The Cat that Brought Me Back

I haven't journaled much since the fire last October. Not because I haven't wanted to. I just couldn't.

So, I put the journal down and focused on my other work. Staying busy and not reflecting too much is my way of recovering from tragedy. I knew the someday I would be able to get back here. I just didn't know when.

Then in March, I met Sylvester. Despite the name, she's a girl. A black and white kitty that found herself trapped in the middle of a firestorm that destroyed everything in its path. She had belonged to by brother-in-law Pat, who lost his home in the tragedy. 

During the following weeks, we kept an eye out for her when sifting through the ruble. But she was nowhere to be found. There were no animals in the area that we could see. So we just tried not to think about it - not to think about her fate.

Then one day Pat received a phone call that she was alive - singed, dirty, thin, and with burned paws, but alive. The microchip that the vet had placed in her neck made the connection possible.

Pat was thrilled, but he didn't have a place for her to stay. He and his wife were now living in a one-room apartment with the two inside kitties. Sylvester, who had resided outside at the house, found herself odd cat out.

Pat arranged a temporary home for her while he tried to figure out what to do. During this time, she began her recovery. 

When I learned about Sylvester's amazing story from Pat, I wanted to photograph her. I thought she might be a good addition to my ongoing documentation about the firestorm and its aftermath. So I made an appointment at her temporary home and went for a visit.

When I got there, she was sleeping in a walk-in closet. I sat on the floor and asked her how she was doing. Her meow was funny. It was more like a lamb bleating than a cat. She came over to me, and I took her picture.

I just couldn't believe my eyes. The firestorm was fueled by 50 MPH winds that torn down the hill where Sylvester lived. It seemed impossible that any creature could outrun it. Maybe she found a place to hide. Maybe she sprinted for her life. I wish she could tell me. None of it seems possible.

Pat asked me if I wanted her. I didn't have a cat at home; Dibs lives at the studio. I talked it over with Theresa, and a week later Sylvester arrived at our house.

She is the happiest, most energetic animal I have ever owned. And she's the most athletic as well. Sylvester has unbelievable speed and jumping ability. That's probably why she's here.

Or maybe there's another reason. Maybe we need her as much as she needs us. That amazing cat is the one good thing that rose from those ashes. And she reminds me of that every morning that I feed her.

Sylvester has a home again. And now, thanks to her, I'm back as well.


Sylvester the Cat - This is the photograph of her that I captured back in March during my visit to her temporary home. By this time, her whiskers had grown back, and her paws had healed. 

iPhone X

There are certain things in first world life that we have to have. We need a place to live, a way to get around, and a reliable communication device. All of these necessities come at a price. 

I owe a mortgage on my house, the car is paid for, and I just started payments for an iPhone X. 

My previous handset, the iPhone 6S, is already in the hands of my oldest son. His phone is barely functional and needs a new display. And rather pay for a repair that's only a temporary solution at best, we wiped mine and set it up for him. That's the kind of family activity that goes on during Thanksgiving break.

I had bought my 6S from Apple using their plan. That gives me an unlocked phone and two years of AppleCare coverage in exchange for 24 monthly payments. I went the same route with the iPhone X.

After a week of use, I have to say that the X is the best handset I've ever used. Not so much in a bells and whistles way. I don't remember saying to myself, "Wow, this is blowing my mind." It's not that kind of device.

You know that precision-thud you hear when you close the door of a finely crafted automobile? Right away you know that it's a great car. That's the iPhone X.

It has heft. It feels solid. It checks off all the boxes for great screen, fast processor, excellent sounding calls, and best of all, a fantastic camera.

This is my first dual camera phone. I'll never go back. Having wide angle f/1.8 and mild telephoto f/2.4 cameras, both optically stabilized delivering 12 MP images in Jpeg, DNG, or HEIF, gives me the confidence that if something noteworthy happens, I'll be able to capture it. That's a big deal.

The iPhone X does not replace my camera kit, it completes it. I carry my Retrospective 7 (with Contax film camera and Olympus PEN-F) with me about 80 percent of the time. I love shooting with those cameras. But a lot of life happens in that other 20 percent.

My boys had their 21st birthdays the other night. (Yes, the oldest was born 1 minute before his brother.) At midnight we took them to a local casino where they could flash their driver's licenses and buy beers at the bar. Then they saddled up to a blackjack table, played a few hands, and moved on to the food court. They're still my boys, but they look like men.

This was not a situation for my shoulder bag full of gear. I quietly documented the event with the iPhone X. That was the right camera for the moment. I'll have those pictures forever.

A few years from now, someone will need my X. Maybe it will replace another cracked screen or be used for a trip abroad. Fathers once gave their sons watches, maybe even a car. My boy drove back to college yesterday with a 6s in his pocket.

I'm perfectly fine with how this is working out.


One Week After the Fire

I love the morning air after a rain. Yes, rain came to Sonoma County.

I haven't had much time to explore our neighborhood since the mandatory evacuation was lifted in Larkfield-Wikiup. Our house survived, as well as those of my neighbors.

What I didn't know was the extent of the damage up the hill to the north-east and south of us. So off we went on foot. A step towards normalcy. A morning walk.

Life was slowly returning in our neighborhood. Cars were parked on the street and people were out with their dogs. All of the houses around us were intact, even those nestled at the base of the hill.

I looked up and saw a stand of Eucalyptus trees on the ridge. "Thank God the flames didn't hit those," I thought. They would have burned like matchsticks. 

