Posts Tagged ‘style’

Last Car Driving

10 July 2009

Dear J-

Get up early enough and it’s easy to convince yourself that some kind of apocalypse happened overnight or — more happily — that you’ve managed to sleep through to Saturday and the world stretches out before you as on a platter.  Some mornings I don’t see evidence of another human until I get to the Park’n’Ride lot, yet the streams of traffic passing on the freeway might as well be piloted by robots for all the humanity they evince: just metal beetles hurrying away from the light, rubber wheels scrambling madly.

Speaking of which, Ford’s new Taurus is rolling out; I understand that we should be suitably celebratory that in this, Ford’s flagship sedan, we have a car that can sit up against its fellow large sedans — see Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala, etc. — with its head held high.  Much has been made of the style, which is in keeping with the Ford Interceptor concept from 2007, and adheres to the latest Ford design language, but the sharp contrast with 1985 and the first-generation Taurus for me is that the Taurus is now a trend follower (it looks like a Fusion, slightly inflated in all dimensions) rather than a trend setter.  The other worrying statistic is the weight — more than two tons in SHO trim; granted, the SHO packs Ford’s new EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 and 365 horsepower, but where did all the weight come from (if you want to compare, Taurus SHO has gained 25% in weight over ten years — 1999:  3329 lbs; 2010:  4368 lbs.)?  Granted, it’s similar in weight to the big LX-platform Mopars (two tons, give or take), but gearheads like to brag that there’s no replacement for displacement for engine size; we’re standing that on its head:  for fuel economy standards, mass is gonna cost you gas.

The clever engineers should be able to balance safety (systems, structure) and weight without resorting to specifying that everyone shall drive tanks — the United States M-1 Abrams, for instance, uses a gas turbine engine for 1000 horsepower, an honest 60 MPH on the road, and fuel economy better measured in gallons per mile.  Despite lacking airbags, I would venture that it would survive a crash pretty well.  I understand the need to hail an American car champion, but the Taurus isn’t going to be it — it’s a cosmetic re-skinning of the old Volvo platform underneath the Five Hundred.  For Ford, think Focus or Fiesta instead:  not the traditional big American sedan, but CAFE heroes with reasonable space and style; we associate size with value, but it’s time to break that habit, whether with food or cars.



Design Time

1 July 2009

Dear J-

There’s a few things that are universally recognizeable — the McDonald’s arches, Snoopy, Mickey Mouse (I would also add Hello Kitty but that may be an artifact of my upbringing).  Product design, handled well, sells merchandise; the prospect of the Golden Arches on the horizon signals filling, if not particularly nutritious, fare.  With the advent of digital image capture, cameras which were once constrained by film cartridge size to a certain shape are now free to play with form; I’d say that we have the shapes we have because of product perception.  A camera should look like a camera — protruding cylindrical lens, body roughly in 3:5 proportions.

In the 80s and 90s camera designers started moving away from the brick school of design (Luigi Colani, with Canon’s T90; Giugiaro with Nikon’s F4) and those willing to go out on a real limb (Olympus ECRU and O-Product, which were the Twentieth-Anniversary Mac of their day;  high style and collectability) — there were cameras with retro features and “classical” lines (Leica Minilux, Nikon 35/28Ti, Minolta TC-1), but save for the hard points dictated by functionality (prism/porro viewfinder, film plane, takeup and rewind), cameras were starting to look interesting.  What’s happened?  Where’s my digital high-style camera?

I suppose that some designs are dictated by useability (handgrip and a body big enough to wrap two hands around), and others, by legacy requirements (again, that prism/porro viewfinder).  Panasonic and Olympus present two interesting contrasts — the first two 4/3rds system cameras were the E-1 (intriguing because there is no traditional “left side” — camera body left of the viewfinder), which was needed for the film chamber in 35mm cameras) and the E-300 (complicated light path and side-swinging mirror allowing for a flat top, faithful in concept and execution to the pioneering Pen F), both from Olympus.  On the other hand, freed from the mirror box and its mandate of a prism/viewfinder hump, the Panasonic micro-4/3rds G1 and GH1 resemble nothing so much as shrunken SLRs, even though there’s nothing but tradition (and that huge articulated LCD on the back) dictating the camera’s design.  You would think that a consumer electronics company wouldn’t skew conservative with camera design, but perhaps it’s just in comparison with one of the innovators in the camera world.


