Alaska Robotics

Archive for the ‘Essay’ Category

U.S. Forest Service Photography Rules

Thursday, September 25th 2014 by Pat

EDIT 9/26/2014 – I’m not going to delete my original post but my thoughts on this have evolved quite a bit in the past 24 hours. The short version is that the rules aren’t quite as draconian as news sources reported. A tidy summary of the rules available at

smokey bearThere was a sensational headline in our newspaper today related to a U.S. Forest Service proposal which could create more strict permitting for photographers. As a filmmaker and occasional photographer who lives in the Tongass, a 17 million acre temperate rain forest, this would have an effect on me and many of my friends.

The article makes it seem like the Forest Service is coming after anyone snapping selfies with a tree in the background but the reality is that this will only impact commercial photographers. The problem I see is that many talented artists make a living from their work and it’s often quite meager. To lump in Mark Kelly with Indiana Jones (some scenes were shot at Yosemite!) is an appropriate compliment but wholly unfair in a commercial context.

Here is the public comment I sent to the Forest Service:

Hi, I’m a filmmaker from Southeast, Alaska and I ask that you rethink your rule on commercial photography.

I run a small studio, I work on small projects and I worry that you are about to create a situation where small studios and independent producers will not be able to participate while those with deep pockets and vast budgets will roam free. I fear they will be the only ones who can afford to capture images of our shared wilderness under this proposal.

Ansel Adams was a commercial photographer whose work you should know well. He loved nature and made a living by sharing the images he captured. You probably also know that without his photographs, we would probably not count Yosemite Valley among our parks. It was his commercial photography and heartfelt advocacy that was key to the expansion of our parks system.

I insist that you do not create a rule that will be a barrier to true artists whose work may be of a commercial nature but ultimately aligns with the ideals of our National Park system. Do not create barriers to photographers who seek to document and share the beauty of nature.

While we’re talking about artists whose work is of a commercial nature, why should visual artists be singled out? Why does this fee not apply to the many poets and writers who draw their inspiration and make their living from within our national parks? I hope that is a question that you can answer before you move forward with your process. If it is a matter of impact then charge fees based on relative impact to all users of the parks. A single commercial photographer observing the rules of a park does no more damage than a single hiker.

I will of course understand if you decide to create a special level of permitting hell for projects related to commercial advertisements and reality television.

All my best,
Pat Race
Juneau, AK

Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, claims that these regulations are required to implement The Wilderness Act of 1964. I think that’s a bit flimsy. In reading the document, it appears to me that commercial photography must be banned altogether or recognized, as it already is, as a proper recreational activity.

Commercial guides are allowed to help people find their way through the wilderness. Commercial photographers and artists help us to see, understand and appreciate these places from other important perspectives.

EDIT – Greg points out that I’m referring to the Park Service and the Forest Service interchangeably here and I shouldn’t. I hope my point comes through regardless, we need to protect small scale commercial use.

And to further lay bare my ignorance, a soothing walk through the issue by Carl Johnson complete with those decimal point number things that make me fall asleep.

I am Emily White… well… not literally.

Thursday, June 21st 2012 by Pat

Kaboom! Big explosions going off in the world of music today. Maybe you read up on it already but I’ll break down some of the key posts..

Emily, an intern at NPR, wrote a frank article about the way her generation listens to music. Mostly, they don’t pay for it. Surprise.

David, of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, wrote a scathing response directed at Emily and her peers.

The thing is, I kind of want to support Emily here. I don’t know. She seems ok.

And maybe it’s because, in a way.. I am Emily.

I was a Computer Science major in college and I had access to things. Everythings. My drives were brimming with music and I was able to train myself in several high-end pieces of software I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

I rationalized it of course, I wouldn’t have purchased these things and I wouldn’t have stolen them but cloning them was different, it did no harm.

Maybe I was wrong but I was a kid and kids get it wrong.

