Monday, February 20, 2017

Visiting Dafen Village in Shenzhen, China

     Since I was invited to a banquet in Shenzhen and I finally had my visa so that I could enter China, my friend in Hong Kong did a little homework and discovered that there was an artist's village of sorts in Shenzhen; Dafen Village. He forwarded a link to me and it looked like something we could do since we were going to be there anyway. However, I simply was not prepared, nor was he, for what we found there. In fact we didn't have time for the art museum!
     Shenzhen is a newer modern city that sits just over the border from the Hong Kong territories. People from Hong Kong go over for items and services and vice versa. In fact, after a bus ride to the border, walking to immigration at the border and entering China was easier for me than coming home and going through U.S. Immigration at SFO (San Francisco's airport). Go figure. Once across the border we took the subway and went to our hotel room, did a  little walking around and then got ready for the banquet.
     The next morning we got our belongings together, as we had to return to Hong Kong that day, ate and then boarded the subway for the Dafen Village Station. Getting off and walking to the area we passed a Walmart; I told my friend I wanted to visit it just to see what it was like. We did going back and OMG! It was like Black Friday here in the states! I have never, EVER seen that many people in a Walmart ... or in any other store in my life! I was told that was just a normal day!
The first shop was you enter Dafen Village
     Entering Dafen Village I was not prepared for what we found there either. I mean it was like Dick Blick, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Aaron Brothers, all the art catalogs and every art show you have ever seen all rolled together in one place! I could have easily spent hours checking out the first shop we saw ... and as we walked it got better!
     Years ago I seen a show on "60 Minutes" that talked about painting mills in Asia. There would be 50 "original" paintings in a row and one artist would start at one end and paint the same thing on every canvas. They would be followed by the next "artist" who painted something else on all the canvases. This went on until all the canvases were done. Ever wondered where all those original works of art at the corner gas station on sale for $49 each came from ... well, somewhere in Asia.
     It wasn't just paintings, though there were plenty of those, it was supplies, raw unpainted but
The rolling French easel ... something
I could only dream about!
primed canvases, framers everywhere with truly beautiful frames to choose from that blew you away. The problem for me was how on earth was I going to get anything I bought home? In fact I found a treasure ... a real beautifully built French easel that was well built but with a modification that made me almost cry ... not only was it a French easel it included two towing wheels and a telescoping handle. It retained every other feature with even more storage space. I was sooooooo tempted but didn't buy. At $40 it was a steal. I checked on Amazon later and found even they didn't have one.
Alan's Monet styled water lilies painting
     However, it was just the number of items available. Shops were filled with art, of every kind from traditional Chinese art, to European masters, Impressionism that was alive and well as was Van Gogh. While some were quite amateurish, many were very, very good. I was tempted to buy several amazing Van Gogh "Sunflowers" paintings that at a glance looked like the real thing. Some were ho hum but some were truly beautiful. In fact, I succumbed finally and bought an oil Monet styled water lily painting that was still unframed that they rolled up for me and put in a tube so I could carry it home in my suitcase. I am framing it here now. I didn't ask what it would have cost me to frame it there. I might have really cried when I heard the price!
This gives you an idea of both the available art and the available frames. This was just one side alley.
     I recognized some of the more modern art pieces from my days on ETSY. Either the artists here were selling their items there, and there were many Chinese sellers on ETSY, or they were copying styles they saw.
iPad to the left and bracing stick to the right!
     One of the things that was fun for me was to watch these artists. All were willing to let you watch and even photograph them. Right off the bat I noticed two things, many used iPads with the image of art they were painting and the other was the use of a stick to keep their hands steady. I was amazed and am now trying to figure out how I can do the same thing. These artists were young and if they needed some assistance, what about an old man like me?
     At another gallery, we saw not only his hundreds of finished paintings stacked up like sheets of paper but watched him paint two paintings at a time of items that he had already painted in a variety of other interesting color combinations. I know from experience that as long as you paint two or three things at a time, even if the pattern is the same no two pieces are really alike. I myself did that for a time. It was a great way to get more than one of a wonderful design. By the time you got to the first item again, the paint had dried! I would sell one, and keep it posted as there were, for awhile at least, a second or third item available.
Two is always better than one! I can't believe how they
dressed. If that was me, and he was using oils, they
would be all over me by now!!!
     Art is a very subjective thing. My friend and I found a three part painting of a traditional Chinese branch with flowering blossoms on it against a textured silver background for around $200 in Hong Kong. We found something similar that was even bigger and checking it out realized it had to come from here. Same construction and similar style at half the price.
Qiang carrying his paintings
     My friend found a lovely triglyph of a wonderful, sunny alley of trees that he really liked where we purchased my painting. He couldn't decide and was about to walk off when I asked, "Do you really like these paintings?" When he said yes, I then asked, "Will they look nice in your condo?" With another yes nod I then pointed out that for $60 he would always regret not getting them. If I had learned anything in all my travels, was that if I liked it, who cared if it was valuable or not, if I really liked it. I had learned to buy because I would remember and regret everything I saw and liked that I hadn't bought. He purchased them.
