Welcome to the latest issue of 6FPS!
Staying Safer at Home
Life continues in our "Safer at Home" times. Given I was a remote worker before, my life has changed less than many, but still, it's been interesting and at times rough. In three days I went from not knowing anyone impacted by Covid-19 to three people close to me with people in intensive care. I've had one friend's mother die of it.
Here in Santa Clara County, we've mostly behaved and our infection numbers are under control. The surge hospital set up so we had extra beds has never been used, and the number of cases in hospital and ICU has been more or less flat for a couple of weeks now. We are locked down, but not as badly as nearby counties where parks and beaches were shut down completely when people didn't follow the rules. We are allowed to go out for exercise, and birding is considered an acceptable exercise. I'm trying to limit myself to one day a week for shopping, and if I can, to get out for a couple of hours to bird somewhere a bit.
In the shops I have visited, I see high levels of cooperation: last two trips to the supermarket everyone I saw were in masks and being careful about distance; same with the Walgreens. I had to visit the post office, and that was about 70% compliant. But overall, it seems here in the core of Silicon Valley people get it.
Not true elsewhere in the state, of course. Yuba county has just decided to open, and if you look across the country, states like Texas and George and Florida are, too. There is, of course, a strong correlation between support for Trump and the GOP and the locations making these decisions. There are also, we see, strong correlations between these people and the right wing extremists (like Ammon Bundy), the anti-vaxxers, the gun nuts and the so-called "sovereign citizen" groups that push things like the "State of Jefferson" breakaway here in California.
As far as I can tell, the definition of the "sovereign citizen" lifestyle is "I can ignore any law I don't like and do anything I want, and you can't do anything to interfere with that". Which I can more succinctly define as "I am a selfish bastard and only I matter so go to hell". The counties that push for the State of Jefferson conveniently ignore a basic financial reality: the liberal urban counties they love to complain about and want to break away from fund a lot of tax revenues that their rural counties depend on. We subsidize their ability to whine and complain about us, in other words.
In case it's not obvious, I've hit that emotional point where I find myself rooting for the virus to go catch some people and let them have it. I feel like I should feel guilty about feeling that -- and I don't, not one bit.
That said, I think it's really important that we not lump everyone into the same basket here. There are a lot of people desperate to get our lives and the economy opened up again. I'm lucky; I haven't been significantly hit financially, although my tenants down south got laid off and I've suspended their rent for the duration to help them out. I've also committed to continuing to pay our housekeepers even though they can't keep house right now, because they are exactly the people who get lost in the noise in these kind of situations. There are a lot of people financially desperate, emotionally damaged by being shut away, and really need some relief here and we need to be sympathetic and supportive as we can.
But then there are the rest, whether it's the entire Trump administration which proves time and again they're happy to let people die rather than deal with the reality of this pandemic. You have the yahoos who haul out their guns and posture about demanding an end to the shutdown, as if they can bully a virus into submission. You have the youth who think it only affects older people, so why should they care? The people who are tired of being inconvenienced and will let someone else's (meaning your) grandmother die so they can get their haircut.
It's all a bit sad and depressing. I see people mistaking "entitles" for "invulnerable", and I want to tell them to please, go ahead and have your Covid parties and go to church and ignore the lockdown and don't wear masks and etc (ad nauseam), but the reality is they aren't just going to infect their fellow idiots, they'll give it to others trying to do the right thing as well, and when they do get sick, they're going to demand we heal them and be a social and financial burden to our medical systems.
We seem to have raised a lot of people who's response to a difficult time is to deny it and demand it go away. Lost in the noise they make are all of the people -- especially in our service industries and our medical establishment -- finding ways to make all this work and working their butts off to keep things running. I am trying to keep my perspective that this loud, ugly minority of jerks and idiots don't represent society as a whole, and focus on the heros and the every day people who see a problem and go looking for ways they can impact the world around them, rather than sit back and whine that it isn't fixed yet.
It's easy to lose perspective right now. This is my small call to try to focus on the good and constructive and tune out the noise from all of the idiots -- and to realize what a risk they are to you in terms of carrying this, and be very safe and careful around them, if you can't just be distant from them. Distance still matters, and will for a good long time, I think.
Our old normal isn't going to come back. We don't yet really know what the new normal will look like, and now is the time to search for ways to help influence that the new normal isn't just different, but better. I've spent a non-trivial amount of time trying to help the local birders understand what they can (and can't) do and that they can go out and need to go out, but to do so safely. That may not be a major change in the future normal, it it's one where I can have an impact and influence the outcome a bit.
