It’s tough to get past. Most people are afraid people will look down on them for having problems (or admitting to them). I’ve found the opposite: I hear from people who are amazed someone is willing to talk about them openly. And in some cases, I hear from folks that it helps:  when I talked about my sleep apnea, I heard from three people who went to doctors and getting under treatment, on the diabetes, four that I know of. Being part of helping someone avoid a problem or crisis? Priceless. (For a recent reminder of this, there’s a nice blog post by Jason, over on Webomatica. some of his thoughts this year echo some things I’ve been chewing on again as well).

The main reason I do this, though, is that the process of thinking through what to write and organizing it is what I need to actually crystalize my thoughts and feelings and understand them for myself. I put them here on the blog because that way, when I come back to review them over time, they’re there — and I can’t edit the past on myself as easily. It helps (forces!) me to be honest with myself, and these journal entries when viewed over time help me see how my thoughts and priorities and attitudes have changed over time. I must admit that, having left a trail of babbling that goes back on the internet into the early 1980s, that I sometimes wake up from a nightmare where I’ve found myself turned into some PhD student’s thesis… But hopefully, that won’t happen until I no longer have reason to care…

The last few months, for some reason, I have been thinking about starting a second blog. This other blog would be private, and password protected. And have a deadman’s switch, where if I don’t go and reset the dates, it’ll out itself, because, well, the assumption is that I’m no longer able to. And then I realize it’d be a really boring thing, because no, I’m not going to put stuff in it that I wouldn’t put in here. No salacious crap, no hidden diatribes about who screwed up what with webOS, no special notes about that secret weekend with the Queen Mother. None of that. Well, maybe some. But I’m not ready to accept my own mortality to that level yet, much as I realize I may not have a say in the matter.

In any event, onward. My priorities for 2012 are pretty simple: figure out my blog, upgrade it so it better represents who I am today, because I think it’s still somewhat lost in the muddled idea of what I was that was part of the decision to leave Apple. Now I know who that person is, and I really like how it turned out, and now, my online presence needs to better represent that.

That interest in representing my vision is what’s pushing me forward in my photography again. And it’s why after all these years I’d dragged out my old writing and the unfinished novels and I’m taking a close look at it — although to be honest, and I’m a much different writer than i was then, and most of what I left unfinished deserves to be, so that’s all going to be a fresh start. All I’m keeping are the core ideas.

So what should you expect from me this year?

More of the same. But more me. More commentary. I think I’ll wade into some of the geek and tech echo chamber discussions more. I want to talk a bit less about photography, but write about it more (and if you don’t understand the difference, maybe I’ll explain it later). The occasional picture of a kitteh or a puppy or a unicorn, just for old time’s sake. And if I get to the fiction, and it doesn’t suck and doesn’t make me crazy doing it, you’ll see some of it here, too.

I want to get serious about the ebook work; the backup series I wrote is on the list for conversion to a more substantial and packaged form. Ditto some of my lightroom writings. I’m going to do more reviews, and while some of that will include affiliate links, I have no intention of trying to turn this place into a revenue generator or blow up the design in search of page views and ad clicks. If I try, please shoot me. Turning your blog into something that looks like a neon whorehouse on New Years in search of micro payments for clicks just seems like a losing proposition to me (even though I know some people make good money at it); the most my affiliate links have ever done in a month is about $15, and most months, it’s <$5. Maybe I’ll sell a few prints, sell a few ebooks. If so, great. If not, Google Adsense isn’t going to pay the rent and I’m not interested in giving up the screen real estate and turn this site into a billboard chasing it.

If a writing opportunity hits that makes sense on some other site, I might consider it, now that I’m away from HP and the conflicts that entailed. But I’m not looking to chase those; I’d rather focus on my own site and writing for now.

And I have to decide whether I’m really serious about getting into writing apps; I have some ideas that are intriguing. I’m not such if they’re viable, or if I want to commit the time to implement them. That’s a decision I have to put time into and probably won’t happen until summer, if then. (and yes, I’ll be writing for IOS and perhaps WinMobile. Sorry, webOS folks; if and when there are viable hardware devices, we can talk. And android just doesn’t interest me, and the numbers back on paid apps with android just don’t give me a warm feeling; it may be no platform makes me feel like it’s worth the investment. we’ll see). The big challenge I see is that I think if I try to do blog + photos + fiction + apps I’m spreading too thin. It may well come down to making a choice between going into app development or going back into fiction writing, and I don’t know which way I’ll choose. I know my heart says “Novel!” right now, but maybe that’s just a fling with my past, and my head will change that decision… honestly, it’s fun not having easy answers, because sometimes, the real fun is in the chase, not the catch.

