Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Two planters awaiting spring.

Yesterday afternoon I was peering out at the sky, wondering if there was another shot to be had, then I looked down. The afternoon sun was illuminating some of the garden planters, bringing up their deep rich blue, some shadowed purple splotches, and the bright highlights.

We put them there to await spring, which is still months away, or so we think. They seem to be peering out of the snow, almost ready to go. I suspect they are still frozen to the patio stones.

 This one isn't awaiting spring. It's hard at work showing off the display Linda created. The late afternoon light was good to it as well, so I figured I wouldn't leave it out.

There was a super duper lunar eclipse last night. The sky forecast didn't look good for Calgary, though there was supposed to be a patch of clear sky off to the west. Maybe there was, I've seen the notifications that some of my photo buddies have posted photos, but I haven't seen them yet. I didn't feel like chasing it; I've got things to do this morning.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Sometimes just the sky is interesting

In our world of endless distractions, it's easy to overlook beauty. We get focussed on the next place we have to be, or some imaginary deadline, or that super-sciencey device most of us have in our hands much of time.

The quick message is that the people around you are real, whether you know them or not. Pay attention to them, they notice if you don't. Lots of attention to family and close friends when you're with them, the same with the people who pay you to do something, maybe less to acquaintances and neighbours you don't know well, but still some to strangers like the guy in the next car, or the clerk on the till where you buy groceries.

The other message is that there is beauty all around us, if you take a moment to look. I was up early enough to see an odd sunrise. Not particularly photogenic, which is a different thing, but odd. The sky was quite bright in a pale blue sort of way, and there some interesting dark clouds here and there forming a nice silhouette pattern. I was waiting to see if they would light up underneath, but they never did. Oh well.

Then a bit later as I was getting ready to head out for a "run" (more about that later), I was standing on the front patio testing what I was wearing against the current weather. Then I noticed the clouds and a faint rainbow around the sun.

Camera! I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but with a bit of photo processing I got this. You can just see the faint arc of the sunbow above the sun. I guess this is one of the times our eyes see better than the camera. Then again, the camera was able to catch the colour in the clouds that I could barely see. I was liking the layers and stripes.

This was my first run since early December. My legs were cranky and I wasn't feeling the run love, and the sidewalks were icy, and blah blah blah. Whatever. A couple days ago I was feeling the urge to run again, only it was -18 C. I've run in that, and will again, but that's not the day to start. I tell people to start (or restart) running gently, and that temperature is hardly gentle.

There's still lots of icy sideways, but today was the day. Lots of warm up and an easy pace made for a nice, if short run. I'll take it for a start.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Macro Monday 19: Orange reentry

When it's a cold and snowy Saturday outside, its lovely to be inside, shooting something that reminds you of molten glass, which this was, once.

This is one of the first paperweights I ever made, and it's still one of my favourites. I was trying to get a thin rod of yellow glass swirled around a bar of amber colour glass, all formed into a neat knot, with another layer of glass over it. While I was working on it, it was all kind of getting away from me, so I had to smush it down onto the punty, then work on spherical again. Spherical is hard, btw. Now it looks like a blob of marmalade. Love it!

This is an air bubble in glass, at about 4.9 x mag plus 68 mm of extension tubes. I'm not even sure which bubble it is, so I don't know how big it actually is. It's really hard to tell real size inside a glass ball anyways. Most of the rest of the shots are at about 3x mag, plus extension tubes. I cannot tell you how happy these shades of orange and yellow make me.

I call this one orange reentry, sort of like how I called the first one here red reentry.

In some of these the yellow bar looks a bit green, but that just gives it a bit more contrast. I think it's because white light is going through orange glass, and that affects the yellow colour. I don't have any idea how I got it to be kind of lacy. That's the beauty of working with glass, even your screwups can be beautiful.

More air bubbles, about 3x mag.

If you were to pick up this paperweight and hold it, you'd be able to see the various layered swirls of colour and the bubbles in it. What makes the macro photos tricky is that the camera only "sees" a thin plane of it in focus. A small change in focus, or even moving the camera back and forth on the rails can dramatically change the photo. I spent several happy hours rolling the paperweight around looking for interesting shots. Lots and lots of rejects.

