Satya Nadella isn’t a household name, but when he did his best Jerry Maguire impression last week— writing a long missive and sending it to everyone in his company—he set a certain, nerdy corner of the internet astir. (That’s the kind of thing that happens when the memo implies business decisions that would require big layoffs and the guy writing it is CEO of Microsoft.)
However, as you might expect from the tech company that is most closely associated with the stereotypes of corporate America, the language he used to try to get people excited for whatever his vision for the future of their company is left a lot to be desired.
According to former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gasse, it didn’t need to be that way. Gasse’s response is more than just a(n appropriately) concise prescription for how Nadella’s language could have been improved—it’s also a quick look at some of the root causes of poor communication in corporate speak. (Spoiler alert: He thinks muddled language is often the result of muddled thought.)
The paper notebook is one of the best technologies ever developed: You can mind map, outline, write, sketch and more—all within one high-resolution, immediate-response interface. Being able to do all of that on a computer requires several suites of programs and specialized hardware. (I use OpenOffice, MindNode, Scrivener, Adobe Illustrator, a Wacom tablet and more.)
What pen and paper offer in flexibility and freedom, though, they take back in access and convenience. I can’t carry all of my old notebooks with me at all times. If I’m at work and want to remember something from a project I worked on a month ago, I’m out of luck—by now, that notebook is tucked away on a shelf behind my desk at home.
The go-to solution for a lot of people is Evernote—it’s the darling of most people who want on-the-go access to their information. And it does offer great access to your information from anywhere at any time. However, Evernote has a cumbersome interface for creating new notes compared to the simple, flexible elegance of pen and paper. And entering information directly into Evernote also locks you into a linear, rich-text-based interface—sketches, charts, diagrams and mind maps aren’t an option.
There have been a few attempts to marry the flexibility of marking up a sheet of paper with the convenience of on-the-go access to your old notes, but they all fall short. Smart pens, sensor-loaded notebook cases and page scanners all let you still use a pen and paper, and then offer systems for downloading digital copies of each page in your book. But these tools generally require adding too many extra steps to the process between using your notebook and having local, digitized notes. And even when you use them as intended, you still blow through notebook after notebook in quick succession.
What we really need is a way to automatically make our hand-written notes and hand-drawn sketches available on the go that doesn’t add extra steps to a workflow. We need a way to build a digital archive of notes and sketches with a process that’s as simple as “Take out your pen and write.” And if we can do it without burning through notebooks, that would be a plus.
Enter the eWriter
A month ago, I ordered the Boogie Board Sync, the flagship of Improv Electronics’ “eWriter” line.
Improv Electronics’ Boogie Board eWriters are built around a bi-stable LCD display, similar to the Kindle’s e-ink screen. It’s a static physical display rather than a constantly refreshing electronic display, so looking at it is as easy on the eyes as looking at a page in a book.
Using a stylus, you sketch or write on the Boogie Board Sync’s e-ink display like it’s a sheet of paper. (Unlike a sheet of paper and because of the current limits of the technology, you’re writing white-on-black instead of black-on-white. Improv Electronics says they’re working on changing that.) When you’re done with a page, you can save it to your Boogie Board Sync’s memory and sync your work to the Boogie Board app on your phone or computer.
Syncing your work to the Boogie Board app is the only way you can view a page once it has been saved and cleared off the screen. This is a technical limitation inherent in the type of display technology these devices use. It’s not terribly inconvenient, as I almost always have my iPhone with me, so I can always flip through my recent notes there.
You can also easily set your app up to automatically dump all of your Boogie Board notes into a dedicated folder on Evernote, essentially creating a virtual Moleskine that you can access from anywhere.
Trying out new technology is often difficult—just dabbling in something new is often a guarantee that you’ll end up clinging to the old out of inertia. So when my Boogie Board arrived, I told myself that I’d give it a fair shot by putting my Moleskine away and going a full week using the Boogie Board 100% in place of my normal legal pads and notebooks.
A month later I still haven’t touched a legal pad or a Moleskine again. I haven’t felt like I’m this deep into the future since the first time I used an iPhone.
What’s Great About the Boogie Board?
