Powerful hardware.

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

I think one of the reasons I’ve been spending my creative energy (or what passes for it) lately on creating detailed, 3D views of thirty-five-year-old electronic design is that it always had a certain beauty and conveyed functional power.

Do modern user interfaces on our screens do the same? Mmmm…maybe not. And yet, buried within a dense, complex nest of menus and buttons, the pure utility of modern digital technology leaves all the old tech in the dust. It’s not even close.

In order to get one more layer into my late-70s/early 80s compositions, I had to patch and drag equipment from multiple control rooms together and then go through a laborious series of alignments and checks to make sure they were doing the right thing—that their analog signals were playing nice, in synchronization with the other dozen or so analog signals.

At two in the morning, this was a bit hit-or-miss.

But at two in the morning, the warm glow of those buttons and the chrome-y call of those fader bars sure made you want to do more with what you had.


Grass Valley Group 300 switcher, ©2018, John Christopher Burns


Monday, March 19th, 2018

If you grew up in the state of Ohio, or if you wandered through the midwest generally, you may remember Sohio.

A gas station chain, part of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire, a brand that became extinct in the 1980s when BP America bought Standard Oil of Ohio and absorbed them out of existence.

©2018, John Christopher Burns

I liked Sohio stations in the late 1960s because they seemed (in the definition of the time) unmistakably modern, with clean lines and a bright red white and blue color scheme. In the cold Ohio winters, radio commercials with jarring proto-electronic music reminded drivers to fill up with Boron to prevent “fuel-line freeze-up”. (Kind of a 1960s automotive “heartbreak of psoriasis.”)

©2018, John Christopher Burns

That’s why, when I had some spare time, I tried to recreate one completely in a 3D modeling/rendering program, from what I discovered was very limited online reference material.

Now the frames I’ve created—very much idealized and “in my mind’s eye”— have become part of what comes up in internetland when you search for ‘Sohio.’ And as long as you give me credit I have no problem with you linking to or talking about these images (which also show up on Flickr and Instagram.)

©2018, John Christopher Burns

Time depth.

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Something about having an inch or two of snow outside (which, living in Atlanta, used to be thought of as more of a rare occurrence than we do now) helps me get into a frame of mind at the early parts of the year where I see the passage of time in the technology around me, in our home, in how often we hear (or no longer hear) from friends and loved ones.

It was this way, then it became that way, and now it is some other way. An evolution. And yet, because I have some (I hope benign) hoarding tendencies, the first or second way may still literally be on the shelves around me—old notebooks, obsolete computers, storage (CDs! zip drives! videotape!) iDevices, and—books, oh my, the books that provide a soft-focus background to my life and a quick hit of comfort when I yank one off the shelf, (literally) blow the dust off of it, and thumb through a few pages.

Yep, that’s what was in there. What a fine book. Boy, the cover is fading in the sunlight. I wonder if I can get it as an epub or pdf to weightlessly carry around with me when we travel?

Because as nice as the books are as background, touchstone, and illustration, they have weight—literally. Moving a box filled with them is a sad chore. They may “give me joy” in the moment, but would simplifying my life offer more pleasure?

I am less and less seduced by the newest and the greatest, mostly because the pretty new and pretty great stuff I have now is not falling apart and not falling behind and yeah, still does the work I need to do in the infrequent moments when there is technological work to be done.

I have an in-house web page that tells me exactly how old—in years or days—our stuff, be it camera or iPad or water heater—is. The day we got it, what we paid for it, how much that works out to be in cents per day.

I marvel at how old the screens I stare at or the keys I click are in some cases. And in other cases, I see a warning flag—that thing’s gonna go bust in the next six months, I can just tell. Prepare the appropriate credit card. Scan the many evaluative words online. Have some notes toward a purchase decision at the ready.

And then look out again at the snow.

Big stack of old Sonys.

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

One of my…hobbies? recreations? has been painstakingly recreating some of the old WTCG/WTBS graphics I worked on in razor-sharp vector-based high definition. Yes, recreating for recreation.

Why? I’m charmed by the seventies/eighties typography, so bold, round, and distinctive. The colors are anything but subtle. And I remember the hours I took back then just to get things straight…lined up…in front of a television camera that wasn’t optimized for that.

Birthday numerology.

Friday, April 11th, 2014

It’s a lovely spring afternoon in Positively Atlanta Georgia, and Sammy has just baked brownies and has a wonderful bison meatloaf ready to go—signs not of a change in the weather but of an April birthday, mine.

This marks my turning 57 years old, and if you’re fast with math you’ll compute that my birth year is ALSO 1957. There ought to be a term for that confluence, but as far as I know, there isn’t.

And today, as an ancient HyperCard stack reports, also marks 8888 days of marriage with and to the wonderful Sammy. (Well, it will switch to 8889 days late this afternoon, but close enough.) More than one person has said “you should buy a lottery ticket,” but I’m not really sure what numbers I could possibly play. I think 8s are fortunate in Asian culture, but I’m not more than 0.02% Asian, and of course this probably has just about as much significance as our truck license plate (which has two or three 8s in it as well.) I’m happy our bank balance has enough numbers (8s and others) in it to represent options and a lack of wolves at our door.

