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On To Two O One O

December 31, 2009 — 5 Comments

Most of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances found 2009 a harder year than years past. The global economic downturn and its residual effects of course weighed heavily on all of us—some more directly than others. For me, 2009 really wasn’t bad, and I’m going into 2010 with some good momentum.

The Could’ve-Been-Better

2009 was a bad year for the Nayar dogs. Both Sadie and Lakshmi passed away, and their absence is palpable. I can say without hesitation that Lakshmi’s death was the low point of the year for me.

Viewports

Other than at work and in regards to PS3 game trophies, I was spectacularly unproductive this year. In woodworking, I tried a lot of new things (like turning) and have honed some essential skills over the last year, but in service of nothing productive (sans more shop furniture). I’ll endeavor for more tangible results in 2010 and already have a list of pieces I hope to build in the first half of the year (and yes, dear, your side tables are on it smile). I’m also empty-handed when it comes to etherfarm developments–I had grand plans for this site this year, but at the end of a day staring at screens and talking with people who stare at screens, after Ray goes to bed I find I’d much rather be at my lathe or at my bench in the woodshop than in front of HTML, CSS and PHP.

Bit-O-Hole

Sadly, though, I more often ended up with a videogame controller or mouse in my hands rather than a tool. This I lament, even though there were some amazing games in 2009, some of which I even found inspiring.

The Good

My work travel was less than 50% of my 2008 corporate globetrotting. That didn’t necessarily translate to more time at home; I spent almost all of my vacation days in Illinois. Which, for a variety of reasons, is a splendid place to be.

Lush

I might be one of the few people I know who likes their job. I took on a new role at work this year, and it’s full of new and interesting challenges. For the first time in a long, long time, I feel that when I’m engaged with what I’m doing, I can end just about every day having learned or done something new or having found new ways to apply the one or two things I actually do know.

I spent a lot of time with friends this year–old and new, near and far. Last year, my tolerance for West Coast Flakiness achieved a critical mass and I more or less went into seclusion. This year, a few of my friendships in the Bay Area seemed to take root and it somehow worked out that I had more quality time with friends in other locales. It perhaps goes without saying that I ate a lot of good food with some of these good people in 2009.

And to counter all that good food, I managed to swim at least 3 times a week all year this year (with just a few exceptions due to travel). This wasn’t really a goal (it’s an unintended accomplishment) but I’m ending 2009 feeling much more healthy than I have in years past. Which is nice, because despite my relatively low number of years on this planet, I’ve felt physically old and decrepit since my back surgery in 2003.

We transformed the front and back yards from worthless patches of horrible, clumpy grass to wonderful outdoor rooms. I admire them every time I leave and arrive home and probably will until we leave this place.

Before: Front Yard
From Garage Door
Back Porch

And of course, there’s Ray. I go on and on about him, and I’ve found that those who meet him tend to go on and on about him as well. It’ll suffice to say that in the last 365 days, he’s gone from toddler to little boy, and I find joy and poetry in almost everything he says and does.

Obviously, in balance, I really can’t complain about 2009—to do so would be absurd. It has left me exhausted in a good way, like being “just full enough” after a great meal. And I’m optimistic about 2010 for a variety of reasons, but Nara has the biggest one in development:

If all goes well, Ray’s little sister will arrive in early June. And if that’s not a reason to look forward to 2010, I don’t know what is.

