It seems like there are very few good commenting systems on the Internet. Based on my experience, the free or low-cost services can be very barebones, sluggish or just a pain to use (I guess you get what you pay for). After being saddled with Facebook Comments for several years, I was happy when my previous employer switched to Disqus. It’s not perfect, but it was the service I was most familiar with and it offered a fairly robust series of moderation tools that I _definitely_ put to use.
I no longer have to moderate comments on a regular basis but I’m still partial to Disqus, especially because it’s the system used on one of my favorite websites — The A.V. Club. Commenters there have a love-mostly hate relationship with Disqus, particularly during the service’s hiccups. At the same time, A.V. Club stories garner dozens and hundreds of comments and Disqus (mostly) handles the workload.
Unfortunately, that’s apparently about to change in the next few months. In the past few years, The A.V. Club and its sister publication, The Onion, were purchased by Univision. The Spanish-language broadcaster has been expanding into different sites and also added the Gizmodo network (formerly Gawker). One of Gizmodo’s assets is a content management system called Kinja.
Based on previous media reports, it appears that The Onion and A.V. Club will move over to Kinja. Although there wasn’t official confirmation at the time, it’s started a series of comments on A.V. Club. (NOTE: The move has been announced after I first wrote a draft of this post and is taking place Aug. 23.)
In a recent comment, someone asked what was so bad with Kinja. Here was my stab at a response —
I’m not sure about _all_ the objections about Kinja, but the biggest annoyance for me is that posters and their initial posts start off in a “pending” status.
When you’re in pending status, your comment is out of view unless the reader clicks on “View Pending.” Even then, the pending comment is displayed in gray and tagged “PENDING APPROVAL” to reinforce how “pending” it is.
Posts can be moved out of pending if they get enough likes/stars. I also believe that the posters can earn a trusted-sort of status but the process of how this is done isn’t well explained.
I must admit I haven’t seen _too_ much spam on Kinja sites lately, but trolls still abound. Generally, the system puts up unnecessary hurdles to interaction.
All in all, it’s a clunky system. Also, as I understand it, It’s the underlying content management system for the blogs that use it (like Deadspin). It makes it easier to swap content between sites, but they all look bland and cookie-cutter.
For as much as people gripe about Disqus on A.V. Club, the users there have built a vibrant community centered around a common love of pop culture. It’s gotten a bit more combative as the site has published more politically focused articles (which seems somewhat understandable, given the current president’s symbiotic, yet toxic relationship with the media). The comment area has also remained a reliable fixture of the site, even as it undergoes changes (with some longtime features being cut and some dubious elements added — including some sponsored content that the commentariat lustily mocked).
Despite the increasing politicization, The A.V. Club comment area remains a mostly positive forum full of inside jokes, truly awful puns and considerable passion. I sincerely hope that the switch to Kinja doesn’t negatively affect this oasis.
At the end of May, I marked the first anniversary of my returning to Utah. To celebrate the occasion, I reviewed the photos I took from the past 365 days and picked ten that highlighted some of the fun activities from 2016-17. There’s also a bonus picture — the first photo I took upon my return.
Click any photo to embiggen…
A view of the Wasatch Front from downtown Provo. It’s the first picture I took on my first day of work at the Daily Herald on May 26, 2017.
Looking toward Ogden’s 25th Street from Ogden Union Station on June 28, 2016. It was part of a great day exploring the city and the former train station (now home to several museums).
The Daily Herald offices moved to downtown Provo just days before my arrival. One of the highlights is having a third-story view of University Avenue, particularly on days like the Fourth of July. Here’s a shot of the Freedom Festival Grand Parade on July 4, 2016.
Provo was among the cities that went crazy for the “Pokemon Go” craze last summer. It was fascinating to see the crowd outside the Provo City Library at 1:32 a.m. on July 10, 2016.
Provo lost two of its icons on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. After watching the demolition of the Provo Power smokestacks, officials escorted the media around the site.
My first time inside the Vivint Smart Home Arena wasn’t for a Utah Jazz game, it was for the first day of Salt Lake Comic Con 2016 on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. Thousands of “Star Wars” fans were on their feet for the arrival of actor Mark Hamill.