Emily for example, I never said she was right, I want to support her because I think she’s just being Emily. She’s offered up a frank assessment of how she consumes music and she’s been throttled with the club of morality. The pent up aggression of a thousand starving musicians is now focused on her like a laser… and hey.. did I mention, she’s a kid?

After college I went through a transition. First, as a business owner I made sure that every piece of software I used was legit. Then, I tried to clean up my music. It was a rocky transition, first to quasi-legal Russian Mp3 outlets and then to harvesting Mp3 files from music review blogs. Then, with one blunder, I accidentally wiped out my giant hard drive full of pirated Mp3s and I decided it was the end of an era.

I think the way people support the arts evolves with age. They get out of college, begin to understand real world economics and start to see that some of their favorite artists are insane people who will keep following their passions regardless of if they’ve been fed.

I think I do a lot more to support the arts these days than I did in college and I don’t know what you all were doing to support the arts at Emily’s age but guys, she’s interning at NPR.

Of course, all of this is bigger than music and the arts as Johnathan Coulton points out. It’s about.. Legos!?!

So.. yeah.. people are going to be printing toys and gadgets instead of buying them. Music is just one of the first bees out of the hive. Just you wait, it’s going to get stingy.

Kickstarter might be something to cling to. Maybe it’s a step towards the “Holding Things for Ransom” business model where an artist pitches an idea, gives a little taste of that idea, then tries to rake in cash up front before creating and releasing it to all the free grubbers.

This public review of proposed projects is fascinating. It actually seems similar to the old model of trying to submit your music to a label except now the label is the audience and maybe you stand a chance of finding your niche.

If you don’t, no one is stopping you and you can still pursue your project without up-front funding. At least you’ll be armed with the knowledge that people didn’t think it was worth supporting.. which is ok.. it isn’t about money and besides, they just don’t get it man.

As my personal economics improve and my abilities to support other artists improve, I try to support them more and more.

Evidence and more evidence and even more evidence.

I don’t think it’s a cultural shift for me, I think it’s more about my age and place in the world.

I’m sure Emily will turn out fine, ease up on her a bit.

Update: More reading from Chris Griffy – The Case for Digital Music


Saturday, June 16th 2012 by Pat

The other night I was thinking about time. It wasn’t my fault, I was peeing and I went into autopilot and all of a sudden a thought popped into my vacant head.

What is time?

I’ve probably thought about that before but now that the internet lives in my phone I decided to follow up, and yes, I washed my hands first.

What is time, Internet? Tell me.

Time is what clocks measure. [#] Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future. [#]

Apparently irreversible. Heh. In going further down the Wikipedia rabbit hole I found out that some very smart people have some very different ideas about time.

One group says time is a dimension we travel through, a theory I’m more familiar with because it’s the basis for most time travel fiction. The other folks, including people like Immanuel Kant and Gottfried Leibniz believe time isn’t anything, it can’t be measured or traveled, it’s more like a sense.

The best I can understand and explain it is that we feel the passage of time in a way that is very similar to the way we feel any other sense. Touch and taste are abilities which allow us to interact and experience the world but they are also concepts with no structure.

You can feel that you are touching something but touch itself is not a thing. You can feel that you are timing something but time itself is not a thing. The idea of moving through time becomes a description of the way we experience that sensation. Sensations are not things.

I like this idea of time as a sense. I immediately wondered if insects have a sense of time. Turns out they probably do. [#]

I read about experiments and temporal distortion and people who study time and then I ran into something fascinating about the way individuals think of time.

Some of us are polychronic and others are monochronic. The link explains it pretty well but the basic idea is that we experience and relate to time differently.

Polychrons are multitaskers, they don’t want detailed schedules and might not do well with deadlines, they aren’t concerned with exact times and dates. Monochrons are punctual, they view time as blocks and see single tasks through to completion before starting another.

It seems to me that pople experiencing time differently could be the root of some much larger issues.

