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Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

We took in the movie “Jobs” this afternoon, the bio of Apple founder and industry visionary Steve Jobs. Despite the crummy reviews and relatively low-level of hype surrounding the movie, Barb and I decided that it beat the uninspired collection of cinematic dross playing on the other 15 screens.

Before I get into a review of the movie, let me just say I never knew Steve Jobs personally nor have I read any of the biographies about him. I will say that Barb and I lived for a couple of years in Cupertino and we both worked in Palo Alto so I had some early experience with Apple as a company.

We lived and worked in the Valley during the mid to late ’80s. I had occasion to know some folks who worked for Apple during those years and I was indeed struck by the passion they felt for the company and its products. They were almost religious in their devotion.

During those years it was not uncommon the have people working beside you that were just putting some bread in the fridge while they looked for a real job. The company I worked for had numerous refugees from Atari who had recently laid off a huge number of folks. It wasn’t unusual to have several HP folks show up, maybe some IBMers or Sun employees hitting your HR office as a group following a round of downsizing or reorganization or de-funding of some project or another.

I don’t ever remember working with someone who used to work for Apple. I don’t know if they didn’t have lay offs or if people just stop working after leaving Apple.

The movie does not paint Steve Jobs as a very likable fellow. I can’t really venture an opinion about Jobs in terms of his personal warmth or fuzziness rating. It does give him passion, creativity, vision and drive. I have to assume he possessed these traits because they would be necessary to accomplish what he did.

For me, the best aspect of this movie was the realistic portrayal of the ongoing tension that exists between Finance, Marketing and Engineering. In that regard, I think this movie did a superb job of showing just exactly how difficult it is to convert a dream into a product concept and then turn that concept into a market changing (I will not use the word disruptive) product and then selling that product as a profitable business.

During my career, I have had the privilege of working in marketing with some very smart folks, I’ve also worked with some superb financial guys and I would have to say the engineers I’ve been around were some of the best in the business. Getting these three elements in sync and making a buck at the same time is supremely difficult.

So, in that regard, if Steve Jobs lost his temper, lashed out at someone or fired people, I’d have to say so what? Those things happen all the time. Business requires us to occasionally be overt, curt and a bit dispassionate.

During the movie, Jobs mentions the concept of making the PC work like an appliance. He talks about removing it from the box, plugging it in and then, “it just works” was how he put it. That kind of simplicity is almost always impossible to attain.  Almost anything you buy requires tweaking, set up or at least a protracted amount of time reading a manual.

About three years ago, I decided to do something radical. My home PC died. We took it down into the basement where we have a family crypt for our deceased PCs. After placing my PC in its niche of eternal rest, I headed out to Best Buy to replace it.

For some reason or another, I decided that this time I was going to go with a Mac. I picked out the model I wanted and waited for the stock person to bring all the boxes and stuff up to the cash register for me.

They rang up my purchase and then handed me a single brief case sized box with a suitcase type handle. I laughed and told them that I had purchased a desk top machine, not a laptop. They assured me that my entire Mac was indeed in the box.

Once I was home, I opened the box and found the monitor and integrated CPU, the keyboard, a mouse, the stand and a power cord. There was also one very slender, very small booklet.

I put the monitor on the stand and plugged the thing in. A message popped up telling me that a wi-fi signal was detected and it asked if I wanted to connect. I tried the mouse and clicked on the “yes” icon. That was it. My Mac was up and running.

No cables, no manuals, no software loads, no CD-ROM, no download this or that, no learning curve. Nothing. It just worked.

So, thank you Mr. Jobs for understanding the beauty of simplicity but also understanding that the best simplicity allows us to exploit astounding complexity.

Go see the movie.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

When I was about six years old my dad bought a power lawn mower. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. My dad explained to me that one day, I would be able to use the lawn mower and that mowing the lawn would become my responsibility. I was so excited!

Until then, I had to wait. I was given the not so glamorous job of “picking up sticks” as a sort of apprentice level job. Picking up sticks pretty much sucks compared to walking around behind the bright red Toro as it growled and spit out grass clippings on the circuits around the grounds of our palatial estate.

Finally, at some point, I would guess maybe I was ten or eleven, dad told me I was at last big enough to handle the big, now not so shiny, Toro.

