Beyond Socadrome

Originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on February 24, 2015
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Masqueraders in Anya Ayoung-Chee’s section in Tribe react to the designer’s presence on a nearby truck at the Socadrome.

For 2015, the team behind the Socadrome, supported by Tribe, Bliss and Yuma and publicly fronted by Tribe bandleader Dean Ackin and communications professional Danielle Jones-Hunte, reported a doubling of attendance at the event.
That didn’t come close to filling seats at the Jean Pierre Complex, but it’s a positive indicator for the event in just its second year.

The Socadrome was originally designed as a non-competitive party venue for the large bands that pooled their resources to pay for the venue and the amenities.
A big change in focus for 2015 was a greater effort at staging a show for the audience that did turn up and from the start of the event, at around 8:45am, there was a non-stop flow of Carnival until 1:00pm.

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Miss Jamaica, Kaci Fennell, on the Socadrome stage with Bliss.

First on the stage was Lionel Jaggessar’s Red Indian band, followed by the children’s band Spoiled Rotten Kids and a remarkable showing by Rosalind Gabriel’s band, which had almost doubled in size with the addition of adult players intent on putting on a performance appropriate to the sailor traditions that the bandleader saluted this year.
Just minutes after Gabriel’s band left, the first of the big bands, Yuma appeared with their presentation, Reign, followed by Bliss, with Blue and Tribe, with their presentation, Wings of Desire.

Tribe alone would cross the stage for almost an hour and a half, challenging the capacity of the band’s internal security to maintain control.
I left after that, but photographer Peter Lim Choy stayed on for another three hours.

He reports a 40 minute halt in proceedings between Tribe’s departure and the performance of the Calypso Youth Monarch, Aaron Duncan, then things picked up again with a surprise appearance by the band D’Krewe, a small group of traditional Carnival characters, then a very well received extempo performance between National Extempo Monarch Lingo accompanied by Black Sage.

Brimblers Steelband would perform after that along with a performance by Fareid Carvalho in his King of Carnival costume, followed by Roy Cape All Stars. Lim Choy would leave the venue at 3:00pm, during that band’s performance.
According to Mrs Hunte, Brimblers, Lingo, Duncan and Cape’s All Stars were all paid performers for the event, which increased costs.

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Socadrome spokesperson Danielle Jones-Hunte co-ordinates the event on her mobile phone on Carnival Tuesday.

"What's needed is a look at how participation can be increased without negatively impacting on any of the stakeholders involved,” explained Hunte.
“Dkrewe and Rosalind came on board and we anticipate growth and interest to increase for 2016 once we have approval and can plan earlier.”
“We had more participation than last year and expect it to grow should we do the Socadrome again.”

Balance at the Socadrome is one of the pressing points that plagues the project.
Accused of being an exclusive private enterprise, the organisers of the Socadrome dropped the admission price to $10, an unheard of price point for a major Carnival event in this century, and put out even more money for non-costumed acts while inviting more bands to participate.

In the face of open official hostility toward photographers and videographers at official NCBA events, expressed in oppressive rights demands, the Socadrome threw open its doors to otherwise disenfranchised image makers.
That avalanche of photographers, added to a high-definition online video stream managed by Carnival TV, met most of the requirements of masqueraders keen to play their mas on a big stage.

But there are still those players who miss the mystique of the Grandstand, even as attendance there diminished to less than a third of the available capacity and the less said about the quality of the video stream from that venue the better.
That isn’t to say that the Socadrome is an unblemished haven for Carnival coverage.

“i am not really fond of Jean Pierre as a venue,” said Lim Choy, “the sun is brutal and there is not much shade to be found.”
He also lamented the transplanting of poor stage management from the Grandstand, another matter of balance that the Socadrome management must wrestle with.
If the organisers want video and photographic coverage that impresses future players and online observers, they will face the challenge of changing modern masquerader expectations of meeting a phalanx of cameras onstage ready to capture demonstrations of their “worst behaviour.”