434 days and 20 hours

November 19, 2008 — 7 Comments

There’s a very simple explanation for my year-plus absence from etherfarm. This simple explanation has fifty-seven parts, the first three of which are described briefly below:

  • Work: In either of the last two years I’ve traveled more by air than the combined miles from my life prior. I work on a project which spans four countries and I manage a team with designers in three of them: California, Israel, and India. That’s a lot of time on the road (the wife likes to remind me it’s a little over 2 months of the year), so when I’m home, I really prefer spending time doing things other than being on the computer.
  • Ray: I can’t begin to describe how much I enjoy being a dad, and no small part of that is due to Ray himself. He’s at a pretty amazing age right now: his language synapses are on auto-fire and he has a curiosity about the world which I so wish I could bottle and consume as an anti-curmudgeon elixir. The kid has excess charm and can extract a smile from just about anything, including inanimate objects (e.g. myself after a work week from hell). Or semi-animate objects, such as this Dalek:
    image
  • Everything Else: I gravitate towards people who immerse themselves in the rigor of being good at something which requires practice. In a “plug and play” world, the whole notion of practice seems quaint, outdated, and irrelevant. But not to me. I obsess. I strive for manual competence, a term whose origins and meaning I will describe in a future post.

    image

    My current obsessions are photography and woodworking. In both, particularly in the last 2-3 years, I’ve eschewed automation wherever possible, instead developing hand skills and material knowledge which make me feel like I’m still relevant to the process. I’m not—or at least feel like I’m not—just holding up a photo-taking machine or shoving a board through a power tool. The results aren’t always spectacular, but with practice they improve. And with that improvement I very much feel a deeper, less mediated connection to the endeavor as a whole. But maybe I’ve just been in California too long.

There are other things, of course, which have resulted in a farm less tended. No shortage of people or obligations which claim time. No shortage of emergencies and non-emergencies at work and at home. No shortage of distractions and time-wasters. And of course there’s the perennial contemplation of whether or not whatever noise I contribute to this whole web thing has ever been worth it anyway.

For whatever reason, the last month or so has brought a small wave of “you haven’t updated your site in a long time…are you OK?” emails. So all this to say; don’t worry, I’m fine. In many respects, I’ve never been better, actually, and there’d be some sound logic in believing that fact and my absence from this site are not unrelated. That said, a certain etherfarm v5, baked from scratch, should be making an appearance in January.

Until then, catch up with me on the following packaged sites:

  • Flickr: Still find the UI incredibly frustrating, but I haven’t found a better or easier way to share and socialize photos.
  • <a href="http://www.facebook.com/people/Narayan-Nayar/766203153”Facebook: Recent experiment. Liking it so far. Need to tweak the signal-to-noise ratio though.
  • LinkedIn: You know, the uber-pimp site.

The Last Bag

March 1, 2007 — 25 Comments

The small army of people who have read certain articles on etherfarm, as well as anyone who knows me in real life, has pretty much written me off as a bag whore. I’m not alone.  This affliction—BWS (Bag Whore Syndrome)—is common among photographers, travelers, outdoor enthusiasts, cyclists and fly-fishers. I happen to be enjoy all of those things, which perhaps makes my particular case of BWS more acute than most.

My job requires me to travel internationally often, and I like taking photos when I’m abroad. My employer doesn’t pay me to go abroad to snap pics, though, they pay me to design software, so it’s more important that I bring my computer than my camera. For years I’ve been looking for a system which allows me to take both my computer equipment and my camera rig around the world with ease, and after a half-dozen bags and a complete overhaul of my camera rig, I dare say I’ve found my Holy Grail.

Here’s what I want to pack on such trips:

  • 15” MacBook Pro
  • Computer accessories (power supply, extra battery, cables, etc.)
  • Travel accessories (ear plugs, inflatable neck pillow, medication, etc.)
  • Camera
  • Lenses
  • Photo accessories (lens caps, shutter release cable, filters, etc.)

And here are some requirements for the system:

  1. I need to be able to insert and remove the computer easily (without everything spilling out) for airport security checks
  2. The bag and its contents need to meet size and weight restrictions for European carryon luggage (those restrictions are more rigid than in the U.S.)
  3. Similarly, I need one bag for use during air travel—in Europe they enforce the one-bag carry-on policy
  4. The bag needs to carry everything comfortably (I have a bad back) and safely
  5. The system needs to allow me to work with my camera equipment in the way I’m most comfortable, which is with a shoulder bag

So the solution? A Crumpler Sinking Barge photo backpack and a small messenger bag.

image

[All the photos below are thumbnails.]

