Category Archives: About Chuq

A first look at the Health app in IOS 8

(9/28, 12PM — edited to add a few notes at the end about some other things the ICE feature needs to do but doesn’t — chuq)

One of the things that intrigued me was the new Health app that came with IOS 8. Even before the events of the last week, I was hoping it would be something worth adopting.

My initial reaction — it’s a good start. It’s still very incomplete. But I think Apple is on the right track.

The first thing I really like: it implements an ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact area on the phone available even if you’ve put in a PIN lock. That was something I called for in IOS 7, and something I argued about when I was at Palm, where the suggestion was routinely ignored. I’m happy to see it here, and I think the implementation is good, and allows for a rational choice of information to display that fits your feeling on the compromises between needed disclosure in an emergency and your privacy the rest of the time.

Everyone should set this up. You do so by firing up the Health app and going into the Medical ID area.

The other thing it does is track information you feed it. I’ve long kept the data I track about myself in a spreadsheet, and I keep hoping to find a better way to manage it. At one point I was seriously looking at writing an App for IOS to do just that, but when I heard IOS 8 was rumored to move into the space, I killed that project (and I’m happy I did).

I’ve got mine set up to track glucose readings, blood pressure, pulse, Steps and Walking/Running distance. It pulls the last two automatically from the phone’s tracker chip, which is nice. I’ve put in some sample data on the others to get a feel for it, but for now, I won’t be using it as a primary data storage.


The first problem is the app has no way to back up data — I’ve already heard of someone who reset and restored a device and lost the data collected. There’s no way to export the data, there’s no way for me to import my existing data — and I have years of it accumulated. There’s no web version on iCloud so there’s no way I can look at or share the data, and it doesn’t sync the data to the cloud. The app isn’t available on the iPad, either, so the data can’t be views/manipulated there.

In other words, it’s a write-only data hole, and if you have to restore your device or lose it, the data’s gone. So using this “in production” is a non-starter. The app has a feel of a working demo, not a final app. I fully expect these to be fixed in the coming days, so this is a temporary problem, assuming the product manager isn’t a total idiot — and the rest of the app design indicates they aren’t. Some nice thinking went into it, but it’s incomplete.

It tracks a lot of potential data, most of which I haven’t yet started to explore. There’s no food management within the App, but there’s a lot of reporting on the pieces that come from food management being part of the system. Given that this is a huge, complex area with some really good third party apps already in existence, so I expect Apple is going to let them continue to do what they do well, and I can’t wait to see how an app like Lose It! connects in. I think that will really improve the usefulness of both apps when they do.

There are two curiously missing data categories this app doesn’t have:

  • There is no way for a woman to track her period, and there’s no capability for fertility monitoring. Why not? This is an important category for most women who will adopt the app, and for many couples trying to conceive. Was the entire development team male?
  • There is no “notes” section. One thing I do in my spreadsheet is keep notes about various things that happen on specific days, like when I change dosage on a prescription or switch drugs. I can go back three years and see what I was taking and what dosages. there’s no way to do that in this app. I also keep key events documented that give context to the readings at that time, like “Norovirus” or “Visited the Emergency room”.  To me, unless I can annotate notes onto a given day, this app is a lot less useful than it could be.

There are a few UI issues, too.

  • I don’t like the presentation of the data in “Day” mode. It should be compact, perhaps even a list. I should be able to get a reasonable amount of data on one screen without scrolling. They used the same graphs they used in other parts of the app, and they don’t work for me. The day summary should be “at a glance”, not something I have to scroll through to see everything.
  • The step counter isn’t in the notification section? Really? Apple should be showcasing itself here — new app that’s a big focus of IOS8, and a new notification capability that they also pushed in the release, and the two don’t talk to each other? Missed opportunity. Again, the Health app, more than anything else, seems to be incomplete because it had to ship. I can’t see any other rational reason for this to be missing.
  • The medical ID area is pretty basic. Other apps do similar things better, like helping you through drug names, allowing you to include dosages and timing of the dose and other notes. The medical ID area feels like a bare minimum usable for the release, not a finished product.

Before I’ll use this app for more than a pedometer, here’s what I need to see:

  • Syncing data to iCloud, and access to that data via the web
  • Making sure the data is backed up off the device (accomplished by the first item, of course)
  • A good, robust way to import existing data so all my info is in one place
  • A good, robust way to export the data via CSV and/or other forms so I can use it in other ways off device)
  • A way to pull together data and share it via email so I can, for instance, send a report to my doctor.
  • Some way to get my television to stop playing that U2 song every five minutes.

Okay, not the last, but man…

The interface with the food management’s another key piece, but that’s up to the third party apps, and I expect to see good ones show up in the next month or two.

