August 13, 2017

Life is behind (as per usual!) but when isn’t it? A new job for me. A new career for Paul. A new household member  (Selena). Our 5 year anniversary together / 2 year wedding anniversary. The good news is we’re settling back into a routine just in time for my 39th birthday.  How the hell […]

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January 1, 2017

I’m typically not a New Year’s resolution kinda guy. I don’t typically wait until a specific time of the year to set my goals and announce them to the world- seems artificially constrictive to me. That being said I do have some goals to set for once and it’s the start of a new year […]

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December 31, 2016

I started this post right before Halloween but it looks like I never finished it.  So hey! I was gonna do a tiny hiatus 🙂 Hiatus is over! In quick summary of the last two months: – We moved to San Diego. .. Oh I guess that’s it.  I gotta tell ya doing Christmas at […]

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July 1, 2016

Working on photography processing tonight and I look up to see this photo hanging on my wall .. I can honestly say this is one of the top 3 pictures I’ve ever taken.  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at it.

City by the Bay

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June 19, 2016

So I spent most of yesterday staring at a computer screen which is definitely not how I prefer to spend my weekends.

When you work in technology there’s an understanding that some portion of your nights and weekends you’ll spend ‘practicing’ for your day job.  If you’re in a startup there’s the added fun that often your job SPANS nights and weekends.  For once though neither of those were a factor, instead I was doing projects for uh.. fun? At least that was the intent.  I’ve been playing around with various IoT techs over the past year and decided I’d take the plunge and look closer at homeassistant.io.

As a little background here’s what I’m running in the house:

  1. A Wink hub.  Attached to it I have:
    1. A pair of Quirky door sensors
    2. A Nest thermostat and CO2 sensor
    3. 3 Dropcams, aka Nest cams.
    4. 1 Phillips Hue light bulb
  2. An Amazon Echo
  3. Two Harmony hubs for media centers (LR, bedroom)
  4. 1 Sonos Play 1
  5. About 5 different Belkin Wemo outlets.

So the Wink hub app controls everything but the Wemo outlets.  Alexa controls the Wemo outlets but not anything else really. The Harmony hub can’t do much besides device on/off or input switching.  I’d tried using Yonomi which is supposed to support all of it,  but found it sort of clunky and hit or miss a few months ago.

On the surface, Home Assistant seems to be able to do a lot.  Not only does it control all these various things but it can pull in data from the internet AND create events based off of data from the devices.  A good example you ask?

“If the Sonos speaker in the Living Room plays a song by Rhianna, make all the lights in the house flash 3 times.”

The promise is there, the potential is there, but frankly the reality is … not quite there.

I first ran into problems loading it up on a Centos vm; you need Python 3.5 or greater to install Home Assistant.  Great, no problem, except RHEL distributions don’t have that except for Fedora.  Ok, build from source here we go… and I had to make sure to leave Python 2.6 in place because system tools like Yum in Centos won’t work with 3.5.  Hurrah.   Once I got it finally installed and started looking at it though the reality is that this is still a very, very alpha product.

  • Alexa connectivity required signing for an Echo developer account and running scripts in AWS Lamda.
  • My Plex media server, while recognized, would never show what was playing.  As it turns out their integration only works if the media is playing locally on the media server- so my Amazon FireTV playing media wouldn’t trigger it.
  • I couldn’t install the Amazon FireTV plugin through Python’s pip system because…*drumroll*… it required Python 2.6.
  • The UI page would get “confused” and not update on/off states if something other than Home Assistant triggered it.
  • I could control my Sonos; but only basic on/off/pause/skip functionality.  WTF.

Summary: It’s not an home automation control panel.  It’s more of a back-end Smart Home programming type infrastructure that needs a good bit more work.    Picture a localized IFTTT for your house and you’re probably closer to the reality of what it’s best at.   I can see a future when we start playing anything from the “movie” library on Plex or from Netflix/Hulu on my FireTV,  the living room lights wood dim and any music playing gets turned off.

On a whim I reinstalled Yonomi and played with it for 10 minutes and found it to be much, much more stable and responsive.  I’ll probably be using that for faster home automation instead.

