Saturday, December 31, 2016

goodby 2016

It seems I hardly knew you at all, you were there and gone so fast. It was a good year, though I know lots of people have had a tough time.

A year of big changes. I hardly know where to begin. Normally I would say begin at the beginning and carry on till the end. But no, that makes too much sense. So I'll ramble. Get a big coffee.

I was working a full time day job at the start of the year, though the whole darned thing seemed pretty uncertain at the time. It lasted till August, much to my surprise. Now I don't have a day job, and I'm fairly sure I never will again. (Yay!) There might be some short term contract work here and there, but nothing to get too much in the way of photos and writing and staying fit and generally having fun.

One of my avid readers asked for a list of the various jobs I've had, to help keep them all straight. This seems like a good time for that, in reverse order, with commentary. There were some breaks in between here and there. As it turns out, I've had so many jobs I don't even remember all the company names anymore.

Penn West (7 contract renewals, 3 completely different teams with a wide gamut of people, major corporate blood-bath survival.)
Talisman (4 renewals I think, 2 sort of related teams with neat people, but overall a SAPping experience.)
Skystone again (contractor this time)
Enmax (actual company was one of their subsidiaries)
IMS Global (the oddity was actually being a supervisor to the developer in Mexico who also had the title of Vice President and who owned a bunch of stock in the company, while I was one of 2 mid-level managers.)
EOS Pipeline (I got a bunch of trips to the middle of nowhere out of the deal. Like High Level, and north of Red Earth, and north west of Fort MacKay.)
Skystone (lots of trips all over Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan. I think I've been on every paved road between here and Consort. One of the best jobs I ever had.)
The whole Amoco, BP Amoco, BP thing (the joke here was my team mates all went to places like Montreal, Houston, Dallas, and Denver. I got to go to places like Estevan, Chinchaga, and for my sins, Fox Creek. But once the corporate jet made a stop to pick me up.) Oh, and another joke to cheer you up. How do you pronounce "BP Amoco"? Answer. BP. The Amoco is silent. (Badabump!)
Nova Gas Transmission (several different teams depending how you count things)
Alberta Research Council (playing with (then) high end Macs (remember the Quadra?) helping to put together a half time show for the Grey Cup. I got listed in the game credits and all.)
Mark's Work Wearhouse (really short gig in a freezing cold building. I mean really cold)
The horrible inventory company who's name I've purged. (part time going to school, hated it, they could give master level training on how not to treat employees)
City of Calgary Wastewater plant operator (Of all jobs, this is the one that has taken hold of my imagination most. Well, not the job itself, but the place, inspiring several hundreds of thousands of words in an almost novel-like structure. Published any time now. Really. Soon. Stay tuned. Maybe don't hold your breath.)
ATCO (First job in Calgary. I almost got a trip to Tuktoyaktuk out of the deal, and had several near life threatening adventures with industrial truck and forklift tires. I still have no hair on the thumb side of my left wrist.)
XXX (back again, building more word processors
Federal Government Air Traffic Controller trainee at Malton International, now Pearson International. (I flunked and probably just as well.)
XXX (First actual full time job, building word processors. You would not believe how big, and how badly designed these things were!)
Pizza Delight (and I still love pizza)
Kentucky Fried Chicken (Even the smell makes me gag)
A greenhouse doing grunt work.

Along the way I've survived any number of corporate blood baths, and was spat out onto the sidewalk like used chewing gum several times. I suppose I'm better off than most, in that oil and gas was pretty good to me, but I'm tired of the roller coaster. I'm looking for something a little more sedate.

Fitness

This was the year I was in the best shape of my life, I suspect, even including 2010 when I did Ironman Canada and when I was a kid. The big reason for that was running regularly throughout the year training for a marathon. I ended up running about 964K altogether according to iSmoothRun. The run tracker is a bit weird about indoor runs, and there were some erratic results. Runkeeper thinks I ran 991K this year, which is weird because it should only know about iSmoothRun results.

That's probably the highest milage ever. It was going so well until the end of August. I hadn't planned on working that month, and the combination of peak milage, working nearly full-time, and attending an all weekend writing conference was too much for me. My recovery went to crap and I fell apart for a while, in a running sense. I didn't worry about it, just dialed back over the fall and early winter. Just starting to ramp up again in case I want to try to do a marathon in 2017.

