January 6: Recovering from Angst Day #1 of 2022

My recovery from angst day #1 of 2022 is complete and I’m relieved there appears to have been no obvious follow-up to the attempted insurrection of 2021. Thank God for small and large favors. Things were better today. I took delivery of a new-to-me watch and I also took a hike and I also took a slice of pizza and an excellent blood orange IPA.

How can you go wrong with any, let alone all, of those?

The weather was doing an excellent impression of summer and the trails were empty save for a few hikers and even fewer mountain bike guys. Anyway, part of what made today better was the self-reminder that changes and transitions are inevitable whether or not they are known or anticipated. Come 2023, I will be doing something different than what I’m doing today. But, really, that has been true of every year of my life since I’ve been a substantively different person each new year, even though my finger prints have stayed the same. What is really at issue is the question of one’s response to the unknown.

Mine is Ok so far. I see a lot of ways for things to be just fine a year from now even though all of the typical existential question marks are right where they always are. In the end, I have just enough ego to like my odds and just enough appreciation for the world around me to enjoy the ride, whether it’s smooth or bumpy. I’ve done some bumpy before as I may or may not write about in a future installment.

A quick story. Right before I learned that our firm was moving toward closing I was busy surfing used watches on the web. My finger was poised over a message making a solid offer on a Sinn UX, one of the only quartz watches I’ve ever lusted after (the other is the Omega X-33 Skywalker).

So I’m sitting there, ready to make my deal when one of my bosses comes into my office and asks me to join him and my other boss for a closed-door chat. The mood in the room was heavy. I knew they’d both been taking at length but I didn’t know what was up. That was when I found out one of my bosses had a nasty case of prostate cancer. At that point, no one new how well he would respond to treatment or how soon, if ever, he would be able to come back to work. The decision was made to let our lease expire and gradually close things out. I was pretty damn surprised. I knew something was up but it’s rare news that combines someone’s health with the cessation of a business that provides your employment. It was a lot to take in. The three of us talked for about an hour before I was back in my office, the message about the UX still staring me in the face. I closed the window without sending it. It was a hard time to think about a watch, no matter how desirable it was. That was way back in the summer of 2015.

And another thing: Don’t read any Charles Dickens while you’re getting ready to publish your own book. It’s not good for the writer’s psyche and ego, I can assure you. For some reason, I’ve been reading A Christmas Carol. It’s a very conventional story and the sequences are readily imagined, nearly predictable. But, the descriptions are so rich and creative that it’s a continual amazement. I cannot imagine creating anything like it. I would have to spend an unimaginable amount of time on a myriad of simple descriptions of routine things and places and people. And, even if I did I don’t think I could match Dickens’ mastery any more than about 5% of the time. It would take me decades to write what I’ve done in a couple years. Talk about sobering. Then again, maybe the experience should be telling me something I can’t yet grasp. I can read contemporary novels, even ones that sell well and have attained a degree of critical acceptance, and not be so taken with the fundamental art of what’s been accomplished.

Geez, this got more than a little long and meandering.

Sorry about that but be sure to check back tomorrow for more of the same.

Thanks for reading.

January 6: Recovering from Angst Day #1 of 2022

What’s Special About This?

Sage Park survived…

The Woolsey Fire is now all but out. The evacuation area got as close as a mile from my home. I got out toward the end of last week and saw some of the devastation along the north-bound 101.

Most of the oak trees I have photographed on many of the trails I hike have burned. They stand now like charred skeletons on the fire-darkened slopes. Compared to many of who live not very far from where I do, I was very lucky.

The fire started to the south and west of Sage Park. For days, I wondered if the prevailing winds would allow the dried grasses and oaks of the park survive the inferno and they did.

There’s always something to be thankful for and today I’m thankful for all of the oaks and all of the wildlife and all of the rare open space of Southern California that came through the Woolsey Fire unscathed.

Snapseed (1)

What’s Special About This?

Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography

Photos of mine have been captured by Elickr’s Explore algorithm a handful of times. Each time I wonder why for a few moments before I remind myself that a computer program can’t see photos, derive possible relevance, think about or consider what the photographer may have been thinking about when the shutter was pressed.

