Posts from December 2005

Lensbaby 2.0

I had an early Christmas with my folks this year, and waiting for me under the tree was a Lensbaby 2.0. I've been having fun figuring out how to use it. Here's one of the first pictures I took with it:


One thing that's frustrating about the lens is that you can only change the aperture by physically adding small metal discs to the lens which are held in place with magnets. It's a bit cumbersome when you're out and about trying to take blurry pictures of trees. But I guess that's a limitation that comes with a flexible, bendy lens.


Also, I have no idea which aperture was in for a given picture. I'm so used to being able to check the exif data on a digital picture, that it's frustrating to loose that. I can't just load the picture and see what the aperture was set at. I might have to resort to carrying a notebook and jotting down aperture disk switches.


What I like about the Lensbaby is that you loose some control. While I usually try to have everything in focus, avoid motion blurs, lens flares, and all of the annoying accidents that can ruin a photo, they're all a part of the grammer of photography. That's why Holgas and Lomos are so popular—not because they take spectacularly clear photographs, but because so many happy accidents happen while you're using them. The Lensbaby is also an accident enabler.


I took these photos on a walk just outside of Lincoln, Nebraska last week.


I went to the dentist today for the first time in over ten years. I had some bad dentist experiences as a kid, so I've always been nervous about going. sk has been hounding me to get an exam, so I finally caved and let her make an appointment for me. She kept the date secret so I wouldn't worry about it, and sprung it on me a week or so ago.

I relived many of the nightmarish visions from my childhood today: the cramped rooms, the lead vests, the adjustable machines hovering above, below, and beside. Not to mention the gag-reflex, saliva, latex gloves in the mouth, and all of the metal pointy things with their scraping and poking. I'm sure technology has improved in the past decade, but the experience was very much the same.


The people there were all very nice, I'm not blaming them for my bad experiences. They probably aren't even aware of the environment around them, and the feeling of powerlessness it instills. I think some user experience design is in order for the offices—and probably a movement toward patient-centered design across the industry. It's all too industrial now. Don't they focus-group this stuff? Where's the market research? The psychological studies? They must know their office environment affects their patients.

Luckily I can report that my teeth are in great shape and I don't have any problems. And as an adult the experience isn't nearly as bad as my (probably) exaggerated memory. I'd like to keep my teeth healthy and I suppose that means more trips to the dreaded reclining chair.

Wired Gear Factor

If you want to subscribe to an Engadget/Gizmodo style weblog about consumer electronics that doesn't have advertising in its RSS feed, check out Gear Factor by Wired (RSS). Since these types of blogs are essentially a type of advertising anyway, I don't understand the need for extra ads in the feed.

Ambient Findability

I'm really enjoying Peter Morville's Ambient Findability, and I feel like it's a must-read for Web literacy. The title refers to the intersection of search and ubiquitous computing, and the book is sort of a quick history of information management and a look at where information is headed. Morville mentioned an insightful quote by Calvin Mooers that I hadn't heard before:
An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a consumer to have information than for him not to have it.
I often think of more information and access to more information as inherently good. But Mooers has a great point that information has to be processed and can often lead to more questions than answers. I've found a personal information wall in my own use of RSS readers. And I think this quote is a more useful way of stating the information overload problem than the saying ignorance is bliss. If I think about information as painful as well as useful, I have to change the way I design and interact with applications. And Morville argues that the change should be toward collaborative filtering and information as something social. I think the book explains some important Web trends like folksonomies, user-contributed data, and long tail power laws without going into the land of business hype. I'd like to give this book to some of my less web-centric friends because I think it's a good guide to understanding how moving from atoms to bits affects our relationship with information.

Reading as Hiking

I read nonfiction almost exclusively. If you look at my reading list right now you'll see a history of Google, a history of New Zealand, and a history of Western religious thought. And I've been thinking about my one-track approach to reading lately, and started viewing it like hiking. Reading nonfiction is like walking along a flat, wide sidewalk. Each sentence is a cement square that lines up perfectly with the one before—leading me comfortably down a path. There's nothing wrong with this, I can walk for miles on sidewalks and get where I want to go.

A couple nights ago I sat down with a small book of surrealist poetry and had a completely different experience. I could feel muscles in my brain working that hadn't been used for a long time. Instead of walking along my comfortable sidewalk I was suddenly trekking through the backwoods. The path was twisted, rough, and filled with gaps I had to navigate. Sometimes the path was barely visible, but the extra work of joining jarring associations was fun. This space for interpretation is one of the reasons I like to read Zen koans. Surreal poetry and koans have a certain spark I haven't found in other writing and I think it's because the path through the text to meaning isn't clearly marked.

So this post is a reminder to myself that I should vary my literary treks. I'm not going to find soluble fish in a history of Google, and I need to remember that words can be magical as well as useful.