When I first took the Sync out of its box, I thought that the form factor would bother me: The bezel seemed larger than it needed to be and its gentle curves could have risked making it unsuitable for professional settings. But it turns out that when you hold the device one-handed, the scalloped bezel hugs your palm and arm like a painter’s pallet. This frees you from the need to either have a stiff-backed notebook or else always be near a flat surface to write or sketch. Jotting notes in bed or doing quick sketches on an elevator has become easy and comfortable.
Writing on a Boogie Board Sync is a really tactile experience, albeit slightly smoother than pen on paper, somewhat like using a ballpoint pen on an acetate. Because you are making strokes on the page through a physical process rather than an electronic one, the page is perfectly responsive to your pen: Your strokes get heavier and thicker as you increase pressure. Unlike with the host of handwriting apps on the iPhone and iPad, there is no lag between making the stroke and having it appear on the screen.
Anyone who cherishes the physical sensation of pen on paper (or who cares about the fact that writing longhand engages your brain differently than typing does) should have no problem using this. I’m a staunch pen-and-paper user—and had even switched to fountain pens in the year leading up to trying out the Boogie Board—but I was quickly sold on the experience of writing on a Boogie Board.
Having that ongoing archive of all of my notes that’s not restricted by the notebook’s page count is a dream come true. And at only $80 on Amazon, the Boogie Board is already well on its way to paying for itself. Even if I didn’t value the time I spend looking for my current notebook amidst a stack of used ones and looking through older notebooks to find a particular note, I’d make up the $80 in just a couple months by no longer buying Moleskines, pens and legal pads.
As an added bonus, you can also use your Boogie Board Sync as a pen-style mouse for your computer (like a downmarket Wacom tablet) or you can use it to turn your computer or smartphone into a virtual whiteboard.
Syncing and Evernote Implementation: A Mixed Bag
Evernote is good enough at doing a lot of things, but the only thing Evernote is actually great at is holding on to a whole bunch of stuff and letting you get to it from anywhere. The process of actually entering, categorizing, tagging and sorting through all of that stuff can be a chore.
The most visible genius of the Boogie Board Sync is the freedom it offers through its great pen-on-e-ink interface. But just as genius is the way the Boogie Board Sync leverages that interface to take advantage of Evernote’s biggest strength without subjecting you to some of Evernote’s biggest weaknesses. By allowing you to still act like you’re using pen on paper, the Boogie Board doesn’t force you to adapt to a whole new way of producing and storing information. Digital technology is finally adapting to you, rather than asking you to adapt to it.
The Boogie Board Sync’s sync system is good when it should be great. The device allows you to automatically download your sketches and notes to your computer or smartphone and then automatically dump the downloaded pages into Evernote, but you need to keep the Boogie Board App open for those processes to run. The option to run all of those processes in the background rather than staying parked on the Boogie Board app would be an improvement. An option to streamline the process even further and save storage space by having the sync app skip local storage and copy the files on my Boogie Board straight into Evernote would be even better.
But what would really make the Boogie Board Sync a must-have for everyone who has been reluctant to loosen their grip on pen and paper would be grouping pages written in quick succession into single notes when uploading to Evernote. At the moment, your Boogie Board pages all go into the same notebook, but each page is its own note within that notebook. For students taking notes in class, professionals hopping from meeting to meeting or journalers scribbling down their thoughts on a subway ride, lumping together pages produced in quick succession would probably save time and stress. Adding this clock functionality could mean adding hardware as well as firmware, which could mean increasing the price or shortening its week-long battery life, but that extra little courtesy to the user could go a long way toward building good will.
The Boogie Board doesn’t need to be in everybody’s hands yet, but it should at least be on everybody’s radar.
I’ve been using mine for a month to journal, take notes at meetings, sketch design concepts and conduct interviews. Every time I pull it out, I get the same reaction: “What is that?” No one who has seen it has heard of it before. That needs to change.
Techies, productivity nerds, journaling fanatics and creative professionals: This device is ready to go and will suit your needs. I can’t see any reason for you to not have already placed an order for one. This is potentially a game-changer for you—and at the very least it’s already a paper-saver.
