Monthly Archives: December 2006Page 1 of 5 (49 posts)

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

All good things…

So, it’s the last post of the year. (I won’t have Internet access tomorrow.) I suppose I ought to bequeath words of wisdom or something. Oh, wait, I don’t have any. :)

Well, this’ll be the 613th post. There are 852 comments thus far. And no animals hurt.

Never mind. Stats are boring. :) Instead of that, you can check out my latest photographs on Flickr:

Bubbling Brooks
Pointing the Way
Snow Molehills

And many more.

Happy New Year!

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

Stick to your task

I used to finish every book I started, thinking I had a moral obligation to not be a quitter. In fact, here’s a poem I learned as a kid:

Stick to your task till it sticks to you;
Beginners are many, but enders are few.
Honor, power, place, and praise
Will come, in time, to the one who stays.

Stick to your task till it sticks to you;
Bend at it, sweat at it, smile at it, too,
For out of the bend and the sweat and the smile
Will come life’s victories, after awhile.

And I agree. But at the same time, I think it’s important to know when to quit. (I’m mainly talking about creative endeavors, but I suppose the principles could apply elsewhere.)

See, there’s only so much time in a day. “You can’t do everything, but you can do anything,” they say. Finishing what one starts is good, but only if the thing started is worth finishing. And if it’s not? I no longer feel bad about dropping it.

Besides, it’s not always the right time for a project. Some things, like bread, take a while to rise. Stopping work on a project doesn’t have to mean throwing it away; whenever I abandon one, I see it as putting it on the back burner. But if it really is worthless, then I have no qualms about killing it.

What this comes down to, basically, is priorities. For example, it may seem from this blog that I start an awful lot of things that I don’t finish (NaNoWriMo, Random: A Little Bit of Everything, etc.). That’s true. :) And while I used to feel guilty about it, I’ve freed myself from that bondage. I only need to feel guilty about not finishing the things that really do need to be finished. The rest is chaff in the wind.

I see it this way: in my pursuit of the things that matter most, I shouldn’t discount endeavors on face value alone. This means starting lots of projects because I don’t know in advance which ones will succeed and which will fail. But once I have enough data to make a decision, I needn’t feel bad about axing a project that I feel isn’t going anywhere, or that I don’t have enough time for, or enough interest for that matter.

I guess this is my apology (in the “defense” sense) for finishing only half of what I start. But rest assured that I (usually) finish the stuff that matters. At least I hope.

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

Visual storytelling

I finished reading Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been years since I read comics (mostly Superman and Pogo and such), but now I think I may pick it up again. The most riveting parts of the book for me were the bits on closure — how our minds fill in the space between panels. I suppose I’m primarily interested in comics from two angles: first, as a storytelling medium (and that’s why closure makes me so excited), and second, as a design/communication tool. They’re quite related, of course. Anyway, I’ll be experimenting. And practicing my drawing skills, since they’re, um, in need of some serious help. :)

In the meantime, here are some comic-ish doodles, with no real point to them:

Kazaam

The font is DigitalStrip from Blambot.com, and I did everything in Illustrator.

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

Two fallen trees in the road

For the past while — months and months — I’ve run into two main obstacles. The first is making the time for genealogy research. If I don’t have a regular time each week for working on my lines, it generally won’t happen, at least not unless genealogy has a higher priority for me. (And alas, so far it hasn’t. Other endeavors have clambered for attention, successfully.) One of my New Year’s resolutions will be to set aside an hour or so each week for genealogy. Once I get back into the groove, I don’t think it’ll be too hard to keep it up; it’s just a matter of getting started.

The second obstacle is not knowing quite where to start. I’ve done research on two of my lines, but there are hundreds, and it’s hard to know where I ought to start researching. Perhaps the best plan of attack is, I think, to just choose a family and research them. Later on I can develop a better strategy, but for now the random selection (well, hopefully guided by the Spirit :)) seems best.

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

The Digital Divide

The four-year-old next door already knows how to get on the Internet and find his favorite games. Grandma, on the other hand, still doesn’t know how to double-click.

Why?

When adult immigrants enter the U.S., a number of them learn some basic English — barely enough to get by — and then stop learning. Their English skills fossilize. Even after living here for over 30 years, they still speak like a two-year-old (if that).

