A Time for Reflection

A Time for Reflection (by StarbuckGuy)

This photo of birch trees reflected in my cup of coffee was a casual snap I took a few days ago while writing in Starbucks. Like many of my shots, it was a quick capture of the small things I enjoy. Imagine my surprise when this simple shot went nova on Flickr. The comments and faves started rolling in and for most of one day this shot held at #2 in Explore — Flickr’s featured photos section. It eventually dropped down to around #250, but being featured at all still surprises me

In another way, though, perhaps I understand it. One of the more difficult things to achieve these days is time for reflection. For simplicity. For quiet. I can see how this image appealed to a lot of people.

The photo works symbolically for me too. It’s a time of reflection for me as I explore the things in life I most connect with during my retirement. Photography and writing still hold strong, but neither quite satisfies completely. I’ve thought about this for a long time. As much as I love photography and writing, they’ve always been activities I’ve pursued as sidelines. Like playing music. Creative things to do, but not mainline.

My career was in IT and I miss it. Not the 24/7 on-call pager stuff — I’m happy to pass that on to the next generation. What I miss is development and design. There’s something about logic and data structures that makes my synapses sizzle. I’m a predominantly left-brain individual, with some right-brain tendencies. I appreciate the elegance of programming code that is beautifully written and works well, and I like trying to write it.

The problem is, I don’t have any development projects to work on, and it’s been some years since I last did any serious C programming. I didn’t want to go back into corporate IT work on either a part-time or contract basis. Business systems don’t excite me.

It was my wife, Marion, who came up with a breakthrough in my thinking. She was visiting ex-colleagues from Sheridan College’s IT program who are starting to teach programming and design for mobile devices, like the Blackberry. One of them suggested this would be a good area for me.

Bing. A light went on. Here I am, loving my iPod Touch and it hadn’t occurred to me that I could learn how to program for it. I’d been wanting a Macbook anyway, but couldn’t justify one solely on the basis of my writing projects. I did a little research and looked at some Objective-C samples and realized I not only understood them, I got excited by them. I also discovered that you can register with Apple as an iPhone / Touch developer for free and that Apple provides all the essential development tools.

That sealed it. So on Black Friday, I took advantage of the $100 off sale and ordered a 15″ Macbook Pro with 4GB RAM and 500GB drive. With antiglare screen. The two programs I intend to purchase as soon as it arrives are Scrivener, for writing projects, and VMware Fusion to allow me to run Windows programs virtually until I have time and budget to replace all my software with Mac versions.

Now the wait. It’ll take about a week or so to arrive. I’m keeping my little Dell Mini 10v because of its compact size and light weight. I run Linux on it, but once I’m set with the Mac, I might Hackintosh the Mini.

Excited? You bet.

Where Are the Keyboards?


I have a beef with Steve Jobs. Here I sit with a brand-new iPod Touch that I think is the neatest techno device I’ve ever carried around, and I can scarcely type on it. Sure I can thumb my way through a bit of email text on the Touch’s virtual keyboard, but come on! That isn’t real typing.

And for what reason? Because Steve Jobs doesn’t like keyboards. He loves clean lines, thin lines, and lack of clutter. Admirable. He’s led the charge for some of the nicest computer designs we’ve yet seen. But the idea of someone using an external keyboard on his little design jewel must cause him grief, because the technology to support one is built in. It’s called BlueTooth. But there’s no BT external keyboard support driver for the Touch or iPhone. If there were, believe me, the keyboards would be out there.

I think the designers justify the decision not to support keyboards with the observation that if you need a keyboard, Apple has the solution for you. It’s called a Macbook.

Hey, Macbooks are cool. So are netbooks. I own one. But I don’t always want to carry one around. There are many times I prefer not to wear a backpack.

So let’s back up in time. I bought a Palm Pilot 500 many years ago, and not long after I bought a Stowaway keyboard for it. It folded like an accordion and fit in a spare pocket. The Pilot would perch on its physical connector and the Stowaway provided a great keyboard experience. I took to writing short articles and journal entries with it.

A number of years later, I bought a Palm TX, which I still have, and a Palm BlueTooth wireless keyboard. The keyboard folds in half, fitting easily in a spare pocket. The keyboard even stores a little tray for the TX to sit in. With the TX set to fullscreen, landscape mode I can write with it as fast as I can on my netbook. As a technology, the TX is nowhere near as sophisticated and fun as the iPod Touch, but it demonstrates how productive a pocketable device can be as a writing tool. All that’s required is some kind of text editor. In the Palm TX I use Wordsmith.

In the iPod Touch I use WriteRoom, a $5 iPhone app. It’s a good little text editor with excellent sync’ing features. I sometimes poke short notes and passages into it with the Touch’s virtual thumbboard. But hey, that isn’t writing writing. Fine for Twitter, but very unfine for short stories.

So, my question: where are the keyboards? Why cripple a potentially powerful writing device for the sake of a misguided design principle?

Here’s the ante. I’m watching for the next generation of combo touchscreen, notebook, e-reader tablet devices rumored to be coming from both Apple and Microsoft. And by the way, Mac devotees, don’t assume Apple has a huge lead here. Microsoft has extensive touchscreen design experience. Bill Gates was very keen on tablet PCs, pushing them a few years ago when they were a little ahead of their time.

