Sunday, January 21, 2018

Signs of spring?

Not even close. None the less, Calgary chinooks soften winter's edge, and sometimes produce interesting scenes. I like how light changes going through ice, but it's difficult to catch in a photo. Something to work on.

I always admire the optimism of the plants during longer chinooks. Sometimes they start growing, and poor Linda is shrieking, "No, it's a trap! Don't grow just yet!"

One AMA question rolled in, thank you, and while I'm working on that, the door is open for more. (hint, hint)

Friday, January 19, 2018

One (big) thing worse, one thing better

So yeah, there were more bombs in the timeline than expected. That's what happens when you only work on one book at a time, when there are several books and they all have a common timeline. I've got the major events in the software now, most with a "WHEN??" to indicate I need to nail down the date. I'm already seeing connections and making notes of things to write.

Mostly Bone and Elixir are good, just a few minor timeline tweaks. It's everything thats in between that is all muddled up. At least I know what the problem is, and can start thinking about fixing it. Once done I'm hoping that some of the other issues will resolve themselves. So I guess in an odd sense, the worse leads to better.

The actually better thing was the swim today. Hot tub first. Then 500 m or so easy, and a bit of drill. I saw a drill where the swimmer touched their hip, shoulder, and head on every stroke. They made it look graceful. I didn't. I had the lifeguards watching me, wondering if they were going to be needed. Not.

Then more hot tub while the pools cleared out and the swim club kids went to school or whatever. Picked a lane and chatted briefly with swim buddies I hadn't seen in a while. Then banged out 500 m in 9 minutes flat without even really trying, everything feeling really smooth. That's a big step forward, and a reward for consistency.  Now to start building some distance again. Water ran afterward. Then more hot tub.

There have been no Ask Me Anything questions. None. Zip. I figure either my readers already know as much as they want to know, or they are horrified at the possibilities of the answers. So this is the last call for AMA.

Lately going out and trying to get planned photos isn't going so well. There have been a few taken along the way, almost by accident, that worked out sort of ok. Here's one of them.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The downfall of being a pantser, revisited

Lately I've been working on the never ending book projects. As one reader said, it's readable but it's mostly rainbows and unicorn poop. Someone wants to make money out of all this, or prevent it from happening for their own reasons. They are the good guy in their head, so what's their story? That has led to a chunk of writing to build conflict into The Sweet Elixir and the other works.

Plus more information about setting and character descriptions, and the actions taking place. Some writers are great at action and you only notice later they never talk to each other. I'm way better at dialogue. Maybe I've watched too many movies or read too many books where the characters talk to each other in elegantly appointed libraries. And yes, one of my characters has a lovely library.

Before I get started you might wish to review the earlier blogs on this topic, here and here. I did a bit of work closing brackets, and that led to a nice book ending scene, providing you don't mind a gap of about 5 or 6 years from the previous chapter.

So I started on the conflict part and have bogged down several times. This guy is a planner and organizer. The thinker behind the scenes. He spends lots of time at a computer working on databases and spreadsheets, thinking. He attends meetings, reviews reports, and pushes his subordinates (not minions) around. There is a word for all that in most readers minds, and that is BORING! I got him out to the field hoping to find a bit more action, and there's some nice scenes.

But this is a slippery guy. He likes to fade into the background, and as a consequence, there are other interesting characters coming forward. A digression here, we are currently watching a fun show called The Librarians. One of the recurring characters in season two is Professor Moriarty, of Sherlock Holmes fame. He made a great villain; better than the titular villain. I'd love to see him again in future episodes, but I don't think it happens. He was smart, capable, charming, and he certainly thought of himself as the the good guy under difficult circumstances. I'm thinking a combination of him, and the Ba'al character in Stargate (but with less ego) as the template for my conflict guy. But the problem with a smart bad guy is that they don't do stupid things, and don't stand around talking when the time has come for an action.

On one hand I learned a bit more about some of those other characters, but it started going down an unrelated path that I think is a separate book entirely. Plus I've run into a couple other problems in maintaining internal logic to the story, one of which has me stalled.

One plot device that infuriates me is obvious blindness or wilful stupidity (and vice versa), so I'm not going to do it to my (hypothetical) readers. I suddenly realized one day that if character X is observant enough to know certain stuff, he certainly would have noted that certain stuff about character Y, which kills dead a certain scene I'd used as a building block, and everything downstream of it. I either have to explain why character X didn't notice when it is entirely to his advantage to have done so, or rewrite the scene, which leads to it's own complications I'm noodling through.

The other is internal timelines. I wrote a nice scene showing how one character meets up with other characters and gets them to do something for her, and builds for a later scene. Problem is that as written it is simultaneously too late and too early for related events that I've already written. I've talked about this before and used some software to help sort things out. Now that I've sort of written myself into a corner I've decided to revisit that software and see if I can't plot my way out again.

However that leads to a couple other things. After the great music update I started down the path of updating software on my various devices, which is still in progress. None the less, I fired up Aeon Timeline on the big screen and started reviewing. It's sort of interesting looking at software again after several years.

The timeline is mostly focused on The Sweet Elixir and that's ok. I can add an arc for the book(s) I've tentatively titled Bone To Elixir, and while I'm at it I should do The Bone in the Digester, since there are complicated things happening in the background across all the books. I'm just now thinking about the best way to do that. It turns out there is an updated version of this software available, and I need to decide if the current version is good enough, or if the newer version has features I want/need.

So now I'm looking at going through the various stories living on the laptop and marking the key scenes in Timeline on the big screen. The trouble is that while they are sequential, I don't have a specific starting date, other than it being any time within a range of several years, which isn't terribly helpful. The conflicts I've discovered will be obvious, and I can only hope that there aren't more revealing themselves along the way. Although in the long term maybe that's best. Even my big screen isn't big enough.

