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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I'm thrilled to announce that I've launched a project I've been working on for the last couple of months. For Your Consideration is my attempt to re-think how we interact with information on the Internet.
My goal of For Your Consideration is to slow down, focus on good and interesting things, give them context. It is one posting per day, seven days a week.
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- My ongoing series: Getting Geeky with Lightroom
- Some Thoughts on Lightroom Keywords
- More than you want to know about backups (the 2013 edition)
- Should you consider upgrading your home network to a NAS?
- How not to be a doofus with a camera
- Getting started in bird photography: Choose Your Weapons
- Getting going in Photography on the Cheap
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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…
Monday was Cortisone day. It is a day I both look forward to and dread. Off to visit the Orthopedist, wearing sweats that I can pull up over the knees easily.Â Back in 2007, I was out for a walk, and doing some birding. Trying to get a better look at a bird, I stepped backward, into a gopher hole. The lower part of my right leg twisted and rotated, the upper part didn’t.
The knee is not a pivot joint. Many of us find this out the hard way.Â The knee didn’t heal. The swelling went down, but every time I started using it, it got wonky. Unstable, and it’d lock up on me. Every so often I’d take a step and it wouldn’t carry my weight. So, off to the surgeon to get the meniscus I’d torn in the gopher hole fixed. Except the surgeon took one look at the x-rays and told me they weren’t operable.
That wasn’t what I’d expected to hear. The knees were arthritic. Which, I guess shouldn’t have been a surprise to middle-aged me, but it was. We had two options: drugs or knee replacement.Â Knee replacement is — routine — but has all sorts of challenges. Not the least of which is that they only last for a couple of decades (or less) and then you need to replace them again. If we could delay needing the first replacement, we’d increase the chances I’d never need a second. Not to mention to replace both knees is about four or five months of fun (and physical therapy).
So we started simple. Relafen, an NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory). Close relative to Motrin, one of the family of different things you probably generically call aspirin. Fortunately, I tolerated it well, and the knees reacted to it. The pain went away, the knee stabilized, and I could walk again. We started at 500mg (the Motrin you can buy at the store are 200mg). That held the fort for about 18 months, then we boosted it to 1000mg a day. That was good for another couple of years.
Arthritis is a progressive disease. It never gets better, the best you can do is fight it to a draw. So ultimately the Relafen wasn’t enough any more. My doctor didn’t want to raise the dosage (you can go to 2000mg a day, but you can also eat your liver doing so), so he suggested Cortisone.
In walks my doctor, syringes in hand. We talk over how the knees are getting along, they poke at the knees and mark the injection points, and they carefully cover the areas with iodine and then a local anesthetic. I joke about getting the injection points tattooed to save him time. He picks up the first needle, which seems like it’s a foot long, and I close my eyes.
I’m not a fan of needles, but I tolerate them okay, as long as I don’t look. For some reason, the needle hurts a lot more if I see it go in, so I close my eyes.Â The iodine is cold. The local stings the skin, just a bit. The needle goes in, finds its way under the kneecap. It’s not so much pain as pressure as the liquid flows in and redistributes. Still, it’s not what I’d call pleasant. The needle leaves, the hole is covered with a bandage, we compare notes on how it felt and when to chat next, and I’m gone.
Over the next few hours, a miracle occurs. My knees transform from sore, achy, old people knees into younger knees that actually move without creaks and snaps. The transition itself isn’t painless — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but once it settles down, things work a lot better for a while. This time, the right knee gives up mostly without a fight and within 12 hours felt great. The left knee, which has a lot less damage to it, swelled up a bit and got sore and took about 36 hours before it felt better.
One thing getting cortisone shots has done is give me a new appreciation for what professional athletes go through to entertain us. My doctors don’t want to give me shots more often than every three months because of the risk of doing damage to your connective tissue: it can turn your tendons and ligaments to jello if you hit them with it too often. Yet you hear about pro athletes injecting an injured joint routinely, sometimes before every game. A lot of these guys are taking risks of lifeline orthopedic problems to win — for our enjoyment (and the money and fame). Something to remember next time someone starts up the “athletes are paid too much” rant.
Cortisone doesn’t heal. Cortisone is a quality of life drug. It reduces pain and improves mobility, but it’s temporary. If you use it too often too close together it can make things worse. The big challenge in my life right now is that I’m too sedentary, but moving around more is great in theory, not so great when moving hurts. Cortisone spackles over that gap, at least for a while.
