Saturday, December 29, 2007

On eBook design

I thought of penning a few thoughts on designing an eBook reader, the hardware kind. After reading about Amazon's Kindle, I was wondering how the next version could be made better.

Here are what I feel are the requirements for a good eBook reader.
Ability to:
- Read
- Search
- Bookmark
- Annotate (Highlight, comment, markup, etc)
- Shared read (read along with another person)
- Loan a book
- Buy books, publications, etc.
- Turn page
- Turn multiple pages
- Leaf (flip) through
- Choose a publication to read
- Search for publications to buy/download
- Print
- Modify type size
- Single hand hold and operate
- Configure to individual taste
- Customize (software as well as firmware)

Phew. That seems like a big list, but it is what would make me switch from a paper book to an eBook.

Here are some of the desirable characteristics of an eBook reader:
- Should have a color display. In the days of color everywhere (have you seen a B&W TV or a computer monitor anywhere?), and publications using color, it makes a lot of sense to have color screen.
- Be easy to read. Should not be hard on the eyes and not produce eye strain. Easy to read in bright sunlight as well as in the dark.
- Easy to operate. Intuitive, with minimal buttons or menus. Shouldn't need the user to read a 200 page manual before using it.
- High quality display.
- Backlighting, for reading in the dark.
- Light and portable (preferably the size of a paperback).
- Configurable so users can tailor it to individual needs. I like to see page numbers on the bottom right, and someone else might like to see it on the bottom left. A left handed person might prefer to reprogram the buttons on the eBook to be mirrored.

Here is how I would design a new Kindle:
I would design the Kindle with a touch sensitive screen and incorporate a keyboard akin to iPhone's. Since the keyboard is utilized in certain actions (search, annotate, buy, etc) not directly pertaining to reading a book, it needs to be hidden out of sight. The only controls that should be visible are those that are "necessary" for reading. The only hardware controls that are provided should be directly related to the main purpose of the reader, which is Reading.
The rendering above is my concept of a eBook reader.
The book will be both right handed as well as left handed. The rendering above shows the book being held in the left hand of a person. If one were to hold it in the right hand, just turning the book 180 degrees produces the paging buttons on the right, AND inverts everything on the screen so that it appears in the correct manner. Now you understand why I have placed identical power buttons (again configurable to be anything) both at the top and bottom.
The reader would have a touchscreen and soft menus on the screen. Display thumbnails of the pages (as shown in the rendering) and allow users to leaf through the pages by flicking their finger on the thumbnails. Tapping on a thumbnail will take you to that page.
Single click of the page turners will turn one page, and double clicking them would turn 5 or 10 pages (configurable).
The header and footers should be configurable and provide content orientation clues like page number, chapter, section heading, book name, etc.
Of course, it would have a color screen. And, long battery life and all the other good stuff I haven't talked about.
Since the hardware uses a touchscreen and configurable buttons, the book could be customized to produce different menus as well as reprogram the buttons to do different things. Opening up the hardware to third party vendors and programmers will help drive the customization of the book.

For all you know, someone may reprogram it to act like a GPS or a video game console!
As for the improvements on the service side of Amazon's Kindle offering, that is a topic for another blog.
PS: The unnecessary random line breaks is due to a bug in blogger. Whenever I include images this happens. I am still trying to figure out how to fix it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Coolest wiimote hack so far...

Check this link to read about (and watch video) Johnny Lee's wiimote hack turning any surface into a multi-touch interactive whiteboard. This is awesome.

I am going to get myself a spare wiimote and try this one soon.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Is Kindle going to kindle your reading?

Ever since Amazon released their Kindle reader I have been wondering why Amazon went into the hardware business. Amazon's core is their service offering, be it their online merchant services or cloud computing/storage services, and this move into hardware is a pretty far adjacency to the core. Move into far adjacencies (in this case, hardware) is always fraught with risks, especially when you don't have Jonathan Ive on your design team.

First of all, Kindle is not a replacement to a computer or a PDA or a web connected phone. One should realize that neither is the opposite true. Kindle is conceived to be purely a physical book replacement.

