The Fate of Polaroid: A Warning for Apple

Instant: The Story of Polaroid. Fascinating, even if you're not a photographer. Polaroid was the Apple of the post-war era, with a charismatic founder and a reputation for pioneering new products. "Do what no one else is doing" was their motto. #igdc #pol

A charismatic and iconoclastic figure creates a world-changing product. He insists upon doing things his way, the market be damned. His motto:

Don’t do anything that someone else can do. Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.

He makes products for artists, by artists – many of his new hires have no business experience – and he reaps monopoly profits for decades due to his singular and uncompromising vision.

Steve Jobs?


Edwin H. Land, creator of the Polaroid camera. Now just a historical curiosity, his company was a mainstay of investment portfolios during the 50s and 60s. It was the technology sector, with a huge budget devoted to research and a reputation for developing new and cutting-edge products and processes. Polaroid was a skunk works, a Lockheed Martin of photography, that well-funded competitors like Kodak hopelessly chased.

No camera represented the 1970s more than the Polaroid. It was as iconic as the iPhone is today.

After 43 years as CEO, Edwin H. Land retired in 1981. His successors lacked Land’s passion. His risk-taking. They were bland corporate types more comfortable with spreadsheets than artists experimenting in labs.

Like other camera manufacturers, Polaroid saw the promise and threat of digital photography but failed to act upon it. Edwin Land had said, “An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” But with digital photography, Polaroid was afraid to fail, fearful of cannibalizing their own market for instant cameras.

Polaroid developed new products but they were just repackaged versions of old cameras. They created cheap products though Land (like Jobs) never wanted to compete on price – both men wanted to compete on innovation, creating new technology that demanded a premium in the marketplace.

The end came more quickly than anyone imagined. Polaroid went from record profits to bankruptcy in a decade, as one-hour prints undercut the attraction of instant photography. Corporate raiders swooped in, to loot the company for their own profit, the end of Edwin Land’s company coming in 2001.

The amazing and tragic story of Edwin Land is brought to life in Instant: The Story of Polaroid. Not only is it a great read, it’s a beautiful book that would look at home on any coffee table.

Reading it, the parallels between Land and Steve Jobs are inescapable. “Like visiting a shrine,” is how Steve Jobs described meeting Edwin Land and seeing his lab. The cameras created by Land were beautiful objects to admire. “He saw the intersection of art and science and business and built an organization to reflect that,” Jobs said.

And so did Steve Jobs. Products like the iPhone fuse revolutionary technology and great beauty. Neither man was interested in marginal improvements but whole new categories of products – things that people didn’t know they wanted until they saw them.

Polaroid SX-70 Life cover
Land demonstrates the SX-70 on the cover of Life magazine.

While Polaroid produced many cameras, its most famous product was the SX-70. Introduced in 1972, it was a beautiful revolution in technology, offering truly instant photography in a foldable body. Though expensive, it was adopted by artists like Andy Warhol and by the general public. Every detail was overseen by Land, like Jobs did with the iPhone. It was also the last major innovation from Polaroid, the company content with making cameras that were cheaper and slightly better than the previous models – but not revolutionary.

What has Apple produced since Jobs’ death in 2011? Other than the curiosity that is the Apple Watch, they have not produced any new category-defying products. New iPhones come out with regularity but, like improvements to the SX-70, they are just marginal advancements. Without innovation, there is no excitement.

When was the last time you had to have an Apple product? I’m typing this blog post on a MacBook Pro that’s six years old. Why haven’t I upgraded? While the new models are a little slimmer, and a little faster, they’re not fundamentally different than my current computer. And the newest models are worse than my MacBook, lacking ports – ports! – that every computer user needs to do their work. I’m not interested in acquiring a collection of dongles, so I’m going to keep this MacBook for a while. It’s still better than anything in the Windows world.

The fate of Polaroid is a warning to Apple, demonstrating how a company can go from dominance to disaster in a few short years, if it ceases to innovate. I hope that Apple arrests its drift and empowers the artists within the company. In the words of Edwin Land:

In my opinion, neither organisms nor organizations evolve slowly and surely into something better, but drift until some small change occurs which has immediate and overwhelming significance. The special role of the human being is not to wait for these favorable accidents but deliberately to introduce the small change that will have great significance.