After seeing Mark Hamill at Salt Lake Comic Con, I booked it over to Pioneer Park for the Twilight Concert Series. I worked my way through the crowd to listen to Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. The concert was a lot of fun, but I was pretty tired by the time headliners Fitz and The Tantrums made their way on stage. By that point, the sun had set and I found my way to a grassy area to sit down.
Although I now work most nights, I still get out for karaoke nights. After trying a few places, I’ve settled in at The Tavernacle in downtown Salt Lake. The bar frequently features dueling piano players, but turns it over for karaoke on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays — including Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016.
One event I was excited to participate in was the Sundance Film Festival. It was two weeks long, but my schedule really only accommodated Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. I still made the most of it, including catching three screenings and walking around downtown Park City (after most of the places had closed for the evening).
Another highlight of the last year has been visiting venues used in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. It inspired me to make my way to Soldier Hollow for a day of cross-country skiing lessons on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. It was far too easy for me to overexert myself (and I fell into a stream), but it was a lot of fun and very rewarding.
Another rewarding activity was curling at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. After taking a couple of lessons, I joined the Monday league for the fall and winter sessions. I got a lot of practice in and really got to enjoy the sport. I even helped win a match with this shot on March 6, 2017.
Just a year ago, I passed 2 million views on Google Maps. Imagine my surprise when my images surged past 10 million views just a couple of months ago. The 190 images I’ve published on Google Maps has been viewed 11.1 million times as of this writing.
I wish I could claim total responsibility for this accomplishment, but it seems like it’s more a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Since I started uploading photospheres to Google Street View, none of them had exceeded 1 million views (although one was close at 970,000 views). Following the Oroville Dam crisis in February, I had two photospheres reach past the one million mark, with one reaching past two million.
In my experience, the most successful spheres are those that are featured in Google’s search results. I don’t have definitive proof that this is the case, but I’ve found the images that featured in the search results seem to perform best. The example that came to mind was my photosphere for Bear Hole in Bidwell Park. I was surprised when I saw it suddenly surge beyond 100,000 views. I wasn’t sure why it was performing so well.
The most plausible explanation was that it was featured on the search results on Google Map. When I searched for Chico, CA in Google Maps, the search engine returns a map of the city, but there’s also a card showing useful information — and photos of the city. Often times, these are popular pics of major landmarks or the like. Google also includes photospheres. This is often from its own Street View service, but it increasingly appears to include photospheres taken by its users.
A Google Maps card for Oroville, California on Monday, May 29, 2017. The top image is from one of my photospheres.
I think this is behind my most “popular” photospheres, including ones taken at regional parks, train stations or other landmarks likely to be searched by people.
Adding credence to my theory was another photosphere of Bear Hole taken by another user. I saw that it too was featured at times in the Google Maps search results and it had a view count similar to mine,
That brings me to the incident that brought my views surging to new heights. In early February, there was a natural disaster that prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people in Northern California. Although the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam didn’t breach, I imagine there were a lot of people interested in learning the location of Oroville Dam and the surrounding area.
Indeed, the most popular photospheres featured the now-destroyed main spillway at the dam. It’s interesting that my most popular image is something that no longer exists.
The second most popular image for me was a photosphere of sculptures at Centennial Park in Oroville. It’s not associated with the park because there’s no entry for the park on Google Maps, but it is the first thing that comes up on Google Maps when someone searches for Oroville.
Several other images from Oroville have jumped following the Oroville Dam crisis, but those are by far the most popular.
I don’t know if a view is counted merely because someone sees it on a search result or if someone actually clicked through to see the full image. I would like to think it’s the later, but information on Google support forums indicates that merely seeing an image in a search result counts as a view.
Ultimately, I would like to think that people are viewing my images — it’s nice to think that millions of people are seeing my work. If it’s true, these images are the most popular thing that I’ve ever done.
There’s a gag I do every so often in the spring where I include the number of days since a specific life moment happened. Of course, every year that I do it (which isn’t every year), I have to add 365 or 366 days to the tally.
This year, I realized that I was going to hit 5,000 days. It was bit shocking that so much time has passed since this original milestone in this facet of my life.
At the same time, it is just _one_ element of my ongoing experience. It’s not something I can be fixated on because it ultimately isn’t very productive — it is what it is.