Plus I've come to like running. It clears my mind, relaxes me, and lets me think about novel story lines. I chat with my characters if I'm running alone. It used to be that I always ran alone. Then the best run buddy in the world showed up, and we've had a great time! Runs, bikes, swims, and some social occasions. Lots of fun.

This year I ran the bike paths along Nose Creek, Fish Creek, the Bow, and Elbow rivers, plus lots more. I'm thinking about what to run next year to keep me motivated. I'm trying to decide between running over every pedestrian bridge in Calgary (If I can get a list), or running every road in Woodlands/Woodbine, then working north into Cedarbrae if necessary. Even after living here 30 some years, I suspect there are some streets I haven't been on.

The swim has varied, sometimes really strong, sometimes cranky shoulders. The bike has been so-so.

Writing

Still ongoing. The idea for NaNoWriMo was to write the story of the behind the scenes antagonist in the other stories, from his point of view, treating him as the good guy. It started, and there's a couple good bits, but he's an elusive guy. Doesn't say much. That makes it difficult for me to write about him. My other characters are pretty chatty.

There was a big spurt of writing back in January, but I have to admit it hasn't gone as well as I'd hoped. Perhaps in the new year.

Photography

The new thing this year. I was always sort of interested in photography. Until not that long ago, the best way to avoid having your picture taken is to be the one holding the camera. We had some interesting photos come out of the point and shoot film camera. Umm, for some of you, film, oh sheesh, go look it up yourself.

Then digital cameras showed up. I was in charge of the one at Amoco for a little while. The storage medium was a 1.44 MB floppy disk. (You can look them up too.) I forget how many photos it held, but not that many. By today's standards the quality was crap, but it was a revelation to the inspectors and their managers. Now they had to believe the inspectors when they said they could see daylight, or the pit was THAT big.

Now everybody, almost, carries a camera in their pocket that can take stunning pictures. I mean, look at this.


That was taken almost off hand, no thought, just bent over and hit the shutter button.

The iPhone will take great pictures, in a middle of the road sort of way. If the light's pretty good, and you've got a clear scene for the camera to work with, and you aren't shaking the phone too much, you're going to end up with a pretty good shot.

But if you want to take pictures of the moon or stars, or good shots of the skyline, or really good portraits, or a big landscape, or small flower petals, or any number of other things, and especially if you want to play with the resulting photo, you need a better tool. The equation is DSLR+good lenses+Lightroom=lots of fun. There are other similar equations.

As an example, here's another set of hens and chicks, the ones that live in the shadow of The Rose that Dominates, taken with the good camera, although late in fall so the colour has faded. Both of them can zoom in, but the one below can zoom in much further.



I'm up to almost 12,000 photos on the T6i now. About 4400 of them are on the iMac. I've gone back and started to assign keywords, and apply a star rating to these. The ones on the external drive I'll get to. There are 37 with a 5 star rating so far, meaning I've edited them, and really like them. These are the ones I'd show people if they took it into their heads to buy one of my photographs so they could print and frame it to hang in their living room and show all their friends. (A guy can dream, can't he?)


Wine
We didn't make much this year, due to a huge order the year before. But we've got 6 kits coming, and I'm looking forward to getting the cellar restocked. I've got a bunch of extra clear glass, so if anyone is running short let me know. The kits will be picked up in Red Deer early in the year. If you want to ride along let me know that too.

For 2017
I'm not a resolutions kind of guy. But just like the corporate people say you have to set goals so they can measure your performance so you know how disappointed to be when they don't give you a raise at the end of the year, I suppose I should put out a high level list of things I want to work on in 2017.

In no particular order:

  • Write Regan's story, integrate it with the rest of it.
  • Get at least some of the whole saga in shape for publication. (as a sub goal to this, seriously investigate the e-pub world and figure out which route to go.)
  • Set up a better way for people to view my photographs, and make it easy for someone to buy one, if they should take it into their head to do so. Zenfolio is currently near the top of their list, but I'm checking out others. (Any suggestions?)
  • See if I can figure out an overall publishing strategy for photographs, the actual novel, essay writing (a more polished version of the blog), and this blog inflicted daily on my faithful readers. Preferably in one place. An interface that makes it easy for products to flow to the client in exchange for money easily flowing to me is desirable. Not too expensive.
  • Continue fitness stuff, and decide about a marathon.