I know that ultimately, I’m going to lose this fight and need to go through knee replacement. Â If I can put it off another five years I’ll be thrilled. Right now, that looks practical, but time will tell. And in my long term goal to not be that old guy in the scooter, I’ll take any advantage I can get.
So that’s why I’ll keep taking the cortisone, even though it means dealing with those needles….
One of the things I’ve been mulling over the last few months is where this blog ranked in the priority of the things going on in my life and how much time (if any) I wanted to commit to it. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I ultimately decided that I am going to stop blogging.
Stay with me for a minute on this one, okay?
Head off to your favorite search engine and go search for, say, Blogging Best Practices. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Read through the links it returns.
Notice how so much of what they talk about is about things like “engagement”, and SEO, and “punchy titles” and linking and frequent posting and the like? Notice how pretty close to zero percent of the advice and discussion about this says anything about the writing itself? Except in vague generalities like “be interesting” “be yourself” “be casual” “be engaging”…
When you boil it all down, blogging today, at least as the so-called experts preach how it ought to be done, has been turned into a big marketing engine. It’s more important that it SEO well than if it’s actually well written. Or interesting. Â Short and punchy, and break it up into pieces posted over days, so you can get more hits and pageviews out of it. Blogging has been turned into writing daily press releases in hopes of gaining attention. It’s now a PR function, not a creative one. And frankly, most of the time, it fails miserably at that, too.
The Problem with Blogging
- Too many keyboards chasing too few ideas.
- Too many people following “the rules” rather than the material.
- Too many short, shallow, forgettable, thin pieces of crap.
- Lots of opinions without backing facts or expertise.
- The answer?
- Don’t blog. Unless.
- Â You’re actually saying something.
- What you say actually adds to the conversation.
- You’ve taken the time to think through the material and your opinion.
- Â You actually explain WHY, not just what.
Looking for Answers
One of the things I’ve been doing the last couple of months is surveying photography blogs, trying to figure out what photographers I ought to be reading and looking at what is being written and why I find it interesting. Along the way I’ve sampled hundreds of blogs, far too many which seem to have swallowed the advice of the “best practices” preachers hook, line and sinker. Many of them, to be blunt, should be spending a lot less time writing blog posts and a lot more time working on their photography. All the marketing and blogging in the world isn’t going to do much for you when your portfolio is an endless army of badly rendered images surrounded by blown highlights. And yet it’s clear they’re putting a huge effort into all of this social media stuff in an attempt to sell, well, crappy photos. (god help me, that was probably me five years ago, too… I’ll save a stone to throw at my own house here). It all got rather depressing after a while.
So I give up. I’m not going to blog any more.
Writing stuff every day that someone comes and looks at — for 30 seconds — is pretty easy, actually. But not very fulfilling. I don’t want to write stuff that causes people to come to the site and bounce off to the next site two paragraphs later. I want them to stop and finish the piece and then pass it along to their friends to read. That kind of writing — not so easy.Â What I want to do doesn’t segment out well into 500 word chunks posted five times a week. I’ve tried in the past to build that cadence into my writing, and what I find it does is it pushes you into writing simple, forgettable, easily created chunks of shallow and not terribly useful words.
The other reason I’ve been wandering photography blogs like a hobo the last few months is I’ve been trying to understand how I could add to the conversation about photography out on the net and not merely repeat it. Lets be honest: nobody, anywhere, under any circumstances needs to write another blog post that tries to explain Aperture mode to a new user. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of people who’ve written about that, so if that’s your idea of useful content to write for your blog, just stop and go get your camera and go take pictures instead. Â The universe does not need another blog full of generic 500 word tutorials on basic camera concepts — except that if you follow the best practices experts, that’s the kind of material they tend to push you at, because it’s easy, it’ll SEO well, and it’ll drive PAGEVIEWS. Quality? Good writing? Interesting topics? Kiddo, that stuff doesn’t SEO, why waste your time?
Oh, just shoot me.
So what I’m going to do is this. I’m going to stop blogging. Any pretense of it.