Although we scarcely need another reminder that time is fleeting, the milestone offers a bit of perspective especially because I certainly don’t want another 5,000 days to go by. I’ve made some steps to change the situation, but I haven’t been very successful (and if I’m being honest with myself, I could’ve certainly worked harder at this conundrum).
I think about the person I was those many years ago. I hope I’ve changed for the better since then, but I know there are many areas where I can improve.
Hopefully, this will all add up to something … someday.
The UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program faces a key date this month, as the Big West Conference leadership is supposed to consider whether to invite UCSD into the conference (and thus determine whether the campus moves to NCAA Division I, per the outcome of last year’s student vote).
I’ve been paying more attention to the matter, including visiting a number of discussion boards centered around the Big West and other mid-major conferences. I spotted the above quote on one of the boards and wanted to respond because that information doesn’t match what I’ve seen. I’m also including some additional thoughts that have been on my mind.
UCSD men’s basketball average attendance has been several times higher than this figure in the past. It’s not going to compare with the top-flight Big West programs, but it’s better than the cited members.
Here’s the information from the NCAA on UCSD men’s basketball team’s average home attendance for the 2014-15 season*:
UCSD – men’s (D-II) — 11 games — 9,497 total attendance — 863 avg. per game
It beat the average NCAA Division II men’s basketball attendance of 710 per game in 2014. As a D-II program, UCSD also exceeded UC Riverside’s average attendance that year (762) and non-BWC Sacramento State’s (815). It also tied CSU Northridge that year in the category.
By comparison, UC Irvine’s average home attendance that year was 2,348 and UC Davis’ was 2,584. (Davis, Irvine, Northridge and Riverside are all in the Big West.)
Of course, UCSD’s figures reflect average home attendance over the entirety of the season (which was the standard that the original poster offered). Spirit Night attendance in 2015 was 3,881. If one wished to calculate the average WITHOUT the most popular game of the year, you get a per-game average of 562 — still twice the figure originally offered.
As an aside, UCSD women’s basketball average home attendance in 2014-15 (397) beat out UC Riverside (270) and UC Irvine (248). UC Davis had a respectable 1,049 while non-BWC San Diego State had a relatively woeful 604 (non-BWC University of San Diego also had 536).
I know a lot of attention is focused on the men’s basketball teams, but a single sport does not an athletic program make.
According to 2014 numbers (which may be the 2013-14 season, my notes are incomplete), UCSD men’s basketball had higher average attendance than 21 D-I schools (out of 345). The women’s team outdrew 31 D-I schools (out of 343).
Regarding the men’s basketball attendance figures, I did the initial research in part to show that moving to Division I isn’t a silver bullet for schools moving up. As a UCSD graduate watching UC Riverside move to D-I in the late 1990s, I thought that they made the move for the wrong reasons and their still-woeful basketball attendance may an indication that they may have missed the mark.
I’m still worried that UCSD students are seeking the move to D-I for the “wrong reasons” because merely moving up a division isn’t likely to deliver the supposed greater prestige of competition (no offense to BWC), higher alumni interest, boosted student spirit and increased relevance in a sports market that already includes two D-I schools and a MLB team. I’ve long backed an approach similar to UC Davis, which built up student and fan support years before moving to D-1.
At the same time, as any proud Triton will tell you, UCSD is NOT UC Riverside. Even as a D-II program, UCSD men’s basketball home attendance tops lower-tier BWC teams. Although it’s not a guarantee, UCSD would hopefully continue to top those numbers and grow as it moves into D-I.
Ultimately, I’m setting aside my personal reservations because UCSD students DID vote for the move and I pledged to back whatever the students decided (they’re paying for it, after all, and will reap the ultimate fruits of this endeavor).
With the figurative ball now in the conference’s court, I appreciate the discussions on this board and elsewhere. There seem to be a lot of factors at play, but I hope there’s a decision that works best for everyone.
Go Tritons (currently in the D-II Sweet 16) and Aggies (as they enter March Madness)! — Ryan
* — Why figures from 2014-15? Those were the ones available when I was researching the issue ahead of the UCSD students’ D-I vote last year.
As seen on Instagram, I debuted a new yellow UCSD T-shirt on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, as the UC San Diego Tritons took on the Brigham Young University Cougars in Provo.
