Competence can fuck off

I learn that Photoshop is thirty. The small revelation that goes with this information is that I’ve been using Photoshop for thirty years.

A screenshot from a very early version of Photoshop

That’s more than half of my life so far. I began using it in my twenties, at the other end of the 1990s, under Margaret Thatcher, under George H.W. Bush, before the first Gulf War, before the Internet had escaped from the Universities (before the web had escaped from that cave under Geneva).

The other revelation, the bigger one tbh, is that it’s possible for a person to spend three decades using a tool fairly regularly without ever acquiring more than the most elementary competence. I’m still a total amateur. I have no idea how to do any but the most basic tasks. Most of the tools and functions are mysterious to me. It’s a huge, deep, layered artefact — like one of those infinitely recursive mind-toys in Borges (or maybe one of Tim Morton’s hyperobjects).

But there follows another revelation. That maybe there’s nothing wrong with this. That using an important tool—a vital set of practices, a complex cultural gadget—without actually mastering it, is okay. Or at least okay for me. That the constant, low-grade anxiety produced by not being very good at things—or being okay at lots of things—might be wrong, self-destructive, stupid.

Even that, for me, this might be the right way to do things: a workable strategy, an appropriate response to the complexity of the tool-world, the contemporary mess of shit that I’m supposed to learn. Maybe I should just leave perfection, competence and mastery to the deep-but-narrow types. It obviously makes some people happy to know what all the modes on this sodding thing do. Good for them. I’ll be over here, fiddling ineffectively.

Another unicorn!

Yoz has done the donkey work on legendary software engineer Mitch Kapor’s latest product, a ‘Personal Information Manager’ (PIM) called Chandler. A useful analysis, lots of links and even some retro executables. The man should get a medal. I’ve tried a lot of PIMs, brainstormers, outliners, contact managers – structured and freeform, integrated and standalone. They’re intellectually interesting – I’m always looking for the perfect organiser but I’m quite old now so I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist – my pathology makes me unreformable, unorganisable. I suspect the whole category is doomed. Only restless, neurotic people and organisations with a pathological need for order will adopt the next hot organiser and the people who could make best use of them are productive without them. Buy a notebook.

Powerpoint in pedagogy

We’ve pressed the Powerbook and MS Powerpoint into half term service for our four year-old’s revision. In kiosk mode it’s easy to create a constrained sequence of words, letters, numbers that will only advance when he clicks in the right place and that provides an entertaining sound as a reward for getting the task right.

We learn: too much entertainment along the way is a major distraction (no pictures!); sometimes Olly wants to motor through the presentation thumbnails instead of following the sequence; knowledge acquired elsewhere (while browsing the web, for instance) is readily applied – “Why can’t I go backwards?”; sometimes computers are rubbish and spreading everything out on the table for easy scribbling and rearranging is best.

The whole thing makes me wonder if there’s an app out there for this kind of DIY educational computing. Something that would allow us to roll our own exercises easily and react quickly to the child’s demands? Something that would allow us to save the result to the web so others could play or so that we could call up exercises from anywhere?

sufficiently advanced technology…

So it’s here. Possibly the most hyped consumer tech product in recent history (apart from Ginger) has finally arrived and it is mindblowing. Shazam has morphed from not-here-yet near myth to jaw dropping ‘how do they do that?’ actuality over night and I am in awe. So far, it’s correctly guessed Little Johnny Taylor’s ‘Starting All Over Again’, Iggy’s ‘No Fun’, White Stripes’ ‘Pretty Good Looking’, The Meters’ ‘Jambalaya’, Bob Dylan’s ‘Sara’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Mary of the Wild Moor’ and failed only with ‘Sad Skinhead’ by Faust. Krautrock coverage not up to scratch yet, evidently. I get the feeling I could go bankrupt trying to catch it out again, though. Stunning.