I will take small victories at this point, and I do see where they make a difference for the people I know and care for. The idiots will have to fend for themselves, I have no time or cares left to offer them. And I don't feel guilty about that, because they've proven, time and time again, that this is how they view and deal everyone else, so it's a fair return of what they offer to others.
On a Happier Note
I know for the first few weeks focus and productivity were tough for me, but I seem to have it mostly sorted out. Here at the house, my spring garden work is actually well ahead of normal, with Laurie's beds ready for her to plant and she's got her tomatoes and veggies hardening off to go in this week. I've also got the various pots where the plants needed to be "retired" emptied and some of them filled with potting soil waiting for me to go and start buying new plants -- and more potting soil. I have some sprinkler repair to do but that'll get done this week. And inside, I started a mini-project to upgrade a couple of lamps that ended up 9 lamps later replacing three rooms of lighting, all of which with various Tiffany style stained glass fixture -- and there was much rejoicing. And another garage re-organizing project, this one successful (wire baker racks to the rescue!). Since there's a focus on being here, it's encouraged me to think of various projects and tasks that have been in the "meaning to but not started" list to see which ones to check off.
Same thing with my work with Santa Clara Valley Audubon; I've been encouraging people to think about this being a time to get started on things we've long wanted to do but never had cycles because we had all those other things to keep going; the lock down has meant cancellation of all group things -- at least through the end of June at this point -- so it's given us an ability to rethink what we do. One new and visible result is the newly launched SCVAS YouTube channel, where two of the staffers have started weekly educational series and others of us are sharing content as well, and we're starting to take content from members to share. I'm really happy with this so far, and I'm hoping to turn out a piece a week for the forseeable future.
That may be an aspect of making lemonade, but it does show that you can create good out of all of the ongoing challenges with thought and committment.
Dusting off my long-rusty video interests for the Audubon channel has me thinking about doing video on my long-dormant channel as well. Nothing concrete yet, but stay tuned. I'm seriously considering some videos on how I use lightroom, and I may do some videos similar to the ones for SCVAS on non-bird content as well. I'm also thinking hard about less polished things like videos and timelapses off my feedercam or some other similar lens pointed at my feeders. Stay tuned, and hopefully I'll have something to discuss about this next issues.
Photographically speaking, it's been quite uneventful. I literally did not turn on a camera between March 1 and April 26. In the last couple of weeks I've gone out twice to take photos, but it was really about getting my hands on a camera and getting comfortable using it again. The results weren't awesome but not disasters, but I haven't actually processed and released any images since my February trip to Merced NWR. It's all stuff that got stuck in the lock-down chaos. I'm starting to work through those images now, and we'll see what doesn't get tossed out.
I have, though, spent some time working on the library. Doing the Yellow-Billed Magpie and Bald Eagle videos both required me to select images to include and then reprocess them to make them ready. That has turned into another cull project where I go through a set of my images to evaluate which ones no longer are good enough to warrant being included in my library. Right now, I'm going through older images (< 2010) and retiring most of those where the pixel counts are under about 1700 pixels on the short side. A few key images I'm keeping, but most of the older images are at best good, too few pixels to be used for anything than blog images, and in many cases, I have newer, better ones.
I've also realized I've started re-thinking my idea on how I rate images. I've traditionally used three starts for good (web and article illustrations, spear carrier support images), four stars for portfolio (things I'm proud of) and five stars for my best of show images. I'm not a prolific photographer, and that sometimes bothers me, but I've brought my head around to embrace that idea and think about have a smaller, but better, library. Right now, I've got about 3700 three star images, 520 4 star and 215 five star images in my library, or about 4,400 total. That means roughly 12% are portfolio quality and and another 5% best of show.
I'm starting to think I want to be fussier about processing and managing spear carriers, and cull the weaker images to better focus on my best ones. As part of that I'm doing a bunch of re-processing to update the images to my new skills and technologies -- and I'm coming to realize that I don't like this idea of 3/4/5 stars any more and I have to rethink that. I do not know what that means yet, only that I need to think it through, and perhaps change what I do/think about what a "portfolio" image or a "best of show" image is. I'm not really sure that last category means all that much any more, but I don't know how I intend to organize this year. Wish me luck, this feels like a real rathole, but one where I'll come out the other side with a stronger library of images and a much better idea of what I consider to be a "keeper" or not.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you keep and organize your images, and I'll share interesting tidbits I learn from your feedback.
