Thursday, July 31, 2008

America's New Pastime

Kalimar A, America's pal In preparation for Argust 8 next week, I took my "newest" junker camera out for a walk today, a Kalimar A. I admit to not knowing much about brands and makers, and only after the purchase have I found out that Kalimar makes lenses and modern camera and such, certainly things that look less quirky than this one. In fact, it was the trifecta of the Kalimar's innate quirkiness, the reputed lomographic quality, and my own junklust that made me get it.

I spent many weekends in college wandering around the campus grounds with my little plastic point-and-shoot, trying out various ways to get creative with the buildings and grounds. I've got albums of near-identical shots of "The Science Building" and "the pond off-campus" and so on. I miss those photo walks, and have started doing them again over lunch. Attitudes about someone walking around with a camera, snapping random pictures has changed a lot in the intervening years, though.

Maybe I'm just projecting my own dislike of being photographed on others, but I feel very exposed, wandering around the city center, taking pictures on a film camera. Maybe it's still post-9/11 paranoia. I did get approached once by a pair of ladies asking what I was taking a picture of (an angel statue near a brick labyrinth), and I felt almost apologetic. "I just got this old camera, I'm just trying it out, seeing how it works, etc.." I shuffled away from there quickly all the same, as I imagined trying to explain that to the local police.

Is paranoia America's new pastime? And what will this mean when I'm hauling around a C-3 that looks like a barely-disguised block of C-4?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

For a day when nothing seems to go right

Teakettles. Tires. Old shoes. Tin cans. Balloons. Rockets. Boats. Cars. Levers. Ladders. Fire. Water. Smoke. Mist. Physics. Chemistry. Equilibrium. Gravity.

A bunch of nouns, yes, but also components in the fascinating The Way Things Go. Artists set up an enormous chain-reaction of everyday junk, with a little chemistry and pyrotechnics thrown in, and let it go. And go. And go. Just when you think "ah it's stopped"... something else happens. The SFMOMA had this running on a loop in their gift shop, and it always drew a crowd, just watching bottles tip, boards teeter, and tires roll uphill.

Amazingly planned, and worth a rental. Suddenly, changing a typewriter ribbon doesn't seem like that big a deal.

Monday, July 21, 2008

It's nearly here...

The eighth annual World Argus Day is nearly upon us. Fans of low-tech photography should really give this a try. Get your hands on an Argus C3 or one of their other models, and carry it with you on Friday, "Argust" 8th. Celebrate a classic American camera brand, and get re-acquainted with the mysteries of shooting film.

Argust Fever -- catch it!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Staples Harbors Keychoppers (Film at 11)

Well, perhaps not that dramatic, but what do you think of this line of accessories in Staples' "M" product line? I'm unable to link directly to the product page, but go to the "Business Accessories" page and click on the objects floating in their formaldehyde jars.

They're faux typewriter keys, obviously, and I've seen them in my own local store when I'm in buying ribbon. What's worse, I want them despite having zero need for any of them. Maybe the binder clips, but even that's a stretch. And then by wanting them, I suddenly feel like a placard-waving PETA protester having lunch at Burger King. It's just so... wrong.

(I still want 'em.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's good to be here

20080716 typecast
  • The before and after pictures
  • The cousins that got me so excited about 1950's Smith-Corona typers
  • I'm very pleased to see that the three links I had to reconnect or kludge are working great: the period, colon, and hyphen were all disconnected, and I realize now that I noticed no problems when typing this up. I feel like a real boy.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Spy games

Olympus Pen EES-2 I love spy stuff. Technically, that's not quite true: I love "retro" spy stuff. Actually, I love retro-futurism in general, but there's something about cold war high-tech that appeals to me. Maybe it's the just the smug feeling you get from perfect hindsight, like that old "nobody should need more than 640K" Bill Gates trope that's aired out from time to time. Technology still has the ability to surprise us, and perhaps there's a bit of Schadenfreude when reading a magazine article from the pulp-soaked 1940s predicting moon-bases and food-pills in the far-off 1970s. Or perhaps I'm just reveling in the wonder of a simpler time. Anyhow, I love the imagined gadgetry from that age, since they are by-and-large mechanical, and thus so incredibly ingenious. How did they get that camera squeezed into a pen?

And that clunky segue leads to the featured photo with this post: a camera that thinks it's a pen. Or rather, a camera that Olympus marketed as being as easy to carry as a pen. It's a half-frame camera, meaning that it shoots two negatives per regular frame on a 35mm roll of film. Now, this can either be used to fulfill some latent spy-fantasies by taking snapshots of Secret Plans, or just to make some artistic diptychs in-camera. Personally, I'll hope for the latter, but play at the former. Besides, this is a cool looking camera. Sometime I'll have to get some help for my love of cameras with the bug-eye style light meter.

