Dave's Sketch Journal

Drawing is taking a line for a walk. - Paul Klee

The Marriage of Digital and Analog

Yesterday I was trying to enter my friend's name into my iPhone. I located my Address Book, hit the plus sign, switched to the Chinese keyboard and waited for him to say his name . . . for the forth time.

Of course, we were out talking on the street. It's nosy with horns, busses, and people. He speaks with an accent, which makes it all the more difficult to concentrate on what he's saying while trying to get the app up on my device. And whenever I start to speak Chinese it usually draws a crowd. I'll look up after a few minutes and three or more people are gathered around listening in on what we're saying. (They are always flabbergasted when any foreigner can understand and speak a little Chinese.)

This all gets in the way of just getting the information from my new friend. It's a pain.

After much frustration, I pulled out my paper notebook, handed him my pen, and asked him write it himself. In an instant I had captured his name and phone number. Later, when I had more time, I entered his information into my phone.

Is There a Better Way?

All this got me to thinking. There are advantages to pen and paper. After all, it is an ancient and successful method for recording information. No wonder the iPhone wasn't invented earlier. Pen and paper were working just fine.

Of course, I do need my digital device. It's got my dictionary, calendar, address book, audio recorder, class notes, and a host of other great tools like google maps, which helps me get home before dark. But it became clear to me that I needed to carry both the iPhone and the notebook.

Or do I? Is there some way to marry the two? Could I somehow carry one device that solves both my digital and analog needs?

What if I glued or pasted a piece of paper to the back of my iPhone? Nah . . . too barbaric.

How about affixing a small clipboard with epoxy to the back? No way! Come on, think of something brilliant.

What if I cut out the back of my iPhone cover and slipped a piece of paper into it's edges? Nope. Close but looks like a hack job.

Okay, what about this? What if I buy an iPhone bumper and slide a thick piece of paper under its edges? Bingo. Now you're talking.

BackNotes for the iPhone

Now, when I need to capture something quick, I'm ready with my new BackNotes app.

This is the perfect solution for travel too.

If I can't turn on my phone during take off or landing but still need to record something brilliant before I forget it. I'll use BackNotes.

If I need to know the flight number, gate, or hotel reservation number, I'll simply print my itinerary on a piece of stiff paper and slip it into the back of my iPhone.

Now I can approach the gate with confidence. While all the tech jocks are fumbling with their digital apps, I just flip my phone over and access my information. BackNotes to the rescue. It's faster than the average app.

Hey, you can get BackNotes too. It's FREE! And you don't even have to visit the app store.

Avoid strangers. Introduce yourself.

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Have Keyboard, Will Travel

A new keyboard for the iPad has been developed by Logitech. It's just what the engineer ordered.

It's perfect for travel. It's light (13oz), uses no batteries (solar powered), works via bluetooth for both my iPad and iPhone (switch between them with a button press), and fits in my carry on (it's just 6"x12").

So now I can leave my MacBook at home and simply carry my DSLR, a couple of lenses and my new image processing station: the iPad & keyboard.

This is a big deal. The lighter, the better. I never bring check on bags. (I'm a onebag.com kind of guy.) I only bring what I can fit in a carry on. So the lighter iPad with keyboard travels well.

What about Apple's keyboard?

I did try Apple's keyboard for a few weeks but in the end I returned it. It chews batteries like a junk yard shredder. Besides the weight of the batteries in the keyboard itself I had to carry extras. There is no indicator on the keyboard that tells me when power is low. So carrying extra batteries was necessary. I never knew when it would fail me.

Pairing (the initial syncing of the keyboard with the iPhone) sometimes took a while and that sucked even more power. Plus, sometimes after shutting it off and turning it back on again, I'd have to re-pair with my device. Life is too short. Sometimes I'd forget to shut it off and it would run the batteries down. It had no auto-shut off features. But that's all history now. (I had the 2007 version. I think the newer 2009 version now has auto power down.)

Tactile feel

I simply can't touch type with the iPad keyboard. My wrists get heavy hovering over the screen. For a hunt-n-peck type guy, I guess it's fine. But my mom made me take typing in school. It was so embarrassing. I was the only guy in the class and I got a lot of ribbing for it. Most of the guys were muscle jocks out back in the auto shop turning wrenches under their hot rods. I didn't endure all that ridicule to hunt and peck on my iPad keyboard. No way.

