What must it be like to sleep 10 hours every night?

I find myself wondering, as I putter around the house doing dishes and watching TV and checking out new fonts, while facing another night of five hours of sleep (thanks for the genes, Mom)… what would my life be like if I got as much sleep as my son does? Aidan goes to bed, and essentially to sleep, at about 8:00 pm. He gets up any time between 5:30 am and 7:00 am, but usually around 6:30 am. And he takes an hour and a half to two hours of nap during the day.

That’s around 12 hours of sleep a day.

Now, there’s no earthly way I can approximate that amount of sleep. I have things to do in the evening (like dishes, laundry, cuddling), and my employers would not look kindly on my napping during the day, but what if I tried going to bed as soon after Aidan goes to bed as I can? Let’s say I walk the dog, help make the boy’s lunch, cuddle with the missus, all in about an hour. Then I go to bed. I could get about eight to eight and a half hours of sleep a night. And I could get nothing much else done.

The question is, would I have as much energy as my almost two-year-old? Or would I at least begin to approximate that. And would that be worth it?

I may have to try this.

I love my swing-arm iMac

I was just thinknig, this morning, as I adjusted my swing-arm iMac’s screen for close up work, would I like one of the new G5 iMacs? All it can do is tilt. If someone sits down next to me, I can turn this screen a little towards them, so we both get a good view. If Aidan walks up to the desk, I can tilt it downward, so he can see it better. With the iSight attached, I can just move the screen around, without having to twist the camera in its mount.

It seems to me that the arm is one of those features I would really miss. And yet, I have heard nothing in the wider community about people being disappointed when they upgrade. Are swing-arm iMac users not upgrading? Are they holding on to their flexible displays tooth and nail? Will they be the next Newton Users Group?

Poor Keywords, I hardly knew ye

I’ve been using iPhoto 5 to try to (re)organize all my pictures. All 2,500 of them. iPhoto offers several facilities for doing this. You can see your pictures by date, and home in on a particular date or range of dates. You can scroll through your pictures visually, finding the one that stands out. Or you can assign keywords to a photo, performing a search on those keywords when you want to find all the pictures having to do with “Mason”. Keywords in iPhoto, though, are more like categories. The program isn’t built to let you (easily) use a ton of keywords. You want to keep them to a dozen or two. So you’re forced to be succinct. A photo of my dog running through a flock of pigeons might have the following keywords: “Mason Fun”

But a new organizational scheme has come to the Internet. One that I think is interesting, but ultimately flawed. They’re called tags. What’s a tag? It’s pretty much like a keyword, the way you expect them to be, not the way iPhoto limits you. You post, say, a picture, and then you tag it. The picture of Mason and the pigeons? Tagged with “dog Mason pigeons chase scatter flying murderous”.

Online social applications like flickr then use the tags to create a community. You can find all pictures posted to flickr with the tag “pigeons” and it is probably a pretty big group. “murderous” would provide an interesting subset. “Mason” would probably produce a smaller set of pictures. If you tagged something with “alurehrsgur” your picture might be the only one.

Back to iPhoto though. I’ve found a better system of organization. iPhoto 5 has a full text search box, right in the interface. When I am annotating my pictures, with titles, and ratings, and keywords, I ultimately want to write a little text for each one in the comments field. “Our dog Mason running through a flock of pigeons in Memorial Park today. Omaha, NE. I think he had a murderous intent, but the pigeons scattered quite effectively, leaving him nothing to chase.” The full text search, dynamically finding pictures as I start typing, is as effective as the keyword search.

I see this idea extending to the Internet sooner, rather than later. Google is already doing it with Google Suggest, and I can only see a full text, type-ahead suggesting search improving the usability of places like flickr or del.icio.us.

I wonder how many people use their tagging field as a full text comment box? I would be curious to do a search on one of those sites for words like “he” or “and” or “to”. I may start doing that, just to see what happens.

In any case, I think the days of trying to pick out relevant keywords is fading. Long live the key words.

Navigation by search?

I was taking a look at Paul Nixon’s web site, and his links to the work they are doing redesigning the University of Arizona’s web site. They used to have a blog on which they described their work and solicited comments, and one of the comments struck me. “Put a big logo and a Google search box. Done. Next project.”

One of the most vexing of problems for a university web designer, especially one tasked with a dense web site, is how to facilitate navigation on that site. You have two audiences to cater to, the group that knows what it wants to find (current students and staff), and the group that has just come to browse (the all important prospective students and their parents).

Traditionally, the designs produced to solve this dilemma go one way: provide a ton of links and let the user find what they want. Links by constituency, links by topic area, links for non-interested parties. You end up with 15 or 20 links, often with submenus, and then a smattering of other “important” links like news, or the foundation, or whatnot.

But one of the important, and often neglected aims of a University’s home page is to sell the place. To prospective students, donors, news organizations. Frankly, to anyone for whom a good experience is important to the University’s future.

How does the flippant comment I quoted above solve this problem?

Well, I’m not sure. But it is an interesting perspective. What if… what if you created a University home page for the public. It was gorgeous to look at, and described the recent successes of the University, while also letting the public know what was happening on campus, what the University is all about, and how they can join the community (either by donating, enrolling, or just attending an event, be it sports or theater or graduation or something else).

