Snowproof your camera with what you have in your kitchen

When stuff gets wet in the snow, it won’t dry off for the rest of the day. That’s why you want to protect your precious DSLR when shooting photos during a ski trip, snowshoe expedition, or romp in the snowy park with your dog.

Here’s a simple way to snowproof your DSLR, and it’s effectively free; using stuff you probably already have in your kitchen and junk drawer. (Not that junk drawer, you perv.)

1. Grab a large freezer bag, a roll of electrical or duct tape, a pair of scissors, and a Sharpie.

2. Remove the lens hood from your favorite lens and place the camera end  against the bottom of the freezer bag. Make sure to center it. (If you don’t use lens hoods, then start. Until then,  run a ring of electrical tape around the  business-end of the lens, and place it against the bag.)

3. Use the Sharpie to mark the diameter of the lens hood.

4. Cut the newly-drawn circle with the scissors.

5. Re-mount the lens hood and lovingly slip the lens into the bag, so the hood peeks through the bottom of the freezer bag.

6. Secure the bag to the lens hood with the electrical tape. I recommend flipping the bag inside out and adding a ring of tape to where the lens hood and bag meet in the inside. This is mainly for durability.

7. Step back and admire your snowproof camera. If it’s not snowing, you can use the bag as a sort of hood. If it is snowing, just seal the bag and operate the camera through the plastic.

Snowproof camera: Lens-mounted plastic bags.

I usually use a fixed lens, but this works for zoom lenses as well. However, zooming is a bit awkward and takes a bit of practice. Also, depending on how big your lens is, you may need to use a larger bag. My zoom lens is shite, so I can get away with freezer bags normally found in the kitchen.

When you know you’ll be shooting in snow, be sure to practice operating your camera through the bag, and while wearing gloves. It may seem silly for me to mention this, but you’ll be glad you practiced when you aren’t mucking about with the on/off switch and the settings controls.

Neither duct tape nor electrical tape are waterproof, obviously: I’m presuming that you’re keeping your camera in some sort of carrier until you’re ready to shoot: this system keeps snow off your camera when it’s go-time. Don’t trudge around with your camera around your neck if it’s snowing.  Also remember to let your equipment dry thoroughly, outside of the bags.

Unfinished Phrase: Telling Stories with Strangers

Unfinished Phrase looks like fun. You add to ongoing stories, taking up where the previous storytellers left off. Or maybe start your own story and watch it grow like a wild weed.

The basis of Unfinished Phrase is  Exquisite Corpse,  a Surrealist game where a bunch of people take turns adding to a story or artwork until it is deemed finished.

The dynamic would change with networked contributors, since you can’t see your collaborators laugh or wince or nod approvingly.  Looks like fun, though.

Shame it isn’t available for Android.


Penguins, Frogs, and Bears: Why Transit Systems Need Faces

Last week I spoke at ProductYVR on the need for building friendliness and empathy into transit systems. I compared Vancouver’s own network with the systems found in Tokyo, Melbourne, London, and San Francisco.

Here is a video of the presentation, titled “My Penguin Friend: The Faces of Cities and Systems”. Yeah, I kind of dress like a substitute teacher, but a cool substitute teacher. The kind who sits on the edge of his desk and lets you call him by his first name.

The audience then divided into teams for a round of ultra-fast brainstorming, and they came up with some delightful new faces that could/should one day be spotted in Vancouver.

Fromo the Frog: The mascot that TransLink desperately needs. The #HopOn hashtag is brilliant in its simplicity.

Fairy Ferry is a sea otter who’d represent BC Ferries. The team behind Fairy Ferry also imagined a new website for frequent passengers.

Chase the Shark: The grinning-yet-deadly face of the VPD’s bait car program. Steal a car, and you’ll get caught by a shark with a badge.

Rapido Velo is the notional face of Vancouver’s still-unnamed bike share program (provided the program ever comes to fruition).

Rev the Raccoon: This team took on the big job of envisioning a face for Vancouver itself.

I adapted the presentation into a local-centric essay for the Vancouver Observer, as Vancouver has long struggled with its own identity at many different levels:

Why isn’t Quatchi the year-round mascot for Vancouver? If we want to boost civic pride, we could start with something as basic as giving our transit system a face. TransLink missed the boat on BearFare, but it can still win over a still-bemused public.

Then we can move forward, putting a face to a city whose identity has long been fractured.

Air Canada does dumb things with its entertainment-system controls

I have no idea why Air Canada (or whomever designs for them) thought to place the controls for seat-back  entertainment right where the human elbow rests. You end up turning off your own TV, as well as that of your neighbor, whenever you try to rest your arm.