I think the feeling of excitement about actually handling the big red machine by myself lasted about twenty minutes. By the second or third time I mowed the lawn, I realized that the thing was a big con job. Mowing the lawn wasn’t fun or cool, it was work. I had been lured into taking a job by promises of glory and wealth and found only boredom and frustration.

The reality of lawn mowing was hard to start machinery, cleaning air filters, adding oil, adding gasoline and pushing the contraption around the yard as the hot sun beat down on my poor little spoiled self. I remember one time attempting to start the machine 104 times before my dad relented and took it in for service.

But, being good son, I did my chores like countless other kids. I grumbled, but mowed.

The worst time in my lawn mowing experience came one summer when I took a job mowing lawns for the Columbia Public School System. Most of my crew was made up of kids I went to high school with or my then current classmates at Mizzou. By the end of the summer, our lawn crew had accomplished the following:

  • wrecked two ½ ton pick trucks
  • destroyed one riding lawn mower (somehow it ran through the front doors of Frederick Douglas School)
  • decapitated one push mower with an out of control riding lawnmower
  • Destroyed too many flower beds and other ornamental plants to recall

For the of rest my life, I have hated the notion of “mowing the lawn” and all its associated activities. I have nightmares and flashbacks from that summer. I’m sure I could benefit from counseling.

Now, decades later, I find I might, at last be able to enjoy mowing the lawn again.

Last weekend, during a brief hiatus from the two month-long drizzle season we call Spring here in Northern Kentucky, my fifteen year old rusted out, broken down, piece of junk lawn mower finally died. The pull-cord snapped one final time; there was simply not enough cord left for yet another square knot to reconnect the cord to the lawn mower.

Reluctantly, I began looking online at lawnmowers at Lowe’s and Home Depot. It was all very depressing. I hate spending money on things that aren’t fun. Then, I saw something intriguing; electric lawnmowers.

All the electric lawn mowers I’d seen in the past were useless. Their fifty foot cords and underpowered motors were a certain recipe for frustration and aggravation. Plus, they just weren’t manly! People would make fun of me I was sure. The only people who used these things were nerds with yards smaller than the average welcome mat.

But, looking online I found something new and different. Electric lawn mowers that were cordless. Lawn mowers that used batteries.

Wow! That’s what I call liberating! No trips to the gas station, so filing the spark plug, no squirting starter fluid into the cylinder, no more cleaning air filters and no more guessing if the damn thing needed oil or not.

But, I was skeptical. How long would the thing run between charges? How much power did it have? Could it handle the jungle of broadleaf weeds that passes for a lawn at my home?

I decided I had nothing to lose, pick one, read the reviews and if no one is hating on that model, buy it.

I selected a model from Greenworks. This mower has a 19” cutting swath and it is powered by a 40 volt Lithium-Ion battery. (Just like the 787!) This particular model comes with two separate battery packs and a charging station. This is important because you can store the lawn mower any where you want and keep the batteries and charging station inside your home.

Greenworks Electric Lawn Mower

Greenworks Cordless Electric Lawn Mower

My lawn mower was delivered on Sunday by Lowe’s and unfortunately the drizzle had started again, so mowing was not going to happen that weekend. I opened up the box and assembled the mower per the instructions included in the box. This took no more than twenty minutes tops.

Next, I set up the charger and placed one of the two included battery packs in the charging cradle. Within one hour, the battery pack was ready to go.

Monday was a total wash out, so I came home from work and watched the grass grow even higher.

Tuesday brought a partly cloudy afternoon, so by the time I got home, the grass was still pretty damp, but I figured if I didn’t mow now, I would need a tractor and Bush-hog.

I rolled the mower out the front door, inserted the battery pack, inserted the safety key and turned the big bright green machine on. What a wonderful surprise, the mower powered right up and I started mowing. After about thirty minutes, I was done.

Greenworks 40V 19" Mower

Greenworks 40V 19″ Mower

The lawnmower was fantastic! It effortlessly handled the 10” tall grass and clover. It was every bit as good as any gasoline powered mower. The first battery pack was still going strong when I finished. So my fear of not being able to complete the job without a re-charge was totally unjustified.

As a push around mower the Greenworks has the added advantage of being on the light weight side compared to gasoline powered machines. But, I would add that the mower is heavy enough to not bounce over rough ground. It keeps the mower at the proper mowing height. But, it is also light weight enough to push and pull with one hand.

The height adjustment is very easy to use. A single lever adjusts the height of the whole mower. You do not have to mess with raising a lowering each wheel be itself.