“I think more policing of media on stage needs to be done,” Lim Choy said. “Perhaps a media line that they can’t cross so that masqueraders can at least get on stage before they get rushed by photographers.”
“I’d also like to see something like a media centre where we could set up laptops and have access to the internet to post stuff, but all in good time, I guess.”

Into the considerable gaps in interest and engagement being engineered by the NCBA on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, the resurgence of Carnival downtown and the incremental growth and pervasive media presence of the Socadrome point to a changing idea of a parade route and the possible expiration of the idea of judging points in favour of entertainment hotspots and centres.

“We have to do a full review but feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Hunte.
“Spectators really liked the fast moving show that featured various elements of mas and masqueraders enjoyed the flow of the bands through the Socadrome with no congestion affecting their Carnival experience.”
“We hope that the regulations will change to allow other bands and individuals (competing costumes, kings and queens) to participate without fear of being penalized.”
“The Socadrome has immense potential and we believe the public is warming to it.”

It’s a position that photographer Peter Lim Choy endorses.
I consider it an opportunity to help create a space that includes photographers,” he explained.
“The organizers are interested in dialogue on how things can improve going forward. I support the idea of the Socadrome.”
Socadrome_03
Photographer Peter Limchoy and designer Jeunnane Alkins embrace in Tribe’s Wings of Desire on the Socadrome stage.
I've been writing about Carnival issues for decades now, but the stories over the last six years have been particularly relevant. You can find them here.
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BitDepth#976 - February 17

Why the Carnival stop so
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These masqueraders from Yuma were in the first section to “bless” the Socadrome stage in 2014.
Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.


Carnival in 2015 might best be described by the four growth poles that are its popular vectors. 
In common discussion (and at least one advertisement), we are variously identified as being in the fete, on the stage, in the pan, and on the road.
Long gone are conversations about in the tent, grooving to brass and chipping along with a steelband.

These are liabilities, along with artifacts like intelligent old mas, theatre driven costuming and, apparently, engaging calypso, of a Carnival that's being pulled between spotty efforts at entrepreneurship and an official effort to engage with the festival that's equal parts politically driven State subsidy and blind enthusiasm for embalming the shambling traditions that remain.

The tenure of Allison Demas was most notable for its extended stakeholder consultations, research and evaluation projects and a serious effort to understand, through scientific observation and deep discussion with subject matter experts, exactly what’s actually happening in Carnival.

Those sessions were recorded as well as in reports. Some of those documents have been made available to seminar participants, but the wider Carnival community would certainly benefit from access to the recordings of those deliberations and the strategic plans that followed.

Taxpayers, after all, did pay for their creation.

Divining the difference between the pervasive and persuasive old talk about what everyone thinks is happening, and the reality on the ground will be critical to both understanding and planning the future of Carnival.

A blinkered approach fuels the idea, for instance, that the Greens and the North Stand have anything at all to do with the rather severely circumscribed world of the average panman.
The myth of a functioning, viable calypso tent culture also still seems to linger on, despite that the disastrous evidence that the Calypso Monarch Semi-finals offered to anyone with the stomach to listen to the entire debacle of dirges.

The real successes of Carnival remain firmly in the private sector, where ideas like return on investment and accountability to investors still hold sway.
That business focus has galvanised opportunities for soca performers, all-inclusive fete promoters and the bandleaders who manage street party bands.

A surprising level of fuss seems to accompany efforts by these entrepreneurs to operate without access to the public purse.
Machel Monday in its earliest incarnations earned the type of reflexive accusations of elitism and general uppityness that the Socadrome concept has been earning since it was introduced.

It’s time to acknowledge that the aggressive state sponsored subventions that represent the Government’s involvement in the festival have only served to create, support and entrench a Carnival welfare state that has effectively killed any lingering indications of the pride, ownership and accomplishment that characterised the event’s early development.

Competitiveness is not the same as competition and by putting money behind prizes instead of properly monitored and supported grants, the billions of dollars that have been poured into Carnival over the last decade have created a festival designed for sprints, not marathons.