Then comes the tricky part. Making the revisions in Timeline to smooth out the inconsistencies, and then writing the actual scene out and fixing it in the text. This has worked for me on a couple of occasions, where I marked a meet cute scene, then managed to write it out. Yay me! (That couple married, house sat for another couple for a while, and were looking for a house and eventually pregnant with twins as the story ended. Just in case you were wondering.) A couple other ones I marked out on the timeline, and then it went sideways when I tried to write it out. There's some features I'll need to figure out to track the changes to make sure I haven't missed anything. It might be best to start a new version of the various books. Hmmm.

Normally I like to start writing, channel the characters involved, be open to the unexpected, and see what words appear on screen. It leads to discovering interesting things about characters and the situations. The problem is those scenes don't always go together very well. Or at all, hence my current difficulties. You can't let the characters have their own way entirely; that leads to vast piles of unicorn poop, but you can't force them into something that is not them. They'll sulk, and the perceptive readers will say to themselves, wait a second that's not all what character x would do.

In the meantime, I have to cope with this, and the ever so cute snoring noises they produce. There is no place in the house that is silent once Curtis gets started. If I'm even the slightest bit tired, I want to join them for a nap.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Scouting under a dull sky

Some days your photo sense just tingles. The light looks nice, or you've got a great subject lined up, or you have an idea that you just know will work out.

Monday was not one of those days for me. I wanted to get out with the camera, but the sky was dull, and I didn't have a particular place in mind at first. Then I thought of that lonely tree in Fish Creek, and decided to walk around that area some more, mainly as a scouting trip to see if I could come up with some interesting ideas. Then I remembered Ralph Klein park, and wondered if the wetland would freeze over, or if there was enough flow that it would stay open. It was frozen. The building was closed.

I took a scenic route back to the house, and scoped out the pathway near Glenmore and Heritage, but nothing really compelling jumped out at me.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Macro Monday 18, red but not wine diamonds

I got these images while experimenting with a macro project. That first one far exceeds anything I'd expected. These are not extreme macro shots, only about 2 or 3x with 68 mm of extension tubes on, just because they happened to be on the camera anyways.

Is this a moon floating above Jupiter? Or something much much smaller?

I do have the shot that shows where these came from, but I almost don't want to show you, yet. Maybe if enough of you ask.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Drool alert! You may need a napkin

Such a tasty day. I don't often blog about food, which is sort of amazing given how good a cook Linda is, but today you have to suffer through me burbling about food.

After the brutal crushing disappointment of finding the Repsol hot tub out of action we settled in for a nice swim. Yes, my swim mojo is coming back. Yes, BRBE is swimming faster. There were several water polo games going on in the other pool, so it wasn't exactly a peaceful tranquil swim like Sunday so often is.

On the way home I was invited to have an espresso poured over foamed chocolate milk. That's a new one for me, so how could I refuse? No fancy machine, only a nice model of the moka pot we used in Venice. It was lovely to sip the coffee and chat. No rush. I think I have to get one of those, and see if our grinder will grind coffee that fine.

Home and things are smelling wonderful. We had lamb shank prepared several different ways over Christmas, and it was melt in your mouth each time. We got to wondering if there was such a thing as bison shank, since we love bison. I hadn't considered that such a shank might be the size of our stove, and thus difficult to cook.

Our bison supplier showed us some bison butchered as osso buco, and I was willing to try that. Once a while back in Halifax I had a wonderful meal of venison on a bed of risotto, and mentioned we hadn't had that for a while. As it turns out Linda has never cooked risotto the proper way and was happy to try.

So that amazing smell was the bison simmering away in a sauce of tomatoes, carrots, celery, shallots, and some herbs and spices to taste, with some red wine and chicken stock splashed in. I had to zoom back out for some parmesan cheese, and it was smelling even better than before. I don't think Linda quite appreciated how good it smelled, not having come in from outside. My tummy was beginning to rumble in appreciation.

Risotto has to be stirred constantly, and when it was done the bison was done. The bison and risotto went together perfectly! The bison was fall off the bone tender, and the risotto was firm but creamy. Some red wine with the meal, and I was in heaven. Saskatoon berry pie from Yum bakery for dessert.

You can't see the risotto in that photo, and believe me it was hard to pause even long enough for an iPhone shot, and I wasn't about to rearrange it. It's not really a kilo of meat, though it looks it. There's a big chunk of bone that went back into the sauce to be simmered some more, in preparation for the next meal.

We don't eat out all that much because we (and by we I mostly mean Linda) can produce a meal the equal of all but the fanciest places, at a fraction of the cost. I will stack my BBQ rack of lamb against any restaurant in the city. Once you've had one of our bison burgers, you'll never go back to a fast food place again. Plus we're home, so we can have two glasses of wine if we want, and not worry about the drive. And no, I don't mind doing dishes.

I just zoomed out to the library to pick up an item on hold, and when I got home it still smelled like dinner. I'm almost hungry again.

Here's the two recipes Linda started with, then modified a little along the way.
Osso Buco


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Why I like physical media

I'm talking books, and discs of music or video files. Somehow along the way we have accumulated many of these things. A great many. Anyone who has visited the wine cellar, and turned around has been confronted with the very great many books. I used to know how many there were because I kept a list for insurance purposes. That is now fragmented across several technologies so I can no longer easily say how many books we have. I don't have the faintest idea how many CDs, DVDs, we have.

(insert a photo of all the CD's and DVD's.) (You'll have to use your imagination. I'm not up to taking an artistic photo of dust bunnies. I mean plastic cases.)

The CD's are a little less obvious, but they have recently come to light. Do any of you remember iPods? Better yet, lets go back in time a bit more. Tape, as in cassette, 8 track, reel to reel, betamax, VHS. Record players in both 33 and 45 RPM complete with different hole sizes and adapters. Plus 78's if you really reach, and probably some others that I don't know of. People bought these physical things in stores.