We’ve always known that smart pens and Evernote’s branded Moleskine are really just half-measures in our attempts to marry the best parts of analogue and digital, but the Boogie Board Sync finally gives us something better to measure them against. This should be the foundation for the way people bridge digital convenience and analogue flexibility.
Improv Electronics has plainly been refining the idea behind its Boogie Boards over several iterations. It has improved rapidly, and I’m excited about the direction in which they are moving. In just four years, Boogie Boards have gone from glorified Etch-a-Sketches to the gift from the future that is the Boogie Board Sync. Their ambitions for the technology are clearly aimed in the right direction—we just don’t get much articulation of their long-term goals for the technology from any of their marketing or PR.
I’ll probably do another post taking a look at the way they describe their products publicly versus messaging that would position them for faster adoption some time soon. In the mean time, though, here’s hoping Improv Electronics can step up their marketing and PR, because you really shouldn’t have needed me to explain what something this good is.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is Scarlett Johansson:
You may recognize her as a very attractive woman. Just posting this image is probably giving some impressionable readers undeserved body image issues.
This is Captain America: The Winter Soldier:
You may recognize it as a movie about a spy who really likes America fighting against…um…a soldier? Who really likes winter?
This is what Scarlett Johansson apparently needs to look like in order to promote Captain America: The Winter Soldier:
The question isn’t, “What the heck is wrong with that woman’s waist?,” because by now we all know the answer to that. The question now is, “Who the heck really said, ‘A woman who probably has a team of full-time employees training her to keep her body looking a specific way doesn’t give people an unrealistic enough expectation of a woman’s body, so let’s just puppet warp her midsection all to hell!’?”
Enough with this crap.
Well, this sucks.
Roger Ebert died just hours ago of complications from a long fight with cancer.
I didn’t know Roger Ebert personally—though I did meet him once at a book signing less than a year before the cancer took his jaw—but I had a world of respect for him, and the number of lives he’s enriched is inestimable.
Over the next few days, the internet will be replete with obituaries written by fans who, like me, related to Ebert’s work the way we relate to the friends whose conversation we most enjoy. (I don’t know anyone who always agreed with him, but his reviews were always substantive and fun to wrestle with.) Before too many of those get written, though, I want to let you know why you should care:
Roger Ebert was probably one of the most widely engaged art critics ever. Part of that is an accident of history: His career spanned the mid-1960s to early 2013, the most populous half-century in human history. And at the same moment that traditional media were at their peak in terms of the percentage of that large population they could reach with a single, unified message, his newspaper columns and television shows were syndicated across the country (and around the world).
Ebert’s nearly peerless knowledge of cinema history and deep appreciation for its potential as an art form made him someone academics and film students read for fun when they put down Aristotle and Kael. Three generations of writers, directors, producers, actors and photographers—the people who shape our cultural values and teach us how to live and feel—have had their hearts and minds shaped by Roger Ebert.
Meanwhile, a contagious, indefatigable love for the experience of going to a movie and being transported into another world made Ebert someone that everyone outside of the academy and the arts turned to for advice. Ebert never stopped loving movies. He never lost his ability to get lost in the stories playing out on the screen in front of him.
Roger Ebert’s greatest accomplishment was not fifty years of separating wheat from chaff. No, his great legacy is that he rescued art from the prison of the arthouse. He defied the notion that entertainment needed to be diversion, or that we couldn’t get swept away by stories that also evoked deeper truths. For Ebert, a film’s ambition was not anathema to its ability to be damn fun to watch.
He knew as much about cinema as almost anyone else in history, but he didn’t need to flaunt it. His public and professional identities weren’t built around being someone who knows a lot about film, they were built around the fact that he knew how to enjoy film. That crucial difference is how he taught millions of friends—er, readers—to not be afraid of classics, to let themselves get lost in Casablanca and enjoy the mind-bending ride of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s why he championed breathtaking thrillers like Dark City. And that passion is what enabled him to write some of the most blisteringly funny eviscerations of crap-tastic movies ever written.
If you had to boil 50 years of Roger Ebert’s writing about film down to a single message, it is this: You don’t need to be afraid of things that matter. For all of life’s messiness, ambiguity and hard lessons, you can still enjoy it passionately.
