Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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The project at work moves forward; we shifted D-day from thursday to tuesday to make sure some server/cloud gremlins that have cropped up are properly dispatched. My task list has one more item outlined in red, and then I’m into the downhill run. But still, it’s mostly occupying my time and my brain.
I have been doing some planning with Laurie about the next year. Everything is up for change, but it’s nice to have a general idea of plans for trips and outings where we can.
The first trip out to the refuges is this weekend (project permitting) and Laurie and I are looking to head up into the Lodi area and check out Staten Island, Isenberg and Cosumnes. The weekend after that we want to head out to Merced NWR and see how the winter flocks are shaping up. I’m hearing the refuges aren’t completely flooded due to the lack of rain the last two years, and the pasture areas at Merced were in brutally bad shape when I scouted in June, so it may be a tough year for the birds. Lack of water has caused an outbreak of avian salmonella around Tule Lake that was killing off ducks a month ago; haven’t checked to see if that is under control yet.
So the main hope right now is for rain, and lots of it. There is some hope that the weather patterns are changing, maybe we’ll see the winter pattern kick in soon. If not, the word is the state has run out of buffer in the reservoirs, and another dry year is going to be brutal for all of us. My scouting and the word I’m hearing from others is very discouraging in terms of the quality of habitat for birds and the lack of water in the reservoirs I’ve checked out. I don’t think the general populace understands how bad things are yet. I’m hoping they don’t find out. So please, use your influence to get the rain going…
In January I’m planning a trip down to the central coast to take in the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival, and probably spend some time with the Elephant Seals, and hopefully off in Carrizo plains. My big photo trip for 2014 is going to be Yellowstone. I’m tentatively planning that for the end of May, just after they get the roads plowed, so the exact timing depends on the weather and the snowplows but I’m hoping for a full week there and in the Tetons in the last two weeks of May or early June. Laurie and I are currently talking about our fall trip being off to the Eastern Sierra for a week around June Lake and up into Bodie and Tahoe. That would be after Labor day sometime.
I’m also hoping to be able to schedule a short trip to spend a couple of days with one of a short list of photographers in a private workshop next spring. We’ll see whether that can happen (it depends on my time, their time, and the location cooperating…). Ashok and I talked about doing the Lightroom course for Yosemite Audubon again, and my workshop might dovetail nicely on that if I can make it all happen, but none of this is in the planning session again.
The rest of the next year is going to be spent mostly local; I hope to spend a fair bit of time in the refuges this weekend; how much is going to depend on what we find visiting the next two weeks, and on the weather. I wouldn’t mind being rained out a bit. And I have some projects started or planned for the next few months once my work project returns some spare energy back for me to move them forward… Oh, and showing up here more regularly again…
I get this question every so often, and I just ran across a blog post by Walter Jon Williams that wonderfully explains why I chose to stop writing fiction — almost 20 years ago (how time flies when you’re having fun…). He’s re-issued his novel The Rift as an ebook, and he talks about the environment that book was published in.
I ended my trip in Chicago at the World Fantasy Convention, where the fact of the collapse of the IDs, and the loss of paperback sales, were just being felt by the writers. There was the tang of flop sweat in the air. Careers were threatening to collapse on all sides as everyone adjusted to the fact of lost sales. I congratulated myself for neatly evading this trap.
In the mid-90’s I’d started selling short stories fairly regularly and was getting invites into theme anthologies, primarily those published through Marty Greenberg’s group. Short fiction wasn’t something I really loved writing, it was more a case of enjoying having written it.
I had two novels in various stages of disrepair. I had a career in high tech that was increasingly making demands on my time and which was both moderately lucrative and a lot of fun.
But I was becoming quite aware that I was doing what I later described as both burning the candle on both ends and hitting the middle of it with a blowtorch, and that it (well, I) wasn’t sustainable over the long run. I know a number of writers who are quite good at holding down a “real” job and turning out a professional writing career doing the moonlight thing — I realized I was not one of those people.