Photo Gallery: Mayor Bowser Signs Bill Helping Local Cyclists

Photos from the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) happy hour at Mission, where Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016. This new law makes it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to sue motorists who hit them.

I happened to be standing next to the Mayor as she waited to be introduced. She was amazed at the turnout – all the local networks were there, as well as DC Councilmembers Cheh, Grosso and Silverman.

And no wonder – biking has never been bigger in DC. With protected bike lanes and bike sharing, more people than ever are taking to two wheels. The Mayor remarked that getting more people biking will help reduce gridlock. And it’s faster than driving, in many cases. Bowser’s Chief of Staff got from City Hall to Mission on his bike faster than she did in her motorcade.

It was fun to see so many friends from WABA, an organization that I’m proud to support. All the photos came from my new Canon G9X, a handy point and shoot. With this little camera, I was able to drink beer, eat guacamole and take pictures all at the same time!


Happy Birthday, Capital Bikeshare!

me and bikeshareLaunched six years ago today, Capital Bikeshare changed the way DC gets around. These ubiquitous red bike bikes revolutionized biking in this city, bringing cycling to the masses. Biking is no longer just the provence of fearless young males. With thousands of Capital Bikeshare bikes on the streets, it’s now something that everyone does – from office workers commuting downtown to tourists visiting from overseas.

More bikes means safer biking for all. Capital Bikeshare made drivers accustomed to seeing bikes on the streets. This not only made the streets safer for cyclists, it made things safer for pedestrians, by forcing drivers to slow down and be slightly more aware. God knows that the city doesn’t enforce traffic laws. But the presence of people on big red bikes has a “traffic calming” effect that has probably saved lives.

I was an intermittent CaBi user until this year. Joining in February, I’ve already racked up 286 miles on bikeshare. Most of the these miles were back and forth trips to the Metro, in which I used bikeshare for the “last mile” between public transportation and my home. While I have a bike, I also use CaBi for trips where I don’t want to take my real bike. Some examples:

  • Don’t want to leave my bike at Union Station where it could get stolen – take bikeshare.
  • Metro breaks down – take bikeshare.
  • Going out for drinks – take bikeshare to bar, Uber home
  • It’s raining/snowing and don’t want to get my bike dirty – take bikeshare.

It’s very handy to have this network of bikes available to you any time of the day or night. Capital Bikeshare is ideal for a compact city like DC, where parking is limited.

Spotcycle is key to the regular CaBi user, providing a real-time map of bikeshare stations and available bikes. I use it every day.

One more thing: those bikes are damn attractive. The beauty of bikeshare is part of their appeal. They’ve made DC a better-looking place and are an irresistable photo subject. Here’s a selection of bikeshare photos over the years. Happy birthday, Capital Bikeshare!

bikeshare girl

bikeshare in the snow fall bikeshare at Navy Yard bikeshare and tulips Santa bikeshare bikeshare in snow cherry blossom bikesharetour de bike lane bikeshare 28891575276_8483e9f826_o


The Maritime Republic of Eastport

IMG_1233Island life makes people a little crazy. Key West has the Conch Republic and a little neighborhood in Annapolis has the Maritime Republic of Eastport?

While technically not an island, Eastport feels that way, located across a drawbridge from highfalutin historic Annapolis, MD. But you won’t find cobblestone streets and signers of the Declaration of Independence here. With its narrow lanes, wooden shacks and air redolent of the Chesapeake Bay, it really did remind me a bit of Key West.

My trip to Eastport was courtesy of Enterprise CarShare. I’m a social media ambassador for them, like a real millennial. It was a day trip for me. Easy – you reserve a car online, swipe a card over a sensor on the windshield and drive off. Gas is even included.

Ford Escape – an SUV that I actually like.

I picked a Ford Escape which was conveniently parked a block from me. I really like that little SUV. You can haul stuff with it (like a bike) but it’s also nimble enough to parallel park.