The rush is to win the big pots of gold in the Road March, the Soca Monarch, the Calypso Monarch and the King and Queen of Carnival – what happens to all this work after that moment of triumph is never discussed or planned for.
It’s as if a business planned their success measurements and goals, those delightfully named KPI’s, around winning business of the year instead of designing an enterprise engineered to maximise shareholder value.

Business continuity, the riding of the peaks and valleys inherent in any commercial enterprise, is crucial to planning any serious project that intends to turn a profit, but for Carnival, we pile the money to the Everest peak that’s achieved today, followed by a slide into a Marianas Trench of disinterest by tomorrow afternoon.
Within 24 hours, we go from “The Party Start” to “Party Done.”
Did Beck’s career depend on winning a Grammy?
Where in the world is this a business plan?

I've been writing about Carnival issues for decades now, but the stories over the last six years have been particularly relevant.
You can find them here.
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BitDepth#975 - February 10

New telecom hotel for T&T
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Dr Girish Pathak. Photo courtesy Caribbean IXP.

Dr Girish Pathak has a plan for the technology industry in Trinidad and Tobago.

He’s assembled a roster of investors to fund the establishment of this country’s first carrier-neutral Telecom Hotel, a strictly business to business facility that will offer data center hosting, peering services and business continuity services on a scale suitable for serious technology businesses.

The plan calls for the establishment of a facility operating with a business plan bottomline of US$40 million at the Tamana Industrial Park that will offer co-location services to companies who want professional technical support for their server and technology systems.

“Trinidad has four distinct advantages,” Dr Pathak said in a Skype interview last week.
“In terms of infrastructure, you have some of the best connectivity in the region. Six international cable systems, reaching all the way to Canada and all the way over to Brazil.”

“The power costs are advantageous, and the country is sheltered from hurricanes. We will build a hurricane proof structure, but it’s good not to have to worry about it.”
“And then there’s the strength and stability of the economy. We were looking at two or three competitors in the Caribbean, but the T&T proposal won out.”

The company, Caribbean IXP (Trinidad) Ltd, is probably misnamed. What it will build in T&T is a network access point data center, a support structure for hardware and technology services that looks a lot like the services of
Verizon’s NAP of the Americas.

The reference point isn’t accidental. Dr Pathak has, over the last 25 years of his involvement in the telecom and software industry worked with several companies, including Verizon who recognised him with its Leslie Warner Award for innovative operation support systems.

He was also responsible for transforming the legacy network of Canada’s Telus Communications into an IP based next generation network.
He’s spent much of the last nine years advising banking and securities companies on the telecommunications industry.
“For IT services, my client in T&T has been TSTT,” he noted.
“I just want to declare that up front.”

But neutral is going to be the keyword for the new project, set to begin client testing in the third quarter of 2016 with full deployment scheduled for the first quarter of 2017.
Caribbean IXP is looking for clients in the banking, energy and telecom sectors.
“It will be carrier neutral hotel for customers,” Dr Pathak said.

“These are clients operating at the very top end of the business quadrants who are likely to be regional operators and of course, the government sector within the region.”
“There are downstream functions that we make efficient and effective for customers. If a bank wants to build a datacentre in the hotel, they would get a robust infrastructure. It’s a wholesale co-location facility.”

“The customer would own the equipment. We will not be providing server services. We are not providing managed services, but our customers will offer them to the retail market.”
Rackspace units will be available in units of ten, for those still curious about the scale of the operation.
“We plan to bring international standards in accounting, security and auditing that IT in T&T has not seen before.”

“We have built Tier III and Tier IV structures in Canada, and I’ve been responsible for as many as six of them.”
“We will be bringing that experience to T&T. Anyone can build a structure; it’s ten years down the road that you will see the advantage of the services.”

“T&T has an opportunity, if it plays right, it could become the hub of ecommerce and could bring 4,000 new highpaying jobs to the sector and 2,000 more that will be substitutions.”
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BitDepth#974 - February 03

Building visual muscle
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Woodbrook park swing. Day 20 of the 2015365 photography project.
Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.


The biggest challenge for anyone involved in creating work is not coming up with ideas; it’s thinking inventively about the process.
Commercial considerations, daily routines and most lethally, success, all contrive to kill adventuring by encouraging replication.