I was watching good friends of mine get eaten alive as their writing careers were getting imploded. It wasn’t just the collapse of the Independent Distributors, but this was also the rise of the big chains (especially Barnes and Noble) and their programmatic buying practices. A weak sale on a book and your future books were DOA. Worse, in paperbacks, return churn was killing a midlist book’s chance of finding an audience. I’m not joking when I say a book you could spend a year writing and a year working with the publisher getting ready might only see three weeks on a shelf before it was stripped and returned for credit — and if it DID sell its copies at the B&N, they probably wouldn’t reorder it because it was time for the next book anyway.
The ability of a writer to make a living in the midlist — generating a regular stream of books that sell moderate numbers consistent — basically died within about ten years. The ‘midlist’ basically transformed into books by writers who’d broken out and could sell their backlist, or new writers who couldn’t be put into the high-visibility slots where they might get a marketing push for a breakout but which publishers hoped might find enough of a breakout to justify buying another book. If you weren’t already established, you needed to do well right away or you didn’t sell future books (at least under that name; a number of authors have adopted pen names and tried again to better success).
I took a close look at the kind of fiction I was writing and wanted to write. It was a lot closer to Keith Laumer or Harry Harrison but the author that most felt like the kind of work I was trying to write was James White and his Sector General series.
I knew I could write publishable fiction, but I believed that what I wrote was going to be classic midlist, and it was what I wanted to write, and the market I would be trying to write to, I felt, was being destroyed. Established writers were having trouble staying afloat all around me in the science fiction world.
So for me it became and easy decision: focus on my computing career where job stability and salary were both fairly high, or commit to my writing, where income levels were poor and prospects were poorer. If I’d hated my job it might have been different, but because I really enjoy working with computers, there wasn’t the “I need to get out of here” motivation. I chose the more lucrative and fun path over the more adventurous but poorly paid path.
I will note for your amusement that I made that decision while I was working for Apple, at the time Apple was at the beginning of its historic implosion. And I stuck with Apple for another decade until Steve came in and fixed the mess. So much for job stability, although in reality I was only laid off at Apple once — and I talked them out of it before it was implemented (a decision that could have cost me about $50K when Apple revamped it’s layoff packages downward after that layoff if I’d been laid off later. oops.).
I figured I could come back to the fiction later when it all settled out. Here we are, 20 years later. It has and it hasn’t. For the last year or so, I’ve been trying to decide if I wanted to fire up the novels again. I’m still trying to decide (memo to self: this is probably a hint the answer is no, but I don’t want to admit it). The e-book revolution has re-created an opportunity for the midlist, and it’s opened up publishing to a large swath of writers that the traditional publishing industry left behind.
There are a couple of problems with this ebook self-publishing revolution, though: if you look at what happened with the IOS and other app stores, the opportunity is transitory; if you got in early you had a chance to ride the wave, but that wave flattens out, and then it becomes a lot of work for increasingly moderate returns — unless you break out. There’s still an opportunity to create a midlist model in independent publishing, but it presumes being able and willing to do your own marketing (and a fair amount of it) and create a number of titles over time; good, readable material plus working to drive people to find it.
And at my age, I find I can’t find the motivation to commit to a ten year process of building an audience for my fiction in hopes of making it a sustainable income. Assuming I’m still here in ten years.
I’m convinced self-publishing is going to follow the App Store model for financials and success as this all matures. that means there’s opportunity, but it’s the long-tail play for moderate gains and a hope for a big breakout. And I’m unconvinced I want to play that game at this point in my life.
At least with my fiction. Because I’ve also been toying with the idea of moving into writing an App or three. It may not actually pay better than if I wrote fiction and published it — but having ‘IOS developer’ added to my resume might help keep me relevant in the industry until I decide to hang it up for good; so there’s a secondary advantage to going in that direction.