Electrics are not for everyone. If you have a huge yard, the technology may not be ready for you. But, I did actually see a cordless, battery powered riding mower, so you may want to give the technology a look anyhow.

Greenworks 40V Lithium-Ion Battery Pak

Greenworks 40V Lithium-Ion Battery Pak

Count me as one satisfied customer. I would recommend this product to anyone looking for an alternative to smelly, expensive, time consumptive gasoline powered mowers.

Lawn mowing may be fun again after all! Without a doubt it is less of a hassle.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Class reunions are events unlike any other in our life experience. What I mean by that is they offer us a chance to measure or at least notice specific net changes in our cultural milieu. Since they occur at regular ten-year intervals and because you typically only see the folks in your class during the once per decade event, they make it easy to see how much life has changed since the last get together.

For instance, if you attended your reunion in 1980, you probably didn’t see a single cell phone or video cam. That’s because 1980 was still the era of land-lines and Kodak Instamatics.

By 1990, there were likely a number of cell phones and a few video cameras. We would laugh at these people today because the cell phones would look like World War Two era Army field phones and the Video cameras would make you look like the crew backing up Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. How could we think THAT was cool?

I went to a reunion in 1999 and I was amazed at the number of video recorders. They were starting to get pretty small by then. I remember looking across the banquet room and seeing about fifty of these things just rolling, taking in the ambiance of the Great American High School Reunion. Our reunion featured plentiful amounts of free booze so I’m sure the antics of my classmates, and me for that matter, were recorded for future use as blackmail fodder.

Now, we are about to enter another one of those technologically significant, yet potentially embarrassing eras.  Google Glass will soon become as ubiquitous as the video cam and the smart phone. Will it be the tech equivalent of the duck-tail or mullet? Or, will it be world changing?

Personally, I’m skeptical. Imagine walking into the ball room to register. The person behind the table is smiling sweetly and looks vaguely familiar. Before she can say, “Hi, I’m  ….” you are mumbling to your eyepiece to activate your facial recognition software. Glass quickly whispers her name into your ear “Betty Jo Belitnikoff”.

Why Betty Jo! You haven’t changed a bit. I love the blue rinse and those sensible shoes . . . very cool!”

That happens to be the last thing you say directly to any of your classmates that night. The rest of the evening, you are conversing with the Glass friend dangling in front of your eyeball. Everyone else is doing the same thing.

All you hear is low murmuring of Glass commands – Identify Face, . . .record, . . . retrieve email,  . . .open Facebook, . . . open LinkedIn. . . . message to Frank.

And so it goes all night long. Everyone is prowling around identifying faces and pulling up cyber versions of each other. No direct conversation is required.  Everyone who wants to interact can simply message via Glass.  An eerie silence hovers over the entire room. It’s like a zombie convention.

There are undeniably definite advantages. You get to avoid answering the unpleasant questions and you don’t have to listen to boring stories about kids and pets. You are in control; you can ignore or dig as deeply into the life of each classmate as you might care too. If it gets too bad, you’ll likely have the option to pull up something to stream from Netflix.

This is when you realize that the real world and the cyber or virtual worlds have partially merged. It is so disorienting, you are suddenly not sure what has happened or where you are.

Are you a warm blooded human visiting a virtual class reunion? Have you somehow been sucked into the virtual world where you can only interact via the technology you bring with you.

Or, has the virtual world expanded into the three dimensional universe, blurring the once distinct boundaries into a sort of cyber no man’s land? Has your Second Life merged with your real life?

You will ponder this as you move about the ball room, but you will come up with more questions than answers. A whiff of familiar perfume will pull you in one direction while a Facebook posting will jerk you back into reality, or was reality found only in a perfume scented distant memory?

Which is real; the warm and funny close friend of forty years ago or the bitter, angry guy spewing venomous political pabulum on Facebook?

The great television writer, Rod Serling would have recognized this dilemma right away. He would tell you without hesitation, you have indeed entered, The Twilight Zone.

By Lou Washington

Last week, on April 8, 2012 Jack Tramiel died. His passing generated only modest notice on the part of the industry media. His death wasn’t ignored, but it just didn’t create the kind of buzz one associates with the death of a luminary in the IT industry.

Jack was the founder of Commodore International, the folks that brought the Commodore 64 to the world. He was also the top man at Atari when it was spun off from Warner International in 1984. He took on Atari after leaving Commodore.