Here's some shots of the setup. People have asked about that. I am totally low tech. The camera is mounted on a 4 way macro rail (which is totally essential, I don't know how you could do macro shots without it), which is fastened to the top of a tripod, but there is no ball head so there are no angle shots unless I want to play with the tripod arm. The subject is supported by a keyboard beanbag wrist support in some shots but not all, which is resting on a floor cement trowel, which is clamped into a bike stand. Yes, the lens is often that close to the subject. It's lit by an LED lamp opposite the camera, in otherwise normal basement lighting. I'm using a Canon T6i with the MP-E 65 mm macro lens with the MT24-EX twin flash as a dedicated macro camera.

This is what it looked like outside when I started. Now it's snowing hard, but it's warmed up to -13 C. It was lovely to shoot the paperweight, remembering the hot dry atmosphere of the studio, baking in the kiln heat, trying not to burn myself playing with the molten glass, my hands shielded only by wet newspaper.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

More colour!

You never know with sunrises. Another example where the show was off to the west. I was swooning over the purples and mauves.

That second looks a little odd compared to the first. I was trying to build a panorama, and I think the perspective is slightly off. Still, I wanted to capture some of the purple clouds against the slowly brightening sky.

This is the more conventional view off to the east, but I was a little bit meh about the whole thing. Maybe if there had been a bit more cloud.

Normally I'm all about the golds, oranges, and yellows, as you'll see in tomorrow's Macro Monday. But something about the purple and mauve really touched how I was feeling. Lately I've been thinking of photos that aren't of anything in particular, but are colour. I tried doing that a bit with my abstracts, but I pushed too hard. I'm looking for something a little more subtle now.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Curtis and Celina show

It's been a while since I've put any cat photos here, so I might as well get caught up. You guys know who is who by now.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The road stops

There I was, out on my photo ramble and the road stopped. There was a big gate across it. Lots of people have carried on walking, but it was crusty and icy and I didn't have my traction aids. Last thing I want to do is fall down in the middle of nowhere and slowly freeze. I've been further out this road in the summer and it's beautiful.

Still it was an interesting photo exercise. The mountains are a long way off. The gate and the sign is right there, with the trees by the curve somewhere in between. I wanted to get the mountains, trees and road sign in sharp focus, with the gate and no parking sign ok if they were slightly out of focus, but not so much they were blurry. Some of my photography buddies would pull out an app to calculate hyperfocal distance, (Google it if you must, but it's a deep rabbit hole and I'm not going to go there.) but that's much too complicated for me.

I kneeled in the parking lot when I found the right spot for the composition I wanted, then played with camera settings and focus till I found what worked. In an ideal world the gate would line up with the bottom of the sign, but you can't have everything. 11 thoughtful shots later I was done.

I was thinking about the road stopping, in the wider context. Our society is built around roads. Typically if we want to go somewhere we drive, or are driven. It's rare (my triathlon buddies excepted) that someone walks more than the distance from their car to the doorway of where they are going. I've ridden my bike to work a few times and got some odd looks, with people asking, "don't you live a long way away?" Well, no. It's only 15 K or so riding, depending on exactly the route. Good heavens, I've even run home a few times.

There is increased attention payed to having walkable communities now, but we currently live deep in the heart of suburbia. It's about a 1.5 K walk to a Safeway (that we almost never shop in) mall that includes services like our vet which includes a dog groomer, a nice restaurant, a bank, a liquor store, a Tim Hortons, a smoothie place, a gym, a sports bar, hair stylist, a Filipino restaurant, a dentist, and maybe some others that I can't think of just off hand. The vet is the only regular place we go, and the nice place (Patisserie del Sol) periodically. That's it, aside from the 7-11, liquor store, and Chinese take-out place across the road. All other services are driving distance away, and I'd like to see you carry a week's groceries 1.5 K home.

Now imagine not driving. The most likely thing is a medical incident where they take away our licenses. But what if gas went from about one dollar a litre, to ten, or twenty a litre? What if we come to the realization that we have to do everything in our power to restrict the amount of carbon being dumped in the atmosphere, and that driving cars with an internal combustion engine becomes an anti-social act? Imagine that solar and other sources of electricity continue to get cheaper and battery technology continues to get better. It could get uneconomic to run a lot of the wells that produce various petroleum products.