This happened to me more than once during a single flight.


Oh, Air Canada. We may be stuck in coach, but we generally have arms; and those arms have elbows.

Testing this would not have been too hard. Just make stickers, place them on coach-class seats, and ask a few people to try them. This, however, involves thinking like a passenger, so it apparently wasn’t done.

Wingman: An App for the Mile High Club


Well, they’re keeping it simple. Wingman is basically Tinder for the jet set (I love describing things as “the ___ of ___”, by the way).

Let’s face it: social-connection apps are basically hookup apps, so Wingman isn’t breaking any new ground. Indeed, it’s elbowing into a crowded space, much like you do every time you shove your way back to 34B. Would smartphone users not just use Tinder at the airport?

Let’s say you find a match and do whatever the Wingman equivalent of a right-swipe. You and your insta-paramour have to meet up. This ain’t 1996: you can’t just hang out in the aisles and chat anymore. It’s either straight to the toilets or nothing, unless you both have time either right before or right after boarding the aircraft.

Still, I like just knowing that this app is out there. It’s the apotheosis of those seat-vs-seat video games that Virgin Atlantic has.

Also, Wingman isn’t the first to use the name “Wingman”, but they win in terms of puns.

The Wingman app hasn’t been released yet, but you can sign up for the beta version:

Humanity and Urbanity: What can a city be?

Big City Dreams

The Holon Group‘s ProductYVR is establishing a tradition of intimate, thought-provoking talks in Vancouver. Last time it was the simplest of mobile phones, this time it’s the complicated issue of how we engage with public space.

Nik Badminton of designculturemind opened by discussing how skateboarders reimagined previously-static streetscapes into city-sized playgrounds.

From there, Badminton explored acts of urban engagement such as parkour, place hacking (just another term for urban exploration), yarn-bombing, and public art.

Turns out we can learn a lot from our skater neighbors, not in terms of relating to our neighbors, but in terms of how we relate to the city itself. How we can take back the city, make it ours.

Talk to me, like lampposts do

Two of my favorite examples are part of what you’d call the internet of things: objects to which we are networked, and which communicate in the real world.

First is the Fühl-o-meter (feel-o-meter), an installation by Julius von Bismarck in Lindau, Germany. Using digital cameras to record the faces of passersby, the Fehl-o-meter analyzes the expressions of Lindau’s citizens, determining whether or not the city is happy as a whole. This is reflected by a giant smiley face mounted on a lighthouse: it goes from 🙂 to 😐 to 🙁 depending on what the cameras see.

Second is the Hello Lamppost project, launched this summer in Bristol. Hello Lamppost gamifies your daily routine by encouraging you to talk to inanimate objects via SMS.

(The project takes its name from the Simon & Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)“.

After the talk, Nik broke the audience into three groups, tasking each with reimagining a Vancouver neighbourhood. Turns out we have lots of hostility towards our public spaces, in that we’re impatient with how plain and vanilla they are.

The proposed upgrades ran from the radical (monkey bars for crossing Robson Street, underground pop-up shop arcades) to the easily-doable (messages on Gastown cobblestones to entertain those navigating them with high heels).

Reimagining Gastown's cobblestones

I may or may not have referred to Robson Street as “bullshit”. Okay, I did. But it’s nothing a few monkey bars couldn’t fix.

Reimagining Robson Street

This is a city full of curious and clever minds, just waiting to get off the leash.

If you care about what it means to be human in the 21st Century, or if you’d like to care, keep an eye on The Holon Group.

[Update: Nik Badminton has added his own recap of ProductYVR: Humanity and Urbanity, featuring the audience section. Watch me and my fellow attendees storify on the fly.]


User experience and flying: Virgin vs American Airlines

How usable is your airline?

In “Why User experience is immersive & pervasive“, Om Malik writes, 

The comparison between the two flying experiences crystallized one thing for me: user experience is not pretty logos, lovely web design or rounded corners. A smile is a user experience and so is an honest and candid reply to a tweet. Experience is not just physical.

True. These days, “UX” is usually used in relation to web tools, but we use products every day. Things like ergonomics, button layout, and how easy it is to squeeze a backpack beneath a seat aboard a giant steel cigar are all aspects of user experience.

I always whinge about North American carriers, and the main reason is that they strive to deliver MVP (minimum viable product). The cabins are just clean enough. The staff are not hostile. You get the idea. Contrast that with Virgin Atlantic or Singapore Airlines or JAL, and your idea of how coach-class travel should be will change.