There are two parts to what Amazon has released:
- EVDO service to dole out the eBooks
- Kindle, the reader

In the first case, Amazon is trying to provide a direct wireless service to download books directly to the reader. No need to download to a computer and then transfer it into the reader. This is an excellent move from a services POV.

In the second case, Amazon has failed to produce a reader that is sexy and attractive to a sophisticated book lover. It has produced a reader with a lot of room for improvement.

The book market is $24 Billion a year in the US alone. This includes all categories of books. The eBook market $54 Mil annual and growing. This is a good market to be in, and Amazon has made a good move.

eBooks initially failed in the market because they were too early in their intro. Akin to Newton for PDAs. Newton failed mainly because the market was not ready for its acceptance, and the interface sucked. Its form factor sucked, and Apple learned a great lesson from this failure. Newton's hand writing recognition was flawed, but the main reason for its failure was the market timing. The same is true for the eBooks.

Until now.

Amazon is trying to copy Apple's model of creating their own mp3 players and selling them for a premium. Unfortunately, this only works if your hardware has the oomph to command a good market. Like this blogger, I also feel that opening up Kindle to be a platform and letting other developers come up with hardware will give Amazon the best bet in succeeding in peddling their eBooks.

DRM and activation requirements can kill the eBook. Books bought on Amazon cannot be read on other readers, and vice versa. Why not make it similar to a physical book. A physical book can be loaned to a friend. Why not do the same with an eBook. As long as there is only one copy floating around, there shouldn't be any problem. As soon as the book is transferred to my friend's reader, I can no longer read it on mine. Come up with a handshake transaction mechanism to move the book around. Make it simple for people to do with eBooks whatever they are used to doing with a physical book. And, remember, the best marketing for a book is to be read. If no one reads your book, it doesn't get sold.

One thing that Amazon needs to consider is the cost of the eBooks. They need to choose a pricepoint that will spur the eBook sales. I don't have any data on how many they have sold after the introduction of Kindle. But, I have a feeling that $9.99 is not a sweet spot for eBooks.

They could also look into the advertising model when it comes to periodicals and blogs. The time commitment for a book is huge compared to a blog posting or an article in a periodical. So, the Ad model might work when it comes to blogs and periodicals. I would never (directly) pay to read a blog.

Another point to consider is the service's longevity as this author points out. What if I plunked $400 on a Kindle, and the service shuts down in a few years? This hits upon the price point of the reader itself. Introduce an inexpensive reader, and once the service takes a good foot hold, introduce better models with more features, AND charge boo-koo bucks for it. Prove yourself first, and then milk the market.

Some things that would make an eBook successful can be learnt from the successes of the iPod:
- Interface - simplistic interface with minimal buttons that just did its job: Dole out music.
- Design - Need great industrial design
- Brand marketing
- Integration and connectivity of the player, computer, software (This has been solved with the EVDO delivery)
- Windows support (No need of platform support)
- iTunes store (Amazon store)
- Form factor
- And last but not the least is Accessories - Sleeves, jackets, the most expensive ones are cars!

Something that the Kindle could benefit from is style. And, a water tight case.

Some of the benefits of eBooks/Kindle are:
- A great boon for independent freelance writers. Akin to music and blogs, everyone of us could write a book and publish it!
- No worry about the book spine and closing books.
- You can also upload your documents to the reader to read them.
- They are green. They do not waste paper or other natural resources.
- Convert any book to large print automatically.
- Take up space of one book, but can hold thousands.
- Random access and searchability.
- eInk technology is cool and makes a great reading device.

Will be really cool if they can add a "reader" to it and make it an audio book. That would have to wait for good text to speech technology, though.

Look at what the MP3 player did to your record/CD collection. Books are going the same route. Of course, this will take a generation to happen, since the older generation is tightly knit with the physical book concept. The older generation did not grow up with computers. The new generation is growing up with computers and MP3 players and what not. They are more prone to adopting the eBook than anybody else.

In this day and age of access anything anywhere, eBooks are here to stay.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Switching to Digital

Many of my friends (who are switching from film to digital) have asked me what to look for, in a digiSLR. So, I thought of writing about it to benefit a wider audience.

