No Perfect Solution

Although there are signs this hole was recently occupied, nobody was home.

I walk a lot. One of my preferred hikes is along the Carson River at the Silver Saddle Ranch from the River Park staging area up to Mexican Dam and return. There are a number of paths on Silver Saddle Ranch, but during the summer months, my preferred path is along the river. There The Girl has access to water for cooling off and drink. I like the green of the willows and cottonwoods and the sound of the birds.

Lately, I have been listening to music while walking. I gave up on my Bose QuietComfort 20s because I just cannot deal with wires. Because I carry a camera (actually two) and a bag, I am constantly fouling the wires of my headset. Then I jerk the plugs from my ears and get generally pissed off with the whole thing and lose the moment.

So I bought a set of the Bose QuietComfort 30s, which are wireless. They have a necklace that lies over the shoulders and provides the housing for the electronics and battery. They have the Bose sound, which I’m OK with. The noise cancellation is adjustable and effective. I can turn it off so I can hear what is going on around me. (I still like to hear the outdoors even if I am listening to music.) They do not hang up as badly as the wired units, although there remains some interference with the camera and bag straps.

They are not a perfect solution. I have to carry my iPhone in a case on my belt or in the camera bag. I cannot slip my iPhone into my back pocket. I have the occasional skip or drop. But, they are better than the wired units. They are a sufficient improvement that I think I’ll keep them and sell the 20s.

I think this is the general case: There are solutions to my problem (wanting decent quality sound, no wires) but there is not a perfect solution. It leads me to think about the pursuit of perfection, which is something that has been bouncing around inside my head for a bit now. There is an essay there that I hope to write sometime.

The image is one of my captures from the Carson River walks that I do. I was struck by the texture and contrast of the materials and the fact that no one was home. This might have been a nesting place earlier this year, but now it is empty. I am seeing other signs that fall is coming and soon winter. The leaves will be changing in a couple of weeks, I think. The weather is already changing.

The cycle repeats…

The Joy of It

I often see one of these beautiful raptors working the sage and wetland area of Riverview Park in Carson City.

Over the last couple of years, I have watched these beautiful Northern Harriers work the sageland and wetland areas of Riverview Park in Carson City. It took me a couple of attempts to identify the raptor, but I finally got a view of the bird’s head and with the aid of the Merlin application from the Cornell School of Ornithology I made the identification.

They are now easy for me to identify — that big white patch on the rump is one giveaway. The second is their mode of hunting is to soar about ten feet over the surface listening for mice.

With the acquisition of the red-badge Fujifilm 100-400mm super zoom lens, I now have the capability to capture an image of these birds. They generally do not allow me to get too close, although they will sometimes glide just overhead, teasing me.

On this particular morning, I saw the harrier glide over the field. I made a couple of attempts to capture an image but was not satisfied with my attempts.

However, the bird soon began a climb, having caught a thermal. I watch it rise up and up until it was a couple hundred feet overhead. It soared in large circles, overwatching its hunting grounds.

I stood there a few minutes, knowing that the bird was not hunting but simply flying.

Many of the animals encountered during my life have shown an intelligence that is impressive. They do not simply eat, sleep, and procreate. They interact socially among their species and sometimes others. They play. They do things that please them. Otherwise, why would they waste the energy to move from place to place?

The best teacher of all is The Girl. She showed me there is intelligence without language. She often talks to me, speaking volumes without making a sound. I get it.

As I stood there on the trail, watching the harrier soaring far above me, I got it. This was not about a hunt, or about turf protection; the soaring was simply for the joy of it.

Does Not Make a Right

I have not yet identified the species of this snake. It looks like a human kill to me. The yellow jackets are feasting (and cleaning up the mess).

A few weeks ago I shared an image and a story about a rattlesnake found dead at a park. A week or so ago The Girl and I were walking the Mexican Ditch Trail on Silver Saddle Ranch when we came across this snake. It looked to me that someone had killed it on the trail and left it.

I cannot tell if it is a rattlesnake or not. It looks like someone took the tail so I am suspicious that it was a rattlesnake.

I am not OK with killing one of these animals on encounter. The Girl and I bypass them and let them contribute their part to the ecosystem. They fill a valuable role.

This is another wrong… and two wrongs do not make a right.

The Writing Discipline

I found this on morning walkies Sunday and had to have an image.

