Not building a wall; making a brick.

How to spend quality time on the web?

Here’s an interesting post from Merlin Mann, one of my favorite productivity gurus on how he’s going to improve his approach to the web:

…To be honest, I don’t have a specific agenda for what I want to do all that differently, apart from what I’m already trying to do every day:

  • identify and destroy small-return bullshit;
  • shut off anything that’s noisier than it is useful;
  • make brutally fast decisions about what I don’t need to be doing;
  • avoid anything that feels like fake sincerity (esp. where it may touch money);
  • demand personal focus on making good things;
  • put a handful of real people near the center of everything.

All I know right now is that I want to do all of it better. Everything better. Better, better.

#2 resonated the most with me – continually evaluating return on investment (whether it’s time, money, emotional investment or whathaveyou…) should be a continual process.

Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home

I’ve never been a fan of camera bags that looked too much like a
CAMERA BAG!!!“. Much of my photography is done at dusk, early mornings, and urban street street photography in dodgy neighborhoods. I need to be able to pull my camera out, take a shot quickly and stuff it back quickly, all the while looking innocuous.

My current bag is a cheap $12 messenger bag, and is stealthy as hell. As a day to day bag, it’s WONDERFUL. It holds my laptop, all my computer peripherals, a LOMO LC-A, papers, pens, my lunch, and whatever else i could throw at it.

Unfortunately, there’s no padding and no compartments inside, so lenses, flashes, cameras, film, and whatever else is free to jostle about. One good drop would total a camera.

Enter the 7 Million Dollar Home. From a distance, it looks like a plain old messenger bag, but it’s got stiffeners, padded, reconfigurable dividers, a zipper compartment inside the flap, an expansion pocket on the front of the bag, a pocket that might work for a tripod, an adjustable strap with removable pad, and it looks like it’s built to last.

I’m taking it out tonight for a test-drive, wish me luck!

Product page (Crumpler), Buy a 7 Million Dollar Home (Amazon)

“American Photobooth”, a book review

American Photobooth is a new illustrated history of photobooths, which first made their splash in the 1920s. Photographer Nakki Goranin became obsessed with the technology after creating a series of her own photobooth self-portraits now in the collection of the International Center for Photography in New York. She then spent nearly a decade tracing the history and culture of photobooths and collected thousands of vintage photobooth prints, like those above. The new issue of Smithsonian profiles Goranin and includes an online slideshow of images from the book.

Goranin doesn’t much care for the mall’s machine, which is digital. But, she says, there are only about 250 authentic chemical booths left in the United States…

Before the photobooth first appeared, in the 1920s, most portraits were made in studios. The new, inexpensive process made photography accessible to everyone. “For 25 cents people could go and get some memory of who they were, of a special occasion, of a first date, an anniversary, a graduation,” Goranin says. “For many people, those were the only photos of themselves that they had.”

Because there is no photographer to intimidate, photobooth subjects tend to be much less self-conscious. The result—a young boy embracing his mother or teenagers sneaking a first kiss—is often exceptionally intimate. “It’s like a theater that’s just you and the lens,” Goranin says. “And you can be anyone you want to be.”

Photobooth article (Smithsonian), Buy American Photobooth (Amazon)

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Mimicking film with digital tricks

Pssst! I’ve got a secret!

Most decent imaging programs have the capability of automating actions. With the right actions applied to a photo, you can easily mimic some of the quirky qualities of your favorite film camera on multiple photos and bundle the actions to share with others.

To Wit, the Holganizer. With it, you can take a rectangular, well exposed digital image and make it look like it was taken with the Holga, a $30 plastic camera. This was taken with a Canon SD110; for the original, see the previous post.

The film banner on the top and bottom are a nice touch, but unfortunately they don’t change when you make another Holganized pic, making the viewer think you’re permanently stuck on exposure # 9.

For a good Holga action, see the previous link. There are tons of LOMO actions for Photoshop and The Gimp, just a google search away.

Organizational Zen

Marissa Mayer
VP, Search Products and User Experience, Google

Executive summary: Don’t just cope with information — revel in it.

I don’t feel overwhelmed with information. I really like it. I use Gmail for my personal e-mail — 15 to 20 e-mails a day — but on my work e-mail I get as many as 700 to 800 a day, so I need something really fast.

I use an e-mail application called Pine, a Linux-based utility I started using in college. It’s a very simple text-based mailer in a crunchy little terminal window with Courier fonts. I do marathon e-mail catch-up sessions, sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday. I’ll just sit down and do e-mail for ten to 14 hours straight. I almost always have the radio or my TV on. I guess I’m a typical 25- to 35-year-old who’s now really embracing the two-screen experience.

I’m very speed-sensitive. With TiVo, for example, I just seem to spend too much of my life looking at the PLEASE WAIT sign. I adore my cell phone, but there’s just a second of delay when you answer it: Hello, hello? I do have a BlackBerry. I don’t use it at work because we have wireless throughout the office. I like my laptop a lot more, especially now that I have an EVDO [broadband cellular] card that gives me online access almost everywhere.

I almost always have my laptop with me. It’s sitting with me right now. We are a very laptop-friendly culture. It’s not uncommon to walk into a meeting at Google where everyone has a laptop open.

To keep track of tasks, I have a little document called a task list. And in the same document there’s a list for each person I work with or interact with, of what they’re working on or what I expect from them. It’s just a list in a text file. Using this, I can plan my day out the night before: “These are the five high-priority things to focus on.” But at Google things can change pretty fast. This morning I had my list of what I thought I was going to do today, but now I’m doing entirely different things.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to make time that was previously unproductive productive. If I’m driving my car somewhere, I try to get a call in to my family and friends then. Or during dead time when I’m waiting in line, I will hop on my cell phone and get something done.

My day starts around 9 A.M. and meetings finish up around 8 P.M. After that I stay in the office to do action items and e-mail. I can get by on four to six hours of sleep. I pace myself by taking a week-long vacation every four months.

I have an assistant, Patty, who handles calls from the outside, answers e-mails, letters, and requests. She does a great job with scheduling. In an average week I’m getting scheduled into about 70 meetings, probably ten or 11 hours a day. On Friday, Patty lets me out early — around 6, and I go up to San Francisco and do something interesting.

From 4 to 5:30 every day that I can, I’ll sit at my desk to answer any question that shows up on my doorstep. We have a big sign-up sheet outside. We joke that we should get one of those deli number tickers — “Now serving No. 68!” But we have nice couches and power for laptops and things outside the door where people wait.

The average seems to be around 13 people per day. Sometimes they show me mockups or new demos of ideas they want to advance. Sometimes they have a presentation they’re working on. Or sometimes they just want to ask me a question about Google’s overall management. Anything is fair game. So if they ask, “Why are we in China?” I try to answer as candidly as I can.

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