All posts by jim

Eshu

“Jim, you’re an eshu.”

Thus spoke my old friend Kent, who’s long had a knack for uttering Truth, after I’d driven us through three yellow lights in a row to arrive for an appointment at just the right time.

We were all playing role-playing games back then, and Kent was referring to the eshu of a game called Changeling. Based on the Eshu of African Yoruba, the eshu of Changeling were storytellers and travelers. Fate had a way of smiling on them in a capricious way. An eshu could be relied on to never take the most direct path to a location, but the one that gave him the best story to tell. Likewise, an eshu rarely arrived at a place when he was supposed to arrive – but he always arrived when he needed to.

And yes, Kent’s offhand comment had that ring of Truth.

When things have needed to happen in my life they’ve happened. Not what I wanted, when I wanted. It’s never been like. But when something has needed to happen it does. In time, when I let it. Wu wei in practice. I owe my life to it, actually, but that’s a story you have to buy me scotch to get.

Eshu of Yoruba is the protector of travelers and the deity of roads, particularly crossroads.

For the last several years I’ve felt like I’ve been on a rail rather than a road. I made decisions, and there were precious few crossroads once I got on that path. As I look back I can see that, while it might not have been the most pleasant of paths, it was still a path that took me past much that would have been unpleasant otherwise.

But the path was still a rail. Not a road, and precious few crossroads.

That’s been changing the last few months. I’ve caught few glimpse of other paths through the undergrowth, the rails have faded into the dirt and it’s starting to feel like I’m walking on a road again rather than riding the rails.

There might even see a few crossroads up ahead.

I’m letting them come. I feel like an eshu again.

Good tools help you juggle

When I taught myself how to juggle, I learned that you take it in steps. First step is to practice tossing one ball from hand-to-hand with a consistent arc and positioning. *Toss catch.* You need to be able to do it repeatedly while just watching out of the corner of your eye. *Toss catch*
Step two is to add a second ball in your other hand and do the same consistent arc. Toss the first ball right-to-left, and toss the second ball left-to-right just before the first one reaches the top of the arc: *toss-toss catch-catch*. It’s this two-ball motion you need to practice the most.
Now here’s the thing. When that *toss-toss catch-catch* motion feels **incomplete**, like there’s something missing at the end and you just want to keep going without that awkward pause you get after catching the second ball… that’s when you add the third ball. Suddenly you’re *juggling*, and the motion doesn’t feel incomplete any longer.
The sensation of that moment – when one motion feels incomplete – that’s the closest thing I can come to how I feel when something I’m using is well-designed well but has a lack someplace. It’s designed well enough that I can start to get into a groove: *toss-toss catch-catch*. But then something happens that incurs that awkward pause – and I start looking around for the equivalent of adding the third ball. How can I make it feel like a complete motion?
I guess I spend my time trying to find the things that help me juggle.

Repaired Headphones

Repaired headphonesI have a pair of Sony MDR-G72 headphones – they fit my big-headed small-eared noggin well, have good sound, a "just right" cable length, and fold very neatly. They’re about 5 years old, the earpads were worn to disintegration, and I was warring with my love of the old ‘phones versus having an excuse to buy some new goodies.
Unfortunately, I’ve been burned by headphones before (bad fit, bulky, bad sound, shoddy workmanship, etc.) So I was happy when I came across this photoset showing someone in the UK getting replacement earpads. Comments on an Amazon entry for these now-unavailable headphones led me to a US source: servicesales.sel.sony.com.
My headphones are fixed. My ears are happy. And my conservative anti-sustainability boss thinks I’m even more a liberal for not contributing to consumer capitalism by buying new headphones. Win all around.