But for now, I’m rating the health app “Great start, but incomplete — check back in six weeks”

I think a year from now this is going to be a huge, usable, important tool on the devices. But now? it’s a glimmer of hope for what it should be, but too much of it isn’t there yet.

Edit 1: 9/28, 12PM:

I realized this morning there were a few other things the ICE capability should do but doesn’t in this release:

  • Some people want to donate organs, but only some organs, not all (for instance, corneas but not internal organs), often on religious beliefs. The ICE app needs a way for those people to specify what organs they’re choosing to donate.
  • The ICE capability needs a general “notes” section where we can write free text for specialty notes that aren’t covered elsewhere.
  • The ICE capability needs to allow me to specific what medical program I’m enrolled in, so if there’s an option I can be transmitted to a program hospital if I’m unable to communicate. Oh, and who my doctor is…
  • The ICE capability needs to allow me to specify if I have a living will and/or a Do Not Resucitate order in effect. And FWIW, I’ve had one almost completed for a few months now (not exactly a fun concept, but necessary) that I’ll be completing and recording with my doctor monday, although he knows that’s my intent.

As big a deal as Apple wants the Health app and it’s interfaces to be, I’m a little — no, moderately — disappointed at how incomplete it is. Not just missing features (like import or export of data) but the pieces they did implement show a rather superficial analysis of how the tools ought to be built and how they’ll be used. I can’t conceive of an ICE app that doesn’t let me document a DNR or medical program, and I can’t believe they shipped a data capture tool that can’t capture a woman’s periods. This is a lot like an app a product manager would spec out in two hours, not a fully built out app. In other words, while I think the health tools and the interfaces they built show great promise, the health app they actually shipped is a pretty piece of demo ware.

I’ll keep a close eye, though, because I expect (hope) it’ll get built out quickly now that they’re past launch. But for now, I can’t recommend it for use beyond the pedometer functions (and I haven’t validated those are accurate yet). right now, it’s presenting promise, not productivity.



Not Dead Yet #2: Social Media and the Always On Lifestyle

From the time the event started until I settled down in the ER bed, exactly what happened and when it happened became a bit of a blur. I was busy trying to figure out if I was about to die, stressed to the gills and frankly scared out of my head. At the same time, I was evidently thinking about what needed to be, since by the time the medics arrived, I’d put on shoes, stuffed my keys and wallet (with medical ID) in one pocket, my phone in another, and I was taking my blood pressure as they entered the room (in case you were wondering, it was 158/94, with a pulse of 115, but my unit is typically metering heavy compared to when I’m checked in the office — I consider that a positive since I still track it as if it were accurate). I wrote that down in Evernote, by the way.

I can guess what my thinking was: if I’m going to the hospital, I’ll need shoes when I leave, keys in case the door is locked, and my wallet for ID when I check in, and I never leave without my phone. Also, I need to let people know what was going on. Note that Laurie is in the room with me and will be picking me up from the hospital if I’m released, so I’m not claiming my thinking was 100% correct, but the intention was there.

As we left, the last thing I did before walking out to the ambulance was grab my iPad, so I’d have the Kindle books with me for the slack times.

Once I got to the hospital and things started to settle down, I checked and I had decent network, so I did what came to mind and took a selfie and posted it to Twitter. Because it amused me. That was about 11PM, or about 100 minutes into the event.

As I was posting it, I realized that without context, that image was likely to cause some freaking, and with that, the live-tweet session started. It needed context so people didn’t. I quickly realized I needed to make sure people understood things were (mostly) under control. Since I’m me, the obvious answer was to steal from Monty Python, and suddenly my motto for the night became “I’m not dead yet”. And once I opened with Monty Python, the live tweet becomes a bit of a standup routine, until I was too tired to actually think up things that I thought were funny.

There were a number of reasons for doing this. First, I could. I was amused to be in an emergency room with network and without burly interns wrestling me for my phone. On a personal level, though, it gave me a distraction and let me try to get my mind off of the situation, which helped me as I worked to get the stress under control.  The response I got back — in real time — also really helped, and thanks to everyone. Mostly, though, what I was doing was sidetracking my brain so it wouldn’t obsess about what we didn’t know about what was going on, and get the stress levels reduced. And it really helped.

Along the way I realized I wasn’t going to make meetings on Thursday (duh), so I sent out some email warning people at work of that. Unfortunately I missed one key meeting, and I woke up to a couple of phone calls and voice mails (I’ve since apologized and I’ll reschedule once I’m back in the office).

So along the way, I worked in multiple references to Monty Python, then tossed out a couple of obscure movie references (Phantom of the Paradise and All that Jazz, the latter being the most in-appropriate movie I could think of for the situation. Gideon!). I started working in some recent memes from twitter, including Pumpkin Spice flavored IVs, iPhone battery life, a snide comment about Apple’s new Health app, and a Siri snark. In other words, a fairly normal conversation with me.

