Though engineering has always been a natural fit for my career, I have long wanted to be an artist. I suppose I'm not truly sure what it means to be an artist, but I still dabble, play, and learn. That seems to be enough.

Photography in particular has always grabbed me. The instant gratification of creating a photo 'right now', combined with the ability to document the world as it (mostly) was, makes it an amazing tool for an artist. In the digital age you can pick up and learn a lot about photography very quickly. With that in mind I decided to paw through my best photos of 2010 to see how I've developed as an artist over the year. Before I get into the photos I'll share my unexpected insight.

Photography is hard. Really *@^% hard! The learning curve from novice to intermediate is fast and gentle. You can learn the mechanics of photography quite easily, especially with an engineering background like mine and a decent camera. However, going from an intermediate photographer to expert or even merely competent is hard. Much harder than I thought. The learning curve is only a tiny bit steeper, but far longer than I ever imagined. As I look over the year of photographs I realize my standards have gotten higher but my execution not as much. It's going to be a long road. More analysis after the break but first: on to the photos!

I'm going to go through the photos in chronological order, since I think it best shows my progression as a photographer.

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Nori on porch railing

This is one of those lucky shots that was made better with post processing. Being nearly perfectly black, Nori is incredibly difficult to capture. I also think he doesn't like to be photographed in general unless he's asleep (which is most of the time). You can see his surly "what'choo lookin' at?" expression in this photo. Converting to black and white and messing with contrast & exposure let me bring out a few details in Nori's face and white tusk of a whisker, while focusing the rest of the image on the geometric shape of the railing.

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Church Campout

I do all of my artistic photography on a Nikon D50 with one of two lenses, but this photo was taken on my wife's point and shoot. They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and this is all I had with me on a hot summer evening. This image is of a campfire, created after about 4.8 billion experimental shots of waving the camera around.

I learned that while photography will always have an element of randomness and uncertainty, especially with stochastic subjects like fire, the artistry comes from playing with what you can control. In this case I could control the exposure length and motion of my hands while just letting the fire do it's thing.

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NBC Studios, NYC

There's something extremely classic about this sign. It feels as if it's unchanged for 80 years (which is quite possible). Only B&W felt like it could do the sign justice. Just the sign; no more, no less.

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Rockefeller Center, west side

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Rockefeller Center, front

I love photographing the stately elegance of older skyscrapers. They just simply don't make'm like this anymore. They are also tricky to capture without special anamorphic lenses (which they also don't often make anymore). My two shots of 30 Roc came from wandering around the center for a while during our architecture tour (which I highly recommend, BTW). The time of day also helps. This was around 4:00 PM in late October.

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Chrysler Building, sunset.

Making skylines from the top of other buildings look interesting is quite difficult. There's just so much stuff going on that the camera can't possibly capture it and any detail is lost in the jumble. I have probably 50 shots from the Top of the Rock; all equally boring. But this photo sort of took itself. Just as we were leaving I saw the Chrysler building lit up from the setting western sun. Cropping out the bottom made the building look like a noble structure, gazing into the setting sun after a day well spent.

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Street Corner at Grand Central Station

They say that New York only truly comes alive at night. How completely true. You could walk around the city for hours taking photos, each one unique and different. It really is a beautiful city.

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Chandelier at Grand Central Station

Wow. The inside of Grand Central Station is even more beautiful than the outside. The detail of the chandelier shows just how detailed their artisians were. We can still make buildings as large and expensive as the old days, but not as grand.

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Heart Bokeh of Christmas House Lights

This last photo I took yesterday after unwrapping my newest photography gift, a Bokeh Kit from Photojojo.com. I quickly learned that shaped bokehs can be easily overdone, but in the context of abstract light it can find a place. What I love about this photo is the extra bright heart in the center from the house light. Brighter than the christmas lights, but still similar. I think I'm going to have fun with this kit.

Closing Thoughts

I have two thoughts after looking over the year's photos. First, almost 75% of my photos came from a single day, a trip to New York City in October. While trips are commonly the source of great images because you see things you don't normally see, 75% is still a horrible ratio. Clearly I haven't been taking enough photos this year.