Parallels and Ubuntu 6.0.6 Server LTS

MacOS X 10.4.9 (Tiger)
Parallels Desktop Build 3188
Ubuntu 6.0.6 LTS Server
MacBook Pro 15″ (C2D 2.16)
You’ll find that attempting to install from the “server” ISO results in a VM that hangs just after kernel decompression. So…
Get the x86 “Alternate” ISO from here: http://se.releases.ubuntu.com/6.06/
In Parallels:
>File > New…
>Custom
>OS Type: Linux
>OS Version: Other Linux kernel 2.6
>RAM: 512MB or greater (install reported to hang with less)
>Create a new hard disk image, at least 4GB
>Shared Networking
>Name it whatever you like
When prompted to insert the install CD, Click “More Options”, select “ISO image”, and select the x86 Alternate ISO you downloaded earlier.
When you to the Ubuntu install prompt, enter “server”. Let ‘er rip.
Voila. Ubuntu 6.0.6 LTS VM. Parallels 3188. MacOS X 10.4.9.

And what is good, Phaedrus?

Two apparently unrelated articles follow – but consider the following when you read them:

Apple and Nintendo are both companies that have eschewed choices that would lead directly to market dominance. Even Apple’s now-market-dominating iPod wasn’t created to attack an existing market (unlike, say, the Zune). The essential point – as a deeply religious person told me – isn’t what’s being done, but why it’s being done. Arno asks the question, “Is the result good?”. Nintendo’s Wii seems an attempt to answer the question, “what makes this fun?” All while the ones whose “why” is “to be the #1 seller” are crippling themselves.

The Design of Mac OS X Shutdown Feature

Arno Goudal – MacOS X Finder Lead from 1999 to 2001 – weighs in on the discussion of shutdown menu design in Vista. “The success of Mac OS X has been due in part to an ability for Apple to successfully manage a project this complex to the point where full builds of the OS could be done reliably every week. To that extent, considering the issues described by Lettvin, shipping Vista at all is quite a feat, indeed.”

In Praise of Third Place

James Surowiecki of The New Yorker discusses Nintendo’s very lucrative position at third place in the video game console market. “[Nintendo] has five billion dollars in the bank from years of solid profits, and this past year, though it spent heavily on the launch of the Wii, it made close to a billion dollars in profit and saw its stock price rise by sixty-five per cent. Sony’s game division, by contrast, barely eked out a profit and Microsoft’s reportedly lost money. Who knew bringing up the rear could be so lucrative?”

But sometimes bigger is better…

December of last year, Jenni and I were both using PowerBooks as our main computers. Me on a 15″ PowerBook, she on a 12″ PowerBook. As of this weekend, we’ve both shifted to iMacs at home: I’m using a 20″ iMac, she’s using a 17″ iMac with a second 17″ LCD attached. The 15″ PowerBook is my travel machine (I’m using it right now), and the 12″ PowerBook is packed up and waiting for a buyer on Craigslist.
I’m reminded of the October 2005 Meet the Life Hackers article in the NY Times, where they discussed an experiment measuring productivity of people using a single 15″ display against those using a huge multi-screen 42″ setup:
>On the bigger screen, people completed the tasks at least 10 percent more quickly – and some as much as 44 percent more quickly. They were also more likely to remember the seven-digit number, which showed that the multitasking was clearly less taxing on their brains. Some of the volunteers were so enthralled with the huge screen that they begged to take it home. In two decades of research, Czerwinski had never seen a single tweak to a computer system so significantly improve a user’s productivity. The clearer your screen, she found, the calmer your mind.
It’s true – it’s a huge difference for anyone who spends their day flipping between web pages, email, editors, terminals, and a myriad of other applications. Today, using the 15″ PowerBook after months of the 12″ PowerBook, I’m surprised at the almost palpable sense of relief I feel – it’s almost as if I was cramped in some tiny space while using the 12″ PowerBook, and have only now been allowed to get out and stretch.
I’ve always held that the display – not the CPU – was the single most important piece of hardware as far as most users were concerned. It’s what you look at, day in and day out. I’ve seen the difference in folks when they moved to a larger screen – or even just a clearer and more legible one. The Times article last year was something nice to wave in the faces of some people I work with who still consider CPU uber-alles and decent displays to be for the realm of metrosexual design geeks (or overpaid dot-com leftovers). Jenni’s glee at her new dual-display setup, and my own relief at going back to the 15″ PowerBook just serve to put it all finally to rest.
Perception is reality, one of my earlier supervisors told me – and a nice big screen (or screens) just allows you to, well, perceive more reality.

