It’s complicated…

My plan to get the weight off is off to a slow start, thanks to the grumpy knees. It’s hard to get an exercise program going when you can’t walk, and for a couple of weeks around Christmas, I wasn’t doing much more than hobbling and hiding under a heating pad. It’s been about two years since I was diagnosed with arthritis in the knees, and so I was due for a few bad days. I just wish I knew what triggered it —  I have no idea why the knee got inflamed, and the only thing that seemed to knock the inflammation down was time, rest and heat.

It took a couple of weeks after the holiday for things to settle down, but last week, I felt it was time to get moving and see what happened. Half a mile walk, and that evening, things felt pretty good, so the next day, I did it again. It still felt pretty good, so the day after that, I spent some time doing some cleanup and hauling stuff around in the garage. That left things pretty sore, so I spent a day just sitting and resting — and now it feels pretty good again. Not 100%, but probably 95%.

One of the interesting challenges of arthritis is that one of the best methods to keep it in check is to exercise the affected joint, but if you cause inflammation, you make it worse. So there’s this set of lines you travel through and try to navigate between too little and too much, and when you’re just starting out, “too much” might not be a lot. One of the best ways to impact arthritis is to get off excess weight, but if you can’t exercise, getting the weight off is an interesting challenge. so it all twists into itself and it’s this slow, careful process to get the knotted tangle cleaned up and everything moving forward smoothly.

One of the lessons I’m learning — the hard way, repeatedly — is that this is something you can’t out-stubborn. I have to learn when to back off, when to shut it down and use rest as a therapy. I’m getting better at that, but honestly, my personality is to just bulldog through everything that gets in the way, but some things win, and it’s not always easy to realize you need to go around and try a different strategy…

The answer: just keep trying. Learn to listen to the body, pull back when it tells you to, push forward when you can. It’s a balancing act. And not get frustrated when it’s not right the first time, and not focus too hard on results too quickly in ways that cause serious regressions or major downtime by injury. It took many years to get to this point — it won’t fix itself overnight any more than a baseball player can score five runs with a single swing. Baseball players know this — and yet sometimes they still try. they’re wired that way.

And so part of the trick here is to rewire yourself.

When I started talking to my doctor about these issues, that was one of the things he emphasized. It’s not so much about weight loss, it’s about restructuring your lifestyle, and with it, the health changes will come. If you don’t fix the lifestyle issues — even if you lose weight, changes are, it’ll come back.

That’s something the diet industry doesn’t want to talk about — diets don’t work. Even if you lose weight, most people gain it back. Many people gain back more than they lost — and there’s growing evidence that yo-yo weight loss is more harmful to your health than doing nothing.

The plan my doctor and I talked over years ago was to understand what the root causes of the weight were and deal with the lifestyle and diet issues, to get everything under control and moving forward. Remember that in 2004-05, when this process started,  I was living on the burger and fry diet five or six times a week (at least), so to say my diet was a disaster is understating it.

All of these things are habits — and habits are tough to change. It takes about six weeks to rewire a habit, and even after that, can take longer before it feels natural. If you break the cycle of rewiring along the way, you tend to fall back on the old habit again and then have to start over. That falling back can be caused by many things, but a prime cause is stress, so stress is one of those things you need to learn to manage and reducing stress in your life is an important aspect of all of this.

I also found what worked best for me was to keep it simple; one of the worst things you can do is change everything at once — because you’re dealing with so many habits that you’re going to lose out on some of them, and once you do, they cascade and you tend to lose everything. What worked for me was picking some pieces I felt I could change and doing them.

Over time, I went from bad fat-laden, calorie heavy breakfasts, fast-food lunches and generally eating way beyond my metabolism, and eating really crap stuff.

Today? Well, before christmas I spent two weeks logging my food.