Like my other recent adoptee, this one needs some help. The apeture is stuck nearly shut, perhaps around f/22. The Magical Interwebs has directions for going in and solving this problem, but right from the start it's obvious that I have neither the tools nor the talent to remove screws smaller than I can comfortably see. So, I'm going to drop in a roll of junk film and take a little photo walk before finding someone willing to be the Q to my James Bond.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A rambling history of planning

RollabindI've used a variety of planning systems over the years, ever since the company I was working for got into talks with the Franklin Quest people (now Franklin Covey.) We were a tiny spinoff company from an established printing firm, and after flailing around for a year or so, we somewhat accidentally fell into web development, making some of the earliest commercial web sites (ask me about meeting Fabio.) Franklin was one of those sites, and my future wife and another co-worker got shipped out to Utah for a meet-and-greet and to become One With The Planner People. Soon after they returned, we were all treated to one of the planning seminars and given our choice of planners.

Now, I've never actually been indoctrinated into a cult before, but this sure felt like it. I'm a pretty type-A kinda guy, so the thought of having a System for capturing your day, your to-dos, all the loose bits of information swirling around in your life was oh-so-very appealing. So much so that I went for the "Monarch" size, the full 8.5"x11" magilla, with leather cover, desk stand, fancy punch, snazzy ruler page marker... the works. It was Big. It was Black. It smelled Great. I wrote down everything in that monster, including plans for the wedding and honeymoon. Oh, and it went on the honeymoon, too. Yes indeedy, it was The Answer. Sort of. What it was was Heavy. And Bulky. And Awkward To Use. My new bride had the good sense to go with a half-page size, which didn't require a regimen of bicep curls. Buyers remorse had settled in with a fury. Then came the Newton.

Sleek. Black. Digital. Full of coolness and elegance and intelligence... most of the time. I lusted for one being a long-time Apple junkie, but was well-behaved and Did Not Buy. The Franklin looked more like a boat anchor and less like the One True Path. I opted to trade down a size on the planner as a nod to my need for portability. I even got the one made from recycled soda bottles, so I was feeling very green indeed, before being such a thing was cool, at least in the Midwest. Flash forward a few months: a new job opening in California, and me fully disgruntled at the old one. My new bride had quit some weeks before, and I'm thinking should I do it? Can I do it? it was time for a clean break. I did it. Ditched the barely-used planner along with about a third of our mutual belongings as we prepared for our Grand Adventure West.

No time to think or plan in the new job, at least not at first. Working in San Francisco during the height of the dot-com boom, who had time to plan? Everything's emailed anyhow, just get it done, chugga chugga chugga. Ooh! Palm Pilots! Gotta get one of those. And then the upgrade. And a keyboard. Ooh, and the new model! Even better. The most used feature of all: the beeping alarm warning me that I have a meeting to be at in 10 minutes. Developed mad graffiti skillz and was inseparable from the little digital brain for a few years. Oh sure, it ate batteries, and yes, firmware upgrades were a nightmare -- don't unplug it halfway through or it's ruined! And lo, a son was born.

Suddenly the commute seemed offensive, taking me away from my family. Time became the enemy, up at 5:30, on the train by 7:00, in the door by 8:00, and then reverse it all at 5:00. "He walked today" was the impetus for change. A few re-organizations later, and I worked out a telecommuting deal, home in the extra room with the laptop and DSL, my toddler son coming in to share his goldfish crackers. Meetings became a non-issue as I was out of sight, so far more important became the Work Log, my own system for keeping myself honest and focused by jotting down what projects I had worked on. Just an old spiral notebook from college and a Bic. The Pilot's batteries died and I never noticed.

A few more reorganizations later, and I'm back on the commute again, showing up with New Responsibilities. Managing staff! Preparing presentations! Arranging weekly meetings! It was all so complicated... perhaps it was time to dig out the old Palm again, fire it up, take it to meetings... hrm... still kind of clunky... and slow... and battery-gobbling... um, maybe not. On a lunch-break walk one day, I stumbled across the San Francisco Franklin Covey store. Maybe just a quick peek inside... what harm can it do?

Sigh. Back in the cult.

And that's where I was in spring of 2004, with my shiny new "Pocket" size planner (kangaroo pockets, maybe.) Diligently filling out the daily to-do list and its A/B/C priorities. Buying the annual refills and archiving the previous year's. A good little soldier, I.

