Why Flow, a new low cost super high precision controller, is important for designers and creatives

Flow is launching this morning. They're YC alums who have created a low cost, high precision wireless controller in the form of a dial. It's highly programmable and most designers and creatives will find this to be super valuable because that's where precision really matters.

When I'm in Photoshop making pixel-perfect mockups, or when I'm in Lightroom editing photos, I'm constantly making micro-adjustments on specific settings, whether it be brush size, exposure, etc. I have to acquire the target, then move my mouse, and then click-drag to the point where I'm happy. We're exercising one fundamental law of UX over and over again - Fitts' law. 

Fitts' Law states that the difficulty of an action is determined by the movement time needed to complete that action, which is in turn defined by the size of the target to be acquired. Sliders are by nature long and thin. If I had to guess, a good chunk of the cognitive load of doing creative work is just moving a mouse pointer to a tiny slider bar.

Not only is it a tiny target to acquire, but there are finite number of steps in those sliders that can make a mountain of difference. For instance, photographers are always looking for that absolutely perfect exposure or temperature. With a slider, you're limited to the number of pixels that slider has on screen - 200px? That's only 200 gradations, and in my experience that perfect level is always in between two of those notches. 

Enter Flow. There are over 3600 distinct values in one full 360 degree turn of the device. And since you can link them directly to specific values e.g. exposure or brush size, you don't have to acquire the target over and over and over again. 

That's why I bought one, and that's why Flow is an important programmable hardware device that creative people should keep an eye on. They're accepting preorders now and are on Product Hunt, and if you get one early it's an extra good deal. 

Microsoft Courier: Wow, someone is paying attention in Redmond

I hope this 7 inch tablet has something like a 500dpi display. If we learned anything from Tablet PC, it was that writing at 72 or 96dpi sucks.

I really liked the simple drag-to-right collaboration interface. There are some interesting ideas here. Too bad it's just a concept. The devil for these devices is in the execution details.

Canon unveils new Powershot G11 and S90: Want, want, want.

I want this camera. Just unveiled today for $500. Been a big Canon fan for a long time, but always wanted something smaller that I could take with me, but not give up quality. This is it. Optical image stabilization, more dynamic range, anti-noise, can save RAW format, can be used with a flash gun... I want it.

Interesting exercise in miminalism: Canon actually reduced megapixels! From 14.7 for the Powershot G10 to just 10 for the Powershot G11. But they've optimized for the right thing: low light capability. Who needs 14.7 megapixels when 10 is more than you could ever possibly want? But if I can take photos in darker places than ever, that's awesome.

They also released the Powershot S90 too --

Looks same without the hot shoe, and slimmer, and $100 less, and f/2.0 at 28mm. Full manual, RAW, and larger aperture? Might be even better.

I used to be willing to carry around an SLR at all times, but moving to San Francisco has really put a damper on that. Just can't lug a camera around everywhere while biking/riding the bus, etc. And as always, the best camera in the world is the one you have on you.

Money = Happiness only if it's an investment in experiences. I'm living proof.

Money can lead to greater happiness for the person possessing it and those around them, if it is used to buy experiences, not possessions.

This explains why a spoiled rich kid can have all the toys in the world and still be empty inside. Buying stuff is a short term high, but money also lets you experience more too, and that's what matters in the long run. I'd add another aspect to this -- money is needed to let you connect to other people.

Last year, I spent many thousands on pro camera equipment (dSLR, pro lighting gear, top quality lenses and all the accessories). But along the way, I discovered that I absolutely loved capturing the beauty of life in photos. I got to go to concerts for free, get to know party promoters, connect with cool local SF bands, and help them on their road to stardom in some small way with my concert photography. Same with the various models I did promotional shoots with. I got to take photos on editorial assignments with a hip hop magazine Hood Star Magazine, and got to see a side of hip hop and street culture from the inside I would never have seen otherwise.

My first interaction with Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston of Y Combinator was actually through my photos of Startup School. Shortly afterwards, one of my photos appeared on the front page of the Startup School -- with thanks from PG himself. Awesome, I thought. It might well have given us a small push when we applied for YC later that year. When Jessica invites me to an event these days, she makes sure to ask if my camera is coming too. =)

I also learned the wonder that is a great, functioning user-generated content community (Flickr), and it helped Sachin and I every step along the way as we designed Posterous. Flickr addiction taught me the virtuous cycle that can happen when personal creativity gains a very real audience.

So I think the money was well spent. The experiences it purchased altered the very trajectory of my life. It put me in touch with new and awesome creative people, let me express myself in a powerful new medium, and in aggregate I'm happier and more engaged in my life now than ever before.

The next time you're considering whether or not to drop the cash on that new gadget or that trip or whatnot, think about whether it will unlock new avenues. If it will, consider it an experiential investment. Take that path and good thngs will come.

Macbook Pro initial reactions

Very solidly constructed, no bend or give. Trackpad changes are unnoticeable. But it looks cool! Hate black keys on silver, but I do like the new chiclet keyboard. The top lid is very very thin. Glossy screen is no big deal, mostly unnoticable. I dislike displayport for the sheer fact that I have to pay $100 extra dual link dvi cable. Also who needs another connector?

My old MacBook Pro had crazy fan issues and it takes 5 days to repair. They said I have to drop it off in Palo Alto for warranty repairs this week. And i needed a printer ($100 rebate), plus I can't live without a machine for 5 days. I'm going to NYC next week, so it's a bit of a perfect storm to pick up this new beautiful machine on the first day.

I do love a new computer. It's a red letter day.

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