If you look at the camera from a very basic point of view, it is just an instrument to capture light. How we do it is secondary. The main goal is to channel the light and capture it with the highest fidelity. Creativity can be unleashed by controlling the light.

A film camera is nothing but an airtight box with a hole in the front. The simplest form is a pin-hole camera. In order to capture as much detail as possible, lenses were introduced to channel the light and focus it. Film was added into the light-tight box to capture the light forever (almost). An aperture and a shutter, in combination, would allow the right amount of light for the right amount of time to make an impression on the film.

Everything remains the same with a digital camera. The camera is still a light-tight box. The same aperture and shutter control the light, the same lenses channel and focus the light.

What is different though, is the absence of film. Instead of the film, we find a photo-sensitive microchip. The chip converts the light rays into ones and zeros and stores them electronically. The chip is dumb and just captures whatever photons that hit it. Unlike film, which captures data at the molecular level, the chip captures data in pixels. So, is it better to get a camera with the most number of pixels? In general, yes. But, not really. There are too many parameters to consider in determining the quality of an image, and number of pixels happens to be just one of them.

So, what happens to the cool variations I am used to getting with switching from Velvia to Kodachrome?

This is where electronics and software enters the picture. The sensor captures raw data. This data is massaged with the help of software to mimic the features of a film camera. The better the software, the better your camera. So, should you go for the camera with the latest and greatest whiz-bang software in it? Not necessarily. Every digiSLR is capable of capturing the raw image which I talked about. The format is appropriately called RAW. If you shoot pictures and store them in this format, you could use Photoshop or other photo editing software to work your magic.

If you store your pictures in JPEG format, the camera would have already performed its software magic (of course, under your orders) and saved a compressed image which is much smaller than the RAW image. But, unfortunately, you would have lost a lot of data during the process.

So, where does it leave us?

For a purist, all the same rules that applied to buying a film camera still applies. Spend the most of your budget on professional quality lenses, a sturdy tripod, and a powerful external flash. And, always shoot in RAW mode. Don't forget to buy lots of film, er, memory.

For the hobbyist, all the same rules apply. Spend the most of your budget on prosumer lenses, a sturdy tripod, and an external flash. Of course, get the best body that you can afford. With today's array of features, it sometimes is hard to choose. Most of the popular cameras come with almost all the features: multi-point focus, multiple metering modes (evaluative, center-weighed and spot being the most common) and a next to useless built-in flash.

One feature worth considering while deciding is image stabilization. This is the ability of the camera (and lens, in some cases) to reduce the 'shake' in an image and improve its sharpness. This feature dramatically increases the range of shots you can shoot without a tripod. Something very useful. There are two types of systems: lens based and camera based. In the lens based systems, each individual lens comes with a built-in gyroscope to move lens elements to compensate for the shake. Pretty cool. The other system is where the sensor itself moves. The greatest advantage of the latter system is that it works with any lens in your bag. The photo above would have been crystal clear if I had image stabilization on my camera. It was shot hand-held at 1/10 sec shutter speed.

So, in short, things have not changed a lot, and a lot of the same reasoning still holds true. Just go get yourself a digiSLR and enjoy the ability to instantaneously preview your successes as well as mistakes!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Crossing iPhone and the Surface

You know what I would like to see. A cross between an iPhone (touch screen, and usability) and the interface of the Surface.

Imagine a laptop with a LCD screen in place of the keyboard. This LCD screen will have the same form factor and multi-touch capabilities as the iPhone. It is software driven and hence can be reprogrammed to resemble any input device. Couple that with the interface of the Surface.

Now, we are talking something useful.

Imagine being able to change the Qwerty keyboard to a Dvorak keyboard with the click of a button. Or, imagine changing your English keyboard to a Mandarin keyboard. Or, turning the LCD panel into a Surface where you can interact with still pictures and video. Or, being able to interface to other electronic devices by just placing them on (or near) the laptop.

That is one powerful interface. Imagine turning your 'keyboard' into a graphic tablet and writing on it with a stylus. The possibilities are limitless. This would be a far more useful application of the Surface technology that Microsoft has come up with.