I’m going to write. I have a bunch of stuff to write about, actually, as I’ve been collecting topics and concepts for a while (My evernote has around 70 “blog this!” notes in it now). I’ve also thrown out a lot of stuff I will not write about, because either I don’t feel I’m qualified or I don’t think I’d say anything really original, or because it just isn’t (to me) all that interesting. That’s another 50 items that no longer live in my Evernote “blog this!” folder. Â Ultimately, my goal is to create some ebooks, and yes, maybe even sell them (gasp). Along the way, as I get parts written, I’ll post them here, because I believe in sharing instead of hiding, and because I’ve long believed that the feedback and ideas I get from sharing are worth a lot more than the incoming I might theoretically lose by only making the material available freely.
Besides, well, marketing. If I write good stuff, you’ll want the final version, and you’ll tell your friends (you will, right? RIGHT?) — and we all win.
So that’s what we’ll do.
Your friendly neighborhood IT guy
One thing I’ve found is that lots of you are insanely negligent about taking care of your digital darkroom — that computer and the software on it that makes your images happen. I can’t tell you how many twitter discussions I’ve had with people who are wandering around with $10,000 in camera gear, and suddenly find themselves with a dead four year old computer and a copy of Photoshop CS3 and no backups. Usually, this happens (a) on deadline, (b) on a weekend, and (c) just before they’re headed out on a trip.
What these people need are an IT guy to deal with the systems. As someone who spent a number of years in IT as well as behind a camera, I’m going to talk about things like investing in your infrastructure, technical debt, maintenance and scheduling things like upgrades — and backups. (hint: when was your last backup made? If you can’t tell me off the top of your head, or if you know that the date you’d give me would cause me to slap you silly, stop what you’reÂ doing and attend to your stupid backups…)
So you can consider me your IT guy, especially if you’re running on a Macintosh. If you’re a Windows person, not everything I’ll talk about will be of direct use, but the theories will still apply. (another hint: if you are running on windows, and that Windows box boots up and says “Windows XP”, you are an idiot, you you need to upgrade your gear sooner rather than later. We’ll talk about WHY, but don’t wait. You’re a disaster waiting to happen on a number of levels).
Lightroom for Fun and Profit
When I’ve talked to people about my Lightroom workflows, and when I’ve walked people through how I process an image, the feedback I get back is fascinating. So many people seem to be at the “hunt and peck typist” stage of managing their photos, and struggle at finding images later or reproducing an look on some later image. In a lot of cases, this is because they sit down at the computer and push buttons and twist knobs until it looks okay, and haven’t spent the time to really learn the tools.
I’ve had a bunch of requests to teach my workflow or to get it into a form that people can study. So we will.
One thing I’ve thought about doing for a while is doing tutorials and writing my way through how I process a given image. I’ve decided I’m going to try to do at least one of these a month, where we start with a RAW image right out of the camera, and end up with — hopefully — something pretty and useable. One of the things I’m considering doing in the Bird Photography group on G+ is offering to do this kind of processing on someone else’s image and show them how I’d process the image. If I start that up, it’ll happen here as well. The idea is to get down and dirty in Lightroom and give people a chance to see how an image is developed in the digital darkroom, one example at a time.
And Other Stuff, Too
I’ve always used this place as a bit of a journal, and that’s not going to stop. You’re going to continue to see some hockey writing (but probably less than in the past), and more birding, more community management discussion, and a lot more photography. I’ve got a lot of things in process or in planning, and as they surface into reality. I’ve enjoyed doing my road trips in the past, and gotten good response to them. Laurie and I have a trip up the Oregon Coast and I expect to take a lot of photos and talk about it.
There’s lots to talk about. What I think is important, though, is not how many things I write about, but how well. Rather than try to write to the cadence of a blogger, I’m going to worry more about writing well instead of writing fast, and so things will happen as they happen. I’m hoping the results will be worth it for all of us, whether I’m updating the blog every couple of days or every couple of weeks.
We’ll try it and see how it goes. If it works, great. If not, we’ll try something else.
Because isn’t that the essence of all of this?
So, hey. Remember me? I used to blog here.
Yeah, well… I keep intending to, but things keep happening. And blogging keeps losing to “sleep” on the “what do I do next?” list in the evening.