Shop till you drop takes on new meaning in Dafen Village
    I do know one thing, I want to come back. Hotels are plentiful there (a small city in China is say around 3 million) and cheap. I really want to explore what's available and get things you simply can't find here or at the prices we saw here. How I can do that I'm not sure but there must be ways don't you think? Or as the Chinese merchants say all the time, "No problem!"
     I can think of no city, town or village that is quite as dedicated to art as here. There is so much to see and explore that you could easily spend a few days visiting each shop, finding things you have either never seen before or have hungered for and can really enjoy and learn watching the artists at work.
     After an afternoon of looking we wanted something to drink before we headed back to Hong Kong. We found a kind of pub I would guess that true to form was almost like an art gallery playing American oldie goodies on the sound system and was filled with arty types deep in discussion. What fun for every and any artist!!!
     If you ever get to Shenzhen this is a must see on your tourist list. You will not regret the time! Its not far from Hong Kong, an hour bus or train trip away. However, you will need a Chinese visa to visit while, at least for now, you don't need one for Hong Kong.
In Dafen Village art is simply everywhere!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Using the iPhone 7+ As Your Only Travel Camera!

Panorama View of Hong Kong at night from The Peak. Colors and intensities are well balanced.
     I just spent two weeks in Hong Kong. Its my third trip in two years and yes, my best trip yet. What made it even more wonderful was that for the first time in my life the only camera I took was my iPhone 7+! No more separate chargers, no more batteries, no SD cards, no, just the phone that remains a lifeline to me health wise ... something that I have to carry with me each and every day!
     I will never forget the trip of my lifetime ... the trip to Egypt at Christmas 2009, a dream I had had since I was exposed to Egypt in the 6th grade. Finally, almost 50 years later I was standing at the entrance to Karnak and my wonderful Nikon D40 wouldn't take a photo. No matter what I did, nothing seemed to work. Yes, I stood there and cried. Here, at great cost I might add, I was fulfilling a lifelong dream and I couldn't even record it. I will never forget this moment nor forgive Nikon for the poor quality of their lenses. For you see, the motor in the lens failed, but I wouldn't know that until I returned home and took it in to be fixed ... not once, but twice for the same thing. What did work and took over 2400 photos was my very small Canon Elph camera, smaller than a pack of cards, that I threw in my camera bag at the last minute and discovered would easily fit into my pocket or palm for a large panorama or smaller, intimate shots, barely causing a ripple on the scene. My wife was very happy about this development though I wasn't at the time.
Plate image shot through plate glass
Detail of plate above using the iPhone 7+ at 10x
      It wasn't until I published a book of my photos that I realized that at only 10 megapixels and a 3X zoom, that tiny camera, in most cases, did exactly what I needed. I never took my big DSLR on a trip with me again.
   This wasn't the only revelation regarding iPhone photos and DSLR's. When I had an ETSY store online, you were encouraged to post 5 photos of what you were selling. I dutifully did and hit upon using a black background that made my brightly colored birdhouses, trays, etc., pop! The problem was that the DSLR, a Nikon 3200 by now (I guess I'm a slow learner) would try to make the background 18% grey and I would literally spend hours in PhotoShop trying to make the background black again and retain the brilliant colors of the original item. Someone asked me to send them a photo of one of my items so I snapped a photo with my iPhone 5 and was stunned at how it recorded the scene exactly ... pure black background with brilliant colors the way it was setup. I never used the Nikon for ETSY again.
Once you master the panorama mode its hard to go back! Now you have a one additional step of magnification.
    A trip to Europe a few years later taught me the iPhone would take amazing panorama's so I began to use my phone more and more. When I graduated to the iPhone 6 I found it took even more amazing photos, discovering that night shots were often better than with a small digital camera.
     Which leads me to the iPhone 7+. I have owned an iPhone since I was at MacWorld and it was revealed to the world in January of 2007. Disbelieving it really could do what we were being told, I became convinced when I heard David Pogue talk about the iPhone he used that belonged to Steve Jobs ... a working prototype. When I took it to Europe a month after it was released I was stunned to realize everyone there knew what I had and had no problem getting someone to take photos with it.
     I remember using it in Egypt and Jordan again being stunned that it worked better there than it ever did on the AT&T network at home. When the AT&T guy called, as we were standing in front of the Treasury in Petra, asking us where we were and if we knew what our bill was at the time, we didn't as the AT&T store assured me the phone "wouldn't" work, he reduced our $600 phone bill to $60 and explained how to not use the phone! Pogue told us that the iPhone would change everything ... we know now he was definitely right.
A big complaint is that you don't get much detail
from a cell phone. This was taken at 10x, 15 feet away
       So on this trip I took my trusty, well tested before I left, iPhone and was ready to really see what it could do. You know what? I wasn't disappointed.
