Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Solstice

Merry Christmas
Two shots outside my office window near the end of the year.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Software I Use

I hereby present my list of Geek Force Multipliers.... with URLs now:

Effort Reducers

  • LaunchBar — CLI for the GUI. A revolution away from pointing and clicking.

  • DragThing — the opposite of LaunchBar; still better than the Dock.

  • Path Finder — still better than the Finder. Gets routine things done more easily, and copy operations are faster.

  • Typeit4me — now I can type 80 wpm.

  • Hazel — rule based refiling to keep up with the torrent. For instance, anything on the desktop with "receipt" in the file name gets moved to the receipts folder.

  • MenuCalendarClock — I use this just because it lets me see the date in the menubar in yyyy-mm-dd format, and I don't suppose I need to say why that's so great.

Outboard Brains

  • OmniOutliner — for a while every project had an outline; now I use it mostly for structured writing.

  • TaskPaper — for the daily hit list.

  • VoodooPad — like an extra large messenger bag, it's simple and versatile. Requires a change in mindset to get the most use out of it. Hoping it gains all of taskpaper's abilities over time.

System Utilities

  • Cocktail — once every 6 months or so. Good for clearing out font caches, etc.

  • Growl — good for use with hazel so you know what your robot is doing.

By the way, a couple of these are on sale this month only through MacSanta.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Looks like Pixar's getting their mojo back: Is there a word for this kind of bleedover-from-a-fictional-universe website? There should be.

Monday, October 29, 2007


John Siracusa's Leopard review for Ars Technica is, as usual, the "Sunday New York Times" of Macintosh reporting. Highly recommended if you're looking for thorough and forward-looking GUI-to-kernel coverage.

Here's the bit that's most intriguing for folks with lots of data locked up in Adobe or Microsoft formats:
Yep, it's (finally) the end of the line for Carbon GUI applications in Mac OS X. Oh, sure, they'll be around for years and years to come, but the lack of 64-bit support is a long-term death sentence.

I can only dream about what Photoshop or Illustrator would be like if they were rewritten in Cocoa...

Friday, October 26, 2007


TaskPaper is actually a lot more useful than it looks like it might be at first glance. Zero bloat. "Fiddle-proof" as Merlin Mann says....

and it's at least a little bit AppleScriptable. I'm sure Jesse will be working on making that more robust... would be nice to have a QuickSilver-like method of text entry.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Canadian Signal Word Type Height Calculator

If you're in the business of designing packaging for Consumer Packaged Goods to be sold in Canada, you may have run across the amazingly complicated formula for calculating the size of the word "Caution" as it sits at the bottom of the package, warning the consumer not to drink the Drano, or what have you. The corresponding icons for "poisonous," "contents under pressure," etc. are quite punk rock, I will have to upload those later.


So, this is the kind of thing you only have to do twice before it's safer and easier to offload the entire calculation off to the computer.

#! usr/bin/perl
# a formula used to calculate size of "signal word" for Cdn cautionary copy.
# Find diameter of a circle with an area equal to 3% of the PDP.
# That's how big any required symbol needs to be.
# The signal word then has to be 1/4 that size.

use Math::Complex;
use constant PI => 4 * atan2(1, 1);
print "enter the X dimension of your PDP in centimeters\n";
my $xDim = (<\STDIN\>);
print "enter the y dimension of your PDP in centimeters\n";
my $yDim = (<\STDIN\>);
my $PDPArea = $xDim * $yDim;
my $SignalWordHeight = (sqrt(($PDPArea * .03)/PI))/2;

printf "the area of the principal display panel is %.3f cm square, and the signal word should be at least %.3f cm high.\n", $PDPArea, $SignalWordHeight;

Update: Had to escape "STDIN" with backslashes for Blogger. Remove before use.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


In which I start out talking about decision trees, and end up talking about shelf sets.