The good news is, some really good stuff has happened. For instance…
When Google+ was updated to support communities, I decided to experiment with them. The result was the Bird Photography community. I really, really like how G+ has implemented these communities, it’s very well thought out and fairly easy to manage. I was joined early on by a second person as a co-founder, and we’ve been working together to get the community operating the way we want it to and to create the culture of the group. It’s worked quite well so far, and there’s a great community of users there now. We’ve passed 2500 members and are quickly headed towards 3,000. Because we want to stay ahead of the growth curve,Â in the last ten days, we’ve brought in four new moderators to help out and help us implement some new things within the group. A good bit of my writing energy has been focussed there, but now that the moderators are on board, I can relax a bit and be a bit less hands-on.
As a side project to the community, I started Bird Photography Today. This was my first experiment with Google+ pages because I was curious how well they’d work as a curation tool. The answer: they’re pretty good. This page is an experiment in curating into one place the best of the Bird Photography community as well as other content of interest to Bird Photographers that I find on G+ and around the net. It’s still a rather informal thing, but I expect to expand its scope and when I can set up the right toolchains, migrate that content around to other services and see what useful forms I can mutate it into. Right now it’s very much community-centric, and there’s a lot of really good photography being showcased there, but I’d like it to become a resource bird photographers can use as a reference for what’s going on across the net. Someday: right now, I’m just dipping my toe into that.
That experiment convinced me it was time to move to my third generation of my curation experiment, and so I retired the tumblr toy and replaced it with the Stuff You’ll Like page on Google+, paired with a twitter feed, which you can follow @CollatingLife. I even did one of my patented crappy icons for it, so I must be serious.
Seriously, though, by using Hootsuite as a front end administrative console that feeds submissions into both the G+ page and the Twitter feed, and then using a WordPress plug-in to suck in the Twitter feed and turn it into the blog post every night, I think this is a nice way to track down and distribute a curated feed of the things I run into around the net every day that I find useful and interesting. Thanks to adopting in Hootsuite in the front end, administratively it’s a lot easier and has a much lower-hassle factor for me, although my workflow is still desktop based. I am working towards being able to do my curation work mobile as well some day, but it’s not here yet.
Why my continuing work on these curation tools? I see them as signal amplifiers — helping the quality content out there surface so others can more easily find it in the noise generated by that huge firehose of data the internet spews out every second. This kind of curation work is one way we can all help the good content get noticed — but a key to these kind of curation systems are that they have to be low-friction and low-hassle for the curator, or it won’t happen reliably. If we can figure out easy ways to do this kind of curation, then maybe we can start seeing larger numbers of these curated feeds happening, and if we do, there’s a lot of work we can do analyzing and processing those feeds to help find the consensus views on the information most useful and interesting to people — so we can present it and give it visibility. (this general process is one reason why I like Prismatic and have made it my primary discovery service. They’re doing interesting work there.
The other thing that has sucked up my spare time (and then some) the last few weeks is that I upgraded to LightRoom 5.
Well, the LightRoom upgrade was painless. Really, it was. But once I started working with Lightroom 5, things kind of mushroomed. I uttered those infamous words “well, as long as I’m working on this, I ought to…” and –
Okay, have you ever told your spouse “I’m headed out to the garage for a bit. I need to change the oil in the car.” — and then when dinner hits and she comes out to see if you’ve been crushed under the car she finds the engine spread all over the floor in pieces? Yeah, when you open the hood, things don’t always go as planned.
Or in my case, they went exactly as planned — but I kept expanding the scope of the plans. As long as I’m here, I’ve been meaning to get to….
Since last we spoke, not only have I upgraded to Lightroom 5, I…
Completely restructured how I store photos on the hard drives, partly because I’ve shifted to using an SSD in the laptop (much smaller, so the images wouldn’t fit on it while traveling).
With LR5′s Smart Previews, I now had the ability to leave the RAW files at home. Except for key files I wanted with me on disk, and of course the catalogs. And some of my workflows broke badly, especially those depending on virtual copies, which have to reside in the same folder as the original.
And while fixing that, I realized that meant I had to rethink how I was storing different versions of an image on the disk — the image file I use as the primary master is different than the one I use for print is different than the one I use to create wallpapers and MAY (or may not) be different than the one I use to upload to sites like flickr, and… So I had to beat this chaos into submission.
And while fixing that, I realized I needed to rethink how I named files, because I had to actually be able to find the right version later without wasting 15 minutes searching.
And while fixing that, I had to rethink some of my keywording strategies to support these changes, and that meant changing a bunch of smart folders that depended on the keywords.
