A set of four Polaroids taken with friends

I have a love-hate relationship with my Polaroid camera.

On paper, my Polaroid is the perfect alternative to the point-and-shoot nature of my iPhone. It’s the ideal analog equivalent to digital photos that might as well only exist on your phone, or at most in a post on social media or group chat somewhere. I love that it produces real, physical photos that people can then take home and put somewhere they’ll see it, like on their fridge or wall, to remind themselves of a nice moment in time. The photos have character that you just can’t get when you take a photo with any modern phone, even if they’re not always perfectly in focus, timestamped, geo-tagged, or include a little two-second movie.

But in practice, there are just as many negatives as there are positives to shooting Polaroids, even though the film it uses doesn’t use negatives. Sorry, little film photography pun there.

The film that it does use is expensive, expires if I don’t use it within a certain timeframe, produces sub-standard photos if I don’t store it properly, and the photos produced are so widely inconsistent as to be basically unusable half the time.

When each photo costs you at least $3, it’s not something that you can just snap away with. I’ve been limiting myself to only taking photos of people with my Polaroid for that very reason, because if I’m going to spend that much on physical photos, I want them to be of something real, and not just some nice scenery or whatever.

But because opportunities for nice photos with friends don’t come around all that often, and I’m not taking that many photos when they do, I often find myself with leftover film. Yes, even when each pack is only eight shots, which makes a 36-shot roll of film seem limitless by comparison. I then have to either force people to take more photos to finish off a pack of Polaroids, or contend with storing it and hoping that it will still be good the next time an photos with friends opportunity comes around, then hoping that the film hasn’t expired in the meantime. Improper storage or outright expiration of the film probably isn’t that big of a deal, but with photos being so wildly inconsistent and the photos themselves costing as much as they do, I want to give myself the best possible chance of getting good photos, which is ideally with film that’s within its use-by date and has been stored correctly.

Which brings us to the other part of the problem. I’ve had such varied results shooting Polaroids that there’s always a small part of me that wonders if it’s worth it. I don’t know whether it’s because I don’t have much experience with it to get a good feel for what works and what doesn’t, or because I’m too used to my iPhone camera and its ability to produce perfect photos every, single, time, and keep trying to pull off technically challenging photos with my Polaroid, but getting good photos out of my Polaroid seems like such a coin toss at times that I wonder if there’s anything I can be doing to help my chances of getting photos I would be happy to stick up on my fridge or on my wall.

What’s interesting about all of this is that I don’t have these kinds of inconsistency issues with film. Yes, I’ve shot hundreds more frames of film that I have Polaroids. But with film, I know that when a shot turns out blurry, it’s usually my fault for not nailing the focus using the manual focus lens. Or when the image turns out under or over exposed, it’s because I intentionally wanted it to be. My film rangefinder has automatic metering which prevents the possibility of too dark or too light shots when using aperture priority, but it also doesn’t have the benefit of a flash. By doing away with any kind of adjustable shutter speed or aperture and relying on fixed-focus lenses, theoretically the Polaroid should be able to produce consistent exposures due to how simplified the whole exposure triangle is. But maybe that’s one of its limitations, in that it can only produce exposures in a few limited scenarios, and it over-relies on the flash to compensate for less-than-ideal lighting. Even in the early days of shooting film, when my very first film rangefinder didn’t have (working) metering and I had to manually meter every shot using my phone before dialling my shutter speed and aperture into the camera before taking the shot, I was able to take OK photos most of the time. Yes, in the beginning I might have had a photo that turned out too dark, or too bright, of been blurry due to too slow a shutter speed. But I feel as though I was able to pretty quickly learn what worked and what didn’t and compensate accordingly. The Polaroid, by comparison, seems to have a mind of its own when it comes to exposing correctly. What I think should be exposed correctly isn’t, and what shouldn’t be exposed correctly, is! It’s madness!

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The best worst keyboard

A Dell QuietKey keyboard from roughly 2010.