Further south, we began to see some damage. The old abandonded golf course was singed. The ground was black and ashen. But four otters had discovered the pond and were playing in it. I found it oddly heartening to see them going about their business in the center of the burn.

Beyond that, there was structural loss. Houses chared to the foundation, sometimes with cars still in the garage. Many people couldn't get their automated doors to open - because the 50 MPH winds had blown the power out - and had to flee on foot or with the help of others. My sister-in-law was rescued by my wife, for that very reason. Her car was trapped.

"She isn't answering the phone," Theresa said to me at 1:30 am that night. "Should I go get her?"

The flames were coming from that direction. 

"Yes, I would go see." I said. "I will continue to pack the Vanagon."

I heard minutes later that Theresa had her sister and the cats safe in the her car, and we were coordinating by cell phone where to rendezvous. Later we learned that you had to remove a pin in order to open the garage door manually. How utterly stupid.

Fortunately, her sister's house survived. But we didn't know until 3 days later.

Our exploration was cut short by a very nice CHP officer who was guarding a neighborhood still closed because of fire damage. He was up here working from San Francisco. Help had come to Sonoma County from every direction.

We talked with him for a while, then headed back toward our house. It was good to see what had survived, and sad to see what did not.

That's the way it's been. Heart warming moments mixed with heartbreak.

We're having Theresa's sister over for dinner tonight. She needs to be around family. My brother in law secured a permit today to sift through the rubble of his home. We will see him again tomorrow. Hopefully they will retrieve a few meaningful items from today's work.

There are so many things in the news that I can do nothing about. But I can address the people standing right in front of me. And of all the lessons that I've learned one week after the fire, that one is the most important.



The Commodity of Technology

I watched the Apple event yesterday on my iPad mini with the audio streaming through portable Bluetooth speakers. I was in Studio 2 photographing new inventory for TheFilmCameraShop. (No, the irony does not escape me.)

I watched, but I wasn't riveted. I was mainly focused on my work of taking pictures of vintage cameras to display in the store, diverting my attention to the iPad screen when I heard something interesting.

There were many announcements: a cellular Apple Watch, 4K Apple TV, and revisions to the iPhone. I find it incredible that Apple can pack the power of a computer into a wristwatch. This is truly SciFi coming to life.

And the new cameras in the iPhones are amazing as well. They process millions of instructions with each image recorded. The photographer can concentrate solely on composition without technical distraction. Even though I consider evaluating light as part of the photographic experience, I can see the benefit to millions who don't. These new iPhones will continue to displace work previously done by dedicated photographers.

I thought about my brother and my brother-in-law during the Apple presentation. My brother was concerned that the new iPhone was going to cost $1,000, more than he wanted to pay. I assured him there would be a cheaper model. I was right (sort of). He can get a stock iPhone 8 for $700. I haven't called him yet.

My brother-in-law just received a Series 2 Apple Watch for his birthday. "I hope Apple doesn't do that thing they always so," he said. "What's that?" I asked. "You know, come out with a new model." I haven't contacted him either.

Personally, my current gadget lineup is an iPhone 6S, Apple Watch Series 2, and last year's Apple TV. They all work pretty well.

I love the Apple Watch. No changes there. The Apple TV is also quite good. So I'm down to the phone, which by the way, will be paid off this month.

To tell you the truth, I haven't decided about the handset yet. I'm not in a hurry. That's the thing about technology: it isn't scarce. I can pull the trigger whenever I want.

In fact, maybe that's the best thing to come out of yesterday's 2-hour presentation. I realized that this stuff is always there, regardless if I want it or not. And to some degree, that puts me in control.

Now that, I like.


The First of a First

I was awake at 5am on Saturday morning, about 20 minutes earlier than usual. In three hours, I would be sitting in front of the mic conducting the debut of The Nimble Classroom. It's a new endeavor, trying to bring more personalized teaching online.

I had a number of thoughts running through my head that morning. "Don't forget to say this. Remember to do that." I decided that it would be easier to get up and head to the studio.

Launching a new project is anxiety wrapped in excitement. But the fact of the matter is, if I want to continue as a teacher online, I need to do things like this. My monthly royalties from lynda/LinkedIn have dwindled to one fourth of what they were just a few years ago. I'm working as hard as ever for them, but the revenue isn't keeping pace.

That money supplemented the TDS Podcast and the time I spend on education. I don't want to give up either. So, like many business adjustments these days, I'll need to build the new revenue stream myself. And I'm hoping that the Nimble Classroom becomes a valuable tributary.

At 8 am Saturday morning, I pushed the LIVE button and started talking. Over the span of the next 5 hours, I explained the best practices for managing a Capture One Catalog. There were technical hiccups, presenter gafs, and more than a few rough edges. But I've watched some of the recordings from that session, and I'm smiling. The bottom line is, we did it.

A handful of early adopter students and a diehard instructor spent their Saturday together connected by the Internet and their willingness to try something new. For me, it was creating my own online service. For them, it was another step in their migration toward Capture One Pro.

One student wrote me afterward, "A little long I think, but the class was really helpful." Yes, I definitely have adjustments to make. And I already can't wait for the next session on September 9. If nothing else, I'm determined.

Now it's Sunday morning, not quite as early. I've already figured out a handful of improvements for the next class.

I go downstairs and pour a cup of coffee. I continue thinking about these things while I look up at the pictures on the wall. My MacBook is on my lap, illuminating my face.

Some people can't wait for work to end. Me, I'm ready for Monday right now.