Somewhere along the way I remembered there were a bunch of images I wanted to resharpen because their sharpening frankly sucked and every time I looked at them on Flickr I winced. So I did.
And then the whole controversy about Photoshop’s move to Creative Cloud and the pricing kicked in, and people started whining about not being able to open PSD files if they stop paying for Photoshop. And the upshot of that was a decision to see just how far I could pull myself away from Photoshop in my post processing, and also making a decision that a PSD file could no longer be used as a permanent holder for an image. So yes, that means both reprocessing a bunch of images to experiment with new workflows methods — and I’ve come up with one that doesn’t use photoshop at all, unless I need to use a specific operation within photoshop (like content aware patch, or the occasional adjustment with a layer mask). That, and high-end printing, are the only reasons I’m using Photoshop for photos now, and my plug-in workflow now uses TIFF instead of PSD, and if I DO use photoshop along the way, the final result is now saved to TIFF, so if my Photoshop ever turns into a pumpkin, my images still work.
And while I was busy beating my head against those particular walls, I decided to say bugger all and I ended up mass resharpening a lot of my images (MUCH improved, if not individually crafted), and then reprocessed from scratch my best of show images, and decided (because I’m insane) to take all of my HDR images (ALL my HDR images) and reprocess them from scratch. And…
And along the way, I added in some new keywording sets and started attaching them to files, and a bunch of new views into the catalog via smart folders, and some new diagnostics against the catalog (again with smart folders) that tell me when I’ve screwed up some part of a Â workflow or something is “wrong” in there, and…
Yeah. And once I was done, I’d touched about 2500 images, reprocessed around 650 in some way or another, including a couple of dozen HDRs, and here we are three weeks of long evenings later, and honestly, I really like the end result. It was totally worth it. About half the images I’ve uploaded to Flickr got refreshed, and another 150-200 got deleted and uploaded as new images because of various limitations in how lightroom, the uploading plug-in and flickr all want to interact. Lots and lots and lots of bits flying around the room for lots and lots of hours….
But, like going out to change the oil and coming back having rebuilt the pistons and retimed the crankshaft, the end result seems pretty good for now. And there’s a huge amount of fun stuff in there to blog about, which I intend to do. There are things I’m doing with Lightroom that I haven’t seen anyone else ever talk about, and you may well find some of this useful and interesting for your own purposes…
And now I don’t wince when I look at my images on Flickr. That alone is priceless…
And yeah, I’ve even taken a few photos. but honestly, not many. Summer is not the best nature photo period here in the Bay Area, but shorebird migration is starting up. And it’s not too far off that we’ll be headed up into Oregon for some honest to god vacation time.
but until then, less Lightroom, more writing. Maybe. Hopefully…
So I’ve celebrated another birthday, which for some strange reason happens every July. One nice thing about having a birthday this time of year is it lends itself to long weekends. The bad thing about having a birthday this time of year is that it’s a lousy weekend to go travel unless you like crowds of amateurs taking advantage of the long weekend.
So my weekend is pretty simple. Sat with the neighbors and watched the fireworks from Santa Clara Central Park on their front lawn. I’ve been spending the last couple of days working on some personal projects and trying to finish up some ongoing work, especially some long-planned restructuring and housekeeping in Lightroom.
It’s also been one of those weeks. A long-time friend was diagnosed with cancer. Another was declared cancer-free. Someone I’ve known here in the Silicon Valley geek world seemingly forever died on my birthday, and he was six or seven years younger than me. None of these are rareÂ occurrencesÂ any more, not at this age.
I tend not to make a big deal of birthdays. This one has repeating numbers, which along with things ending in zero, make some people believe they have some special significance. Me, to be honest, I’m just happy I’ve been able to stick around and annoy my friends for another circle of the sun. Not everyone’s been so lucky. I also try not to dwell on that, either; down that road lies a dark place we don’t want to visit.
I haven’t been around the blog much; combination of things, starting with a new project at work that’s keeping me busy. I also founded the Bird Photography community on Google+ when they released communities, and it’s taken off a bit and is growing nicely. We’re at close to 2,500 members and now looking to bring on some more moderators to help manage it as the growth continues, and to help us launch some new features. It’s got some great photographers in it and some incredible imagery, and I suggest you check it out. It (and G+ in general) are taking up more of my free time these days, in a good way.
