The Episcopalians had this place built, but it’s a place for all believers. Services are not held here on Sunday; you are invited to worship here or seek quiet contemplation whenever you like. Ater all, the sky above is the only roof large enough to cover all of God’s followers.

Designed by architect Philip Johnson and featuring a sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz under a shingled parabolic dome, The Roofless Church opened in 1960. You’ll find it in New Harmony, Indiana, on the town’s northernmost east-west street.

The Roofless Church
The Roofless Church
The Roofless Church
The Roofless Church
The Roofless Church
The Roofless Church
The Roofless Church

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Photography, Road Trips

The Roofless Church

Under the open-air roof of the Roofless Church in New Harmony, Indiana. A photoessay.

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Old Cars

Why do so many modern sedans look alike?

A version of this post appeared at Curbside Classic a couple weeks ago. I contribute there from time to time. Its primary mission is to document the old cars still rolling on the road, but we consider all things automotive. Check it out here.

Are the world’s automakers all smoking from the same pipe?

Recently Chrysler unveiled its redesigned midsized sedan, the 200, which goes on sale in the fall as a 2015 model. It’s about time; the current 200 is frumpy and dumpy. The new 200 is a sleek, beautiful design.

Chrysler200

2015 Chrysler 200

But wait… where have I seen that form before? Oh, yes, of course – on the midsized Ford Fusion, which went on sale in 2013.

FordFusion

2014 Ford Fusion

And on the new-for-2014 full-sized Chevrolet Impala.

ChevroletImpala

2014 Chevrolet Impala

These cars have a lot of common design elements: high beltline, tall nose, aggressive grile, dramatic side creases, roof that flows smoothly into the trunk lid, and large, round wheel openings. But the signature design element they share is the rounded six-window greenhouse with a kick-up at the tail.

Did Chrysler steal this look from Ford and GM?

Or maybe they stole it from Toyota. Here’s the full-sized Toyota Avalon, which debuted in 2013.

ToyotaAvalon

2014 Toyota Avalon

Even small cars are wearing this basic design. Here’s the current Nissan Sentra, which was new in 2013.

NissanSentra

2014 Nissan Sentra

The compact Dodge Dart, new in 2013, could be the Chrysler 200’s little brother. But given that they’re made by the same company, I’m sure that’s no coincidence.

DodgeDart

2014 Dodge Dart

But it must be coincidence that Buick’s smallest car, the Verano, has worn the same basic look since 2012.

BuickVerano

2013 Buick Verano

Ford’s small cars wear similar six-window greenhouses, although the rear-window kick-up is far less dramatic. Here’s the current Focus, which debuted in 2012.

FordFocus

2012 Ford Focus

And here’s Ford’s Fiesta, also new in 2012.

FordFiesta

2014 Ford Fiesta

Finally, even Honda’s compact crossover, the CR-V, got into the act in 2012.

HondaCRV

2014 Honda CR-V

I’m used to cars by the same maker wearing similar or even identical styling. GM was king of this for decades. They made one basic car, put different front and rear clips on for each of their brands, and sold them by the boatload. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many similarly-styled cars across so many different makers. I find this six-window styling to be plenty attractive – but I guarantee that ten or fifteen years from now when these are all cheap wheels on the used market, we’ll all look at them and say, “That styling is so mid-2010s!”

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Wanna see some classic car style?
Then click here and here and here.

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Essay

I hate automatic bathroom fixtures

This showed up in the men’s room at work recently, and I rejoiced aloud.

pump

Yes, it’s a soap dispenser pump. It replaced an automatic dispenser. the kind that squirts soap into your palm when you stick your hand under it.

The concept is fine. Futuristic, even. Very House of Tomorrow.

Except that it was overactive. If your hand moved anywhere near it, soap immediately squirted onto the counter. What a mess! And after a while, its squirter grew weak and it took four or five squirts for one handwashing. The facilities guy tinkered with it and tinkered with it, and finally threw in the towel. He put in this old-fashioned pump, which provides endless trouble-free service.