Second, I think I have become a slightly better photographer, but not much. Practice clearly makes perfect. I also think that my technical skills are about the same, I think I've made some definite improvement on the content side. I'm becoming more comfortable with abstract forms and starting to see a flow in the photos. Most have an off-center focal point that leads your eye through the rest of the picture. All good stuff. I think the biggest thing holding me back is that I still hate to photograph people. I'm not yet sure why that is, but it's clearly the thing I must work on in 2011.

Thanks for making it this far through my retrospective. 2011 promises to be a fun year, with some amazing things to share. Thank you.

As I write this I'm flying home from New York City where we (Palm) threw an event known as the webOS Developer Day NYC. Really, we should have called it a party, due to the extreme fun and exhaustion we all experienced. But this post isn't really about the event, it's about the webOS developer community.

I feel very lucky to work on a platform with such a willing and open community around it. It reminds me of my earlier days in the Java world. Lots of people, young and old, some developers, some designers, and some just curious. All of them brought together by their passion for webOS and a desire to share that passion with others.

Though the event was a success and an improvement over the last one by every metric: attendance, location, food, bowling (yes awesome bowling!), I always worry it's not enough. Was the content good enough? Did we have a well rounded schedule? Would I have technical gaffs that would embarrass me? Fortunately, everyone was gracious enough to overlook my laptop meltdown on the first day.

Doing what we do is hard. Not only are we in the rocky early days of a growing industry, but we have been competing with companies many times the size of Palm. Building and testing a new OS, combined with the immense amount of work ahead of us, it can be truly exhausting.

Perhaps more importantly, having worked on many passionate products over the years, I know how it's very easy to become too emotionally involved with a product. I think this is true of many developers. We live and die by every product review, every negative FaceBook comment, and every metric that doesn't live up to our tough standards. It's hard and exhausting work, but one thing makes it worth it. The community.

Spending just 48 hours with our passionate webOS community has reenergized me. I saw a developer dive into his new Pre 2. I heard from people new to the platform describe the cool apps they want to build. I spoke to a proud dad who brought his 14 year old son from Michigan to meet up with fellow developers. If this isn't a rich and rewarding community, I don't know what is.

I still know we've got a lot of work ahead of us, but knowing the community is behind us makes me feel great about our ambitious roadmap for the next year. Thank you webOS community. We really appreciate what you do for us.

Yesterday Apple updated their Apple TV product, taking it into a new direction with a 99$ TV dongle that does only content streaming. Apple has long described Apple TV as a 'hobby' because they haven't figured out the right way to create a compelling TV product. Since they've spent millions of dollars building up a new data center in North Carolina to support the streaming catalog of the new Apple TV, then presumably they think they've got it figured out now.

I actually think Apple is wrong. I think Apple TV is a failure and will continue to be a failure for one simple reason: it goes against the design philosophy of every one of their successful products.

Now, yes, I realize thems fight'n words; but hear me out.

At it's core Apple is a software company that makes money by selling hardware. Mac OSX is an amazing operating system that they monetize by selling high end laptops & desktops. iTunes and the iPod OS are great pieces of software that they monetize by selling iPods. iOS is a great mobile operating system that they monetize by selling high margin iPhones and iPod Touches.

The Apple TV

And then there's the Apple TV. It is a piece of hardware that does very little. When originally launched, the Apple TV streamed music, videos, and photos from your desktop; but there are plenty of cheaper alternatives that are just as good. If you hack the Apple TV you can install your own software to make it do all sorts of cool things, but as a stock device directly from Apple it doesn't do much. Apple updated it with a new interface that added the ability to buy music and video directly from Apple's catalog. In other words, they added nothing except the ability to pay them more money.

Yesterday Apple updated the Apple TV once again to do the exact same thing in but a smaller, cheaper package. In some ways it does less since the hard drive is gone and it's likely harder to jailbreak into a useful product. It is now purely a 99$ catalog for the iTunes Store. I'm sure in Apple's mind this is a win. It can do exactly what the previous version did for less than half the price. Surely that's a win, right?

I don't think so.

Monetizing Software Through Hardware

Apple is a software company that monetizes their software through hardware. The Apple TV is a hardware product that is monetized through a streaming media service. It's fundamentally a different kind of product. Services has never been Apple's strong point (cough *MobileMe*), and this product is just a 99$ access device to their catalog service. It still could be successful thanks to their focus on user experience, but I think it will remain a failure because of another point.