Lots of science fiction novels start with a 'what if' premise. Faster than light travel, aliens, ray guns, gender swaps, whatever. You grant the writer the one 'what if', and see where it goes. Lets say that for whatever reason, most cars are electric and self-driving with the only petroleum power vehicles on the road are emergency services, utility services, and similar. Even public transit and product delivery vehicles might be electric. What happens?

Lots of space currently used for parking is going to get freed up. If the owner isn't getting any parking revenue to speak of, and nobody wants to put a big office building there (Calgary has a huge glut of office space now) the land owner is going to have to think of something to do with it.

I suspect the roads will be a lot emptier, and we will see cyclists take advantage of it. It would be much safer now, given there would be a lot more cyclists, and the fewer drivers would be more highly trained. A lot more local services would spring up to service neighbourhoods like mine. Probably even more would be done on-line, with more efficient delivery service.

That covers in town. What about my photo ramble last weekend? I put about 400 Km on the car over the two days. Even at my best, there is no way I could have ridden that, especially carrying the photo gear.

Maybe there is an electric car rental service. In fact, I'll bet there will be competing services springing up soon. When you think about it, an electric car is a much simpler thing than an internal combustion powered vehicle. I can see in a decade that electric vehicles will be common, and IC engines more rare. Which will make it harder for gas stations to stay in business, making the IC cars more expensive to run. I suspect that is a quicker loop than most people think, and that in 20 years or so the idea of running a gasoline or diesel powered personally owned vehicle will seem quaint.

All this is quite beside the self-driving car issue. I think that's coming too, though the timing is uncertain. I'm waiting for our government to decide that having about 2000 people a year die from motor vehicle collisions, with a further approximately 10,000 serious injuries per year, and a further 150,000 mine injuries a year (source) is unacceptable. There are serious savings to the medical and emergency services budgets if those numbers are not going through the system.

The government doesn't seem willing to do what it takes to get the unsafe drivers off the road. That would involve testing, (I've said for years that simulators are the way to go) and telling people they were no longer fit to drive, or requiring those surviving a collision to undergo advanced driver training. Having the car start mechanism tied into a valid driver's license is a neat idea, but would require the car companies to get on board. Doing something drastic about the remaining hard nut drinking drivers would require political courage. I figure they are far more likely to start phasing in self-driving cars in the cities and main highways between them.

I talked to one guy that was all bent out of shape about self-driving cars, and the improbable edge cases that one might run into, and how the programming couldn't account for the real world. Except that  the programming accounts for most of the real world surprisingly well, and getting better practically by the day, and the car defaults to stopping and waiting if it thinks it isn't safe. I suspect the self-driving car is far less likely to get into those edge situations in the first place. There might be a few people killed in self driving cars that would not have happened with a human driver, but look at those stats above. Human drivers have nothing to be proud about. When you get down to brass tacks, the incensed people on this issue are incensed because they might be inconvenienced by taking a little longer to get somewhere than they think it would take for them to drive.

Going for a Sunday drive used to be a thing, and I've done it lots. In one sense I look forward to the self driving cars, mainly on the safety front. But on the other hand I loved doing that photo ramble. Driving along on a country road quite slowly, and stopping often to look at the view is nice. I wonder if you could persuade a self-driving car to do that, or if it will be all about delivering you to a specific street address as quickly and safely as possible.

This is an easily found view that I've shot a number of times. I was hoping some of the horses would come play closer in the pasture where I could put them in the foreground, but no. I think it's better other times of the year when the trees are a bit more interesting, or other times of day when the light is more interesting. I could ride my bike here (uphill all the way!) with a camera in a pack.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Three moody landscapes

These are from my photo ramble last weekend. The first was late Sunday afternoon. I had hoped for a swirl of colour like earlier in the month in Fish Creek, but no. There was a thin band of colour above the mountains and lots of blue grey sky. I like this landscape with the different hill lines and textures even with the blah light, but think it would be stunning in good light. Good thing I know where I was.