The same thing happens with the older generation and computers, I think. They might know how to type (since typewriters have been around for a while), but for the most part they have no clue. Not everyone, of course, but too great a number. Does it need to be this way? I don’t think so.

It seems like most of the technophobes out there claim that using computers is too hard. But is it? We’re not talking about coding device drivers in assembly or even understanding how binary works. Basic computer literacy, that’s all. Is it too much to ask for people to understand the concept of folders? Windows? Dragging and dropping?

Besides, these aren’t people of limited intelligence. If a person can drive a car, they can use a computer. (And computers don’t kill you if you mess up. Three points for computers.) So why do people plateau?

I’ve thought about it and this is what I’ve come up with: fear of the new. The accelerated rate of improvement in technology has far exceeded anything the older generation grew up with, and I think that, for them, too much is changing too fast. We of the younger generation, however, were born as the rate began to pick up, and we’ve gotten used to it. It’s hard for us to imagine a world where things don’t change so fast — it’d be like transforming ourselves from a race car into a snail. Unthinkable.

Is there anything innate in this whirlwind of change that excludes the older generation, though? Assuming that someone is healthy enough to drive a car — acceptable motor control, average intelligence, adaptability in face of constantly changing road conditions, etc. — I can’t think of any reason why they shouldn’t be able to use a computer.

Which takes us back to this fear. If it isn’t fear, it’s apathy or laziness, but it’s not nice to claim that all technophobes are apathetic or lazy, so we’ll stick with fear. They’re paralyzed by it. It’s like writer’s block but with computers. Granted, we could just wait for all the old generation to pass on, but I don’t think that’ll necessarily solve the problem, since even some of the younger generation have it — “I’m not very good with computers,” I heard a guy my age say in class not two weeks ago, fumbling with the computer as he prepared to give a presentation.

I do think there’s more to life than computers, of course, but computer literacy needs to be a given here in the 21st century. Computers are everywhere. Not everyone needs to be a programmer, but everyone ought to know the basics. And with a solid foundation, they should be able to figure out things they don’t know when they need to know them. Adaptability is the name of the game.

True, there are plenty of user interfaces which are too complicated or unintelligible or just plain user-unfriendly. I’m not excusing them. Interfaces do need to be well-designed. But I think too many people are just giving up on computers, assuming they’ll never figure it out, even on the basic things. This is a tragedy. Windows and OS X are both simple enough for anyone to understand the basics. If someone can understand that you put manila file folders in a filing cabinet and you put stuff in the file folders, they can understand computer files and folders. It’s not that difficult.

So, what can we do to help change this? There are tons of “For Dummies” books out there, but basic computer literacy could be taught in a couple of pages. There’s really not much to it. Perhaps something akin to a comic book (I’ve been reading Scott McCloud’s excellent book Understanding Comics, but I’ll save that for another post). Lots of pictures. Step-by-step. Simple. If I have extra time before the break ends, I may put together a little pamphlet. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m interested in y’all’s thoughts on this. Is it priggish to assume that old people should learn how to use computers? Are there other reasons that keep people trapped in technophobia? Other solutions?

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

Moo MiniCards

My Moo MiniCards came in the mail the other day. They’re beautiful!

Moo MiniCards

I’d heard a lot about them before, and I’ll admit I had some hesitancy when I ordered mine — mainly because my experiences getting stuff printed haven’t always been positive — but I’m deliciously pleased. The cards are very well made, and it’s a delight to see my photos on something so visually aesthetic. Moo will have my business for a long time. Indeed, I can recommend them without reservation, which doesn’t happen often.

The process itself is incredibly easy. Assuming your pictures are already in Flickr — they are, aren’t they? — you select the photos you want (up to 100), crop them, personalize the back, and voila! It’s only $20 for a hundred of these cards. Very handy for giving your e-mail address and phone number to friends, or whatever else you might want to use them for.

If you want to see how others are using these MiniCards, by the way, check out the Flickr pool.

And no, they’re not paying me to say any of this. :)

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

Synergy

This morning I read about Synergy in Mordy Golding’s blog. It’s open source software that lets you move your mouse between computers, without having to use any kind of switch. All you do is plug in the hostnames and voila!

I installed it on my Mac and PC here at work, and it’s working very well. I didn’t expect it to be this easy. :) And I can even copy and paste between the two, which is quite nice.