But, unfortunately, the technology behind the Surface doesn't lend itself to be molded into the form factor of a laptop. Microsoft will need to compress the technology to fit it into the form factor of a laptop.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Design for Assembly

Have you ever bought anything that required assembly? Have you noticed how easy or difficult it was to assemble it? Have you noticed why many people shy away from these "assembly required" things?

One of the main reasons is poor design for assembly.

When you design something that needs to be assembled by the end user, make sure that you keep the end user in mind. As a matter of fact, whenever you design anything (furniture, software, ...), it is always a good practice to keep the end user in mind.

Take the case of Sauder furniture which requires "some" assembly. The instruction manual is usually a book! The furniture, be it a simple bookcase or a chest of drawers, comes with a wide variety of screws, nuts and bolts, and a thick instruction manual. And, to top it all, once assembled, they cannot be taken off without damaging the furniture. At least Sauder uses pictures and words in their instructions. I have seen some companies just use words. God help the assembler.

Another thing that pisses me off is that they always include the exact number of fasterers required. What is their problem in adding a couple extra in each size? If one of the bolts has a bad thread, you have to call an 800 number to get it from them, or make a trip to the local Home Depot. Remember that you can't even return it back since you have already started assembly.

In contrast, look at the things manufactured by IKEA. Not only are they beautiful, they are designed with the end user in mind. Their instruction manuals are usually a page with pictures. I have rarely seen words on their instruction manuals. Talk about Internationalization. And, they standardise on the fasteners and try not to use too many varieties. Most of the times, the items can be easily taken apart (for re-transportation) too.

And, they have bins with extra fasteners in their warehouse so you can pick a few if you need them.

This is elegant and thoughtful 'design for assembly'.

And, they include the tools needed for the assembly (most of the time, an allen key) with each item they sell. Who wouldn't love that?

Apple is another case of great design. Look at this example where Apple has included a paper clip which is needed for maintenance work. Not only have they suggested you use a paper clip to get the job done, they have also included one with the product. How often can you find a paper clip at home when you need one? So, Apple is there to help you.

This is another great example of 'design for serviceability'.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Design for "Accessability"

Who hasn't encountered a product wrapped in such a way that it takes all your might to get it out of its packaging? The worst I have encountered are the hard plastic packaging that is molded around the product. You need to cut the plastic with a pair of scissors to get it off. The edges are so sharp, most often you get injured trying to cut this thing off. And, to top it all, you end up cutting the user manual that is hidden inside the packaging.

Packaging seems to have gone from Tamper-proof to Impossible-to-open.

These impossible-to-open packaging have become the common staple of our packaging industry. I don't know if they do it to protect us (which they are obviously not doing) or to protect the product (what harm would a pair of scissors get into, if not packed this way?).

What happened to the nice "pull me" plastic string sticking out of the plastic packaging of the yesteryear CDs? It was so convenient to pull the string and tear through the whole shrink packaging in one shot. It was a pleasure to unpack those CDs. They served their purpose of protecting the CD as well as sealing it from tampering. They also served their purpose of being easy to remove.

It looks like this kind of packaging was conceived to protect from shoplifting, but I don't see a shoplifter shying away from a product just because it is wrapped in impossible-to-open packaging. All this is doing is push away prospective buyers to products that are more elegantly packaged.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Design innovation

On a recent visit to New York, I happened to visit the Marriott Marquis in Time Square and was surprised to see innovation in an area where there has been none for a very long time. I experienced the new technology in elevators.

We have rarely seen any innovation in elevator design, at least from the end user's perspective. There are not too many players in this arena, which in turn is not a recipe for innovation. If any of their clients complained of long wait times, they always came up with other ways of solving the problem. Like, installing flat panel TVs piping News or other programming near elevators to take the mind off the long wait times.

But this new design tries to solve the elevator problem in a unique way. The distinct difference is that there is no Up/Down button to summon an elevator. Also, there is no display atop an elevator signalling where the car is. In place of the Up/Down button is a panel with a number pad and a display. Every elevator has a name (alphabet, in this case). And, the biggest change is that the individual cars have no buttons in them!