I’ve been a pretty vocal opponent to the possibility of UC San Diego moving to Division I. Despite my past reservations about D-I (which seems highly likely at this point), it was a total blast to once more cheer on the UCSD Tritons in men’s volleyball tonight against Brigham Young University.
This was a match I had been looking forward to ever since I moved to Provo last May — men’s volleyball is the only Triton team that regularly competes against a team in Utah. When I was in Chico, UCSD and Chico State were in the same conference, so there were always a couple of opportunities every year to cheer for the blue and gold in sports like basketball, baseball, softball and women’s volleyball.
Although I hoped to be loudly cheering for the Tritons on Friday, I knew that there would be a lot more people rooting for the Cougars. Watching some past volleyball matches on BYUtv, I knew that the Smith Fieldhouse can be a loud atmosphere but I wanted UCSD to have a voice there as well. I also bought a new, bright yellow Triton T-shirt for the occasion. All of my previous shirts were shades of blue, which would probably blend in with the Cougar blue that was sure to fill the stands.
When it came to buying the tickets earlier this week, I was a bit at a loss — I didn’t know if there would be any Triton supporters in attendance and where they might sit (and the reserved seats weren’t necessarily cheap). The box office staff at the Marriott Center was friendly, but they didn’t know either. Eventually, I just settled for the $5 general admission ticket and decided to take my chances.
On game day, I donned my new shirt and made my way north to the BYU campus. Parking was super-easy as the expansive fieldhouse lot is available to the public after 4 p.m. or so.
The fieldhouse itself was a quirky older building, with a narrow indoor track ringing the court and seating area. I made my way past the clearly reserved seats to the opposite side of the court. I asked a man handing out programs if this where the general admission seats were. He said yes and commented that I was brave wearing that shirt inside the fieldhouse.
As I made my way into the arena, I saw blue, plastic hard-backed bucket seats. The aisle seats were all marked “reserved,” and I assumed that only _those_ seats were reserved. That was an erroneous assumption, but I wouldn’t find out about that until later.
I found a great seat about five or six rows up near center court (but not on the center line because it had the “reserved” sign on it). I picked the side that I knew the Tritons would be on and settled in. I noted that the playing area on the court was smaller than it looks on TV. I’ve attended dozens of volleyball games, so I’m used to the court dimensions but the difference in perspective was fascinating.
It was about 30 minutes before the start of the match, so I took a self-portrait to post online. I also dashed to the concessions stand for a couple of waters because I knew it was unlikely that I would be able to leave my seat once the match began (a prediction that generally proved correct). The crowd slowly trickled in. I looked about several times to see if there were any other Triton fans in attendance, but I wasn’t having much luck.
All too quickly, the countdown clock wound down and it was time for the match to begin. After singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” along with the crowd over a very loud recorded instrumental version of the song, it was game time.
Writing in a journal at the Chipotle on Mangrove Avenue in Chico.
I’m trying something new on my blogs. For years, I haven’t done a great job of keeping things up to date, letting months go by between updates. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say. I have had plenty of things to write about — and now’s the time to write about them.
Starting today, I’m launching a daily item called The20. Every day, I want to set aside 20 minutes to write anything on any topic that catches my fancy. It could be a review of a TV show or move that I’ve seen recently, it could be some thoughts on the weather outside, recapping some recent adventures or taking a deep dive back into some events that I would enjoy recounting. To maintain impartiality and professionalism, I’ll stay away from politics.
As you can tell, the topics will be pretty random, but I hope it will be enjoyable. I know it will be for me (and I seem to be the primary reader on these sites). A while ago, I re-read some old blog posts I wrote about karaoke when I first moved to Chico in 2005. They’re nothing earth-shattering and they didn’t follow the time limits I’m proposing for this column, but it was interesting to review my brief chronicles of an activity that I still have a lot of fun doing.
That’s the other component of The20 — it will contain everything I write in 20 minutes. It will be interesting to get a sense of how much I can write within the time limit. I may break some topics or subjects into multiple part essays to help bridge them over multiple days. There are journeys that I’ve taken or moments in my life that I don’t think can fit into a single, 20-minute chunk.