Iteration is often confused with innovation as the whole i2i grant funding initiative so amply demonstrates, and the joy of discovery, so tightly bound into the prospect of dismal failure is often the first casualty of that error.
Thinking creatively without embracing the potential for humiliating disaster is not thinking creatively at all.

Of late, I've been reconsidering my approach to my work, the commercial assignments, the editorial work, even my personal projects.
The one thing that they all have in common, regardless of how I rethink and reengineer the techniques I use, is that they are a driven by purpose.
They are images with a destination, a final use and an intended audience that I hope to please, or at the least, interest.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Pointless photographs are pervasive these days, with an overabundance available on social media channels, so getting someone’s attention with an image really should begin with an idea that’s suitably limned by robust technique and attention to craft.
But is that all a photograph should be? What if an image is unharnessed from specific purpose and examined on its own, a picture for photography’s own sake, an image that justifies itself with the details of its content.

By mid-December last year, those were the questions I wanted to answer when I began putting pedal to the metal for the 2015365 project, which began quietly on January 01 with an image captured in the first hour of the new year.

From the start, I’d set myself some specific guidelines for the images. Each day, I’d take five photographs specifically for the project, selecting one for posting.
At first, I imagined that I would shoot with any camera I happened to be using, but as it turned out, I’ve shot all the photographs with my phone, a Samsung S4 and that too has become a part of the experience.

The S4 is never far away when a picture possibility presents itself and the restrictions of the medium itself present their own opportunities and liabilities.
I normally shoot in manual mode; a habit formed in the first 20 years of my career when I didn’t own a camera with any other option.
Now I’m learning what camera phones do in full auto and how to photograph with that in mind.

I normally shoot with a zoom or a very wide prime lens, so a fixed focal length lens gives me a very specific window for my images, the equivalent of 31mm on a full-frame digital camera. It’s close to my preferred focal lengths of either 20mm or 40mm, but not quite the way I tend to see things normally.
In full sunlight, I can only see the rough outlines of what I’m photographing, so getting a feel of how the camera sees the world when I’m guessing at framing is also something that I’m getting used to.

Even posting the images called for their own strategy. I was yea close to making a debut on Instagram with the project, but I don’t like the idea of having a format for an image thrust on me. I may have shot square format film for years, but the idea of doing that digitally just felt wrong.
The work is being
posted to a subsite of my main domain on a Wordpress gallery and pushed out to social media from there.

It’s not the best or even the smartest way to court public opinion on a project, more like throwing a dart than discharging a shotgun, but the measured approach suits the slow evolution of the imagery and the growth of the collection.
Daily photography exercises aren’t new by any means, and the web is littered with other photo 365 projects. Most are efforts by new photographers who are keen to get into a rhythm with their hobby.

Like many of the resources available to everyone with a camera today, there are ideas among them that experienced photographers can explore to their benefit.
It just demands a willingness to set aside regular rhythms and key into a new beat.
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BitDepth#973 - January 27

Windows 10, still a risky beta
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Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore explains the new photo organisation features of Windows 10.
Photo courtesy Microsoft.


Last week, Microsoft made it clear that it wasn’t going into the deployment of Windows 10 with any assumptions about its customer base.
The new version of Windows, which is still to be assigned a release date, got more new features and one big change that clearly targets the gun-shy among its users.

Windows 10, on release, will be free to anyone running the last two major versions of the software, Windows 7 and Windows 8, for one year.
There is no announced lifeline for users who may be stranded on the late and unlamented Windows Vista, but with a current marketshare of 2.9 per cent, the company is probably right to ignore the smallest sector of the recent Windows installs (by comparison, Windows XP still holds 18.9 percent of the installed user base).

This also puts Microsoft in the interesting position of following Apple into the uncharted realm of making once commercially viable software available for free.
Apple given away the last two major updates to its computer systems.
But Microsoft doesn’t have a lucrative hardware business running under Windows and may find itself in search of a different business model in the wake of a year’s worth of free Windows upgrades.