All were a way of listening to music or watching video. People would create their own mix tapes on cassette, and it was a huge innovation when you could carry around a battery powered 'portable' player. The first video tape machines were hugely expensive, and one could buy a lifetime membership in video clubs to save on the astronomical cost of the tapes. I somehow doubt any of those clubs are around now.

Life goes on. Apple wasn't the first to sell a digital audio device, but the first iPod, 'with 1,000 songs in your pocket' was a major game changer. Do people still say sell like hotcakes? The iPods sold better than that. People like carrying their own music around, which baffles me a bit. It's nice, but not that important.

At the same time came a program to copy music from a CD into a database to be copied onto iPod and successive devices. That's about the last time I understood what was happening, and it's become much more complicated. I don't intend to go into that.

Eventually I got an iPod and ripped some music to it. Then at least some of the music went onto my phone so I didn't carry around the iPod anymore, not that I used it that much. It normally lived on a little player and blasted out the tunes for bike spin workouts. Lest you think I'm a hopeless Luddite, my phone can talk to a small device that wirelessly plays music directly into my ears, which is nice in the office, though it sometimes means asking people to stop talking for a second while I turn the music off.

Our last car held 6 CD's in a carrousel. It was great to see several USB ports in the new Fit. I dug out the old iPod so Linda would have music when she drove. That didn't turn out so well. It didn't want to run in the cold, and when it restarted it was always on a song I hated. A few times I couldn't get it to go at all, even though it was always plugged in so the battery should be charged.

Eventually I got sick of it and started researching if I could plug a USB stick with music on it directly into the USB port. That worked! I was amazed. So I spent some time cleaning up the iTunes library, mainly deleting songs and artists that I didn't want to listen to anymore. That got the size down to 20 GB or so, and I copied that onto a big USB, plugged it into the car and had music! Nearly instantly as opposed to the long start up time for the iPod, and it even remembers where it is.

Then I realized something was weird. Mostly starting with artists who's name began with R, up to the end of the alphabet, much of the music wasn't there. A few other artists before R. Sometimes iTunes could see the name of the album, but there was no actual music file. Not all of them, and I couldn't see a pattern. Most of those I still have the disc and decided rather than try to find them electronically and fix it, I'd just recopy the disc. There's lots of space on that hard drive, and lots of room left on the USB.

Well. One red CD holder that used to live in the old car, two drawers full, two revolving cd storage units, three fabric box thingies, and one big cardboard box, all full of CDs. Sorting through and finding the desired CDs wasn't too bad, but there are also a bunch that hadn't been imported and I like the music, so I added them to the pile.

I saw lots of discs that I remember buying, and usually I remember what the music is and don't want to hear it again. And then there are some discs that I have no idea what the music is, other than the genre. I shake my head at some of it. Aside from an attack of the sneezes from the dust, it's going ok. I am choosing to be amused when iTunes insists that some files cannot be found, yet when I put that CD in, asks if I want to replace the existing files. Sheesh. Just between you and me, iTunes needs a major rewrite.

All this is happening on a 10 year old computer because it's the only one with an optical drive. Well, the old Cube still functions, sort of, but putting the digital files on that is pointless, there is no way to get them off again. The new iMac and laptop have no optical drive. I guess they figure if you want to copy or create a physical disc, you will go buy an external disc drive.

Don't get me wrong, there are advantages to digital. The file itself takes essentially no space, in that 1 file or a bazillion are available on the device. It is usually easy to copy a file from one device to another, with implications both good and bad that I won't get into. Sorting, playlists, and all sorts of metadata are possible if you're into it.

But, he said.

There are some nasty surprises to digital files. You may think it is sitting there all cozy in it's ones and zeros, but it is every so gradually atrophying. That file format may become obsolete, which has happened to me several times in the text world. Worst of all from my perspective, is that your digital file might 'go away' without warning because of licensing issues.

Just because you bought a digital copy of some music or a movie and think it lives on your device, doesn't make it true. What you've bought is a code that lets you download it again when you want, unless something happens along the way, and they decide your country or region isn't allowed to see that data anymore. Movies are bad for that. I'm sufficiently old fashioned that I think there is a cost to downloading unless I'm home using my WIFI. I do not want to be downloading music on a cellular data plan.

A book is always a book. It can be found on a shelf fairly easily by looking. It's even easier if there is a consistent shelving system. A file can still be there on the computer, but it can be hard or even impossible to find. Maybe the title or creator isn't quite as you remembered, or there's been some slight computer corruption that renders it 'invisible.'

Yes, of course books decay as well. I've some books that are nearly 100 years old and the paper is going yellow. With care they can still be read, should I desire to read the un-Bowdlerized versions of the early Hardy Boys novels. They might go another 100 years before falling apart completely. With better paper and some care with oxygen and light, books can last for centuries. There is no digital technology so far that can make that claim.

I can take my book anywhere in the world or even to space and read it. If I bring the disc and playing device(s) and whatever adapters are needed for the power supply, I can read or watch my book or movie. Some people like the feel of a book in their hands, or the look of the rows and rows of books in their library.

Books in particular need no batteries, no device to play them back. Pick it up and read wherever your heart desires. Just don't drop it in the bath. Books and discs can be lent to a friend, or be sold to a used book store. None of these things are remotely true for a digital file.

Still, anyone want an 80's vintage set of Encyclopedia Brittanica?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Am I a coffee snob?

You can see me, hard at work on the coffee this morning.

Well, actually, this shot is after making, and after the first sip, but before the second sip as I got an idea. I suppose technically, I'm not hard at work on the coffee at all, but rather am hard at photography.

But lets stick with the coffee part of it. Some people get up, dump some ground coffee into a filter basket made of bleached paper, add water, and push a button on the drip coffee maker. The disgusting gurgles at the end put me off. Sometimes it smells and tastes of plastic, just a bit.

Some people even set it all up the night before, so all they have to do is push the button in the morning. That the grounds go stale overnight never enters their minds. Such people might not even let the full pot brew, but stick their mug under it to get it faster. Speed is more important to them than taste. Some even spring for the fancy coffee makers that work on a timer, so it's ready when they stumble out of bed, if they remembered to set it up the night before.