Doesn’t mean the blog is abandoned, but I’ve been trying to figure out how it fits into life. I’m less interested right now in blogging for blogging sake, but more interested in writing. What this means (I think) is a lower frequency of postings, but longer, hopefully more thoughtful pieces. More detail, better content. I’ll blog about that soon.
Another reason I’m not blogging as often: I made a decision that downtime wasn’t a crime, and I’ve made aÂ commitmentÂ to myself that it’s okay to do — nothing. Sit on the couch and NOT try to write a blog post. Or watch a hockey game and NOT try to keyword photos at the same time. I’m turning off e-mail. I’m not being anal that I have to respond to things in real-time.
I think many of us in Silicon Valley have bought into the “always on, always going, always working” mentality. You know what? it’s over-rated. Downtime matters, too. Taking breaks matters. Enjoying going out and not worrying about doing three other things… Maybe I’m doing fewer things, but as far as I can tell, the things I’m doing are being done better. I’m re-learning the fine art of focusing on something until it’s done and done well, rather than worrying so much about how quickly I can get those four things done.
My suggestion: you should try it. It rocks.
At the start of the year I did what I normally do, which is try to map out my broad plans for the next year, and think through longer term goals so I can put my energies in the proper places to move closer to them. A funny thing happened. My five year goal wasn’t “Be a full-time professional photographer” or “have three novels on the market” or even “Be lead community manager for flickr”…
it was “sitting on a beach watching the sunset”.
It’s that point in your life where you realize your long-term goal is to stop having long-term goals.
That actually changes a lot of things, starting with assumptions. I’ve always had a project or two on the back burner, planning to launch them when I felt it was time to drop out of Silicon Valley and move out on my own. As it turns out, I really like the work I do (and it pays pretty well), and the projects I’ve wanted to do have usually scoped out at requiring a larger time commitment than “after work and on weekends” would cooperate with. I’ve come close to launching a couple of times — but always pulled back. Correctly, I think. Better not launch than crash and burn.
What this means is that I’ve shuttered plans on projects that have long-term trajectories. “Relaunching my fiction writing” is a long-term project. you don’t write a novel, you really need multiple books over time to build an audience and launch a business around the books. Does this mean I won’t write a novel? I dunno. If I do, I’ll serialize it here on the site, package it as an ebook, and if it makes some money, great. But am I going to build a business around that book? No.
Ditto photography; it’s really a business for the long run. It makes more sense to invest in making images, and not in building a business around them. (and that’s a lot more fun, too).
This is about understanding where to put time and energy; it’s understanding what NOT to do, because it doesn’t fit your strategies. I currently really like what I do, and I don’t expect to exit Silicon Valley any time soon — I can see myself working another decade, god and creaky knees willing. I can also see myself ending that sooner if the right situations occur.
All of this, by the way, leaves me way more things on the “to do someday” list than I’ll ever get to. And room for new things. Deciding about things you’re not going to do doesn’t closeÂ opportunitiesÂ it merely allows you to shift those opportunities in new directions…
I hesitate to use the word “retire”, because I always see it as shifting my activity to other things, not stopping. I’d love at some point to find a way to mash together my geek side and my photo side, but I’m also not particularly worried about making it happen.
So much to do. I mean, seriously: my “blog about this” folder in Evernote just broke seventy topics… I have no problem keeping as busy as I want to be. The trick is to not let myself get scheduled into being too busy, and not putting the time into low-priority things that I ought to put on other projects that matter more.
And that’s why it’s sometimes nice to step back and think these things through….
What was the first app you created and what did it do? Back in 1975, the first app I wrote made the LEDs on the front of an IMSAI 8080 blink in fancy patterns.
It was a painstaking process. There was no development environment like Xcode: I had to compile the code by hand and enter it using switches on the front of the computer. There was no debugger and it took me weeks to get it right.
But when I did, there was a sense of accomplishment that Iâ€™d never experienced before. There will be many times in the development of an app where you want to give up because itâ€™s just so damn HARD. But donâ€™t: the feeling you get when everything works will make it all worthwhile.
Yes, that. Exactly. Only in my case, it was about 1978. At the time, I was a theater major heading rapidly towards a non-voluntary vacation from college (and a side trip through the local community college), and I took this weird programming class because I could do that and avoid taking Â real math class.