Free Windows 10 looks great for upgraders, not for over the counter sales of the product.
The new strategy is likely to constitute a customer friendly approach to addressing the diminishing enthusiasm that the corps of Windows users have expressed for recent upgrades and an effort to align the core operating system with the company’s new Windows everywhere direction.

In a blog post on the last week’s update news for Windows 10, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson explained: “We think of Windows as a Service – in fact, one could reasonably think of Windows in the next couple of years as one of the largest Internet services on the planet.”

New features will be rolled into the product as they are completed not held for a future monolithic update as tends to be the norm with operating system updates.
As described, versioning will either disappear or become more obscure, as it has with Adobe’s Creative Suite under that company’s new continuous update programme, Creative Cloud.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t interesting features available right now.
Microsoft has announced that its personal digital assistant software, Cortana, will make the jump from Windows Phone to the desktop, where the software will be available to answer questions and handle voice commands to do neat stuff like set up an e-mail for you.

The company’s gaming product Xbox is more tightly integrated into the Windows ecosystem and the new, fast, lean (and web standards compliant) browser Spartan looks promising but a new iteration of Windows just isn’t exciting without a wildly improbable new feature that absolutely nobody has asked for.
For Windows 10 that’s going to be
Hololens, which seeks to one-up augmented reality, VR and Google Glass in one fell stroke with a wild 3D intrusion into your everyday world.

Like Kinect, it seems like a solution in search of a problem, but then, look what happened to Kinect.
The newest build of Windows 10 is available at the
Windows Insider website (requires sign up), and the usual cautions apply.

Doubly so this time because I managed to completely bork an existing installation of Windows 8.1 by paying poor attention to the rather enervating succession of restarts and buttons that require carefully considered choices in the live installer (which also managed to completely fail twice).

I clicked one thing when I should have clicked another, and now I’ve got a computer screen flashing on and off. Before I can report on the changes in the newest version, I’ll have to nuke and pave using one of the download ISO images.

So really, when Microsoft says “Remember, trying out an early build like this can be risky,” they aren’t kidding or being overcautious. Test builds are not finished software. You have been warned.
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BitDepth#972 - January 20

Unipet’s new auto app
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Shevvon Ramroop of Alliance Software introduces the new Petrocard app from Unipet at the Radisson Hotel last week. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Last week, Unipet launched a new combination of a gas card and app for its customers.
I’ll be straight up front with this. I’ve been a Unipet customer for more than a decade, driving straight past an NP franchise that’s much closer to me because of the convenience of their on-pump payment system.

So I had high hopes that the company might be able to leverage that clear sense of customer convenience into the digital realm.
The gas card has its roots in an existing fleet card system for business customers that allows corporate clients to monitor spending on gas purchases for company vehicles.

The consumer card brings the convenience of being able to fuel at a Unipet pump without using cash or a credit card to any customer, while adding useful features that leverage the new app and a still undefined point system of rewards.

The company has also announced a partnership with Sagicor insurance which gives Sagicor General’s motor vehicle customers, on renewal of their polices, a complimentary Unipet gas card. New customers will get a 10 per cent discount on their motor vehicle policies.

The mobile app, developed by Alliance Software and Technology Systems Limited, is the result of a collaboration between the eight-year-old Prism Technologies, Business Communication Systems Limited, Hypertech Caribbean Limited, Prism Services Limited, Ansatz Solutions and Jules IT System.

Unfortunately, the resulting software, available for Android and iOS smartphones, is something of a disappointment.
For one thing, it’s as ugly as darkest sin.
The only visible graphic is a stretched logo that acts as a background for what is, essentially, a series of forms.

Non-Unipet functionality is limited to recording information about your vehicle, though there’s a useful list of emergency numbers and reminders about readily forgettable things like your driver’s license and auto insurance expiry dates.
When you use the card to pay for gas, the app prompts you to record your gas mileage for calculating your gas efficiency and for travel records.

Unfortunately, it’s just a digital notebook and doesn’t seem to have any user facing calculating capabilities.
The process for a new user is straightforward, if a little convoluted and tiresome at the start. You create an account at
the Petrocard site, which provides with an activation code, which you can print to take with you to your preferred Unipet franchise.