There are some who use the little landfill cloggers that are reputed to contain a coffee-like substance and who's name begins with K, but they are beyond the pale. We will not discuss them and their uncivilized ways here.

I try not to think about what happens to nice fresh coffee after it's been poured in the pre-heated mug. (Umm, you DO pre-heat your mug, right?) Things get added to it, which dilutes the coffee goodness. As an uncle of mine told me once, if you aren't man enough to drink it black, don't drink it all. So wherever it comes, I drink it black. It baffles me that a particularly popular and expensive "coffee" chain sells drinks that are mostly sugar and various 'flavourizers' added to bad coffee, and continues to get customers.

It takes me about 20 minutes from stumbling out of bed to the first sip, and most of that is waiting for the water to boil. In the meantime I'm dealing with the cat horde and starting breakfast, so it's not wasted time. I'll pick the beans I want and run them through the conical grinder. (Yes the kind of grinder really matters.) Normally we have three kinds on the go. Here's the current selection, delivered to our house a few days ago. I always buy a dark, a medium, and whatever the coffee of the month is.

After the water boils I carefully pour it over the fresh grounds, stirring firmly. The coffee smell coming out of the french press is almost as nice as that first sip. Set the timer for 4 minutes, stir again somewhere along the way. Press, pour into cup, remainder into thermos. Sip. Ahhhhhhh!

In retirement I've come to love sipping the coffee in a leisurely way, and coming to grips with whatever new insanity the world has come up with overnight. I try to overlook the worst of it as I think about what my day will be. It could be anything, who knows? Certainly not me at that point, unless I've got something scheduled. Right now I'm inside of course, but during the summer it's particularly nice to be on the patio, smelling flowers with the morning sun.

Eventually I come up with a plan, except when I don't and am a total slackerpants. The day I wrote this was lots of blogging stuff. Updating my photo blog. Getting ahead on blog writing. Doing an experimental macro shoot, with one really nice shot, and a few so-so ones. Some puttering around the house. Delicately molesting the cats as they were trying to snooze in the afternoon sun. Life is good.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

What did it do?

Take a look at this lonely earth mover.

Ostracized from the herd. There was a big line on the other side of the field off to my left as I took that shot. Is there such a thing as a snotty equipment clique? There is some equipment working way off in the distance. Maybe it's broken down, and is awaiting it's fate, whatever that might be for such equipment. I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve being taken to the glue factory. I'm also pretty sure you can't dump such a thing into a regular car shredder either. Maybe it was a bad earth mover, and this is a time out. Maybe it just needs a minor repair and will be back to work soon.

These other photos were taken near Anderson road and the new ring road. Just behind that earth mover used to be a pond and wetland area.

I like these stark, high contrast photos of brilliant sun and white snow with deep shadows.

I didn't walk all the way to it, but it looks like Bob's Bench didn't need to be moved after all. The new road curves off to the left. Anyone sitting there might get a good view. Maybe I'll try that next walk up that way. Maybe I'll pose Linda on it for another shot.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From Fish Creek and swim metrics

This sunset might look familiar; it was shot a few minutes after that nice photo of a lonely tree in Fish Creek. The other two shots are slightly earlier in the day.

Swim stuff now. If you aren't a swimmer, or a swimmer wannabe, you can stop reading now.

I'm back in the pool on a regular basis now, though I'm still not as strong as I'd like to be. My shoulders have been cranky (along with lots of other body parts) so I haven't been putting in the pool distance lately.

Still, while coaching Michelle, it makes me think of the various techniques and time, which is good for me. Time is important when swimming laps and trying to improve. You need to know to the second if you're swimming faster or slower. Then you can think about what you're doing right, or wrong.

My best times recently for 50 m is 39 seconds, and for 100 m is 91 seconds, both short course. (25 m pool length, long course is 50 m, and yes it makes a difference.) I'm getting Michelle to keep closer track of her times as well. She got a surprise about that last swim, nearly equaling her previously best 50 m time that involved gasping for air and feeling a little queasy at the end. She hadn't known I was timing her, and was trying to swim clean. She got back to the wall not breathing hard at all, and could have gone on for a little bit anyways.

Another metric is called your golf score. Swim a timed all out 50 m, and count every stroke, then add them together. A smaller number is better. My best is 77 (40 seconds plus 37 strokes) short course. Today I tried it long course and ended up with 81 (39 seconds, 42 strokes).

The point to tracking these numbers is like tracking your weight. The clock and the scale do not lie. If the clock says you're faster, you are, regardless how you feel about it. The more you time every lap, the closer you'll be able to know how you're doing even before looking at the clock.

I try to swim so I can see the clock after every flip turn, and that's how I keep track of laps. Flip turns, there's another thing. Most people that do flip turns take a long time, so long that I can do an open turn faster. There's a knack to both, and each takes core. I'm sure if I worked on my core I could get faster yet.

The difference between short and long course is that almost everyone is slower long course. Why? Because the fastest you go in the water comes after a strong streamlined push off. There are twice as many turns in short course, so you spend that much more time going faster. Long course is really good for getting in the groove and feeling your stroke, especially keeping your elbows high, and working on your catch. (Hint hint.)

Two other related metrics that are easy to confuse. Strokes per length, and strokes per minute. There are no hard and fast rules about how many strokes for either. It depends on your wingspan, your musculature, your flexibility, your swim technique, your cardio fitness, and how far this particular swim is. It's more important that your stroke be rhythmical, and in the sweet spot for your body today, than any particular speed.

The trick is to have several strokes in your quiver so you can pull them out as needed. Yes, the stroke for a 50 m race is different than a 1500 m recovery swim. Generally, fewer strokes per length is better, but not to the point you're going at kick only speed. That's where the golf score comes in.

At first you usually do a slow stroke rate to give you more time to feel the water and to think about coordinating your roll with your pull. Then you can do it faster.