The Dell 0T347F QuietKey Keyboard — The Best Worst Keyboard

It’s a fine morning in 2010. I’m sitting in one of the tutorial rooms at uni, in a computer lab setup with rows of computers for students to use. The desk is terribly setup; the screen sits on top of the computer, which takes up so much depth on the desk that there’s basically only room for the keyboard in front of the computer and absolutely nothing else. Even the keyboard is almost hanging off the front edge of the desk. Ergonomics weren’t a thing in those days, it seems, but this was par for the course in this kind of ancient history.

Strangely, the keyboard grabs my attention. It’s a standard Dell keyboard, the kind that comes free with your new Dell computer and if you don’t know any better, the one that you start using with your new Dell computer. It feels surprisingly good to type on. It’s not mechanical, but the half-height keys are responsive in a way that I wouldn’t expect from an OEM keyboard – certainly not any OEM keyboard I’ve used up until that point, not even the white plastic Apple keyboards I used back in high school. The keys don’t have the same solid action or tactile bump that mechanical ones do, but they still feel great to type on, with a bouncy springiness that puts the typing experience leaps and bounds ahead of the lethargic key feel of any other rubber-domed keyboard of its time.

I like the keyboard so much that I end up buying one for the princely sum of $22, or about $30 in today’s money. It’s the cheap and cheerful nature of it that appeals to my frugal sensibilities, back in the days where I was a poor uni student that didn’t have a hundred dollars to spend on a mechanical keyboard, much less two hundred. I don’t end up using it as my daily driver keyboard — that privilege is reserved for the aluminium Apple keyboards of the time, but it’s far better than the rubberised, spill-proof, roll-up keyboard I’m using for my gaming PC at the time, as evidenced by this blurry photo.

The best worst keyboard with my two other keyboards of the time

I’ve had a bit of a storied keyboard history. On the one hand, I’ve been using a mechanical keyboard since about May 2012 or so, with the Das Keyboard being my very first mechanical keyboard. Before that, my setups often featured the standard Apple keyboard, with its instantly recognisable, if divisive, low profile, laptop-style chiclet keys. When I started my first corporate job and had my own desk, I specifically went and purchased a nice mechanical keyboard with macro buttons and RGB so I could have an excellent typing experience at work. That’s not really a thing these days, thanks to workplaces moving to mostly hotdesks in light of Covid and people appreciating the flexibility of working from home, but you can still do it if you’re willing to lug around a keyboard with you, or keep it in a locker or something at work. As much as I enjoy using nice mechanical keyboards, I’ve used plenty of less-than-stellar keyboards as well. There are photos of me with those rubberised, roll-up keyboards at LANs, where all I needed was something that made it possible to WASD around, no matter how mushy it felt, or how awful it was for any typing.

These days, my setup is generally two keyboards on my desk. The further back keyboard is currently a CODE Keyboard which is always connected to my Mac, while the keyboard directly in front of it is whatever keyboard I’m using with my gaming PC. For the last few years, that’s been a Corsair mechanical gaming keyboard with Cherry Red switches. This setup works pretty well. I don’t do that much typing on my Mac anymore, at least nothing like I used to do, but when I do need to type out the odd phrase, sentence, or even paragraph, the CODE Keyboard with its Cherry Green switches provides such a sublime typing experience that I find myself wishing I did. And when I’m in leisure mode and carrying games with Muerta in Dota 2, it’s nice to have a keyboard that I know I can rely on to give me the exact keys that I press, safe in the knowledge that if I accidentally hit a key, or fat-finger a skill in a teamfight, that’s on me.

Unless my keys flat-out doesn’t work, of course.

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Thirty Three

Do you think you’re still young, Melissa?

Because I can tell you right now, I think I still am. A little, anyway.

This past year, all I’ve heard from people is how I don’t look my age. They say it’s due to my Asian genes, which makes it one of the few positive traits I’ve been able to claim because of them. Not a bad one, as far as positive traits go. Perhaps even a great one, now that I have a better understanding of the value of such a trait in the first place. Obviously, when you’re young you don’t care about looking young, because you actually are. But when you’re a little older, you’re hopefully a little wiser, too, and with that comes the understanding that looking younger than you are can be a good thing. Some of the time.

