Saturday, March 25, 2023

A Few of My Favorite Photos

Our unusually wet California spring has kept me indoors much more than I'd like. One long rainy afternoon, while scrolling through my decades-old Google Photos collection, I noticed how many of these nearly-forgotten pictures made me smile or simply pause and think about what they meant to me when I first snapped them and stashed them away. So, before I lose them again in my little corner of the Google cloud, I decided to share some of them with you. I hope you enjoy them.

Backyard Wonders 

My wife is what some might call a master gardener and landscape designer. She's transformed the boring slab of grass that was once our backyard into an ever-changing collection of hardscape elements, decorative plants and produce-yielding greenery. As you can imagine, it's a great place to have our morning coffee! And I've learned to keep a camera handy to capture the various blooms and birds and bugs that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Here are some of my favorite morning-coffee photos.

This dragon fly landed on the bloom of an aloe cactus and just froze there, allowing me to take my time shooting several pics. This is the best and shows the creature's amazing, fragile detail.

One chilly morning I discovered this ordinary garden sage transformed by the heavy dew. What looks like extra fuzzy leaf texture isn't real. It's actually zillions of dew drops!

This perspective-challenging image consists of a juicy, ripe kumquat in the foreground, a fully-loaded naval orange tree far behind it and a 10-feet tall pencil cactus (milk bush plant) in the back left, behind the bird bath. The receding orange colors caught my eye.

Speaking of oranges... When I was a kid, I loved to crawl under the Christmas tree and watch the lights and colors from the ornaments bounce all around the inside of the tree. It was magical. The morning light bouncing around the inside of our fully-loaded naval orange tree often has the same magical appeal as those Christmas tree crawls. So... I crawled inside and took this photo.

This is an extreme close-up of our bougainvillea's long-lasting colored bracts (modified leaves) and one of its short-lived, tiny white flowers. Most people see these plants as giant bushes heaped with color. The bracts come in red, purple, pink, white and all sorts of hybrid shades. But those tiny flowers are always white and frequently overlooked. So I hereby feature one!

Sometimes the early morning sun sneaks up behind a bloom and showcases its overall form and delicate veins. Such was the case with these backlit beauties. Left: red vriesea bromeliad. Right: red canna lilly.

Nature Pushes Back

(Above) Our nearby wetlands often look like this from late February through May. These "daisies" are found on bushes that can grow up to 7 or 8 feet tall. Rabbits and foxes are in there, as well as blue herons and egrets. That "private property" sign and border fence don't mean much to these hardy flowers. They will pretty much go wherever they please!

This stop sign is at an intersection along our local bike path. The landscaping crew who maintain the path have worked hard to cut back a bougainvillea bush growing at its base. The bougainvillea had other ideas. This stealthy and determined plant managed to snake its way up through the hollow sign post and burst out the top.

This is what's left of a breakwater near a local beach. It's about 15 feet tall and formerly was a wall of solid steel with rocks piled on both sides and a big wooden beam on top. Such breakwaters are set up perpendicular to the ocean to help prevent beach erosion. I've been watching this one deteriorate for several years now. Once a mighty man-made wall, it's now almost completely gone. The tide pool rocks at its base are covered with barnacles, mussels, crabs and a starfish or two hidden deep in crevices. The ocean will soon reclaim this spot entirely.


The photo above is an accident. My intent was to sneak up on a large flock of grounded seagulls and capture them clumped together watching the waves. As I knelt and focused and held my breath to click my picture a rowdy dog came from out of nowhere, startling them into mass flight. At first I was angry at the dog. But when I saw the results, I realized that this was one of my best photo accidents ever!

This pair of mallards and their reflection creates an amazing visual symmetry. Like so many photos of members of the bird family, they are as much about form and composition as they are about the content of the image.

A young heron resting between meals.

I'm often struck by how casually birds seem to intermingle. Here a heron and a pair of egrets hang out together watching ducks and coots. No segregation here!

This is one of several burrowing owls that live in the dunes along the bike path near the ocean. These guys seem to enjoy watching bikers passing by. I guess they're confident of their ability to fly away if bothered. 


Okay, a confession... I have a mild obsession with pelicans. And I have taken way too many pictures of them to show here. But if you'd like to see some of them, check out this video and this pelican-philosophizing article: A Lesson from the Humble Pelican: Find Your Unique Mission, Then Soar! 

And finally... another kind of "bird." I walked past this soaring bird of paradise that appeared to be trying to escape the confines of its yard. There's something dramatic about this bright flower on a pure blue field of sky.


Below are some favorites that I couldn't fit into any particular category. 

That's me (left) walking in the Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert at over 16,500 fee elevation in the Andes. I was in South America to teach a PM Basics workshop for some of the ALMA team based in Santiago, Chile. [ALMA stands for Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array — In other words, it’s an array (collection) of radio telescopes (66, to be exact!) that was under construction in the Atacama desert.] My client/scientist host (right) decided to take me to the "high site" before the workshop to provide some perspective on this crystal-clear sky-viewing location which hadn't had any measurable rainfall in over 400 years! We visited this spot at sunset to hear the rocks and sand creak and crackle as the cold of night fell upon them. It was amazing!

This man is an artist in Santiago, Chile enduring an outdoor market where he is trying to sell his creations. He personifies the problem many artists face: It's much more interesting to create art than it is to try to sell it!  

The sun ducks behind a palm tree at a secluded local beach. At moments like this the Pacific ocean can feel like it's on the edge of the earth.

An overcast day at the beach can be more interesting visually than a sunny day. Such lighting highlights the steely grays and blues and shiny reflections on the rocks. 

Here are a couple of shots of the "superbloom" near Lake Elsinore, CA in March of 2019 following an unusual wet rainy season. Miles and miles of poppies blanket the mountain slopes and hillsides.