(digression: the first and best weapon in getting your diet under control is the food diary. I’ve used a number of tools, including pure manual paper logging, but today, I like as a place to manage that information. Food diaries, if you’ve never done them, mean you take a period of time and you log everything you eat. EVERYTHING. When, how much. what. and then you work out what the nutriional aspects of that food is. I’ll probably talk about food diaries in more detail later, but suffice it to say, it is a great tool for showing you the food you’re eating that you don’t realize you’re eating by forcing you to be aware of it, but it also gives you a baseline for understanding where your diet now, so you, or a nutritionist, can figure out what you can change to improve it, one dietary problem at a time. this presumes you don’t lie to yourself, of course, and that’s sometimes the hardest part of using a food diary, because deep down inside, you know you’re screwing up and hate to force yourself to admit it. And sometimes, doing that alone makes a big difference…)

What I found was pretty much what I expected to find. My diet breakdown was about 35% calories from fat, anywhere from 30-50% calories from from carbohydrate, and the rest from protein. My goal has been a balanced, 30-30-40 diet, so these numbers are things I could take to a nutritionist and feel happy with. It’s a huge change from when I started (when I was probably 50% or more fat in the diet, much of it saturated), and it affirmed to me I was eating pretty much at maintenance (finally) although not losing.

The problem? That’s a gerat diet for a normal person, but for a diabetic, the carbs are too high, and that’s contributed to the weight I’ve gained since I started treatment, since one of the drugs managing the blood sugar does so by reducing insulin dependence and encouraging moving carbs into the fat cells. Which I need to better manage by reducing carbs so they aren’t there to sequester, which… (like I keep saying, it’s complicated….)

So I need to get those rations to around 35% fat, 30% carbohydrate, 35% protein. I don’t want to raise the fat percentage to reduce carbs, that’s for sure. And I’ve already pulled a few hundred calories a day out of the diet, but I need to pull out another 500 or so to make sure the weight loss gets going on on the downward slope, but I’ve found I have to be careful how I do that, or there are side effects. So I know what I need to do, but finding the right combination of changes that work for me has been — a bit of a challenge.

The big problem spot in the diet is mid-day, when I’m running around and at work. At home, I have my stock of stuff and on weekends things tend to work pretty well. But the weekdays are fighting back. See, carbs are portable. I can stuff Clif bars in my backpack and haul them around (and I do, for those times when my body starts doing the “you need carbs” dance or I end up in a meeting that spans a normal mealtime). Protein? You can’t just stuff a turkey breast in a backpack and not expect bad things to happen if you haul it around for a while — this all requires more planning and care. Most proteins need refrigeration, where carbs tend not to; so I’m having to figure out how best to change all of that around, and yes, that means “carry your lunch”, and using blue ice bricks and stuff. and that means changing out some habits, and…

And in my case, this is more complicated than usual, because of some food allergies. One common protein you can use that doesn’t require refrigeration is nuts, and so peanut butter is a common item in all of this. And guess what? I have a nut allergy, so that’s off the list.

Fortunately, I do in fact like turkey and it’s now a staple. The current goal is to move to a much lighter carb load during the day, and swap in some turkey, add in a regular salad and include a couple of pieces of fruit for morning and afternoon snacks to help regulate the blood sugar across the day, and see what happens.

So we’ll see. It’s been working on weekends, so it seems time to shift it to the weekdays. I’ve picked up the lunch sack. I know how I have to change my shopping (and laurie’s a huge help here, also). The grumpy knees have made me, honestly, not really feel like screwing around with other stuff so much, but now they seem to be cooperating again (mostly). So know we see how it goes, I guess.

And if it doesn’t work, we’ll learn from it and try something else…



Posted in Health and Fitness

Talking about “stuff”….


When I started talking to people about whether I should blog about some of the “stuff” going on in my life — the weight, the diabetes, the apnea, and now the arthritis — I had a lot of people strongly suggest I keep that private. A few were seriously freaked I’d even consider talking about the breakdown, which simply shows that we have a long way to go about understanding and dealing with these kinds of issues as a society. Which is, in fact, a strong reason FOR talking about it, to help teach and help people understand. A common worry was that potential employers reading my blog might shy away; honestly, the fact that I’m 50 hinders this as much or more than any potential worry, and to put it bluntly, any employer that won’t hire me because five plus years ago I needed some help getting my head straight over a few weeks is an idiot, and I don’t want to work for them anyway.  It’s their loss. (the whole “aging geek” thing is it’s own discussion for some time in the future, maybe).

There’s a lot of self fear — people worry themselves into inaction. I’ve been there, done that. it took me a long time to go from thinking about talking about this stuff to actually talking about it. Part of that was because I wanted to be sure I knew what I was talking about — that I wasn’t going to screw it up and that I could talk about it intelligently and not but proclaim my expertise in something — but there was also the fear factor.