In the morning, we’re all going to wake up in a world without Roger Ebert, and that’s a pretty damn good reason for us to all be a little sad for each other. Don’t worry, though, because he left us plenty of artists who we’d want to help us through the grief.
On Sunday night, Seth MacFarlane hosted the Academy Awards (now re-branded as “The Oscars”), and according to the online commentariat, it was a shockingly misogynistic and mean-spirited affair. From his opening act (which included a musical number entitled “We Saw Your Boobs”), to his description of Zero Dark Thirty as “a movie about how women can never let anything go,” to his assertion that what Salma Hayek says doesn’t matter because she’s attractive, every line was dissected and pounced upon within a matter of hours. By the next morning, MacFarlane was one of the most reviled people on the internet. Writers from small blogs to usual suspects like Jezebel to more august publications like The New Yorker were frothing at the mouth and calling for a revolution in the way women are portrayed in the media.
But most of those writers are just spewing bullshit. They don’t care about women in Hollywood, or the portrayal of women in the media, or the role of women in our popular consciousness.
Wanna know how I know that?
Because Hollywood’s most human, complex, powerfully drawn characters this side of Mad Men are all women. They’re all on the same show. And the day after MacFarlane’s ignominious turn hosting the Oscars, that show finished its first season with little fanfare and just as little hope of a second-season renewal.
The show is ABC Family’s weird, wonderful Bunheads.
For those of you who don’t know (which, let’s face it, is most people), Bunheads follows ABT-dance-prodigy-turned-Vegas-showgirl Michelle Sims (played by the incredibly talented Sutton Foster) as she tries to start a new life in the sleepy, well-read, quirky coastal town of Paradise, California. She forms a strained, often-volatile relationship with Madame Fanny, an accomplished dancer who has retired and now teaches ballet in Paradise. (Madame Fanny is played by Kelly Bishop, who is an absolute force of nature.) She also forges a deep camaraderie with four teenage dance students who are intrigued by what—to their parochial experience—is Michelle’s “glamorous” past.
These six characters are written and played with a level of nuance and depth that is nearly unheard of in American television. Their dreams, ambitions, fears, insecurities and shortcomings are all handled with such grace and empathy by the people behind the show that just watching those six characters play off of one another for an hour every week would be compelling enough to keep me coming back. But the town of Paradise is just as much a character on the show as any of the leads, and its wider population is as endearing as any crowd of Springfieldians or Pawneeans you could assemble.
Look, I’m selling this show short. Let me put it this way: Three quarters of the way through its 18-episode first season, they introduce Michelle’s brother (played by Sutton Foster’s real-life brother). They each laugh over the way the other has dealt with their deeply dysfunctional family, and as that laughter slowly melted into a violent argument, I suddenly realized for the first time that all of the lead characters are women. Even though the lead characters’ points-of-view are deeply rooted in the female experience, the show is so funny and so compelling that you never stop to care about the gender of the leads.
Watching Michelle struggle with shame and regret over the way she squandered her talent, hoping for a second chance but knowing that it’s too late; watching Fanny’s attempts to appropriate a surrogate daughter after the sudden loss of her son; watching four incredibly talented young actresses portray four very different approaches to dealing with the shift from adolescence into adulthood; and watching them all try to love their small town without losing sight of the wider world has been TV’s most unexpected delight since Parks and Recreation found its voice in its second season.
And it went all but ignored by most Americans. No matter how much certain segments of society may cry out for change, if the only shows people tune in for are dark, edgy dramas about morally ambiguous male anti-heroes, then producing dark, edgy dramas about morally ambiguous male anti-heroes is going to remain the most bankable business model for TV executives. Diverging from the established formulas by deepening female characters and making them stand as compelling agents of drama and comedy in order to capitulate to appeals from society’s better angels isn’t going to be worth the effort for them.
These are the stories that shape our cultural values, and anyone who recognizes the significant problems with the way women are portrayed in most of our media–primarily as sexual agents rather than primarily as people–should have a vested interest in getting more stories like Bunheads told.