The world of IT was a much different place in those days. The idea of personal computers was very new and in many quarters thought to be a waste of time. There were just a few fledgling companies trying to make money selling computers to everyday people. PCs were largely seen as toys for the hobbyist.

In the early 1980s, everyone knew the field of the future, the field to get into was information technology. But, the avenues of entry were limited. If you were interested in getting into the business of computing, you had several choices.

First, you could sell business or scientific computers for one of the companies actively addressing those markets. Second, you could major in computer science and learn the business from the more technical programming and systems architecture end. You could also go to a trade school and learn the mind numbing skill of keypunch. Finally, you could get into the business from a ground up type job such as a Tape Librarian, Computer Operator or similar titles used for entry-level hires in IT shops.

None of these options offered anything related to personal computers. They really didn’t exist, certainly not in the world of business. I saw the advent of the personal computer as way for me to expand my information system knowledge from a Records Management focus to include something with a bit of a technical edge. It would be a way for me to “get into computers” without having to back track in life and go back to school or take an entry-level job.

At that point, there were very few options. Tandy had their TRS systems, Osbourne and Sinclair had offerings. Apple was just rolling out their Apple 2 and IBM laughed at all of them by entering their “toy” computer into the mix. They called it The Peanut.

IBM just wasn’t seeing the vision. The vision they did see was the end of centralized, corporate computing being fostered by the PC on every desktop.

But, for me, all of those options were way beyond my price range. There really were no serious choices in the sub one thousand dollar range.

For the Masses not for the Classes

That’s where Jack Tramiel came into the market. Commodore offered up the Vic–20 for about fifty bucks and later the Commodore 64 for well under a couple of hundred. Jack was quoted making the statement that Commodore will be making computers for the masses not for the classes. He meant this as a double entendre, Apple was well on their way establishing their presence in academia with special programs for schools and colleges.

Jack wanted to sell to everyone. He almost did sell to everyone. The Commodore 64 set records for the largest number of installed systems. The record may still stand.

commodore sx-64

My SX-64

I owe Jack Tramiel a huge thank you for bringing the PC into my price range. I bought the VIC and almost immediately after, the Commodore 64. It did not take long for me to see the potential for these devices as personal tools. I was building spreadsheets and doing job estimates, tracking job expenses and all sorts of things that were manual process in my working environment.

Then Commodore did a most remarkable thing, they entered the world of Mobile technology. They introduced and I immediately bought the Commodore SX-64. An integrated 64 system with built-in color monitor and a 5.25 inch disk drive.

I used this system until the late 1980s when I succumbed and finally bought a real PC with a MS-DOS operating system.

I’m sure my story is not at all unique. This whole industry is populated with people who went through similar development in terms of acquiring their skills by investing in the technology that interested them.

This has become something of a tradition in our space. The whole notion of BYOD is based on the fact that people want to make their lives better by learning to use new tools. We can’t wait until someone hands us an iPad, we go out and buy one. No one thinks twice about acquiring their own smart phone, they just do it.

Jack Tramiel saw this vision and turned it into a reality. If the desk top revolution needed heroes, Jack Tramiel would surely be one of the greats.

By Lou Washington

Everyone is speculating on what Apple should or will do with the pile of cash it is currently sitting on. New leadership in Cupertino is already showing some willingness to do things a bit differently with their recent stock buy back and dividend declaration.

Last week Business Week ran a piece by Mathew Ingram that took on the suggestion that Apple might be wise to pick up Twitter in an acquisition move. The article makes a number of good points. The most powerful argument for the acquisition is centered around a perceived missing social media component within the overall Apple market strategy.

I think this is a weak argument for buying Twitter. In fact, I would suggest that buying any social media vehicle would be counter productive for any platform manufacturer. At the end of the day, Apple is a platform manufacturer. They make devices and operating systems. They also produce some very good proprietary software products that exploit the platform environments that they build.

Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook are different. They are not at all proprietary. They cross-platform lines, cultural lines, social stratification and segments, political orientations and every other human pigeon-hole you can think of. All are welcome in the very large social media tent.

But, once that tent takes on the aura of being proprietary or in any way oriented toward a specific group, it begins to feel a little bit exclusionary.

Consider this, what would happen to Twitter if one of the major political parties bought it. What would happen if a media company purchased Twitter? Would ownership of Twitter by the Republican Party or the Huffington Post increase or diminish the membership of active users?