And maybe I’ll just decide to relax and enjoy not burning the candle on both ends; unfortunately, I seem rather hardwired to that. And enjoy it…
In any event, seeing The Rift published in ebook reminded me it was a book I’d wanted to read when he originally published it and never got around to; it’s now safely ensconced on my iPad awaiting some free time to dig into…. And I suggest you might consider it, too. It is, from what I’ve heard, a good read…
I probably should have put the “gone fishing” sign out on the blog ten days ago, but I didn’t think about it. But I’m elbow deep in a major project at work, and it’s sucking all of my brain cells dry. Right now evenings are about coming home and working on simple stuff and relaxing, not about writing or working on geeky things.
The good news is a couple of days ago we had the daily status update and we looked at the state of things and announced “we could ship this and we’d be okay”. That’s a significant milestone in any project, even though “We can ship and not be killed” isn’t listed in any project management textbook.
The last couple of days have been about cleaning up the details and identifying what isn’t done. The next couple of days is about driving to closure increasingly more trivial details. User Testing is monday, if all goes well.
I did want to drop a quick note that I’m around, just busy. And I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train.
I will say this is the most fun I’ve had on a work project in a while, and I’m really liking the result.
Vacation is done, work has settled down, fall is here and honestly, I won’t miss summer much. Fall is my favorite season as the weather cools and the rains start and we move beyond the dry heat of summer here in the Bay Area. A lot of the summer was spent researching, planning, and putting building blocks in place and now it’s time to move forward on some projects that have been in the works…
Three projects, it turns out. One simple, one pretty quick, and one… neither.
First up — wallpapers. I’ve always liked the idea of distributing wallpapers of my images as a way of sharing them. I think it can be a really nice marketing tool for getting imagery out to new people, and some photographers are doing this and it seems to work nicely. Now that I have things set up nicely on Smugmug I have the infrastructure to do this properly, and it’s time to get this feature going. I expect it’ll be ready in October, and my goal is to release one image for each of three formats: the traditional desktop background, one that’ll work well on an iPad or similar device, and one formatted for iPhone and similar devices. These will all be free to distribute and share with a watermark.
After that, I think I finally have a solution I like for the curation beast I’ve been experimenting with. The last two experiments (the Tumblr blog and the twitter/g+ page integration) have both been steps in the right direction, IMHO, but both also had a lot of things that mostly proved why these weren’t the solutions I wanted, but gave me ideas of what could work and what to experiment with.
This new setup has what I think is a sustainable and scaleable infrastructure and it’ll be easy for me to manage the data and easy for people to access the information. It won’t require a lot of custom programming (yay!) and it won’t require a lot of manual button pushing, but I’ve come to realize that my ultimate goal, which was to figure out how to automate it and make it a turnkey setup wasn’t practical — that the manual management of the content is in fact the key value piece. The trick isn’t to do away with it, but to make that manual part fast, easy and scaleable, and I think I have that figured out.
It’s going to take me a bit to put all of the pieces in place, but I expect it’ll launch in early December. Since details may well change along the way, I’ll hold off talking about it until closer to launch. I like the plan, though, and more importantly, I feel pretty comfortable the plan is what I want, where in the past I knew I was still experimenting and testing towards a plan.
And finally, the big project. About this time last year while out on a visit to Merced National Wildlife Refuge, I came to realize I wanted to do more than just take pictures. These places we visit have a history and have a story to tell, and I found I wanted to tell that story. One of the people who strongly influenced me in this direction is Steven Bumgardner, who films the Yosemite Nature Notes videos. I honestly had no idea what this meant for me, just that I knew I wanted to take my photography in new directions that did more than shoot a picture and post it online.
I’ve ended up spending the last year trying to figure out what I wanted to do and build the skills needed to do it. As the winter refuge season approaches it’s now time to stop thinking and planning and start doing. The elevator pitch for this is that I’m going to try to tell the stories I find among the geese and cranes in the central valley refuges.