Most automatic bathroom fixtures just don’t work right:

  • At my last job, at one of the sinks the automatic faucet would randomly decide to run for five or ten minutes even though nobody stood before it to wash their hands. This went on for two years, despite frequent repairs trying to get it to behave.
  • The towel dispensers where you wave your hand by a sensor to eject a towel seem only to sometimes recognize your wave. And the towel is tiny, meaning you need to wave six or eight times to get enough.
  • Don’t even get me started on forced-air hand dryers. Well, except for the high-powered Xlerator and the Dyson Airblade; those both work incredibly well. But as for the rest, it’s just faster and better to wipe your wet hands on your pants.
  • But most of all I hate automatic toilet flushers. So you’re sitting there, minding your own business, when you shift ever so slightly. The flusher thinks, “Aha! He’s gone!” and flushes – which sprays some of the toilet’s contents all over your naked butt.

Look, I understand the promise of automatic fixtures. Less wasted paper and water. Toilets that are always flushed for no unpleasant surprises when you approach. No need to touch anything so germs aren’t spread.

But they usually don’t work. Can’t we just go back to flush handles, faucet handles, and paper towels you pull out of the dispenser?

At least in my office, they finally got the soap dispenser right.

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Photography

Much ado about Flickr

I was shocked when I logged into Flickr last week and found an entirely new interface.

I'm staying right here at Flickr

My shock turned to disappointment and sadness that some of my contacts were super angry about the change, left strongly worded comments on their photostreams, and immediately moved their photos to other services.

I make software products for a living; I’ve seen firsthand how interface changes can alienate users. They become comfortable with a product’s features and usage, even when they’re flawed. They don’t want to learn anything new (which often masks a fear that they can’t learn something new).

At the same time, Flickr (and Facebook and any other thing you do on the Web) is a product, built by a company that is trying to make money in an ever-changing landscape.

I’ve seen it often, and it’s happened at companies where I’ve worked: A company builds a good product that takes off. Success causes the company to grow or to be sold to a larger company. And then some scrappy startup company builds a product in an overlapping market that becomes a new darling. By then, the big company is so invested in what it’s always done that it struggles to adapt to the shifting market.

From where I sit, it looks like all of this happened to Flickr. Founded in 2004, Flickr quickly became arguably the king of the hill among photo-sharing sites. Web giant Yahoo! quickly noticed and, in 2006, bought the fledgling company. Success!

But consider all that’s happened in photography and on the Web since 2006. Most people had just discarded their film cameras for digital cameras. Soon cameras in phones became good enough for casual, everyday use; many of them are now very good. Users found it easy to share their photos across any number of the social networks that had emerged – primarily Facebook, which was founded in 2004, too, but also on upstart Instagram. Today, the three cameras that take the most photos uploaded to Flickr are all iPhones.

The market has shifted. It was a matter of time before Flickr either responded or became a niche product of ever decreasing importance. This new interface is its bid to stay relevant. I’m impressed with Yahoo! for moving Flickr so boldly.

I think that if people give the new interface a chance, it will work for most of them. I’ve heard complaints about slowness; I advise patience as Yahoo! would be foolish not to address legitimate performance problems. I’ve heard complaints about how crowded the interface feels; I’m also sure Yahoo! will tweak the new interface over time for better usability.

Another source of uproar is that advertising now adorns Flickr pages. I hate Web ads too, but really, they are the major way many Web products make money.

I sympathize a little with one complaint: all of us who bought Flickr Pro accounts for unlimited photo uploads now feel kind of let down, given that everybody gets a terabyte of storage now. That much storage might as well be unlimited; you could upload one photo a day for the rest of your life and never run out of space. But Flickr is letting us cancel our Pro accounts with a pro-rated refund, or keep Pro at its rate of $25 per year and never see an ad. Anybody who doesn’t have Pro already will have to pay $50 per year for that same privilege. I think this is a reasonable trade.

Flickr’s real mistake might be in underestimating how attached its users were to the old interface. But if my experience is any indication, perhaps that mistake won’t be fatal. Of my contacts, about five percent of them have moved to other services. I’ll miss seeing their photos. I wonder if they’ll soon miss the rest of the Flickr community.

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Cross-posted to my new blog,
Stories from the Software Salt Mines
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