     Hong Kong is a photographers paradise. New and old, sometimes very old rub side by side and just beg you to snap a photo. As hilly as it is (a billy goat might have problems) there are panoramas that really do need to be taken. Out comes the trusty iPhone, move the screen to panorama and snap away. There is even and arrow for you to follow for some semblance of keeping level. New on the 7+ is the ability to double the size of the panorama.
     Another new feature, still labeled "beta" but working just fine is a "portrait" mode that is simply amazing. You get two photos ... one of the scene as it is and one with the item you want as a portrait (it works not only on people but things and flowers I discovered) and the background magically is out of focus.
This figurine, shot through glass is
the regular view

The same figurine shot with the Portrait mode
keeps the figure sharp, fades the background
 Night shots are amazing with black nights against all the colorful illuminated signs that litter Hong Kong like a child's scribbling. There simply is nothing like it.
     We took the Star Ferry across the harbor to Kowloon to watch the light show and using the video feature was amazed not only at the quality of the video but that it clearly captured the music being played on our side of the harbor! Ferries glided by as the lights on the buildings played out a symphony of light being recorded on my phone. My first day there I saw not one but two Lion Dances in celebration of the Chinese New Year.
Even candlelit scenes are not a problem
     It is said that nearly 90% of all photos today are being taken with smart phones and Apple says over 50% of them are taken with an iPhone. There certainly were a lot of them around me in Hong Kong everywhere I went. Yes, there were a few diehards lugging DSLR's around but for once I didn't feel jealous and can say without too much of a doubt my photos may well have been as good as theirs and my camera fit into my pocket, would make calls, surf the Internet and text friends.
Architectural detail is simply amazing!
      So, if you have ever wondered, take a look at my photos and see for yourself. You may well own one of the finest cameras around, it just happens to be with you all the time in your phone!
     One word of warning though, when you backup your phone and download your photos be prepared for very long download times, hours even ... or at least it was pretty long on my iMac. This is unacceptable. Even SD cards don't take this long and the DSLR images are about two times larger at least. To be fair, my iMac is older and that could have easily been the reason it took so long. Again though, an SD card is much, MUCH faster! So, I plugged my iPhone into a newer and faster MacBookPro, downloaded the images, put them on a flash drive and loaded them into the iMac. I'm sure a newer computer would have handled it in one fell swoop. It isn't as elegant but it worked.
     You can see though, that the iPhone can handle any number of photo imaging quite nicely and the best part, it fits easily into a pocket or purse! You have to take it with you so use it for a camera too!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

Decoding "LA LA LAND"

Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian
Recently I saw the movie "La La Land" with a friend in Hong Kong. I had convinced him that from all that I had heard this was a new American musical in the grand old tradition. After all, it got 7 Golden Globe Nominations and 14 Oscar nominations. In fact, after talking with him and friends, Gay or straight, it was more a homage to Hollywood itself ... a kind of insider musical more than anything else. No one I knew liked it much. Its been a long time and Hollywood, if nothing else loves to remember its glory days and pat itself on the back.
     Growing up in the 50's we could see either in the movie theatre or the stage the original versions of great (to us today) old musicals ... "Annie Get Your Gun," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Oklahoma," South Pacific," "Singing' In The Rain" and later "The Man of La Mancha," "Company, " "Hello Dolly,""Chicago," "Cabaret" and on TV the musicals of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ethel Merman and the like. There are musicals made in the 30's that have yet to be topped today, in black and white or color. In fact, watching some of those reviews in Vegas makes me pine for Busby Berkeley ... women once really could walk in high heels!
I bet LA drivers loved this freeway closing, the tour de force opening the movie
     As far a musicals go, "La La Land" is really, eh! The songs are ok, not great. I couldn't hum a bar after leaving the theater; the acting alright; Ryan Gosling, the heart throb of millions of woman did a fair job at dancing (no Fred Astaire for sure) and was good at emoting that desire for success. Emma Stone was alright but the weakest link in the singing department and not all that right for the part. She was no Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews nor Ginger Rodgers or even Ethel Merman.
     Visually Damien Chapelle, the director, did an amazing job of creating an eye popping movie. Many of the places used, including the Rialto Theatre, since closed, in South Pasadena brought back many, many memories of my past life. However, as visual as movies are and must be, there has to get the glue that makes it memorable.
    As my friend and I discussed this movie, over several days, he dismissed the musical part and instead focused with laser sharpness on the story itself. I agreed, and if you didn't know,  this doesn't have a happy ending ... it clearly showed the desire, the conflict of success over love, ambition and success over being in love.    