Most people don't want another streaming media service on their TV. I love Hulu Plus and I happily pay 10$/mo to get it, but I watch Hulu on my laptop. I don't own a TV, and that makes me a rarity. Most people have very nice large TVs and already pay upwards of 40$/mo for TV service. They don't really want something which costs extra to do what they already are paying for, no matter how small and cute the box is. Apple TV doesn't provide anything new. It competes with something consumers are already quite happy with but doesn't offer everything the existing product provides. This doesn't sound like a recipe for success unless they can get all of the networks on board to massively beef up their content. Even then I'm not sure it will work because most people really like an all you can eat plan for TV. They don't want to pay by the show.

A Good Apple TV

Now that I've denigrated the Apple TV, lets talk about what would be a compelling product: an Apple TV with apps. Essentially an iPod Touch for your TV.

The modern flat screen TV is the largest and most expensive display in most homes, and yet it's wasted. All we do with them is play video. These displays could do so much more with the right input devices and, most importantly, a good app ecosystem. Here's just a short list of apps that would really add value to a flat screen TV:

  • specialty photo slideshows. Turn your TV into an art gallery
  • music driven lava lamp display to run during music sessions
  • an interactive billboard to combine fun graphics with a live Twitter stream
  • widgets: weather, stocks, rss news feed, world clocks, and your calendar
  • zen space: a underwater simulation with soothing sound and lights
  • games (duh!)
  • Video conferencing

I actually think Sony and Microsoft are far closer to creating this vision than Apple is. Both of them have network connectivity, downloadable apps, and are releasing unique forward looking input devices. Microsoft's Kinect in particular shows promise. With the right software your TV becomes this portal to the world that brings interactive content and apps to your living through purely through an intuitive gestural interface.

That vision is far more forward looking and interesting than Apple's; where all they've sold you is pricey a catalog for their own store. And in my mind, that's a big fat fail.

Today I'm proud to announce a project I've been working on for the past few months called Leonardo. I've long believed there's a need for a good desktop drawing app that is completely cross platform, free, and open source. Leonardo is that app.

LeonardoSketch.org

My vision is a drawing tool for the 21st century with a focus on usability, speed, and powerful plugins. The core of the app is written in Java, but more and more of the functionality will be built in JVM based dynamic languages like JRuby, JavaScript, and Jython.

Currently Leonardo is meant for doing UI mockups, simple multi-page presentations, and sketching; but we plan to add more document types and features in the future.

Please take a look at tell me what you think (or better yet join the dev list). We definitely need help in a lot of areas, so the more feedback the better.

Thanks!
 - Josh

Updated!

I've added some more items, including some non-technical books

  • Feng Shui, the traditional oriental way to enhance your life
  • The Everything Groom Book. Know anyone who's engaged?
  • The Cathedral & The Bazaar, Musings on Linux & Open Source by an accidental revolutionary. Eric S Raymond.
  • How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method
  • Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less: Marc Lesser
  • Introduction to Robotics
  • Shout: The Beatles in Their Generation

original

This is for my Eugene readers. I'm cleaning out my office and giving away a ton of stuff. Of particular interest, a bunch of programming and other technical books. If you are interested and live in the Eugene area give me an call at 678-458-5810.

O'Reilly Programming books (and a few others)

  • Creating Effective JavaHelp: Kevin Lewis
  • Java Threads, 2nd edition
  • Java RMI
  • Java Distributed Computing
  • J2ME in a Nutshell
  • Version Control with Subversion
  • Programming Perl
  • Advanced Perl Programming
  • Perl Cookbook
  • The C Programming Language: Kernighan and Ritchie
  • The Peopleware Papers: Notes on the human side of software
  • Software Development According 2 Einstein : a slim book of Einstein quotes and commentary.
  • Usability: the Site Speaks for Itself: website usability

Fiction & Non Fiction

  • Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott Berkun (O'Reilly)
  • Leaving Reality Behind: etoy vs eToys.com and other battles to control cyberspace
  • Airframe, Michael Crichton
  • Beyond Civilization, Humanity's Next Great Adventure, Daniel Quinn
  • How to be a Gentleman
  • In the Shadow of the Gargoyle (short story collection including Harlan Ellison & Neil Gaiman)

Other stuff

  • 512 MB SO-DIMM
  • Red cushion to an Ikea Poang chair (replacements cost 35$!)