About a week ago I met Judy M. while walking The Girl out at Riverside Park on the Carson River. I think Judy is about where I was a few years ago after Wife died and I was in the process of discovering what I was to be without her in my life. It was a turbulent time of reflection and introspection during which I ended my engagement with my previous employer, sold my house, put my things into storage, and went on a long wander.

That wander took me many places where I spent time with family, friends, and loved ones. It was necessary for me to take the time to process my loss. It was good to connect with people I love. I cherish that time.

In any event, I think Judy will be an interesting read and encourage you, the reader, to visit her weblog and encourage her to continue posting. I am going to follow her.

Her sharing with me her weblog reminded me that I have not been exercising the writing discipline on my own site for some time. I see that it was early in July when I posted last. To be fair, I was traveling to see family and friends for a couple of weeks. I spent my time and energy on that exercise and that is a good thing. Unfortunately, it meant that I did not have time and energy to spend writing on my own weblog.

I know that I shared before an intention to write here regularly. I find it difficult, though, when I break the habit (or discipline) of writing regularly here to restart that work. I have many things to do and they will take priority if I let them.

That said, I still have the desire and intention of posting here on this site regularly. I suppose that means I need to set a regular reminder in my calendar that posting day is coming so you better get writing and then dig down and do that work.

I make no promise, although I have the intention of writing regularly. I think it is an important part of what I do and I also think I still have plenty of words left in me. Stop laughing…

While walking The Girl this morning we came upon these large wasps working the flowering plants along the path. I think this specimen was nearly 50mm long. The striking contrast between the black body and orange wings caught my eye. So, I made a few captures with the Fuji X-T1 and the Fuji 35mm f/2 lens. Of all the captures, this one I like the best.

I did give them some space. They did not seem particularly aggressive, but the orange wings looked like a warning to me. “Danger, Ruminator!”

When we returned home, I made some lunch (green salad with some ham, turkey, Jack cheese, avocado, and a Roma tomato) and relaxed a little. Then I looked up the wasp. I think it is a Tarantula Hunter, or Pepsis wasp. It was consuming nectar from a milkweed plant, along with a couple of butterflies.

Wrong!

No, I did not kill this snake. I found it at Grimes Point when I stopped for lunch.
On my way east, I stopped at Grimes Point for a break and to make a sandwich. As I sat under the shelter munching a sandwich, drinking a bit of Diet Mellow Yellow, and snacking on some potato chips, I played with the chipmunks begging for bits of my lunch. One of them nearly took a bite of chip from my hand, then shied off. I noticed him creeping up on something a dozen feet away, very carefully. I noticed his attention was focused on a snake. A piece of rebar lay atop the dead animal, the implement of its destruction.

It looked like a Great Basin Rattlesnake to me. Its head was destroyed and the rattles were taken, I suppose as a trophy or souvenir.

This made me a little sad. Yes, rattlesnakes can be dangerous. They do not generally bite unless injured or cornered. They serve a function in the desert ecosystem. They are beautiful animals.

The snake was there because of the rodent population, I’m sure. It was just doing what rattlesnakes do — hunt food. They are where the food is.

It would have been easy to move the snake away from the picnic area without killing it. I would have either left it alone or moved it. They can easily be encouraged to move along without risk. It just takes a long stick and some patience.

There is something wrong with killing an animal needlessly. I have no issue with pest control, hunting for meat, or caring for livestock. But the wanton destruction of this animal was unnecessary and wrong.

What a shame.

Metaphor

This boy is the victim of a couple of bad spinal disks. However, in the water, he’s just a dog — his land-gear left behind.
The Girl and I walk the Carson River often, almost every day. At this time of year, I really prefer to be near the water, particularly on hot days when we don’t leave the house very early.

One day we walked up a couple of women. One sat on the bench at this favorite stop while the other played with her dog in the river. Bench-woman told me that the dog has a couple of bad spinal disks, such that his rear legs are not really functional. However, with the carriage he gets along just fine.

I stopped, knelt in the sand (while the Girl snuffled about, got her feet wet, and got a drink) to get a capture of the carriage and the players in the background. On land, the dog is crippled — not fully able to use his body as intended. However, as I watched him play in the water with his friend, he was just a dog swimming and playing like all the other dogs seen in the river. Had I not known of his infirmity, I would never have guessed that his rear legs don’t work.

This struck me as a metaphor that applies to so many of us. Out of our element, we are crippled and not fully functional as many others are or might be. However, when in our element, we are just like all the others — able to work, play, and live like any other dog.