Say, you want to go to the 14th floor. You walk into the lobby and key in the number 14 into the pad. The display tells you to go to elevator "E". You go and wait for the car "E". When the car arrives, you just get into it and it delivers you to the 14th floor. The system is trying to schedule the cars and also batch people into cars based on their destination. So, in case of heavy traffic, you don't end up stopping on almost every floor.

For this to work, you need a lot of cars, and a lot of traffic too. The Marriott had about a dozen or more cars. I was not there during the peak hours and hence cannot vouch for the efficiency of the system, but it seems to work.

The one case where it fails is when you enter a floor number (say, 14) and halfway during the journey change your mind (say, 4th floor). There is no way to stop the car as it speeds by the 4th floor. The other case where it fails is when someone rushes into an open car and tries to find keys to punch the floor number. But, both these cases can be considered user errors and dismissed.

The next time you are in Times Square, check it out. To top it all, at the top of the building is the revolving restaurant The View.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Design for usability

Here I go again, bashing another product for poor design. This time it is my digital watch. I have two watches, and I have lost the instruction manual for both. On one of the watches, I managed to set the alarm to 12:00 AM and was unable to cancel it. I tried pressing all combinations of the 4 buttons, but couldn't reset it. I finally gave up and had to remove the battery to reset it. The other watch, I never change the time on it to compensate for daylight savings. I just add an hour for six months of the year. Why? You guessed it. I don't know how to set time on it.

The first watch I got was a mechanical watch with one thumb screw on it. You wound the watch every night by turning the thumb screw clockwise. Whenever the watch ran fast/slow (which it did quite often), you just pull the thumb screw out and rotate it in either direction to set the time. And, once you were done, push it in until it clicks. As simple as that. I did not even get a user manual with it!

And now, we have all these sophisticated watches with chronographs, stopwatches, multi-zone times and all that, and we can't even come up with a simple user interface to it all. Most digital watches have 4 buttons on them. One of them is reserved for light. The other three, in some weird combination, allow you to use/set/reset all the operations. I don't know if any watch maker has figured out a decent and intuitive UI for this.

How would I design a digital watch?

Simple. Create a digital watch with one button, again a rotating thumb wheel. Since this is a digital watch, it comes with a LCD display, and here is how you would use it:
Click the (only) button to summon a UI.
Rotate the thumb wheel to walk through the menu.
Click the button again to select items in the menu.

How much simpler can it be? All the operations can be performed by clicking the button, and rotating the wheel as and when necessary. Borrowing from the old mechanical watch gives us the best UI. Of course, we may end up with some cascading menus, but, hey, you won't need a user manual to use it.

Of course, it would automatically set time based on the WWVB atomic time signal that it catches via radio waves.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Design for serviceability

Yesterday, the light bulb inside our Kitchenaid wall mounted microwave oven burnt out. Me being a handyman, wanted to replace it myself. I searched for the spare bulb online and found a place selling it. When I tried to replace the bulb is when I realized what I was up against. You need to take apart almost the whole microwave, in order to replace a bulb! First, it needs to be removed out of its enclosure, and then taken apart to get to the bulb. Wow.

I called the service center and they said it could cost anywhere from $75 depending on how long it takes to get to it. Wow. Nearly $100 in labor to replace a $2 bulb (No, actually, the bulb is $20. It is part of a premium product, you see). Talk about serviceability.

I used to replace refills in ball point pens when I was growing up. Later on, these pens became disposable and there was no need to replace the refills. The cost of the pens came down drastically and it made no sense to replace the refills. So, they no longer designed the pens for serviceability, and sealed it shut. Makes sense. It is a disposable product.

When I was working as a design engineer designing material handling equipment (during my Robert Bosch days), my boss used to review my designs. One of the first questions he used to ask me was about serviceability/maintainability. "How would you replace the chain on this conveyor?". If I took more than 30 seconds to explain, or if it involved removing 10 other parts, the design was rejected.

Now, I am looking at an appliance which costs upwards of $3000 (it is an oven combo), and I need to call a service technician to replace a piddly bulb! How wonderful. I thought premium appliances are better designed. Maybe, Viking makes better serviceable appliances...

Good design for serviceability may not necessarily mean a good design for manufacturability. But, in most cases, a good serviceable design is a also a good manufacturable design. The components will be simple and easy to assemble.