While I’m worried that I won’t be able to get everything out in 20 minutes, the opposite may be true. After 15 minutes today, I’m finding that I’ve written most of what I want to say on this subject and I’m largely just editing my post at this point.
None of these are going to be hard and fast rules — I’ll probably do some editing and adding photos after time is called. There will also be some topics where I will go long (Monday’s essay on Lake Oroville is an example).
I’m excited about this new project. Everyday, I spend so much time away from work just randomly reading websites or watching TV. I eventually reach a point where I feel I’ve read or seen everything I care to for a day. It will be nice to focus some of this energy on actually creating something.
There are a lot of things I’d like to share with others, but I need a plan. Although I can be slow to pick up the pen or start typing, I can get totally engrossed in the process.
A view of the Oroville Dam emergency spillway from the Spillway boat launch in March 2016. In February 2017, much of the area was underwater as the emergency spillway was used for the first time in the dam’s 48-year history.
My thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by the crisis at Oroville Dam, which led to the evacuation of around 200,000 people living downstream Sunday out of fear of a collapse of the emergency spillway.
In less than a week, the 48-year-old structure has been faced with the double whammy of the deterioration of its primary concrete spillway and potentially devastating erosion of a concrete weir which doubles as an uncontrolled emergency spillway. It was the first problem that led to the second problem, culminating in Sunday’s emergency. (That said, the primary dam itself is OK, despite misleading news headlines to the contrary.)
I can’t fault Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea for his decision to call for the evacuation Sunday. I don’t have all the facts, but it sounded like things were on the verge of disaster and calling for residents to leave the area seems like a sensible precaution when lives are at stake. The region has had devasating floods in the past, which led to the construction of the dam complex in the first place (that and suppling water to downstate users).
While there should be some hard looks at the decisions that helped lead to this crisis, it’s unfortunate that a full Lake Oroville has turned into calamity. It’s the exact opposite of just three years ago when a half-full lake was used as the representation of California’s prolonged drought.
It wasn’t a pretty picture at the lake three years ago, which ironically made it a tempting image for photographers and TV news reports. At the drought’s low point (pun intended), all but one of the lake’s boat ramps were out of water and marinas had to remove houseboats because of the dwindling lake surface area. The lake looked like a giant, half-filled bathtub with the exposed shoreline looking like a red-colored ring.
I remember last spring, when a good water year helped fill the dam to near capacity. I stood on the trail overlooking the spillway as water flowed down it for the first time in years.
People I spoke with then were so elated to see the spillway open and the prospect of the lake filling to capacity (it didn’t in 2016, but it came close). I was personally awestruck when I calculated how much water was flowing down the channel, even though it looked so abstract at a distance.
That picture’s totally different today. The force of water took on a new, fear-raising aspect last week as we contemplated pictures and video of the concrete spillway being critically damaged.
As the lake reached new heights, concerns did too as the lake hit the emergency spillway level of 601 feet above sea level for the first time ever over the weekend.
Less than 36 hours after Oroville crossed that threshold, evacuation alarms were sounded as there were concerns that erosion could compromise the emergency spillway (I’m curious about when people started calling it an “auxiliary spillway,” because I’ve always seen it referred to the other way.)
Considering the damage that’s been done to the concrete spillway, I think it’s understandable that something catastrophic could happen to the emergency one. I don’t know how much water would be released in that situation — it wouldn’t be as much as a dam failure, but it would still be pretty bad. Even a two-foot elevation change could suddenly release about 10 billion gallons of water in the downstream Feather River.
As of last night, the state Department of Water Resources was working to lower the lake by about 50 feet. As the lake lowers about a foot every three hours, it will hopefully reach the 850-foot threshold before a new storm hits the area in a few days.
Still, I wonder if that’s enough. The DWR’s ability to remove water has been critically compromised by the problems with the two spillways. Even as the pressure on the emergency spillway is reduced with the lowering lake level, I don’t know if officials and the public should count on it until some serious inspections and repairs are made.
I think officials should keep lake water pressure off the emergency spillway structure AND maintain enough flood control buffer space (which one document I saw stated was 750,000 acre-feet, although I think that figure actually varies based on the time of year).
To accomplish both, I think the lake level should be lowered even futher — to about 788 feet above sea level. That’s based on the current drawdown to 850 feet, plus the 750,000 acre-feet of flood control buffer.