As I got tired, my eyes were too tired to read, my iPad battery was too low to play a movie (I’d swapped to the phone for email and twitter, and the iPhone 6 handled it very nicely, and didn’t bend), so I settled in and shifted to just giving an occasional “Not dead yet” update. I could have slept, maybe, and I think I nodded off once, but in all honesty I wasn’t ready to sleep, because I didn’t want to be asleep if something bad happened. Despite being wired up like a Terminator and networked into the duty desk, I just wanted to be awake. I wound it down when I was released and able to go home.

Thinking back at all this, there are some interesting things worthy of some discussion about our relationship with life in a universe where you’re always connected and online. I’ve lived online for a long time, and in general, I’m comfortable — and most of my social circle is online. It’s natural for me to be interacting with it and I think that’s one reason I seem to be able to do Community Management pretty well.

One thing that’s important to understand is that everything you do online in a social setting has side effects. I realized as I was posting the selfie that if that went out without some context setting it would likely upset people beyond the severity of the situation, so I felt it was important to manage that so people didn’t freak out.  After that, I felt as long as I was online, I might as well have a bit of fun with it.

The response was nice to see, and to everyone who checked in, thank you. It was definitely appreciated and helped. But imagine a scenario where nobody responds. I know I sometimes wonder just how much what I put online is actually read; I also know it’s unrealistic to presume everyone else is going to react to everything I write, because I sure don’t to all of you. Still, at one point I started wondering what my reaction would have been to silence, and I don’t think that would have been fun. Fortunately, didn’t happen.

Think about another scenario: what if somewhere along the way things did go sideways. Or (ahem) really sideways. I presumed a happy ending to the event, and while I think by the time I started this I felt that was where it was going (at the least, “not tonight, not now”), what if I was wrong? At the least I’ve created a confusing situation and some complications for Laurie to deal with. That would have taken a really bad situation for her and made it worse. Not good. Fortunately, I guessed right, and I’m not dead.

For anyone doing social media, I think there are a few lessons to be learned.

  • Everything you do online has a context and side effects. I think it’s important that you help your social circle understand the context and not assume they’ll guess it.
  • We have to remember many social cues in our conversation are lost, and we need to compensate for that loss or risk being misinterpreted. That’s part of the reason for proliferation of emoji and emoticons — for better or worse.
  • Even if it seems simple or fun, it might have deeper connections or cause side effects, so you really do need to think through the possible problems you’re creating for yourself if you do something. Since so much of the online social space is a “shoot from the hip” environment (comment first, think about what you should say later), this can be tough, but it’s important to slow down a bit and engage both brain and fingers. I’m not saying you have to be paranoid, but a bit of “careful” and a bit of “measured” never hurt.
  • If you’re going to take your gear to the emergency room, don’t forget your earbuds. It’s impolite to play your stuff on speaker in that situation.

Overall I think it turned out well (and I’m not dead, which helps). But as I thought it through later, I realized there were some deeper aspects of something like this, and I wanted to discuss them in the context of people using these social tools and especially those of us using them professionally as well as personally. The key thing for me is to always be aware of how the people you’re speaking to will react to what you say, and try to make sure they have enough context to get the message you’re sending. Often, we make assumptions and leave stuff out, and they make assumptions. most of the time, it’s harmless, but  not always.

These social worlds are still new to all of us. We’re still figuring out how to interact and be human on them. One challenge is that sometimes we use them seriously, and sometimes we use them humorously or frivolously, and there’s enough context missing that it’s easy to mistake one for the other. That’s something we all need to stay aware of and help each other bridge that gap between what we can accomplish in person with all of the non-verbal pieces of the discussion, and what we try to do here online.

That, and carry earbuds when you go to the emergency room. It’s only polite for your neighbors.

chuq (was glad I had the shoes, since it started raining. That’s called planning ahead. Or something…)

Not Dead Yet #1: This wasn’t on my calendar…

Wednesday Night was a normal night. Laurie and I had a nice dinner, polished off some muffins she’d baked, and splurged with an Angry Orchard cider (very nice, good flavor, not just sweet).

Next thing I know, this happened.


I’m in the emergency room, wired up to a bunch of machines — including the machine that goes *ping* (and *bloop* and *spung* and a few other noises).

It’s been an interesting few days. Today was spent running around between my doctor and my tests (okay, shambling between). The stress treadmill showed my heart was healthy and nothing was clogged, and so today my doctor released me back into humanity with no restrictions.

If you followed my twitter feed, you might have noticed that I live-tweeted the event. (If you don’t follow it, you should, you’ll never know what appears in there, and the material that shows up on this site is only a small piece of my twitter life).

