B is for Brick House Tour

Let's go for a stroll

Hi, welcome back!

One of my habits for clearing my head and trying to relax a bit during this pandemic has been to go for walks around the neighborhood. My neighborhood (Pac Heights) has some really fancy houses in it, which is the main focus of this issue: the gorgeous brick houses that line the streets. The entire neighborhood isn’t brick houses, but highlighting all the brick houses on the street is like a little fun game, I call it my brick house tour.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

But before we get in to appreciate some of these pretty houses, we need to talk about what’s hiding inside of them.

Firstly, there is a nonzero number of pretty heinous people living inside some of these houses. If you want to get upset, watch the now-viral video that James Juanillo, a fellow Pacific Heights resident, recorded. A “Karen” makes it very clear she felt he didn’t belong (no doubt because of his skin color) and didn’t have the right to chalk Black Lives Matter on his own property (because she didn’t even believe it was even his).

Secondly, the houses themselves, and their value, is a huge source of racial inequity and inequality. Black people and other people of color have historically been excluded from owning property at all, thanks to layers of redlining policies. So statistically speaking, the “Karen” might have been right that James didn’t live in the neighborhood (people do call our neighborhood Specific Whites sometimes).

Housing is a human right, but in San Francisco you don’t have to look far to see that we leave a lot of people unhoused. And all across America, even if you do have housing, we don’t protect all houses equally, even in the face of predictable natural disasters like California’s perennial wildfires.

This week’s long read is an except from “Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles And The Imagination Of Disaster” that Mike Davis wrote in 1998, illustrating the supreme lack of compassion and common sense in Los Angeles’s housing policies: essentially throwing money away to protect or rebuild rich people’s homes in dangerous areas, rather than investing in poor people’s housing where it could save more lives. It’s one of those pieces that is eerily relevant 20 years later (and includes an update connecting to the Paradise fires more recently).

If enormous resources have been allocated, quixotically, to fight irresistible forces of nature on the Malibu coast, then scandalously little attention has been paid to the man-made and remediable fire crisis of the inner city.

By declaring Malibu a federal disaster area and offering blaze victims tax relief as well as preferential low-interest loans, the Eisenhower administration established a precedent for the public subsidization of firebelt suburbs.

from “The Case for Letting Malibu Burn” (September 1998)

I’m sure you could write a similar tome about how San Francisco also participates in similarly poor housing policies. Some of the oldest houses in all of San Francisco, the ones that survived the 1906 earthquake, are in Pacific Heights because the neighborhood is on top of bedrock. However, there is much more new housing being constructed along the waterfront: Mission Bay, Hunter’s Point, Bayview, Treasure island. Ignoring the fact that this construction displaces already poor to happen, all those areas are landfill and are much more susceptible to liquefaction when (not if) San Francisco’s next big earthquake hits. It would be much safer to build higher (way higher) in a neighborhood like Pacific Heights, where we already have a small number of high-rise builds. But NIMBY attitudes seem to be prevailing so far.

Ok Just Show Pictures Already

So that’s all some food for thought to keep in mind when looking at these houses. As far as I can tell, they’re all single-family homes, and I’m sure the cheapest one would still sell for something like $4 million.

All the pictures below are from one particular evening walk in March, all along Pacific Ave. There’s not much to add other than I really enjoy this aesthetic. My mom will probably tease me, one of the reasons I made up when I was in high school for why I didn’t like a particular college campus (UVA) that we visited was because “there were too many brick buildings.” But, onward!

March 2020. Pacific Ave. (San Francisco, CA)

I really like the color of the bricks on this house, and all the smooth, rounded concrete in their driveway.

March 2020. Pacific Ave. (San Francisco, CA)

This house really committed to bricks, the walkway, garage, everything is brick.

March 2020. Pacific Ave. (San Francisco, CA)

I like this one overall too, especially the intricate door on the right side.

March 2020. Pacific Ave. (San Francisco, CA)

I don’t know the technical term, but I like that this house spices things up with some brown-colored bricks.

March 2020. Pacific Ave. (San Francisco, CA)

I love the columns over the entryway here, and the railing on the roof probably makes for a really nice deck up there.

March 2020. Pacific Ave. (San Francisco, CA)

The ivy growing on this house is a fun touch!