It’s a bit of a pain for everyone involved, but from that point on, the card and app can work seamlessly together. You can’t use the card directly on the pump, but you can charge a pump with it via the cashier, and your purchase gets recorded instantly on the Unipet app.

It’s a good idea and a decent, if stuttering start on integrating mobile technology with Unipet’s business, but Unipet’s executives needed to articulate a long term strategy that suggests that this was an iterative project and not a done deal.

But slower more deliberate approaches to extended software development and systems testing tends to be characterised by soft launches and extended beta testing, not speeches and advertising campaigns.

There’s a lot to fix here and it all needs to get done quickly and deliberately if it’s to meet the expectations of the users that Unipet hopes to capture.
As it stands, the company won’t be getting any customers via serendipity, because you can’t even launch the app to use its logging features without activating it with Unipet.

As designed, the Petrocard app exists as an adjunct to the gas card programme and cannot, on its own, lead to any customer engagement.
If you search for the app on any of the stores using the word Unipet, you won’t find anything, which is simply surreal from a branding perspective, let alone supporting a basic search taxonomy.

I’d like to think that these were just oversights, but Unipet managed to host a big launch event at the Radisson Hotel without bothering to mention which platforms the app was available for or where it could be found.

The app and gas card system probably won’t be for everyone, but for families with multiple vehicles or small businesses, it offers a way to manage and monitor multiple gas accounts with little fuss after setup.

Unipet might begin to resolve most of these problems by doing what they did to win my loyalty as a regular customer in the first place.
That would mean thinking through the Petrocard app and its implementation process from the perspective of making the experience as seamless and non-invasive for the customer as possible while offering real rewards for trying something new.

Unfortunately, it’s still some distance from that ideal.
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BitDepth#971 - January 13

Why no Waze?
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A Waze live map for last Sunday morning, showing users on the move, speed trap submissions by drivers and slow moving traffic in Cascade. Inset is the user menu for the mobile software.

The week before Christmas, I was on my way to St Joseph to visit a friend and realised that my last visit, years before, was but a dim memory.
I called to confirm my recollection of the way to the house, but got asked the kind of question I usually ask others.
“Why don’t you just use Waze?”

That prompted some serious introspection. Why don’t I use Waze?
It’s not as if I don’t know what it is. It’s been on my phone for more than two years, but I’ve tended to use it to look at traffic patterns, not plot my way to destinations, which really is its original purpose.
First a step back, if you haven’t yet made use of this fascinating mapping tool.

The company describes Waze on
its home page as “the world's largest community-based traffic and navigation app,” but Waze takes crowdsourcing to a new, category crushing level.
In an era before Waze, you bought a GPS finder, loaded it with maps for the place you were navigating (there were few for T&T) and used the intelligent mapping system to either plot a course to your destination or be guided with voice prompts turn by turn to where you were going.

It was a system that worked well for countries with detailed maps available, but it was expensive, because those maps had to be created and continuously updated with new information.
Waze flipped the idea upside down. Instead of a few people updating maps, why not let all the users do it?

When smartphone users began using Waze in T&T, the mapping was sparse, just the basic information you could get from any satellite based map system.
As the software became more popular and people began correcting map errors and adding information, it became not just more accurate, but more useful.

Which in turn drove a virtuous cycle, luring more users to download the app, making it even more useful.
Not only does Waze now tell you where you are going, it offers information that suggests where you shouldn’t.

Using fairly crude smartphone GPS tracking, the software is still able to guage the speeds of users while they drive, which in turn allows it to highlight traffic jams or slowdowns on local roads and highways.
This is not only useful for deciding on alternative routes, it’s also a good way to decide when it makes sense to scrap the idea of leaving in favour of just having a Carib instead.

Describing their app and service as operating within “the common good,” Waze states on their website that “By connecting drivers to one another, we help people create local driving communities that work together to improve the quality of everyone's daily driving.”