That should keep me out of mischief.

And here, this is what I'm looking forward to to play me into 2017.






Friday, December 30, 2016

I four-timed them!

As you all know, we have the most photogenic cats in the world. It's so easy to get good photos of them that the difficult thing is choosing between them. I've been encouraged to try cat portrait photography in my copious free time. My first thought was to try to take portraits of other cats and see how that turned out. I have a buddy who generously rented out her cats.

What do you think?





TIL that black cats are hard to photograph. The camera gave up trying to focus on a black cat on a black blanket on a black sofa, in ordinary light.

Swam. Mused more about my year end blog. You're going to want a BIG cup of coffee to chew through that one.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

This time of year

It's best for things like this.


That was my post run snack the other day. Pheasant, dressing, cheese, special mustard relish. So yummy! It might have been after the run I came back like this.


Of course I napped after. There was a nice run today, 6K, 41:30 or so, though it wasn't anywhere near so cold.

Just for fun, a few cat pictures snapped on the fly, some of them in between naps.






So that's all caught up on iPhone pictures. More wildlife though, this little guy was caught during the photo ramble. I've no idea what kind of bird it is.


Today and yesterday I've been a bit of a slacker pants, which is what this time of the year is all about. Browsing TV shows to replay favourite bits. Re-reading bits of own writing for characterization hints. Developing photos. Blogging is the big activity of the day. I'm so good to you guys.





Wednesday, December 28, 2016

TIL

That Cliff's Swallows nest under the Weaselhead bridge.


This bridge.


I have never before seen the bottom of this bridge, or this view of it. Usually if I'm there, I'm running or biking over it.

It reminds me that even at my advanced age I'm still learning new things. I say advanced age because for most of the humans that have lived, my current age and state of health would be astonishing. Very few would have attained the age, and almost none would be as healthy. It's only here and now that I'm considered middle aged, generously speaking, and doing all I can to ensure that continues as long as possible.



These photos come from a ramble with my buddy Sean that I worked with way back in the day, and then again more recently. I only found out since then he was also interested in photography. He asked if there were any good photography spots around the reservoir, and well! Of course I was delighted to show him the ultra-secret spots where I've taken those stunning photos I've sold for zillions of dollars (in my dreams), then we went for lunch after. Talking the whole time about various things, not including shoes and ships and sealing wax, or of cabbages and kings and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings. Manfrotto heads came up, in case you were wondering.

Just to keep you properly terrorized, I'm still musing over the 2016 retrospective, and the numbers it will include.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Starting to think about the year end round up

But this is not that post.

This is another day of almost indolence. I was out taking photos early this morning, and once it got a bit nicer I ran 6K in 44 minutes. Nice and easy since this is the first run in about a week or so. Stupid colds. I'm glad it's over, I've made a bunch of lunch dates and don't have to worry about contaminating anyone.

Remember those two rose buds? They're still hanging in there.


I was on the way back in after a bit of a slog through the green (now very white) space across the street.

These are the two nice shots of the day. The others were interesting in the sense of playing with a really wide lens but probably not interesting to anyone else.



And lastly, how can I not talk about Carrie Fisher? She's only a little older than me. A stern reminder that mortality is there waiting for us all, no matter how rich or famous you are. In one sense I'm glad when people go suddenly. They live their life and then it's over. One of my nightmares is to be trapped by the medical system. Too ill to be living on my terms and doing for myself, (or not) but the medical system not letting me die. I do not want to be one of those people in a care facility, begging to be taken home, living on pills.

There's been a lot of high profile deaths in 2016, and boomers, it's only going to get worse. Over the next smallish bunch of years you (we, I) am going to lose lots of the celebrities that we grew up on. I mourned deeply when Isaac Asimov died. If there is one writer who's style I'd most like to emulate, it's his.

Asimov's opinion on Star Wars was that "he liked it", as given in a radio interview. I don't know what his real opinion might have been. He certainly would have had one; he had an opinion on almost everything. He wasn't known for writing strong female characters, so he might have approved of the Princess Leia character. She did well with the part she was given in the movie, and more recently with the part that was dealt her in life. I cheered when she pushed back against the expectations she ought to look the same as she did as a teenager, or that she was that character.