Matt Neuburg has an interesting writeup at Tidbits of a decision making tool called Flying Logic. The program creates "intelligent" decision trees that provide visual feedback as to how to navigate the complex web of dependencies required in order to get to a goal.

Yes, you can do this with a whiteboard (or Omnigraffle), but those don't let you offload logic out of your head.

This is a tool that's probably only worth checking out for major initiatives, but more broadly, the power of visualization in aiding group decision-making can't be overstated. Without visual reference, planning meetings are essentially Socratic dialogs, which is unnecessarily hard work.

Even in the world of brand design, I am often sitting in a meeting talking about "the chosen design" and what needs to happen to it... without any visual reference. Looking around the table, you can see everyone's eyes focussing off in the middle distance as we recall what that design looked like. More unnecessarily hard work.

Think ahead about what needs to be in your library of visual reference material, and keep it at hand in your team's public discussion areas. For CPG design, this means comprehensive shelf sets, and reference for visual equity elements and physical materials. Don't have your meetings in conference rooms, you'll just have to bring your stuff there, and that's too much work, so you won't.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

About a certain type of article which seems to be typical of the New Yorker

Simulacra in the high culture bazaar.... (via BoingBoing)

There was an interesting article by James Surowiecki in the New Yorker this week about fashion design knockoffs, and the unacknowledged link in the chain of commerce which they play:

The paradox stems from the basic dilemma that underpins the economics of fashion: for the industry to keep growing, customers must like this year’s designs, but they must also become dissatisfied with them, so that they’ll buy next year’s.

It seems the real depends upon the simulacra in order to exist, or at least to have value.

There have been many other articles about the phenomenon of the simulacra over the past few years in the New Yorker. Here's a few off the top of my head:

  • Calvin Trillin's claim that white wine served at room temperature tastes just like red wine if you close your eyes (I think Cal should stick to food writing).
  • The story I blogged earlier about Argentinian sunflower-seed oil etc. being labeled as extra-virgin Italian olive oil.
  • Last week's incredible story about Joyce Hatto, the greatest pianist who never was, and her Svengali-like husband, who assembled hundreds of Joyce Hatto CDs out of bits and bobs of other recordings, and turned her into a star, until the hoax was discovered. I liked the bit at the beginning about the cottage industry of recordings issued under false names.
  • The story the week before that about the hard-working counterfeiter of bottles of wine reputed to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson, which sold to collectors for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Robert Parker was a fan.

Each of these articles takes as their subject a culturally freighted pleasure which forms one of the cornerstones of their target demographic's highbrow, luxury lifestyle: gourmet food, wine auctions, classical music, haute couture. In each case, received wisdom about the hierarchy of the Good is tested: blindfolded, could you tell white wine from red? How can critics praise the same recordings when attributed to Joyce Hatto which they dismissed when presented under their true performer's name? If a blind stranger came to dinner and you served him dog food, how much trouble would you be in when he turned out to be Wotan?

I guess part of what this supports is the idea that with the New Yorker you get the unvarnished truth, including cultural metacriticism.

So what is clearly needed to complete these categories of counterfeitings is a story about a literary fiction. It's surprising the Raymond Carver - Gordon Lish authorship dispute never made it to their pages.

But yes: in this aisle of culture, the New Yorker is a producer, not a critic.

Friday, September 14, 2007

More cocoa image editors

Iris, another Cocoa pixel graphics editor coming on line with Leopard. From the makers of Interarchy. No beta until Leopard ships. No idea what that will look like.

And Line Form, a Cocoa vector graphics editor which lets you apply Core Image filters nondestructively to any vector or raster object. Sort of like what Illustrator CS3 would be if it were rewritten from scratch, just for Mac OS X. It's fun.

Monday, September 10, 2007

More Acorny goodness

There's a buried plist entry in Acorn to turn on the "Save a copy" menu item... which is as close to "Export for Web" as we get for now.
defaults write com.flyingmeat.Acorn saveACopyMenuItem 1
Thanks, Gus, and I'll be sure to let everyone know this is unsupported ;)

Vs. the 800 lb Gorilla.