The Sinking Barge is a backpack which has a padded computer slot and a padded, removable insert for a small camera setup. It has wide, padded straps which I find very comfortable and a reinforced, rigid carry handle which makes picking the bag up easy and hanging the bag safe. It’s stylish but not garrish, perfectly proportioned for my setup, and is built like a tank (this is my 5th Crumpler bag, and they’re all going strong).

image

The main compartment houses the computer and has a compartment slightly more than half the height of the bag for whatever you want.  Here’s a photo of my 15” MacBook Pro along with a small pouch from Waterfield Designs which contains various power cords, adapters and cables, etc. The compartment is pretty large; folding back the pocket as I’ve done here makes it seem smaller than it is. When I last traveled with this bag, I also fit into here a water bottle, a bagel sandwich, an ipod, a small digital point-and-shoot (I don’t break out the Leica to take photos of whiteboards) and the travel accessories listed above.

image

The bottom half of the bag is by default dedicated to my photo setup. The padded insert is affixed to the lip of the bag through some very, very beefy strips of Velcro, so if you open the bottom compartment, the insert doesn’t come tumbling out (actually, getting it out takes quite a bit of pulling, which is a good thing). In my insert, I carry my Leica M8 in half-case w/ a lens mounted, two other lenses, and every once in a great while, a flash & diffuser. I could put another few lenses in there, but when I’m bringing the computer along, I travel with only two or three lenses total.

image

The insert can be removed and the panel which divides the top and bottom of the bag can be folded back and affixed, again with velcro, so that you can use the backpack as a normal backpack (utilizing the full height of the bag). Obviously, it’s also possible to leave the camera insert at home and use the bottom compartment for other things, such as a pair of shoes, a small pile of roof shingles, or your favorite travel-size taxidermy.

image

In my check-in luggage I also pack a small messenger bag (I use an older Crumpler bag, the Wonder Weenie). when I go out for walks or for dinner, I take the backpack’s camera insert out, put it in the messenger bag, and off I go, shooting as I prefer to shoot, which is not with a backpack. The Wonder Weenie is big enough that I can fit not only the camera stuff, but also a large water bottle, a sweater, and other miscellany. Obviously, if carrying these things isn’t important to you, you can get away with a much smaller bag. The messenger bag without a photo insert comes in handy for going shopping or to the gym, and since it packs flat in my check-in luggage, it’s really no more trouble than packing an extra shirt.

A couple of notes:

  • For the last 18 months I’ve been traveling with a slightly larger version of this bag, the Customary Barge. That one was designed to hold a 17” laptop, and as you can imagine, everything is larger as a result. I carried that bag once on a trip from California to Germany, Israel, India, and back with a PowerBook, a Windoze PC, a Canon 1DmkII and three not-very-light lenses. The bag handled all of that marvelously, but I didn’t attempt that again.
  • The color scheme shown in these pictures has apparently been discontinued in favor a black and gray model. That’s too bad–I like it because it’s somewhat conservative but has a splash of color.
  • Crumpler has switched to this light blue interior from a bright yellow interior. The reason for the light colors is so that it’s easy to find things in the bag, and I think that’s brilliant. I don’t like the blue as much as I did the yellow, but it still serves its intended purpose.
  • I’ve got a lot of bags and inserts which I’d be happy to sell to someone. What didn’t work for me might work really well for you. The Customary Barge I mention above would give you all of this but built for a 17” laptop. They’re $190 new, and the one I have is blue, and light blue and has the yellow interior. Make me an offer. Sold.

One recent morning in Bangalore, in the hazy consciousness unique to prolonged jetlag, I found myself browsing the folder in which I keep yet-unposted articles to etherfarm. There are 43 such articles festering in that folder, some as skeletal fragments of prose arranged into outlines, others as full-blown entries complete with photos and/or diagrams.