You might remember a shot similar to this one, where the grain bins looked much closer, see it here, and scroll down. Same lens, different setting. This gives you even more of the wide open feeling of so many Alberta landscapes.

This was almost back home again, just before actual sunset. It was dark about 10 minutes later. I love the subtle shades and shapes in the clouds.

You never know what you're going to get. The light can change in an instant, so you have to seize the moment. This is why some photographers always carry a camera. Sometimes what ends up on the screen is better than what our eyes see and it's amazing. Other times, well, I mark it down as an experiment that didn't work out like I'd hoped.

There are any number of places I saw during my photo ramble that would produce excellent landscapes given the right light and clouds. Even with blah lighting they are still worth stopping the car for, to take a look at something that has been there for about 10,000 years. It helps put things in perspective.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Three distant skylines

The first of the view parcels. I am always amazed how far away you can see the Calgary skyline from. This first one is about 40 Km away, seen dimly through a bit of haze with a 200 mm lens and a bit of judicious cropping.

These next two are closer, at about 32 Km. What might interest you about these shots is they were taken a really short walk apart, a few dozen steps at most. The landscape changes quick out here.

I found more skylines today while out for a walk, but these are more scouting ones, confirmation I could see what I thought I could see, and what would the camera see with a particular lens. So that worked. None of the pictures are so artistic they are worth burning the midnight oil to include here. You'll see some of them eventually. Or not. The one of Curtis is a keeper though, that will show up.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Not quite a rainbow bridge

Looks sort of like a bridge, though. You might want to embiggen this one and take a closer look. It's 10,490 px wide, and thus would print out 3 feet wide by about 1 tall in exquisite detail, and probably bigger if desired.

This was Sunday morning, thinking the sunrise might be nice. If you know where I live you'll realize this photo is facing west. That was a much better view, as sometimes happens.

Here's a parable for you. Most people look around and can more or less see their current situation for what it is. Some can't, but that's a different story. Over there, way over there they see a different situation for themselves. One that's better. Some people see a situation where they are the next Wayne Gretzky of whatever field they want to occupy, plus being an astronaut in their spare time, and the worlds best lover by night. We won't talk about those delusions today either.

I'm talking about the people that see here and now, and a reasonable there and later. The space between those places is what defeats them. They don't see the bridge. For some people the bridge is an 8 lane freeway and they still screw up. Booze or cocaine will do that for you. For some people the bridge is like the famous line from Jack T. Colton, :That ain't a bridge. That's goddamned pre-Columbian art!" (Romancing the Stone, for you kids that didn't get it.) Those people might be expecting a rainbow bridge (did you see what I did there? Look it up. My car license number is your clue.) and if they wait for that to show up they'd better get comfortable where they are.

And yet, what choice do you have? Sit where you are and let your dreams rot? Or step out on it and at least try. The first step is the hardest. Just like couch to 5K is the hardest race, stepping out onto that bridge is hard. Look at the bright side. Some people have to build the bridge first. Some have to scramble down into the chasm and look for the way up the other side. All of these people are going to have interesting things happen to them. Things that probably wouldn't happen if they sat and waited. Even people crossing their bridge might have interesting things happen to them. A roc might swoop down and carry them away to a place where diamonds are littered on the ground like cow poop at a ranch. They might fall through the slats and be saved by their soul mate and live happily ever after in their blue castle. (hint) After they cross they might get a job building bridges for other people since they proved they could do it. Who knows? The only way to find out is by doing it.

I was out for a photo ramble south of Calgary on both Sunday and Monday. Sort of west of Mossleigh, north of High River, a little west of Hartell and lots west of Turner Valley, and yet south of Bragg Creek. For a long time that was buffalo grazing land and not much else. Then Europeans came along and nearly extincted the buffalo essentially for fun. Farmers took over much of that area. Then came oil and gas people that were paid more than they knew what to do with, so they bought parcels of land from the farmers and put up big houses with nice views.

And holy doodle are there ever some nice views to be had!

And that's just from the public roads they have to let you drive on, between all the No Trespassing, No Hunting, Trespassers will be Shot and Eaten, No Public Access and such-like signs. The view from some of those private places must be pants-wetting stunning.