I had a ton of fun taking these. I tried to get a very square, head-on frame. Then I used the iPhone’s built-in tools to patch the perspective a bit to make them even more. It was a gorgeous evening, probably right about golden hour.

Let’s build a future where everybody can have a safe home to call their own.

XOXO,
Margs

A is for Alcatraz Island

Can you smell what the rock is cooking?

Hi! It’s been a few weeks!

I’d like to welcome you to Season 2 of The Weekly Margs! I thought I was only going to take a week or so gap, but I got out of the habit of planning and posting, and somehow it’s been almost a month. My last issue went out just before the protests for George Floyd became big news, and to post anything but not acknowledge the protests and the general zeitgeist seemed tone deaf to me, so I kind of stewed on it and posted nothing.

I think I’ve found a way to connect, tangentially, so here goes nothing…

A Former Prison

I got the inspiration for this post during an Alcatraz swim I did last week, hence this week’s subject: Alcatraz island, sometimes known as the rock.

Alcatraz has some really interesting history, and most famously as a former federal prison. Thanks to the last month’s worth of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd protests, conversation about abolishing the police has become more mainstream, which is closely related to conversations about abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex. Literally while swimming, I remembered this NYT Magazine profile of Ruth Wilson Gilmore (a longtime prison abolition advocate) that I had read from last year. It had a big part in shaping my current thinking on abolition into what could be summarized as “of course we should abolish prisons.” The whole thing is worth your time, here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite for it:

Prison abolition, as a movement, sounds provocative and absolute, but what it is as a practice requires subtler understanding. For Gilmore, who has been active in the movement for more than 30 years, it’s both a long-term goal and a practical policy program, calling for government investment in jobs, education, housing, health care — all the elements that are required for a productive and violence-free life. Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”

From “Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind” (April 2019)

A Captivating Island

I don’t know if any one thing makes Alcatraz special, it’s got a lot going for it. The rumors of it being an “unescapable” prison? The fact that from land it kind of feels like a focal point of the San Francisco Bay? It makes for some great pictures.

October 2014. Alcatraz Island (San Francisco, CA)

I did my first Alcatraz swim in 2012, but I don’t have a picture from the boat of that swim. That day, we were on a larger ferry, and jumped off the side of the boat opposite the island, so the first time I went “to” the island, I didn’t actually see it. This is a swim a few years later, where we jumped off at Alcatraz Island and swam to Angel Island. A lot of morning swims from the rock aren’t this pretty, it was a very lucky day.

March 2015. Alcatraz Island (San Francisco, CA)

This was from my first and only time actually stepping foot on the island. My parents were in town, so we took a tour. There was a special exhibit called @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. Above is a picture I took of “With Wind,” a large paper dragon made that flowed around the whole room. One of the big draws was “Trace,” a room full of portraits made out of legos laid out on the floor, but somehow I didn’t take any pictures of it (my stomach was upset from a breakfast sandwich I ate that day so I may have been in a rush to get out of there). The lego portraits were special: “176 people from around the world who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs or affiliation” and Ai Weiwei himself had recently been arrested for similar reasons. Coincidentally (ironically?), Ai Weiwei was not allowed to travel outside of China to help set up this particular exhibit, so he drew out plans and over 80 SF volunteers actually assembled the portraits.

May 2018. Fort Mason (San Francisco, CA)

The north side of Fort Mason has this path to walk along with great views of the bay. This picture captures that part of Alcatraz where on a clear day, the island becomes the focal point of the bay. I walk long that path every-so-often, and honestly, I’m surprised that this is one of the only photos of the island I have from this spot.

January 2020. Aquatic Park (San Francisco, CA)

This is another common angle of Alcatraz for me. When I walk to Aquatic Park in the mornings, sometimes you look up and boom—there the island is. This was a particular gorgeous sunrise, and I was trying to capture the entirely of the sunrise instead of focusing on Alcatraz in particular, but it’s there! Somewhere. This was not just me trying to find a fourth picture to round out the issue, definitely not.

Thanks for reading and sticking around! Please do read that NYT Magazine article, I’m going to try to link more good reads in my newsletter issues this season. Again, this particular one is a great one to read, absorb, and share because I think if we really do want to abolish the prison industrial complex, more people need to understand the bigger picture of what that means.