It’s fair to say that my participation in (and to some extent, passion for) all-things-blog went on hiatus in 2005. The list of blogs I visited on a weekly basis dwindled to three, and after launching the most recent version of this site, entries destined for public consumption went instead to a folder named “Posts” or directly to the Trash. I tend to sculpt entries over a period of time rather than fire off fleeting, inconsequential whims, and I suppose a byproduct of that methodology is, among other things, a folder of 43 entries which have never seen the light of day.

A majority of these entries focus on topics related to design and the culture of technology, but in the last year I’ve developed an irrational antipathy towards the field of web design, at least as articulated on so-called “design blogs”. Much of my retreat to woodworking (the last entry I made to this site was only partial hyperbole) centers on a desire to channel at least some of my creative energies in a medium and skillset which doesn’t change every 48 hours and which requires practice to attain competence.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t find the web impotent or the excellent work done by web design colleagues uninspiring or lacking profound brilliance. I merely find the web’s obsession with immediacy somewhat monotonous. Perhaps this phenomenon is not particular to the web, but intrinsic to all technologically-mediated endeavors such as digital photography and electronic music.

I’ve championed the ostensibly democratic power structure of the web for years, but who knew I’d find the vox populi so deafening?

I find some vindication in the fact that the discontent I express with all-things-web is not unique to myself; others such as Mark, Khoi, Derek and Heather and Rachel, who have all significantly influenced the ways and means in which the masses publish electronically, have looked for ways to bridge the ephemerality of the web with the relative humanity of print. Similarly, more than a few friends of mine have put down their text editors and FTP clients permanently in favor of the deeper, calmer waters of material design. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a trend, per se, but it’s somewhat comforting to find my thoughts echoed in the actions of people much smarter and more resourceful than myself.

In any case, as I fire off this missive, I find myself on the last leg of a four-week, three-country, three-climate business trip, greasing the wheels of globalization. My wife observed that last year was the first in a long while that I didn’t go abroad at all, and while it certainly feels good to give the ol’ passport a workout, traveling for business, however fun and productive, is most certainly not traveling recreationally, and I’m now running on fumes. With the kid due any time in the next 2-6 weeks (look’s like he’s running on the early side), it’ll be some time before I pack up The Big Suitcase again. Simultaneously finding that folder of unpublished work and accepting an invitation to judge a web design contest has reinvigorated my desire to dust the cobwebs off this site, so I intend to spend the sleepless nights in my near future rummaging through the aforementioned folder and in a text editor, crafting even more entries for you to groan about.

Back From the Farm

April 11, 2004 — 2 Comments
haybale sunset

Apart from a three-week stay in rural Illinois, my extended hiatus from this site can be attributed to a number of relatively large projects bearing down on me right now: my Ph.D. qualifying exams (late May), upcoming wedding (late June), and my dissertation prospectus (August). Much of the last month has been spent in Illinois at the farm, planning the wedding and studying (in my own way) for the exams. Poog will be finishing up a Master’s degree thesis in the coming months, so it’s extremely fortunate that neither Poog nor I lack the desire for a big-to-do kind of wedding.

I have to say, there’s nothing like time on the farm to remind me of something a friend recently said: “turns out those rumours of life outside of the computer are completely true.” Indeed they are, and for the time being I’ve succumbed to the pressures of offline endeavors. Thanks for your patience and your messages of concern. I’m quite alright, albeit a little overwhelmed, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and I’m pretty sure it’s not a jerk with a laser pointer.

In other news, I’ve decided to pay the bills with graphic design while working on my dissertation rather than eke out a living teaching for peanuts. I’ll be taking on design projects starting August 1st. Jobs are already queuing up, so contact me soon if you have a small to medium-sized project (commencing in August mid-October or later) involving web, print, database, or UI design.

Update: Until further notice, September and October have been booked.