Photographic Memory

25 February 2009

Dear J-

Watch the traffic rolling by and close your eyes; do you hear the whirring of engines, or imagine a busy river?  I like the old story about the five blind men coming upon an elephant, each declaring, with justification, that they’d come upon a snake, tree, sheet, brush, or house, depending on which part they touched.  You would imagine that upon hearing the conflicting information they’d each take the time to verify each other’s conclusions, so that’s why the story adds a little addendum about how crochety and stubborn each one was.  Point is that we see so much and, as our primary sense, we believe it best.

Susan Sontag had some interesting thoughts about photography, including that it grew popular amongst cultures with veneration of long work hours (Germans, Americans, and Japanese) because it provided a pleasant sort of work in leisure time.  On vacation?  Sure, go document x, y, and z and bring back proof in some form.  The old cliche first assignment of “What I Did for Summer Break” is so familiar and trite because we’ve all had to do it at some point — I did a double-take when Godai recalled that he had the same assignment when he was little in Maison Ikkoku, more evidence that the inculcation of a work ethic starts young.

Photography serves as an exact record, in miniature, with less effort and expense than doing your own illustration or painting.  One of Sontag’s assertions is that everything has been photographed at one point, and it leads to a sort of overload where the impact of any one photograph is lessened, whereas when it was practiced by relatively fewer people and photographs were not as readily available, the impact of each was greater.  There’s some truth to it — I am guilty of the kittens-babies-sunsets variety on flickr myself — but in the whole I reject that.  Yes, photography plays up to only the visual sense, but there are so many different ways to depict a scene that the images we take and choose to share are inevitably tied to our own aesthetics.

Different people have different photographic styles, what they call a visual voice; it may degenerate to the form of self-parody but I’m reasonably sure that any number of people would be able to tell an Anne Geddes picture from an Annie Leibowitz one, for instance, or Helmut Lang from Duane Michals from Weegee from Arbus from Weston.  The good photographs tell complete stories with one sense — vision — and between voice, mood, and light, there’s so many different methods of relating experiences that  doubt we’ll ever truly capture all the possible images in the whole world.


New Style

12 January 2009

Dear J-

The poster yells starkly at me.  MANAGERS HAVE EMPLOYEES.  LEADERS HAVE FOLLOWERS.  It’s one of those complete with some kind of splashy product photography — this one, some kind of brightly-colored marching band.  My eyes slide over it again as we troop dutifully into the meeting.  We might as well be in 1984, constant vigilance and conformal thinking.

Sun and sky drag my attention out the window as the canned presentation rolls out.  Why do they believe we have reading issues?  If the talking points are already in the PowerPoint slides, I just need explanation; if the explanation bloats your slides beyond comprehension and legibility, then I could read it on my own time.  Ugh.  They’ve got the chairs tied closely together again — ostensibly to enforce row neatness, but when the chairs are designed for grade schoolers — skinny grade schoolers — pressing the flesh takes on a whole new meaning.

Style takes pole position.  I admire the graphics; I admire the A/V setup (having run the A/V department for the fourth grade class, I can tell you that filmstrip projectors are a completely different animal from threading your standard 16mm Bell & Howell movie projector).  One neat cable, nicely packaged, slick transitions and on a shoestring budget.  We’re committed to change, but not the follow through, like drunks on their last bender.  We say the right words and fail our faith, choosing to follow the same old comfortable patterns that brought us here.

Changing course is as easy as turning a ship with a rudder stuck hard over:  you’re yawing, but not going.  Back to the poster again:  do I read that right?  CHANGE IS A LIFESTYLE, NOT AN ATTITUDE.  And yet everywhere I look, walls and barriers, deaf ears and dumb mouths.