I started a new job in a new org this past year, and that has meant meeting more new people that I normally would. Most of them are surprised to hear how old I actually am, usually followed up with comments like “wow, you don’t look that age at all!”, or “must be those Asian genes making you look younger than you really are”, or even “wow, I would never have guessed you’re that old.” Thanks, I guess? It’s always meant like a compliment, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like one.

I had a short stopover in Singapore recently and was ordering some kaya toast at the airport. I had just spent three weeks in Malaysia, so initially I said “satu kaya toast” before correcting myself and saying “one kaya toast”, like any normal English-speaking person would. Turns out the guy serving me was from Malaysia anyway so he understood me fine. He asked me where I was from, I said that I had just come from Malaysia, but was heading back to Australia. He asked me to study or work, and I said to work, and he replied “oh, so young!”. I laughed and agreed. I wasn’t entirely sure how he thought I was young given I was wearing a mask that covered most of my face, but I wasn’t about to correct him, either, mainly because I knew that if I did, I’d probably get the same “wow, you look so young”-type comment that I had heard plenty of times before.

Maybe it’s because I’m still single and unmarried, but I think there are other measures of how old someone is besides their age. But just because someone has less major life experiences than someone else, does that mean they’re younger? Just because someone has never gambled real money at a casino, or has never married, or had kids, does that mean they’re younger than someone who has? Not necessarily, right? Isn’t it possible they just have a different set of life experiences to you? What about if they have own their own place, but have never owned their own car? What if they were the youngest person to accrue long service leave at their previous company? How old would that person be, exactly?

I think there’s a not-insignificant difference between how old someone is (their age), and how mature they are. It’s why you hear terms like “they have an old soul” to describe people who are mature enough to be distinctly different than their peers who may be as old as they are, age-wise.

So if we’re making the distinction between age and maturity, then I think there’s every chance that I’m still young, even though I’m in my early thirties. Anecdotally, my small bubble of the world seems to agree. From where I’m observing, people seem to be getting married later and having kids later in life than their parents did. Teenage pregnancies and shotgun weddings not withstanding, of course.

Now all I have to do is get out there and do the things I want to do. You know, while I’m still young.

What are those things? I’m still figuring that part out.

I miss Vita so much

The exterior of the Vita Place building

It’s March 17, 2023. My last day of employment for the foreseeable future.

While my official record reflects 16-odd years of service, that’s not the whole story. Through various acquisitions and job changes, it’s more like 16 and-a-bit years split up into a few different chapters. From work experience at Next Byte and my first ever retail job, then moving to Brisbane and starting my first corporate role on an IT Service Desk, all the way through to making mistakes and learning even more as an enterprise applications administrator, it’s been a hell of a ride.

Looking back on it now, all I can remember are the good times.

It’s true what they say. As the years coalesce into each other, no one remembers what you did or said in specific scenarios, only how you made them feel. And I feel so, extremely privileged to have been able to work with not just some of the best and brightest, but also, and more importantly, the nicest and kindest people.

In the first few years when I started, when we had quarterly meetings with the rest of IT, and I was exposed to everything else IT was doing — not even the rest of the business, just what we were doing within IT — that made me, just a lowly IT Service Desk lackey at the time, feel like such a small cog in the machine.

And a little later on, after I had a little more experience under my belt, every time I was starting a new project and in a meeting with other people from other departments, I felt so proud to be working alongside those people. Almost none of which I knew all that well, at that early stage — but who all seemed to know what they were talking about. It made me feel like part of a team, knowing that everyone had their own little speciality, and just needed some IT glue to put it all together. The entirety of Vita support was such a small team, occupying maybe 120 seats in total, give or take, but though the power of collaboration and ruthless efficiency, we ended up doing so much over a period of years that I often wonder how much big businesses get anything done with so much overhead.

How does it feel?