XOXO,
Margs

Season 1 Recap with More Feels

Another Look Back

Hi again, I’m back!

So last week, I had a ton of fun putting together all those charts, but I have more thoughts I wanted to recap and didn’t want to dump it all in one giant email.

Goals

Pretty early on, I knew that I wanted to have a weekly newsletter, which part of how I came to call this the Weekly Margs. As I mentioned in the preamble in my first issue, I was looking to share images that I don’t post to Instagram and experiment outside of that platform. I’d say I mostly hit that goal, I think out of the 123 images from season 1, I’d only shared less than 10 of them on Instagram already.

I think the newsletter as a medium is really good for sharing pictures, because it allows me to share a few at once without feeling like I’m spamming somebody’s feed, and I can write as much as I want to and not worry about being too verbose for social networks like Instagram.

Process

From the first issue, I knew that I was going to run through the alphabet. I like giving myself consistent goals and deadlines, so setting up a predictable cadence was really natural for me.

Coming up with what each theme would be happened a few ways. The first was from the photos to the letter: I would start by skimming through old pictures and a few trends jumped out at me. For example, the blurry ones in A is for Amateur Hour were an obvious trend, but coming up with the title for it was kind of an exercise. It was the same idea for the depth-of-field ones in F is for Focus. My other process was starting with a letter or word and finding pictures that clearly matched, such as with L is for Lighthouse. I knew I wanted to do pictures of lighthouses for an issue, I just had to wait for that letter’s week to happen.

I kept these ideas in my head until I had trouble tracking which weeks were which. Eventually I started a note in the Notes app to brainstorm the various letters of the alphabet:

I spent a lot of time skimming the dictionary to find words that popped out, so I’d write those down. I’m glad that early on I used multiple-word phrases, it was really freeing to not be stuck to a single word.

When I wanted to include a photo of somebody, for the most part I checked with them ahead of time to get an OK. Probably like 25% of the photos, mostly wedding ones, I knew that folks would be fine with it, but I know that people really appreciated being checked in with.

Tools

Substack

When I envisioned making my newsletter, I had dreams of building the tooling from scratch, so that I could control how the images got compressed and presented, and make sure not to include any tracking info. That is a ton of work (especially rich HTML email styling) so I ended up just using Substack so I could focus on writing newsletters, not code. I really like that Substack has an easy online editor that saves drafts, so I can even tweak drafts from my phone.

However, Substack does have some really heavy tracking that I don’t enjoy. In addition to read receipts via tracking pixels, every single link in each email is tracked so it even tells me who has clicked on what links, and how many times. One the one hand, it’s neat tech, added transparently to me as the author, but it’s really much more invasive that I want and I can’t turn it off. Substack is a VC-funded app, and it’s free to use, so this is unfortunately par for the industry right now.

Substack does allow folks to “like” posts and some other social features, and I turned them off because I think they’re gimmicky.

In the time since I’ve started my newsletter, I’ve been more proactive about subscribing to others’ newsletters too. I even signed up for a paid subscription of Normcore Tech since I enjoy it so much. (btw I have zero intent of monetizing this newsletter, it’s a personal creative outlet for me). After I created my newsletter, I feel like I’ve seen a lot more folks start writing on Substack, it’s been really nice. I’m not saying I was a trendsetter but most of these people started writing after I did so, I’m basically a trendsetter. One thing I really like about the newsletter format is that I can use my same inbox management and read-it-later workflows that I already have and there’s no worry about a particular person’s post being lost in a social app’s stream with a custom algorithm order that is hard to find later.

Photos App

I keep all my photos in the Photos app on my Mac. I knew that most of my “good,” more deliberate pictures would be from film or my Leica Q, so I set up Smart Albums for each of those so I could jump through them easier. In general I do pretty minimal editing of my pictures, mostly just minor crops and rotations, so I didn’t really feel limited by the Photos app. I really only felt limited by the tooling for one photo in Z is for Zach’s Choice, where I asked Meghan if I could include it and she wanted me to change how part of her face was exposed. Photos app doesn’t have any masking or dodging/burning, so I had to ask her to edit that one the way she wanted and then send it to me.