Amaryllis flowers everywhere! We lit a backyard fire in honor of our own amaryllis superbloom!

A couple of amaryllis close-ups showcase their bee-tempting stamens & pistils.

Just a small sample of the many, many flowers my wife keeps going in our colorful back yard.  Here are (top left) our short-lived clivia, (top right & bottom left) our ever-blooming canna and (bottom right) our red bottle brush tree blooms. 

A California scrub jay gets rowdy in our bird bath. 

Speaking of rowdy... This goose (?) at a local park protests... something or other!

The essence of sunbathing!

Our local bike path, daisy-lined in Spring, shoots arrow-straight toward the ocean.

Another warm CA day ends with gold and red tones at sunset. (This photo was shot and saved "clean," with no color sweetening or post processing whatsoever.) I could "feel" those incredible warm colors as I rode my bike home through the balmy ocean breezes.

======== Related =======

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Smart speaker not useful? Give it more smart things to control!

Your smart speaker can control LOTS of stuff!


This article is meant to help you get the most out of your smart speaker and begin setting up your smart home. It's a deep dive into what I've learned first-hand by setting up and managing our own smart home devices. The main sections include: 
  • Is your smart speaker simply a brain without a body? 
  • Real Life Examples: A Typical Day in Our Smart Home
  • Summary of Our Smart Home Components
  • Getting Started with Your First Smart Room
  • Types of Devices That Seem to Work Well & Some That Don't 
  • The Smart Home Brands We Use and Recommend
  • Conclusion

Is your smart speaker simply a brain without a body? 

Anybody who's seen Star Trek knows that a star ship's crew lives in a kind of sentient cocoon, surrounded by smart devices that are coordinated by a central brain that's always ready to assist. Merely speak the wake word "Computer..." then make a request and that request is fulfilled.

Contrast this with that solitary smart speaker that your Uncle Billy bought, plopped in the corner of his living room and ignores except to ask it for the weather and set timers. He says he's not sure why he bought it and would certainly not waste money on another one. 

Here's the thing. Uncle Billy is simply not thinking big enough! The omnipresent "Computer" on that starship is connected to a navigation system, lighting and heating controls and all manner of devices which can deliver everything from "Tea ... Earl Grey, hot" to a multimedia, multi-sensory experience on the holodeck. Without these linked devices, that computer is just a disembodied voice. It might be an amusing conversation partner, but not truly useful in getting things done in the physical world.

And so it is with that smart home speaker. It needs a family of linked devices to live up to its full potential. And that family of devices can be easily matched to Uncle Billy's unique needs. Smart plugs, smart bulbs, smart cameras and media gear are all out there waiting to be brought home and connected. And they don't cost that much! 

Real Life Examples: A Typical Day in Our Smart Home 

I really like our smart home! It may not be the most sophisticated, but it just works. It consists of Google Home/Nest speakers, a bunch of smart electric plugs that switch ordinary "dumb" devices on/off, some smart light bulbs, a few security cameras and some smart media equipment. 

Note: We own a couple of Amazon Echo devices but have found them to be much less useful and dependable than our Google devices. So the interactions described here all take place within our Google Home/Nest ecosystem. All eight of these are strategically positioned so we can talk to them anywhere we happen to be in our house, garage, patio or back yard.

So what does all this stuff do for us? Here's a typical day in our relatively "smart" home. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Inside the Black Box: Thoughts on Judgement, Intuition, Synthesis & Artificial Intelligence

Your Inner "Wisdom Filter" & Decision-Making

[Note: This article was inspired by a comment from a Facebook friend, one of the smartest people I know, after I posted a link to a news article about the potential for AI systems to attain singularity with humanity very soon. She said, "... as a writer and artist, I am not convinced that the divine spirit that informs great writers and artists can be replicated by computers." This comment poked at me for days, irritating and causing me to abandon the half-written article I had been working on. There is an old saying that sometimes writers write to figure out what they are actually thinking. Below is my response to my friend's comment, in which I have begun to figure out what I think about AI's place in our world. - MG]

Why You Can "Trust Your Gut" 

A few years back, when I was teaching project management (PM) for new project managers, I encouraged them to overcome their decision-making doubts and "analysis paralysis" by showing them a graphical depiction of why their so-called "gut decisions" or intuitions were actually grounded in their many valuable life experiences. (See diagram above.) I later captured the matching narrative in a podcast then an essay which became the chapter Why You Should Trust Your Judgement (Your "Inner Wisdom" Filter) in my book Worth Sharing: Essays & Tools to Help Project Managers & Their Teams.  

Here's a quick summary: 

"... Your intuitions, “gut feelings,” and hunches are derived from, and ultimately grounded in, your unique life experiences, both good and bad. And because of this, they have behind them the solid proof of your reality. To illustrate how all these experiences come together to generate solid, trustworthy judgments, I present to you the analogy of the common kitchen strainer... Your inner voice (i.e., your judgment) operates pretty much like that kitchen strainer! Let’s say you have to make a difficult decision and don’t have time to think about it. All sorts of possibilities and pertinent facts and constraints and outcomes rattle around in your brain. Your “internal strainer” is activated to deal with this. The wires in your strainer are made up of a vast set of unique experiences that you’ve acquired over your lifetime. Successes, failures, joys, miseries, and all sorts of life events combine to form this internal screening mechanism.... when all the possible solutions and issues related to a problem are dumped into that strainer, the good stuff — a unique and powerful judgment — emerges. It’s a judgment that’s automatically informed by all of your life experiences. And, as such, it’s powerful and trustworthy!" -  from Why You Should Trust Your Judgement (Your "Inner Wisdom" Filter)