I'm trying to get into the pool 3 times a week for now. I've talked about consistency, and it's really important in swimming. The water feel is so elusive. There's a story of a famous piano player who practiced every day. When asked why so much practice, he replied that if he skipped a day he could hear the difference. If he skipped two days the critics could hear it. And three days, the audience would hear it and they wouldn't want to listen any more. That's why the swim kids are in the pool so much, swimming so far it makes me ache to think of it. Us adults that don't want to swim in the olympics, or even in Kona don't need to swim that much, but probably should swim more than we do.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Do you say yes, or no?

Have you ever thought you were facing this?

That what you wanted was on the top of that, or on the other side? Or maybe worse, what you had been told you wanted, perhaps by parents or a boss, was up there. It's hard enough scrambling up something like that when you want to of your own free will, but many times harder when you've been told to.

There was a talk given where the speaker discussed brick walls as a tool to keep out the uninterested. The assumption being that you somehow needed to get over, or around, or under, or through the wall, and only the most interested people would even attempt it, let alone succeed. That the brick wall was there to keep all those other people out.

Lots of people make resolutions this time of year. The detailed list is forever long, but the short list is that people want to be better. Better in some respect. They want to improve themselves. Maybe that means finishing that degree, or getting a better job, or losing weight, or running a 5K without stopping, or an infinity of detailed ors. But better in the eyes of your current self. There are some who want to be better in the eyes of other people, and that can be a hard row to hoe.

That means change, and change can be hard. As hard as scrambling up that mountain. Part of the trick is to get habit working for you, rather than against you. If your habit is to drink beer with dinner, then drink more beer while plopped on the couch watching TV and nothing changes, it's going to be really hard to finish that 5 K race you somehow signed up for.

(And BTW, couch to 5K is the hardest race there is, harder than a marathon, harder than Ironman. Why? Because non-motion to motion is hard. Once you can do 5K, doing 10 isn't so hard. Getting to a half marathon, or a full marathon has it's challenges, but it's just more of what you're already doing. And Ironman is a swim, bike, run, three things a child can do so how hard can it be? He said with a wink.)

Small steps. Cut back on the beer, and start moving more, rather than spending the whole evening on the couch. Start going for a walk before hitting the couch. Do it every day, a short one at first, then gradually getting longer. At first it will feel weird, but our bodies are evolved to move.

Walk every day for a month, and some days you'll find yourself putting on your shoes without even thinking of it. Moving more starts burning more calories and your weight gain will slow or maybe stop. Start eating more sensibly and the weight loss will start. It doesn't necessarily mean giving up on beer totally, just have fewer.

Any goal can be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps. If you think about trying to get to the top of that mountain in one go, you will fail. But if you think about it step by step, thinking where you need to rest, what route to take, what supplies you'll need, the individual steps can become manageable. Just keep moving. Build the habit of movement. Build the habit of change.

Whatever the change, start small, and keep going. Read one page of that book. Write one page of your great novel (250 words or so, any words, edit them later.) Wash and put away the dishes before starting the TV. Spend one TV show worth of time exploring the internet on a topic that interests you and that might make something about your job go better. Learning one XL function can save you hours on at your job. Whatever it is. Every day.

So that's you, deciding to change. Good for you! Then there's all the people around you. Most don't care one way or the other. That's ok, providing you don't take it personally. Some will support you, asked or unasked, and you might be surprised by whom. Don't be afraid to ask for help, and the response will help you sort out who your friends really are. The ones who help are like a drink of water in the desert, cherish them. Thank them. Help them if you can.

Then there are the ones who don't support you, who might even actively sabotage you. This might include your friends and your family. It certainly includes almost anything you can watch on TV. Ditch those so-called friends. They will drag you back into old habits. You can find better friends.

Family is tougher. You have to decide what you want. Do you want your goal, whatever it might be, or do you want to be that old person? If you want the change badly enough you must push back on your family. It's nearly impossible to quit smoking or drinking if you hang around with smokers or drinkers. Push back. If your family won't support your goals, then they've shown themselves to be vampires. Treat them accordingly.

Lots of what you will read about change and changing is all rainbows and unicorn poop. It does take a certain optimism to change. There is an element of "lalala I'm not listening." But the brutal fact is that change is hard. After all, if it was easy everyone would do it all the time and it wouldn't be any fun anymore. It doesn't matter what your change is. You've written down your small steps where you can see them. Soap on your bathroom mirror, a note on the inside of door you leave your home by. Whatever. You have to read it, and do it. First you see it, then you be it.

Find whatever it is that helps motivate you. That beach vacation bikini taped to your fridge. A photo of the finisher medal for the race you want to do. A wine glass in a glassed in box, with the sign, "in case of emergency break (wine) glass." A photo of the office you want to move into. A model of the fancy car you will win if you hit your sales target. A picture drawn by your kids of you playing with them instead of watching TV. Use your imagination. Use anything and everything you can think of. It's your life.

The only person who can make you into the person you want to be is you. It will take every minute of every day. At first not doing the old thing is hard. Everything will drag you back. Be strong. The new you will seem weird. You'll feel like a dork the first time you walk out of the change room to the pool deck wearing a new suit, wondering what lane to 'swim' in. Then the pool will become home. I know this, I've done it, and I've seen others do it. At first you'll think you don't belong in your new herd, and maybe they seem a little suspicious of you. That's ok, you're new to them. Hang in there, show them you belong. Keep trying. A hundred, a thousand times a day you'll think "I want x." Whatever that might be, it's your old you trying to program your nascent new you.

Stay strong. Recognize the old you for what it had done, good or bad, to get you where you are. Thank it, sarcastic or otherwise, then move on. Do what it takes. It's not easy. You'll slip up from time to time. Get up again, punch the world in the throat, and keep going. Do what it takes, this minute, to say yes to the new you, and no to the old you. Again and again. Success is all the sweeter for being hard to earn.