Such a move would leave the lake about 58.2 percent full (with 2.06 million acre-feet of water stored), at least until the end of the season when the flood control isn’t needed anymore.
It’s unfortunate that we should have to lower the lake level after years of wishing for a full lake. However, this recent storm showed the inadequacy of the current, impaired control system.
Lake Oroville has already seen two periods this year where water levels surged dramatically. If we want local residents to be safe in their homes in the event of a third surge, the lake level should be dropped to a threshold that offers the most safety without risking further damage to the emergency spillway.
I always had a number of reservations about the Sierra Nevada Santa, including the fact that I don’t want to encourage drinking and sleighing. I also didn’t necessarily want to go to the expense and effort of renting a Santa costume, especially because I had doubts that I could pull off a convincing Santa.
After some consideration, I thought that I could build a snowman wearing a Sierra Nevada shirt. I always strive for a PG-rated card and the shirt in of itself is fairly innocuous. I would also need to go to a location where there was snow and my first thought was of Lake Tahoe.
I’d never been to Lake Tahoe before and I was excited to check it out while shooting my card. Although I’ve always maintained that one of my goals was to create Chico-oriented cards, I made an exception because it doesn’t really snow in Chico and that I was remaining in Northern California.
As time passed, I worried about being able to get to the picturesque lake in time. After hearing of snow in foothills and Sierra Nevada, I decided to try a location closer to home up Feather River Canyon on Dec. 8.
It was a total bust. After driving up Highway 70 along the winding Feather River, I made it to Quincy. My hopes were buoyed by the fact that the snow cover increased as I headed further uphill. I sought an open field to build the snowman and picked Feather River College just outside of town.
Attempting to build a snowman in Quincy
It … didn’t go well:
The snow didn’t clump very well and it was impossible to build a firm enough snowball to form the nucleus of the snowman.
After a few minutes of trying, I gave up and retreated down the hill back to Chico frustrated but happy that I had enough time to pursue alternatives.
The alternative came up quickly. I realized I could use my California Rail Pass that I would buy to travel to San Diego for the transportation to South Lake Tahoe. The Rail Pass was a great value — for $159, a passenger can travel to destinations within California on any seven days during a 21-day period (with several conditions). Although Amtrak doesn’t have a train that goes to Lake Tahoe, it has a motorcoach that makes the connection from Sacramento.
Leaving Davis Station in December 2013.
On Dec. 14, I made the trip to South Lake Tahoe via Davis and Sacramento. I was bundled for the cold, but it was a gorgeous sunny day. I primarily slept on the bus as it traveled on Highway 50, which was probably for the best because it is a very windy road up to Tahoe.
When I arrived in South Lake Tahoe, I was a little bummed out that the buildings were a little dowdy. I had pictured either a quaint downtown with classic old buildings or picturesque mountain village. What I saw was neither — much of the construction was simple, modern boxy construction.
Adjusting my expectations appropriately, I consulted with a map at the visitor’s center to look for an open field that would help provide an appropriate view of the mountains that ring the lake. Seeing a place that I could work, I walked a short distance to Rabe Meadow.
The meadow was perfect. There were houses nearby, but the meadow presented an open field with near-pristine snow with either stands of trees or the mountains themselves as possible backgrounds.
The snowman as I was about to leave Rabe Meadow
After picking an ideal spot, I set to build the snowman. It went far easier than before and I was able to quickly build the three spheres that would comprise my model. When it came time to put the Celebration Ale shirt over the snowman, I quickly realized that its torso was too big.
Because I was working with snow, I used my gloved hands to hack away at the snowman’s torso until it was just broad enough for the shirt to fit comfortably. As some of the photos show, the lower part of the snowman is disproportional to the rest of the snowman but I generally refrained from photographing the snowman’s whole body.
After putting on the T-shirt, I wrapped a scarf around the snowman to add further character to the creature. For his face, I used a handful of stones that I’d gathered outside my apartment in Chico. Once he was decorated, I think he resembled an Ewok or perhaps a stuffed teddy bear I had as a child.