I did want to quickly mention Goodreads. I started using the service as a place to track my books rather than on my site, and I'm liking it so far, and starting to write reviews of some of the books I've read there. You'll see me linking to those reviews below in the future, and if you're a Goodreads user, consider connecting in with me there so we can keep track of what we're reading and share pointers to the good stuff.
I am happy to announce the release of my fifth set of wallpapers, available only to you, the wonderful people who have subscribed to this newsletter. You can find them on the new 6FPS Secret Wallpaper Hangout. The previous sets have now been released to everyone, and they are on the Desktop Wallpapers page.
This set is all bird images and with a number of images of bald eagles, to celebrate the bald eagle video I recently did for Santa Clara Valley Audubon's YouTube channel. You can see my bald eagle video here.
The plan moving forward is to release a set of 12 3-4 times a year. Every time I do the previously secret set will be made public, and subscribers here will get access to the new images. This new set has more bird images in it as well as some black and whites, and I hope you find them interesting and worthy of being stared at as you work on your computer every day.
On with the Show!
And with that, on with the show! And thank you for being part of this.
Way back in 2008 the county had a pair of bald eagles move in to the eastern hills near Calaveras Reservoir. They took up residence in a nest they built in one of the power towers, and for the next five years successfully fledged multiple chicks every year. In 2013 they shifted the nest location to a nearby tree where they nested for another three years, after which one of the pair was lost and the nest went into disuse. The nests were visible from a nearby road but protected from casual abuse, so they became a bit of a celebrity couple and I was able to spend a fair bit of time watching and photographing them across the seasons.
This photo was from the first time I ever visited and photographed them, and you see the male flying in to come and site by his mate on the tower next to where the still in construction nest was built.
I have always loved this image and found it a compelling shot, and while my skill as a photographer and gear have increased significantly since them -- this was shot with a Canon 30D -- I'm not sure I have a bald eagle image I love more.
That's why I included it in my new set of wallpaper images -- see above for details on how to access it, and why I call it to your attention here.
This image, maybe more than any other in my library, shows off the value of the moment over the gear. The gear matters only in that it gives you an opportunity to capture the moment, and hopefully helps you avoid screwing the moment up. Beyond that, the gear is just -- hardware.
I'm thrilled to announce the results of a secret project I've been working on the last few weeks. I've written a book. The title is "... And the Geese Exploded" which if you read my blog was the title of a piece I wrote about this year's trip to Merced National Wildlife Refuge, and it was the thing that made me realize I needed to write this book.
This book is available for free -- no strings attached, not even an email address. The download is in PDF, which is easily readable on most computers and tablets (and it looks awesome on my iPad in the Books app, if I do say so myself), and also exists as a hardcover printed copy, but only one copy of it exists, I have it, and no, you can't buy it. But the ebook version is all yours to enjoy.
The book is a combination of a series of short essays about my birding life, how I feel so deeply for birdwatching, and some of the aspects of being a birdwatcher that mean so much to me. It also includes over 100 of my favorite photos that I've taken over the last decade here in the greater Bay Area, out in the central valley wildlife refuges, and here in the western coastal states in the U.S.
Interested? Head over to the download page where you can find out more about the book and how it came to be, and to grab a copy for your enjoyment. If you know of someone you think might enjoy this book, please share this with them, and pass this along through your social channels to help reach others that might want to have a copy.
6FPS (Six Frames Per Second) is a newsletter of interesting things and commentary from Chuq Von Rospach (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Coming out monthly on the 2nd Monday of the month, I will place in your inbox a few things I hope will inform and delight you. There is too much mediocre, forgettable stuff attacking your eyeballs every day you're online; this is my little way to help you cut through the noise to some interesting things you might otherwise not find.
Know someone who might want to subscribe? Send them here. You'll also find the archives there if you want to look at previous issues.
Where to Find me
Want to drop me a note or send my something to consider for the list? Here’s how:
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See you soon!
And with that, I'll see you in May with the next issue. I'd love feedback on this, what you like, what you want more of, what you want less of. And if you have something interesting you think I might want to talk about, please pass it along.
Until then, take care, and have fun.
(P.S.: some links in this newsletter may point to products at Amazon; these are affiliate links and if you use them to buy a product, I get a small cut of the sale. This doesn't make me rich, but it does help pay my web site bills. If you use the link to buy something, thank you. If you prefer not to, that's perfectly okay, also.)