Apple does not need to buy its way into this arena. Apple users will do that on their behalf. Apple users are not a shy lot, they are passionate about Apple technology and they won’t hesitate to build out a variety of social media based manifestations of that passion.

Apple needs to continue to facilitate the use of social media within the design and concept of the products they bring to market. They do a good enough job of this, but further commitment in this direction will deliver a far more effective social presence then simply buying one of the components.

A good social media strategy must cover multiple social media outlets. Attaining excellence within one, does not guarantee excellence in another. Certainly, one flavor may lend itself more naturally to the goals and tactical processes of any given company. But, this doesn’t mean the company should avoid the other outlets.

The ability to effectively exploit LinkedIn does not mean you should ignore Facebook. Apple surely understands this. Purchasing Twitter would doubtless make it very difficult to develop and maintain close collaboration with communities operating within the other.

There really is very little to be gained by this move. The further you stray from your core competency, the higher the risk of failure.

By Lou Washington

Today is the big day; the day that has been anticipated for months. Today is the day the iPad 3 finally hits the market. If you believe the various news outlets, people are in one of two camps on this. First is the panting, drooling, tail wagging group who is speechless with excitement. Or, second, you are in the wake me when it’s over group.

In reality, most people are somewhere in between.  I certainly am.

The 3rd iteration of the iPad is exciting. A greatly improved camera and an upgraded display will make for an improved product. But, I’m not ready to turn in my iPad 2. I have not actually seen the new improved display or used the upgraded camera, but, I just don’t see those features driving me to abandon the 2 just yet.

The iPad is revolutionary. It has changed lives. But, why is this true. What is there about this device that causes so much hoopla?  As a dedicated user, I’ll try to answer that.

First off, what makes any device a better alternative than not having the device?

1)      It must deliver a decided advantage to the user

2)      It must be convenient

3)      It must allow the user to do more by doing less

4)      It must be consistent

Okay, so the iPad bats 1000 on these four categories. But, the thing that makes it transcend the merely great and cross over into the territory of world-changing is the fact that it does all four of these things on multiple levels. It touches and benefits so many processes within our daily lives.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s take the going to a presentation meeting experience.   In the pre iPad world you would go to the meeting with a pad and pen. Throughout the meeting you would jot down little notes and quotes that might be useful in the future. Finally, you go back to your office, lose your notes and that’s the end of things.

With the iPad you sit down at the meeting. You open a notes app and as the speaker talks you enter your notes into a named retrievable document. Perhaps the power-point presentation has some interesting graphics; you shoot a picture of the screen to capture the graphics. Perhaps, the presenter has a special verbal presentation that sums up his message. You can click on your recorder and capture the guy making the key points.

When you are done, you have an illustrated, multimedia presentation of the entire meeting. You can send it to others via email, you can store it, you can let it rest and review it later. That’s very powerful for people who attend trade shows or must sit through multiple meeting over the course of a day.

If someone would have built a little box that did all of that in 1995, and called it the Meeting Pro, that person would have appeared on the cover of Fortune Magazine by the end of the year.

So, how much greater is a device that also stores your music, facilitates access to the always open music store, movie store and book store and gives you access to these things anywhere you go?

How much greater is a device that replaces your telephone and email with VOIP and video phone functionality?

What would the worth be of a device that allowed you to carry around not only pictures of your family, but also all the pictures you’ve ever taken in your lifetime?

How about a device that does all of the above and also helps you tune your guitar and then record the latest song you’ve written playing your guitar?

Not musical, no problem, what about photo-shopping your pictures? Image editing software abounds for the iPad.

May be you want to try out a new route to your Aunt Zelda’s house. Fire up your iPad GPS system and you’re there in no time.

When you buy one of these things you have no idea how much it will impact your life. The more you use it, the more ways you find to use it.

So, pardon me if I’m not all over the iPad 3 just yet.  I’m still just blown away by my iPad 2.

By Lou Washington

Check out this list:

  • Watch a movie
  • Catch up with friends
  • Work from home
  • Post to this blog
  • Get a new recipe for Potatoes
  • Get a new book
  • Get some new tunes
  • Check in with my brother and his wife
  • Read my home town newspaper
  • Follow my beloved Mizzou basketball team

These are all things I can’t do when the #%$&@* internet is down. Actually the list is much longer, but space is limited and I think it gets the point across as is.