I think there are interesting stories and insights coming out of this, and a message I want to send out to other geeks who, like me, haven’t taken as good care of their body as they probably should. I’m treating this like a two minute warning to accelerate some of the lifestyle changes that I started on when I left Apple, and I hope I can get people’s attention enough that they realize they can’t go down the path I did.  I’ve been open about some of the previous challenges I’ve chased and the response has always been supportive and positive, so we’re going to try it again.

If you’ve never been lucky enough to find yourself in the emergency room wondering if you’re going to die, here’s a quick summary of the evening and the last couple of days..

About 9:15 I’m sitting with Laurie on the couch watching something — baseball, I think. Or hockey. around here, it’s either baseball or hockey most of the time. I suddenly realize my pulse is way up; fast enough for me to notice it. I think about it, decide to keep an eye on things, and check it out later after laurie crashes, because I didn’t want to worry her. Then I got that pressure on the chest where I started feeling I wasn’t able to breathe.

So much for not worrying Laurie. I call her name, she hears the tone in my voice, and I ask her to call 911. About now things start getting a bit blurry to me because so much started happening. The room was suddenly filled with five medic types (three paramedics, two ambulance guys). Four of them start working on me. One gets co-opted into petting duty by Manon the cat (seriously), because, well, new people to pet her. I get wired up to the first of many machines. My pulse is 115 (my resting rate is around 60). Blood pressure up, but not dangerously. The symptoms came in waves, cycled on and off. By the time I got wired up it was off; as I was talking to them I got a second, lesser round. They ask if I want to be transported. I think about it a bit, say yes.


It was one of the mellowest ambulance transports they’ve probably had, given I walked out of the house to the waiting gurney. At one point they misjudged the slope on the driveway and I was wondering if I’d break an arm or rib when the gurney tipped over, but they caught it fast and nothing happened (but it would have been really amusing, in a not very amusing way). It took them longer to wire me up to the machines and tie me down for the trip than it did to get me to the hospital, and I was wheeled in, checked in and shifted over to the bed. My pulse is still around 115, I’m still getting those pressure bursts, but they’re slowing going less frequent and less intense. None were as intense as the first one.

I meet my first doctor, and a couple of nurses and aides. I’m wired up to even more machines, and holes are drilled in my arm and blood extracted. I spent some time coaching the nurse where to find the right vein (you get used to this) and she did a really nice job of hitting it the first time, which doesn’t always happen.

This first blood draw was a CBC and a test for an enzyme that shows up in your blood if you’ve had (or are having) a heart attack. The doctor decides to start a saline  drip in an IV. We’re maybe 45 minutes from the phone call.

At this point, because I’m stable and not evidently about to die on them, the pace slows down. The purpose of the emergency room is not to heal someone (although if the solution is obvious, it will) but to keep them alive, stabilize their condition and start the process of understanding what’s wrong. Once you’re stable if it’s safe you get to go home and work with your doctor to finish figuring it out and solving it. If they aren’t sure, you get transferred into the hospital where another team takes over.

For a person of my age and weight (T-shirt size: small tent) suffering from pressure in the chest and abnormal pulse, the first thing to rule out is heart attack. I got my first of many EKGs in my house by the medics, and was on one for the trip to the hospital, and then monitored in the ER until I left, and they looked normal (YAY!). So now we’re more in wait mode, monitoring for symptoms or problems. We’re waiting for tests to come back, and as the doctor noted, they typically give the enzyme test twice about four hours apart to make sure, so there’s waiting for that to happen. I’m going to be there for a while.

And at that, I send Laurie home to go to bed, so she isn’t sitting in a chair doing nothing for hours. I’m not (evidently) going to die OR leave, and she doesn’t need to be there. I told her I’d call when I got released.

My pulse is still up there, hasn’t gone down. When I moved from the gurney to the bed, I got short of breath more quickly than I should have. Still a mystery.


I meet my second doctor, and we talk some more. The good news is it’s pretty clearly not a heart attack. The weird news is it’s not obvious what it is. One thought was a blood clot in the lung, another dehydration. I didn’t think I was dehydrated (I tend towards that strongly and tend to be really careful about fluid intake). the blood clot wasn’t that likely, because of the lack of pain.

That’s an interesting thing about this event: I haven’t mentioned pain once, because there wasn’t any. Pressure? yes. weird pulse? yes. But nothing ever hurt, except when I bruised a finger on the Oxygen sensor.

The second saline bag hits the IV. Half a liter a bag. And then I go back to trying to relax.

One aspect to all of this is stress. After all, something happened I don’t understand, it might kill me, my house gets invaded with friendly burly people who carry me to the hospital, and now I’m sitting in a bed in a hospital not sure what’s going to happen. that’s a great scenario for stress, and the last thing I need are stress hormones running around kicking body parts in the knee. All along in the back of my head I’ve been trying to keep myself from stressing out (with some but not perfect success — long years of practice here) but now I start going into my measured breathing routines, borrowed from my yoga days. It works, but I keep tripping the machine that goes ping, which keeps setting off the low respiration alarm. So it becomes a game, how slowly I can breath without setting it off. At some point an orderly comes in to fix a sensor that pulled loose that was setting off a different alarm at times and he noted that alarm goes off all the time with people.

