The Freelance Economy and the Potential Rollback of the ACA

I just read this article on the Star Tribune website about how the potential rollback of the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") could affect the "gig economy".  I invite you to read that article before reading the rest of this post.  The gist of the article, though, is that the gig economy - that part of the economy that involves freelancers and other workers that don't earn their income via traditional 9-to-5 employment - is now a much larger part of the economy now than it once was, and repealing the ACA could have a tremendous (negative) impact on those workers.

The effects will be felt not just on freelance workers like Lyft/Uber drivers, IT contractors, etc., but also on any artist or other creative professional, small business owners, etc.  Often, taking the risk to strike out on one's own is dependent on what healthcare costs will be for him/her and his/her family.  I know this has been a critical part of my calculation as I've considered leaving the corporate fold and striking out on my own in freelance capacities.  The discounts (insurance discounts via tax credits) that would be afforded me in the early year(s), as I likely make a far reduced income, are critical in those calculations as to whether I can realistically consider making such a move.  Being that I'm buying insurance for a family of five, affordability is a key factor when I look at a large initial income drop.  Seeing this huge uncertainty on the horizon, it has changed my calculus.  I don't see anything changing immediately for 2017, as the government machine can't turn quite that quick, but this could mean huge changes for 2018, and I'd hate to be staring down that barrel only a year into my new paradigm.

I've been lucky in that my employer, thankfully not wanting me to leave, has agreed to let me take a sabbatical of a few months this year instead, so I've withdrawn my resignation, won't be leaving the corporate fold quite yet after all.  Instead I'll simply be using this time away to accomplish some of the goals my planned exit from Corporate America was intended for anyway, and then I can see what happens after this first year into the new Presidency, reassess my long-term strategy.

 For those that don't have this option, though, or perhaps simply don't want it (they just really want to get out and be their own boss), I fret for how much harder this might make things for them.  My hope is that President-Elect Trump and the Republicans come to their senses and realize that taking away affordable healthcare options for millions of Americans is not a wise thing.  Indeed, even many of the people who voted and campaigned for him are now pleading that he please not take away their healthcare, so I have a slight bit of hope.  Not too much, though, as repeal was a campaign promise of his, and the rest of the party has been trying like hell to do so ever since it was originally passed.  I guess we'll see what happens...

Cheers,
R

Picture Dump: Autumn on the North Shore

Lake Superior, seen from one of Oberg Mountain's many scenic overlooks.

Back in October I took a quick up the North Shore to get some Fall color photos, the same trip I recently wrote about in this post.  That first night, when I shot those nightscapes, I was hiking up on Leveaux Mountain.  The following morning I packed up my camp over by Leveaux, hiked back down to my car in the parking lot and dropped off my pack, then walked across the road to hit the trail that goes up and around Oberg Mountain.

Looking out into Minnesota's "mountains" from one of Oberg's overlooks...

The Oberg Mountain loop is a trail that spurs off the Superior Hiking Trail, ascends quickly to near the summit, and then loops around the broad summit area (mountain "peaks" here tend to be broad, rounded tops as opposed to the steep, jagged mountain peaks you see out west).  I think there are eight scenic overlook points, if I recall correctly.  From the first overlook point I stopped at, I got the view above, looking away from the big lake into the mountains, and also this view below, looking across at Leveaux Mountain, where I had climbed the previous evening:

Leveaux Mountain, seen from overlook on Oberg Mountain.

And of course, there were great lake views, too; including Lake Superior, which you can see in the photo at the top of this post and a bit in the photo above of Levaux; and also lovely views of Oberg Lake, which lies below on the other side of Oberg Mountain, and which can be seen here:

Oberg Lake, seen from Oberg Mountain.

As you can see, the views were great all around, no matter which direction you looked.  This is probably one of the most popular Autumn hikes along the North Shore, so you won't exactly be alone if you choose to hike this trail during peak colors, but at the same time, I never felt crowded either.  Some people would come and go while I was stopped at the scenic overlooks, but then when I got hiking again, I was usually alone as I set my own pace and just carried on.  This is a trail I'd highly recommend if you want to see some of the best views and colors northern MN has to offer in the Fall.  I'll probably go again next year, this time with the family in tow.

Cheers,
R

p.s. photos can also be viewed in my Minnesota Landscapes gallery.

Burgled!

Well, it was a Merry Christmas indeed...  We spent a couple days out of town over Christmas, visiting my family for the holiday.  Monday morning, still out of town, we woke up to see that we had missed calls overnight from our home security company.  I called in, and it turns out the motion sensor and back door sensors had both gone off...