What I’ve found since deciding to start on this is that it’s making a difference. Every time I talk about the apnea, I get one or two emails from people telling me I’ve convinced them to go get checked, and in a couple of cases, I’ve heard back about the diagnosis and how the CPAP has improved their life. That pretty much everything I’ve heard back has been supportive and positive, and that there’s concrete responses that it’s making a difference — that’s huge. And it makes any potential worries about doing this trivial to me. I don’t know what your goals in life are, but among mine are to leave the world around me a better place, even if only in little ways, and to make a difference instead of just existing; and this seems to be working for both of these goals. When the apnea kicked in, and then the diabetes, it drained a lot out of me and I found myself crawling in a hole just to keep the essentials moving, and now, it’s rather nice to be able to see my ability to fill that hole with concrete and build a launching pad on top of it to get back into the place I’d rather be, which is in the middle of stuff and stirring it up….

Three things helped me get over this hump — and be strong enough to start this discussion. And given the news that Steve Jobs is taking another leave to deal with his issues, I thought it was an appropriate time to talk about them and pass them forward to you as items for you to consider as well.

First one is, not surprisingly, Steve and his commencement speech.

I was still working at Apple at the time, but I knew my time was heading towards the end there. One of these days, I need to write about Steve, having been able to watch him and Apple from a close vantage point for so many years (and Laurie worked at NeXT, way back when as well). What I will say right now is that he could be a tough person to work for, but I never saw him demand more of anyone around him than he demanded of himself. Tough, brutally honest, and yes, I saw him obsess over a comma on a couple of occasions, but that’s because he knew those commas mattered. My last project — Chatterbox — was sometimes the object of his affection and sometimes the object of his attention, and it wasn’t always easy, but Steve isn’t about easy. he’s about getting it right and doing it right, and I’ve said more than once for the right situation, I’d happily go back and see how close I could fly to that particular sun, because if it didn’t kill me, it’d make me a lot better at what I do.

Whatever’s going on now, Steve, good luck at it.

The second thing that got me over this hump was Randy Pausch’s Final Lecture:

I didn’t catch onto it when it first came out, but came back to it more recently. I strongly recommend his book The Last Lecture Talking about stuff..... Here is someone who found out he was going to die, and his response was to look for ways to make a difference, to leave something. You look at what Randy did, and how can you not be inspired to join him and try as well? I was, and I recommend him to you, also, if you haven’t.

Finally, a third person who showed how you can make a difference if you get over the fear and worry of what people will think. Laurie and I have become fans of Craig Ferguson’s Late Late show, and so I read his book, American on Purpose Talking about stuff..... It’s a fascinating look at how he got to where he is today (and why), but more important, he made a choice not to be afraid to talk about how he screwed up his life and what it did to him — and use it as a way to try to help people avoid going to the places he went to.

If these people can do it, why can’t I? It turns out the person we most fear in stepping out on these issues is ourselves. And when we grow beyond that fear, good things can happen.

Every time I’ve talked about the apnea, I’ve heard from at least one person who’s written to tell me it’s caused them to realize they need to talk to their doctor. This last time, I heard from two, and one of them has since gone on a CPAP and wrote me to tell me how much better he feels already. When I started talking about the diabetes, similar things happened.

And nothing bad has happened. Nobody’s made me wear a scarlet letter, I haven’t been shunned, I haven’t been ridiculed. I’ve been thanked. And I’ve impacted people’s lives in positive ways — perhaps getting someone into a doctor before the apnea causes a stroke, or before that diabetic coma hits or the kidneys fail from trying to clear out all that sugar. These maybe aren’t huge victories — but they’re victories. And that’s awesome.

I expect at some point the trolls will arrive, because that’s what they do. But what’s more important — avoiding trolls that have no power you don’t hand to them in your reaction? Or helping someone change their life for the better.

That first time you do it, it’s tough to get over that hump. Once you do it once, you’ll find it’s pretty good, and pretty easy. So here, for you, are three things that might help you, too, get over that hump.

You can change the world, one person at a time — if only you decide to try.


Posted in About Chuq

Going out for a walk…

The weather was wonderful here in the Bay Area today, so I went out for a walk. Not a huge one — a total of half a mile, but just before christmas, one of my knees decided to secede from the Union and I’ve been working to bring it back into the fold since.

I think I need a bit of a digression for that to make sense. Back in late 2007, I was out birding and walking, and while out, took a step back and landed in a gopher hole, twisting my knee and doing the “hop around on one leg cussing like a sailor” thing. So I got myself home and got ice on it and gave it a couple of weeks to recover.