And I calm down. I don’t sleep; not quite ready to be that unaware, but I work on some measured resting (also borrowed from my yoga days, and then beaten into a new shape with a stick) where I can really shut down into a relaxed state but not off into sleep land. It’s a useful tool for me because I don’t always get to sleep easily, and it’s not as result as full sleep, but it’s definitely helpful — and yet I’m still aware of my surroundings.

Along the way, I’m occasionally firing up the phone and tweeting about all of this. Yes, I live-tweeted my emergency room trip. I’ll talk more about that and why I did it (and some of the social media implications) in the next article, but it was as much distraction and stress management as it was anything.

The third IV goes in. The kidneys have made it clear they’re still functional; the bladder is not yet close to complaining. If I’ve had over a liter pumped in and I’m not having to pee, then yeah, I think I’m dehydrated. That’s troubling on a couple of levels, because I did have a good amount of fluid during the day and I didn’t think I was a quart low. I’m going to have to recalibrate myself on this…

On the other hand, as they pump fluid into me, my pulse is coming down, and I’m feeling better.

I’ve now met my third doctor. At about 2AM they get me out of bed and walk me through the ER, to see how I do. I do fine. breathing good, nothing out of breath. no negative symptoms or reactions.

About 4AM they come back and take more blood. I told them to take a pint, that I’d make more.

At about 5AM, my pulse is under 80. Still high, but not too high. BP is normal. Kidneys are working, bladder has checked in but not complaining. My doctor comes in, we talk, and he suggests I can go home. I call Laurie and she comes over and picks me up. I’m in the obligatory wheelchair waiting for her, which they locked the wheels so I couldn’t wander the waiting room. When laurie arrives, I decide to walk to the car — breaking protocol. The person at the desk asks if I feel up to it, and I said if I couldn’t walk to the car, I probably shouldn’t be leaving… So I exit the emergency room on my feet and with a chuckle, which is something, I guess.

I’ve now been up about 24 hours, and I’m feeling every one. Not quite ready for bed, still wired. First thing I had to do when I got home was pee, by the way. I didn’t want to screw up my sleep cycle, so I decided to just sleep a little to refresh, so when I started dropping off at the computer, I went and crashed for about 4 hours. Definitely helped, although I took a couple of one hour naps along the day as well, then went to bed at my normal time. Ultimately thursday was a lost day, but when I woke up Friday, I felt pretty normal.

Friday was a busy day, too. Early doctor appointment to start the followup, which we ended up pushing to the afternoon after the stress treadmill. Off to another facility for the treadmill test, which I passed — no weird signs in the EKG, no signs of any blockages, the heart gets a clean bill of health (and a whole layer of low level stress flows away….). I got the chat about my weight and poor state of my conditioning and the need to ramp up the exercise. In a positive and team building way. And yeah, he’s right.

Then back to my doctor to talk. I have a great doctor. We’ve been together for years. he’s worked with me on getting my act together on my diet and lifestyle, he got me through my apnea and diabetes, he and I talk about the weight and options and why it’s been such a struggle to get the damned stuff off. Very good at helping to point in the right direction without being a nag. He also knows I’m enough of a geek to not need explain terms like atrial fibrillation. He clears me for work. He clears me for exercise. He clears me for my upcoming trip to Lee Vining.

There’s still a lot we don’t know, that we’re exploring. Mostly we know that it’s not the big hairy evil boogiemen we all worry about. Something’s changed, though, and it’s not clear what it might be, but it’s not overtly life threatening. We’re working out a plan to understand it and what to do about it. We have some ideas, and we’ll poke at it and see what we can learn.

Mostly, what I learned was that something definitely happened — but not what that was, other than it probably wasn’t life threatening with or without the excitement. It’s not every day you get chauffeured from your home and driven around town in the back of an ambulance. I vaguely remember at least some of the neighbors out watching, so I’m going to have to track them down and chat with them so they don’t worry. Somewhere I vaguely remember the phrase “only a flesh wound” being uttered as I’m being shoved in the ambulance.

What’s obvious, though, is that this is the “two minute warning”. I’ve been fixing my lifestyle since I left Apple, and it needed a lot of fixing. The one thing I continue to struggle with is weight, and at my age, my weight is a significant risk factor. This event wasn’t the big nasty one it could have been, but it’s a clear hint that I have to accelerate my attempt to get the weight off (for what it’s worth, I have lost 20 points from my high, but I still have a long way to go…)

You look around any tech conference or company, and you’ll see people doing what I did: ignore taking care of the body, eat bad food and gain weight, and sit at a computer all day geeking. The damage done by decades of neglect aren’t undone overnight, and sometimes, you can’t fix it fast enough to undo it completely. I’ve made a lot of progress — but what I really wish is that I’d been smart enough when I was younger that I wasn’t in this situation today.