It seems like once or twice per year this happens. In the middle of an email or a Facebook session, you get that creepy sensation that you’re suddenly alone. It’s like being on the phone and just sensing that the guy is no longer on the other end of the line.

So,you try a few things like downloading a movie or just opening a website you know you don’t have cached. Then you know, there it is, you are cut off! You are off the grid. You are in the cyber penalty box watching the game and no longer participating.

What’s worse is the process required to get things right. You can’t just change the batteries or reboot. The system is way more complicated than that. There are so many points along the line where failure can kill the whole thing.

Our broadband service is via our phone company so the key issue in their mind is always figuring out why the fault is somewhere inside my house and not outside on their lines.

Even after I’ve “retrained” my modem, re-cycled my router and checked all my line connections I have to do all of that again for my friendly phone company help desk person. So we go through all that and the inevitable service visit is scheduled.

Within a few days and one or two service calls things are back to normal. No one is ever really sure why the thing broke to begin with, but it works now and all is well again.

But, back to the issue of what to do when you’re without service.

I’m still amazed at the level of trust we have in this whole internet thing. Further, I’m even more amazed at how dependent we’ve become on it.

I’m not a young pup, but I’m also not some luddite idiot who sits around yearning for the good old days. From what I remember, the old days pretty much sucked. But, I’ll get into that in my next post. The point I’m making is I can remember a pre-internet world and I can tell you things have changed a lot.

It has to be similar to the time when the world transitioned from horses to cars. People knew horses and they didn’t understand cars. They took it on faith, that the old Model T or whatever would start and get them to their destination. At some point they doubtless realized they were dependent on cars and their horses were now pretty much not an option.

So last week, we were limited to broadcast TV, playing with Chloe and PJ, eating a lot and for me, playing a lot of guitar.

When this happens at work, it’s even worse. People sort of stumble out of their cubicles, looking around at each other like they’ve never seen one other before. Slowly, it dawns on everyone that there is literally nothing to do.

So, my goal is now to put together a list of things I can do when the ‘net goes down. I’ll have a home list and work list. The next time the world goes dark, I’ll have the list handy. No more confused wandering around, no more watching re-runs of Petticoat Junction and Gomer Pyle.

Here’s my challenge to you, make a list for yourself. If you like, send your list to me and I’ll post the best ideas next week. This is your chance to help out your fellow Internauts, your cyber buds.

Let me hear from you, send your ideas via the comments option below.

By Lou Washington

One of things I learned early on in the world of amateur photography is that size does matter. The bigger the camera, the better. The bigger the lens, well Dr. Freud that’s even more important.

So, with those two rules in mind, you’ll have no problem understanding why my camera of choice is the Digital Single Lens Reflex or DSLR. The DSLR offers all the shooting flexibility of a regular film based SLR. That flexibility is made possible by equipping the camera body with a variety of selection dials and toggle switches.

All of those dials and switches mean the camera itself has to be fairly large to start with. There are some camera makers that try to pack all of that functionality into a compact camera body. It just doesn’t work for guys like me who struggle to find their glasses each morning. Small has no advantage for me in this area.

Bigger controls make it easier for other folks to see how great your camera is and also easier for me to make sure that the camera is properly set on Full Auto Mode.

The other great feature of DSLR cameras is the interchangeable lens. Lens are typically sold separately in the world of DSLRs. Most amateur photographers can get by with two lens, one for shooting people shots and snap shot type photography. For shooting at sporting events or out-door scenery type shooting you will want to invest in a telephoto lens. Telephotos are also handy for shooting close-ups of plants and insects.

Keeping all that in mind you may not be surprised to find that I am not particularly interested in the newest generation of cameras that are commonly referred to as compact system cameras. These are smallish body cameras that offer several proprietary interchangeable lens. For me they combine the high price of DSLRs with the inconvenience of micro sized camera bodies.

I’m sure they take fine pictures and for little people with fat wallets and 20/20 vision they may be a good alternative to the bulkier DSLR choices.

The main problem I find with these cameras is that they get no respect in the competitive, tough world of amateur photography. Let me explain what I mean.

Photo by Lou Washington

I live in the Cincinnati area and every year the Krohn Conservatory holds a fantastic butterfly show. It’s a great photo op for anyone who likes to shoot bugs and flowers.

It was during my first butterfly show that I learned just how much camera size matters.