A country like the United States has a mostly monochronic culture while a place like Saudi Arabia is more polychronic. I wonder how much conflict arises from not understanding how another person might experience or perceive time.

Myself, I’m a polychron in a monochronic culture. I always knew I didn’t fit into the work-a-day world but this concept might point to why.

This poly/monochron concept is a life changing revelation for me… Either that or I’ve latched onto a convenient excuse for being easily distracted and missing deadlines.


[Note] – The illustration may look familiar, chronbot was a character I drew many years ago and this is just a re-imagining.

Dick Dale, the Future of Music

Tuesday, June 14th 2011 by Pat

Marian Call is a smart, geeky musician I met in Anchorage and she’s part of a pioneering crowd of independent artist/entrepreneurs who are developing quality, creator-owned content and imaginative, dynamic business models. They’re lashing together raw instinct and bold hope with fiber optic cables, running up colorful flags and setting sail.

Marian sent me some great articles by Jonathan Coulton and Amanda F. Palmer detailing their evolving careers. It’s nice to see these successes and it’s nice to know the same stories also exist outside music, that people are making a living from webcomics and even soap.

All this has happened before, all this will happen again.

The thing is, none of this is new. I think we all know that but it’s exciting to think we’re discovering new land. Yes, to some extent we are, but it’s full of the same poisonous plants, wild animals and punji pits as whatever we just left behind.

Wm. Spear Design is headquartered upstairs from our office and carries a world class collection of enamel pins. Bill got started designing his pins well before I had a dial-up connection and his business model is similar to any Etsy success story: Create something wonderful and sell it to people who love your brand of wonderful.

It’s nothing new, it’s small business, but even Bill has made adjustments over the years. He was an early adopter of technology in the form of an online catalog, he had me make a little QuickTime movie starring some of his pins, and he even developed a widget when those were the rage. He’s flexible and smart and willing to experiment, it keeps him afloat.

Getting back to music, Dick Dale is probably my favorite case study, he offers up some great advice here for aspiring musicians and not a word about the Internet but it might as well be coming from JoCo.

So who the hell is Dick Dale? He’s the king of the surf guitar, probably best known for his song, “Miserlou,” featured in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” He melts through guitar picks and is still kicking ass in his seventies. [Edit – The Ed Sullivan clip I previously embedded got pulled, so here’s something more recent as an example of his work.]

Unfortunate Elephants

The Internet is changing the world! As hopeful artists like myself delight and established businesses struggle to cope and we all flail around trying to understand what direction we’re heading, Barry Dallman points to the elephant sitting politely in the corner, “The reality in the music business now is the same as it’s always been – that most people don’t have successful careers in music because they’re not good enough.”

Amanda Palmer hits on another problem, artists asking for money, “People don’t like it.” Historically there’s been a layer of protection between artists and their income, the label or the manager take care of that part. People don’t like an artist looking for a handout, it tarnishes the experience. It’s uncomfortable, like a smelly hobo asking for change.

Palmer provides the solution in a very straightforward, A.F.P. way, “It’s time to destroy the myth that artists shouldn’t ask for money.”

Me Me Me Me and Meeeee!

So what does this all mean for me? I don’t really know, I’m working through it. I think it’s a little different for aimless filmmaker/cartoonist types than for musicians.

Aaron, Lou and I already tried firing all our clients and making a go of Alaska Robotics full-time but it didn’t last long.

If we were a band, we would have been the guys who had no bookings before we jumped in the van to tour. We had trouble meeting self-imposed deadlines. We had trouble producing work on a regular basis. We had trouble finding food. We had trouble building an audience. We had fun.

Lately we’ve been doing a lot of work-for-hire, still very independent and still succeeding as a business, but not doing exactly what I want as frequently as I want. This is where a little voice jumps in (I suspect it’s my mother) and she tells me that it’s selfish to expect to be able to do what I want all the time and get paid for it.