Acorn looks like an awesome little image editor, and it comes from Gus Mueller, the author of VoodooPad, so it's automatically worth downloading to check out.
Core Image effects, Python scripting, small footprint... looks like it leverages a lot of Mac goodness. I admire the move away from the paletted UI, but the combination of "tools" and "layers" into one palette might take a bit of getting used to. Many years of Photoshop make me want to break the tools off and put it on the far left, and put the rest of the palette on the far right.
But this is just the thing if you want to keep something around that starts up more quickly than Photoshop, especially if, like me, you're still working with a pre-Universal Binary version of Photoshop, which I never want to keep open for fear of Rosetta gobbling up all my RAM.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

handy mac key modifier

Next time you're hitting the backspace key to delete some words, hold down the option key while you're doing it.
It makes not holding the option key down feel incredibly stupid.



My wife's family uses the verb scutch exclusively to mean "to enjoin," as in "Mom was scutching me to get my homework done before dinner." Sort of like the evidently related heckle, but with the object of improving the person whom you are addressing. It was just one of those family words.
Then I came across a brochure for an old-timey "Flax Scutching Festival" in Pennsylvania, and the etymological mystery was solved. The root, physical meaning is to beat stalks of flax to obtain fibers which can be made into linen. The metaphorical meaning is thus, to abuse, with the intention of a practical improvement to the abused object...
Above are two images from the brochure, illustrating scutching, and also the root, physical meaning of "to heckle," which looks painful too.
So many words have drifted this way, concrete meanings suggesting metaphorical ones, until in time the metaphorical meaning obliterates the concrete one. Few English speakers make flax into linen any more, but many have the experience of bothering someone to their betterment, or of being so bothered.
As far as I know, this is an undocumented usage of the word, and I do not know of anyone outside my wife's family who uses the word this way. I would appreciate feedback if you have also heard this usage.

Friday, September 07, 2007


It's really true about surgery these days; everyone shows up asking you for your full name and birth date, and why you're here today, and which knee it is that they're going to operate on.

And someone really did inscribe the word "yes" on me, like a charm, to affirm to all who could see that I was going to get arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. Without seeing the charm, the surgeon cannot make the cut.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"I'm only into their old stuff"

To Dolan's list of rock n' roll bands that got better over time, counter to the prevailing Romantic idea equating quality with origin-ality, I was going to add Pavement. I remember selling Westing (by musket and sextant) back to that snooty CD shop in Iowa City because it just seemed like the noisy flailings of a bunch of smart-ass kids who had recently encountered some musical instruments. They exhibited that sense that they knew they had genius in them because they could feel it oozing out of their pores.

Almost a decade on, after everyone else was done with them, I caught up with the later Brighten the Corners, and thought it was fantastic.

So when the deluxe 2 CD edition of Slanted & Enchanted came out in 2002, I eagerly put down my $18.99 for an actual hard copy, but when I put it on I could not get past track 5. Back on the rack it went, for years. Once in a while I would get it out just to admire the deluxe should-have-been-there booklet, tucked along with the CD into a slipcase which ran an emboss over the original artwork's brushstroked title.

But just the other day I finally ripped both CDs to iTunes and put it on the iPod, and listened to both disks straight through several times in a row. It's a beautiful mess.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

it takes a village.

Time for my story about how when I was a kid I lived in Pakistan for a year, and saw that road crews consisted of a lot of men, some donkeys pulling wagons with truck tires, lots of gravel, and a few shovels.

There was this technique they had where one man would hold the shovel normally and do the downstroke, and a second man would then pull on a big rope attached to the shovel shaft, to actually toss the gravel.

Seemed odd but I'm sure it makes sense in a world with more men than tools.

This picture takes it to a new extreme. I found it on a google search as I was trying to explain the concept to a team mate.