Convincing Mia Jazz was important in life
     For me, it was the missed opportunities of life. As we discussed this, I felt the scriptwriter caught this single fact with unusual clarity. I began to wonder how often do we in life have similar opportunities? How often, how many people do we meet and don't connect with like one of my favorite movies, "Four Weddings And A Funeral?" The Hugh Grant character loves Andie MacDowell while he is loved by the wealthy, frosty Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) and doesn't even realize it. What is the glue that attracts us?
     After several chance encounters, the freeway, the nightclub that brought Mia in to hear Sebastian and his rude ignoring of her, they finally meet, fall in love ... all the cliches of the musical. Only, it didn't end there. She wants, after 5 or so years of trying to be an actress, a success while he wants to keep "jazz" alive and start his very own club keeping jazz alive. It is this very ambition that causes them to  stray from each other and in their own rights become what they want to be. But you have to wonder ... is it who they want to be?
Keith (John Legend) offers Sebastian a job
      A friend in a "modern" jazz group gets Sebastian to sign on and they are a success. Between recording and touring they are torn apart. Her one man acting show ends up bringing her to Hollywood and success. 
     The most telling and, I believe, saddest part of the movie is that five years later you are shown her family ... new child and husband. Going to a dinner they get mired in the usual legendary LA traffic, get off the freeway, have a private dinner together and heading back to their car hear music from a new club. Going inside she sees the name and logo she designed for Sebastian years before, hear's jazz and once inside they see each other as the song goes, "Across a crowded room." Suddenly you are transported to another life, a life that could have been ... their marriage, their child, but like all things, reality strikes while he plays "their" song. She leaves and with her leaving all hope for the reconciliation you long for.
     Its hard to make a judgement on a movie. You either like it or you don't. However, in this case the musical part, to me, is wanting. The character part asks serious and probing questions. Are our lives designed by us or are they guided by forces beyond our control? We may never really know.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Art of Making A Place A Home

     If you have been reading this blog lately, you are well aware that I have been almost buried in getting my condo renovated and livable ... for me. This week marked the final major change or stage of reaching that goal. While some of this may be a repeat, there are other things, especially images that show the transition for when it was purchased to when it is 99% done!
That's me on the bottom right - facing east
A 25' x 45' yard in a condo is very rare in Palm Springs
As you may or, may not know, I heard about a condo for sale at a condo board meeting in September, I met with the owner, a board member, talked the purchase over with friends and spent hectic weeks getting all the paperwork and closing October 24th!  Ever since then we have done major remodeling to the condo. In fact, I am paying only a little more for the HOA dues, mortgage, insurance and taxes than I was paying in rent … for a larger space with a wonderful yard for my dog!
The gutted kitchen
The contractor ripped out the kitchen to the studs, I got an electrical contractor to upgrade some of the plugs and put ceiling fans in every room. So we had holes in the ceilings and a gutted kitchen.
The newly renovated kitchen
As you can see, it doesn’t get much worse than this. At the same time, I had no choice, it was pretty bad. So it was time to redesign everything but there were restraints. Water, room for stove, fridge and dishwasher. Only the fridge remains. BUT, as you can see, it was definitely worth it! Since there is no window I wanted bright lights to see while cooking. I found a big round LED “klieg” light you never turn on first thing in the morning. The contractor liked it so much he ordered one too! His dim kitchen is far more usable.
I have two different colors in cabinets. A kind of dark cognac below the counter and a white bead board design above the quartz counters. It looks really nice. No sooner was this stuff ordered than there was an article in the Sunday paper talking about kitchen trends and yup, I was a trendsetter and didn’t even know it. Two tones are now all the rage. The other things I did since I have a dining room was use the blank wall to the left of the kitchen for more cabinets and a bar that I use far more than the dining room.
Totally new to this kitchen! A bar and lots of storage
I have a huge amount of storage and a place to finally show my old cameras. With a fan there you would rarely open the cabinets anyway so … why not show them off? So they are.
There were many challenges though and every room had awful colors to me. My original colors were pleasant but as the lady at Home Depot said, “Um, aren’t they a little girlie?” So, after fighting the urge not to use grays, I settled on a cabernet red for the entry and dining room, a dark gray for the kitchen and master bedroom, baths are white and the “studio” is a pale cream that is bright and cheerful, the perfect place for me and my crafting and a light grey hall and living room.
Two greys and a red accent wall replace beige textured vinyl wallpaper
I did all the painting myself. Every room was tan or green or both and the living room, hallway and foyer were covered in beige textured vinyl wallpaper that we couldn’t remove without tearing the paper off the drywall. That was carefully glued back and painted over. Here I used a light grey that went with the off-white tile and walnut colored wooden shutters. With red accents it looks nice.
Green and Tan? I think not!
I think the grey, below,  is much better
The master bedroom was a tan and green that literally turned my stomach. It had a window that my rental did not so facing east I get the morning light. Sliders were replaced with white French doors that give it a homey feel. I can open the door and go outside if I wish. I haven’t had time for the yard but will after my trip in February. The dark grey walls look quite nice.