The first company that offers external BT keyboard support for their device gets my vote, meaning my money. No external BT keyboard support, no buy.

My single customer boycott is no threat to the financial well being of either company, but that’s my rant for the day, and I’m sticking to it.

Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy (by StarbuckGuy)

The short story, Exit Strategy, by P.G. Holyfield, in the “Stories from Wolfram & Hart” series, was podcast today on Angel Between the Lines. I voiced the dialog for the character Johannes Cordner.

If you were a fan of the Angel show, I think you’ll like the story. P.G. told an interesting tale of heist and magic. If you’re not familiar with Angel, you will likely be able to follow the story anyway. Background: Wolfram & Hart is an evil law firm. I know, aren’t they all? But we’re talking dark evil — into the use of monsters, spells, dimension portals, and the black arts.

Autumn Sunrises

Starting the Day

I’ve been seeing more sunrises than usual this season. For some reason, I’ve been waking early, when it’s still dark outside. Unable to get back to sleep, I get up, eat, get washed and dressed, decide what camera and lens combination I want to carry, what writing gear to pack, and head out before sunrise.

I like walking in the morning. My routine begins by stepping out the front door and smelling the air. Living in the Eastern Woodlands means lots of leaves on the ground — maple, birch, and oak, primarily, mixed with ash, locust, serviceberry, and the elephant ears from one huge catalpa tree. I breathe in the pungent smell of decomposing leaves and feel a whisper of cool air across my face as I begin walking, the street light catching silhouetted robins in the ditches running this way and that, fuelling up for the next leg of their migration.

In the near distance, an early GO train pulls into the station to whisk commuters into the city. I notice that my insoles squeak slightly — squeak, squick, squeak, squick. A neighbourhood cat pauses at the sound, interrupting its inscrutable journey, watching me without expression as I pass by.

I pass through the GO Station tunnel, dodging passengers who are late and dashing for the escalator. The tracks bisect the neigbourhood just north of the station from Port Credit village proper and I must walk through the passenger tunnel or take a long detour to the west where Stavebank Road crosses the tracks.

There’s a little coffee shop tucked inside the station that dispenses caffeine, treats, bottled water, magazines, and cigarettes. I wave to the owners, and sometimes chat with them. We have a bond. When I worked in the city I bought coffee from them every day, and by coincidence the husband and I were in nearby rooms at Trillium hospitial, having bypass operations at the same time. I got to know him, his wife, and their daughter during our convalescence. I often check to see how he’s doing. Fine. Always fine. He takes his daily workouts seriously. He attends an exercise program at Square One. I prefer walking to the harbour and back.

The train station is also a major bus hub and I pass by a line of lit-up buses, stopping briefly at a newsbox to pick up two copies of Metro, a free newspaper. Marion and I will do the crossword and sudoku later. On the whole, the people waiting for the buses are less well dressed than those who take the train, and look both harder and less confident. Several are smoking under the No Smoking signs. They take the bus because they don’t own a car.

As I clear the bus bays, I walk by a cluster of older apartment buildings that have stood in this section of Port Credit since at least the mid-70’s, when I first saw them. Most of them are older than that. A few old houses remain. One is a dentist’s office, and just beyond it I take the steep path that leads to the Cenotaph memorial. Two very attractive stone churches face the street on the other side of the road, one with an old cemetery. They both back onto the park beside the Credit River.

I cross over and walk beside them on Stavebank until I reach the corner, then walk downhill into the park, beside the public library. I can see glimpses of the harbour from here. It’s still half an hour until sunrise, but a pinkish glow is forming on the horizon and the clouds look promising. When I reach the river, I uncap my camera and slow down. Upriver I see a couple of crews rowing.

As soon as I approach the path that passes under the bridges, the mallards and Canada geese spot me and begin drifting in my direction, creating V-waves on the surface of the river. People feed them scraps, sometimes to entertain their children, sometimes just to feel connected to something. I say hi to everyone I meet there, and the accent rarely comes back Canadian.

At this time of day I’m the only one on the path. Fishing season is over. I emerge at the far side of the underpass and take my first look. Astonishing. I take this walk nearly every day, and never does it look exactly the same. Sometimes the differences are dramatic, other times subtle. Today is subtle: a band of grey clouds against an otherwise clear, pink sky.

I try various spots to find the best composition for today’s sunrise, and notice the gulls beginning to circle around the end of the pier. It’s their territory, but like the nearby Starbucks, it’s so popular there’s competition for seating. I have my little Panasonic FZ35 superzoom P&S with me today. Good. I need the long reach and the stabilization to deal with the low light. I keep composing until a gestalt “clicks” in my head. Yes, this is the one for today.

Patience. Missed another good swirl. Anticipate. Squeeze the shutter release. Hold the camera steady. Release the breath slowly. Not even stabilization will help if I don’t hold the cam as still as possible. There. There. Again. Once more. Again. I check the images. Two frames look good in miniature, so I leave, hoping one of them will capture the feeling I had watching the gulls and ducks in this sublime light.

The rest is routine. I climb the steps leading from the pier and walk across the pedestrian bridge. It too provides a good view of harbour sunrises and I take a few shots on the way across. Then a short walk across the street to Starbucks. The baristas and I know each other by name, and we banter a bit. I take a big mug of Pike Place to a small table, set up my computer, and start my morning’s writing session.