April in a nutshell.

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Things have been, well, pretty close to the ‘normal’ baseline here at casa positively atlanta georgia through the month of April. I looked up and noticed that I hadn’t added to this fine collection of journal entries since the getting an iPad and enjoying it in the backyard post. So what’s been happening? Okay, in 10 seconds: Convivial meals with family and friends. Birthday fun. Hike in the north Georgia mountains with neighbors. Wandering through the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. Opening up and adding new RAM and storage to a Mac Mini from Seattle. Lots of rendering animation at 1920×1080 (that’d be HD 1080i to you.) helping a friend get a new water pump so she could return safely to Lexington, KY. And…more settling in with that semi-magical iPad device.

Writing amidst birds on a glare-y morning.

Monday, April 5th, 2010

I decided to start the morning out in the back yard with a cup of coffee and that device that I’ve been, well, anticipating seems like such an insufficiency…shall we say salivating over? Really, really wanting to get my hands on? That’s more in the ballpark.

As a specialized device, as opposed to a “replacement” for a laptop or netbook or phone, the iPad is wonderful and indeed gives me that same sense I had after I dragged the first Macintosh home. This is new, different, and it may not have all the answers now, but it certainly can serve as the container for those answers when placed out there in a healthy stream of developer creativity, a modern marketplace for digital ideas. And as you may have read, there’s some question as to whether the Apple-controlled system of app development and approval—give them $99 a year to be allowed to put stuff out there, and then only distribute your apps as approved chunks of binary through Apple’s own store, interface, and forbearance—is open enough, and for me, the jury is less out on that than it is on the question of being able to get your stuff in and out of the machine with (as the modern dev kids like to say) as little friction as possible. It took quite a while for my desktop machine to manipulate the thousand or so JPEGs i wanted in our photo library before it was willing to slide them over…and that felt like a lot of friction to me.

And then there’s the whole question of this fine, high-resolution led-backlit screen and whether this is indeed superior to, say, the Kindle’s approach that uses something fancily called ‘e-ink’ but basically is just a low power display that can be read out in glorious black and white in the bright glare of sunlight.

Which brings me back to this beautiful Atlanta spring morning, out in our back yard.

Serenaded by every bird sound effect on our yard’s library, invigorated by the smell of morning coffee mixed with flowers in bloom, I was able to read the morning’s news with the tablet perched in my lap, but when the time came to bat out these few paragraphs painlessly on this new device, well, the batting was painless (the onscreen keyboard supports my high speed hunting and pecking well), but the visual it presented was less than crystal clear. In order to type comfortably, I have to put the device down on our backyard table, and as the angle of pad surface to sky becomes more perpendicular, it becomes more problematic. As I type to you now, looking down at the table, I am also simultaneously looking up at the large budding tree that looms over me…because I can see its reflection quite clearly in the iPad’s very glossy screen. This certainly contributes to a feeling of being one with nature, but it does make it a tiny bit hard to read what I’m writing. Indoors, the screen is plenty bright to blot out that effect, but out here, Our Friend The Sun seems to have other ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an impossible task. And it’s way readable enough for me to, say, walk around the yard and catalog our weeds into a comprehensive database, but when the primary concern becomes angle of typing vs angle of seeing, then you get this kinda superimposition effect that as I sit here, I’m bemused to say I’m getting used to, a bit. Boy, we humans can be adaptable when we have a new thing to mess with.

Hmm…what are these..hey, little dots of pollen are falling on the iPad! Ah, springtime in Atlanta, when nature conspires to cover up all of man’s technological folly in a fine coating of yellow.

I came back inside and Sammy, looking at this very page, said “you may want to proof that a bit,” and sure enough, when I looked at this post on my large desktop screen, I saw a few ‘deVices’ and ‘i’s and other corrections to be made—and I should point out that I had to come in here to add the photos—taken with our iPhone—to the post. Would have been great to be able to just poke the phone and send them to the pad and from there drop them in, but I guess that breakthrough is for another day.

Counting down.