Basically I used three colors for the entire condo, light grey, a dark grey and cabernet red. By limiting colors it all goes together quite well.
 I knew I wanted a red dining room and that was one of the first walls to be painted. With the wood floors and the white trim, it looked really classy. The only piece of furniture I wanted from them was a lighted cabinet to display my glassware and cobalt glass collection. It seems rather dramatic and can be seen from the entry even!
Since I couldn’t afford two rents I gave my notice November 1 promising that I would be out by the end of my lease December 31st. Oh dear. You would think that since the condo was behind the rental it would be an easy move. It wasn’t. I spent two days getting all the things out of the studio … some into the new studio and the rest into a much larger storage room. I have TOO much stuff. However, I soon realized that I had a challenge of getting things redone in the condo and moving at the same time. My friend from Hong Kong flew in the 21st of December to celebrate Christmas here and help me move. I couldn’t have done it without him. Trip after trip was made using the handcart / wagon I bought at Harbor Freight! Best $60 I have ever spent!!!
The original dining room. I have an aversion to green
Somehow, we got me moved, cooked and had Christmas dinner here at the new condo with Dollar Store plastic tablecloths over the underlay waiting for the counters that arrived January 7th. 
I don't think any of us realize just how much stuff we have. There is a reason that Public Storage and places like this exist. WE HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF! Not only that we are far too reluctant to get rid of things that we will probably never use ... again! I was urged to buy no more clothes, no more shoes and definitely no more art supplies for awhile ... maybe a long, long while!
Doesn't this look more inviting?
The bookcase reborn.
After he left work continued in the condo and the biggest challenge, finished this week was a bookcase I really wanted but they had destroyed. After much thought we were going to rip out the edges, drywall the space and use floating shelves to give me the space I wanted.    However, when the molding was removed we discovered it was a bookcase cabinet with drywall behind it! So, I added new shelving stained to match the contrast of the kitchen cabinets and suddenly, it all fell into place! We used the same molding as the front door with stark white inside and trim and stained dark cognac colored shelving. It makes a nice bridge of color between the foyer and living room and gives me space for all my books (which I have already started to weed out).
     I am not totally done. There are handholds to put in the baths, new fans for the baths so they don’t sound like a 747 taking off, and changing the light fixture in the foyer. It is simply a wonderful place to live and I am very, very happy it turned out so well. As you can imagine, I wondered if it would ever get done and done in time!!!
A real studio at last. I can walk in and not duck anymore!
     Next is the yard. My neighbor and I have the two largest yards in the whole complex. Right now there are pavers covering just about everywhere except an area that can be used as a garden. I even have a mature and bearing lemon tree with fantastic lemons on it right now. Because of the rains, there are also weeds everywhere. However, once summer hits they may well be gone.
     I can go out the back gate and my car is right there! If there is any downside it would be the airport is close and we can hear planes taking off but its not that noticeable and when windows are closed up rarely heard at all. The big plus is that I can walk to the departure gate in under 15 minutes! 
     It has been a great deal of work but sitting in my chair the other night surveying all that had been done, I feel that it was more than worth it. I hope that this is the last time I will ever have to move and with the work that has been done, it is mine.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The CEO Test

Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Maybe he was
having trouble using his software too?
Today, in yet another day of frustration using a variety of products, I have come up with a solution in the design world that would benefit us all. Before ANY products are sold, marketed, put before the public in any way ... every CEO in the world must use it and it must be witnessed and certified that THEY could make that item actually WORK. Isn't that a novel idea? Can you imagine, there would be no more need for Dilbert.
     If you don't know who Dilbert is, he is the creation of Scott Adams who used to work for AT&T. From the incidents there and emails he received after Dilbert was published in the daily newspaper, the number of things, ideas that didn't work but were verified by the senders were almost unbelievable. He said he got at least 200-300 such emails a day.  Yet as we may laugh, we also cry. No wonder modern life is so stressful. Just too many of the things we depend on simply don't work very well.
     Case in point. Today, I was trying to see if my iMac would show Netflix movies. It has a 24" screen so, when I am crafting, why not have something larger than an iPad screen, right? I have an account but have never tried it on my iMac before. It works just fine on my TV and my iPad ... I even imagine it would work on my iPhone as well. 
Here are Netflix instructions. Forget it on a Mac.
     Not so on the iMac. Before you can watch it you are given a prompt that tells you you must download Microsoft's Silverlight. Leave it to Microsoft and Netflix to use a different standard than the rest of the world. So, I clicked the link and downloaded it. 
     Nothing happened. I clicked it again. Again nothing. Then I clicked a link that said here are more detailed instructions. And they are too. Before using on a Mac you have to click and click and click. And for all the effort all you get is a link to something else that doesn't work. I trashed, restarted and tried again. There is another link at the bottom of their instructions that asked if it worked. Of course it doesn't. That is why I am complaining here.     