Feedback

Like I mentioned, I disabled Substack’s minimal social features. If people reply to the emails, Substack will forward those to me, and other folks would just text me or email me separately if they had something to say about a particular issue. The feedback was really great and I’ve definitely gotten in the habit of checking my emails more closely on Wednesdays as a result.

I think like with any project, there’s a difference how much I liked an issue compared with the response it elicited in other people, experiencing that was kind of fun. The T is for This Week was a “meh” issue for me, but it got stronger reactions from readers than I expected. Underneath the photo of my maps, I write about where I bought them, and one friend’s reaction was “where did you get those maps?” which was a reminder that people really don’t read. I’m totally guilty of not reading in other circumstances, but it was really funny to sass this friend when replying.


I know I say this like basically every week, but thanks for reading this far. I know this issue was basically a wall of text and I promised more pretty pictures.

Next up is season 2 of my newsletter! I think I may take a week between seasons just to breathe, but honestly I haven’t decided yet.

See you next time!

XOXO,
Margs

Season 1 Recap with Stats and Charts

Look back at it

Hi!

I’ve decided to call my first run of this newsletter, the previous 26 weeks’ worth of A-Z, Season 1. This week is not a typical issue, it’s going to be a recap of those 26 weeks, but with charts! But also, I’m sorry in advance to the 2 colorblind readers that I know have (and the others I don’t know I have), my marker set was not a great tool for providing accessible colors.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve picked up data visualization as a hobby, and love charting my own life, in a bit of a “quantified self” kind of way, like with the pennies that my family and I pick up or my swim routes. So I knew that one of the best way to look back at season 1 would be with visually with charts.

First, let’s look at a few quick stats:

  • Number of issues: 26

  • Total photos: 123 (excludes Instagram embeds, considers “mosaics” a single photo)

  • Averages photos per issue: 4.73

  • Number of subscribers: 43

  • Weeks skipped: 0

It’s a fairly modest setup so far, but I’m happy with it. I think the distribution is small compared to big newsletters, but for this many people to be subscribed to me rambling about the minutiae of my life, is pretty good!

Now let’s get in to the fun stuff: the charts!

This chart is pretty simple, it’s just the number of photos in each issue. As noted above, I am considering some of the “mosaic” images (like the ones in E is for Every Day or in Y is for Your Pictures) to be a single photo, for simplicity’s sake. I broke out the Instagram embeds in L is for Lighthouse because they were separate photos. I think L also marks the beginning of an interesting trend: I mostly stuck to 4 pictures per issue before, but the average definitely seems to have gone up afterwards.

My initial goal with the newsletter was “about 4 pictures per week” since I figured that would be sustainable, but towards the end I worried less and got better at finding pictures to include, I think.

This is a breakdown by device. I try not to focus on the camera used to take each photo, because a good photo is a good photo, no matter where it came from.

  • Clearly, an overwhelming majority of the photos in the newsletter have come from my Leica Q. Part of the reason I created the newsletter was that I wanted a forum to publish those photos since I don’t really post them elsewhere, so that’s somewhat intentional.

  • Another interesting trend is the “opposites” with the two film cameras. I have posted more color photos with the Leica M3, and more Black and White photos with the Cannon T70. I think this is mostly due to recency bias: I started using the M3 more recently, and also only recently started to use color film.

  • The same recency bias applies to the iPhone models. I bought the XS in September 2018, and since more the photos I include are taken more recently, the newer phone is included more.

The above distribution is by month the photo was taken. Overall, there’s a lot of a recency bias. For reference, the first issue of the newsletter was in November 2019, so all the photos included after that date were after the newsletter hard started.

A few highlights:

  • November 2015: This early group of photos is from Friendsgiving.

  • December 2016: Hawaii, the first time I rented a Leica Q.

  • March-April 2017: Paris! the second time I rented a Leica Q.

  • September 2017: This is when I bought my own Leica Q, so I started using it more, which contributes to the “fuller” bars past that point in time.

  • June 2018: England and Jen and Grant’s wedding.

  • September 2019: Ireland.

  • October 2019: Mandy and Joseph’s wedding.

  • November 2019: I think it was just a social month where I brought my camera a lot, including a lighthouse excursion.

This might be my Pepe Silvia moment. The concept started as an idea for a “link timeline”. It took a few tries to get a somewhat readable layout instead of a jumble of multicolor spaghetti. Each arc represents when I linked from an issue to a past issue. The links are all unidirectional, since past issues can’t really link to future issues that don’t exist yet.