On the flip side are the products from Apple. Take iPod for example. For it to be aesthetically and visually pleasing, Apple decided not to put any screws. So, what happens if you want to replace the battery. Tough luck. In these cases, the aesthetic appeal wins over everything else, since that is what this brand represents. This would also mean that the components that go into making an iPod are of high enough quality that they don't warrant regular replacement/repair.

Where does one draw the line? In case of the microwave, nobody cares if there were 4 more screws INSIDE the microwave to hold a receptacle for a light bulb. But, Kitchenaid didn't want that (not to mention the 8- 12 screws right on the front of the enclosure). In most appliances, the design should be such that the fuse and some simple parts (that are failure prone) should be easily accessible. I agree that there is no need to give good access to the magnetron coil in the oven. But, a door hinge, or a door spring, or the fuse, or the bulb. C'mon, they can do better than this.

This shows how much the designers think before they finalize a design. Usability is another big area where Kitchenaid appliances lack big time. Don't even get me started on their cooktop design. That is a topic for another blog.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Where is my Logout button?

I recently went into to purchase a few books, and once I was done, I browsed around and ended up in a page where there was no Logout button! Hmm, was this a bug or a feature? After a bit of poking around, I found the 'logout' button masquerading as something else ("if you are not John Doe, click here" thingy). And, this button does not appear on all pages.

This got me thinking. Login/logout are buttons that are ubiquitous to all web sites that need authentication. Maybe, has an innovative way of changing this paradigm...

Why would one need a login button in the first place?

Web sites need a login button in order to let you perform transactions that are unique to you. In this case, you login to to buy something, and they want to know who you are and where to ship the stuff. If not for this login facility, you would have to enter all this information everytime you bought anything from Amazon. Makes sense. Also, without logging in, there is no personalization.

Why would one need a logout button?

Hmm. In this world of tracking every move that a consumer makes, almost everyone is paranoid about leaving traces of activity around. Especially if one is using a public computer. I, for one, am used to logging out of sites and clearing my cache whenever I complete any transaction that needs personal information. I do this even on my personal computer. I would be extra careful if I am using a public computer.

Logging out prevents others from masquerading as you and conducting transactions in your name. Logging out prevents thieves from stealing your personal information. Logging out stops the tracking of the user's actions.

So, what is Amazon trying to achieve by hiding the logout button? It is not intuitive to figure out the way to log out of

And, there is the other extreme where some sites ask you to confirm that you really want to log out. LinkedIn is one such example.

So, I feel is regressing in its UI rather than coming up with something that is fresh and innovative.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tilting perspectives...

I know it is hard to merge images of 3D objects, but there has to be a way to easily merge satellite images. Check this picture of the skyscrapers in Chicago and see how they are bumping into each other. From the looks of it, the images were taken either by different satellites, or by the same satellite at a different time/location.

This is an interesting problem since we want to see images of things from an angle so we get the feeling of depth. We don't want perfectly overhead shots of all the terrestrial things. Then, it wouldn't be fun to look at them. Windows live has the same problem too. Anybody who wants to allow panning a satellite image hits this problem. This issue is not noticeable in things that are not tall, and things that do not cast a long shadow. So, they could detect tall objects and try to keep them all in the same grid (same camera angle) and try to connect grids wherever they do not detect tall objects.

It will be interesting to see how this problem will be solved.

Monday, February 12, 2007

On Tablets and Mice - Part II

OK. It has been several weeks since I first wrote about using a tablet and a pen instead of a computer mouse. I have tried it on and off and here is what I found.

The tablet is a completely different experience, and needs time to get used to. Hand does not get tired since the motions are similar to drawing (more like sketching). One thing I did notice is that the smaller the tablet the better. Artists who are used to broad strokes may prefer bigger tablets, but for a substitute mouse, a small tablet works best. The main reason being that the hand has to move over the tablet. The more real estate you have to cover, the more motion your hand goes through. And the more tired you get...

With an ordinary mouse, you move the mouse around and that in turn moves the cursor. With a trackball, your hand is stationary and the ball rotation moves the cursor. In case of a tablet, the motion of the pen dictates the cursor movement.

