Day 3: Sheltering In Place

It’s been about 3 months since we began to limit our travel due to the pandemic, and while it’s been trying, I have to say that it hasn’t been as bad for me as it has for many others.

For one, I have been working from home for most of my career. I have a dedicated work area, and am completely used to the lack of everyday interaction with others (some might say that I prefer it!). Having been laid off from work due to the pandemic was tough, but I still spend much of my time at my keyboard, either working on projects that I’ve put off for lack of time, or for exploring new skills or tools, or ranting on Twitter. The one positive thing about the pandemic is that it makes it easy to keep a perspective: my wife and I, as well as our kids and their families, are healthy. I wouldn’t trade that for any job.

The change is harder for my wife, who works in the local school district. Before this, everything was done face-to-face at the office or various campuses around town. She and everyone else had to learn and adjust to the new ways of working remotely, which is stressful. She is also much more outgoing than I, and as wonderful as I may be 😜 , she does miss interacting with co-workers and family.

So many of the people I interact with, though, are much younger, and many have small children who need to be kept busy, which can be exhausting without being confined to home. I am grateful that our kids are all grown and out on their own!

We also have a house. It’s small, but still – I can’t imagine being confined to an apartment. I can go outside to the yard, tend to the garden, clean up fallen tree debris from last night’s storm, or just sit and watch the birds. That helps maintain sanity.

I’ve also gotten into baking, as many others have. I have developed a great sourdough starter, and really enjoy mastering that process. But that will be fodder for a different post.

So all in all, I think we have it pretty good overall. I can’t wait until the pandemic is over, but until then, we’ll manage.

Day 2: What is an Artist?

I consider myself an artist, as do many others. But that title is thrown about quite a bit, and its meaning has been diluted. So let’s look at it.

In my mind, the essence of being an artist is creating something that not only is original, but captures or excites the interest of others. Often someone who paints or draws is automatically called an “artist”, and their product is called “art”. But that’s way too low a bar to set for that title. And for the record, I can’t paint or draw with any skill level whatsoever, and admire those who can.

I am a photographer. I recognized my attraction to photography as a child, and began taking it seriously in college. I attended a photography school for two years, and learned all about portraiture, lighting, studio arrangements, different films (yes, it was all film then!), color, tone, and print media. While I was able to master those techniques, I wouldn’t say I created art. Well, maybe with a few exceptions, such as:

Potato, 1981
Potato, ©1981

What I found I enjoyed the most was simply walking around and looking. Things would strike me as visually interesting, and I would use my photographic technique to record them in a way that made interesting images. For example, my photo school was about 6 miles from my home, and I used my bike to get there. Shortly into my first semester, though, someone cut the chain I had locked it with and stole my bike. I now had to walk a mile to a bus stop, take the bus to downtown, and then walk another mile to the school. As I was walking I would look around, and things would occasionally catch my eye. Since I was carrying my camera, I began to record them. At the end of the semester we had to produce a portfolio, and so I created one called Sidewalks – all of the images were taken of sidewalks I walked on my way to/from school.

Not only was the portfolio well-received, it was noticeably different than the others. Most of the others were what I would call “traditional” photographic subjects: sunsets, landscapes, weathered barns, pets, etc., but mine were anything but traditional. So not only did the portfolio receive a good grade, it was chosen to be displayed around the campus – my first exhibition!

This is when I began to understand my creative process: instead of creating a scene by arranging items, or posing people, or any other conscious construction of the subject in front of the camera, I would explore the world as it existed, and find beauty in what others don’t see. I take special pride in images that are unremarkable in themselves, but from which I can create an interesting image. As an example:

Castle Sidewalk, ©2011

Back in 2011 I worked at Rackspace, and the headquarters was in a refurbished shopping mall, nicknamed “The Castle”. Near the main entrance two different-colored sidewalks come together. You can see it in the center of this Google Maps view.

Over a thousand people walked past this point every day. I happened to walk past it on my morning break, looked down, and was struck by what I saw. I didn’t have a camera with me… or did I? In my pocket was my iPhone 4, so I took this photo with my phone. I’ll save my thoughts on photography gear for another day, though…

This is why I consider myself an artist: thousands walked past that spot that day, but only I saw this bit of transient beauty, and was able to capture it in a way that others could enjoy. Being able to take photographs, or paint pictures, or play piano, or sculpt clay – those are examples of crafts. But when you are able to use your craft to create something that moves other people – well, then I consider you an artist.

Writing Again

Today marks 2 months since I was laid off from my job at DataRobot. It was part of a 25% reduction that was made in anticipation of the business slump from the COVID-19 pandemic, and having just been there for 6 months, I was one of the ones let go.

I have spent the last two months like most of you largely confined to my home, with only an occasional trip to the grocery store. Since I was home with all this newfound free time on my hands, I decided to work on a lot of projects that I’ve had to put off. Now that those are largely complete, I need to find a new outlet to occupy my time. So today I’m going to start on a program of writing every day; you’re reading the first entry.

Not to brag, but I’ve always been pretty good writer. The biggest problem that I have is perfectionism: I want to edit/rewrite until it can’t be tweaked any more. As an example, I was stuck for 10 minutes just coming up with a title for this post! I mentioned this tendency in the very first post of this blog: I was about to travel to Australia, and wanted to have a way to record my impressions. I had hardly ever traveled outside the US, so this was a really big deal for me.

I kept it up for a short while, but soon fell back into my old ways: starting a post, and then abandoning it because it didn’t feel good enough. When I joined IBM in 2014 as an OpenStack developer, part of my role was to be outspoken, and writing blog posts was one way to do that. So for a while I was posting fairly regularly. This time, though, it was the blowback from those posts that caused me to lose interest in writing. You see, the OpenStack developer hierarchy is designed to discourage change and alternate approaches, both of which were the frequent topics of my posts. It discouraged me because I was publicly criticized by many of the “core” developers, who seemed to take my ideas as threats to the way they were doing things. It was even more discouraging that I received at least as much private thanks and praise from others, all of whom were not comfortable expressing support publicly, less they lose political capital with the core developers. I have a post I started and never finished on this toxic atmosphere; maybe one of these days I’ll finish it as part of this new effort.

So I’m now going to reiterate my initial pledge: I will limit myself to a one edit rule: after the post is written, I’ll go over it once for typos, etc., and then publish it. I’m also setting a minimum of 30 minutes per day to write, and to publish it no matter how good I feel it is. There will be no set topic; one day it may be my thoughts on photographic composition, the next may be a tirade about the latest Trump atrocity. But I do hope that what I write is as interesting for you to read as it is for me to go through the process of writing.

Changing WordPress Permalinks

When I started this blog a few years ago, I hadn’t used WordPress before, and went with the defaults pretty much everywhere. The one that bothered me, though, was the default format for permalinks: That’s just plain ugly. The problem, though, is somewhere along the line I messed up, and ended up with long, unwieldy permalinks like: I’ve been wanting to switch to something cleaner for a while, but I didn’t want to break all of the existing links that I’ve shared. So I kept the long format.

I finally got sick enough of looking at those terrible URIs and started searching to see if anyone had run into the same issue, and, as expected, I was not along. I found the Change Permalink Helper Wordpress plugin by Frank Bueltge, installed it, and I was done! Simple! That ugly URL above is now, but the old one still works.

Thanks, Frank, for a nifty little plugin that made my blogging life easier!