Monday, December 26, 2016

See? Cooperative. And indolence.

We are having a wonderful Christmas season, and hope you are too. It's so nice to not be buried in Christmas frantic. Today was indolent. It started with me making coffee and thinking the sky had potential. It ended up ok, then the camera battery died and I decided I was cold enough, and the coffee from home was calling.


My swim buddy texted and proposed a swim, a bit to my surprise. It was quiet and I ended up with a very happy 1 K in 18:04, even though I was feeling a little short of lung power, and my stroke fell apart for about 100 m in the middle there. More people were arriving as we left.

Linda was home from her Boxing Day rampage with loot, and we all settled in for a nice cup of herbal tea in the sunshine to have a lovely conversation. To me this is what having time away from the demands of work is all about. Then there was major league indolence. I've emerged only to write this blog. The things I do for my readers.

As promised, here's another of Curtis, so patient with me getting right up into his face. Do these eyes make you search your soul to see what guilt you are concealing from the cats of the world? There is one even closer, believe it or not. Celina is being difficult lately, twitching just as I hit the shutter button.




Sunday, December 25, 2016

That was a nice Xmas!

So I decided to post after all. Played with the camera lots today, mainly diving into some of the subtleties of focus. Curtis happened to be particularly photogenic today, but I won't bore you with a bunch of photos of him all at once. I'll space them out so you don't overdose and make your own cat jealous.

It finally stopped snowing and turned into a nice day. A few days ago there was no snow on that lawn.


Some of you may have seen this on Facebook. Last year we had to put the tree up in the media room because the cats just completely lost control. This year they are much more dignified about it. A couple ornaments have been catnapped, but that's all.


Dinner was awesome of course. We don't usually do turkey because they are so huge, and don't want to be eating it forever. We had pheasant instead, with lots of veggies. Food as a photograph subject is interesting, trying to get the colours right.



Curtis the photogenic. He was very cooperative. I'll be posting others.



We went for a walk down in Fish Creek, with me using snowshoes to go onto the creek itself, and try to find some interesting shots.






Saturday, December 24, 2016

A YYC white Christmas

It's been snowing hard here for about 24 hours now. I just measured not quite 7 inches of snow on the back steps. Light and fluffy, but still lots of shovelling. Twice yesterday, the first time today was about 5:30 so I could go swimming with buddies, then again when I got home. Repsol was quiet, the 3 of us had a pool to ourselves, which was perfect for my buddy that's new to the water, and still gaining confidence that she will float.

I was out for some photos around the house, and here you go. That will have to hold you. Maybe I'll blog on Christmas, and maybe I won't.

Our sculpture always looks so pretty with snow on it. Pity about the plastic chair.


Maybe tomorrow we'll light a fire in the lodge and escape the cats and drink wine and read and relax all day long.

That bit of red in the background is a skateboard park. Not much used today.

Stands for the baseball diamond. Not full of fans.

Home sweet home, all warm and snuggly in the snow.

A closer look at the whatever this is called.

The back alley. I like the willow tree peeking out from the evergreen.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Skylines, revisited

I'm still in love with Calgary's skyline. There are any number of spots where one can get photos of it from almost every direction. Depending on how you count the bluff just north of downtown, there are half a dozen spots at least you can get stunning shots if the light is right. The shape changes so dramatically depending on exactly where you stand, and sometimes just moving a few feet one way or the other will totally change the shot. Sometimes the tower is coy and hides behind other buildings, other times it's out there proud and lonely.

It's almost like shooting something new every time. The angle of the sun changes with the seasons and the time of day, modified by the weather of the moment. A pair of photographers right next to each other on the same morning might produce very different photos.