The particular circumstance that led me to be sitting in air conditioned comfort, using Lotus Notes to compose an explanation of the "two man shovel" technique is not interesting enough to be described here, but I do find enough need for the picture to keep it around.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

desert of the real, part two

Same story in Italy; In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union... Even Carapelli; I quite like the Carapelli.

We'd just have to fix it all the time

That's the story about why IT won't tell people that they know why Illustrator gets the "can't find any linked images in any of your documents anymore" error periodically. This is a very annoying issue, as it means that one person on a team is creating files that nobody else can open without having to relink to all the placed images. And every file everyone else creates is similarly broken for them. It's kind of a waste of everyone's time. We've been dealing with it since we upgraded to CS2.

So the issue is that when a mounted volume disappears while Illustrator has files open, it recreates a "phantom" volume in which to store the files. This phantom volume is actually a subdirectory of the /Volumes/ directory. Then, when the mounted volume reappears, the OS says, "hmm, I already have a volume named "The Server," I think I'll refer to this one as "The Server-1." From that point on, an image that I put on /Volumes/The Server/will be linked in to an AI file at /Volumes/The Server-1/...

Obviously, that's a dumb thing to do, and it's related to the change in CS whereby you can't rename a folder containing a file that's currently open in Illustrator. If you do... Illustrator recreates the old folder hierarchy so that everything can be as it was when the file was first open. In a networked workflow, this sucks because you may not know what files your team has open at any particular time. The version control issues are nasty. Compare this to how a nicely written app such as Omnioutliner handles it.

It was kind of a surprise when I emailed IT saying I thought I'd figured out what caused the issue... only to find out they already knew how to fix it, but weren't publicizing it, because "we'd just have to fix it all the time."

So believe it or not, I'm not actually interested in making IT run from floor to floor manually fixing the issue. I don't want them to waste their time any more than I want my team to waste its time.

But until Adobe fixes the issue, somebody could write a simple little shell script to periodically check for and correct it on the user's computer.

Then all of us -- IT and the rest of the company -- could stop wasting our time today.

So somebody should do that.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

the desert of the real

There was a lot of chat about China in the office this week -- the Mattel recall, the melamine in the pet food, et cetera. Since this town is the former home of Hasbro, there are a lot of connections to the toy industry, and of course we make our living embellishing the brand promise for the Consumer Packaged Goods sector.

But the China story that got me was the one about the counterfeit NEC factory -- not just an anonymous building secretly turning out fake NEC electronics, a fake NEC factory turning out fake NEC electronics.

To the extent that consumer brands form the epistemological bedrock of a consumer society, this pretty much undermines everything. It's like the Ship of Theseus which sailed out on a long voyage, over the course of which, every plank and rope was replaced... with cheaper components of unknown origin... sourced from the global marketplace...

I also dug this one up out of my tags, the story of a simulated Disneyland in China. Funny that one of the complaints the Japanese had about this simulacra was that the talent kept taking the giant heads off of their costumes, breaking the fictive dream.

worst of both worlds

Here's the progress window from the printer software installer from Canon. It manages to combine 8-bit Windows 95 style iconography with OS X "Panther" style brushed metal. Icky.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Music Monitor

I showed someone at work the contents of a find . -name '*mp3' run on the contents of the server's transfer folder. It came back with about 500 entries... the new Public Enemy, some weird Swedish ultra-pop music, and a whole lot of David Gray... The idea now developing is to create a program that automatically notifies you when new MP3s are dropped into this folder. I'm thinking about hooking into Growl to provide the notifications.

It'd be kind of interesting to use this raw data to chart the company's musical taste over time. What seasons saw the most megabytes of Mogwai, et cetera (I'm predicting January).

For you system admins, I'll point out that this would be a great tool for automatically deleting these files as well...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rune Grammofon

Wow, emusic just added the Rune Grammofon label. That almost makes up for John Zorn taking all of Tzadik away. Check out Supersilent....