One of the things I’ve come to realize is that even among birders these places aren’t very well known or travelled. Within the general population people generally don’t know the refuges exist or why they’re important in the larger view of the health of the region and of the planet. It’s poorly understood how decisions being made in Merced or at Tule Lake or one or the other refuges impacts the health and economies of regions far away in places like Alaska or Canada and into Central and South America. As that’s true, so is the reverse: decisions made in those places affect us, our quality of life and the health of the planet. We as a planet seem to be finally getting serious about moving beyond burning fossil fuels, but too often people think the new technologies like Solar or Wind generation are “free” and “clean”, which is never true. They all have costs and risks, it’s a matter of understanding and managing them. Wind turbines, for instance, create a problem with bird kills as migrating birds run into them, and some of the turbine designs are disastrous.
I’ve really fallen in love with the refuges and I visit them as often as I can now. I want to explain that love to others, and help them to grow to love and value them as well.
That is the core of this new project. It’s going to start with some fairly simple parts — visiting guides, travelogues, essays — and build it into a larger and more complex set of things. My goal is to create things that encourage people to visit these places, help them understand then, and make them value their existence, and do it without being preachy and make them interesting and accessible to a general audience, not “just” birders or photographers.
The starting point for this will be the blog. I’ll be writing pieces here because I feel this format is the best for both incremental content creation and for getting feedback and guidance on the material and what to prioritize over time. That material will be part of what I’ll use for longer and more substantive pieces, both online and in ebook form, and perhaps as a dedicated tablet app. The pieces I have mapped out so far are probably going to take me two years to complete, given the timing of things and how much time I can dedicate to the project.
Despite it’s direct influence by Yosemite Nature Notes, this isn’t a video project. One thing I’ve done in the last year is look long and hard at video as either a full or partial option, and in reality, I’m a still image geek. Creating and publishing video just doesn’t tickle my toes the way creating images does, so the core of this project is going to be still imagery and writing. (Besides, a conservative estimate on trying to do this via video was closer to five years). I envision this as a suite of multi-media projects so I’m not saying no video will get used, but it’s going to supplement the core, not form it.
First up is going to be a guide to Merced NWR, which is my favorite. I’ll be working on that this winter and use it to finalize style, structure and content, and then start expanding that to include visits and visiting information for all of California’s refuges as well as discussion of the refuge system in general and the challenges and opportunities created for them by management policy, politics and our ongoing climate change. Over time I hope to expand that to include and ultimately try to include every one I can visit — and if I can, visit every one of them (if QT can do it for national parks, I can do it for national wildlife refuges).
I’ll be making my first visit out to Merced in the next month, and the goal is to try to get out there 7-8 times this winter migration. I’m also hoping to visit a number of the more local refuges this winter also and start building them into the discussion. right now, going further afield into the far northern parts of california (clear lake, tule lake) and into Oregon is probably on the docket for next year. But we’ll see…
And as it happens, we’ll start the discussion here, and then see what happens.
As I’d mentioned in the road trip notes, when in Astoria we always stop by Cellar on 10th and basically beg them to put together a case of stuff they like that we don’t know to ask for. By now, some of the case is new vintages of old favorites, but some of it is always new to us and part of the exploring of the Northwest Wine industry. Cellar on 10th really know Northwest wines, and they work with a lot of the smaller wineries, and those wineries give them access to wines that normally aren’t sold except on the winery premises. They’ve turned us onto a lot of really, really nice wines over the years. So I love to stop by when I can get to Astoria, and ask them to box me up a care package of things they think are really nice that I wouldn’t know to buy. And they do, and we bring it home, and we enjoy it thoroughly. It’s a great way to discover interesting wines and to find new styles of wine to build an addiction around. They turned us onto Sineann, for instance, for which I’ll be eternally grateful.
I thought it might be fun to talk about what we picked up and why. Okay, I wanted to gloat a bit, because we’ll be drinking this and you won’t (unless you contact Cellar on 10th. they ship….)
A couple of quick notes on our wine preferences: we don’t cellar any more, so we’re buying things intending to drink in the next 12-24 months or less. We tend to minimize Cabernet and Chardonnay, and we to go more for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Zinfandel. Our “house wine” is Cakebread (we’ve been buying their wines since I was at Sun) but we aren’t afraid of a bottle of two buck chuck. We’ve picked up an appreciation for Sangiovese, Barolo and I have a minor addiction to ice wines and ports. I am not going to talk about the wines, since we haven’t drunk them yet.
