Dreaming of the iPhone

Sometimes I’m an early adopter and sometimes I wait a while. With the iPhone, I’ve waited and I’d love to pull the trigger and get one in the next few weeks.

I currently have a Blackberry through T-Mobile that is out of contract and I have a plain old Motorola phone with Verizon. The iPhone would replace the Blackberry and its service.

The pros of the iPhone: Well, it’s cool and it has some great software on it.
The cons of the iPhone: AT&T service isn’t so great in my town, it’s almost twice as expensive as the Blackberry service I have now, and there’s an initial outlay of cash of $200 to $300 (depending on the model) for the phone itself.

As I calculate it, the iPhone would cost me about $2125 over a two-year contract (including the cost of the phone and taxes). If I keep the Blackberry, it would cost about $800 for the service. This is a difference of $1325 over two years, or $55 per month.

The primary question I have to ask myself is, do I get $55 of productivity over the Blackberry out of the phone each month? The Blackberry costs me about $30 per month, or a dollar a day. I can sort of justify the cost of the Blackberry because I get email throughout the day and it has helped me a number of times to save a trip back to my computer to get some information I forgot to bring with me.

Would I get another $2 per day of value from the iPhone? It’s hard to say. I don’t know that there’s one application on the iPhone that makes me say, Yeah, that would save me lots of time/money. I would love to think that there is, but I just don’t see it right now.

Learning from Letterpress

In the next couple of weeks I plan to read Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, Outliers. I recently read an interview with Gladwell that focused on his discussion of how it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. Since I haven’t read the entire book, I may be out of place in writing this, but some thoughts came to mind just reading the interview with him.

First, I would like to know more about the steps along the way to mastery. At what point do people tend to move from mere competency to proficiency? At what point do the tools used help the student? And finally, how much does innate ability have to do with a person’s success at a particular craft/trade/art?

Moving from competency to proficiency probably comes about 500 hours in. Now, this is an educated guess based on my experience in printing. My first 500 hours of printing consisted of getting ink on the paper a) without making a mess, b) in the right color, c) with the right amount of impression. Of these 500 hours, about 50 were spent on a particularly terrible hand press. The next 450 hours were spent on a better press. There were lots of mistakes made in this process. I went through a lot of paper, ink, and dies in order to learn how to line up designs and what designs don’t work particularly well on a letterpress.

Here at about 500 hours into letterpress printing, I am beginning to scratch the surface of learning how to print well. To put 500 hours into perspective, it’s about one year spent printing 2 hours a day, five days a week. I am seeing how changing the height of the ink rollers by a millimeter or two makes a difference in the final piece. This leads into the discussion of how much the proper tools make a difference in the perfection of a craft. The press I spent most of my time on was limited in the adjustments that could be made to it. Because of this, it wasn’t practical to make fine adjustments for each project. When I upgraded to a press that was 45 years old instead of 90, the door to fine tuning was opened.

The ability to fine tune has made my eye more critical. This has made the hobby of printing more interesting again, but it has slowed me down significantly. I take much more time setting jobs up because I want things to be right. Because I am primarily teaching myself, I learn by adjusting something and seeing how it changes the final output. Sometimes my instinct is right, and sometimes it’s wrong, but I’m learning along the way.

As I go, I take notes so I remember what to do the next time I encounter the same problem. I subscribe to a discussion list that brings together printers, from novice to master, and they’ve been helpful. Most importantly, I accept that I’m learning. I’ve gone from expecting perfection and being disappointed when things don’t go right to expecting things to take time to get right. Eventually, things turn out, I’ve simply learned to give myself more time to get there and to enjoy the process more.

Christmas traditions and what they mean to us.

I heard a commercial the other day that talked about how Christmas time brings out certain traditions for all of us. For some, it’s that the turkey must be carved by Grandpa. For others, a particular dessert must be served.

In thinking about the traditions my family had, I think of certain decorations that came out each year. Every December 1st, my mom would get out two large stuffed animals. One was a bear named Peter and the other was a moose named Charlie. As I write about them, I think of how hard it will be for my two sisters and me to decide who will get these two icons of Christmas one day. They’re more than thirty years old and they’re in fine condition, so I have no doubt they will be around in another twenty or thirty years when my parents no longer are around.

What’s funny about Peter and Charlie is that they aren’t typical Christmas decorations. They don’t have green or red on them, nor do they have bells or Santa caps. Simply by coming out every December they became Christmas decorations. I’m sure my mom explained that they were for Christmas only, so that’s what they were. They became so identified with Christmas for us that about the middle of November we would get excited about getting Peter and Charlie out of the attic on the first of December.

Now that I’m married and we now have our own place, we are building our own Christmas traditions. The tricky thing about traditions is that I feel they must become traditions organically. The best traditions seem to just happen one year and get carried into the next year because that’s what you did last year.

One of the best things about traditions is that we often don’t know how they started, just that they remind us of good memories with families and friends.