The only slight disadvantage is that I’ve now kind of lost two of my hot corners on my Mac (but I can still get to them if I move the mouse slowly; I just can’t fling my mouse in the corner anymore, eliminating the usefulness). The mouse movement also feels kind of slow on my PC, but it may just be my innate expectation for it to be thus. :) And if I’m in screensaver mode on my Mac, I can move the mouse on the PC but if I click and hold, the mouse moves on the Mac instead. But that’s not really a big deal — I can’t think of any situations where I’d need to have the screensaver up on my Mac and work on my PC at the same time.

For the moment, anyway, the benefit of not having to have a second keyboard and mouse on my desk far outweighs any disadvantages.

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

Four calling birds

Uno: Last night I biffed it for the first time this season. Came out of it mostly unscathed, luckily — I broke my fall with my left hand, tore it up just a little bit from the concrete, and somehow didn’t end up twisting anything or even getting sore. O spring, where art thou?

Zwei: Lately my productivity at work has waned, but yesterday I started using Minuteur to chunk my day into smaller bits. I work for 20 minutes, then take a “break” for five minutes, and repeat. (I had read Merlin Mann’s post on (10+2)*5 a few months ago, but remembered the numbers incorrectly. Oh well. :)) It’s worked amazingly well so far, and I find myself not wanting to take breaks. The time just flies by. Granted, with twenty-minute chunks it’s a little harder to stay in flow, but so far it hasn’t really been a problem. And whereas I used to find myself aching to clock out and go home, now I lose track of time. (Which is a good thing.) I wanted to pick up a timer from Smith’s last night — so I can use the same method at home, making sure I don’t waste time — but they were out. Soon… (Side note: do I feel my life is becoming over-structured because of this? Not really. I feel more productive, like I’ve been set free instead of bound in shackles. My big challenge before yesterday was wasting time, and using the timer has definitely helped me with that, so it’s a good thing. And I think I can keep it up, too. We’ll see. :))

Trois: I read the first seventy or so pages of Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three a few days ago. I’d had high hopes for it, but the dialogue is just too stilted for me. And it’s painfully obvious that it’s a derivative of Tolkien — Gurgi is just a poorly done Gollum, and Gwydion is Aragorn reincarnated. I’ll probably finish the book anyway, to see if things get better, but I doubt they will. ‘Tis a pity, really. And in the meantime I’m 100 pages into The Lives of Christopher Chant and loving it. Diana Wynne Jones’s books are quickly earning a spot on the list of my favorite books.

Four: Last week I was walking home and passed one of the guys in my ward. “Hi, Kevin,” I said, then accidentally said, “Good.” Aspirations to host Jeopardy notwithstanding, I think I’ll try to save my answers until after the questions are asked from now on. :)

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

FamilyWheel

A couple of weeks ago I came across Family Wheel, Buck DeFore’s ActionScript-based genealogy app:

FamilyWheel

You can read more about it on the project page. Quite an interesting visualization technique (meaning, as the main “pedigree” of the app; circle charts have been around for ages, but they’ve always been something you printed, not something you worked on directly). The app is fairly simple, too, which is nice.

General disclaimer for pre-2010 posts: I've changed a lot over the years, and posts this old may not represent my views anymore.

Linker proof-of-concept

Alrighty, here’s a proof-of-concept for the linker I mentioned in my last post. After I’d used Flickr for a while, the drag-and-drop organizing became addicting, and I realized that it’d be perfect (I think) for organizing the people in your database. Here’s the Flickr layout:

Linker (Flickr)

You find your photos in the strip at the bottom, then drag them into the set you want them in. It’s that easy. So, taking the same idea and applying it to genealogy, I came up with this:

Linker

It’s quite rough, I’ll admit, but the gist of it should come across. The software would be smart enough to re-order the children in birth order, I’d imagine. The “Family” text in the upper left would create a new family. (It should be labeled “New Family” instead, on second thought.) “Other” would create other kinds of relationships — friends, employers, neighbors, etc.

So, instead of starting with the pedigree and filling in the blanks, you would enter people instead — without caring (at first) who goes in what families. After you’ve entered the people you’re interested in, then you’d go to the linker, find the people you just added, and drag-and-drop them into families.

Since it’s still just an idea, I don’t know if this is better/easier/faster than the traditional methods. Thoughts?