Just your normal silicon valley happy hour wine drinkers…
First up, our Sineanne. We picked up the 2011 Pinot Noir Resonance Vineyard. We also picked up a 2 bottles of the Sineann Pinot Gris 2012 Wy’east Vineyard. These should be good, hearty, Williamette Pinots. Sineanne also makes one of my favorite dessert wines, the Sweet Sydney, which they were out of stock on. It is a Zinfandel Ice wine, with some nice sharp notes and a wonderful syrup (fortunately, I still have a bottle hidden away).
Another winery we like is Troon Vineyards, in Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon. They make a wonderful Zinfandel, so we put two of their 2011 Foundation ’72 bottles in the box.
Another old favorite is Owen Roe’s Abbot’s Table. It is a Columbia valley red blend, sort of a hearty table wine for people who don’t believe “table wine” should mean “cheap grapes and compromises”. This is a blend of Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Lemberge, with a bit of Merlot and Malbec in it.
One more old favorite: Zerba Cellars, Walla Walla valley. we grabbed a bottle of their 2008 Grenache.
Then some new to us releases: Adelsheim 2010 Pinot Nois. They’re out of the Willamette Valley, a good place for Pinot. Another Willamette Valley Pinot is the 2011 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee from Cristom. And yet another Willamette Valley Pinot: The 2011 from Les Cousins, produced by Beaux Freres in Newberg.
Finally, the most unusual of the main box: The Barhard Griffin 2012 Sangiovese Rose. It’s got this most fascinating color, and I’m intensely curious about how the rose treatment will manage the Sangiovese grape. And it was one of the least expensive wines in the buy, so even if it’s just “okay”, it was an easy thing to experiment with. I’m hoping this one will surprise me a bit…
In the goodie bag we ended up bringing home three dessert wines, the Sineanne 2008 CJ, which is a Zinfandel Port. The second is the only non-northwest wine, a Jackson-Triggs (Niagara region) Proprietors Reserve Icewine 2007. This is a white blend where the grapes are crushed frozen so they can remove the ice and concentrate the syrup. I’m not insulting this wine by saying I consider it the classic example of a “table wine” for ice wine, the kind of thing you sit down with a nice cheese plate and a friend or two after a good meal… Clean and sweet and syrupy but not cloying, the sort of wine you drink with conversation while you unwind.
And finally, the really obscure and strange wine of the trip, a Ken Wright Cellars 2001 Late Harvest Red Wine. It’s sold as a faux port. It was originally crushed to be a port but the story we were told was that when they sampled the barrels when they were thinking of bottling it, they hated it, so they took the barrels and buried them in the back of the storage building. Four years later they were noticed and were going to be cleared out, and they tasted them just to see what they’d become, and they really liked them — but didn’t know what to do with them. At one point this was going to be bottled just for staff, but it’s available primarily through the cellar directly in limited volume, and the Cellar on 10th people got their hands on a small supply as well. And now I have a bottle, I have no idea what it’s going to be when I open it up, but I’m really looking forward to finding out.
This haul kinda sums up our racks — lots of pinot, lots of zin, and a random selection of weird stuff that happens to be really good. I’m not a huge fan of the formal tasting, but I know what I like and that’s what matters. If any of these really stand out, I’ll talk about them when we open them up. Mostly, though, I think wine’s about figuring out what you like, and then finding someone who can help you get more of that and identify other cellars that you’ll like as well.
And that’s why I like wandering by Cellar on 10th every so often…
The blog shall soon recommence. I have been away seeking adventures, and I have found them.
We woke up this morning around 8AM in Portland Oregon. Here we are about 11PM typing from Santa Clara, California. That last leg is a long one, but a pretty one (mostly), if a big of a grind.