Social Media

We pulled into the Red Hut parking lot Saturday morning to get some breakfast. In the pickup next to us this puppy watched use carefully through its tongue-licked window. It was worth a pause for the shot.
The dopamine hit we get from interacting with social media is addictive. FB knows this (hence Facebook and Instagram). Google knows this (YouTube anyone?). I suspect many other companies know it and use it.

A favorite IG’er, @NateArizona, posted a chat on IG recently and talked about this. It made me think (or rethink) my use of social media, particularly FB, IG, Twitter, and SnapChat.

I’m not a big user of any of them, with the exception of IG. But I limit my exposure to IG in that I follow only a few posters and they are either family, friends, or a few photographers whose work I admire. I mostly post to IG, but am unsure that results in any additional traffic here, to my weblog.

I do not receive any meaningful feedback from my posts on IG. I am pretty serious about photography and work every year to improve my sight and my skills. I post a few captures on IG because it’s quick and I enjoy it. But I have only a couple hundred followers.

Therefore, I question whether it is worth the effort to continue the IG exercise or to refocus that energy to working here on my personal webspace. Perhaps I should think about my goals for IG and how those goals fit into my goals for this website. If my photographs are print-worthy, then I could generate some income to offset the cost of equipment and travel to make more captures of interesting places, people, and things.

But, I digress in my stream-of-consciousness fashion. I was really thinking about the social media addiction (a dopamine hit addiction) that so many of us suffer. I followed FB pretty closely for awhile, before a writer I admire referred to it as “an exercise in abnormal psychology.” That captured my attention, along with reading about Fear-Of-Missing-Out (AKA FOMO) and I realized that I was really missing very little, with few exceptions. Avoiding FB resulted in an immediate drop in frustration level (and probably blood pressure) from all that mess.

When FB bought IG I was deeply concerned. I loved the way my follows showed up in the feed when I checked in. I could quickly and easily determine what was new and have a look at the work of creatives I enjoy. When FB abandoned the chronological feed for something far more obscure I was deeply disappointed. Now they are becoming more adamant about showing me feeds that I might like and sponsored posts that want me to buy something. It is becoming unbearable.

The last couple of major elections reinforced my thoughts when I saw how nasty people were on FB. It was a moment when I eschewed the platform, for the most part, only visiting now and again after posting something here to see if I had comments that needed response.

(For the record, I also keep track of a few family members and very close friends there.)

So where does this leave my thoughts? Well, I will continue to use the social media platforms on my current list. I might move much of my photographic work here and post less on IG. I will certainly maintain my distance from FB as that problem of psychology I mentioned. Twitter and SnapChat are not big consumers of my time and energy, so there really isn’t much to do there.

And then there is Ello. I have an account there I do not use much. There are many creatives on Ello. But I do not really grok the platform. Perhaps Ello deserves a little more attention as far as posting my images and some supporting text. If one of my goals is to reach a wider audience with my photographs and my words, then that might be an approach. It is clear that neither IG nor FB is a viable solution. They are both crowded spaces and the algorithms are not intended to provide creators with outreach; the algorithms are intended to keep users hooked and increase revenues. That sounds cynical, but it is what I believe.

It seems I have some additional work to do. But perhaps I better get The Girl out and make a capture for today. I am certain I can find something to catch my eye….

A Breath

On evening walkies, Older Son, The Girl, and I paused for a moment as the sun illuminated the clouds.

There are many ways to interpret the title of this entry. There are many stories to tell as well. The image is a capture from this evening’s walkies, up at the old state school where orphans used to live.

A couple of consulting projects buried me for the last couple of months. One of them is finished. The second has its report in review and will be finished next week. A third is ramping up and there will be a push to get it done over the next couple of weeks. It will get done.

I am not complaining; I appreciate the work and there should be enough money to pay my bills for the remainder of the year. I expect the workload will abate and I will have time to go back to my training regimen and be able to spend time reading and making photographs.

So, this week I had a chance to take a breath. I took some time off and took that breath. The break was a respite I desperately needed as the push to get the work done was taking a toll on my inner and outer health. The breath was good.

Five years ago today Wife died. That left a hole in my life that has not been filled. The pain of grief is mostly abated — it still arises now and again and there is a ghost of it in me that I think will never go away. But I am OK with that. That small pain is a reminder of a life together, with all of the good times and all of the warts. It is part of what shaped me.