It's been a while since I've posted thanks to this spring's conference schedule. Part of my new job at Palm is working at our booth answering technical questions. This has kept me on the road, but certainly provided opportunities to talk about our technology and build interest in apps. Read on photos and stories from GDC and CTIA, including a clip of Shrek Cart.

CTIA in Las Vegas

I'll say this: Vegas is flashy, dry, and tiring. I was working the whole time so it wasn't as fun as I would have imagined. I suspect if I went on vacation there I'd have a very different experience (as my wife did last year with her friends). Still, it was interesting.

Probably the best part was getting to meet the Pre Central crew in person. @adora, her bf, and I had dinner in the Palms hotel (natch) with Dieter Bohn of the PreCentral PalmCast, along with co-casters from WMExperts and Android Central. I always enjoy good sushi, drink, and conversation.

The rest of the trip is punctuated by booth shifts, collecting a ton of business cards, and drinking lots of water. The CTIA floor is truly massive. Hopefully next year I'll get to spend more time wandering it. I will say this about Las Vegas: their indoor architecture is amazing. Next time I plan to take far more pictures.

Attendance at the booth was quite good. Most people knew about us and were excited to hear webOS devices are coming to AT&T. The ability to talk and surf at the same time can be handy, as long as you are careful.

GDC 2010 in San Franciscio

Next up is the Game Developer Conference, or GDC. As the name would suggest this is a developer centric event of the gaming variety, though there were certainly plenty of biz people too. I will say this: the gaming industry has a lot more fun with their booths than the enterprise software guys. I never saw anything like this in front of an Oracle booth.

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You will optimize your SQL statements with fourth normal form.

The Palm Booth / Beacon

The Palm booth saw good attendance, and you certainly couldn't miss our sign. Rather than an endless parade of booth babes we went for a clean and soothing wood and smokey grey finish, topped off with a massive orange sign. It was way too bright to photograph without manual control SLR. If there wasn't a roof on the building you could have seen it from space.

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Shuttle landing beacon

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While attendees flitted in and out we had presenters explaining phone features and playing some of the new games from our catalog. In the clip below you can see Cassie playing Shrek Cart against another phone over WiFi. At one point we had six people playing on the same course, each from their own phones. (yes, I captured this with my Palm Pre).

Touring the floor

I did get a chance to browse the floor between shifts. The crowd around StarCraft 2 was thicker than a zergling's skull. I'm not a gamer anymore, but I may have to pick it up when it's finally released in 2023.

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StarCraft is finally threee deee

Your life in 3D

GDC isn't just for video games themselves. Much of vendors are showing their latest tools and supplies for making games. Thanks to Avatar motion capture and 3D were the major tech themes.

My first observation, 3D TVs are coming whether we like them or not. I tried on the glasses and sat down for a few minutes to watch a movie and some games. First impressions: 3D movies will still be a novelty at home. We've only just started to get films in 3D that really take advantage of the format, and while they are a truly experience in the movie theater (Coraline was simply stunning), I don't think it transitions well to the smaller screen and lesser technologies. Movies created for 3D will still fare reasonably well, but 2D content converted to 3D made my eyes hurt. Still too much of the 'shiny thing popping out at you' to make it interesting.

Video games, on the other hand, I think may be the killer app for 3D TV sets. The racing game I played was much more immersive and felt more engaging. Since the content is rendered realtime and already in 3D they don't have to add in the effect afterwards.

As for the glasses, they had the usual polarized paper specs in the booth for cost reasons. Not comfortable, but once classy Oakley style glasses hit in the next year I think the need to wear something special for 3D will become a non-issue.

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Take that two dee screens!

All Motion Must Be Captured

As for motion capture, it's everywhere. Many different techniques, presumably for different costs and results. I get the impression that all games with 3D characters use this now.

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Capture your motion, look cool in spandex

That's it for this week. I should have some exciting stuff to share with you soon. In the meantime here's a bonus pic I found on my phone, taken a week ago in downtown Eugene. Perhaps leading them to greener pastures?

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Remember to tether the children well.