So if this series does anything useful, I hope it’s that it gets the attention of that person out there that is me at 20 years old, and keeps them from wandering down the path I took. Because sooner or later you’ll hit the toll bridge, and under that bridge is a nasty troll.

And as we wander through this series of articles, we’ll talk about that path, and what happens when you meet the troll.

Coming in the next installment: Live-tweeting an emergency room visit. How social media permeates life today and what the implications of that are. Also, later on, I’ll get into some of the lifestyle choices that a tech career makes easy to choose and why you really need to take care of yourself. and I’m sure I’ll figure out some other things to natter on about as this goes along…

Assuming of course I’m still here to write about it. (Status update: not dead yet)


Things happening, things planned

There’s been a lot going on behind the scenes, and one aspect of that is that it’s reduced the time and energy needed to keep up a regular set of blog postings here (that, and Elder Scrolls). (Oh, shut up).

I’ve been doing almost no photography since I got back from Yellowstone in June. That’s not that unusual for me; summer is definitely my least favorite season in the Bay Area, when the skies go boring and the light goes glaring and the summer birds are just hanging out waiting for the signal to migrate. That, and I don’t tolerate heat like I used to, and I tend to be self-basting now.

That doesn’t mean nothing is happening. A few notable events recently:

  • I have just licensed one of my sandhill crane images to a wildlife refuge in Nevada for an exhibit they’re building.
  • I also was recently contacted about reprinting one of my pieces in a magazine, which I just signed the contract on. That will be showing up (probably with some of my images) down the road in Birdwatcher’s Digest.
  • Licensing that crane image reminded me that I never announced that one of my crane images was licensed to the Nature Conservancy for use in their 2013 annual report. This was a fun one for me in a number of ways, not only is that a fairly prestigious place to be seen, Nature Conservancy is an organization I love to support, and the area involved — Staten Island, near Lodi — is a favorite place to go shooting in the winter and a great example of the kind of cooperative habitat creation that is helping out our winter bird populations (you can learn about these so-called Pop-up habitats here; Staten Island is an unusual form of it in that Nature Conservancy owns the land and leases it to the farmers to use during growing season. It is also at risk because the Delta Water tunnel project plans to put an access point on Staten Island, which would end up taking about a third of the acreage by eminent domain and paving it, plus the tunneling and construction activities would effectively de-activate this location for years; one reason I’m increasingly against this project proceeding).

This is pretty good given I’m doing no sales or marketing, I think.

I’ve also been putting a fair bit of a lot of this has been about cleaning up the site, improving design and navigation, and creating areas for the reviews and the photo of the day postings that make both accessible and easier to find, both in terms of organic search and for those casual viewers that follow a link and happen to land on the site to read an article. The ultimate goal of this is to create a site that does well in the search engines and allows people to decide to buy things via the Amazon affiliate links without turning the site into something that looks like Las Vegas threw up on the pages or which gets in the reader’s face and in the way of their reading the content and trying to force them to do things I want instead of what they came to the site to do.

I think I’ve succeeded — site activity is up since I started all of this, but beyond that, people who visit this site are staying longer, looking at more pages, and I’m happy to note, buying more through the affiliate links. Not exactly paying the rent, but in the last few months it’s gone from < $10/mo in affiliate funds to what looks like my third straight month at $50 or more. That means the site is effectively paying it’s hosting fees now (I am still working for free, but at least now I’m not paying to let you read this stuff). This is nice, and it’s something that over time I can try to grow further. It’s nice to validate my business ideas that you can do this without flooding the pages with ads until it looks like a low-rent brothel or trolling for zillions of pageviews with slimy headlines and borrowed content. (I do wish I could figure out what I tripped that’s causing that “meet thai singles” web site to stalk me across the sites showing me advertising, and why I can’t convince it to show me kitten adoption ads instead….

I’m also working on an e-commerce setup — still in the planning stage — because I’ve long wanted to create some form of tip jar (that doesn’t include PayPal if I can avoid it), and to allow me to start offering “things” for people to buy, whether those things are signed custom prints or ebooks or whatever. I’ve figured out how I want to build this, now I just need to actually create it. And the things I want to sell… That, I’m sure, is the easy part.  (Yeah, right) (Oh, shut up) — I’ve settled on Shopify for this, FWIW.

Still a lot of work to do on this, and I probably won’t ship anything until after Thanksgiving, if not into the new year. We’ll see. I’d like to do it a bit earlier, because I’m considering printing and selling a calendar, but I don’t want to rush it and mess things up, either.

Striking the word Amateur from my CV?