As an aside, for extra credit, the new LED lights on the tower look very pretty, but they sure complicate the life of a photographer. Normally when shooting skyline at night, you can open the lens fairly wide if you want to play games with field of view, and let the exposure go long, in order to get the ISO low. This reduces the noise in the photo and makes the background look nicer. For most of the buildings the light doesn't change much. Even a whole floor of lights turning on or off isn't a big deal. But those damn LED lights change second to second. To catch that and look perfect you need a really short exposure, driving your ISO up and limiting your choices with the lens opening. So for example, if you look really closely at the tower in the first shot, you'll see the lighting looks a bit odd in places. It's an HDR shot, with the 3 exposures of .5, 1/5, and 1.3 seconds all mixed together. I chose to have the LED lights come out a little odd, because it gave me the rest of the image that I like, and the tower lights are a pretty small part of it. Just an example of how when you look at a photo, you aren't seeing reality, you're seeing a photographer's artistic impression of reality.

The first two were shot solstice day, the next two shot the next day.





For me the interesting thing about skyline shots, besides the artistry of the light, is figuring out exactly where it was shot from, and what lens was used.

Do you like skyline shots? Why or why not?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Decorated, Front and Centre, at last!

There's one building downtown that always seems to be on the edge of my composition. Sometimes I'll change the shot to avoid it, or to include it just on the edge. It's important to me in one respect, but it's never been prominent. The importance is the text of the name. If it's in focus, everything else will be. So at last, here it is, full frontal, showing off the decorations they put up. The candle flame flickers back and forth. Very nice.



Today's shoot went much better. Either my eyes were working properly, or having only a light wind made the difference. I got lots of shots to choose from, including sunrise, skyline, bridges, tail lights, and reflections. Since I was after sunrise today, here's a couple of them. The oranges and reds were really quite lovely, but really low on the horizon. I managed to get the big lens on it in time.


Then  a few minutes later with a wider lens managed to catch the purple reds. I'm getting better at changing lenses on the fly. I'm glad I was paying attention. The reddish purple was only there for a minute or two.

The good part about heading home is I got the last 4 La Boulangerie cinnamon buns to have with coffee after we sleep in tomorrow. Linda is now on vacation till next year. We ARE sleeping in tomorrow.

The not so good part, there was traffic rage. Mid-morning, not even rush hour anymore. It's common here to see at least one driver being a jackass during any but the shortest drives. The worst today was a guy jumping out of his truck to shake his fists and yell at the guy behind him for no reason I could see, and I'd been driving along with them for a while. Lots of other aggression out there, especially in parking lots. Be calm, be safe.




Wednesday, December 21, 2016

City windy swirl

I'll bet you didn't know Calgary had a traffic whirlpool.


Now that I've done this I want to go find a place where I can shoot tail lights going around a traffic circle. That ought to be fun. Used to be they were considered a hazard, and were taken out in the few places they existed. I remember nearly coming to grief on the one near the U of A in Edmonton. Now they're going back in again, and I haven't tried the new ones beside Crowchild Trail.

This is one of the few good shots today, out of the 129 that I took. Lots of blurry rejects. I'm not sure if it was the camera or my eyes that were having focus problems. Or maybe it was the gusty wind. Some of them looked ok, till I tried to HDR them, or looked close during polishing.

Note to self: work harder on stabilizing the tripod.


Unfortunately, the light never really came up in the clouds, then the clouds went away. But that orange was amazing! There's a few other nice downtown shots. I was wondering what the Solstice light would be like, and it seemed much like the light any other sunrise.

There's a stark beauty to these power lines and towers. The silhouette against the sky can be an interesting composition.


Some say they are ugly, but I say beauty is found where form follows function, and we can't do without them yet.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Star Trek/Wars to general movie rant

This science fiction post has been rattling around in my head for a while and it finally got dumped out. With a science fiction theme, I thought I'd start with a photo of stars. Somewhere there is is a movie of all these still photographs. Fasten your harness!



In 1966 Star Trek happened. Some of you may remember the original series and have probably seen at least a few episodes in syndication. I can remember getting off the bus about grade 6 or 7 and running for the house. I'm not sure if that was original broadcast or if it was already in syndication, but I think it was the original. Books came along soon, and I devoured some of them. Let's just say the quality was mixed. The best one I read was John Ford's The Final Reflection, and there are some that have been justly forgotten.

Then it became a motionless picture (an in joke). Things start getting hazy for me working shift work. There were several other movies, but I only sort of remember the one with the whales in it. There was another series, and I remember watching the first episode at a buddy's house. We were all pretty disappointed. When I found out the kid didn't get strangled in the first few episodes I gave up on it.