Then, also on that page, is a “navigation box.” On load, the focus of the cursor goes there. Start typing, and it autofills what you might be looking for (see Google), get off the autofill track and hit return, and it searches the University intelligently, returning relevant hits.

I imagine that search being as intuitive, useful, and smart as say, the LaunchBar search. Visit the University’s web site. Start typing a few letters, hit return, and there you are, where you wanted to be.

I don’t have a freakin’ clue how to do it. But I think it could be done. More importantly, I think it should be done.

The iSight Express and the iSight Extreme

So, as you probably know, we do a lot of iSight-enabled iChat AV sessions with Grandma. On our end, we have the iSight attached to an iBook on a wireless network, so we just wander around after the boy (nee Grandson) and Grandma watches. He can go to the basement, to the bedroom, or even outside, and we can follow.

And yet, the iBook is unwieldy. In a moment of frustration as I shifted the a-bit-more-than-warm iBook around on my knee while trying to keep the boy in frame, it occurred to me… this would be better if it were a video camera.

The iSight Express would be an iSight camera, a WiFi connection, and two LCD panels back to back. It is okay if they are small, maybe 320 x 240. You point the camera at your subject, and you see them in the LCD facing you. They, in turn, see the other end of the conversation in the LCD facing them. All of this gets sent via WiFi to your computer, which is managing the connection.

The iSight Extreme is similar, except that it is a full client on the network, negotiating its own IP address, and making its own connections, no computer needed.

If Apple isn’t working on this yet, they should be.

I’m reading The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem

cover-fortressofsolitude.jpgI’ve only just started reading this book, but I already have had a few thoughts I wanted to note, so I thought I’d try a running review/commentary as I go.

July 7, 2004. I’ve read chapter one. The little boy, Dylan, though six years old at the start of the book, makes me think so much of Aidan. And it makes me sad, because Dylan’s life isn’t all that, and I so want my son to look back at his childhood and think of it fondly. I could just imagine Aidan writing about when he was six, and how he felt, and it just made me want to put the book down and stop reading. Not that Dylan has a bad life, I could separate Aidan’s future experience from anything obvious like being beat or hungry or whatnot. But Dylan is just sort of melancholy, sad, unsure. And I want Aidan to be happy and confident and loved. Good book so far.

July 16, 2004. Well into the book now, I am starting to be able to put in words how it makes me feel. Reading this book is like reading Umberto Eco, with bizarre, obscure, and extremely erudite references to arcane bits of cultural lore. Reading Foucault’s Pendulum required a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica in tow. But the references in this book are to my own cultural swamp, albeit a few years earlier than when I dwelled. The allusions are all to comic books and science fiction, to Boy Scouts and tracing breasts from cartoon characters. It is all stuff I recognize… and yet, I didn’t like Foucault’s Pendulum, never managed to finish it. And I’m on my way to not liking this book… I think because it is too much work. When one character tells Dylan to play his chess piece, “or Hulk Will Smash,” the author launches into several paragraphs about the inner anger of this kid, the allusion to the kid’s own inner Hulk, waiting, seething, ready to Smash. And that hurts my brain. It is too dense. Maybe that’s the point, maybe we feel for Dylan, not because his life sucks, but because his inner life sucks, too full of allusive introspection. Clearly, one of the themes of the book is that poor Dylan can’t just be a kid (or maybe that kids can’t just be Norman Rockwell kids, no matter how much we think they can) but do we blame his circumstance, or do we blame him. I go back to reading.

February 15, 2005. Yeah, well I finally finished this book. I actually finished it a week ago, but I needed a little time to digest it. In the end, I guess, it seems to have not been my cup of tea, though I am not sure why. I was very pleased with what I thought was the end of the book, until I realized I still had one chapter to go. And that one chapter just blew it for me. It took a pleasing wrap-up and left it strewn all over the highway. Which, I concede, was probably the point. But I could not help but feel betrayed.

This guy, Dylan, spent the entire book trying to be something. He always came back to the same central issues though, always keeping him back. Mingo, Robert, Abraham… always back to them. But when al lthat finally gets resolved, some of it in a very satisfying way… well it turns out his life sucks anyway.

It didn’t seem like the kind of book that was going to end that way. I mean, obviously it wasn’t going to end like a superhero comic (Main Theme of Book: Life is not like the comics), but it didn’t have to bite so thoroughly.

Anyway. It certainly kept my interest. For what that’s worth.

Do you charge for creativity?

I wonder at this. Does one charge for the creative process? Say I am tasked with making something creative. A logo, an icon, a PowerPoint background (shudder). I hem, I haw, I try somethings, I troll the web, I try again, I change the colors, and eventually I come up with an idea.

Do I charge an hourly rate for the time it took me to come up with that idea? That is, for the hem and haw?

Or do I assume that my brilliance is assumed (why I was tasked with this) and build that expectation into my hourly rate?

Or do I charge a flat fee for brilliance? “My creativity is worth $500 per.”

Once the idea is generated, charging for the grunt work of production is a no-brainer. I just don’t know what to do on the front end.

Ideas?