Tuesday, February 9, 2010

KQED: Making Sense of SF

For the past year, Julie Michelle has been photographing city residents and posting their portraits on her deceptively simple website I Live Here:SF. They are a mix of Bay Area natives and transplants from across the States and beyond. In short texts the subjects write themselves, some tell linear stories that begin with where they were born or grew up, while others talk about specific moments or events, like how they fell in and out of love, or found their calling. Many describe the journey that brought them to this city. Some entries are fragmented to the point of poetry, like one person's random snapshots of the city.

This city, any city, has as many narratives and perspectives and ideas of itself as it has inhabitants, which means there is no shortage of tales to tell. My favorite is by Travis, the writer, photographer, and skateboarder who is pictured above. The story he tells revolves around the homeless guy who used to hang out in the street outside his Victorian in the Lower Haight. It is touching and beautiful, but its emotional punch sneaks up on you from a place you might not expect -- a description, like so many, that could just as easily apply to San Francisco itself.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read the full article here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Computer Is Dead, Long Live the iPad?

There's something I've never really understood about computers: Processors speed up, memory grows, software evolves ... and yet, where's the real benefit of all this breathless, constant development to the vast majority of end users? All we seem to be getting is added complications. Sure, computers these days are marginally cheaper than they used to be, and there are tasks you can perform with today's machines that you simply couldn't in years past for want of power or memory. But most people don't use their home laptops to edit video or design three-dimensional models. Plus, many of my elderly machine's most impressive capabilities, such as video streaming, rely more on external factors like fast internet and WiFi than internal ones.

In fact, the majority of users generally only need a computer for a limited list of relatively simple tasks -- surf the web, send emails, play MP3s, write a letter, store some pictures -- none of which require much raw power. And yet, year after year, it seems that computers must increase in speed to cope with the increasingly bloated operating systems and expanding software suites that few of us know how to use properly because they're so complicated and change so frequently.

Which is why I've been so excited about the idea of netbook-style computers. None has yet delivered the right mix of usability, price, battery life, and size, but the general movement toward simplicity and value seems like a shift in the right direction. Why should you have to buy the computing equivalent of a powerful, temperamental sports car when all you need is a cheap, reliable runabout to get you to the shops?

And this, of course, is the hole that Apple is hoping to fill with the iPad. Lots of tech-focused commentators have been quick to point out its various perceived flaws: it doesn't multitask, the software is closed, it has a silly name. But the reality is there's an army of people who simply don't care about the first points, and will quickly get over the third as long as the thing works as intuitively and reliably as promised (and, judging by the iPhone, it probably will). If it does what you want it to, who cares what's going on inside?

Which is not to say that the iPad is perfect (a front-facing webcam wouldn't go amiss, for example), but I don't think Steven Frank's talk of it heralding a new age of computing is too far off the mark, either. This is the machine that is getting Rob Foster's grandma and technophobic friend excited, people who don't like computers as they are right now. And it's this huge untapped market of non-technically minded end users, not tinkering enthusiasts and experts, that Apple is aiming for.

Originally published at Ludovician.com.