Are you going to say yes, or no? What changes do you want to make?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Macro Monday 17, a somewhat alien outlook?

In some ways, this first photo is terrible. The feature part of the subject is way out of focus, and the bits that are in focus aren't really properly part of the shot.

But I'm intrigued. Doesn't it sort of look a little like a hunched over alien figure, peering out of a pressure helmet? Or maybe their faces are kind of glassy anyways. There's a sprig of hair out back, or maybe that's part of their sensory apparatus.

Here's a sharper photo, at a slightly different angle. Not as much fun, perhaps.

This is another go at wine diamonds. Up to now they've been sort of swirly curvy, and not terribly interesting. But I like the sharp angles here. They sort of look like scales.

And finally, a wine diamond that's actually almost diamond shaped, with tiny little facets. This one is about a mm across at the widest. The clear crystal above was almost too small to see.

I'm thinking the time has come to build a light box and start on my glass paperweights, and see how that works out. Plus I had an interesting idea for lighting I want to try, if I can keep the cats under control while I use it, hint hint. Should have tried with the wine diamonds. Oh well.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Image of 2017

So many photos! I've been thinking about this for a while, toying with the ideas of categories. Best macro, best landscape, best Curtis photo, best photo of a sunrise taken on even numbered Tuesdays, whatever. That way I could put up any number of 'best' photos, limited only by my imagination in coming up with categories. My regular readers know exactly how limited my imagination is, which is to say hardly at all.

No. There can be only one. The flat out luckiest photo is easy, capturing the bee showing off it's wings, between the sunflowers. I didn't even know it was there till afterward. The macro shot of Mr Travis Bee is right up here, him holding still, and me timing the shutter button as I slowly swayed back and forth with the macro lens extended half way.

Here are the choices. I'm proud of all these shots, and would show them to any photographer or visual artist.

Best typically doesn't happen by accident. Best normally implies a strong element of skill, which leads to the thought that it's repeatable. In that sense, no sunrise or sunset shot can be best since the clouds and how the sun affects them are different all the time. Even a skyline shot can be different every day, or even minute to minute, depending on the light. Although skill still applies to some extent to get the right camera settings for the conditions, and it might be an incredible photo.

Consider a photo of a flower. Most flowers are pretty, but a photo of a flower doesn't make it a pretty photo. There are all the elements of catching the light just so, making sure the background is right, considering if there is dew or water drops on the flower, the composition of all the elements of the photo, and so on. A better photographer will usually take a  better, more interesting shot, and be able to do so again and again.

What makes a shot interesting? The answer is different for everyone. A photo of a child might be enormously interesting for the family, and ho-hum for me. A photo of a flower might be boring to a gardener who has seen a zillion roses, but an artist might be captivated by composition of the shot and the quality of the light. There are people photos that I was ready to delete rather than show them, and then it turns out they love it! (The Resting Bitch Face photo helped open my mind, and keeps it open. I often think of that when I'm working on photos.) I've had lots of compliments on photos that I think are so-so, and the opposite.

Let's think about interesting, though. Something has to catch your eye and brain. Colour, line, shape, something has to get your attention. Then it has to engage your brain just the right amount. Our brains have evolved to work on pattern recognition, and to do so extremely quickly. Is that the face of a friend or foe? Is it a snake or a fallen tree branch? Do I have a minute or is that a predator sneaking up on me?

That photo has to be interesting enough that the answer isn't instantly obvious (a pretty flower and nothing more), yet not so cryptic or busy the viewer gives up on it. That's a tough gate to hit. There are theories about leading lines, and patterns of threes, and rule of thirds, and colour wheel, and I don't know what else all.

Some photographers say that every photo has to tell a story. I'm not so sure about that one. Some of the most memorable photos ever shot tell a story that sears into your brain. They are so compelling that once seen they can never be forgotten. Most photographers only dream of taking such a shot, yet how many people can name the photographer? But is this the goal for every photo taken? I think not.

You have to give the viewer a reason to continue looking, or to come back again in the face of a near infinity of other photos and other distractions. Maybe it's further detail deeper in the photo. Maybe it's something they have never seen before, such as a macro shot of a bee's eye. Maybe to properly appreciate the interplay of light and texture. Maybe there are several elements that need to be appreciated individually and then as a group. Maybe there is a relationship to other work of the photographer, or to other art. A certain je ne sais quoi.

But then just like I think some novels are the literary equivalent of paint by numbers (looking at YOU Dan Brown!) or stories that slavishly follow the Hero's Journey (looking at YOU George Lucas) I think some photos are the same. Follow these rules when you see this situation, and you'll get a winner photograph. Not so fast. Odds are that winner photo has been done already. I think it's fine to take such a photo to hone your technical skills, but then you need go further and develop your own style, your own body of original work.

Then there's the light. Photographs are all about the light. Some software programs can manipulate the light, and well done it can enhance an already good photo. Poorly done, as it so often is, it can ruin any photo. There are no rules about it.

Yes, I hear you saying, and you've probably already scrolled down, stop blithering and cut to the chase. Which photo did you pick?

I got it down to the final three, and decided a winner and two runners up was reasonable, so I know which three to put below. Needless to say, I love all these shots a lot. But in which order? This has been a major league dither for me.

Second runner up, Mr Travis Bee! Everybody says wow when they see it. The shot isn't cropped, isn't focus stacked, and is nearly perfectly in focus. There is detail in the big version I look at that does not appear in this web version. I'll be taking this to the print shop.

First runner up. I know there are people in love with this peony, with the delicate gradations of brilliant white to the yellowy whites, with the little hit of red, all buried in the sun backlighting the peony, and the black and green in the background. I want to find out how big I can print this.

