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Life Cycle of the Common Parking Lot Sandberg

When I was a boy, I loved the archipelagos that formed in parking lots towards the end of winter and the dawn of spring. Murky, sand-drenched snow-islands accreted around every lamp post, existing in defiance of air temperatures thanks to their composition of half grit, half ice.

They seemed towering, ephemeral Everests that demanded conquering. Often my siblings and I would try to climb them to the chagrin of my parents who only wanted us to get in the damned car so they could get home after a long day.

As spring bounded on each year, the islands wore ever downward, the warming tide against their shores, until nothing remained but a sea of asphalt left pocked by potholes. But for a brief few weeks, there they dwelled in the K-Mart lot, a temporary geography ripe for imagination, calling to be explored and to be dreamed larger than they really were.

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Nature Walk Photos, December 21, 2018

I’m learning so much more about birds lately.

The birds I was most interested in growing up were birds of prey, and that carried into when I took up photography last time. Part of this is that they’re large enough that you don’t need a very long lens to capture them. Thanks to the new camera and lens, I’m able to get much better photos than before. Many of these are cropped to some degree to get a good composition, but still – I’m seeing them much closer than ever before, and so smaller birds are easier to chase.

Because of that, I’ve been looking them up in bird identification guides. Birds with names I recognize, but couldn’t name at sight are suddenly so much more familiar to me now that I’ve had time to photograph them.

Today, I saw house finches, carolina wrens, cedar waxwings, a female downy woodpecker, and a few more things that I didn’t manage to capture quite yet. In particular, blue jays are proving to be real bastards. They make a racket when they see me, scaring off all the other birds, and they don’t like to come out into the open enough for me to get a good shot. I will take great satisfaction from finally capturing a decent photo of a jay.

(more…)

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Nature Walks, December 16-17, 2018

Bird photography is hard.  There’s a bit of a dance to it, at least how I practice it.  I understand that most serious bird photographers use blinds and sit in one place, but who has that kind of time?  Instead, I combine my photography needs with my exercise needs, and I hike out into wild spaces. 

When I see a bird perched in a way that is conducive to a decent enough shot, I begin the slow process of approach.  You can’t look right at the bird a lot of times, as they’re sensitive to your line of sight.  And if you move too quickly, you read as a predator, and they fly away.  If you move right, keep your eyes down, and push forward slowly, you may close distance enough that the crop won’t be too bad.  You have to watch the bird during this to make sure they don’t move. And often, they do.  And so the bird backs up, you get closer.  Bird backs up, you reframe and get closer.  It takes me an hour to get a handful of decent shots.

I’m thinking about googling up the location of public bird blinds in my area, honestly.

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Photography

Nature Walk Photos, December 13th, 2018

Merry Christmas and happy birthday to me.  I invested in a new camera yesterday, an E-M1 Mark II Olympus.  It’s my first time shooting without a mirror, and I have to say, so far I’m pretty impressed, although I really would have liked better light to practice with this morning.

I went out to the Baker Wetlands today because I thought for sure I’d find some good wildlife to chase, and there was a decent amount of activity out there, not that I could see any of it. It was basically working in pre-dawn conditions due to the cloud cover.  Still, I managed to snap a couple of shots that I liked, and I’m really in love with this new camera.

A big reason I’ve decided to take pictures again is for my health. I hiked about a mile and a half this morning in pursuit, and it didn’t feel like exercise. I was engaged and in the moment the entire time, only stopping to check my phone for the time once and a while (because no matter what, I have to get into the office and build websites for part of the day). 

We’re in the depths of winter here now, as you can see. I’m looking forward to spring already.

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Nature Walk Photos, December 12, 2018

I’m trying to ease back into photography.  Apparently the way I do that is take a two hour hike into the woods near our house to chase birds. 

I feel good for having done it.  I’m very much out of practice, and it’s going to take me some time to rediscover my eye for these things, as well as technique.  I was fascinated by how much of my operation of the camera itself was muscle memory, though. I hadn’t picked this up seriously in about five years, since moving to Kansas, and surprisingly, my hands still knew how to adjust all the settings as I went without much thinking. 

Here are some photos that weren’t too terrible.

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Photography

My First Gutenberg Post, and general thoughts about WordPress 5.0

This is going to be a very geeky post, not really about writing, but more about web design and WordPress more specifically. Feel free to skip it entirely.

So here we are: WordPress 5.0. I’ve made many testing Gutenberg posts, but this will be my first post in the new WordPress Editor out in live code. The experience is pleasant enough, I suppose. I wish I could say the same about the run up to the release.

The Gutenberg release has been incredibly frustrating to watch, especially because of my reliance on custom fields in the work I develop for clients.  Over the past few years, I’ve come to rely on Advanced Custom Fields for that work as a framework underlying my code, and the Gutenberg team appears to have gone ahead and shipped 5.0 with a bug that causes the name of every single registered ACF panel to appear on the Gutenberg screen, despite this being a known issue. They may fix it in a couple of weeks.  WordPress 5.0 never should have launched with such a glaring error.

