It’ll do, in a pinch.

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Those of you know know Sammy and me know that we are the last of our generation to be without a cell phone. I’ve long bemoaned the idiocy of the user interfaces (I hate to glorify them by even using that term) and the entire user experience seemed like one big compromise.

And don’t even get me started on the changes for the worse in social behavior that rampant cell phone use has engendered.

All that said, come June, we’ll be gesturing and pinching and poking and rotating and widgeting and googling and rocking and syncing and presence-ing and photo-ing with the best of them, and we’ll do it using a UI as familiar to me as the one I live with every day—Mac OS X.

Yeah, I was impressed. It was a big wow, indeed. And I can now see how all of Apple’s hardware smarts have come together with all of their clever plans for resolution-independent UI, javascript widgets made easy, Core Image, Core Animation, and all kinds of other object-oriented goodness.

Design pundits prattle on about it being the “little things” that make a difference. Here are just three of those little things, probably each involving a huge effort to get right in practice:

  • iPhone’s accelerometer detects when you rotate the device from portrait to landscape, then automatically changes the contents of the display, so you immediately see the entire width of a web page or a photo in its proper landscape aspect ratio.
  • The proximity sensor detects when you lift iPhone to your ear and immediately turns off the display to save power and prevent inadvertent touches until iPhone is moved away.
  • An ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the display’s brightness to the appropriate level for the current ambient light, thereby enhancing the user experience and saving power at the same time.

The end result hangs together so thoughtfully that I just want to smile at the very thought of it. This is design done well, indeed.

UPDATE: As I say in the comments below, if the phone isn’t open to the vast army of salivating Mac developers, it becomes way less attractive to me, too…but as of Wednesday, we really don’t know much about what’s under the hood. Hmm.

UPDATE II: As a non-cell-user, one thing I didn’t think of (and perhaps wouldn’t miss) is tactile feedback. Folks who live their lives surreptitiously poking out messages and changing the configs while their phones remain pocketed in meetings may well notice. And no one (to my knowledge) asked Jobs and company the apparently important question: does it vibrate?

On an optimistic note.

Monday, January 8th, 2007

I’m not much for resolutions or other yearend foomfah, but I do believe in staring one’s year looking optimistically at the road ahead. It’s also a nice antidote when there have been some tough bumps to get over.

There are a raft of positive notes raised in answer to the question “What are you optimistic about?” over on the Edge Foundation‘s site, but this one resonates with me, in part because it is a modern evocation of the “sunlight rule” of journalism and in part because geolocation, geocoding, geopresence, and other things geo are fascinating to me right now.

So. One of the answerers, Chris DiBona of Google asserts (hopes?):

Widely Available, Constantly Renewing, High Resolution Images of the Earth Will End Conflict and Ecological Devastation As We Know It

I am not so much of a fool to think that war will end, no matter how much I wish that our shared future could include such a thing. Nor do I think that people will stop the careless destruction of flora and fauna for personal, corporate, national or international gain. I do believe that the advent of rapidly updating, citizenry-available high resolution imagery will remove the protection of the veil of ignorance and secrecy from the powerful and exploitative among us. (more)

Somehow that captures the spirit of more than a few who work at Google, that their work can have positive side benefits for their fellow humans as it brings gazillions of dollars in added stock valuation. Maybe some at Microsoft or Apple or, hell, Time Warner have that same sense of mission (it does, after all, make it easier to go to work in the morning), but at the G-place it certainly seems to seep from their pores. This in itself, however is not sufficient insurance against any large organization of people (corporate, political) suddenly finding themselves, through inertia, the laws of large numbers, or individual fear and avarice, doing eeeeevil.

But as long as we have ways to expose eeeeevil to the sunlight of publicity (meaning in its purest sense bringing it to the attention of the public as a whole), I have lots of room for optimism about the human condition(s).

Steven J. Korte, 1957-2007.

Friday, January 5th, 2007

I was so fortunate to make friends at Ohio University who I’ve laughed with and learned from my entire life.