Yeah. OK. I can understand the sentiment but I’m pursuing a calling that isn’t hurting people and fits neatly into a social context. I’ve always been encouraged to follow my dreams by people I love and trust and even if there’s a little voice (maybe it’s not my mother) trying to convince me my pursuits are selfish or vain or futile, I’m here, typing, drawing, dancing, and doing whatever needs to be done to get there.

That brings me around to the final little piece of the puzzle.


This is a note for me. If you’ve read this far through my meandering, metaphor-laden post, you won’t have any trouble with perseverance.

Keep going. You can learn talent. You can learn business. It’s ok if you can’t build your boat while you’re underway. It’s ok to pull over and regroup after a storm.

Patch the holes, mend the sails and get back in the water.


Tuesday, May 4th 2010 by Pat

Update: I posted this essay a while back but deleted it because I thought it was too meandering and boring. I got a few positive emails from the people who caught it on the RSS feed (including my naked friend!) so I decided to resurrect the post. I added a sketch of a flying whale-fish for anyone who, like me, feels a little better about large blocks of text when they are accompanied by such creatures.

I went to dinner with a group from Oceana last night. My girlfriend and cousin work there so I slipped in as a guest. I should clarify, my cousin and girlfriend are two separate people. Just didn’t want any confusion. Moving on.

We dove into conversation about oil spills, war, human nature, tea parties and shrimping. The nice thing about a massive oil spill is that it launches some great conversations, the kind of conversations that almost always end up in the realm of overwhelming questions that can’t be answered seriously. I had a friend who always ended these kind of conversations by stripping off her clothes and going to live in the woods. I haven’t heard from her in a while but she’s smart so she probably figured out how to make fire and hunt and then eventually built a little house and started the whole industrial revolution over again from scratch. Human nature.


Running in the Shower

Friday, February 20th 2009 by Pat

dinoMy friend Heidi recently asked “..when and where and what activity are you doing when you come up with your best ideas?”

  • The shower
  • Late late late at night
  • Walking or running
  • Right before falling asleep

My own answers aren’t different from many of the others I’ve heard but it got me thinking more about the creative process. These activities are all repetitive or relaxing tasks that give me room to disengage mentally and just allow ideas to unravel. It’s like watching clouds float across the sky and I can just pick through the fluff of my brain looking for new shapes and ideas.

There is one other time I find myself incredibly creative and it’s in direct contrast to the lazy, thoughtful bliss of daydreaming. Sometimes the most direct route to creativity is pressure. Deadlines, promises, and the threat of failure are fantastic motivators. Sarah Elliott summed up this type of creativity best when she said —

“I work best under pressure, in fact, I only work under pressure.”

-Sarah Elliott

I was in a meeting last week and someone mentioned that the idea of the starving artist was ridiculous because artists who are starving are more interested in finding food than in higher, contemplative thought. Aside from the numerous historical examples in direct contradiction, I would argue that the pressure of their situation actually leads them to more creative thought. The discomfort of financial instability pushing them towards creative solutions… like Tristan, a college roommate who learned all the edible plant life on campus and made a habit of grazing on the way to class.

Our current economic crisis creates the same sort of pressure and I didn’t intend to bring this around to any specific point but while I’m here, I think the federal bailouts should have been directed at small businesses, non-profits and individuals.

If we had dumped a trillion dollars into jump starting creative programs with intelligent oversight there would have been billions of dollars in failure but all that money would have been flushed back into the economy and the success stories would have become the next wave of Googles, Fords, and Union Pacifics. It could have created a commercial and cultural renaissance. Instead, we’re digging deep to pay salaries for unsuccessful executives and bailing out failed businesses.

There’s no right way to be creative though, you can frantically write a screenplay under a boiling deadline or you can allow inspiration to settle in as you drift off to sleep. I prescribe a balance of both for less jangled nerves and a modicum of efficiency — forced creativity mixed with time for casual contemplation.

Of course, creativity isn’t productivity. I need to go write.