2021 Year in Review

The other day I imported a new batch of photos into Lightroom. I keep my photos organized into folders with the date and a rough description of the subject matter in the folder name. While I was waiting on the import to finish I had a glance at the other folder names in 2021 and realized: damn…it has been a full year!

This also, for good or sad, illustrates one of the many reasons I photograph so much: to remember what the hell I have done in my life. Otherwise I forget half, and the other half gets lost in a blur of time. I can’t even blame it on “pandemic time”…I think without the structure and ritual of a more normal life – a 9-5 job, the importance of holidays accentuated by being precious time off, family, etc. – the self-un-employed freelance existence has blurred memories for years now.

At least I can look back at my photos and remember: oh yeah, I did that.

So, based on my Lightroom photo archive folder names, here’s what I was up to in 2021, apparently:

January

  • Drove from Minnesota to Arizona, Caught snippets of the January 6th BS whenever we had radio / cell phone reception in western Nebraska / eastern Colorado.
  • Ordered the 3D printer I’d been researching and learning about. Started tinkering around on Tinkercad, re-learning how to make rudimentary 3D models.
  • Got the printer, got it assembled pretty easily, and within a few hours made my first successful 3D print.
My first print was an owl, for my wife: figured if I made something she liked it would help her acceptance of my new toy tool.
  • Much of the rest of January was basically: wake up, warm up 3D printer, make coffee, print stuff, design stuff to print, print it, eat at some point, then finally shut it down and go to bed. Wake up, repeat. I think, in hindsight, that probably 75% of what I printed that first month were parts for the printer itself, which as one friend astutely pointed out: “you wouldn’t have had to print those if you didn’t have the printer”…whatever, it’s just fun, and I’m finally making physical things, again, in my own little apartment office.
My Ender 3 V2 3D printer: anything you see that is green is a part I printed with the machine for the machine.

February

  • Joined a group for a trip around and down to the north rim of the Grand Canyon at Whitmore Point, which is the farthest west, and one of the more remote places I’ve been on the Canyon. From there we drove across to Toroweap, which was awesome as always.
  • Then, around the campfire one night, Shane and I were – independently and unbeknownst to each other – looking at our maps. When the discussion turned to “what are we doing tomorrow” both Shane and I said “there’s this spot on the rim that looks…interesting“. Shane and I had seen the same spot on our maps, and we really wanted to check it out. Couldn’t really say why, other than “it was on the rim” and “we hadn’t been there yet”. Turns out we were the only ones interested undoing that, so the two of us said our goodbyes and headed out. We were right, it was awesome. :-)
  • Looked out the window one day to see our street blocked off, five lanes full of parked police cars, SWAT teams, autonomous rovers and drones, snipers, etc. Turns out there was a domestic hostage situation in our complex. Weird few hours.
  • I got a speeding ticket for going 26 in a 35 zone. :-| We’re not going to talk about that though.
  • I think I broke a toe – caught a ridge on the drone’s hardshell case with my pinky toe. What to do? 3D print a splint, of course!
It actually seemed to help, especially as it kept me from banging my toe into things again.

March

  • Grand Tintype Adventure of 2021: I spent two weeks exploring Utah, trying to focus on the areas that I had previously just driven past and thought “I need to explore that some day”. Today was the day.
    • Filled in some of the blanks in the triangle of land going down to Halls Crossing.
    • Revisited the badlands outside of Capitol Reef National Park.
    • Filled in gaps in my explorations all around Factory Butte.
    • Checked out the northern portion of the San Rafael Swell.
  • Got contacted by a band that wants to use one of my photographs for their album art! Woooohoo!

April

  • Helped Kari buy a new-to-her car. Welcome to the fam, “Hazel” the Honda!
  • Had to have the windshield in my truck replaced, again. F*#@ing roads in Phoenix, people with their unsecured loads, gravel trucks, etc.
  • Made a short Happy Birthday video for a friend. With the drone, of course.
  • Got vaccinated!!! Wooooooo!