I’ve always wanted to see about turning my photography and writing into an income stream, but I’ve also tried to be realistic about what I ought to do given the time constraints and other commitments in my life. It’s easy to get things out of balance and either screw up your day job or burn out in the attempt, and one thing I always knew was that I didn’t want to make photography not fun, or the writing I do here a grind, and not want to do it any more. My primary goals are still to keep improving my craft and enjoy what I’m doing, and my hope is I’m building a base of images and content that I can use and build from when I have more time to focus on the  content creation and sales and marketing side of things. Right now, I’m happy that it’s generating a bit of cash and that it’s trending forward.

But that said, I always look at potential opportunities or new things I might do that might fit into my goals, everything from a writing gig as a columnist elsewhere to building out new sites and commercializing them to going into site design and maintenance and wordpress geeking to restarting my fiction career to jumping into writing mobile apps for IOS. I’ve ultimately rejected all of those (and some other things) and time has proven to me that was the right decision. Instead, I finally circled back to putting the time and energy into the camera and into this site and the blog, and not split my attention across too many things – hence some of the things above I’ve just talked about.

But in the last couple of weeks I ran into what I think is an interesting opportunity that syncs up nicely with all of this, and I decided to give it a try, and so I’ve signed up and submitted to submit images to a stock house to see if some of my images might fit their needs and find a market. I looked at micro stock early on and realized I didn’t want to play in the bargain basement with my imagery, so I’ve avoided places like iStockPhoto (not a criticism of those who do, but feeding that monster images that do well in that market isn’t what I want to do with a camera); I’ve looked at a few stock houses and always came away feeling that my imagery would get loss in the masses and that the kind of work I do is in enough of a niche that it would be hard to make it work in a large, general topic stock house.

But I recently ran into a stock house that is a specialty house in nature and outdoor/travel work, and I liked the people involved and their terms and attitudes, and when I searched through their stock library, I felt like my images fit into their library well, that it complemented what was in there and was either as good as or better than what they had. More importantly I also felt like my images would add some unique images to the library and not just be one of thirty copies that were all variations on the same  theme and location.

So I decided to go for it, signed up as a contributor and submitted my first batch. I’m waiting to hear back the technical review to see how many (if any) get accepted or what technical fixes I’ll need to get things accepted. If that works out and this moves forward, I’ll see about submitting other work, and if that happens I’ll talk about this in more detail. For now, it’s still in the exploration phase and I don’t want to toss names around and risk making them look bad if we agree to not move forward for some reason.

That said, prepping images for this took some time and made me start thinking about what I need to do to my lightroom collections to properly support this endeavor, and that’s led me to realize I need to add some meta-data to my images to track certain things. An obvious one is whether there’s a model release, which for 100% of my catalog is currently “no”, but if this moves forward I would expect that to change.

But one of the things they track is whether or not an image is manipulated or not, and right now, that information is handled in my collection by my ability to remember what I did to an image. That’s bad, so I’m starting to track what my processing acts were in my lightroom metadata as keywords so I can easily search on whether an image was processed only in lightroom, whether I ran it through my extended plug-in processing, whether an image is manipulated beyond normal processing, and whether it’s an HDR or a Stitched Panorama. Those last two I was already tracking, actually, so this is an extension of that.

The way I’m defining “manipulated” is this:

  • Any kind of cloning and removing or adding a content.
  • Any kind of content-aware patching
  • Any kind of filter beyond a light basic vignette or a digital equivalent of a Grad-ND (or similar effect that simulates a physical filter)
  • Any compositing
  • Any image where I feel someone will look at the original and the final processed and think that the image was manipulated in some extreme way
  • Any HDR  with processing intended to give the final image a “not photo-realistic” final look (i.e. grunge)

In reality, I’ve run into this a couple of times with images I’ve given to groups to use where they’ve come back and asked for me to remove a filter — when Lightroom 5 came out, I fell in love with the radial filter and built up one that used a combination of exposure and clarity tweaks to build what I felt was a rather nice “vignette on steroids” effect that I really liked, but also turned out to violate their “no modification” standards; when I took a step back and thought about it, I realized they were right so I’ve backed off from using it. If I’d had these modifications clearly flagged in the image metadata, I could avoid handing over an image that wouldn’t fit their publication standards or waste both of our times in a back and forth as I do a revision of the processing for them.

As I work on images, i’ll start tagging these keywords onto them, and once I’m sure I like the design I’ll write about it in more detail because I think this is an interesting technique others might want to adapt into their workflows. Of course, this means I’ve opened up the hood of my Lightroom environment, and we all know what happens when you do that… There are always a dozen other things you might as well fix while you’re there, and down that road lies…

I do suppose that if this stock thing happens I ought to stop presenting myself as an amateur. We’ll see.