And I sat down in front of a computer for the first time, and had that “where have you BEEN all my life?” moment.Â
Got an A in the programming class, flunked every other class that semester (including a PE class. that’s hard to do) and never looked back.Â
Since it’s the four year anniversary of the Palm Pre being released, a quick anecdote about life at Palm (while I’m eating lunch and trying to figure out a weird CSS thing….)
It’s September, 2009. The Pre had been out for a few months. We hadn’t yet hired an app review team, so somehow, I ended up in charge of pushing apps out to the catalog. Today was a big day, because Ruby was going to have a talk with the analysts and we were going to announce some milestone as to the number of apps that were now in the catalog (100? 1000? 399, discounted from 500? I have no freaking idea at this point). My job was to make sure those apps were in the catalog when he made the announcement, but not shove them out early and blow the surprise.
How hard could THAT be?
I push the first app. The process typically took about 2 minutes. Ten minutes later, it was still pushing. Twenty minutes later it was still pushing. I started getting phone calls about why the apps weren’t there…
I pulled the cord on the air raid siren with Engineering, and basically let them know if this wasn’t fixed two hours ago, Ruby would be killing all of us. Turns out they’d made an enhancement to the process overnight (yes, let’s make code changes to production systems the night before a major announcement. What COULD go wrong?). The push process used rsync in the background, and in an “oops, silly me” moment, they forgot the rsync flag telling it to only push changed content. So every push was repushing every bit in the repository — 35 minutes instead of 2. per push. with 25 pushes to go. And Ruby about to go on stage.
So I got to have the talk with PR, and let them know it wasn’t going to happen. They invented a new story for Ruby to talk about, who went out and pretended he wasn’t pissed off and ready to kill everyone, and the analyst talk went off well. (I think maybe he did the “we just approved out whatever-special-number-this-is app, and they’ll all be in the catalog later this afternoon…”)
Fortunately for me, I wasn’t party to some of the — discussions — that went on about that little technical faux paus, since I was the messenger. The good news, I guess, was that it was one of those rather nasty moments of pain that nobody sees on the outside.
But that’s not the entire story. During that entire sequence I’d been also exchanging emails with my doctor. That morning I’d gone in for the tests, and they were coming back and confirming that I was diabetic. Yup. While all hell was breaking loose and I was trying to hold the fort I was being diagnosed with diabetes — by email — and my doctor and I were arranging my prescriptions and setting up the first round of followup tests, meetings and all of the stuff that goes with that piece of news.
I’d love to say this kind of — creative chaos — was rare in the Palm buildings, but in fact, this was more the normal state than the crisis state, especially early on. It’s one of the base realities when you’ve got a really large, very complex system that is pushed into production because you have to, not because it’s ready. You either get good at tap dancing and finding workarounds, or you die. As it turns out, Palm and webOS did both… What was great was that we had a group of folks that all piled onto problems like this and figured it out. What wasn’t so great was we had so much practice at it…
And once things settled down, I wandered off to the pharmacy, grabbed my drugs and my tester, went home and collapsed. (for the record, at that time, my glucose was well above 400, my triglycerides had gone past 500. But I can honestly say that on the day I was diagnosed, the diagnosis was not the worst thing that happened to me….
I guess that’s something…
It was four years ago today that the Palm Pre, our first WebOS device, was released out into the wild. At that time we had great enthusiasm and hope that this was the start of something that would reshape mobile devices.
It didn’t work out the way we’d hoped.
But you know what? I’d do it again. I’d try to do some things differently in how I handled some things. I doubt that’d make a difference in the final outcome, but we all live and learn. Since you can’t go back in time and try again, what you need to do is learn from it, move forward, and try to apply those lessons to what happens down the road.
Life is too short to waste it making the same mistakes twice. There are more than enough mistakes out there to make to bother repeating one.
It’d be easy to focus on what was broken and screwed up at Palm, and that list could go on for a while. There were days when it wasn’t a lot of fun, because once you’re in that swirling funnel and you can see the drain getting closer, it’s hard to find fun in anything.
But what I prefer to remember are the people. I worked with the best damn group of people there. Fun, fascinating, intelligent, and every one of them working their ass off to make that product succeed. It didn’t work, but not for lack of trying.
And I would go to war again with them, even if I knew up front it was going to fail and we were all going to die at the end, just because they’d make the fight worth fighting.
Happy Birthday, Palm Pre. If only you’d been what we wanted you to be….