     I realize Netflix and Microsoft are not alone in this domain. There are plenty of products out there that simply don't work ... well. It just seems that after 30 + years with companies like Apple Computer or Xerox trying to simplify computer, phone or tablet use, using the focus groups of ethnography that came out of the studies of anthropology, companies have not seemed to learn anything about making things easier to use. Remember the VCR and its flashing 12:00? It was such a pain that one wag, on TV of all places, showed the audience how to solve that dilemma ... put a black piece of electoral tape over the 12:00 and it would never bother you again!
Go ahead, try to peel!
This morning, as I was completing the last major renovation to my new condo, I got hungry. I had walked the dog, was tired of anymore coffee and too lazy to fix anything so decided to eat a couple of cheddar cheese sticks. Well, try is the operative word here. Individually wrapped in plastic, they have a "pull apart" at the top. Only, you can never pull the two halves apart. Ever. I grabbed the scissors and carefully cut along the plastic as close to the cheese as I could. Finally I got the plastic pulled apart on the sides. I wondered, did the CEO ever use the products he makes? Ever? I think not.
If you had a Yahoo email account, you didn't know for years
that it had been hacked. So much for the concept of privacy.
     Adams once noted that to find the CEO of a company start asking employees how much RAM, memory, they have in their computer. When you find the one that doesn't know, you've found the boss. I know from experience that is true. I had a client who, more than a decade younger than me, that not only didn't know how, but refused to learn to use a computer.
     Other examples abound. It isn't enough that things don't work well, they are also hard to use and are notoriously insecure. The bad girl of the Internet of course is Marissa Mayer. Yahoo, for me at least, was difficult to use and I gave up using a Yahoo email account years ago. Good thing too! It turns out her company had breaches of their email servers that they took, I believe, over three years to reveal to their customers. It is a breach so heinous, now considered to be over 1 billion users, it has caused our government to start investigating and may very well bring charges and fines for these lapses. Not only did the hackers get your account name and password, they got any other information that you might have used including purchases, credit card numbers, addresses, even Social Security numbers.
     We have become so dependent on computer systems that not only is a failure at your local whatever, it is a failure systemwide, like the various airlines snafus, TSA being unable to check anybody entering or leaving the United States, charges at banks, retail stores and a variety of infamous online breaches.
Few follow Coco Chanels famous
dictum: "Less Is More"
      Is it any wonder that people worldwide feel stressed? Rather than actually designing products that work simply (easily?) they have instead become more and more complicated. Look at Ford. It took them years to finally replace one of the worst info/entertainment systems in the industry that was sold in every car. It neither connected nor worked and made it nearly impossible to use something as simple as your car radio. Did that CEO ever drive one? Consumers of all ages, dealers and even CONSUMER REPORTS downgraded their cars for this very feature.     
    The examples and lapses of making our lives easier to use, not more difficult, are many. Whether it is the packaging for the food we eat, the cell phones that we use, computer or digital software we use, even the TV and cable remotes, as we age, and you can definitely trust me on this, the harder each of these new things is to use. Is it so? I don't know. I do know that I am not embarrassed anymore to stop and ask someone younger, much younger than me, how to use something. Yet I wonder, especially as it takes about 4 remotes to use my DVD player, whether there is anyone out there listening.
     That is why I propose a "CEO Test," with proof listed on the label of every item we buy that certifies, just like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, that the maker of that product has actually used it and can vouch for the ease of simplicity of its use. I do know one thing, there certainly would be a lot fewer items for sale in the marketplace!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

Friday, January 13, 2017

At LAST! I Have Proof: Socks Really Do Run Away!

Don't let her fool you, she turned
her head to hide her smile!
     I don't know about you, but in the 50+ years I have been doing laundry (yes, first in high school, my mother wanted me trained so that I could do my laundry in college, though I escaped that when my houseboy beat my clothes on a rock during my Peace Corps years, but resumed as a batchelor back in the states, then when married and finally single again) one of the great mysteries of life is where do the missing socks go?
     This morning after numerous attempts to get me to go walk, you see it was raining here in Palm Springs; I tried and tried to get my dog Maggie to go pee in our new backyard. She was not amused. In fact she was relentless. So after several hours of staring me down despite several exiles into the backyard rain, loudly sighing, then finally half climbing on the bed to get her point across, I crawled out of my nice warm bed and got clothes on. Now I was sighing. Really? We have to go out in the rain?
     Yes, I can hear you all now. Palm Springs is in the desert. It doesn't rain in the desert. Well, yes, Palm Springs IS in the desert and yes, it CAN rain here. In fact rain is so rare no one can actually drive in it. I haven't had the news on today but I am sure there are more than a few rescues underway as foolish people still manage to drive through flooded low spots in the road and discover, yet again, that stream of water they saw covering the road really was a temporary river and it will stall your car and you may float away. Ask the rescue people. Or watch the evening news. They'll be on there!
      But I digress.
Missing sock?