It feels strange. To know I’m leaving behind people I’ve worked with for years, just like all the people I’ve worked with in the past that have already left. To know that it’s probably extremely unlikely that I’ll work with those people ever again, or that we’ll never ask each other what’s for lunch, or commiserate over the work that needed to be done, or laugh at whatever crazy thing just happened (again). I feel sad that we’ll never bring up issues to the attention of the group, that we’ll never problem solve together, or collectively come up with some brilliant solution that ends up being the silver bullet to all our problems.

But as they say, all good things come to an end. Maybe not to an end of your choosing, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. The important thing isn’t to be sad that it’s over, but be glad that it happened at all. I’m so grateful for the experiences that I had at Vita, and especially the people that I worked with. I know it’s probably not that healthy to have such a large attachment to your work, but with work occupying such a large portion of your waking hours, I feel as though it’s at least partially justified.

Chances are I’ll never find a place like Vita ever again. Now that I’m a little older and wiser, I wonder if I’ll ever again feel the wonder of what it’s like to know that everyone else is smarter than me, or that I know nothing and they know everything. And because I carry those experiences with me to my next job, I’ll be able to lament the lack of email address consistency at my new gig, question why things are done a certain way, or wonder if the lack of meeting attendance punctuality is a symptom of more deep-rooted problems, or just another example of individually poor time management. Probably a little of column A, a little of column B.

Above all, I miss being close enough to not just the coworkers in my direct team, but those colleagues in other parts of the business that I worked with on a frequent basis. I miss being able to just go and hang out or catch up. Not necessarily to talk about anything work-related, but just shoot the breeze. I realise that this kind of camaraderie can be built up, over time, but the timeline for this sort of thing is years, assuming the people I work with don’t leave during that time. I’ve been at my current workplace for four months, so I’ve still got a long way to go in this regard.

But I miss Vita so much. I miss working in the city, for however a brief period we were there. I miss being the guy that people came to ask questions to, the guy that knew what they were talking about, most of the time, by sheer virtue of being around for so long. I miss knowing how most parts of the business operated. I miss knowing who to go to if I had a problem I needed help with. I miss having that pre-established rapport to know that they would usually be willing to help, be willing to answer a question or two, or even show me how something worked if I had no idea.

I miss Vita so much. But mostly the people I worked with.

Fixing my Polaroid OneStep+ Camera

My Polaroid OneStep+ camera in white

At the start of the year, I noticed that my Polaroid OneStep+ camera had a problem: it stopped ejecting photos. Just when I wanted to take cute instant Polaroids of my cousins, I couldn’t, despite already shelling out for the Polaroid photos. At $4 per shot, with limited shelf-life and having been dragged all the way to Malaysia through several x-ray machines, I was a little upset.

This was kind of an issue. While I could take photos, they would never be developed or printed correctly. Most of the magic happens when the photos pass through the rollers, which spreads developing chemicals so your picture shows up within 10-15 minutes.

Polaroids are pretty simple cameras. They might even be simpler than most cameras. Like most cameras, there’s a lens that light travels through. From there it hits a mirror, which redirects the light directly onto the exposed film which sits at the top of the cartridge. From there the photo is ejected through the rollers and through the door at the front. 10-15 minutes later, your photo shows up. There’s no focusing mechanism on the lens, the small viewfinder on the body of the camera is entirely un-parallax corrected, and the only modern conveniences are a flash to give your photo that classic Polaroid look, with sharp shadows cast on the background. Oh, and there’s a second lens too, if you want to do close up shots, although the focusing range they advertise overlaps so much that you might as well use the other lens most of the time, unless you’re really close to your subject.

If my photos ejected more than one at a time, or nothing was being ejected at all, then that might have been an issue I could have performed some troubleshooting on and maybe even fixed. But no, my issue was that while the initial “dark slide” of a new photo pack would eject fine, any subsequent ejects just wouldn’t fire. The rollers would do their thing and spin, but no photo came out.

At the time, some frantic Googling of the issue suggested that it was an issue with the pick arm. The internet claimed that it was possible that the pick arm could have been bent, and wasn’t picking up photos as it should have been. This didn’t make that much sense given that the dark slide was being ejected OK, but no subsequent photos were, but anything was worth a shot. I fiddled with the pick arm a bit, but it didn’t seem to help.