Annapolis is about an hour from DC. Once there, I stopped for coffee at Ceremony.

Photo Aug 28, 10 21 59 AM
Coffee and a muffin at Ceremony Coffee in Annapolis.

Then I met my friends Lynn and Anthony for lunch at Davis’ Pub in Eastport. Crab dip over a pretzel – delicious! It was also nice to sit outside by the water at this unpretentious bar.

Davis’ Pub in Eastport
Photo Aug 28, 12 28 51 PM
Lynn and Anthony has said that no one has ever not liked this crab dip – they were right!

We then walked over to the Annapolis Maritime Museum. This riverfront museum is devoted to the history, ecology and the arts of the Chesapeake Bay. Learned a bunch about oysters. And they had a great exhibit of photos on the people still wresting a living from the bay.

Photo exhibit at the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

This was the third of my three free trips courtesy of Enterprise. I get free travel and a small fee, and they get photos to use online. It’s been a great opportunity to explore new places and take photos.

When I briefly owned a car in DC, all I did was worry about tickets, break-ins and having my car towed to some distant lot. Carsharing is easier, even for a non-millennial like me.

Photo Aug 28, 1 14 45 PM
Not a millennial.


Canon G9 X: First Impressions

Canon G9x
Canon G9x

My first digital camera was a Canon and since then I’ve been wedded to the brand. It was a Canon Digital ELPH S110, I believe, a compact 2.1 megapixel shooter that I paid close to $400 in 2001. Back then, anything digital was impressive. But I also really liked the design – square and metal, it had a heft and solidity that soon disappeared in digital point-and-shoots .

I moved on to DSLRs, getting a new Canon Rebel every few years. And the iPhone got better and better, largely eliminating the need for a point-and-shoot camera. And almost eliminating the need for a DSLR.

I tried different point-and-shoots but was unimpressed, finding them slow and disliking their cheap plastic bodies.

With one exception: the Canon G series. This was a camera that I could love, being fast, good in low light and with a metal body that seemed substantial in one’s hand. It seemed solid, reliable and made by people who recognized its value. This was not a camera destined for the electronics aisle at Target but a well-constructed tool to be used by professionals.

So when the Canon G9 X went on sale at B&H, I jumped at the opportunity to get a decent point-and-shoot. B&H is awesome – I received the camera the next day. While it was billed as an “open box” special, it looked brand new to me.

Think I’m going to like this camera. While smaller than in the pictures (think smaller than an iPhone), it has the heft that I want, as well as capable of producing some awesome images. It’s fast and fun.

And beautiful, a trait that should not be underestimated when marketing electronics. Devices are more than just functions, they need to be aesthetically appealing, like the iPhone.

u street metro
U Street Metro
Bikeshare on 14th St
Bikeshare on 14th St

My only complaint: wish it had a longer zoom. This is an area where Canon has fallen behind Sony and Nikon.

Still, the Canon G9 X is perfect for my needs. I wanted a camera to take on my bike, something light and yet capable of producing better images than a mobile phone. The Canon G9X easily fits into a bike seat bag, with room for a wallet, iPhone and Clif bar.

Ben's Chili Bowl
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Dacha Houe
Dacha House
Liz Taylor mural
Liz Taylor mural

And when I carry it in my messenger bag, I don’t even notice that it’s there. I put it in an interior pocket because it got lost among my books and papers. It starts up quickly so you can grab a quick shot on the go.

One other slight complaint: a viewfinder would be nice but I recognize it’s 2016 and the kids don’t use them. We’ve all gotten used to looking at screens.

I think this will be a fun little camera, rekindling my my love for point-and-shoots, and ideal for my biking and wandering around the streets of Washington, DC.


Del Ray Ramble: Going Back for Biscuits

I'm in historic, sweaty Del Ray.
I’m in historic, sweaty Del Ray.

Record heat is predicted this weekend. But last weekend was plenty hot for me, so I got my biking in early Sunday morning.

I was up at 7 and out the door not too long after. Sunday morning is the best time to bike in DC, with very little traffic in the city and before the tourists arrive. I cruised over the Memorial Bridge and on to the Mount Vernon Trail. Destination: Alexandria.