I am in a good and peaceful place this particular April 11th, happy to have family, friends beyond number, and affordable health care. Life is good on a bunch of levels. I hope it is for you as well.

We opened a window.

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

One of the nicest things about Atlanta in the early fall is that you get a few beautiful days with low humidity, and that’s what today is, happy to say. Our old house gets a little cooped up from a summer of fending off heat and humidity, so it’s a treat to be able to open the front door, the porch room door, a window or two inside, and let the fresh air circulate through.

Sammy peered into my office and said “you didn’t open your window in there?” Well, it’s an old window that has a lock on it and there were a pile of cobwebs and other moo-gray (that’s the phonetic version of a Sammy Spanish term for, well, schmutz) and the windows were filthy and…

Y’know, as usual, I’m glad she spoke up. A little key-fumbling, sash-rattling, window-cleaner-spwooshing, de-cobwebbing, and my early afternoon has the warm breezes from the back yard coursing through my sometimes way-too-closed-up and dusty office.

Ahhhh. MUCH better. Enjoy your Saturday.

Choosing words and pictures.

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Hello from a nearly end of the summer in Atlanta, a place I am indeed generally positive about.

It’s been one of those days where I’ve had to chase around mysterious problems with our shared webserver, which sits in a rack in Chicago, and is tended to by me and an employee of the hosting company who is based in South Africa. They’re good people, although sometimes I think their business instincts are as rumpled around the edges as mine are.

At any rate, Positively Atlanta Georgia has been around, mostly as a WordPress-based weblog, since the last century, and I have been distracted a great deal of this year with web design work I’ve done for other folks and of course television design and, well, it’s been a good year for interesting design projects.

I’m distracted as well by the myriad ways people tweet and chat and toss pictures at each other online in small, less-than-bite-sized chunks.

Pictures from (my) exhibition.

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

In late November, I got an email from Flickr saying “hey, you know your lapsed Pro subscription? We’re giving you a free Pro account again through late March.” A $29.95 value!

And so they did. And to honor their marketing strategy, I made the most of the past few weeks, uploading and tagging and exploring and doing all that stuff that you’re supposed to do with a social photo-sharing service.

I felt a loyalty of some sort to the once cutting edge service. I joined up in, I dunno, 2004 sometime, posting pictures of then cutting-edge technology, or of our travels on back roads.

And then the other day it reverted to the free mode, where I only see the last 200 pics and the interface becomes decorated gaily around the edges with ads. “Come back!” says Flickr. Give us your $29.95! Ah, well, I would, but there’s Instagram and there’s 500px and there’s Google Plus and really there are way too many places for me to share pictures for my own good.

I’d been using Instagram now and again in kind of a low-energy experimental way and I had a general sense that no one was looking at the pictures I uploaded and no one certainly was clicking on the heart-shaped button that indicated they liked what I put out there. Okay, fine. I didn’t have a lot mentally invested in what I was uploading—I used it more as a vehicle to play with square-format imagery (like I did with SX-70 pictures in the old days.) And the filters—yeah, it was fun to mess my pictures up in various creative ways.

I tried (purely as a science experiment) tweeting links to Flickr and Instagram pics and sure enough, that seemed to generate some…viewership? Linkership? But still, I felt as if I was dropping pictures into some Instagram vortex, never to be seen nor admired again.

That’s because, of course, I was missing one important part of the game (hey, I never read the instructions.) Unlike on Twitter, where, if you search for any word in the text that accompanies an image you’ll get a hit, on Instagram, it’s all about the hashtags. Yeah, those things beginning with that octothorpe (#) that are quite popular with the kids these days are the ONLY thing that Instagram searches and indexes. So a photo with a clever caption (hey, I went to school to learn how to write a clever caption) was pretty much invisible in the Instagramvese. Fill that space with a cascade of #hashtags and apparently the bored people who explore page after page of images will seek and find your Apple 2-ish screenshots or your fine train pictures or your attempts to bring Sohio back from the dead or your pictures of your brother’s family cat.

Suddenly, it appeared that people worldwide were liking my work! Ah, how reassuring. Or at least it would be if I didn’t inspect more carefully and discover another, nastier part of the Instragram ecosystem: a lot of those likes were coming from bots, fictional people, or semi-fictional people who would like you to buy what they’re selling, even if it’s only advice on how to get more likes.

Eugh. Started to feel a bit like the whole somewhat greasy, somewhat distasteful Facebook ecosystem, which I’ve stayed away from like the plague it is. And I guess that’s not surprising, considering who bought those fine entrepreneurial Instagrammers and their technology.

But I’ll probably toss a few more things up onto Instagram, if only to play with their filters. (And I keep a backup of all these images so, hey, they’re just pixels tossed out there in one sense.)