Magical floating typography


There’s something about letters that float with nothing holding on to them from behind or beneath. I’m not sure about you, but till this day, my mind does a double take before being reassured two split seconds later that they are in fact mounted to the patterned plane above.

Still you’ve got to admit that it is pretty magical.


Remembering PalmJournal

Back in my high school years, I used to tap out my entries on a Palm IIIx in an app called PalmJournal.

Thinking back, here were the things that made it the ideal journaling platform.

  1. Its form-factor. The small screen and “small device” experience was ideal for a rather private activity.
  2. It only did one thing. The interface was sparse and utilitarian. There were no pop-up notifications, medals to earn, no internet connectivity or even color. It simply left me alone to process my thoughts.
  3. It was tangible. The fact that PalmJournal lived on my Palm IIIx meant that it had a certain material tangibility about it – i.e. I could lock the device in a drawer, and I’d know that it is safe. No messing around with passwords, encryption, to-the-cloud-crap.

Amidst the deluge of supersmart devices currently flooding the market, there is definitely still room for single-purpose devices that are far better suited to specific activities than multi-purpose devices could ever be.

Long live PalmJournal.

The irk of supposed innovation

The topic of innovation is one that gets a lot of air time within the social circles that I’ve found myself in.

Allow me to begin with two lists on the matter.

To start us off, a list of words/phrases that often get associated with it – “sexy”, “cool”, “visionary”, “never been done before”, “creative”, “overnight success” and “crazy”. The list goes a lot longer and grows far more absurd that I am comfortable describing. But you should be able to extrapolate on that trajectory with minimal effort.

The next is a list of actions that almost certainly disqualifies you of the innovation badge – “learning from what others have done”, “reusing components”, “focus”, “watching the bottom line”, “defining the problem thoroughly”, and adopting any sort of formal, structured, even remotely rigid “engineering” approach to coming up with a solution. Again, far from comprehensive, but sufficient to launch you in the right direction.

What gets me about these lists is how it is treated as a checklist for what innovation looks like. Failing to check off any of this items earns one a spot in the “not innovating enough” bucket. Very rigid – considering we’re gunning for innovation.

Try tell it to the guys who have been at it for 8 years before coming up with Angry Birds. Tell that to the Japanese engineers whose rigid building codes saved thousands if not millions of lives. The fact of the matter is that the bits that gets celebrated, wow-ed at, and gets to strut up the spot-lit stage to receive the prize is merely the tip of the innovation iceberg. The majority of it actually lies beneath the the icy cold waters – execution, iteration, engineering day after day.

Maybe I am just tired of firstly trying to live up to a certain narrow-minded brand of innovation, and secondly having the mundane, routine, structured predictabilities dissed just because we’re a privileged, spoiled, attention deficient generation who have very little affinity towards hard work and very little regard for the legacy that the generations past have afforded us.

If that is innovation, that I want no part in it.

And yes, I am having a bit of a vent.

Developing teaching material iteratively

Each week I take three groups through the same material for the week – one class on Wednesday and two classes on Friday. Because of the fluid nature of the course, I find myself preparing my material a day or two before the first class (namely the Wednesday one).

Every group would take on the combined character of the personalities of the students who make up the group. Last year, it felt as though the first group for the week were rowdy and restless, the last group sweet as angels, and the second, well, somewhere in the middle.

Imagine how shocked I was when the groups this year acted exactly like the ones last year? First class, noisy and distracted; last class quiet and attentive; middle, middle. Heck, what are the chances of something like that recurring?

This made me think back on the way the material gets prepared and the way it evolves over the course of the three times it gets delivered. Here is what I discovered:

  • Wednesday evening would be my beta testers
  • Friday morning would get version 1 of the course
  • Friday afternoon would get a slightly more polished version 1.05.

This discovery may very well explain more robustly why the students in the first class aren’t as attentive as the ones in the final one for the week!

Which brings me to the following conclusions.

  1. If you’re a student of mine, you’d want to take the latest possible class in the week.
  2. If you hiring a teacher like me, you’d do well by rotating the groups around so that they all get equal portions of betas, version one’s and version 1.05’s, OR you could try making up your mind and stop changing the freaking syllabus every year.