     We were no sooner out of the complex, crossing the driveway when there, in the gutter was a black sock, in fact a athletic low cut black sock suspiciously like the one that disappeared from my laundry Monday! Did I finally prove that socks really do run away? Was that my sock whose mate joined others on the stack in my feeble attempt to reunite them on another laundry day?
     Why is it that you never find that missing sock? I mean it came from the same drawer. You wore the "pair" one whole day. Then they both were put in the laundry basket to be washed. You wash and well, one, at least one, seems to come up missing! In fact, just about after every wash.
     Why do they run away? I pondered this as we slopped through the puddles getting my shoes and socks wet. Do socks like to get wet? Wet and in wet and smelly shoes?
Wet and socked in those smelly old shoes.
     Was that sock a right sock or a left? Does the left sock run away because it can't get along with the right (one)? Are socks political? Well, are they? I don't know about you but I mix them up willy nilly. Maybe that's why they run away. I mean think about it: a left sock probably always wants to be worn on the left foot, maybe it tends to be more liberal. After all, it is on the left! It must be anathema for a left sock to have to reside on a right foot. Maybe that's why sometimes a sock gets bunched up and makes you miserable all day no matter how many times you put it back on. Maybe that is what I have been missing. Next time that happens maybe I should switch socks. The bunching up is a way for the left to say they don't belong on the right! Or the conservative right just can't stand the idea of being considered a lefty!
     Or are socks tired of being worn all the time. Worn in a dark, smelly shoe and then after the day is over put in a dark laundry basket and at some time, all smelly by now, washed, helplessly drowned and tossed about in soap and water and when finally clean then, the supreme disgrace, thrown in with all the other, wet clothes and tossed about in the heat of a dryer. Once dry, they are folded together (I grab whatever running socks look alike and fold together, sisters or brothers alike), stuck again in a dark drawer awaiting another adventure in those old smelly shoes. No wonder they yearn to breathe free.
     Well, that is my take on the story. To tell the truth, can you blame them?
     Now the dilemma is how to prevent their escape? How do we entice them to stay until finally, all filled with holes they are put out to pasture ... in a smelly old dump. Ah, the poor life of a sock. Maybe they are right, running away is the best option!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Finally, A New (Dream?) Kitchen

The original kitchen
     Pondering whether to buy the condo I ended up buying, the one room that stood out as first a horror, then good enough, then the realization that the first feeling was right (ever read Gladwell's BLINK where he says most judgments are made in nanoseconds and are usually correct?), I realized that before I could move in my new condo, I needed a new kitchen. Not just any kitchen but my own,
     Besides a backyard, something very rare in condos, one of the other selling points was the dining room that freed space in the kitchen. I had just about two months to do it.
     Another rare find was to find a hall closet that had been removed with the plumbing and venting that took both that space and part of closet in the small bedroom ... soon to be my studio for a stacking washer and dryer. The kitchen didn't have cabinets that went to the ceiling inviting both dust which is ubiquitous here in the desert, it also invited open storage that I didn't like, yet needed.
The gutted kitchen. Only the refrigerator was saved.
We had an electrician look everything over and increase plugs.
      After I took possession, I looked more carefully at the kitchen and realized that it barely functioned. The faucet was frozen in one position, cabinets were filthy and no amount of scrubbing was ever going to get the rings off the glass top stove. So ... biting the bullet I began what I guess would be called the rejuvenation program that became my new kitchen!
     It has no window and the wall backs up to my bathroom. Since I am on the first floor I can't have skylights either. So, much to my contractors horror, I found the biggest, brightest LED kitchen light I could find and replacing the fluorescents, had LIGHT! (I should add here that when we were nearly complete they also bought the same light so they could see in their kitchen too. Sometimes lovely needs to be functional especially when chopping with cleavers!) The existing ceiling fan was replaced as well.
After the electrician and before cabinets installed. 
     I really have a one butt kitchen meaning I can cook at the store, reach the sink and open the fridge with hardly any movement at all! The friend that helped me move and made Chinese dumplings from scratch, loved it. Two can be there at the same time but its cozy. So, to give the kitchen a bit more room I decided to use the wall that I had been using as the dining "area" and continue the same style of cabinets there so it made the kitchen appear bigger. The pass through to the dining room was a generous 52" so I wanted a kind of pantry on both sides with a bar between the bases and glass doored cabinets overhead. Measuring and measuring again, we headed over to Home Depot's kitchen design department and worked with our designer.
     Because I had a cream colored tile (that also had to be scrubbed professionally and sealed), I decided that I wanted a dark wood on the base cabinets to more or less match my table and glass case with bright white cabinets above the counter. After making sure this was what I wanted we designed the new kitchen from the walls out for you see, the old kitchen was gone ... gutted and the detritus out in the patio.