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Seals at Chatham

They silently bobbed up and down the beach after us, heads pointed in our direction.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Some interesting shell commands

-- these are pretty useful for folks who make a living pushing image files around (especially to and from remote servers).

And as I get more comfortable with the shell, I find I totally avoid using Spotlight or command-F and go right to
instead. I feel like it's faster, maybe partly because of that insane find-as-you-type behavior in Spotlight. Also, if I'm trying to page through a couple of gigs of stuff on the server, it's nice not to bog down the Finder while the search goes on. Of course, I don't actually live in the Finder much; jumping into the shell wouldn't be nearly as convenient if I weren't using Path Finder instead. The drop down Terminal pane is killer.


This is a pretty innovative Mac OS X utility for robotic filing which I've been using since the early 2.0 betas; it's great. I had already given up trying to get everything off my desktop by finding just the right cubbyhole for it. Instead I had started a chronological dump bin system for anything but obviously project-related files. There's a large middle ground of miscellaneous "Might want this later" attachments and ephemera which 120 GB+ hard drives seduce one into keeping around... but one can get pretty distracted with all that interesting junk on one's desktop. Now I'm letting Hazel clean it up for me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

prospect park

Stigs and Marcie had their first birthday party in Prospect Park, and we happened to be passing through....

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

to do list

Seen on a WW2 sub at a submarine museum at Pearl Harbor. The diving officer would stand at his station and call back (through some kind of pipe) to each post to verify verbally that each hatch was closed, etc. This metal indicator panel was just a physical checklist for the officer to go through before issuing the order to dive.

Don't you hate it when you get ready to dive and there's just one thing you forgot to check? Kind of like thinking, hmm, did I turn off the iron?

I would improve the survivability of the device by making it so that you couldn't see the words "Rigged for diving" and"Rigged for surface" simultaneously. You'd only see the phrase which was true, like a big if-then statement.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007

die geist von frankfurt west bahnhof

Photoshop CS2 is so nifty. Still finding new menu items like "Lens Correction..."

frankfurt west bahnhof

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

23 hours in Brussels

Checked in to the hotel at around 10 PM and found that it was in a fairly anonymous outlying suburb, near the client but far from any restaurant. The bartender advised me not to go outside, for though the night looked cold and empty, gangs of North Africans roamed the neighborhood looking to mug anyone who didn't speak French or Flemish. Must be some kind of rougher version of the Académie française. So all I had for dinner was two Leffes from the bar and a bag of peanuts from the hotel room fridge.

the mercure

Building in back is the hotel.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mouse on Mars

Saw them at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart. These are the only pictures on this blog with no adjustments in Photoshop.

Rucola mit Parmaschinken am Elba

Took me a while to figure out that this tart leaf was the same thing as arugula. This place just off Hamburger Allee put it on the pizza after the bake, along with thin panes of parmesan. At left, Carolina has her Parmaschinken raw.

Frankfurt Hochstraße

Through Günter's car window.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Frankfurt -- outside the Mercure apartments

Victor Hugo a habite cette maison

Browsing for chocolate in Brussels feels like going to the jewelry district. And neither chocolate nor diamonds can be found in the Belgian earth.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Stuttgart park

Walking around the morning after the Mouse on Mars concert.

Concrete Volcanoes in Stuttgart

I called Henry from this park and he surfed over to to try to identify what these things are: art, or some kind of Morlockian forced-air cooling system. Ideas?

Die Lusthaus Ruine

Found this abandoned temple of the Eloi in a park in Stuttgart. Becoming a fan of the Tilt-Shift effect. They really added a lot of digital photography tools in Photoshop CS 2. I guess that's kind of obvious.

Gutenberg Statue

Interesting that they did not rebuild the top of the statue. Downtown Frankfurt.

Frankfurt Fog

This was the view from my hotel balcony while jetlagged. Converted a lamp to a tripod for this shot.