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Picture Dump: North Shore Nightscapes

Milky Way Over Lake Superior from Leveaux Mountain

Bridge to the Stars

These two photos I shot up on the North Shore while up on a photo/hiking trip up there back in October.  I had taken a quick weekend excursion up there for a couple of reasons: to get some good Fall color photos, and to finally shoot the Northern Lights!  The Northern Lights activity up north had been pretty heavy that week, I was seeing cool pictures of them taken by other photographers all over Instagram, Flickr, etc., and I finally wanted to get some for myself!  Of course, amidst a wee of heavy aurora activity, this would end up being the one night there would be no visible light activity, at least not from where I was stationed, which was at Leveaux Mountain (in the Sawtooth Mountains outside Tofte, MN). Naturally, the activity picked up again a night or two later, though!  D'oh!  Nevertheless, I was still able to capitalize on the situation and just get some fun Milky Way shots instead.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I was staying at Leveaux Mountain, which is directly across the road from Oberg Mountain, where I planned to hike the following day to get my Fall colors photos.  I camped at a backpacker campground just off the Superior Hiking Trail, only about a 1/2 mile in from the parking lot between Leveaux and Oberg.  Also staying at that campground was a group of young women that were thru-hiking a few sections of the SHT; had hiked over from Tettegouche State Park a bit earlier in the day.  It was nice to have a little company and people to converse with - always fun to meet new people out on the trail.  To get my intended night shots that night, I hiked up to the top of Leveaux Mountain from camp.  It wasn't an incredibly long hike to the top from camp (Minnesota "mountains" aren't exactly huge :) ), but I really had to watch my footing, as several sections of the trail are very rooty/rocky, and I was going up in the dark. 

The first shot above, "Milky Way Over Lake Superior from Leveaux Mountain", was taken from near the summit of the mountain, on a little rock outcropping just off the trail, facing out towards the little town of Tofte along the shore, which is what you see as the lights along the shore in this image.  It was a beautiful spot.  Long-exposure photographs like these draw out more detail in the Milky Way then one can see with their naked eye, and I obviously drew out the color a little more definitively in post, but I could actually see the Milky Way pretty clearly with my own eyes.  Even with the bit of light pollution coming from the little towns up there, the skies overall are pretty dark, allowing one to get some great night photos.  I played around with some other compositions up there, too, that didn't include the town or lake, but this one ended up being my favorite, showing how lucky people up there are to live in such a beautiful place.

The second shot above, "Bridge to the Stars", I shot while on my way back down to camp.  I was down off the mountain, and was hanging out on this bridge over the Onion River a bit before heading back to camp, just enjoying the sights and sounds of the river at night.  As I started to leave, I looked back and noticed that I could see a bit of the Milky Way through the opening in the trees, so I decided to get some more images.  For this image, I set the tripod really low to the ground to get as much of the bridge in as possible, and I lit the bridge with a little pocket LED light that I had along.  It was actually a pocket USB charger (for charging devices on the go) that has a little single LED bulb on it so it can double as an emergency flashlight, but that little bulb was enough to light the bridge as needed over the long exposure.  I snapped a few shots, and would pass over the bridge and tree branch with one or two passes of the light before shutting it off.  It worked pretty well!  That light wouldn't have worked if I was trying to light an object 50 yards away, but was just fine for lighting the objects right in front of me.  Always try to make due with whatever you've got with you!

For those interested in gear, I shot both these images with a Sony A7S and Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 lens.  I'm liking this camera for night work, as I can easily shoot at ISO 6400 and get pretty much zero noise in the shadows, and the dynamic range it provides is really good.

I hope you enjoy, and I'll write another post with my Fall colors images from this trip soon.  The images in this post can also be seen in my Nightscapes gallery.

Cheers,
R

Image: Sunset on Peak One

Sunset on Peak One

This image is a new variant of a black & white image that already exists in my Colorado Landscapes gallery, that I had originally shot and processed over a year-and-a-half ago.  Today I decided that the image deserved a color version, too, as it is a sunset after all.  I went for a slightly tighter crop on this version, too (the B&W version is not cropped at all), to really draw you into the summit.

I was at the Frisco Bay Marina in Frisco, CO, and had been shooting on the tripod, with my camera aimed across the reservoir over at the "three peaks" (Gray's, Torrey's, and I forget the name of the third one), hoping to get some good alpenglow shots on those peaks.  Then I packed up my stuff, threw it in the car, and then, as I closed the trunk and turned to get into my car, I noticed great light over on Peak One.  The light was changing fast, so I quickly grabbed my camera out of the bag, and just braced on my car door to stabilize, as I didn't even have time to get out and setup the tripod.  This image was shot at 300mm, which is how I got so tight on the summit.  I had been testing out my new toys on this trip, which was a new (at the time) Sony A77II camera and Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM lens, and that was the combo used for this image.

I hope you enjoy the image.  I miss Colorado, and can't wait to get back out there this Spring for a few days of skiing (heading to Winter Park).  First, though, I'm going to finally check out the skiing here in MN, up north at Lutsen Mountains.  It'll be cool to be looking out on Lake Superior as I swoosh down the slopes.  I've been up there handful of times in the other seasons, but haven't been up there in the winter yet.  I'm really looking forward to it.

Cheers,
R