Out with the old ... in with the new
     One Sunday, after placing my order for the cabinets that would arrive December 8th, there was an article by a designer in the Desert Sun Sunday paper talking about kitchen design. It turns out what I had done, using two colors of cabinets was all the rage, worldwide. I was surprised and have told everyone that I should become a designer. I will always be on the cutting edge! Well ....
     Next came the destruction of the existing kitchen down in many cases to the studs. Frankly, I have no idea how this place ever passed inspection. The box that held the A/C vent was painted, scrap wood. I know that my inspector for our second story addition would have had an epilepsy fit if he had ever seen anything like that. The cabinets didn't even have dry wall behind them. The mud on the counters holding the filthy white tiles was so heavy they had to be broken apart inside to be dragged outside. Since I had given notice to be out of my rental condo behind my new one ... I was sweating.
     We ordered the cabinets after looking them over, reviewing them several times yet when
The kitchen in pieces
they came and we started to install them, realized after the bases were in place, the walls were anything but plumb. Curvy would be a good word. Then, many of the wall cabinets came in the wrong sized boxes and we saw the number 48 even when they were actually 42." We had them picked up to be reordered. Going back to Home Depot my designer said, "They are 42", come see." And they were. So after going back and forth about re-delivery I made four trips loading them in my Mazda CX-5 and took them back to be installed. That we were so wrong and that the numbers stuck in all our minds shows you that you can't always trust what you see.
Beginning the installation
     The back wall units were correct (as it ended up they all were, more or less) so they installed the white cabinets over the dark wood. WOW! The monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey." Two of them in fact. Well, it was settled I would now have lots of storage!!! The glass doored cabinets were only 12" deep and perfect for me to display many of the old and antique cameras I have collected over the years. Many of them hadn't seen the light of day for 20 years!
The monolith. We thought only the base cabinets
would be deep ... surprise! I can store bodies
     The wall cabinets went up first one side, then the other but another glitch happened. Looking over the plans again we realized the designer had assumed the sink was centered on the back wall. It wasn't. The dishwasher forced it over to the left and in fact that caused problems as it had to open and avoid hitting the stove! Ah, the joy. So, we had cabinets that didn't fit, well not the way we imagined.  
      Measuring the remaining space we realized that in juggling cabinets we could make it work. Not quite the way the designer laid it out, but good enough. The deadline to be out was fast approaching and we had to get all my stuff, let's be honest here, all my crap from one place to the other. My friend couldn't believe what I had and he hadn't seen the studio belongings that I had already moved myself! I am forbidden to buy clothes, shoes, and any art supplies, probably for years!
     I had slowly begun the weeding process but ... well, time got away from me. So now while I struggle to find things, I have a giveaway box and trash box.
     He arrived December 21st, so we began moving the very next day. I bought red plastic tablecloths, we taped that down and were all ready to cook Christmas dinner three days later. I stuck the turkey in the oven after a few tense hours getting it to finally thaw and then continued Christmas morning with the trudging from one side of the complex to the other. Even my dog was exhausted as she just had to follow us on every trip. Neighbors pitched in for dinner and we had a great feast, a combination of American, Chinese and Japanese and Korean cuisine.
The kitchen counters brings all together. You can see here the sink is off-center but we were able to adapt.
New cabinets and bar ... the perfect place to eat!
      January 5th was the day my new quartz counters were installed. Watching the two young installers try to fit the rigid quartz against these wavy walls was challenging. One side was so bad he had to cut an angle in one corner. The backsplash covered up a multitude of sins. They were simply amazing. The counter pulled it all together. At some point I will choose some kind of tile to go under the cabinets to the backsplash but the dark grey fits in well with the white cabinets and my red kitchen items.
     The monoliths, bar and the Amazon barstools I bought are where I eat now. The dining table is set up with lovely Chinese table runners all ready for guests. I walk a few steps to the bar and read and eat. We even drilled a hole to connect computers, iPads and iPhone cable down to the USB ports in the plug.
     I am still learning my way around the kitchen. Is it perfect? No. You adapt. However, each corner cabinet has a hinging door so there is no lost space there. One side has coffee and nibblies and the other spices, rice, spaghetti, noodles and sauces. Moving the microwave to the right side of the fridge opened up a great deal of usable counter around the stove.
     I would be amiss if I didn't admit it was challenging. I was surprised at how many things I ended up buying on Amazon. I got four bar stools for the price of two here. Same thing too! I couldn't find the door handles I wanted and ended up paying about $2 each for 5" brushed metal handles I couldn't find in any hardware store here at any price. The faucet and over-the-stove fan came from Amazon and at prices that blow a big box store out of the water.
     This wasn't cheap but as I have told everyone, this is my last home and hopefully one that I will leave feet first! The lesson also is to be brave and know what you like and what you want. I just didn't want to settle for what was usual. I wanted a bit of sophistication but not a kitchen that looked like a library. My kitchen is functional, easy to clean, bright and cheerful and incredibly easy to use. What more can a bachelor or two people ask for?

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!