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

On an evening where the embargo on talking about the iPad was lifted (and a great spewing sound was heard throughout the series of tubes), we have thus been inundated with reviews and screenshots and semi-childish squealing, I find myself waiting with quiet anticipation. They’re selling this thing on Saturday, perhaps you’ve heard?

Mortally-wounded tree edition.

Monday, March 8th, 2010

To celebrate a Sunday that showed some signs of pulling out of the greyness that this winter has been, I went out early-ish and picked up a dozen bagels and, almost as an afterthought, a six dollar copy of The New York Times, which some of you may not know is an actual newspaper, published on big ol’ soy-ink chugging presses nightly from a couple of dozen offset printing plants around the country.

Yes, we bought the paper. Now, for someone who went to journalism school and contemplated life amidst the ink-stained before being seduced by the blue crackly glow of television, this may not seem that surprising. But truth is, as much as I love the idea and honor the history of newspapers, reading the news on newsprint is amazingly unsatisfying, as if I’m pawing through two-day-old printouts left in some newsroom’s recycled bin. It feels, old, stale, expired. Didn’t we see that Style section story on the web on thursday? Where are the Times blogs breathlessly updating the story of the Cablevision-Disney battle that threatened cable viewers’ view of the Oscarcast?

I’m not one who believes that when magazines and newspapers make the switch to iPad-like delivery, they should become some sort of multimedia animation-fest. in fact, I think they’ll do just fine if they avoid discarding a handful of things:

  • Layout matters. Columns, headlines, callouts, color, and big photos will look superb in a tablet. You really don’t need to go much beyond the classy approach you’d see in the print Sunday Times Magazine.
  • Ads in context. Part of the charm in paging through the NYT Arts and Leisure section on Sunday always was (and remains) seeing the huge ads for moveis and shows interspersed with the editorial content. Again, if they’re NOT flashfests or blink-monstrosities, they’ll get noticed and appreciated for what they are…advertising wrapped around some of the world’s most prestigious content.
  • We always will welcome and find ways to pay for well-edited, carefully sourced, copyedited, and corrected content. Shovel dross at us and we won’t care how much it animates…it’ll be dead to us.

The upcoming iPadThingie can be my BBC Newspad, perfect for reading whole eating mysterious earth-tgoned puddings in zero gravity, or accompanying fresh-made bagels on an Atlanta Sunday morning.

Magic: we’ll be the judge of that.

Friday, March 5th, 2010

jcbpad.jpgThe Apple folks have announced the day-it-shall-be-buyable of the iPad, and, for the wi-fi only versions, it’s April 3rd, a mere 8 days before my birthday (in case you need any last minute gift ideas).

I continue to be intrigued by the paradigm-shifting possibilities of the device, especially for those out there who, truth be told, don’t really need a computer in their lives…they need a fancy doohickie that reads email and surfs the web and shows photos and plays games. For those people, if they never see a filesystem, they’re fine with that. If they never have to mess with another preference file or repair permissions, their lives will be that much better.

And I want to see as many of those folks as possible with these in their hands. But I also want this as a hackable, playable, messable-with device for folks like me, and it remains to be seen how completely this fits into that paradigm.

But there is one thing I’ve heard quite enough of. I’m looking at you, Apple marketing and PR weasels. You know that whole “magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price” thing you keep saying over and over and over again? The Steve Jobsian thing to do would be to put this device out there and let us be the judge of that. There’s gotta be a law somewhere where you can’t call your own innovation “magical”, and you’re violating it again and again.

Let us buy the thing and take it around the block and we’ll let you know. Even if the verdict is “yep, magical,” it’s for us to say, and you to smile and count our cash.

William Shatner stands on guard for thee.

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Photo by Duncan Rawlinson, one of many cool ones at his ‘Last Minute Blog’.

After speeches, anthems aplenty, and flags raised, lowered, and passed along, Neil Young sang “Long May You Run”, the Olympic torch was extinguished, and with it, any air of sobriety left in Vancouver’s BC Centre.