Approaching the boardwalk on Daingerfield Island, a cyclist going the opposite way shouted an incoherent warning to me. Wonder what that was about?

Then I saw:

Tree down on the Mt Vernon Trail at Daingerfield Island.
Tree down on the Mt Vernon Trail at Daingerfield Island.

There had been a storm overnight, leaving a massive tree branch across the trail. The bridge was damaged – chunks were missing from it and debris was scattered everywhere. I walked my bike through this mess, stepping over the missing boards.

After having coffee at the Starbucks in Old Town, I decided to take a different route home, to avoid the tree across the trail.

From Strava: detail of route.
From Strava: detail of route.

Cameron makes a nice alternative to King Street, a low-traffic route that led me up from the river and to the Potomac Yards Trail, which parallels the train tracks into DC. I followed this new trail for about a mile before detouring into Del Ray on Monroe Av.

There, I passed a beautiful-looking Swing’s Coffee across from a park – that’s where I should’ve had breakfast! I filed that way for next time.

Making a right on Mount Vernon (the avenue, not the trail), I idled through Del Ray. It’s like hipster Alexandria. It was early but there was a line to get in to a place called Stomping Grounds. If only I knew they had biscuits! Another place filed away for next time.

My bike in historic Del Ray.
My bike in historic Del Ray.

Mount Vernon takes you back to Four Mile Run. Along the way, I passed this bus, which I found very interesting. Traveling the country in a rolling coffee house – that sounds like a dream.

Bus owned by Cllegro Coffee Company.
Bus owned by Allegro Coffee Company.

Rather than take Four Mile Run to the Mount Vernon Trail, I went through Crystal City, stopping to take in this spooky bit of art near some new apartments off Route 1.

eyes watching you
eyes watching you

Then I got back on the Mt Vernon Trail and returned to DC, just as buses began disgorging hordes of tourists at the Lincoln Memorial. The day only got hotter after that. Glad that I got in my Del Ray ramble early.

I’m going back for biscuits.

Photography Show: New Orleans by Ben Carver

A friend of mine once lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans. After first visiting during Mardi Gras, I returned every few years, my last trip occurring just a few months before Hurricane Katrina. While everyone knew that the city was basically a big bathtub, and that a storm could fill that bathtub with water, no one expected the unthinkable to happen.

And then it did. What surprised me was the long-lasting impact the storm had. The city was devastated, livelihoods were wiped out and thousands of people left the city forever – including my friend Bob. I visited a year after Katrina and much of the city seemed like a ghost town. It’s slowly recovered since then.

Ben Carver spent three months walking the neighborhoods of New Orleans, capturing the city as it exists ten years after Hurricane Katrina. An exhibit of his photos recently took place at the White Room in Shaw, featuring selections from the 600+ images that comprise this collection.

For anyone who has visited New Orleans, the photos evoke a lot of nostalgia. I’ve been a fan of the city since reading A Confederacy of Dunces, one of my favorite books of all time. It’s unlike any other place in the United States – and I hope it remains that way.

Ben Carver

admiring Mardi Gras Indians

Artist Statement

Chocolate Jesus

my favorite photo from the show

New Orleans book

DC to Leesburg by Bike and Metro: A Multimodal Adventure

Last weekend, I rode to Reston, taking a 50-mile bike ride from DC into the outer suburbs of the nation’s capital.

I wanted to ride the WO&D Trail again but wanted to skip over the parts of the trail that I had already done. I would use Metro for that purpose, since you can take your bike on the train on the weekends. With the new Silver Line running out to Reston, it seemed like the perfect solution, allowing me to leapfrog ahead to where I left off last weekend. Bikes and trains – a perfect multimodal adventure!

But, of course, there was track work on the weekend, as always with Metro. Orange line trains were running only every 20 minutes and the Silver Line was terminating at Ballston rather than running into DC.

Bike over I-66

I checked for the next Orange Line train before leaving home. I hurried to Farragut West and was so proud of myself for making the train!