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June 12, 2016

Adventure!

One of us gets excited for early morning travel… as long as there’s Starbucks.

Well I’m in San Francisco, obviously.   Or perhaps not so obviously?  We travel around a lot so it can be hard to say where we are on any given Sunday.  Today though?  I’m sitting at my desk, Cat firmly ensconced in my lap with a stunning view of our high rise neighborhood behind my balcony garden.  The dogs are snoozing on the couch, there’s music playing on the stereo, and coffee maker is squawking as it brews.  It’s so easy to get caught up in what we don’t have and what we haven’t done that it’s easy to forget what we DO have. I’m trying to be more mindful of that.

My desk view.

Not the best picture of the garden- I should straighten up more.

Perhaps a better way to ask that question is where am I in my life.  Right this very minute, I’m writing this post waiting to go to brunch; it is Sunday after all.  Lately I’ve been burning the candle at every end, and we’ve been struggling to find balance in our lives ever since last April.I won’t sugar coat it; it’s been one of the hardest years of my life.  We’ve had multiple health problems with the pets, our wedding, having to move right at Christmas, and multiple deaths in both our families.  Throughout it all there’s been tears of joy, tears of sadness, and tears of anger and we’re closer than ever.     On top of our personal lives, there’s work too.   One of the drawbacks of working for a startup is that the work pace isn’t steady or predictable.  You could have skyrocketing growth and success meaning you work hard and long to keep up with it.  You could have flat or stagnant growth meaning you work harder trying to find that “switch” to flip and make it skyrocket.   You could even have declining success which means you..uh.. work harder.. to turn it around.   OK so maybe the work pace is predictable.  You’ll work long hours, you’ll push yourself to your mental and physical limits.  You’ll drink coffee and booze in near equal measure and you’ll forever  struggle to find balance.

Finding my own personal balance has been a trial and Paul is a good sport as I try different things to find my own personal balance.   A wiser man than me would point out that achieving balance is less important than seeking it.. good thing that’s not me.

I garden.. but not vegetables or flowers.  I typically have succulents, cacti, aloes, and agaves as they need the least amount of effort and are some of the funniest/weirdest looking plants around.  Give them sunlight and a little water and you’re pretty much good to go.  I know these look like flowers, but it’s the actual leaves of the plants.

Variety of colors and shapes

Weird and wacky varieties!

I take a lot of pictures.. but that’s really two hobbies in 1 as there’s the actual act of taking the picture and developing them too.

I write here..  it’s a good outlet and helps me to organize my thoughts and practice writing on a topic.

Sometimes I play video games.. but it’s rare.

I exercise.. though never enough amiright?

I hack around in my home compute lab.. I need to do this more. I have a lot of cool tech projects I want to do like learning python.

I read a lot.. books, comics, almost anything I can get my hands on.

And of course spend time with my family.. Paul, the pets, traveling, playing, hiking etc..

For me having a variety of ways to de-stress and unwind has been key.  Paul and I will often go hiking or travel somewhere nearby for a getaway though those can get pricey quickly.   Often after a hard week (or month) I can’t take being around people and need some solo downtime, so nothing beats gardening or reading on the couch while various pets take turns piling on me.

The cat claimed his territory…this time.

So where am I right now? A little crispy around the edges and hoping the major life upheavals have slowed for us just a little bit.  My giant projects at work are wrapping up so I can slow my pace and take more time for myself.   We’ll see how successful I am at slowing down.

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June 8, 2016

MikePaulWedding_HighRes0581

I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of storytellers and how they’ve evolved over time.   I’ve been a heavy reader since first grade when I taught myself the basics.  I never really learned how to sound out words, I’d point to words and get someone to say them and I learned to recognize the shape and match it to the word.  Since that day I rabidly read anything I could get my hands on, sneaking authors like Dean Koontz, Steven King, and V.C. Andrews as early as fourth grade.  Like most people who are heavy readers I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I also know myself well enough to say I probably wouldn’t be successful at it as a career.  I have way too many hobbies to even keep a regular pace with a blog, so it’s more likely I’d fiddle with it when I’m retired.