What followed was folly: William Shatner, with a dramatic reading plus Keynote presentation on what it means to be Canadian (ien?). Catherine O’Hara, swept in by curling brooms, with comedic variations on that theme, and an apology for being apologetic. Michael J. Fox, yet another sometimes-expatriate, tugged on a heart or two.

And then came the the giant inflatable beavers, the floating mermaids with maple leaf wings, and a gigantic tabletop hockey game, batting about a small child dressed as a puck. And moose. And canoes. And, oh yeah, Michael Bublé singing some snippet of maple leaf doggerel over and over again accompanied by mountie babe backup singers…segueing into the famed Hockey Night in Canada theme.

And how did it all end?

Well, we don’t quite know, on this side of the border. At 10:30 eastern, NBC did their best attempt at self-parody: they cut away (abruptly!) from the ceremony, promising to pick up where they left off in a hour—on, yes, say it with me, tape delay. had to run that Seinfeld Marriage game show thingie, y’know.

After that odd acid trip of an experience, it’s hard to believe Seinfeld was ‘More colorful.’

Converged, 20 years on.

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

pshop.jpgFriday, February 19th is the 20th birthday of Photoshop. Yes, the software that liberated me from paint systems that cost six figures is two decades old, and in that staggeringly long time (when you measure in ones and zeroes) has grown from a simple way to make and alter bitmapped images to a complex, multilayered, largely 3d and multiframed behemoth that has all kinds of horsepower to handle massively megapixel-y frames of stuff in lots of different formats.

It also, increasingly, has the tools to help ordinary joes create retouched reality that is nearly undetectable except by those who examine their work on a fractal/pixel level.

I spoke at a SMPTE conference 20 years ago about how to use the tools of the time to work with multigenerational video to create layers of graphic design (back in a time where television’s on-air look was distinguished by a distinct lack of layering. The demo I showed used the state-of-the-then-art, a $160,000 Quantel Paintbox, to create text, color gradients, and the raw material that I would layer into multigenerational creations. And this was a device that could only work at the (amazingly low) resolution of standard definition (ah, we used to call it NTSC) television.

A month later—a month later—Photoshop was released. And yes, that changed everything.

So in 1993, I gave a talk to a bunch of NBC promo execs (back when they could have deluxe retreats and talks) about everything having been changed, and I, well, kinda geeked out about the possibilties of working with desktop systems and this cool program called Photoshop and vector files and a new compositing program called COSA After Effects. I went on at some length, and in a terrifying amount of detail, as I’ve been known to do, and, well, I suspect I baffled more than enlightened my audience, but now here we are.

Everyone knows the word Photoshop, and most use it as a generic to mean “mess with an image.” There are websites that celebrate and call out the overuse and misuse of the venerable application’s powers. There are songs—not very good ones, or I’d link to them—venerating and trashing the app.

So thanks, Knoll brothers and Adobe, for extending what was only the work of a few specialists now into the grasp of nearly anyone with a laptop in a coffeehouse. And as we sit here in the ‘now’ where fancy tablet computing thingies are about to ship that may well open up even newer digital highways for those who find computers way too computer-y and spell the sunset of some of the desktop machines we’ve delighted in for two decades, I’ll still, I suspect, be firing up the venerable program most mornings to design cool things. Or scribble, as I search for an idea.

Oh, and if you (uh, as I do) like to see computer guys who were young punks when they invented the thing get together decades later to reminisce, please enjoy John and Thomas Knoll, Russell Brown, and Steve Guttman sitting around talking.

Snow cliché 2010!

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Run for your lives! Well, on second thought, don’t. We had four inches (expert meteorologists…top men, I tell you..told us) of frozen precipitation, which, I think in the greater country-wide scheme of things, means we got off very lucky indeed. We were able to get up to my dad’s 84th birthday yesterday through the snowy beauty with nary a skid, and when the sun rose today, it was a good time to get out and shoot a few pictures.

Sam snaps amidst snow.
Our street, melting already.

Frozen city services.

Shower of snowiness.
Neither rain, or sleet, or...

…and there are a few more here.