My next smart idea was to take advantage of the fact that the dark slide ejected fine and take a photo, open the cartridge door, make the camera think that I had removed the cartridge and inserted a new one, then close the cartridge door and force it to eject the first photo in the hopes that it would develop the photo correctly when it did so. This relied on two things to work how I wanted it to. The first assumed I could do all this without exposing the first top-most photo with my undeveloped shot to as little light as possible, while the second condition relied on the assumption that the first dark slide ejection worked the same as any other normal photo ejection, and that “real” photo ejections didn’t have some different electrical process that added some magic into the process specifically for photos, as opposed to the plain-cardboard dark slide. Fairly big assumptions, but at that point, it was worth a shot. Pun not intended.

This didn’t work either, but my memory is a little hazy as to why. I knew beforehand that taking a shot, then going to some dark place to unload and reload the cartridge, before being able to take another shot (all while exposing the shot to as little light as possible), was going to be incredibly awkward, but even then I don’t think that was the main issue. I think it might have had something to do with the dark slide not ejecting the whole way, which wasn’t necessarily a problem per se as that might have just been how the Polaroid worked, but I can’t really remember if that’s the case or not, seeing as I’ve only used it a handful of times previously.

Either way, what I wanted wasn’t really workable, so I gave up on the whole thing. Cute Polaroids with cousins would have to happen some other time.

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Stories from the road: The Charmander Expedition

The Charmander B-Side Label sticker

Ugh. This Pokémon store didn’t have it either. Not only had I been to three different Pokémon stores in three cities by that point, but none of them had the Charmander sticker I was looking for. The tiny Pokémon Centre at Tokyo Station in character street didn’t carry stickers at all, and this one, the Pokémon DX in Tokyo, had the stickers but was out of stock of more than just the Charmander I was after.

I had first come across B-Side Label stickers at the Fuji-Q gift shop, but it wasn’t until I stumbled one of their brick-and-mortar stores in Kyoto that I realised that they were a real thing of their own and not just some collaboration between a sticker company and some big names like Nintendo/Game Freak and whatever anime you care to name.

Being somewhat of a sticker connoisseur myself, I was instantly drawn to their cool designs and incredible range. They covered basically every popular anime, and plenty of other subcultures I didn’t recognise. If you managed to go to an actual B-Side Label store, they had entire books of their range, or you could browse their entire collection on an iPad.

I had seen Pokémon stickers previously at other Pokémon centres, of course, but it wasn’t until the Osaka Pokémon centre that I decided I wanted a small set. But which ones? That was obvious. Pikachu, of course, plus the starter Pokémon and legendary birds from the original 151. While Gen I wasn’t technically the generation I grew up with, it was close enough and far more recognisable, not to mention far more iconic. Anything after the first 251 Pokémon might as well not exist.

I managed to pick up Pikachu, the original starters, and the legendary birds at the Osaka Pokémon Centre, minus a Charmander. But that didn’t matter, because I knew I had an extra couple of days in Tokyo, and surely, surely, one of those Pokémon centres would have a Charmander, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

Now that I had been to most of the Pokémon centres in Tokyo, it was time to go to plan B: an actual B-Side Label store. There had been one in Osaka (where I got in trouble for taking a video in the store, even though there weren’t any signs saying it wasn’t allowed), but the B-Side Label store in Tokyo was a little out of the way, and involved two short train rides and a 2.2km walk. By that point it was getting late, maybe 8 or 9pm, and I had probably already done 20,000 steps at Tokyo Disneysea and was beginning to feel it, but I knew that this would be the last chance I had to find a Charmander sticker to complete my set.

All I can remember is how I felt a wave of relief when the Harajuku B-Side Label store had the Charmander sticker I wanted. Missing out on the sticker wouldn’t have been the end of the world, and would have given me yet another reason to go back to Japan (or just buy it online, if that was even possible), but otherwise I would have had a unique sticker collection.

My Pokémon stickers would have been missing a Charmander, but I had a good reason for when someone asked about why I was missing Charmander.

Well, I would have if the Charmander Expedition wasn’t such a rousing success.