  • C is for Candid, D is for Dutch Angle, and F is for Focus were popular targets. I think these were some of my favorite photos, and because these issues were early on, there were more future issues that could link back reference them.

  • W is for Weddings clearly linked out the most. I’d used wedding photos in many past issues and linked to all of them from this issue.

I’d had this idea for a summary with hand-drawn charts for a while, and I had to wait until I finished Z to be able to start this. I had a ton of fun putting these together, it’s my own little take on Michelle Rial’s creative watercolor charts. I hope you enjoyed these too!

Next week will be another recap, but a more qualitative one. It’ll have feelings and stuff and some notes about my creative process and some of the tooling I use. Thanks again for sticking around and we’ll see you next week!

XOXO,
Margs

Z is for Zach's Choice

Just some odds and an end

Hi welcome back!

I’ve gotten a few questions about this newsletter along the lines of “what are you going to do when you get to the end of the alphabet” and I do have a plan. But this week, we’re going to finish up the alphabet with Z.

This week’s theme is just a bunch of pictures that I’ve taken that I liked, that didn’t quite fit in to a theme together except that I just like the pictures and wanted to share them. So let’s get to it!

June 2018. East County (San Diego, CA)

Alison is seen here showing off bouquets she helped make for her sister Amanda’s wedding. A bunch of us showed up to help out the day before the wedding. This is the same wedding as the shipping-pallet-as-directions-sign from W is for Weddings, and as I was drafting that issue originally, this was one of the photos I wanted to include. But when I switched that issue away from people pictures, this didn’t make it. I just love the bright colors, the relaxed feel, so much of this photo is just great.

September 2019. Donaghadee (Northern Ireland, UK)

I spent a bunch of time wandering around Donaghadee waiting to swim last year, and I caught this really fun picture of the life preserver in front of the harbor. Part of me wishes I could go back to that moment and square things up a tad better, but I can’t, so here we are. I love the sprinkle of color from all the different buoys in the harbor and the water is a really really nice shade of blue.

September 2019. Carrickfergus (Northern Ireland, UK)

In Ireland, Mandy and I stopped by the town of Carrickfergus which has an old castle to tour around. We wandered through the nearby downtown area and found this pillory. There’s something off about people taking these big cheesing smile pictures in devices designed for punishment, so I love that Mandy has this like, knowing smize on her face. And her windswept hair, it almost looks like a staged-to-be-candid picture. We made jokes about this being her “pillory influencer” moment. This picture is just another one of my favorites.

December 2019. Emmy’s Spaghetti (San Francisco, CA)

On New Year’s Eve, I had dinner with Dominica and Brian at Emmy’s Spaghetti in the Mission. It’s such a fun restaurant, with cozy little booths and great food. They had some fun lights up too, as seen from the colorful bokeh in the background. I don’t remember what the conversation was at that particular moment in time. But hanging out with these two, we usually find something to laugh about, and often at Brian’s expense (hence Brian’s frown on the right side of the picture). This was just such a warm moment, Dominica looks like she’s about to blow spaghetti through her nose, I just felt like it needed to be shared.

May 2020. Fort Mason (San Francisco, CA)

I took this photo of Mac last week. I think with the mask on, this photo captures the current zeitgeist, where seeing people in face coverings like this is the new normal. We were on a walk around sunset, and so the golden hour vibes are strong. I also love how tough this makes Mac look. Mac is one of the friendliest people I know, but when he’s squinting into the sun with his mouth covered, he definitely looks a lot fiercer.

May 2020. Little Marina Green (San Francisco, CA)

Meghan was also with us on the same evening as that last photo. We stopped just at the edge of the Marina Green to catch the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge. This was a somewhat forced candid, Mac and I were trying to make Meghan laugh on purpose, but in the end, it worked. Again, I really like the golden hour coloring, as well as the reminder that it’s been nice to have friend to go on walks with in the evening.

For those of you who’ve been here since the beginning, thank you! I really appreciate that you take the time to read these every week! 26 weeks of this has been a lot of pictures and words. The positive feedback I get from readers has been great motivation to keep going, so thank you all for that!

I promise next week is gonna be a fun one!

XOXO,
Margs

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