I recall her last breath vividly. The vigil that preceded her passing was a ramp up of intensity that culminated the moment she left. The gulf that followed was a second intensely emotional period that abated slowly over the next couple of years.

Therefore, today I recall a breath… the few days I took to recover and regroup and the last breath of Wife. Life is breath and each one is precious.

A Bit of Fluff

I came across this bit of fluff on morning walkies.

I have not written much lately. My time has been consumed by exercise (for me and The Girl), work, and playing a little World of Tanks (in the evenings after work and supper).

The energy used in working has not left much for writing of photography. Yet, I carry the camera along with me on walkies and sometimes find interesting things to capture. The pun title is a reflection of my recent thoughts as well as the disintegrating cattail The Girl and I found on recent walkies.

After experimenting with the Wollensak and Kern-Paillard 16mm movie camera lenses, I decided to retire the Panasonic Lumix G3 and replaced it with an Olympus OMD E-M10 I found on FleaBay. The Olympus was a surprising big upgrade in camera. The build quality is quite a bit better than the Panasonic. Both the rear screen and viewfinder are much better. The camera contains in-body image stabilization, which is the real upgrade for shooting legacy manual focus lenses.

The latter was my reason for upgrading this experimental camera. I have no intention of acquiring a lens system for it, although there are many excellent Micro-4/3s lenses. I might change my mind, but for now I prefer the Fuji glass for APS-size sensors and the Nikkor glass for full-frame.

I’ll probably write more about system decisions later. My system evolved substantially over the last couple of years.

I like the vintage image quality that the 16mm movie camera lenses bring. I have an Angenieux 20-80mm zoom that has an excellent reputation and needs to be used with the Olympus. As the opportunity presents, I’ll probably add a few more vintage movie camera lenses to the collection and use them to create some images.

These lenses are less sharp and bring less contrast than modern lenses. They are mostly 50-years old or more. Optical technology changed quite a lot during that period of time. But they bring an interesting quality to the captures. The results are less sharp, contain less (raw) contrast, and are subject to flare. But they are interesting.

So this will be my area of photographic exploration for awhile. I’m looking forward to working a little less in 2018 and having more time to work on personal projects. That will include writing and photography, which I will share here.

The end of the year approaches. With it will come my annual period of reflection and thoughts for the coming year. Even though there is sadness that Wife is no longer here to share the season, I look forward to remembering the birth of the Christ and the celebration of an ending and a beginning.

Life is good.

LaTeX and XML

And now for something completely different…

It is no secret (at least to those who know me) that I use Leslie Lamport’s LaTeX as my principal tool for producing written output. LaTeX is based on (one of my heroes) Donald Knuth’s TeX typesetting system. TeX was developed to support Knuth’s writing of computer science texts. Because of TeX’s beautiful output (especially of maths), others soon took up the tool.

(I despise Microsoft Word… and in general any word-processing software.)

Some time later Lamport wrote a set of macros that make TeX typesetting easier for those of us unfamiliar with the intricacies of TeX, which is decidedly low-level (but provides extreme control over output). I took up LaTeX in the 1990s while working with/on hydraulic models for U.S. Geological Survey. I loved the ease of producing very nice looking text, textbook quality maths, and working in a non-WYSIWIG environment. (Windows was just coming along at the time and I hated it.)

During that time, I actively supported something called Literate Programming, which was another Knuth creation in which both source code and documentation derive from the same file. I used the literate paradigm to produce several programs and maintained the Literate Programming FAQ list for the mailing list associated with users and interested parties of literate programming. Because there was a need to publish the FAQ in a variety of formats, I ultimately cast the source in an XML (eXtensible Markup Language) variant called Docbook. I had tools that converted the source to HTML and LaTeX (and plain text as well).

There are times when I’d like to publish maths here on my site. Yes, topics that involve mathematics still interest me and will continue to do so while I draw breath. But publishing maths in HTML is problematic. There is no standard approach that can produce beautiful mathematics rendering.

I just learned about a project, PreTeXt (http://mathbook.pugetsound.edu/index.html), that is based on XML and can produce EPUB, PDF, and HTML from a single XML source. TeX is used to set mathematics. I have not yet experimented with the work, but the prospect of producing e-reader formatted output, as well as HTML, that contains TeX maths is very interesting to me.

Therefore, once I finish working through my backlog of paying work, I think some experimentation with PreTeXt is needed. It might change the way I approach writing work. It will be interesting.