That makes me think, why would anyone care whether one of their photos made it into Explore? I can’t come up with a reason that a photographer would be motivated to try to get his images into Flickr that could possibly relate to the quality of his photography.

After all, who could possibly aspire to impress a computer’s programming?

It’s easy to imagine one possible motivation residing in a miniature version of Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and I know some photographers who are looking for just that. At the same time, I can see Flickr’s motive in developing and refining the Explore algorithm. I don’t browse the images in Explore very often but when I do I see lots of close-up photographs of birds and a lot of huge landscapes with surreal or at least very dramatic color.

The photos in Explore are nearly always conventional in the extreme. The occasional unusual photo (unusual either in subject or execution) nearly always strikes me as something that made the algorithm experience the computer-software equivalent of bemusement, for a mere fraction of a millisecond. Today there’s a simple photo of a miniature figurine of a lion. I can imagine the data chain inside the algorithm wondering silently to itself, is that miniature lion really alive?

That question got me thinking about just how unlikely it is that the algorithm will ever be able to judge truly interesting let alone good photographs. Think of the objective differences between an Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite National Park and the millions of other images captured from the same or similar vantage points. Now think about how you would go about creating a program that recognizes artistically good light and a well-seen composition. It’s hard enough for a human viewer to get a sense of what the photographer was trying to achieve and so wholly arguable as to how well that effort or vision was achieved. The genuine wonders of artificial intelligence notwithstanding, identifying good photography is going to remain a real problem for Flicrk’s algorithm. I’m sure the folks at Flickr are doing their best but it’s not very good.

This brings me to the photo of mine that found its way into Explore.


Crap, even I don’t like this one all that much. I took it about twenty minutes after the sun fell behind the foothills. I had been out looking for an oak I photographed back in April. Somehow, I couldn’t find it even though I though I was certain about where it was. Obviously, I wasn’t. As I hustled through the canyon, trying to beat the coming darkness, I spied this huge tangled mass of an old tree and looked at the road go on beyond it.

As I did I thought to myself, that old oak knows exactly where that road leads; toward autumn. So, I turned around and snapped this. Yes, I kept the branches of the tree on the right in the frame intentionally.

Now thousands of Flickrites have viewed it and hundreds have faved it.


No, I’m not upset this photo is in Explore.

Yes, it’s nice that so many people are seeing it (I suppose).

But, in the end I am far too selfish to care what a bunch of people who don’t know me think about one of my more marginal photos. I’m trying, in my way, to be a better, more aware, more sensitive and more creative photographer. It’s doesn’t matter to anyone other than me if it happens. Maybe in some backhanded way having this image in Explore has rekindled that singular clarity of mission.

It could be that Flickr algorithm is better than I thought.




Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography

Change of Seasons: California Oaks

Southern California is a place of slow and subtle shifts. Traffic moves slowly and the differences of our seasons can sometimes be hard to discern, especially for people from non-Mediterranean climates.

I’ve spent all my life here and can tell the different seasons by a number of different clues. I can see the how the light differs on a clear summer day and a clear day in winter. I can also smell the seasons, especially the spring & summer. As winter glides into spring I started to think about another seasonal clue.


We have no fewer than twenty different varieties of Oaks in California. Even in our vast urban and suburban sprawl, Oaks are common and for the most part venerated. We even like naming communities after them like Sherman Oaks, Thousand Oaks, Oak Park, Oak Hill and of course, Oakland.

The Santa Monica Mountains is home to scores of oaks and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy does a marvelous job of preserving the hills and valleys where the oaks thrive, often times surrounded by upscale housing developments.

I thought it would be fun to capture the transition of some of our oaks from winter to spring, from cold to warm, from brown to green.

Allow me to start with a short poem.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

– Robert Frost / 1923

Oak 8
Oak 8

DSCF5522 small
Oak 7

Oak 6
Oak 6

Oak 5
Oak 5

Oak 4
Oak 4

Oak 3
Oak 3

Oak 2

Oak 1
Oak 1

Change of Seasons: California Oaks