A close-up of the Sierra Nevada snowman
Getting everything set up went fairly quickly and I was able to take dozens of photos of the snowman from different angles and distances. It was tricky because I wanted to adequately capture the background in addition to featuring the snowman prominently while showing the Sierra Nevada T-shirt.
It was a positive that I could rotate the snowman to capture different backgrounds. I tried to shoot pictures with the mountains stretching across the horizon and others with a stand of trees extending into the background.
Complicating things was trying to capture the scene without having odd objects in the background intruding on the snowman at weird angles. It was also warmer than I had expected and the snow was melting. That ordinarily wouldn’t be too big of a problem, but the water was starting to soak the T-shirt which showed up on a few shots and the rock eyes began to fall from the snowman’s face. (It turned out that it was best that I shot photos on that day because there was no additional snow that month amid the ongoing drought).
Generally, the photography went well with terrific early winter sunlight. A passerby was nice enough to take a photo of me with my creation.
The Sierra Nevada Snowman and me.
After finishing the shoot, I was able to enjoy walking around South Lake Tahoe. I had booked a room overnight, so I had plenty of time to walk out to the beach and then head back toward town for some food, libations and entertainment before calling it a night. It was definitely a great trip and I felt that I had a great card on my hands.
When I returned to Chico, I had the challenge of finding the right photo and creating the best possible card. I went through the dozens of photos and picked the two or three that I felt best captured the moment. I generally liked a photo where the snowman was in front of the mountains with the blue sky in the background. However, I ultimately preferred a picture with the snowman in front of the stand of trees because I like how the evergreens contrasted with the white snow and red T-shirt.
Once I picked the photos, it was a matter of picking the right card template. I generally didn’t like the Costco templates because I felt they failed to showcase the actual photo prominently enough. This year, I looked at the Apple iPhotos card templates and found a couple of viable options. I also tried different messages including “A Celebration for All Occasions.”
Thumbnails of possible 2013 cards.
I definitely liked the iPhoto designs better than the Costco ones, but it was tricky to adapt a template set for one perspective to Costco’s 6 inches by 7.5 inches. I also wanted to feature as much of the photo as possible and the iPhoto templates generally didn’t do that … except for one.
I ultimately went with a simple green banner across the bottom featuring the message “May Every Occasion Call For Celebration.” It was easiest to adapt for the Costco print sizes and definitely put the picture front and center.
The 2013 Christmas Card — “May Every Occasion Call For Celebration.”
Ultimately, this was one of the most fun Christmas cards to make. It’s probably the best and most beautiful card I’ve created too, although I would definitely try to keep the standard high in the years to come.
By the numbers:
278 — miles traveled for the 2013 card (83 miles to Quincy for the initial failed attempt and 195 miles via bus to South Lake Tahoe).
11 — Days before Christmas when I did principal photography.
127 — Principal photos for the card (out of 211 pictures shot during my two trips).
I’ve gone into my 2012 card before. This was probably the hardest year for me to come up with a concept and the execution isn’t the best — especially because it’s so hard to see what the image is supposed to be.
This year marked another departure from my core concept of the Christmas card. Instead of featuring either Chico, Northern California or myself, the card features a conceptual snow angel rendered as confetti on the floor of my workplace at the ChicoER.
I appreciated the help from my friend Evan, but overall this card could’ve used a bit more polish. Unfortunately, this card was photographed on Dec. 21 — one of the latest cards I’ve shot. I remember trying to get the cards printed in San Diego, but they would’ve taken too long to print. As it was, they went out after Christmas.
I again used a Costco template and so I only have a picture of the card to go off of. The inscription was a bit more poetic than usual —
Although there’s no snow, you can make a snow angel in a hot town like Chico!
On a positive note, this was the first Christmas card shot with my sister’s Canon PowerShot camera. It has better resolution and a more powerful optical zoom than the old Sony I was using (and the screen still worked, which was something I couldn’t say for the Sony at the end).
In any case, there’s more to the story here (including my original inspiration from a live-band karaoke show in Oroville).
By the numbers:
4 — Days before Christmas when I shot the primary photos.
5.3 — Miles traveled to shoot the card (at work). Also, these mileage totals are one-way — I don’t want to inflate my numbers.
18 — Photos taken for the 2012 card (that number’s about to get _a lot_ bigger for the 2013 card).