Unfortunately, I blanked on switching to the Silver Line at Ballston and so just stayed on the train to the end of the line in Vienna. Then I biked through the neighborhoods and back to the WO&D.

It’s a beautiful trail that just gets better the further west you go. Every few miles, there’s another town, with a brewery, bike shop and coffee place. I don’t know how people bike the length of it without stopping multiple times. I biked through Reston, Herndon and Sterling without stopping.

Herndon on the WO&D Trail

But when I smelled the barbecue at Carolina Brothers in Ashburn, I had to stop. Located right next to the trail, it’s awfully tempting.

I actually went past it, thought about it and then turned around and came back. I’m glad I did. It’s a great spot. Casual, fast and filled with cyclists enjoying a mild Sunday afternoon.

Carolina Brothers BBQ

Cyclists passes lots of bikes at Carolina Brothers BBQ

I prefer my biking with a side of BBQ #bikedc

Once you get past Ashburn, the trail really opens up. With its long straightaways and miles between road crossings, it attracts the road biking crowd.

WO&D trail is long and straight

For me, I kept on to Leesburg, where I stopped for coffee, of course! My motto: Always Be Coffeeneuring. I had cappuccino at King Street Coffee along with a new doggie friend. Cute place and excellent coffee.

Coffeeneuring with a new doggie friend #bikedc #coffee #coffeeneuring

Moi in Leesburg

Purcellville and the end of the trail was another ten miles. I decided to save that for a future trip. I turned around and headed back, passing many tempting trailside breweries.

This time I would catch the Silver Line in Reston. The Wiehle Avenue station is right off the trail, though you have to navigate a bit of construction to find your way into it. The station was really anticlimactic. I was expecting something more glamorous. But it looked just any other Metro station complete with a 1970s-era train waiting at the platform. Got on the train and sat there for a good twenty minutes, along with tourists coming from Dulles. Yup, it’s always this way, I wanted to tell them.

The Silver Line train then slowly chugged its way past Tyson’s Corner then down the middle of I-66 before ending in Ballston. Getting off the train, a crowd of confused passengers waited on the platform. The next train into DC wasn’t for another 20 minutes (at least).

Feel like I'm cheating on #bikedc but I wanted to check out the Silver Line so put my bike on the Metro at Wiehle Av for the journey back to DC. #va #metro #wmata

Abandoning train, returning to #bikedc

Thank god I had a bike! I abandoned Metro and headed for the Custis Trail, flying downhill into Rosslyn, then over the Memorial Bridge to home.

Lesson Learned: Using Metro to leapfrog ahead on the WO&D would be great if the transit system actually worked. But a bike is more reliable.


Next Level Craft at the House of Sweden

#igdc visits the House of Sweden

InstagramDC recently got a sneak peek at the Next Level Craft exhibit at the House of Sweden in Georgetown. This beautiful embassy along the Potomac played host to an exhibit described as:

A mythical wedding, a demonstration, a carnival, a funeral procession, a fashion show or perhaps a combination of all these? A colorful parade of mysterious creatures wander through a fictitious northern landscape carrying unique crafted objects. Who are they and where are they going?

Next Level Craft is not your typical handicraft exhibition – it has its own soundtrack and music video. The renowned young Swedish artist Aia Jüdes has created a playful and different tale of craft, mixing voguing (a modern dance style characterized by perfect, stylized hand and arm movements, acrobatic poses and flamboyant fashion), street art, high fashion, pop culture and electronic music with everything from wool embroidery, weaving and felting to root binding, wood turning and birch bark braiding.

It was a surreal experience, a room filled with bizarre objects and an ever-changing lightshow. Adding to the strangeness was a trippy video of dancing Swedes. So much weirdness for InstagramDC to photograph, as the lights cycled from red to blue.

Best of all, photography was encouraged! It’s a very forward-thinking embassy for hosting this strange exhibit and for reaching out to local photographers to cover it. We had a blast taking pictures of these unique crafts and posing for photos in the weird lighting.




Ever feel like you're being watched? #igdc #georgetown #emptyhos #nextlevelcraft

That was cool. But getting up on the roof was even cooler.

