Sunday, October 22, 2006

In the Beginning...

Our younger son Elia is starting to study for his Bar Mitzvah, and today's group class was about how regular people can read and interpret the Torah without having to be scholars. The first five lines of the Torah cover the few (microseconds? millenia?) of the creation of the universe. As we discussed whether this refers to creation of earth or the entire universe, and what the authors might mean when the story says light was created the first day, but the sun was not created until the fourth, another thought occurred to me.

The story of Genesis (B'reysheet in Hebrew) can be thought of fundamentally by the numbers, zero, one and two.

What was before the universe? Some would say - nothing, or zero. Hard for most of us finite beings to think if nothing existing, and perhaps rather than nothing, there was only one thing - what the Kabbalh calls "Ein Sof" - without end. Rather than zero - nothing - the Ein Sof is one. United in its one-ness.

It's only when creation starts that the one-ness of the Universe gets split into two. And forever more, this universe wrestles with duality - light & dark, good & evil, heaven & earth, body & mind. B'reysheet introduces the beauty and tragedy of the world - it is created by splitting the one into two. As someone who seems to have spent a lot of my adult life trying to bring diverging things together that I think belong that way, whether they are human struggles, product messaging, or user interfaces and underlying computer systems, the struggle to return to the One seems to pervade many aspects of my life.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Google Shortcuts

I saw a great sign of simplicity in the last few months with the Vancouver CJA campaign "Live Generously." Rather than put a complete url on a billboard that people race by every morining on the way to work, they did something simple and remarkable. They bought the ad words "Live Generously" from Google AdWords, and then put the phrase, "for more information, google "Live Generously"

Now that "googling" has entered the list of verbs in common use, this is very effective technique to quickly and easily map a catchy phrase into a complicated url.

Neon's Gone Generic

I see them everywhere now. Stop reading this or you'll see them too.

No, not Starbucks, although those things are multiplying like rabbits. I'm talking about the inescapable trend of neon (and now faux neon) open signs that hang in many store windows. They follow the same prescription: red neon for open (actually all neon signs are red, the other colors use other gases, Argon for blue, Krypton for white, Xenon for purple)

Now don't get me wrong, I love neon signs. I have a similar affinity and nostalgia for them as I do for coffee but maybe there is a link between neon open signs and Starbucks after all.

Ya, that's it - it's another niche thing that has gone mainstream. While many more people now can drink espresso, and can see a neon sign in their neighborhood, part of the cachet, the magic of it is lost. Neon signs have had a Vancouver history, whimsy, and a night-time celebration during our long, dark winters.

Sadly though, the blue-red open signs that dot the street fronts now are so commoditized and generic that they actually might create a negative wave, an anti-nostalgia for this once briliant commercial art form.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Apple's iPhone - Can't be Soon Enough

The growing momentum about the not-so-secret iPhone adds serious cred to the idea of Apple introducing its own phone.

This is great news for the ease of use of cell phones, and a death-knell for the Blackberry users who think obscure knowledge of how to turn off their ringer is somehow a badge of honor.

Dave Pogue's most recent public rage against the cellphone user interface is one signpost along the path, and even mac-agnostic Joel Spolsky delivers a bitingly critical review of a free Samsung phone he was sent. But of the Apple iPhone, you can count on a few things for certain.

1. The iPhone will sport an iPod like user interface, and be like an iPod that you can make phone calls with. It will be a humble phone.
2. The integration with iTunes will be superb, scrolling through the store and listening to previews like the web experience.
3. The iPhone will sync contacts with Address Book (and Outlook on Windows?), and hopefull iSync will finally be useful.
4. It will have Bluetooth and the awesome feature, of having the id of the caller appear on your computer without having to unleash your phone, will become ubiquitous and indispensable.
5. You'll be able to access your phone book and reach anyone on it will take less than 5 seconds, 2 scrolls, and 1 button press.
6. The iPhone will support both the bluetooth wireless headset and stereo specs. so your experience of listening to tunes and switching to take an incoming call will be apple-smooth, getting to choose whether the music pauses while you take a call, dims to background level behind the conversation, or mixes in with the call so your caller can hear what you're listening to.

Several other vendors have apparently created small network brands, buying a share of bandwidth from the larger cellular coverage networks, but this might be Apple's Achilles Heel in the venture, for as good as the user experience will be with the iPhone, if the carrier reception is poor or easily overloaded, listening to the cool tunes will be cold comfort.