There’s a lot to like about this new editor, but the editor is the heart and soul of WordPress, the piece that nearly every WordPress user touches when they interact with the software. What’s the sense in launching something that breaks in such a fundamental way on possibly millions of websites?  And let’s not forget the massive usability concerns for those with accessibility needs. From my standpoint, Gutenberg wasn’t ready. It was rushed, to meet some secret timeline that the rest of us were never given the logic behind.  The damage it has done could have been avoided.

It’s shaken my faith in a platform that I have come to rely upon for my very livelihood. Moving forward, I think I will be asking myself more often: “can this be done without WordPress?” Instead of asking: “can it be done with WordPress?”  And that’s a shame.  Because what the 5.0 release debacle has demonstrated to me is that if my needs and the needs of my clients don’t align with what Automattic and Matt Mullenweg have decided is good for them, then our needs will lose in the contest every single time. WordPress doesn’t seem to be the open source project that I thought it was.

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Some Thoughts on Solitude

I recently sat down to watch the first episode of Maniac on Netflix.  and I was struck by a line in the opening narration that went:

It’s quite terrible to be alone.

In truth, I was only half-paying attention up until that line to the rambling, philosophical notions espoused by the unnamed and unseen narrator in those early moments, but that line made me sit up and take notice because of simply how wrong I found it.

“There is the thought,” I said aloud to nobody because I was alone in the house in a rare moment, “of a person who doesn’t have small children.”  The kind of profundity issued by someone who has been able to use a toilet in silence more than once in the past four years. Parenting is a wonderful thing that has enriched my life in many ways, but one thing it takes away from you rather quickly is the option to be alone very often.

In solitude, I think we find ourselves best. You truly get to know yourself with only yourself for company; alone, we wear no masks for the show of others. We do not find ourselves moving along with the crowd while entertaining silent, private doubts.  Solitude is a form of nakedness, and I think for some, it’s absolutely essential from time to time.

I find my ability to truly be alone has weakened in this era of social media, however. Thanks to the internet, we can always distract ourselves with socializing in some way.  My early mental picture of the internet was a vast library, but anymore, it looks like an enormous coffee shop full of chattering patrons.  To be truly alone anymore, I have to discard all my devices and rough it out.  It’s uncomfortable at first, but it usually leads to some deep reflection that I need.

Consider me a champion for solitude, at least in moderation (like all things). And hell, I try to give it as a gift to those I love.  For Mother’s Day, I give my wife a day of solitude.  A day with me and the boy she can have any time!  We go on an adventure and let her rest with her thoughts in peace.  My wish for you is to find that time for yourself now and then.

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The Jeremiah Tolbert Method of Being Present

I am a scatter-brained type person – I have a tendency to live up in my own head more than some, and more than I should. Being “present” is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time. My wife constantly asks me “where are you?” At least, I assume she constantly asks me that, because I only notice the question about one time in five.

I have been refining a mental technique for getting myself to remain more present in my life. A “life hack” if you will, that reminds me that I need to stay focused and attentive to those around me, because this moment will soon be gone, never to be lived again. With my young child, it’s especially important to me.  My son is only four, and I already feel like I’m losing my grasp on some of the wonderful moments of the early days.  I look at this little person and sometimes, I miss the baby he was.

So this mental hack probably mostly works for science fiction fans more than ordinary people, but the way it works is, I try and pretend that I’m not living the moment for the first time. Instead, I’m revisiting it from the future.

The explanation varies – sometimes I pretend I’m dead, and in my version of the afterlife, I get to relive and witness my life again.  Other times, it’s a bit of a Quantum Leap form of time travel – I’m elderly and hooked up to a machine that lets me re-live the past as a passenger in my own self.  Doesn’t really matter.  It’s all pretend.

The key is pretending that, no matter how mundane or ordinary the moment is to me now, one day, I may look back on it so fondly that I would wish with all my heart to go back to it. Because even at forty years, I know that the things we remember most and the things we think are important at the time rarely align – or at least personally, I’m more wrong than I am right.

Weirdly, this works for me. It grounds me in the moment by causing me to perceive things more sharply.  I fix the moment in my memory better because of this too. It’s all nonsense, but it works.  I see the world more sharply when I pretend this, and my busy brain quiets and lets me be there, with my family.

Something that has grown out of this as a coping strategy for stress and anxiety is a realization that, looking back on particularly anxious or troubled times, I somehow managed to muddle through. One of the worst things about anxiety for me is that it tends to make small problems seem enormous.  Even when I’m in a moment now where a problem or worry seems insurmountable, the future-traveler me says “you’ve been through this before, you’ve been through similar, and you always made it out okay.” And a lot of times, that thought makes me feel some relief. Some problems seem big close up, but we rarely think about them once they’re receding into the distance in the rear view mirror of time.

That’s not to say that I don’t still need to do the work of addressing the problems I’m tackling now – certainly not. They don’t resolve themselves. But what I can do is spare myself the anguish of it all. I can take my problems seriously and not freak out about them.  Sometimes, anyway.

My coping strategies are my own, and they may or may not be useful to others. But I thought that I’d share a couple of them just in case someone else can get some use from what it’s taken me so long to start figuring out.

 

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