8 nights, 2575 miles, 5 hotels, fog, a volcano, great blue herons, some rather nice beer, some really amazing cider, and a week away from work, and mostly away from everything else, including this place and social media.
And it was awesome.
We return home rested and relaxed, and with a rather nice stash of northwest wines and a collection of rather interesting ciders to explore. And some plans to put in motion…
time (and mental energy) to write has been a bit tough again, but I’m happy to say that a project I’ve been working on has been approved into the next phase as of today when we reviewed the PRD I’ve been banging out (50 pages…. whee) and agreed we’re at feature complete. We also officially pushed our first few features off into the next release, but that was expected given the scope of this. Now I switch from beating my head against the virtual brick wall of a blank page to beating my head against my wireframing tool as I try to design some of these pages and start on the graphic design elements. Good news is that we’re building it on Drupal (and using Drupal Commons, which so far, we really, really like) and everyone agrees we should use what Drupal gives us unless there’s a strong reason not to and not define up a set of looks and actions and then beat Drupal with a stick until it cooperates. That makes all of our lives easier, and it’s nice working with a team that understands working with a CMS instead of fighting it…
I’m also at that point before vacation where I keep thinking I’ve got everything under control before we leave, only to realize I haven’t got this done yet. The most recent this was Tatiana’s vacation cage because her old vacation cage is ancient, rusting and falling apart, and that rusting part really bothers me, even in limited use. So I’ve been in search of a decently priced, quality and properly sized cage for her that I can stuff in the truck when we take her to summer camp.
And that turns out to be an exceptional pain in the ass, to put it mildly, because the companies that make bird cages for larger birds have web sites that were last updated about 2003, at least in terms of functionality and style. If that. I did find one I like well enough (by Avian Adventures), found a place that’ll ship it to us before we leave for a reasonable shipping fee, and now we wait to see if I like it as much in person.
(and yes, this might be something to buy in person, if that wasn’t just as painful here in the bay area).
So, one more “one last thing before we’re ready to go” done. Wondering how many more to come… (I still haven’t, other than booking hotel rooms, formalized exactly what locations we want to prioritize…. I know some of the key stops, but I haven’t mapped that out to proposed times yet. we may end up winging it… Since it’s only 8:30, I’m going ot try to get pushing forward on some of the writing I want to get done…
Running around like crazy again, working on some writing but haven’t quite gotten them done, but here’s a few quick updates on what’s going on for those that might be interested…
Just made the hotel reservations for vacation after Labor Day. This trip’s up the Oregon Coast and then into the Gorge. We’ll be spending a few days in Lincoln City, a few more in Cannon Beach, then off to Hood River and back to Portland. First real vacation (longer than a 4 day weekend) for me since 2008 thanks to various things like working for failing startups and the like, and first time up into the Northwest for me since 2006. I definitely miss it and am looking forward to spending some quality time with Laurie and a camera or two.
Not exactly sure what the plans are other than looking for photos and spending some time shooting some of the lighthouses and looking for birds and interesting sunsets. I do expect we’ll hit Cape Meares and Yaquina head and I want to explore Cape Kiwanda, and I want to explore in some detail around Cape Disappointment. Have to see what interesting birds are happening on the route as well, of course. We’re unlikely to get north of Long Beach; maybe Bridgeport if we push it. No time for BC or Seattle this trip, but if you’re along the route and have suggestions or want to try to hook up for coffee, drop me a note.
I would really appreciate a few suggestions for interesting meals in Portland. It’s been a too long since I’ve been there. Other than hitting up Powell’s, we haven’t planned anything there yet, but we’ll have easy access to Metro (because I’m not an idiot….)
And in the “yippee!” department, today Laurie heard that she was accepted into the program and in the spring is going back to school to start work on her MLIS (Masters in Library Information Science) at San Jose State. She’s been thinking about this for a while, and as she collects degrees like some people collect hockey pucks, I figured she was due to go back to school. I think this is a great thing for her. Me, I’ll be off taking pictures while she’s busy arguing with books…