I've got a couple skylines from unexpected places, and some more nice views. I'll parcel them out so you don't overdose on them.

The light wasn't as nice as I had hoped, but that's life. I've made a note of several places, and hope to get back to them when the light is nice. Probably a sunrise, for much of it.

Monday, January 22, 2018

AMA:2018 edition

Welcome to the 2018 version of AMA. I started asking for questions back in December, and didn't get any. Last call was Jan 19. I got one, then several more as I was working on the first. Thank you!

If you and some buddies had just donated $1 million to the Tomorrow Project (cancer research project), how would you want them to spend the money?

The Tomorrow Project is the largest Alberta research project. It aims to "reveal what causes and what may prevent cancer and chronic diseases." I think I'm part of the project, though I haven't heard from them in a while.

When I was a child cancer was just beginning to be a word. People whispered it because hearing you had it was a death sentence. The health system was getting a grip on preventable disease through vaccines (and don't get me started on those anti-vax idiots), plus better diet and lifestyle choices. Now that we weren't dying of other things we were noticing cancer. The tobacco companies, bastards that they are, denied and obfuscated research in order to continue raking in the obscene profits extorted from the deliberately caused addiction to a deadly product. There is no reason on earth for tobacco to be a legal product.

Now that you know where I stand, we can address a generous donation to the Tomorrow Project. As near as I can tell, they seem to be doing just fine as is. They've got a reasonable sounding plan, and seem to be going about it in a sensible way, even if an email I got from them had incomprehensible instructions about an account. They probably have contingency plans in case funding is cut (most likely because the Conservatives get in), and a wish list of items they put forward to the government in hopes of more funding. A generous donation would probably fund the next item on the wish list, which is probably a smarter thing than I would think of.

None the less what would I spend the money on? Let's review where we are now, and where I think we should go. Lots of people think in terms of curing cancer, but I think this is misleading. Cancer isn't a disease we get, like catching Spanish Flu because someone sneezed on you and you died quite soon after. Nor is it a condition we inherit, like we inherit our eye colour, although we may inherit vulnerabilities to conditions that may lead to cancer. I think of it more like a bodily process that gets out of control, to the point we need medical intervention or die.

There are various therapies, such as cutting out the offending cells and hope you get them all, or killing the offending cells by various means, without killing the ones around them. This is a difficult process because the cancerous cells started out just like the normal cells beside them. No doubt there are other legitimate therapies that I don't know of, but all of them are starting behind the 8 ball. Typically by the time it gets noticed, cancer has already recruited more players, and is a lap or two down the track.

There are a great many conspiracy fantasy fuelled therapies. No end of them, and what they all have in common is trying to exploit desperate people to make a bit of money. Such people are despicable (said like Daffy Duck, only with more slobber.) Note this does not include the medical system where they may have come up with a promising experimental therapy, and put bluntly, need a group of humans to try it on.

We already know a lot about preventing cancer and some chronic diseases from happening to you, and learning more would be good if people already did the things we know about. Sensible diet and exercise is huge. Not smoking and not hanging around smokers is huge as well, and don't tell me about your grandpa that smoked a pack a day and died sound as a bell at 90 because an enraged hooker killed him for not paying up. Funding that goes toward prevention is a good thing, and at the same time we're most likely also preventing a host of other issues from happening.

I'd like to see funding and research for a health system that finds a cost effective way of routinely monitoring our health. I see a doctor once a year for an annual physical. A once a year reading doesn't give you any idea what your average health related numbers are, or how they are trending. A high cholesterol count might be a short term thing because you pigged out over Christmas or have dialled way back on aerobic workouts to let an injury heal up, or it could be next in a series of gradually increasing counts. Same number, but drive entirely different treatments. With more detailed trends you could get a grip on things at the beginning of a trend away from normal, rather than when a huge departure is red flagged, and it's all hands on deck and correspondingly expensive.

I'd like to see an annual report that goes out to every individual showing the average health care cost, and your specific cost. If the numbers could be broken down, getting the average cost for a person in your age group might be more meaningful, just like triathlon results. There could be lots of reasons why your cost is above or below the average by a significant amount.