Now I have to refer to one of them, Steve Korte, in the past tense. I worked with Steve at WOUB, the public TV and radio station at OU that gave us practical experience in what one of my journalism profs loved to call “the workaday world.” That’s Steve at work in this picture from 1977, wearing what looks like an ancient headset and a ‘Hocking Valley Bluegrass’ t-shirt, directing a crew of four through an evening’s programming.

We got an email from Steve’s wife Susan yesterday conveying the sad news that he passed away from an apparent heart attack just minutes into the new year. Susan and Steve met in Athens, worked together early in their marriage at WHBC radio in Canton, Ohio for not much money, and raised a daughter (almost off to college) and a son in a town that had a lot of family connections, but not much in the way of broadcasting opportunities.

He turned his love of pipe organs into a series of gigs (can you call them that?) at churches throughout Canton on Sundays, and used his deep understanding of sound and music to create original compositions, recordings of his and others’ performances, and I can only imagine what albums, tapes, and digital bits of sound he has stashed away over the years.

Like many of the true broadcasters he loved to collect the artifacts that make up radio and television’s young history—classic RCA carbon microphones, old jingle packages from the days when radio had great jingles, and snippets of sound from all over. He took some old audio tapes of mine and his, cleaned them up and sent me a one-of-a-kind CD called ‘J.C.Burns Radio Arcana’, filled with all kinds of wonderful bits from his past and mine, packaged elegantly with a custom-made cover. What a great gift, and of course, its contents wander around with me today on my iPod.

Where some of us would just remember an old song from a Columbus, Ohio kids’ program, he’d sit down and painstakingly, authentically recreate it. Here, please enjoy Steve’s rendering of ‘Wake up Mr. Tree’ from WBNS-TV’s Luci’s Toy Shop, circa 1960-something.

He took a job at Diebold that he was way overqualified for in order to make a good life for his wife and family, but in my mental snapshot he is and was a remarkable father, broadcaster and musician, and I’ll miss him. Our hearts go out to Susan, Lily, and Will.

* * * * *

Found this obit for Steve in The Marion Star, in his hometown.

Last 90 days.

Monday, January 1st, 2007

I am looking at a photo or two of a Cargill plant at dawn in Sidney, Ohio, perched atop my iPhoto smart album labeled ‘Last 90 days.’

So that means, with the relentless clarity that only computer-based metadata can provide, that it’s been 90 days since Sammy and I first headed up I-75 to “help out” as her Dad was scheduled to have a stent put in a coronary artery. As many of you know, this turned into a much more serious triple-bypass operation with extra postoperative complications, and a lot more “helping out” that reached a new chapter this week.

The photo is one that Sam shot from our motel room after a night of conviviality with our friend Martha in Cincinnati. A few short days before Sammy’s birthday. We were driving north into fall, and although we were prepared (I would say) for complications, we weren’t (I would say) prepared for all of what we had to do over the past three months.

We had a good holiday with our greater family (including Sammy’s parents but alas, not including my sister and her husband out west), and then Sammy flew back to Michigan, sheparding her parents safely back to the land of cold winters. Two days later, I loaded up the truck with furniture and other stuff her family will need and headed up the very familiar truck-filled lanes of I-75.

Meanwhile, the very next day, her mom checked into a facility that says they’re especially good at what’s called “memory care” these days. A new chapter begins for her, and for us. She lives now in an AmeriSuites version of her life, with familiar chairs and books and new furniture from an Atlanta Target and a TV she really isn’t interested much in watching and a view of the changing seasons from a large picture window.

By many standards, it has all gone very well, due in no small part to the strength of my spouse; her determination to do a good job for her family. By many standards, this is a process that can’t go very well, because it is a series of compromises brought on by what her mom can and can’t do for herself now, and her dad, now a recovering heart patient nearing 90 (he’s doing quite well with that recovery) can only do so much for so long.

So it’s sad. And it’s hopeful. And I’m just glad I can look back at this photo and reconnect to where we were and what we were thinking then…and I try to carry as much of that as I can, over and through the last 90 days, onward into 2007.