It didn’t get better. So I resigned myself to having it checked and went to my doctor, and told him I’d torn the meniscus. So he sent me off to the orthopede and we took xrays of the knees, and he sat me down and said “see this? you’ve torn your meniscus”.

And so I asked him if we needed to go in and clean it up. His response wasn’t what I was expecting, it was “no, we’re trying to delay your knee replacements as long as possible”. And then he showed me the arthritis. Which today I realize shouldn’t have surprised me, since there’s a family history — and since i tore the meniscus of one knee back in high school (long before arthroscopic surgery was invented), grumpy knees the predict the weather isn’t exactly a new thing.

But I do have to admit hearing that I should expect knee replacements at some point didn’t exactly make my day. But we talked over various options and ways to manage it when it flared up, and thanks in large part to 500mg of Relafin twice a day, the last three years have been almost painless (literally), beyond the usual weather predicting grumpiness and the occasional twinge.

This wasn’t a twinge, however. For reasons I don’t know (I have no idea what caused the flareup), the other knee, not the one I messed up in 2007, but the one that’s been grumping at me for 30 years, decided to have a major argument; swelled up, stiffened up, lots of pain and general “don’t you know it’s the freaking holiday, why now?” kind of thing. So for the last month, I’ve been living mostly on the couch under a heating pad. There were a couple of weeks where I should have used crutches, but I’m too damn stubborn some days…

This is the kind of thing where it just takes time to get the inflammation down, although I was starting to think I might need to get my dosage raised or consider a switch to a different drug (but the Relafin works well, I tolerate it nicely, and honestly, I really don’t want to load up on larger doses of NSAIDs unless I absolutely have to…). Fortunately, while it flared up a second time during the trip to SoCal (the main reason we cut the christmas trip short and cancelled our plans for Salton Sea….), it’s been slowly getting better and the last week or so has finally been getting almost back to normal.

So when I say I went out for a walk, given how things were two weeks ago, that’s awesome. Not pain free, but now it’s time to start the dance down the thin line of getting exercise onto the joint without so much exercise that it flares up again. The nice thing is, 30 minutes under a heating pad after lunch at work and the stiffness and pain was all gone, which is what I was hoping for. Shows that we’re almost back to normal.

But this has complicated some of my plans for the last few weeks; I couldn’t implement the exercise program because I couldn’t exercise, and I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on the couch with the iPad consuming stuff rather than at the laptop creating stuff, but that’s also a nice break; I don’t do that enough, honestly, and it gave me a chance to catch up on some reading, which I’ll try to do reviews on soon — that’s been on the todo list for a while.

Being limited to what birding I can do from the car has been annoying, so it was nice to get out to EEC in Alviso and wander a bit. And the downtime has given me a chance to put some research time in on some issues, and you’ll hopefully see the results soon.

And I get to keep my own knees for a while longer, even if they occasionally behave like spoiled teenagers and pout when the weather’s bad…



Posted in Health and Fitness

20+ years of hockey.

Laurie and I are both part of the increasingly rare group known as first season sharks fans (and cow palace survivors) — laurie was the 150th person to put a deposit down once the Sharks started taking reservations. Our first year at the Cow Palace we did a partial season, in year two, we upgraded to full season and we’ve been doing full season tickets ever since, and we’ve been sitting in 127 since the arena opened.

It’s hard to think this is the Shark’s 20th anniversary, but it is, and that’s a lot of hockey passing before us. We typically get to between 35-40 games a year in San Jose; every year we tell ourselves we’ll sell off a few more tickets, and every year, we rarely do. Our best guess is we’ve been in the house for 650 Sharks games so far, plus/minus about 20. Add to that our season working for the San Francisco Spiders (35 games with the spiders, plus about 30 games with the Sharks that year), and our regular road trips which have included games all over the west coast, from San Diego (the IHL Gulls) and Vegas (the IHL Thunder) and Phoenix (the IHL Roadrunners) to Vancouver, Portland (the WHL WinterHawks), Seattle (the WHL Thunderbirds and Laurie’s seen games in Everett) and even places like Victoria (go Salsa!) for some junior-A action. We even made it to Fresno for the ECHL all-star game a few years ago, mostly so we could say we did…

All in all, a lot of hockey; not bad for an LA-born southern california boy. As of now, my arena life list includes:


  • San Jose Arena (Sharks)
  • Cow Palace (Sharks)
  • The Fabulous Forum (Kings)
  • Staples Center (Kings)
  • The Pond (Ducks)
  • GM Place (Canucks)

IHL (may it rest in peace) –

  • San Diego (Gulls)
  • Las Vegas (Thunder)
  • Long Beach (Ice Dogs)
  • San Francisco (Spiders)
  • Phoenix (Roadrunners)


  • Portland (Winter Hawks)
  • Seattle (Thunderbirds)


  • Victoria (Salsa) — both in the old arena (now torn down) and while they were playing in Esquimalt

Still on my list to od some day — a trip through the Ottawa/Toronto/Montreal area for the NHL teams and the OHL/QMJHL teams I can fit in along the way; I really want to do the Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton trip in the winter when there’s hockey (we’ve done it for baseball, back when there was still minor league baseball in those cities), and a major run through BC to hit some of the WGHL teams, especially out in the Okanagan. Someday.

Until then, I’ll just have to “settle” for the Sharks. Not that I’m complaining.

I was thinking about this at the game the other night — the Sharks (that were at that point losing to Edmonton and looking ugly doing so and I wondered if this team could win against some of the more classic Sharks teams, and the invoked the name of Robin Bawa as I’m known to do. This is not an insult to Bawa, FWIW — he wasn’t the most talented Shark ever to skate in teal, but he brought his work ethic with him every night.

This got me thinking about the good times and good players back in the early days of the Sharks, and given this is the 20th anniversary, what the heck. I decided to create my personal all-time Sharks All Star team.

The rules were simple. Players had to be no longer playing in the NHL to be eligible. I’m trying to build a full team. For reasons I’ll go into shortly, I decided to do three “offensive” lines instead of two, plus an energy line, plus a fourth line, for five forward lines total. Three defensive pairings and two goaltenders.

Here’s my list.


  • Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov, Johan Garpenlov
  • Kelly Kisio, Owen Nolan, Jeff Friesen
  • Jamie Baker,  Mike Ricci, Vinnie Damphousse
  • Mike Sullivan, Gaetan Duschesne, Ulf Dahlen
  • Jeff Odgers, Andrei Nazarov, Shawn Cronin


  • Sandis Ozolinsh, Jay More
  • Rob Zettler, Doug Zmolek
  • Mike Rathje, Gary Suter


  • Arturs Irbe
  • Mike Vernon

Notes on these choices –

  • The reason I went with five forward lines is because the line of Larionov/Makarov/Garpenlov was a special one for the Sharks (and I hope at some point the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame inducts them in as a line), but I wanted to recognize some of the others that contributed as well and I wanted more than three spots. So I made a special exemption here rather than what typically happens, which is the checkers and energy guys get screwed. So we have three “top six forward” lines, plus a checking line, plus an energy line.
  • I included Nazarov over Link Gaetz because I think in the grand scheme of things, he contributed more,l onger, to the Sharks, even though Gaetz is legendary — albeit not in a positive way. My other candidate for enforcer is probably Lyndon Byers.
  • I declared Nabokov “not retired” and not eligible. And then Laurie and I had a long discussion about whether Vernon would be chosen over Nabokov even if he was eligible. I argued in favor of Vernon; I don’t think I won the argument.
  • Players I’d find a way to attach to this list if they were retired: Ray Whitney, Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm, Evgeny Nabokov (probably; I rarely disagree with Laurie on goalies, because I wouldn’t win).

So, who’d be on your list?


Posted in Sports - Hockey

The Social Graph: Revolution or Evolution?


The Social Graph: Revolution or Evolution?:

Arguably, the first serious discussion into implementing archival and retrieval of public online information was via Usenet; in early 1985 Chuq Von Rospach posted an RFC for a “usenet article archive program with keyword lookup”.

Social discussion online in itself is obviously not new. Usenet used to be a particularly social platform, distinguished from walled off forums by being decentralised and entirely public. The same metrics used to grade the value of Tweets and Tweeters could be used in any other public arena of social discussion where links or their equivalent are shared, presuming that individual contributors can be identified (which would admittedly be less clear on Usenet than Facebook and Twitter).

I’d actually forgotten about this stuff. In reality, Brad Templeton did a lot more work looking into keywording (reinvented these days as tagging) on USENET; I did some research into how the keywording that was added to USENET was used and found out that user-added keywords were mostly junk and experimented with auto-generating keywords and just didn’t find it useful in that context. Brad pushed it further, but it never took off.