And the winner! I keep coming back to this, and finding more things to look at. Just today I was wondering why one art print is perfectly visible in the background, but not the other, and it took a few minutes to figure out what was obscuring it. I love, LOVE the subtle yellows, and the textures given to the room by the kettle, to say nothing of the flame curling around the kettle, and especially all the reflections. The thought of the shot was an accident, wondering if the camera would capture the flame. But I moved things around a little too for the composition, so it isn't a complete fluke.

And there we have it, my first full year of photography. As you might recall, 2016 was the red combine landscape. Now I start working on getting an even better photo for 2018.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Toys for little and big kids

I like looking around familiar places at night, or when there's lots of snow, or when the light is different. Even the familiar can be striking. Like this playground. I've run, walked, or biked past it countless times, and never thought of taking a photograph till now.

While I'm on the topic of photographs, I think I have my image of the year. Gonna sleep on it, and make sure. I've been dithering for a while.

Of course, bigger kids have bigger toys. I'm not sure how long this truck has been sitting here. What's odd is how it looks bluish in the shot, when in life it's a dull flat black.

I don't have a photo of it, but one of my neighbours is building an airplane in his garage. Not a model,  a real one that him and his wife can fit into. He's enjoying the process, and I love chatting to him about it.

Everybody has their own toys, and other people usually don't understand. I didn't get adults playing with lego till I realized they had built computers into them, and one could build complicated machines. One of my buddies (this was back in the mid 90's) was so excited for his little boy to get old enough to start playing with the Mindstorm lego. That boy now maintains jets for the military. Talk about your BIG toys!

Lots of people don't understand cameras. There's days I'm not sure I yet understand them, but it's a voyage of discovery.

I love looking through the Lee Valley Tools catalog. I suddenly yearn for tools I hadn't known existed. It makes me want to take up hobbies so I have an excuse to buy the tools. We get it doubly, since they put out a garden catalog as well, full of everything one could want related to gardening. Then there's the tools for the kitchen, and the gifts. It never stops.

What are your favourite toys?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Before it's too late

More of the night shoot just after Christmas with my buddy Sean. We were out near an old workplace of mine. It's changed a lot, as has just across the road, but much of the nearby area is much the same as it ever was.

I like the when the crane operators dress them up. The sky really isn't purple, that's just a camera sensor artifact.

The intent was to get the building and steam plume as a lighted smeary background to the tree. The problem is the wind was quite strong just then, and I was freezing my tail off, so I wasn't inclined to play with the settings.

I wonder how often this gets used?

Now that I think about it, maybe this should have been an HDR shot.

Yes, I'm still working on the image of the year. I'm down to 3, so I've made big progress, at least I think so. A winner and two runners up seems reasonable. But which is which?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The last of the hidden gems and a summary

The first phase of the great 2017 photo review is done! It ends up that I took 28298 photos in 2017. Along the way I deleted however many, and they aren't counted. Right now there are 1518 (just over 5%) sitting in the rejected folder, waiting to be deleted. I edited 2004 (about 7%) altogether, with 187 ending up with 4 stars, and 18 with 5 stars. These 205 are the big pool for image of the year, and the 18 have to be thought of as the short list. I need to mull over my criteria.

I fixed a lot of star ratings and keywords along the way. If you take just photos of your kids and vacations, you can skip this next para, though you might not want to. It used to be that getting a photograph done was a serious business. You had to sit still for several seconds while the film did it's thing. The equipment was portable only in the sense that camping equipment is portable.

Now the technology is so small the biggest part is the interface is for our fingers and eyes to work it. Consumer grade cameras can take dozens of photos a second, and video as well. Memory chips can hold thousands of photos, and people take lots and lots and LOTS of photos. There are almost certainly children only a few hours old that have more photos of them than exist of me. I would be astonished to discover there are more than several hundred photos of me (excepting security camera footage) altogether.

Many photos just end up in a big folder. Apple tries to help with sorting and organizing, and for me it just makes things worse. Theres lots of things Apple is doing that I just don't understand. iTunes, for example. It used to be simple and clean, then it got bloated, and now you need a degree in computer science backed up by a mojo hand to do anything with confidence. I want to make huge changes to my digitized music, mainly because I'm sick of most of it, but I'm afraid to touch it.

How often has someone wanted to show you a particular photo on their phone, and ends up scrolling through many photos, and probably not finding it? I've been on both ends of that.

Lightroom is one of the ways of processing the raw files from a DSLR, and it also manages the information. There are star ratings, colour codes, keywords (which can get very involved) and collections. I've talked about my system before, such as it is, and I'm not as consistent as I'd like to be. (Which reminds me, still no Ask Me Anything questions! Get yours in.)

But if you're using Lightroom or any similar system, one of the things you should do right from the start is to figure out some system for finding photos again. You will want to find them again, trust me. Maybe it's to show a relative that amazing shot of your kid, or what that wiring looked like before you took it apart, or that photo you finally know how to fix with Photoshop, or all those star shots you can now make into a time lapse because you figured out the software. Something. The sooner you figure it out, the easier it is to be consistent. Go back up and look at those numbers again. I'm not a particularly prolific photographer. Anyone who aspires to sell their work will be taking far more photos, and have even more urgent need to track them.

It's easy to get rid of the ones that are badly exposed, or are blurry, or that shot where you covered the lens so you'd know the next three shots were HDR, or the beginning of a panorama, or multiple nearly identical shots where you were experimenting with exposure settings. It's also easy to edit the winners and do whatever it is you do with the winners, like publish them on a blog, print and frame them, give them as gifts, try to sell them, whatever. There are some documentary shots, such as the bridge number so I know where I am, or this is what the garden looks like today. Not art, but of a certain value anyways.

Then there are all the other ones. I am undecided about them. The in between ones. Just a blah photo, maybe the space to the left of a winner photo, interesting but not a winner itself. Maybe I just need to be more ruthless. Then again, I now have lots of hard drive space, (and just cleared up another 38 GB) so it isn't that big of a deal.

There were a couple more hidden gems found along the way, along with some I looked at again, and made the same decision I made when I saw it the first time. Sometimes you need to edit the photo a bit to decide it really isn't a winner.