Now flash forward to spring 2007, me with credit card in hand on the Franklin web site, trying to find the cheapest refill possible. I had just dug out my old Shaeffer fine-nibbed fountain pen, and was trying it out on my planner. Horrible, horrible bleed through. Luckily, I had my share of empty pages to test the pen on. And then something finally clicked: I've spent over $120 in four years to buy paper I barely use. What am I doing? Vast swaths of the planner went totally unused, except for days when I filled the pages. To-dos were either mostly empty, or completely packed. This was not a workable system. So I started reading up:
  • hPDAs looked useful and low-budget, though I'd like to use my Sheaffer...
  • FPN recommended Levenger papers pen-friendliness, and luckily
  • The Levenger catalog kept gracing my mailbox thanks to my regular Franklin purchases
  • But... what is this D*I*Y Planner thing I keep reading about?
And that did it. My self-imposed "trial year" ended in May, and I'm pleased to be using a system that actually works with me. 3x5 cards handle the bulk of my task-tracking needs, and they are punched and bound with the Rollabind system (equivalent to Levenger's Circa product.) My tickler file keeps me on track with all the little reminders that need to get done on a certain day, and my DIY planner handles calendars, book lists, birthday gift ideas, typewriter models, and all the other mental detritus that needs a reliable place to be noted down. And at the core of this is David Allen's Getting Things Done methodologies and their emphasis on offloading your brain into a trusted, physical system. I cannot praise this enough, since the combination of all of these factors really loosened me up, loose enough that I was willing to try a little something different last fall and write a novel, and then think about doing this year's novel on a typewriter, and then bothering my father to send along his mother's old typewriter, and then growing impatient and taking matters into my own hands, and then starting this silly blog about it and all the other little mechanical obsessions I have, and in turn meeting a number of people who share the same manias.

Anybody need a Franklin planner?

UPDATE: photos posted on flickr

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The long weekend

My son and I are getting on one another's nerves. It's happening more and more lately, enough to the point where my wife has declared that the boy and I require some male-bonding alone-type time over the holiday weekend, while she and the girls stay in and presumably gossip about how annoying the two of us have been lately. This is a common parent's lament: my child is so different from me, we don't think alike, we don't understand one another. I've never held any pretension that I was going to be a "cool" dad. Since becoming a father over a decade ago, I've learned to embrace my inner uncool, connect with the Geek Within. So what's a parent to do when their kid turns out to have all the signs and symptoms of coolness?

The differences are striking: he's athletic and tan and lean, proudly showing off his skatepark-earned scrapes as he sits in his room picking out Nirvana and Hendrix on his electric guitar. I was the opposite: pasty and chubby and uncoordinated, far more prone to contemplating the hit points of gelatinous cubes to doing anything resembling physical activity, unless it was re-reading the Hobbit for the umpteenth time. Had we been children at the same time, we would not have been likely to be friends, though I can't help thinking that I would have envied him just a bit. The apple didn't just fall far from the tree, but it looks disturbingly like some kind of exotic citrus.

What I need to remember -- and this gets harder to do as he gets closer to his teens -- is that he and I are artifacts of the last century. He is the only male child in the house, and the only of my children who was born in the twentieth century. When he's a grandparent, I'm sure he'll be looked upon with wonder by his own progeny, Old Grandpa born back when the years started with a nineteen. We need to stick together, us last-century guys. Of course, he's got this-century tastes, so we're planning to take in the latest Pixar romp, grab some smoothies and bunker in at the local video game swap shop, just two different kids from a different time, trying to reconnect and find a little common ground.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Writing reading for the reading non-writer?

I'm engaged in a little self-study program right now, reading books on writing in the hope that the collective wisdom and frustrations of "real" writers will somehow shake off onto me before November and I'll be able to get through this year's novel without tears, angst, and ennui. I've no illusions that I'm going to be the next Great American Novelist, but I'd like my writing to be at least of a quality where I'm not far too embarrassed and ashamed to show it to anyone. Any recommendations? Thus far I've read and enjoyed:
In the "read and found OK pile" we have:
And because I really need to:
I'm still slogging through Elements, as penance for being a chronic hyphenator and parenthesizer and all-around style butcher. Plus, I've found discussions of nominative form to be great for insomnia.

If you're familiar with the first three titles, you can probably see a theme evolving: books by writers who spend time procrastinating or advocating the "just write it down" school of thought. Bradbury's book had some interesting thoughts on writing using free-association word lists as a basis. I'm gathering up advice magpie-fashion, so any suggestions you can send my way are welcome.