But the focus today is more modern day storytellers, myself included.   It all started with oral history and the spoken word, evolved with alphabets into poetry and novels, danced into music, shifted onto the airwaves and digital with radio, movies, and television, and now FINALLY photography is coming into its own, all because of the invention of the camera phone.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, follow me on social media, or spend more than 30 minutes with me in person you’re going to realize I love taking pictures.  I do it as a hobby / side business, I do it for fun and relaxation, and more often I do it just to document my life for myself.  Photography as a storytelling medium has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t accessible to the masses.  It was expensive, it was hard, it took a LOT of time, and the failure rate was high.  People who stuck with it got fame and/or fortune (like Ansel Adams) but typically the rarity of good photography meant that the storytelling aspect was largely ignored in favor of a heavy art focus and attempting to evoke emotion.

So what made this shift happen?  The rise of social media had a strong influence to be sure, but I think the most influential of them all were Instagram and Snapchat.   Instagram opened up photography as a medium like Youtube did for video and Facebook/Twitter did for text.  It gave people a way combine images, text, and then socialize it among their friends and followers to tell a story.  Snapchat built on that by actually calling their gallery concepts stories, encouraging people to put a purpose and theme to them.

So what?  What does it matter?   To best answer that question I’m going to back up a little and tell a story of my own.

In February of this year my mom died.  She’d been sick for a very long time- nearly a decade- so it wasn’t a surprise to us.  She’d fought hard and long but in the end, the last 6 months of her life were spent in a hospital bed.   She didn’t want a lot of visitors and I knew why… the woman in that bed wasn’t my mom.  She wasn’t the mother I grew up with, the woman I talked to several times a week on the phone, or the grandmother who doted on her granddaughters.  It wasn’t authentic “her”, it didn’t fit with her narrative and she didn’t want to be remembered like that.   It was easy to realize that (it’s a common theme in the terminally ill) but what I didn’t realize is that my story of my mom wasn’t complete either.   As we sat there in the waiting room, day after day and well into the night drinking bad coffee, my dad opened up and told me stories of their life in high school, being college sweethearts, what it was like as newlyweds and so much more.  He regaled me with stories about the sacrifices, the love, the laughs, and even the tears of the woman he’d know for over 40 years and I couldn’t help but feel how much I had missed and how I wished I had known her better.

The months marched on and eventually mom passed, and as we prepared for the funeral and viewing I got the job of picking out photos to use.  For two solid days I went through box after box of random photos, wedding albums, storage units and more.  I sorted through boxes, bags, dust, and pictures dating back as far as the 50s, all carefully preserved.  What I didn’t count on was for her story to evolve for me even more; she was the blushing bride who got married in her sister’s wedding dress.   She was the giddy 20 something who made a card for her beau out of poster board with googly eyes while my dad was away on a trip.  She had a near endless love of kids- from the late 70s forward you almost couldn’t find a picture of her without hers or someone else’s kids in her lap.  Despite loving modern technology she valued her past; from her hope chest filled with afghans crocheted by her mom and her mother-in-law to the first jacket she ever bought my dad, even down to the first set of pearls he ever bought her (she was allergic to most silver/gold and would break out in a rash).   She was stubborn, she was prideful, and she loved harder than anyone else I know.  During her final months she even drove cross-country with my dad to see me get married, basically running on coffee, Virginia Slims Light 120s (her preferred brand of cigarettes), and willpower alone.  It was the last time I saw her truly happy and photography is what allowed me to see it.  Mom, I won’t forget your story and I’ll tell it to anyone who asks. You were dynamic, you were beautiful, and I miss you almost every day.

So that’s why I think storytelling matters.  No one’s story is just one chapter, no one’s story stands alone, and its up to each of us to tell it in our own way.   Photography is just how I tell mine.

 

 

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May 22, 2016

IMG_2963

But I probably will.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you probably know I’m a big Aisha Tyler fan.  Not literally big; despite what the picture here portrays she’s VERY much taller than me.  Very much.  She crouched down to make me feel better.  The title of my post is a quote from her in fact.