One thing that is significantly different is that the cursor jumps while using the tablet. Wherever you place the pen tip (on the tablet) is where the cursor ends up. So, if you pick up the pen and place it on another location on the tablet, the cursor jumps to that location. This takes some time to get used to. But, makes it easier and faster to move the cursor around. It also takes a bit of time to get used to the area of the tablet. The pen works only on the marked area on the tablet. Unlike a mouse that works anywhere you move it.

Since I use different devices at different locations (trackball at work, tablet at home and scroll mouse while on the road), it gives my hand/wrist a break from the same repetitive motion.

If you are prone to CTS, I think it is a worthwhile exercise to try the tablet. Get the smallest tablet from Wacom and give it a try.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Photo mosaic ad infinitum

Check this site for an incredible photo mosaic experience.

Enuf said.

Enjoy it while I ponder the technology behind it all...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

City lights and digital cameras

I always love shooting city lights on winter nights. The two advantages being, it gets dark sooner and the winter skies have an aura around them. Yesterday evening was the first time I tried long exposures with my digiSLR.

I was pleasantly surprised that the digital cameras do not suffer from reciprocity failure. For some reason, I had assumed that the camera manufacturers would have mimicked all the features of a film camera (and improved on them). What I failed to realize was that reciprocity failure is not a feature of a camera, but is a shortcoming of the film. Reciprocity failure is a characteristic of the chemical make-up of film emulsion at long exposures. Why would a digital camera mimic such a "feature".

The reason I called it a feature is because I always relied on reciprocity failure during my long exposures, and have shot some excellent slides with long trails of car lights or aircraft lights in my cityscapes. Try exposing a cityscape for 3 secs and 30 secs, and you rarely notice the difference in exposure, but for the light trails. Do the same with a digital camera and all you get for 30 secs is a washed out snap. The above photograph of Seattle cityscape was exposed for 2 secs at f5.6 on ISO 400 film setting on my digiSLR.

The lack of reciprocity failure handicapped me in a certain way. I had become so good at using this breakdown of reciprocity with film. Now, I have to find the strengths in my digital camera and start capitalizing them.

What this also means is that I cannot use my digiSLR for astro-photography. I cannot imagine the amount of bloom and noise an hour long exposure would create on a CCD!

I guess I will keep learning more about my digital camera as I experiment with it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Goodbye CTS

All of us who use computers extensively know what CTS, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, is. It is a painful disorder of our wrists. It's cause is attributed to repeated motion of the hands especially with a bent wrist.

The very first time I felt tingling in my wrists, I switched over to using a cordless mouse which helped me use both hands (thanks to my ambidextrousness). When that failed, I switched to a trackball and that has been working since. Switching between the different mouses (mice?) has helped me vary my movements often. I have so far been successful in avoiding CTS.

I have always been on the lookout for new devices that make life easier. I wanted to try this new kind of mouse which reduces the tilt of your wrist. But, before I did that, I started wondering if people who do not use computers, but write a lot, are affected by CTS. My research said that they are not. Voila.

Here was the answer: tablet and pen!

Graphics tablets are an input device (like a mouse/keyboard) which allows one to hand draw images in the computer. They consist of a drawing surface and a (electronic) stylus (pen). The stylus has buttons akin to a conventional mouse, and they are customizable. The tablets are generally used by graphics artists who want to have finer control over what they are drawing on their computers. This is very useful with tools like Photoshop or Illustrator. It offers features like pressure sensitivity and tilt sensitivity. These are normally useful with graphics applications. But, I found out that a tablet can also be used in lieu of a mouse for all general purposes too.

Using a graphics tablet and stylus is like drawing on a sheet of paper. Hence it doesn't stress your wrists as much as a common mouse would. Wacom makes excellent tablets. They are much more expensive than a mouse, but worth a try if you are prone to CTS. I bought this tablet for editing pictures and creating art in Photoshop. But, I found it to be very useful as an alternate mouse too.
In case you are experiencing CTS, I think you should strongly consider trying a graphics tablet.

I will write another report after a few months of usage, debating my above stated theory.