Enough

Last night was date night – the sitter watches our son one night every other week while my wife and I go out and spend some time with each other free of the distractions of parenting. After dinner (great Indian food at Kanishka), we went to a nearby shopping center – she visited a crafting store while I sat and watched the water fountain.
I experienced a bit of a zen moment as I watched three jets of water, each rising to a different height. Some might have seen it as a metaphor for striving to always reach higher – I saw three fountains of water that had each risen to the height which was theirs. They accomplished what they needed to accomplish, their purpose was served by the height they’d reached.
Had the lower one risen higher, it would no longer have been so inviting to the toddlers that came to touch it. Had the high one been even higher, it would have soaked passers-by with every breeze.
“Find your place,” the scene said to me. “Once you’ve found it, you don’t have to always strive for more, more, more. Do what you’ve found. Do it well.”
I let that just wash over me for a while. Our culture – American culture in particular – is so focused on always reaching some next level: grow your sales, grow your market, upgrade your house, your income, your car, your computer, your career. Ofttimes, someone who has declared “I am accomplished, this is enough” is viewed as a drop-out from society. In a society that values the Upgrade so much, that might be true.
When Jenni came to find me, she gave me an odd look.
“What?” I asked.
“You have a very smug smile on your face,” she told me.
Is it coincidence that “smug” is so often followed by “and self-satisfied”?
Last night’s thoughts were only reinforced this morning when I read Seth Godin’s remark that perhaps “good enough” might be the next big idea.
Maybe it already is.

Communication at its Finest

My place of work, at the behest of their insurer, has implemented a new requirement of their employees: everyone must authorize release of their Motor Vehicle Reports. There’s more, but this is the only thing that requires direct employee action.
The body of the email message communicating this new policy to our 1000+ US employees was composed of the following text:
>*Please find attached three separate files that present and explain in detail, our new Motor Vehicle Policy.*
>*At your earliest convenience, please review all of the information and take the necessary actions as requested in the memorandum and as described in the policy.*
That’s 44 words for the content. There were another 113 of non-content (contact information of the sender and a legal disclaimer) and three attachments that have to be viewed in external applications.
It isn’t until one opens the strikingly-named *mvr2006policymemo.doc* attachment and reads through 290 words – about 2/3 down the first page of a two page memo – that one is told of the requirement to authorize release of driving records.
Not until 360 words pass does the reader discover that the authorization form must be completed, signed, and submitted in 9 business days.
Without a clear action and deadline in the actual body of the email, several people in our office deleted the message without reading the attachments. It’s only now that word is spreading: *Hey, you actually have to **do** something about this message.*
How difficult would it have been to insert this between the two sentences of the original message?
>*All employees are asked, as part of this new policy, to authorize release of their Motor Vehicle Reports for insurance purposes. We request that all employees complete and return the attached release form by MM/DD/YYYY.*
What do I have to do? When do I have to do it?
This shouldn’t be quite so obstuse. Why did I have to open an attachment in another program and ready several hundred words just to find out I have to fill out a form and return it to HR?
Corporate communication at its finest.

There’s no Bullet List like Stalin’s Bullet List

This may only appeal to a rather narrow slice of my own small readership.
Edward Tufte – author of books such as Envisioning Information, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, and the essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint – is embarking on something of a tour. He’ll be teaching a one-day course entitled Presenting Data and Information in, among other places, Seattle and Portland.
I got the mailer today. I’ve already asked my company to pay for the $360 registration. If they won’t, I’ll probably do it out-of-pocket.
I was surprised by my enthusiasm at the prospect of attending this course. Obviously, this says something about what really interests me…