I understand that righteous outrage without any kind of active commitment is a huge and deeply loved component of the American way of life: We are the country that complained about the OJ verdict while shunning jury duty, and posted Kony 2012 image macros rather than rather than volunteering with organizations that promote good governance and rescue people from human trafficking. We like getting credit for being politically and socially aware, but we don’t like the inconvenience, work or sacrifice that being engaged often entails.
But watching TV—and entertaining TV, at that!—requires hardly anything of you. Seriously. This show is smooth on the palate.
If you didn’t watch Bunheads live, DVR it to watch within three days, or subscribe to it on iTunes or Amazon Instant, you have no right to complain about Seth MacFarlane or the role of women in the media. You’re part of the problem.
I’m generally skeptical of subscription apps, especially ones as heavy duty as the Adobe Suite. I much prefer to buy shrinkwrapped software. When you purchase a physical copy of software, you actually own the right to use the programs, the price can’t be increased on you once you’ve bought in, and the terms of the license agreement can’t be changed mid-stream. And I’m always skeptical of storing information on the cloud, if only because I don’t always work from places that are internet-ready: Whether cutting video on-site in a rural middle eastern village, trying to get ahead of a deadline while riding the metro to work or stopping by an office that doesn’t have public wifi, I’m away from the cloud often enough to consider it a major inconvenience.
But even I have been excited for Creative Cloud, which is why I was so puzzled by the reaction a lot of internet commenters have had over the past few months.
“[The student pricing of] $360 a year is not student-friendly,” said one commenter. On another forum, there was vitriol from people indignant that they would be asked to pay the full price of $600 a year for a host of programs when they only use one or two. Others were angry that they’d need to continually pay month after month rather than just incurring a one-time expense. On the New York Times website, a commenter wrote angrily about the Creative Cloud plan, saying that he was going to switch his employees over to freeware that “did the same things better.”
That’s when I realized something foundational about the blowback: It’s not coming from the target audience. The Creative Cloud is aimed at professionals (and companies) that use the full range of Adobe products, or might be willing to try more of them out if they had the chance. The organizations that either upgrade every time Adobe releases a new Creative Suite or else wish they could.
The freeware-loving commenter specified that he was switching his operation over to CutePDF, indicating that the only part of the Creative Suite about which he cares is the PDF-creation capabilities offered by Adobe Acrobat. Others, complaining about needing to pay $50 a month when all they want is one or two programs, are overlooking the fact that they can either continue to just buy the one or two programs they want in a shrink-wrapped version or they can subscribe to just the specific programs they want for much less money. There’s no need for them to even be worrying about Creative Cloud.
So why am I excited for it?
I work for a relatively small non-profit. (Actually, I work for a church.) Our board is very specific about the methods by which they want to accept donations, so we only take donations by cash or check, and only accept them in person. They want to build relationships with donors, and are willing to sacrifice cash on hand for the sake of ensuring that the people donating understand the life, vision and goals of our church for our city. They’re skeptical of opening up online donation portals and just taking donations from people who stumble upon our website. So, we have a small budget, and less than a quarter of it goes to operational expenses like salaries, office supplies and print production.
However, we’re also trying to expand the variety and quality of print materials we produce, increase our leveraging of digital media and are considering video production. Right now, we are running on CS4 Design Standard, but the Master Suite of CS6 would suit our needs well: We’d immediately go from just using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign to using Dreamweaver, Muse and Fireworks, too. Over the next year, we’d likely start integrating Flash, Premiere and After Effects into our workflow. Audition would open up opportunities for us that would be closed off otherwise. And tossing Lightroom into the mix would make life even easier.
But the up-front upgrade price would be a huge barrier to entry. And even though shelling out whatever the latest upgrade price for the Master Suite is every two years (usually, what, $1,000?) amounts to a smaller overall expense than a $600/year subscription, turning the cost into a regular, predictable expense makes budgeting for it much easier.
For anyone already using the Master Suite and upgrading at every benchmark and mid-stream release, or for anyone who wishes they had MasterSuite tools but finds the upgrade price a barrier to entry, it seems to me that Creative Cloud is for you.
Everyone else: Relax, and just don’t buy it.