I remember this one, though. I was going to run it through Photomatix and see what that did, when something came up and I left it. When I came back I probably thought I'd finished editing it or something, or started on the next day's photos.

I'd always meant to come back to this one and consider how those stripes got there, and how the rock itself got there. So far I haven't seen another rock like it anywhere in Fish Creek. Maybe it's a rock that has lead a life of unprecedented rock adventure, and is now lurking here, thinking about it's next adventure.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Fish Creek Tree

Here is a new year, well underway. Sunny, starting cold but getting warmer. News flash! Calgary is no longer colder than either of the poles. People have been emerging from their homes, blinking at the light, and trundling around without quite so many layers on.

The pool has been quiet my last few visits, but today is getting back to the usual form. A few new people but I don't know if they are resolutionistas or what. A couple swim clubs were in, but they seemed sort of half hearted about the whole thing. Maybe the coach is just getting them back into the groove to start working off the Christmas flub.

I certainly need to do that. Holy Doodle! Dialling back on the run might have been good to give my legs a rest, but it's been bad for the gut flub. Starting to work it off. We should have given more of the GF cookies to BRBE. She has the discipline to freeze some, hide some, and ration them out. Not me. I see cookie, I eat cookie. But so far this year I've been to the pool twice, and I've been out for two photo walks (see below.)

I took this photo a while ago, and I've been meaning to put it into a blog, but somehow other, older photos have been muscling it aside. Yes, still working on the photo review. This isn't of anything in particular. It's just pretty, or I think so. I like the colours gradually fading into one another. You can try to guess what the base image is, if you like.

Fish Creek is an interesting park. The west end, closest to where I live, is hilly and thickly wooded with evergreens. It is stunningly beautiful any time of year. There are some meadows here and there if you know where to find them.

The east end is more of a plain, wide open grasslands. A couple times riding my bike home from work I've struggled through that area, head down into the wind, churning along at a mighty 15 KpH. A couple times I've baked my brains out 'running' the last leg of a half iron down there.

Along the way is one tree out in the middle of the plain. I've looked at it many times as I've run or rode my bike past it, and have wondered about it's suitability as a photo subject. I wonder no longer. I shall return.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

More recent hidden gems

The great review continues. Here are some more that were not edited at the time because I was out of my mind or something.

I've rejected more than 800 photos now, mainly for over or under exposure that somehow escaped the initial cull, or being inartistically out of focus, or being one of a sequence of shots where there is already an edited one that is clearly better than the others.

Linda during a hike up to the Ink Pots. This was a couple weeks after her last day in the office.

Taken from the Harold Chapman bridge. Sorry, but I have no idea who he is/was, and why they named the bridge after him.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Recent hidden gems

As I've been going through 2017 photos, there have been any number of times I've thought to myself, "what on earth was I thinking?" Most of them it's a bad photo, and I can't imagine why I clicked the shutter. But there have been some winners that I can't understand why I didn't edit them at the time. In no particular order.

Oh, and you may have missed the December Image of the Month, since I've snuck in an extra blog today, so my readers could see these gems before I lost them again.

Most rose hips are bright red, but I liked the almost diseased look.

 I love the these peachy orange tulips.

Celina on the hunt.

No idea what flower this is.

This one is more what you'd call a documentary shot, of my buddy Sean hard at work capturing a photo you can see here.

December Image of the Month

This time it was easy. Only 1500 or so to choose between, and only a few of them really rang my chimes. Without further fuss and bother, here it is. I'd like to tell you I spent hours sculpting the smear of ink.

There were a few Fish Creek landscapes that were pretty nice, but they were so recent you'd probably be bored if you saw them again.

So, going forward in 2018, what can you expect from this blog? In short, pretty much more of the same, if all goes well. When I got the good camera, I set a goal of posting at least one photo every day, and I've more than exceeded that. I can just imagine some of my readers saying, 'what, MORE of that??' I'd still like to be sharing my photos, but there might be some changes.

I used to go out, take photos, and post whichever ones appeared good. Now I'd like to be a bit more focused. I'm thinking of putting a 'recent' tab on my photo blog for the good shots as they happen. The ones I think of as being artistic. This blog will have what I think of as documentary shots, (me/buddies were here and had fun), shots that either illustrate the point of a blog or drove the creation of a post, (like the 2 shots in Nowheresville). Shots of the cats, because I know that's the main reason many people come here. I'll still do photo of the month here and on the photo blog. Macro Monday will happen periodically.

There have been a few rants along the way, and those will continue as the inspiration strikes me. There might be a few more thoughtful essays about whatever topics take my mind. A couple people have asked about novel publication, and I have to admit I suspect that isn't going to happen, as such. I am considering creating a separate blog specifically for extracts. I'm thinking of publishing chapters, or short story sized chunks and the readers, if any, can put them together as they will. I need to think about ensuring my rights are secure, so don't hold your breath waiting.

I love comments and want to hear from my readers, but there are a few things to know. I turned off allowing anonymous comments because the spam-bots found me. Blogger is pissy about people trying to comment from a mobile platform. I'm sorry about that, but there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. All comments are moderated, but I'm usually pretty quick about seeing them coming and approving them. If you want to comment, feel free to say it on Facebook, Instagram, or text me, or email me, and I'll copy it to blog.

Other social media. Tweeting won't work, I've turned Twitter off and don't miss it. I'm still figuring out Instagram. I hate that it trims my panorama shots, so I won't post them there. It isn't the best platform for displaying nice photos, where I want to embiggen them and appreciate the detail. I'm happy to read any advice you might have about Instagram.

Image of 2017 is going to be tough. I'm still working on it, and want to reflect on it a bit. Like image of the month, the criteria for the choice drives the decision. Not a decision to be made hastily. Whichever it is, I'm likely to get it printed.

Lastly, welcome to the new year! Hope it's everything you dream it will be. Now go kick ass and make it happen.


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