There were more movies, and more TV series. I've seen bits of episodes of Voyager, (and not just clips of 7 of 9!) but it wasn't compelling enough to watch it from the beginning. I don't think I've ever seen any of Deep Space Nine, but could be mistaken. There are documented holes in my memory.

Then there were more movies, and they started to branch out sideways with younger actors. I don't know if these are reboots, or prequels, or sequels, or alternate time lines or what. I was at a writer's convention, and someone was trying to explain the chronology of the whole thing to me, even as I edged away slowly.

In 1977 Star Wars happened. I would be astonished to discover that any of my readers haven't seen it sometime along the way. There were books as well, and a couple follow up movies. No TV shows, as far as I know. Then a long silence, till 1999 when the first of the 'prequels' came out. I thought it was dreadful, and I didn't notice the other prequels. Or maybe they merged into sequels, and they did episodes 7, 8, and 9. I'm not sure. Even without shift work it's a blur. The different versions of the movies didn't help either.

Now it's Rogue One. I'm not sure how that fits in, and I'm sort of afraid someone will explain it to me. The trailers looked ok. It seemed to be set just before the original movie, so I guess it's a kind of a prequel. Part of the problem for me is that if I know how the story is going to come out, why bother seeing it? It's making a ton of money at the box office, which I guess is good for the people involved.

As an aside, the actual Star Wars story didn't need any of stuff that happened before the opening scene with the ginormous space ship going overhead, and going and going. They had me, right there.

Along the way for both universes there have been a ton of books, toys, games, and I don't even know what all. Essentially anything that will make someone some money. That's all very well for the people involved.

But, I say. BUT! I'm sick of these two stories. Sick to death of them and all the characters and their whole damn universe. A famous author once said you write a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then do something else. These guys haven't figured out the end yet, and keep redoing the middle. As long as people keep giving them money, we're going to get the same recycled pap.

Movie studios have their process about choosing what movies to make, and I regret all the money that the remakes and sequels suck up, because then other, original movies don't get made. And trust me, there are a ton of original stories that are crying out to be made into a movie. Asimov's Foundation, Bester's Demolished Man or The Stars My Destination, almost any of Heinlein's mid-career work (done better than Starship Troopers please and thank you, and stop before the gawdawful Number of the Beast), Zelazny's Amber series, Niven's Ringworld, Varley's Steel Beach, Clarke's Rama come to mind just off the top of my head and there are dozens of others. Childhood's End was a well done thoroughly enjoyed TV series. Arrival is a stunningly good example of a movie made from recent material. More, please and thank you!

Yes, I can imagine that some of them have complicated movie rights, but there are people that can sort that stuff out. I'd pay money today to see any of those in the theatre if it even appeared to be a quality production. Yes, I know some of those started good and ended badly, but that's ok, the movie can tweak things to make a better movie. See what I did there? 'A' movie.  The whole concept of a movie franchise is an abomination. And don't get me started on comic book or super hero movies.

Some of my readers have read all of these and have a picture in their mind of situations or characters, and would be distressed to see them done badly. Me too, but that's better than the same old same old. If you've read some of those and liked it, go find the rest. Trust me, thank me later. Lord of the Rings is proof that even a long complex novel can be made into perfectly good movie and make a ton of money. (If only they had stopped before The Hobbit.)  One might quibble about some of the choices that the Jackson team made, but overall it's a bang up job.

And while I'm on about it, I want a movie, not just a display of technical wizardry with special effects. A movie with characters and a story that makes me care about them. Or characters so interesting I'm dragged along to see the story, whichever. I'm not fussed. Hollywood car chases set in space need not apply.

Just now I saw the trailer for the Blade Runner sequel. I'm intrigued, and a bit appalled at the same time. Why? Remember what I said about a beginning, a middle, and an end? Blade Runner had it, several version of it, what with the various cuts. We don't need more of that story. More will only dilute what we've got.

All that said, there have been some interesting science fiction movies made recently. Inception comes to mind, as do The Martian, Edge of Tomorrow, Wall-E, Ex Machina, Looper, Minority Report, Tomorrowland, and others. It can get done. I'd just like to see it done more often.

As a reward for hanging in through a long rant, you get rewarded with cat pictures.





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