Embracing Change


Sometimes we become so accustomed to the way in which we do something, or the tools used in accomplishing the task, that we forget there are continuous improvements available. Current cell phones are significantly better than the 24-month old flip phone with the marred case and cloudy camera lens that I tote around; new inkjet printers are faster and quieter (and seem to have less residue accumulating under them) than the combination scan/fax/print/stuffed animal stand that I've been using for nearly five years.

Changing something requires that we justify the cost of the change, in terms of money, learning curve, and in many cases, exchange of one comfort for another. This sounds trite, but I've now experienced this "ah ha" moment in consumer technology upgrades twice in the last few weeks.

The first was an obvious pain-over-price choice: my inkjet printer was dying a slow and painful death, resulting in a lot of magenta colored hardcopy. I print most things in black and white, draft quality, and this hadn't become a major issue, but at some point I decided that both the acquisition and operation cost of a new printer far outweighed my stubbornness in keeping my six-year old (42 internet years) printer on refurb cartridge life support. A quick trip to Staples returned a new printer that has a better fax modem, full scan capability supported by Mac OS X, and uses cartridges that cost about 2/3 of the old ones, and I had it up and running inside of 20 minutes. What was I thinking? My net cost was about $100 and an hour total of my time. But inherent in making the change was deciding that the new features, improved performance and better printer drivers were worth the effort, and my own time. Kind of obvious when you look at it objectively, but this is exactly the same argument applied to upgrading operating systems, hardware platforms, storage networks, and desktop productivity suites. Once you climb over that small potential hill, you pick up enormous kinetic energy running down the other side. We can't let the local maxima (in terms of angst) hide the more global minima (in terms of cost, frustrutration and badly tinted e-tickets) one upgrade away.

Less obvious, but of much greater personal benefit, was changing the strap on my camera. I have been using a 3-inch wide Disney themed strap since I broke one in Disneyworld 10 years ago. It's perfect Disney: nice graphics, a bit overpriced, and a perfect simulacrum of a real camera strap. But it worked, and I didn't think much about it until I got my SmugMug strap in the mail. It's light, thin, constructed of nylon webbing with some "give" to it, and in the course of replacing Mickey I noticed my old strap had started to fray where it passes through the camera cleats. Yikes. What's the big deal about a camera strap? The new one is much smaller and softer, so it packs flatter and into a smaller case (see photo, that's me taking a picture of Jim Baty taking a picture of me on the Great Wall of China. Recursion is cool). I never gave much thought to the said features until I actually used my camera for a full day. As Buddy Hackett used to say, at the end of the day, at first I thought something was wrong, as I didn't have that burning feeling (not hearburn that Hackett got from his mother's cooking, but chafing of my neck and forearm where I'd wrap the Mickey strap if I wanted flexibility in shooting). I carried my Canon on the canon of Beijing tourism with nary a nick. Second lesson learned: sometimes people who are professionals in an area really do know all of the little things. I started using the new strap on the recommendation of SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill during a side conversation at one of our Sun customer events. I had no idea how right he was -- he was giving the straps away, but in doing so, he increased my comfort in taking pictures, which made me take a ton of pictures on this Asia trip, which of course I've posted to a SmugMug gallery.

Open source camera straps? You bet. I'd make some cranky and oblique convergent comment about how Disney might figure out that open sourcing creates new consumers or drives demand, and given the number of photos taken in Disney properties there'd seem to be some synergy here, but I'm enjoying my post-image-posting without having any red neck effects.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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