With this new keyboard I can touch type as on the MacBook. And I never have to worry about buying or replacing batteries. I get a good feeling knowing that I'm not adding more batteries to an already clogged environment. That's a good thing. Oh, and one more thing, it'll recharge via outdoor or indoor light. Fully charged it'll last three months in total darkness.

The only thing I would have liked to see is backlit keys. I've really gotten used to them on the MacBook. They are so handy in low light. But you can't have everything.

I think my new keyboard will be turning heads. It's really pretty cool. Eat your hearts out you muscle jocks.

You can't have everything. Where would you put it? -Stephen Wright

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How To Take Pictures That Everyone Wants To See

What do you take pictures of on your vacation? Yourself in front of monuments we've seen a hundred times? Your kids at Disneyland with Tiger eating ice cream cones?

(I once met a woman who's goal in life was to travel the world alone taking pictures of herself in front of every world monument. She simply wanted to prove she'd been everywhere. When she returned home for a few weeks between trips she'd show hundreds of pictures to jealous friends. I would NOT want sit through that event.)

If you wonder why everyone clears the room when you pull out your photo book or your travel blog, this post is for you.

Why are they bored with my pictures?
It's because they've seen it all before, just with different people. Everyone takes the same old pictures. Actually, now that everything is digital, you could create an around-the-world photo album with you posed in front of the worlds greatest monuments without ever leaving your house. (hummmm...not a bad idea for a website, but I digress.)

Where to start
First off, go ahead and take that picture of yourself in front of the world famous building, waterfall, or mountain. Go ahead, I'll wait for you. Done? Okay, great, now that that's over, promise me you'll never show it to anyone.

Now let's get started with some great travel photography.

50th State Fair

Here's a few guideline, a sort of checklist you can print out and put in your pocket as a quick reminder while on location:
  • Travel with one lens. If you carry too much equipment you'll tire quickly and will miss the shots that matter. Rather than carry a huge zoom, get a modest zoom with the widest aperture you can afford. Personally I carry just two very light fixed lenses, a wide angle and a portrait lens. It's because they both take awesome pictures in low light (One lens is f2.8 and the other is f2.0.) and they are so light I hardly notice I have them with me. Yes you can pump up the ISO for slower zoom lenses in a pinch but the quality of your pictures will suffer It's better to use lower ISOs and "faster" lenses. Not only will the pictures look sharper normal size but they will be fantastic if you should enlarge them later. (If you only want to carry a point-and-shoot get one that has the best lens you can afford.)
  • Vary your scope. Instead of using your zoom or changing your lens, walk around some. Get a feel for the area. Use your feet. Take close ups (hands, clothes, patterns and designs). Then stand back and take that wide angle shot. The results will be so much more interesting in a photo book or on your website.
  • Vary colors and shapes. This is a fun thing to try. If you enjoy staying in a place for a few days instead of madly dashing place to place, make a themed photo challenge for yourself. Shoot only images in the next hour that are red, or that are square, or that have water. Later you'll have a very interesting page of pictures that everyone will enjoy lingering over.
  • Vary your subjects. Take pics of buildings if you must but be sure to also take pictures of people doing things. Even common things like sweeping, polishing shoes, or taking care of the monument grounds Take close ups of their work (they most often will welcome that) and then later get a closeup of their tools, hands in action, or garb. Often they will invite you to do this if you show sincere interest in their work.
  • Smile. Smiling is the universal language. It's infectious. Smile even when you are not taking pictures. People in tourist areas notice you even from a distance. If you apply a plastic smile only when you approach them they will be less likely to accommodate. Enjoy the journey, enjoy the people, and you'll get better pictures.
When things don't go as planned . . .
Not everyone will allow you to take pictures of them. Every day will not be perfect weather for photography. Not every trip will yield eye-popping images. Set your expectations low, be happy when things turn out better.

If it rains, keep shooting but exclude the sky and you'll get great saturated colors. If some people are not accommodating, look for others or put the camera away and just chat with them at the local coffee shop. You might later get a good shot later or at least an interesting story to tell. You can always shoot a picture of your own slice of chocolate cake and cup of coffee at the outdoor cafe.

I hope these suggestions will increase the quality of your next set of travel photos. I'd be anxious to see them.

Have more suggestions? Comments welcome.

When you look like your passport it's time to return home.

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