“That might mean helping them avoid the frustration of sitting in traffic, cluing them in to a police trap or shaving five minutes off of their regular commute by showing them new routes they never even knew about.”
Given all this, you might be correct to wonder why anyone would avoid all this Waze goodness.

Filmmaker Renee Pollonais summed up my sentiments in twelve precise minutes in her
2008 short documentary Directions, but it’s something we all know, that delightful sense of communal confusion that’s prompted by the simple question, “Do you know the way to…”

What ensues is generally a colourful description of the local landscape, peppered with errant actual directions and social commentary on the current state of affairs in the area.
People confuse one corner with another, call a mango tree a soursop tree, reference landmarks that don’t exist anymore and send innocent drivers off on missions of adventure undreamed of.

Nowhere in T&T is that far from anywhere else, despite the efforts of Waze’s creators and users to map every quarter-mile post, but sometimes, getting artfully lost with narratively rich directions is as much fun as actually getting there.
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BitDepth#970 - January 06

New Year’s Resolutions
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Using the Pomodoro technique, you slice work into smaller chunks (or pomodoros) and work on them intensively for a short time. You can easily find software and hardware timers to support the technique. Photo courtesy imgkid.com.

Like everyone, I’ve got my bad habits and blind spots, some large enough to drive a petrol truck through, and this seems like as good a time as any to confess to my failings with tech and to resolve to do better.

Time slice, for real.
I’ve got an array of digital tools sharpened and ready to slice and dice my working day, already a sprawling disjointed mess, into easily digestible bits I can nibble on until work gets done.

This is the freelancer’s eternal dilemma, knowing full well what you need to do, what the deadline is, but choosing instead to feast on every distraction that comes along until nervous clients start knocking. Or e-mailing. Or texting. Or the ultimate nightmare, knocking on the door for real.

But knowing you having a problem isn’t the same as dealing with it effectively.
This year I need to get on top of
the Pomodoro technique, a system for which I have several apps, to begin improving my focus and effectiveness.

In lieu of a boss hollering at you to get off the phone and go back to work, the Pomodoro Technique advocates alternating intense sessions of absolute focus on the task at hand with regular breaks (
Slideshare explanation here).

That means no e-mail, no responding to Facebook notifications, no phone calls. In short, the dream state of every employer, which in a freelancer’s case is a good thing.

Fire bun the bundles.
I have to stop. This is probably a Mac thing, since I don’t see the same thing happening much on the Windows side of the software market, but there have, over the last five years or so, been a rash of very tempting bundles of software offered for sale.

This all began in 2006 with MacHeist, a game-focused website founded by John Casasanta, Phillip Ryu, and Scott Meinzer. The early riddles were fairly simple, and hints were easily found, so even a terminally game challenged participant (that would be me) was able to successfully complete the projects.

Most of the project’s successors have dispensed with the gaming aspect in favour of bundling two or three attractive software products with six or so cheaper, more narrowly focused apps.
You’ll never find the really big names like Adobe or Microsoft participating in these budget shenanigans, but you can find some really useful products in these bundles.

From a user point of view though, you end up with a big saving on something you were planning to buy or upgrade and a downloads folder littered with software you won’t ever find the time to explore successfully. It’s triage time.

Make a consumption plan.
I read a lot, particularly about stuff I’m very interested in and this is a great time to be a reader. Books are available in every imaginable format and lots of sensible advice is available for free as accomplished professionals work hard to elbow each other aside for your attention and the eventual upsell to their paid products.

For a photographer, the abundance is dizzying. Photoshelter alone makes dozens of useful PDFs available for free download and many good seminars offer a recorded component for far less than a plane ticket to the live show.

Needless to say, this stuff piles up quickly and I have a lot of difficulty dealing with it on production computers.
So I’ve finally yielded to that crazy fad and got myself an iPad for the content that doesn’t scale down well for a mobile phone. GoodReader is an exceptional PDF reader and content organiser and OPlayer HD plays every video format I’ve been hoarding.

Both have web servers built in that make transferring content a snap.
Paired with the Android apps Moon Reader Pro for epub books and the Kindle app on my phone, I’ve got no excuse for not making a dent in all this digital content.
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