Another thing in the dark annals of time to mention in this context — Erik Fair wrote an article on a concept called an “Accolade” for :login — which today has been invented as the like button. It’s fascinating to see those ideas in the context of today, now that technology has created the opportunity to actually do these things; remember, at that time, USENET and most of the net was actually driving by low speed modems and not only hadn’t been HTML been implemented (not for another decade), but there were no significant database back ends to store all this data in, much less shared data sets or web services (since HTTP is also close to a decade away); all this data needed to get slogged out to every server to keep a local copy of — USENET ultimately may have been the most wonderfully inefficient use of network capacity ever…

Links for your amusement: link, link, link, link.

Has it really been 25 years? How time flies when you’re having fun.

And I’ll close with a quote from that final link, which is just as true about the net today:

USENET is like Gene Wolfe’s Soldier in the Mists. Every day, it wakes up and sees everything as new.

Posted in Community Management

why I don’t like photo a day projects…..

30 Post 365 Project: 3 of 365

First, let me say that I’m only 3 days into my first 365 and I can absolutely see why people struggle to get it done. I’m only shooting 30 minutes or a little more and I’m feeling the “crunch” today with time. Wow! You really have to push yourself to get it done.

This statement by Michael Frye, in a microcosm, is why I don’t like photo a day or 365 projects…

I have nothing against them — but personally, I can’t see a purpose for me.

I’ve met too many photographers who’ve committed to one who get in a few weeks or months and find themselves at 10PM at night, taking a picture of their stapler just to do something, and about then, they seem to wonder “WHAT AM I DOING?”

There are many aspects about being a better photographer that this not only doesn’t help, but I feel gets in the way of. It’s not about improving your eye for composition, or practicing your post processing, or studying technique, or extending your craft. It’s about pushing the button — to me, it turns into grunt work very quickly, and sends a message (which I don’t like) that the only thing that matters is pushing the shutter button. How does that improve your craft?

So my recommendation is this: If you go into this kind of project, understand what your goal is and know why this project is going to help you with that goal. The day it turns into a grind you regret starting, or that you don’t feel like it’s helping those goals — stop. it starts being destructive the day it starts making you hate touching the camera….

And remember that pushing the button is really a minor part of being a photographer, and not necessarily a major aspect of photography. if all you’re doing is hauling out a camera once a day and pushing a button while pointing it at something, why are you doing this?

If what you need is some project to force you into the habit of taking pictures — great. but realize that at some point of the year, you’re likely to start taking pictures just for the project, and not for the larger goals. When you do that, ask yourself if the project still makes sense.

And realize that there are many other things you should also be doing to continue your growth as a photographer, and do those as well.

For me, that’s why I made a decision to do the Saturday Foto Fest, and the Friendly Feathery Sunday postings. It forces me to evaulate my portfolio every week, and make choices — and it also forces me to add new material on a regular basis so I don’t run out of stuff to post; but it also recognizes time realities and the other aspects of my life, and that I feel more that it’s about the finished product over time than about a daily ritual of button pressing.

If you want to do a 365 project, have fun! and I guess that’s my point. The day if stops being fun is the day you should stop. Don’t continue just because you started it; continue it because it’s helping you with the goal you set when you started it.

Posted in Photography

About “the list”

So I got out for a couple of hours of birding on Sunday, my first of the year. I ended up down in Coyote Valley again, where there’s been a couple of Palm Warblers hanging out. I tried for them once before in December and while I think I saw them, I didn’t get a good enough look for me to feel I could say “yes, I definitely can say they were Palm Warblers” and put them on my life list.

This trip was different. I showed up at the location they’re hanging out in, ran into another birder watching them, he pointed out where they were, and about 20 seconds later, one of them popped out and proceeded to put on a show for about 15 minutes, wandering around in bright, full sunlight about 25 feet away. It was almost anti-climactic. I’ve got some nice pictures, but I haven’t processed them yet for upload.

But it got me thinking about lists, and how to explain them to non-birders. Birdwatchers (like any social group with a similar interest) has a vocabulary and jargon that can be rather opaque to outsiders. If you’re not a birder, when I pop in and go “Hey! Palm Warbler! 251 on my life list!” as though that actually is a good thing, I realize you probably have no clue what I’m talking about…

So a short introduction to why birders talk about lists and what they mean….