Upon entering the show area, the first thing I noticed was there were just a ton of people clamoring around trying to get that special shot. I think there may have been more people than butterflies.

I was using my little Pentax point and shoot film camera. It was an okay camera with an optical zoom that improved the range for this type of shooting. But, every time I’d get a great shot lined up, some idiot would push in front of me or bump my arm or somehow terrorize the little bug causing it to fly away.

It was the most frustrating photographic day of my life. I didn’t get any shots worth a damn and worst of all, I felt totally disrespected. That’s when I realized it wasn’t me that was disrespected, it was my camera.

As we walked out of the conservatory, I told Barb, I‘m coming back next year and things are going to be different!

By golly, next year things were different.

First, I went out to Dick’s sporting goods and picked up one of those khaki colored fishing vests with all the little pockets and nifty hangers for stowing fishing gadgets. I found that fishing vests were virtually identical to professional photography vests but they cost about a quarter of what you’d pay for the photo vest. Plus, I fish occasionally, so what the heck.

Next, was my camera. Canon had recently introduced the Digital Rebel. This was one of the first DSLRs on the market. It was a great camera and best of all, virtually all of Canon’s huge catalogue of autofocus lenses would fit the Digital Rebel.

For my butterfly safari, I picked a 300mm telephoto lens.

When next year rolled around I was ready to go. We got up extra early that morning. I put on my vest and loaded it up with a wide variety of photo paraphernalia. I put on my favorite ball cap, with the bill pointed to the back like real photographers do and loaded a fresh power cell into my Rebel.

This time, when I entered the butterfly room it was a totally different experience. I slapped my ginormous 300 mm telephoto lens on my camera and powered up. The effect was almost immediate.

People gave me a wide berth, no one bumped me or even tried to get in my shots.

One guy who started to cross in front of me, stopped and apologized. I nodded and told him it was okay this time, but not to do it again.

A child who was threatening to grab one of my subjects was hauled back by his mom who harshly reprimanded the little guy.

It was easy to tell where the butterfly action was. People would gather around three deep trying to shoot over each other’s shoulders and heads. I would only have to walk up, clear my throat and busy myself with the dials on my camera and focus on the lens.

The whole crowd would just kind of stand back to make way for me, the guy with big camera, the fellow with the giant lens, the dude with the special vest.

Yep, just as I suspected, no one messes with a pro photographer packing a giant camera.

By Lou Washington

I try not to be a past oriented kind of guy. I mean I don’t like to obsess about the past at the expense of looking forward to the future. I believe our best days are in the future and not in the past.

But, on occasion there are some things from the past that merit commemoration and recognition among those of us in the present world. For those of us who remember that cold February morning fifty years ago, this is certainly one of those rare events.

Space shots, as we called them in that day, were big events. They were about as close to a national holiday as you could get without decorating a tree, cooking a turkey or blowing up fireworks.

The major TV networks cancelled their scheduled programming and went to extended live broadcast mode with multiple location coverage. The live coverage would begin in the early morning hours, long before anyone would think of getting out of bed. The coverage would typically run nonstop throughout the entire flight all the way through the recovery process.

In school, regular classes were cancelled. The teachers would bring in TVs and the entire class would watch as the events of the space flight unfolded. For me the question was always when would the launch occur? Should I push to get to school as soon as possible or drag my feet getting ready in hopes of catching the launch at home? There could be nothing worse than missing the launch altogether because you were riding in the car.

John Glenn’s flight was unique among the six Mercury program spaceflights. John Glenn would be the first American to actually orbit the earth. This would be the first flight where the guy in the capsule would actually have some things to do. He would be much more of a pilot, in control, then flying as a passenger on a ballistic projectile.

Glenn’s booster was the somewhat iffy Atlas. This rocket was an intercontinental ballistic missile which meant that it was primarily designed to loft nukes, not orbit humans. It did not have a terribly long record of successful launches.

So on that morning, when the engine lit and the liftoff sequence begin, there were many folks holding their breath and crossing their fingers, praying, hoping and ultimately cheering as the big shiny vehicle climbed into the sky. Scott Carpenter, acting as CapCom for this flight, uttered his famous, “God Speed, John Glenn!” as the ship cleared the gantry, started picking up speed, heading for a near perfect orbit.

To this day, when I watch film or tape of that launch, my throat starts to close up and my lower lip trembles. So many hopes and aspirations were riding on that rocket on that morning fifty years ago.

