Okay, maybe that statement is a slight exaggeration. I started getting into photography about a year ago, and that was mainly thanks to my girlfriends diploma thesis. I started with a simple point & shoot, but it soon gets annoying to be held back by its restrictions, especially when there's a Nikon D80 in the same household.

While it's still fun to shoot with it from time to time, there's something I enjoy more: photographing with film. In March I got a Polaroid which kind of started that new obsession. Polaroid photos have a quality and a uniqueness that can't be found in digital photography.

It's an expensive hobby, but it's good fun. Recently I got an SX-70, a single-lens reflex Polaroid, from a friend in Boston. That one definitely takes Polaroid photography to the next level. It's thirty years old, but is still good for excellent shots. The one on the right was taken with it.

The other affinity I have now is an analogue SLR, a BX20 made by Praktica. Almost twenty years old and one of their last products before the wall came down. My sister had one lying around unused. So there was a nice opportunity to get going with an SLR and I took it. I'm quite glad I did. That's what comes out when using an expired Lucky Film (from China) with a 50mm lens:

the devil rides a beach cruiser

I'm quite hooked to film right now. There's nothing like that excitement to watch a Polaroid develop or picking up prints after development. Sure, you get a lot of weird looks from people, especially with a Polaroid, but who cares.

Since I've started freelancing I worked less and less in a Java environment. Which is quite a good thing for me, since I get to do what I enjoy. I worked in a J2EE environment for three years. Though I never got to feel the pain of using entity beans, I still started loathing it over time. It just felt too heavy-weight. Testing is a pain, deployment takes ages, and it just can get frustrating what with all the waiting and the complexity involved.

I'm not going to discuss the pros and cons of J2EE here. It has its setting and that won't change for a while. There are some things that can make Java if not worthwhile, then at least a little bit fun. One of them is the Spring Framework which I've been using on several projects now, and which impresses me every time.

The other one is IntelliJ IDEA. I wrote about my switch from Eclipse a while ago. I'm still not looking back. I'm currently using IDEA 7.0 Milestone 2, and the integration of Spring and Hibernate impresses me every time I run across a new neat feature or just use it. It's been well worth its money till now.

There are some downsides though. I only have to look at my memory meter to see them. IDEA easily takes up 400 MB real memory. Throw in Tomcat (though a lightweight joy compared to JBoss) with another 150, maybe Oracle running on Parallels and it's not fun anymore. Swapping galore. Thanks to Hibernate I can work with MySQL most of the time, otherwise it would be a pain. It's a little shocking to see that 2 GB of memory are almost not enough for Java development on the Mac anymore.

Memory usage is most likely the reason why I'm still not very fond of using a full-blown IDE to develop with Rails. TextMate is still my number one choice, and I don't see that changing soon. Though I have yet to try out the Ruby and Rails plug-in for IDEA>

I get distracted easily. E-mail, instant messaging, the mighty and fraudulent web, you name it. However, recently I've surrounded my workspace with a couple of tools that help me reduce distractions, both explicitly and implicitly.

There are two tools that I've grown particularly fond of, Lightroom and WriteRoom. Accident? I don't think so. Both take a rather simple approach to reduce distractions. They fade everything else out and spread themselves all over the screen with their black UI, leaving nothing but their GUI on the screen. Simple, huh?

The concept of Lightroom is pretty clear. With film photography you went into a darkroom to develop film and prints. With Lightroom you basically do the same on your computer. Besides Lightroom being an excellent tool for post-production I really started to like the approach.

Lightroom

Soon I ran over WriteRoom again, having checked it out a while ago, a simple writing tool that basically does the same. It spreads out all over your screen, and everything that's left is a green, blinking cursor. Just like in the good old days, when your text had to fit on a screen 80x25 characters in size.

WriteRoom

While I don't wish to be back in those days, I enjoy writing in this environment, and I enjoy working with my photos in an environment where I can have my focus solely on them. Both tools are highly recommended. Especially Lightroom, not only for blackening out all other tools if you want it too, but because it’s a top-notch post-processing tool.

Something that I’ve gotten used to are virtual desktops, the simplest way to reduce distractions. Basically I spread my applications over different desktops based on their purpose. Everything involving the usage of the net goes on a separate desktop. Tools like OmniOutliner, OmniFocus, VoodooPad, Pages and the like go on a separate one, and everything involving development on another one. That way I can focus on a specific task, be it office-related work, developing or using the internet. This approach is so common in the Unix-world, where I originally started using it, yet only now will this be an actual feature in Mac OS X 10.5.

The last trick in my box is Desktopple Pro. It serves two purposes. With the press of a button it can hide your desktop. Want to hide all those cluttered documents during a presentation at a client’s? Desktopple is the tool for you. It can also hide unused applications after a certain amount of time. The latter is basically what I use now, since I found a more decent way to deal with desktop clutter: reducing it. My Desktop is basically empty. Just a simple desktop, no icons, no documents.

To start with I adopted Ethan Schoonover's Kinkless Desktop which helped a bit. I'm not the person to put much stuff on the desktop, but basically it always bothered me to have stuff lying around there. So I moved the Inbox, Outbox and Support folders to my Documents directory et voila: an empty desktop. No volumes, no external drives, no DVDs, nothing. Distraction-B-Gone!