Inverse Mentor

9 October 2008

Dear J-

I’ve figured out that the number of times I have to explain something is inversely proportional to the quality and tone of my instruction.  If it’s the first time, I’m like a vampire feeding off your excitement at learning something new.  If it is, say, the third time today, then you’d better be prepared for terse instructions and a decided lack of attention.  theVet says that I have a terrible temper when it comes to patience; the more often I explain something the less interesting it is, and the more I’ll begin to question your ability to learn.

At our semi-special mentor class, though, we were told that people learn one of three different ways; you’ve got the folks who won’t touch a knob, switch, or button without indexing and adding tabs to the dog-eared manual they’ve slept on (reverse osmosis!); then you’ve got the ones who’ll ask other people about their hands-on experience, how to do this that way, how to avoid those traps, how to find the tricks you’ve picked up; finally, there’s the people who can’t wait to wade in and get their hands dirty on it, preferring direct experience to instructions, and making your own mistakes to hearing about someone else’s.  We took a little questionnaire to determine which type we were; if I remember right, out of twenty questions I was divided pretty equally — seven, seven, and six.

But the point is not what you are, the point is recognizing what the people you teach are.  It’s one thing in school, where a limited resource (teachers) forces everyone into learning through one mode at a time; at work, you can always go to someone else, or teach yourself via help functions, or muddle through on your own, if you can.  And people who’ve worked as long as my coworkers have, well, they tend to fall back into comfortable habits; my mistake, I think, is in presenting the information in a limited way.  It may work for some, but it doesn’t work for everyone, and patience is always a virtue.


Rising Tide

2 September 2008

Dear J-

One of the best parts of getting this new system at work is that I get to demonstrate how much I know (not that I’m narcissistic about it or anything) by running little demos for the rest of my group.  It’s still odd to me that I’m telling folks how to do their job, when I was asking them the same thing just a few months ago, but there you have it.  I’ve always wanted to teach, and if this is the outlet I get, I’m running with it.

Teaching is only as easy as the students are willing to learn, though; even though our initial mentor training was widely derided, it did give some insight on how to best approach different students, who were classified into three groups.  There’s the hands-on folks, who like to play with things before picking up a manual; the bookish ones, who won’t touch the mouse before reading the book cover-to-cover; and the experience ones, who like to ask questions and gather user knowledge.  We’ve got all types in the group, and it’s fun (?) to shift gears to match the person at my desk.

Best of all, it’s got us discussing what, how, and why we do certain things at work.  It’s a livelier group than before, even if most of the discussion seems to center on ways to fix the system and retread-conversations about issues.  Yet the goal is not to run too far ahead; we all benefit from an increased knowledge base.


Pheidippides Trash

19 August 2008

Dear J-

I read an article today that was all agog at the trash talk going on between the eventual gold and silver medal winners in women’s pole vault.  Because, you know, people running down a paved track using a flexible pole to fling themselves skyward don’t have emotions.  The whole business of intimidation and gamesmanship is nothing new; I can almost see the conversation coming out of that Battle of Marathon:

Pheidippides:  So (puff) here’s the (puff puff) message.

General:  You didn’t run all the way here, did you, son?

Pheidippides:  (gasps) Yes (hack, cough)

General:  Well, that was pretty impressive, I guess.  But you’re still slow.

P:  (wheeze)

G:  In fact, we’ve got this messenger over here who said he’s going to run back with our response, even faster than you!  You know, because we’re Athenians.

P:  (sinks to ground and dies)

G:  Wuss.

Okay, so it probably didn’t happen that way, but you can see what I mean.  As long as we make something competitive — whether athletic, political, or social — and we assign scores and values, someone will quantifiably be the best, and everyone else won’t be.  We keep chasing moving targets, and along the way, we’ve got to show off doing it.  It just feels like, you know, human nature.

When was the last time you did something unnecessarily, but with style?  Yeah, I thought so too.


P.S.  New celebrity crush:  Елена Гаджиевна Исинбаева Woo!