May

  • Celebrated having the second vaccine dose kick in by eating in the same restaurant we had our Last Meal in March, 2020, before the SHTF.
  • More 3D printing. This can just be assumed to be going on in the background any time I’m home in 2021.
  • Got hired for a paid drone gig. Problem: I can’t legally do that. Solution: study for, take, and pass the FAA exam for my Part 107 commercial drone pilot license!
  • Received my temporary license the same day I started my first paid drone videographer gig: working on a cool documentary about land and fire management in the boot heel of southern New Mexico.

June

  • More 3D printing: this time, a few design iterations on a recessed lens board for my 65mm wide angle 4×5 camera lens. My deepest OEM board isn’t recessed enough to allow for focus at infinity. My current board, one that I made back at with Techshop’s water jet, gets the job done, but as much of it is made from a solid block of aluminum, it’s kinda heavy. Also, with the lens perfectly centered, it’s really hard to get a cable release screwed into the shutter. The beauty of DIY and CNC files is that I can make something, use it, tweak whatever might not be ideal, and make it again.
  • Spent about two weeks housesitting for relatives-in-law, but really it was “cat sitting” for their 16-plus-year-old Reenah.
  • Helped my friend Shane with some of his gallery and home improvement projects up in Flagstaff. The work lasted about 90 minutes before they got a warning to prepare to evacuate due to the Rafael Fire burning southwest of the city, and we spent most of the next few days packing, documenting valuables, etc., while ash fell from the sky like snow. In the end the warning was probably a goof, and the fire didn’t directly threaten their home, but it was a tense few days.
  • 3D Printed a rack to hold my can of peanuts in the truck.

July

  • In-laws in town from Minnesota to visit great-grand-baby in Prescott.
  • Installed a rearview camera and dash cam in the truck, 3D printed a mounting bracket for it.
  • More work for Shane in Flagstaff, this time with 100% less wildfire threat.
  • More work on my truck, too. It’s easier to work on up at Shane’s: not as hot, I can leave tools laying about if I have to go to the bathroom, and people randomly bring me beers!
  • Camped a couple nights along the edge of the Mogollon Rim, which is always nice.

August

  • Redesigned more of the shelving in my truck. I’d been using my first design for a couple of years, and between things I wanted to change, and new things I’d learned about (such as aluminum extrusion t-slot construction) I wanted to redo it all.
  • Somebody tried to steal my catalytic converters. Must have gotten scared off, but not before causing about $60 in damage. I’d been reading about this, and figured it was only a matter of time, but I couldn’t find a good / cheap solution for my old truck. The guy that fixed the damage, however, had a reasonable solution, so I paid him $200 to weld some steel grate over them. Edit from December: it has worked great so far!

  • Started what turned into a pretty epic road trip:
    • Headed into Arizona’s White Mountains via a route I hadn’t been on yet. Driving through Morenci is a trip! But on the way, did some (paid!) drone video work documenting the Telegraph Fire burn scar, and some of the Bear Wallow Fire from 2010.
    • Spent several days in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico, flying my drone for a documentary film on the Medio Fire and the folks who were involved in the land and fire management related to that.
    • Headed up into Colorado to push my mental limits a little. Drove up Cinnamon Pass (not actually hard after all) and hiked up Handies Peak, which while the easiest of the 14ers, still kicked my ass a bit.
    • Drove through ever-thickening wildfire smoke all through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Oregon to my friend / client in Bend.
    • Worked on some website design and marketing stuff for Imprint Revolution while visiting with my friend and his new puppy.
    • From Bend I bent my way up and down through eastern Oregon. Cruised through the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Saw a few birds, and thankfully zero Bundys. Drove up the surprisingly grand Steens Mountain. I think there was an amazing view, but all I could see was smoke.
    • On the last-minute advice of a friend, I found and headed on into the cute little Alvord Desert, a usually dry and (nearly) perfectly flat lakebed. I had already heard of it and planned to check it out, but my buddy said “nah man, you can actually drive out onto it! Camp on it! Do it! It’s GREAT!” and friends: it was.
    • Stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats on the advice from that same friend: “Yeah, you can just drive out on it! It’s free!” and yes, it was also awesome. It was not, however, “free”, since I spent probably $25 over the coming weeks trying to wash all the salt off the bottom of my truck. Worth it, though!

