Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: Braun AW60 Chronograph

I have a complete obsession for objects that combine design and mechanical function, and the wristwatch may be the platonic ideal of such an object (with the automobile close behind).  I've built up a little design-focused collection of watches -- so far nothing over $350 or so -- that I'm planning to post reviews of over time.  It turns out there are some really great, well-built designs out there that aren't frivolity status indicators.  So to begin...

Braun AW60 Chronograph
I had a bunch of watches growing up (from the still-awesome Casio calculator watch to a variety of Swatches), but the Braun AW60 chronograph was the first that I thought of as "grown-up" watch.  I bought this in college, and for $300 from a Danish mail-order retailer it was my most expensive watch for a long time; I blew months of CD money on it because I couldn't imagine a more perfect watch:  a small, light-weight magnesium chronograph with a design focused on the beauty of function.  If I can make any claim to status, it's that I bought this a decade before Dieter Rams became an ID geek idol.

It's cliché to say a watch looks like an instrument (aviation, nautical, scientific, etc.), but to my eye Braun makes virtually the only watches that are designed like pure time-keeping instruments.  Most "instrument" watches have a design that only references the surface aesthetics -- the styling -- of an instrument for another purpose.  That isn't to say that I'm not into a nice altimeter-looking watch, but I still have more engineer's respect for the Braun than just about anything.

To violate my own point a bit, I'd like to draw a comparison to another instrument that I use somewhat anachronistically:

Mitutoyo Caliper

This is a caliper that was passed to me from my dad.  The ones you get today are really similar, except the readout is a little LCD instead of a mechanical dial directly connected to the mechanism of the caliper like this has.  The LCD lets me switch between metric and SAE units and re-zero my scale digitally, but, much like most digital watches (or reading the time from your cellphone for that matter), it loses the elegance and simplicity of the dial.

I love that the design of the "face" of the caliper is so similar to that of the Braun.  Both were designed to be easy to read at less than arm's length on an inch-wide gauge, with a similar granularity of "measurement".  Dieter discovered the same simplicity that the designer of the caliper did, and wrapped it in just the right styling details to make a great looking watch.

Friday, March 19, 2010

How I Accidentally Stopped Hating Work

I've always heard two schools of thought on how to choose your line of work, if you're lucky enough to have the economic breathing room to choose:
  1. Do what you love.
  2. Do what gives you the income to do what you love in your free time.
The former always sounds appealing, but it has the tendency to turn your love for what-have-you sour.  This happens around the third time that you have a deadline, no inspiration or energy, and you'd really rather be reading a comic book.

The latter is the practical man's solution, and I have respect for that.  You have to put up with daily, nagging ambivalence, if not real hatred, but bills are paid and you continue to have that thing that makes you feel worthwhile.

I wonder though if there isn't a third option that doesn't get the attention it deserves:

Do what you can't stop yourself from doing anyway.

What I mean is that there is probably something that, when given the opportunity, you'll always be the one saying, "I'll get this."


Imagine yourself in a room of people sitting around a table.  On the table are pieces of paper that have tasks on them, just enough for each person in the room.  Everybody has to pick one of these up, and that will be their thing for the day; whoever picks it up first does it.  But if somebody sucks at doing what they picked up, it will go badly for all of you.

I wager there's something you can imagine on the table that will cause you think, "I better get that one because everybody else will just screw it up."  Hopefully there's some situation you've been in that's caused that reaction, because my advice is:  that's the thing that will get you through the day consistently with minimal self-hatred, a decent paycheck, and maybe better chances of advancement.

For me, I realized, it's figuring out how to go about engineering good things.  That sounds really ill defined, but it is definitely my thing.  If there's a need that can be solved by coming up with some logically engineered thing that will do what the intended user really wants to do, then I will fall over myself trying to architect the solution, every time.  Other people do this too where I work, but I think they do it for category-2 reasons -- for a paycheck.  Again, no disrespect for that.  But I walk out of the same meetings with a little engineer's adrenaline buzz because I got that bizness done.

I got lucky falling into a job where this comes up frequently, and where people let me do that thing I have to do.  Previously, I had bounced from job to job, not really understanding what I didn't like about each.  I can't say my days now are all thrilling excitement, but I have some pretty good ones.  Plus when I go home, I can play with photography (or not) and not have to care if it's any good.  Or I can just read a comic book.