Every year there is some particular person that cost the most in social services or health spending. Lets get the funding to find them and find out why. Is it the same group of people year after year, or someone different every time. Is this because they're dying of something expensive? Were they in a one time event like an auto collision? Are they dealing with addictions issues? Whatever it is, lets find solutions that fix the problem. It might be cheaper to give someone a 24 hour nanny and a place to live, rather than living through police intervention, ambulance rides, emergency medical services, and such.

We need to build a system that collects data, which seems to be in progress, but we also need to analyze that data and then act upon it. We need to make some hard societal choices about health care dollars. Suppose we develop a way of growing organs from a person's own tissues, given a year's notice. The cost isn't put a man on the moon expensive, but it isn't 3 stitches and a dressing for a cut either. If you've destroyed your liver through alcoholism, and refusing treatment, should you get a new liver? If we know that someone has inherited a condition, do we take medical action to mitigate that condition before it gets expensive? It's straightforward how to deal with people that don't want a blood transfusion based treatment (would they think the same if it was grown from their own blood?) because they're adults and can choose for themselves. But what about their children? There will be many issues, and we need to have a data driven, adult conversation about it. That where I want to see the funding going.

What’s your greatest achievement (in your opinion)? What is the next big achievement you’d like to accomplish?

Hoo boy that's a toughie. I think the biggest thing was turning my life around in my late 40's to get more active, and start dropping weight. I chose to do that, and have mostly stuck to it. Much of the other things I've done have been a reaction to external forces.

Next is straightforward. Much as I love doing my writing and photography for it's own rewards, it would be nice to be recognized somehow. For writing the bar pretty well means selling the work to a publisher and having people that are not your mother or your friends buying it. Photography is a little trickier. I don't yearn to become a professional photographer, and I'm not looking to have my work hanging in galleries downtown. Art is a very personal taste. If I can reach people that might not like it personally, yet they recognize that it's good art, I'll take that as a huge compliment and go away happy.

I guess in more prosaic terms it would be to settle into a happy and busy retirement. I was thinking saying that still being married was my biggest achievement, but on further thought, it might well be Linda's.

I know you are all about the cats...what about dogs? Aquarium fish? Horses (something my kid would ask)?
My family had dogs when I was a kid, and I probably wouldn't have a dog again. The main reason is that most dogs are all whatever you're doing right now is their favourite thing ever. They want what you want, and if you treat them well they are a fountain of unconditional love. Cats make you work a little harder to earn the love. A lot harder. I like the challenge. Plus there is no dog that can purr on your tired quads, generating vibrations that have been proven to have healing qualities.

A saltwater aquarium was on my list of things to have at one point, mainly because I wanted an octopus. A big one. In the end I realized it was a lot of work, and octopus are tough pets. I can't help but wonder how the cats would react to an octopus. I would not be terribly surprised to find that the octopuses have a civilization down there and we're going to pay terribly if the first alien spaceship is piloted by an octopus-like species.

Horses are right out. Totally and completely. I have buddies who have horses. They tell me horses are not pets, they are a lifestyle. My favourite cousin came to visit me once and was she worried about her kids? No, she worried about her horses.

What do you think of bitcoin? Local or community currency?

Bitcoin and it's ilk are a scam, just like the tulip mania of 1637, or the Southseas crash in 1720, or any number of currency crashes in the USA during the 1800's, or any garden variety MLM or Ponzi scheme put up by a hustler with the stones to raise on a busted flush. Don't get involved, or if you must, do it with money you can afford to kiss goodbye.

The various fiat currencies of the world are backed by both the stability of the government, and a complex mix of economic factors. Economists and currency traders might disagree about the value of a specific currency on a specific day, but generally they change in value slowly, and in response to recognized events. A bitcoin and it's ilk are nothing like it. The only value they have is the first people   in say it's valuable, and look for a bigger fool to buy later.

A community currency is a different kettle of fish. They are generally tied to a certain number of hours of community service, or some other recognizable value, and they are limited in the ways they can be traded in.

You get a cloudy sunset to play you out.

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.