Bintan vacation wrap-up

I haven’t been very good about uploading the rest of my holiday photos since the last post, but finally got around to it this afternoon. Here are some of my favorite non-people ones.
Resort Leisure Center Panorama
Pool Villa Panorama
(The above panorama was stitched together from about 20 photos; the two edges of the pool you see on the left and right were part of the same straight line. I have no idea what an equivalent wide-angle lens would be.)
Black & White
Martinis by the pool
Dragon cloud 20090328-P1000965

Couch surfing 2.0

This past weekend saw my girlfriend and I buying a couch for my bedroom – I’ve wanted a comfortable reading and napping platform in there for ages, but always thought an armchair would be enough – and looking silly in the IKEA parking lot trying to get the flat-packed-for-our-convenience boxes into the back of her car. Assembly only took an hour, and it has to be said that Lady Gaga’s album “The Fame” is ideal for such brainless activity, if nothing else. Certainly it can be good for nothing else.

Apart from looking very out of place, this couch (I hereby name it Karl Lagerfeld) has changed the two-point dynamic of my bedroom space. Before, I was either in bed or sitting at the computer. This meant that I’d be online most of the day, either working or wasting time on the internet. Often, there was nothing to separate the two.

But now, a third place for my ass exists, and that has changed everything. No longer confined to this desk, strapped down by continuous IM messages and the climbing number of Unread Items in my feedreader, I’m finding it possible to finally sprawl out and read a good book or watch a DVD. Nobody enjoys a film from a computer chair.

It was all good going already, and then last night I rediscovered Boxee.

An earlier alpha version, tried out during the pre-Karl days, didn’t really appeal to me. For those who don’t know, Boxee is “media center” software that gives you a big, simplified interface for accessing your media from across the room with a remote control. Very much like Apple’s built-in Front Row, or the one that comes with some versions of Windows. So when I was seated right in front of the computer, there was no need for it. From the couch though, it’s incredible.

With just the simple old 6-button Apple Remote that comes with almost every Mac, Boxee not only gives me access to locally stored video files (if you rip your own DVDs [or even download films] or TV shows, it downloads cover art and synopses from the internet to accompany them, very slick), it also plays content from providers like Joost and Hulu (US-only), as well as video podcasts like BoingBoing.TV and Rocketboom.

Another alternative is Plex (Mac OSX only), which I’m about to try out today. Both programs sprang from the open-source Xbox Media Center (XBMC) project.

It’s got me thinking that one day, I won’t even want a traditional desktop in my home. A large, wall-mounted high-definition TV with a wireless keyboard/mouse on the couch can simplify things to just a single location: workspace, reading area, and bed. Kinda like this guy.

Night for Day

Night for Day

There’s a thing they do in the movie business (far more in the past, when technical limitations mandated it) where night scenes are shot in daylight through a special filter that darkens the scene. It’s called day for night photography; watch any old noir film and you’ll see it, the darkness that doesn’t look quite right. We roll with such tricks the same way we do hokey CGI effects in modern story-driven films (bonus points if you can name any) – we’re willing to suspend our disbelief.

On holiday in Bintan recently, I took a couple of photos like the one above. It was pitch black and near midnight, but setting my camera to keep its shutter open for a full minute, it was possible to gather up all the faint light that normally eludes the human eye, getting a photo that looks very much like day but not quite. The stars are one telltale sign. Who knew that the sun’s orange rays continue to creep past the horizon long after we consider night to have fallen?

For working people, one of the joys of being on holiday in the middle of the week is imagining what you’d be doing if you weren’t, and knowing that your office and colleagues continue to toil in your absence, maybe even suffering because of it. You know the feeling I mean. When it’s Thursday afternoon and you’re lying on a beach somewhere, the mind experiences a strange sensation, a pleasurable disorientation, as it tries to reconcile the information it has. You’re not in a meeting. You’re on a beach. It’s Thursday, but not quite.

I used to wonder if it was possible to get that feeling of freedom on demand, as easily as pulling a filter over a lens. Having a tough day at work? Maybe project a few months into the future, where you have a new job or whatever, and confuse yourself into thinking that that world was running in parallel with the present.

Now that I’m not traditionally employed, I find myself having to take the reverse approach on holidays. For my travel companions, the four days burnt brightly with a sharp peak, followed by a treacherous comedown back into working routine. Not having to feel the pinch of expending precious leave days or returning to deal with crises left my experience curve shallower. I didn’t dread the end as much, so one might say I enjoyed myself less. The solution was a perverse one. I had to imagine a time when this self-employed life was no longer viable. It’s a state that continues to feel temporary, like an illusion made possible by warped optics. Having a job but not quite.

Anyway, I have a nice tan now. Nobody can believe it’s me.

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