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.


Transparency Isn't Always So Clear

The term transparency has become one of my least favorite in business and political discussions.

I like the idea of being transparent in one's day to day dealings, because it implies telling the truth. So if I tell you that I can't make it to your gallery reception tomorrow night because I have a deadline, then I want you to understand that that's the real reason.

The problem with transparency, in my view, is that people use the term hide their true motivations for the actions they want take. I can't tell you how many times I've been transparently lied to.

I bring this up because people ask me about how to become a successful writer, photographer, or artist. I tell them that success is a ladder with many rungs. And one of them is being sincere. Sincerity leads to trust.

People buy my books, attend TDS workshops, invest in new ideas such as the Nimble Classroom because they trust me. I tell them what the plan is, and if it fits with their goals, they pull out their credit cards. 

If you think about this, it's an amazing relationship. A Nimble Classroom session can cost $99, a workshop up to $699, and Patreon support is $60 a year. Those amounts are paid from hard earned dollars. And every penny of it represents an ounce of faith.

I probably will never be the richest artist ever. That's not my goal. But I do want to be a voice that shows you a world you can believe in. And I do want to pay my bills.

I feel bad for those who don't share that view. Because they will never have what we will enjoy for the rest of our years. And that's the creativity that boundlessly flows from telling an honest story, whether it be through imagery, words, or dialog.


The Train to New Orleans

I woke up before there was light in the sky. I think it was 5 am, but I’m not sure. It didn’t really matter.

The train had slowed for a crossing ahead. I looked out my window and saw the reflection of the red lights on a white pickup truck waiting on a country road. The engineer sounded the horn, then we gained speed and pushed further south.

I couldn’t go back to sleep that night. Actually I didn’t want to. I could doze comfortably in a bed the next night, and the night after that into eternity. Right now, I just wanted to peer through the glass to see what came next.

We were about an hour from Memphis. I had never visited Tennessee, and I guess technically I still haven’t. When we rolled to a stop at the station, my steward stepped on to the platform and lit a cigarette, all in one motion. It had been a long stretch since the last stop.

Melvin had two young girls. They were on the Amtrak as well.

“I’m going to take them for beignets,” he said exhaling. “They love them.”

I strolled along the platform in the morning light. I watched the lines of people waiting to board their cars. At the other end of the train, a truck drove up and a worker began refueling the engine. 

Melvin had finished his smoke and was greeting new passengers.

After everyone entered, I returned and headed to my roomette. The next stop was Jackson, then the home stretch to New Orleans.

I took pictures all along the way, my camera lens pressed up against the window to prevent reflections. There were homes, shops, and abandoned cars. I studied them all.

You would have thought that I was tired when we reached New Orleans, mid-afternoon on a Tuesday. 

I wasn’t.

My head was filled with images of the South, as seen through a train they call The City of New Orleans.