There was an amazing view of Rosslyn and the Kennedy Center, from a vantage point that few get to see. It was sleeting but no way was I going to miss this experience.

A little snow wasn't going to keep me from the roof of the House of Sweden during the #igdc meetup. That's the Potomac River and Rosslyn in the background.

Kennedy Center

As a writer, it’s inspiring to see creative work. It’s source material for me. I wrote Murder on U Street, my novel about homicide in DC’s art scene, after having similar experiences. So don’t be surprised if a trippy Swedish art exhibit shows up in a future book 😉


DC Walkabout: Meridian Hill and Millie & Al’s

Millie and Al's - soon to be something new

As mentioned in my previous post, it’s time to walk. Walk hard. I pulled a muscle in my calf so I can’t run for a while. Instead, I’m going to walk around this city – a different direction each time – and blog about the things that I see. This week’s adventure: Meridian Hill and Millie Al’s.

I had to visit Millie & Al’s one last time before they closed. Millie’s is an iconic dive bar that’s been on 18th Street in Adams Morgan for decades.

Leaving my Logan Circle apartment, I set off up 15th Street on Wednesday after work. Musical choice was the excellent new album from Blur, The Magic Whip.

Spring is a funny season in DC. Warm one day, freezing the next. I happened to catch Mother Nature on one of her nice days, mild and overcast.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have Tulipmania. I’m just in love with these splashes of color that blossom all over the city in April. Sometimes, they appear in the most unexpected places, like behind the mysterious Scottish Rite Temple on 16th St. I’m sure the flowers are used in some sort of mysterious ritual. Or maybe they’re just for the neighborhood to enjoy.

Tulips and the back of the Scottish Rite Temple #igdc #walkdc

I passed the apartment where I used to live, back in the 90s, pre-Whole Foods, when the neighborhood was transitional. At that time, 14th Street was to be avoided, unless you were looking for crack or hookers. Other than the Black Cat, most everything else along the street was boarded up. However, the neighborhood was cheap enough that a recent grad like me could afford to live there.

my old apartment building

When I lived at 15th and Swann, I liked to walk up to Meridian Hill Park. Back then it was more commonly referred to Malcolm X Park, but demographic changes have made that moniker seem absurd. People do yoga in that park now. Boot camps drill bridesmaids in the morning. Bros throw frisbees around. Malcolm X Park is no more.

Meridian Hill Park - looking good with spring colors! #walkdc #igdc

One place that remained from the 90s was Millie & Al’s. I mean literally the same, down to the same Star Trek models hanging from the ceiling and the filthy, cramped bathrooms – part of its charm. It was not a fake dive bar like hipster-friendly Showtime. It was the real thing, a place to sit in a booth and drink pitchers of beer, while you waited for the $1 jello shots sign to turn on.

dudes didn't like me talking this picture

Jello shooters - light is on!

Millie’s was the first bar I ever went to in Adams Morgan. In the rough and tumble DC of Marion Barry, 18th Street still had a residential character to it – there was a hardware store along the street. The only bars were Millie’s and the even more divey Dan’s. I used to drink with my roommates Bob and Colin after taking the 92/96 bus from our apartment near National Cathedral.

I liked taking people there – it was cheap and had a feel of real DC about it. Broke foreign students particularly liked it. You could go to Adams Morgan on a weekend until around 2003 before you felt like you were entering a riot zone. 18th Street turned into Bourbon Street with brawls and vomit predominant. But I guess must’ve made some impression at Millie’s because I ran into one of the bouncers about five years ago and he remembered me.

the bar

Millie & Al's sign

Millie & Al’s closed on April 7. This dark drinking hole where beer was sold in plastic pitchers and you had to navigate a stairway to reach a couple of cramped toilets – it fetched a cool $1.8 million. Drinking is big business in DC.

As a lover of dive bars, it would be easy to be melancholy. Gentrification claimed Millie & Al’s. However, this same force revitalized 14th Street and made Meridian Hill Park safe to visit. Progress is a good thing, even when you lose an iconic drinking institution.