In longer range planning, Laurie and I are about a month before we head to Lee Vining for our fall foliage workshop. Beyond that, I’m not sure what my plans are, although I’ve decided one of my winter trips will be up to visit the Lower Klamath and tule Lake refuges. I’ve hesitated about that because for the second year in a row, Tule Lake has been hit by Avian Botulism because the drought is restricting water availability into the refuges, pushing the birds into more crowded conditions where an infected bird can spread it into the flock, and again this year they’re losing up to a thousand ducks a day.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to head up into that, but with the drought currently looking to continue into this fall (and probably beyond), this kind of event in the refuges isn’t well documented and really needs to be, and that ties into the work I’m doing on the refuges in general, so even if it’s not exactly travel photography at some tourist location, it’s important work that someone should be doing, and the refuges don’t get that kind of attention normally — so I’m going to go and see if I can change that a bit.

I’m also looking at my normal trips up into the Lodi/Galt area (Cosumnes, State Island, Isenberg) and out into San Luis NWR and Merced NWR. I’m probably not going to try to visit Colusa or Sacramento NWR because of the distance unless I turn it into more than a day trip. Instead, I’m looking at a number of other refuges I want to visit to start building a library of work with them as well — That includes some of the locals like Don Edwards and Salinas River, as well as some south of here like Pixley and Kern. there are a couple in the delta area I’ve never visited as well like San Joaquin and Stone River. That should keep me more than busy.

I’m looking at my refuge work into the longer term, and in a few years I’m going to want to approach the fish and wildlife folks about gaining access to the closed refuges because ultimately I want to be able to document every refuge in the state, not just the ones with public access. A larger number of refuges in the the library and a better number of published collections of these refuges are going to be necessary to be seen as legitimate by them, so I have my work cut out before I go try that (and frankly, the stock sales aspect won’t hurt my legitimacy, either). And I really do have plenty I can do before I feel I need to take that step, and I should get going on it.

My second portfolio, on the refuges,  got a lot wider viewing and generally really positive feedback; I’m working on ideas for the next couple and plan on hitting my goal of doing one a quarter. It’s an interesting exorcise to force yourself to make these kinds of decisions in your own collection. More on that soon and I’ll be revisiting that project with another portfolio sooner rather than later.

I’m going to keep trying to write regularly.If I disappear again, it’s probably because I’m in Lightroom ticking checkboxes on keywords again… Such fun activities… (or playing Elder Scrolls) (Oh, shut up…)






(note: why not PayPal? I’ve known too many people that have had accounts locked or otherwise run into issues with PayPal’s fraud team where it was incredibly difficult to get straight answers, much less get it resolved. and while I’m sure these are a small minority of the users of PayPal and I know fraud protection is a seriously difficult thing — I’d rather avoid the risk of running into that stuff if I have reasonable alternatives. I don’t have that comfort/trust level of using PayPal as a piece of enabling people to offer me money)


Why I threw out my bucket list. Should you?

Like many people I’ve kept a so-called bucket list of things I want to do someday. Unlike most of you, I decided to throw mine out about a year ago. I happened to run into an old copy of it in my archives this week, and it made me think about explaining why I got rid of it.

I realized the bucket list was an excuse to not do anything. It’s a fake accomplishment. It makes you think you’ve done something, by deciding that you’ll do something “someday”, so you don’t actually have to try to make it happen.

I’m at that age where far too often I get that reminder that “someday” may not come.

I decided that  matters to me is not what I might do someday, but what I should do next — and then I should work to do that.

For your amusement, here’s my bucket list from about a year ago, minus two items that I removed from it. The first was to get back to Yellowstone, which I did for a week in June, and the second was to shoot fall foliage in the Eastern Sierra, which Laurie and I are doing in October in a workshop with Michael Frye.

Will I forget something on my bucket list? probably, but if I do, then it probably wasn’t that important. I certainly won’t run out of things to do in the next decade or three, with or without the list.

  • grand canyon
  • fall in Utah
  • haida gwaii
  • polar bears in churchill
  • drive to alaska
  • ferry from port hardy -> prince rupert -> skidegate (and back)
  • yellowstone in january/february
  • banff
  • glacier
  • white sands
  • yellowstone for a month in september/october
  • File an ebird report in every county in California (and take picture of birds in every county)

Yes, Yellowstone is on that list two more times. Not a mistake, but the winter trip isn’t happening until I get down under 250, because getting outfitted would be insane.

So what’s next after the October trip? Not sure yet. I am seriously thinking of a winter trip up into the Klamath refuges, perhaps with a side trip to Crater Lake. I’m pondering whether it’s time to get to the Grand Canyon and if so, do I want to go north rim after it opens? Whatever it is, I’m going to put more energy into getting there than worrying about someday.

How about you? Is your bucket list an excuse to not do it?

What’s next for you? And when will it happen?