Heck, if the answers were easy, it wouldn’t be worth chasing, right?

Hope your 2012 rocks. Don’t be afraid to thrive.



Posted in About Chuq

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.

120101 140716 chuq Blackbird IDs...

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

Thinking about the blog and site in 2012

One of the things I’ve been putting a lot of thought into the last couple of months is the blog, my website on, and the various pieces that connect into my online presence.

The underlying question: what does it want to be when it grows up?

That in itself is a significant change of mindset, because for a long time, my intent was to keep it very simple, very personal, very informal — that it should never grow up. It’s never been intended to be more than a place for my stuff, and that any of you care enough to follow what I put on it just makes my toes tingle, so if I haven’t said it recently, thank you most sincerely for your interest and feedback.

Like the Apple TV is to Apple, this is a hobby, has been a hobby, and knowing that gives me the freedom to choose to ignore it when other things complicate life, or to experiment with strange things (and delete them when they fail badly), and not worry too much about the other side of the fourth wall and whether what I’m doing is enough of a dancing bear to keep everyone amused or informed (or hopefully both).

But that’s been increasingly unsatisfying, and I think out of sync with what I’m interested in doing online.  And given I’m working with community and social media professionally, part of me feels like what I do in my personal part of the universe needs to be done a bit more — not professionally — officially? with gusto? Well, something more serious that I’ve done to date. But please, if I ever use the phrase “social media guru” non-ironically, please slap me silly.

So I’m thinking that it’s time to start ramping up the volume. Lots of thinking about what I like about the sites, what I don’t, how they interact. What I like about other sites and how to bring them onto mine, whether it’s technology, design, features or content. And deep down inside, what I want this site to be about, other than “me” or “what I feel like talking about”. Not that I ever intend to turn this into “a site about this topic”, but planting a few flags in the sand and creating some topic areas to focus on? That seems to make sense.

I’ve been using mind maps a lot recently as a thinking/note taking tool. The current view of the site setup looks like this: next gen Thinking about the blog and site in 2012

There’s a lot more to do in the pre-planning phase before I get down to the nitty gritty of design and architecture, but you can see some thoughts about what I’m considering.

This isn’t about turning the site into a revenue generator. It may be about creating something that might be something that can generate revenue later, but that’s not on the docket for this generation. It’s about putting a more professional (or at least polished) look on my content, adding some functionality to support things I’m thinking of doing, like e-publishing my writing, both fiction and not.

It’s about architecting things so that things this site are about are findable. Like reviews. One thing I keep coming back to is reviews. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I published OtherRealms. it was about reviews. It was well-regarded. Every so often, I get asked if it’s ever coming back (answer: no). At least, not like it was, going on 30 years ago. But I keep thinking…

When I left Strongmail, it was with intent to put some time and energy into a site I called “Dare to Thrive”. The core idea was to focus on going really local, wandering in the space Yelp lives in, but curated. The concept started over a beef tongue in this hole in the wall chinese restaurant in deep Chinatown in Vancouver back in 2005 (hi, roland! hi, boris!), and fermented for a while. I’ve long thought there is a strong ability for a good, curated site to compete against the Yelps of the world — the elevator pitch is “Sunset and Via magazines meet the web”. the tag line was “because there’s more to life than a cube and a cot”, and the hook was that the site was to help people understand there’s a lot of great stuff in and around silicon valley, and more to life than sleeping under your desk at that startup.

For various reasons, I aborted my plan to take time off to work on D2T and went back into the job market, then a few months later, came to the realization that the concept simply wouldn’t work for me, so I reluctantly took it out behind the barn and shot it. Problem 1 was that when I got realistic about time commitments there was no way the thing would succeed, much less thrive, on a “as I have time” basis running it. there were too many things that would need tending to — that it required a full time commit, and I just wasn’t ready/willing to do that. But problem 2 was the real killer: I realized that I was designing a system that would allow others to write and review and contribute, while I was primarily going to end up administering, managing and editing. And that’s when I realized the writing itch was returning, and what I really needed to do was build stuff that focused on my own writing rather than enable other’s to write.