I do not wish to turn this forum into a political discussion. But, I will say this much, There will be future space programs. People will inhabit nearby celestial bodies in the near future. They will learn to exploit those venues and sustain their presence there by doing so.

The only question remaining is, who will do those things? Who among us on this planet will take those bold steps?

There are those that would suggest that this must be left to private enterprise and will only be sustained through a profit-making business model. Over the long run of decades and centuries, I suspect that is true. The fledgling private space exploration industry that has so recently evolved is fantastic.

But, the question still remains who will take the next steps? Are we going to depend on some board of directors to set our space faring priorities? To some degree, the answer to that question must be yes. But, we also need the dreamers of the world, the curious, the purely knowledge motivated people to participate. And, that means tax payer participation.

Before you have applied science, you must have pure science, the science of curiosity. That means funding education, boosting performance requirements and actual performance within our education systems. It also means putting up some bucks for Buck Rodgers, to paraphrase Tom Wolfe.

Regardless of what we do, or choose not to do during these next few years, we can be assured that fifty years from now people will be looking back again, this time at the 100th anniversary of John Glenn’s day in space.

Will they see this flight as a monument to past achievement or as the beginning of a new age of exploration? That is entirely up to us.

By Lou Washington

First off, I’ll admit it right up front. I have an iPad and I plan on taking it with me to the grave. By the time I die, I’m sure there will be an app for that.

I’m sure no one who reads this will be shocked to learn that I love technology. I love all gadgetry and all the shiny stuff that beeps and boops and flashes little lights off and on. I love it when one of my toys works perfectly for me in some new way that no one else had thought of.

To me that is really the fun part of using new technology. I was never one of those folks who “put the tool back where you found when your done”. My dad was meticulous about this but I just never saw the point.

So, because of that I long ago learned that a Floresheim wing tip makes a dandy hammer, a butter knife will easily do the job others would reserve for a flat head screwdriver and duct tape will do almost everything else.

As my technological sophistication increased, I applied the same strategies to some of the more common technical marvels of our age. Most companies have some level of support for their employees, like me, who bring their little techno-toys to work. It is nice to work for such a company, one that I can rely on to bail me out when my creativity exceeds common sense or the performance specification of one of my devices.

I know I am not alone in this. Most folks who work in technology, like technology. At that point, it simply becomes a matter of keeping up.

Seriously there are things to be learned in this and this week our group learned one such lesson. It wasn’t that the experience was particularly profound or even ended up causing a major problem. In this case, it was a simple oversight that provided the instruction.

Our marketing group recently completed the production of several video product demonstrations. These are short, less than three-minute, presentations that can be viewed on You Tube or attached to an email or linked to on our website. They are very nicely done and we are quite proud of the folks who provided the creative effort in making them.

A couple of our sales folks were headed out to Cleveland to attend a trade show this week. It only seemed natural that they should be able to exploit the power of these videos during their trip. We were not displaying, but rather talking to people who did display at the show. Since we did not have a booth, it would be necessary for our folks to carry collateral and sales material with them.

And then, a stroke of genius. Why not put it on an iPad? At least the videos that is. That would be very cool indeed! People would actually be able to see the product in action. See what makes it special.

When you sell enterprise software systems, this is better than beer in a can. Being able to show it to your prospect is a powerful tool.

So, with that wonderful vision in mind, we headed down to the old IT department. Yes, they had a loaner iPad, Yes, they would help us load the video files. Perfect!

Today the road warriors returned. The trip was a big success, lot’s of contacts made, new relationships set up and many opportunities for future business were found. But I could tell, almost right away that some thing wasn’t quite right.

How did the tablet demo work I enquired? This was answered with some hemming and hawing, some shuffling and so forth. Then, being sales folks, they spoke right up.

It seems the trade show floor was noisy. Oh yeah, that’s right, I’ve been to trade shows, thousands of people milling around talking, demos involving machines that click and clack, booth guys hawking their wares and maybe a PA system making announcements. Yep, trade shows are NOISY.

In fact, trade show floors are noisy enough to make hearing the audio portion of a demo video impossible. Even when you crank it up, the iPad is just not going to cut through the ambient roar.

So, lesson learned; for trade show video segments on tablet devices (or net books, laptops or anything else portable) think in terms of making your message very visual with limited audio. Or, perhaps take several hundred sets of ear buds with you.

Now there’s an idea, ear buds with our corporate logo . . .

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