September

  • 3D printed some more stuff: landing gear for my drone, to maybe keep it up out of the desert dust and sand, some knobs (with knurled nuts melted into them) to hold my recovery boards on my roof rack, version 2.0 of the peanut rack, others.
  • Sold the WV cabin that has been in the family since 1955. :-(
  • More work at Shane’s.
  • Another road trip: this time with my cousin Matt through western Colorado and northern Utah:
    • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
    • The Rimrocker Trail from Montrose to Moab
    • Explored the northern reaches of the San Rafael Swell
    • Blasted back across Utah to check out Dinosaur National Monument

October

  • After starting to ruin another set of new tires due to bad alignment, I finally bit the bullet and replaced the entire suspension on the truck: new SPC upper control arms, OEM lower control arms and lower ball joints, and new ICON shocks up front, and re-arched and augmented leaf packs in the rear. (Between paying for gas for the road trips in August and September, and this suspension job, there went all the earnings from the actual work I’ve been doing…)
  • So… back to working at Shane’s. Hauling tons of gravel in wheelbarrows and 77-ound retaining wall blocks is at least some exercise, too.

November

  • Worked on a third wildfire documentary film, this time flying my drone around the Bush Fire area northeast of Phoenix.
  • Finally had a good idea for a gift for Kari for her birthday: got two of our friends together and had a private glassblowing workshop. It was awesome, except now in addition to everything else I also want a glass forge.
  • Got boosted! Then found out that Omicron don’t care.
  • Finally got to spend Thanksgiving Camping with Klett in the Arizona desert. I made a circuit sculpture thingy for Mark’s Sunrise Stick game: meet Albert, the Desert Sprite.

December

  • Made an actual sculpture for Shane to commemorate all the work he’s been doing on his house. I’d been saving interesting things from going into the trash: a piece of concrete from an earlier project that I had jackhammered loose, which had both a nice flat bottom and Shane’s initials in it, a piece of rebar, and a piece of 4×4 scrap that Shane used for doing math, in lieu of paper.
  • 3D printed some little Christmas ornaments, of course. (I, and probably everyone else in the family, knew that would happen when I bought the printer nearly 12 months earlier.)
  • Finally started work in earnest on an art project I’ve been daydreaming about for five or six years. I need a project to do while I’m with family over the holidays, and it’s nice to be able to focus on that instead of whatever passes for “the routine” at home. To get this thing going I have to learn a lot more about:
    • Raspberry Pi
    • Linux
    • Python (“learn more about” means “learn it at all” in this case)
    • sensors, data logging
    • gravity, acceleration, “g forces”, impact shock
    • GPS sentences
    • sound pressure waves
    • Sea Level Pressure
    • battery technologies, device power consumption
    • creative data representation
  • More on this project later, though! :-)
  • Oh yeah, survived COVID-19…so far at least.

Summary

Computers / Platforms / Languages “learned” or improved

(In quotes because let’s face it, 90% of my coding skills can be reduced to “copy / paste”.)

  • Merlin (3D printer code)
  • Python
  • C++
  • Linux
  • WordPress, assorted plugins, third-party integrations
  • Inksoft (online screen printing marketing and sales platform)
  • Octoprint (system for running 3D printer)

General Skills

  • 3D design
  • 3D printing
  • Materials sciences: 3D printing materials
  • Retaining wall construction, jackhammers, augers, concrete, etc.
  • Documentary film production
  • Glassblowing

Events

  • Climbed 14er in Colorado.
  • Passed FAA pilot’s exam.
  • Contributed to actual documentary film productions.

Places visited

  • Utah
  • New Mexico
  • Colorado
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Idaho
  • Minnesota