Birders tend to keep lists — lists of the species they have seen, when and where.  In geek speak, the basic piece of data a birder cares about tends to be the set that includes a species name, a date/time, and a latitude/longitude. Over time, you can define your birding career based on all of that collected data.

It’s possible, of course, to add to that data: sex, age, coloration, environmental data, behaviors, pictures — some birders keep very extensive notes, some (like me) tend to keep it more simple, although in general, the rarer the bird and the higher burden of proof there is about the validity of the identification, the more data you tend to collect and report.

But at its most basic, a birding trip boils down to a list of what you saw, when you saw it, where it was seen.

Early on in my birding life, I decided not to keep lists. I kept one in my head, but didn’t do anything formal; I was interested in enjoying birding, not keeping lists or making birding a competition. Ultimately, my list got long enough i had trouble keeping it in my head, so I switched to keeping a formal list. For that, I use eBird, which is run by the Cornell Ornithology lab, and which has a nice side effect of helping create a useful data set for research.

Once you start keeping data, you tend to organize it. Every birder makes decisions on how they want it organized. There are about 10,000 species of bird in the world, and about 900-1000 that inhabit the US and canada. Of that, here in California, 641 species are recognized as having been found in the state. (digression: not all birds are common in the state, not all birds are willing to be seen easily, so every species is given a rarity number from one to six, where one is endemic, like the mourning dove, and six is exceptionally rare).

So when I talk about my life list, it’s every species I’ve seen since I started keeping track. My list is now at 251. One of the realities of a life list is that as it gets larger, it’s harder to find new species to add to it — you either need to chase the rarities that show up (known as “twitching”), or you need to travel to new areas to find species that aren’t local.  250 is a good number for a late beginner, but to get to 350 is going to take some work. Top birders in the US might have 600 species. There are birders who are well over 1,000 species, but they tend to be ones who do extensive travel over a period of years.

After the year list, every birder has their own preferences. I keep a year list, which is the species seen in a calendar year. Some birders keep state lists and county lists, some keep seasonal lists, since with migration, some birds are in a location only certain times of years. How a birder organizes their lists depends on their interests. In my case, I do 90% of my birding in Santa Clara and Alameda county, so I keep it simple. (I also keep a yard list, which is birds I’ve seen from my home property. While typing this, I had a brown creeper wander up the telephone pole at the back of the property near the bird feeder — a new yard bird, #42, which is a nice high number for a suburban backyard. If you keep your eyes open, life can be full of fun little surprises) I’ve met birders who’ keep county lists and who’s goal is to see 200 species in every county in California. I’ve met others who’s goal is 700 species on the life list.

So when you hear a birder talk about lists, that’s what’s going on.

Posted in Birdwatching

My 2011 photographic goals

I’ve been thinking through the goals I want to set for my photography in 2011. I think I’m going to keep it relatively simple:

  • Push myself into new areas of photography to continue to improve my skills; specifically, it’s time to get serious about learning how to use flash, and it’s time for me to get serious about both field and studio macro photography.
  • I want to try to get back to Yosemite sometime this spring, hopefully when the dogwood is out and alive. I had planned a trip for 2010 at that time and ended up not being able to.
  • I want to get out on a photo trip to an area I haven’t been to and photographed and force myself to figure out how to shoot and then publish a piece about that area and tells its story.
  • I want to see if I can take at least one workshop as a way to push my skills via hands on work with someone else.
  • I want to take a close look at whether I can be “photoshop free”. I’m hoping to see what Apple has up its sleeve with Aperture 4.0 — I don’t know a damn thing if this even exists, but I’m assuming it does, and I”m guessing 2011 might be the year I can retire photoshop completely, and see whether Aperture does what I want and make myself free of all Adobe software (I like Lightroom; I don’t think Lightroom will ever be allowed to innovate enough to make photoshop irrelevant to all but the most hardcore photographers — and apple doesn’t have that political problem with aperture).
  • I’m going to do a personal quest to photograph as many species of bird again this year, and see if I can beat my 2010 number of 142
  • I need to experiment with video more.

And I’ll note for the record that nowhere in this list is “buy new stuff”; which doesn’t mean I won’t, but the gear needs to be defined by how it will implement the goals, not the other way around…

Happy 2011, all.



Posted in About Chuq, Photography