I respect her for a lot of reasons. She’s smart, opinionated, has an impressive vocabulary, and has hustle. Lots and lots of hustle.  On top of that she’s probably one of my favorite comedians which is how I was introduced to her in the first place. I’ve seen her live show twice (she really needs to be touring again), got her dvd, read her book, and of course watch Archer religiously.

But the hustle is what I respected the most.  Ironically one of her jokes in her stand up dvd talks about how she feels like she gets less effective as she gets older.  I can relate to that sensation.. I feel it almost daily.   When you’re a chronic multi-tasker you almost can’t stop doing it, and always feel like you can’t stop “doing” things and relax until your mental list is done.  Lately I always feel behind or that there’s just something else I want to do and if I just had an extra hour…   but I (nor does anyone else) ever have that extra magic hour.

I’ll be turning 38 this year which I’m not overly sad about.  To  25 year old Mike- who frequently gets a front row seat to my mental voice- says holy crap that’s old. I don’t feel any older for sure but I do, as Aisha Tyler once said, feel like I’m getting less effective.  I can’t get everything done that I could when I was 25, or 30, or even 33. I can’t spend an hour and a half at the gym. I can’t go out binge drinking (really ok with that).  I can’t drop everything and travel on a whim.  It’s hard to get laundry done or even go grocery shopping!  Multi-tasking? HA.  Barely.  But I think over the years I’ve become a better person and it definitely wasn’t through multitasking.

So what if I’m slower? I think that while maybe I’m not moving as fast, I can devote more time and energy to a Thing.  Maybe we/I shouldn’t judge our effectiveness by how many simultaneous things we can do?  If I look at my life now, what I have is worth so much more to me than what 25 or 30 year old Mike had. I have a family who’s with me to support me. I got married, got a few dogs, started gardening, and got a job I love.  I’m not living in a nearly empty bachelor pad, spending weekends at the beach, or worrying about what I have to do.    I might miss having abs but the reality is they only do so much for you and only at the beach, otherwise you’re That Guy (TM) in the bar with his shirt off.

Maybe I’m not as effective at multi-tasking but I think I’m ok with being a better husband and person.   I have my hobbies, my job, my little family and our cozy little life. I think overall it’s a much richer experience.   I have gardening, some computering projects, our dogs, my husband, photography…. heck that doesn’t even touch things like reading, comic books, movies, etc.  My life is rich, my life is effective, and we shouldn’t be judging people by how many things they can half ass at once.

Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop going to the gym though.

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May 17, 2016

Photo May 14, 12 18 57 PM

Good question! Glad no one asked. It’s definitely not to make money.

It’s easy to assume that no one can make money as a photographer anymore with the proliferation of tools that lower the bar of entry, but photography has almost never been about the technical prowess of the photographer.  Instead it’s about telling a story and evoking feelings and that is VERY hard to do well.  Tools like Instagram or Facebook and services like Blurb can go a long way from making a mediocre storyteller into a decent one, but there’s really no substitute for someone with vision.    For me photography was always a hobby I could pick up and put down until I started trying to tell stories.   Now I find myself planning trips, rushing home after my day job, and staying up all hours to work on processing pictures. Getting paid would be nice but I like that I’m the narrator not the ghost writer.

So what does this picture tell us? For one it’s definitely cold, though obviously trending warmer.  The ice is melting, the model is dressed in a hoodie not a heavier jacket.  Secondly the model is quite obviously stoked to be there. Who wouldn’t be? But the condition of his hair definitely speaks to both wind and the nap he took to get there.  Wonder where he’s going afterwards? How is there so much snow across the lake and not this side? How is the sky so blue? And where did he get these great sunglasses?

All kidding aside, the story here is I have a great husband who puts up with standing in the freezing wind while I take pictures. I do so love the role of storyteller; I want to travel and explore the world. Not everyone gets that experience and if I can share just a little bit of the awesomeness I see in the world to someone else that’s fine by me. On top of that I’ve always been someone who tries to live in the moment and my pictures are my attempt to freeze those moments to share and treasure.

Though if someone wants to buy a print, hey I’m all for it.

PS: If you’re curious where this is, it’s from a series I’m posting on Flickr from our trip to Bodie, CA.  This is Caples Lake which is about two hours outside Bodie.  You can visit the series here.

 

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