Good idea; damn good idea, IMHO. But the wrong idea for me. So I Old Yeller’d it. And hated doing it, but I’m glad I did. And put in the back of my head that I needed to figure out how to pull out the essence of the idea, and translate it into something that was about my writing, rather than enabling other’s to write.

I’ve been chewing on that ever since, on and off. And now that idea, and my tech writing, and my fiction  writing (if it happens) and my photography are all coalescing and my general “commenting and talking about stuff” are all coalescing, and need a home to live in and thrive on. And what I have isn’t it.

And how to make it something people can contribute their thoughts to — and want to. And share their own things. Blog+disqus is easy, but is that enough? blog+forum seems wrong. it’s something I’m still chewing on.

So we’ll see. Not sure where the flag is on this map, but I think I know where the flag is, and I’m headed in that direction. I expect this will be an interative set up updates, not a massive, all at once “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” update. But we’ll see.

Half the fun is finding the flag, honestly. sometimes, all of the fun is searching for it….

I know some people fear having more questions than answers. for some reason, I love it… As I figure out pieces of it, I’ll make them happen, and if they’re interesting, talk about it.

Because it’s what I do… and thanks for putting up with me…



Posted in Working on Web Sites

looking back, looking forward, looking at birds…

Like much of life in 2011, what I thought I’d accomplish with my birding in 2011 and what I actually did were some significantly different. I have no complaints, though; birding is one of those things I do  to get away from all of the other stuff, so any time birding is a good time, even if I kinda forget to bird once I get there. Or to put it another way,

Sometimes birds are the reason. Sometimes, they are the excuse

My final year list for 2011 was 183 species; that’s significantly better than i expected it to be, since I was able to add 15 species in Q4, and eight in december. It’s short of what I did the previous two years where I made it to about 200 species, but looking at my ebird lists, there’s about a two and a half month slice of time where I effectively didn’t bird at all, and that included much of spring migration. Such is life.

I added six species to my life list: Palm Warbler, Evening Grosbeak, Phainopepla, Baird’s Sandpiper, Marbled Murrelet and Yellow-Billed Loon. That’s not a bad set of additions. I successfully missed boobies two years in a a row — last year there was a blue-footed booby at Dana Point harbor, which I chased on a trip and looked for it without success (it turns out it was two days after it was last seen); this year, the Dana Point Booby was a masked booby, so as we left SoCal after the christmas visit, we gave it a try, but it was evidently out fishing; none of the four groups looking for it had seen it, but it’s been seen since, so it just saw me coming and hid.. Maybe next year..

For non-birders, I should note that a birding list is effectively logarithmic. The first ten birds are trivially easy, and it’s fairly common for birders here in the Bay area to start a year list and hit 80-100 species on January 1. But each ten birds are that much harder, because there’s only so much diversity; 250 species is a pretty good year for most birders, 300 is many times impossible without travel, and 400 is amazing. John Vanderpoel has been doing a “big year”, effectively birding full time, everywhere in the US for an entire year — and he has 742 species. Read his blog if you want to see what effort is required for something like that (not me! not any time remotely soon).

All I can say about birding in 2012 is that about the time this gets posted to my blog, if things go well, I’ll be out chasing birds to start out my list for 2012 (and to see how well my new Vortex 8x42s work). Beyond that? We’ll see. 200 species seems to be a nice goal, so we’ll try it again. If things go well and I hit it, we’ll reset the bar higher.

A few years ago I did a year where I tried to build a photographic year list, seeing how many species I could get a usable photo of. I’m thinking that is worth trying again, to give me something to reach for that ties both the birds and the cameras together. So perhaps we’ll see that appear on the web site soon..

But mostly, birding for me is a relaxation, and I think it’s important that when you’re off relaxing, you, well, relax. Don’t throw too many goals and requirements, don’t stress about whether you’re doing it right (or at all). Take the things you like doing and turn it into another job? No thanks. So remember to keep some things in your life loose, so you don’t lose the joy of doing them…

Happy 2012!


Posted in Birdwatching