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Exit ArchiveArchive for June, 2008
Permalink Comments Off on Visual. Literary. Visuliteralary.Comments Off on Visual. Literary. Visuliteralary. By

This was a great thing to read on a Monday: “How I See Words in My Head” by Douglas Coupland.

This essay got me asking myself if I am a visual person or not. I love words and how they fit together to make sentences, and I get quite a charge when I can write something that I feel is effective. I saw Trumbo on Friday, and his sculpting of words was inspiring. But I also love letter forms, fonts, kerning, leading, and all the things about words and letters that comprise a visual element.

I want to be a visual thinker. I think it’s admirable. But am I such? I love design but am not as good at it as I’d like to be. I’m not as good a writer as I’d like to be, either. Would I become better at both with practice, or would I become better at one and not much better at the other? Can a person be stuck in between? Can I be so egotistical as to assume I’m someone who can straddle the fence?

I think that an inevitable and necessary step for written culture over the next few decades is going to be the introduction of a détente between the visual and literary worlds—at the very least, an agreement to agree that they’re not mutually exclusive and that each feeds the other.

Maybe it is possible to be a little of both. I do know one thing, and that’s I don’t know what font I see in my head when I think of a word. I think it depends on the word itself. I’ll see “icon” in a different font than I would “fleuve.”Does that make me a non-visual thinker? Or a visual thinker who takes the literary into account?

I am who I am, and I really don’t need to define it. I just wonder if I’m in for some surprising revelation, like the one Douglas received during the interview, were I to think about it in any seriousness.

(Found via Daring Fireball, of course.)

Permalink Comments Off on For the RecordsComments Off on For the Records By

There’s this great site I’ve been fascinated with lately called Shorpy. It reproduces large-size pictures from the past, usually the late 1800s to the mid 1900s (though really, they’ll put up anything interesting).

I mention this today because I love this picture posted on Saturday:

Click it to see it larger.

I love this picture. Even record stores were full-service get-ups back then. And you can look at it now and see some of the Apple Store in it. (Yes, I bring absolutely everything back to Apple!)

The picture is most likely from 1952. I started to try to figure this out myself when I went looking for that Bing Crosby Christmas album. I found this on eBay:

The seller said it was from 1949. Well, wouldn’t you know it, had I just read the comments on the Shorpy picture’s original post, I would have found all this out! When you think you’re onto something on the web, you’re probably not. Twenty dozen people have already beaten you to it.

I would recommend you spend some time browsing Shorpy. The older pictures of kids working in factories and things makes you realize how far we’ve come in this country regarding worker’s rights.

Permalink Comments Off on Ever Hear of the Four Boxes?Comments Off on Ever Hear of the Four Boxes? By

I had never heard about the four boxes. Here’s a great example of how we’ve exhausted three in regards to this warrantless wiretapping thing. This wiretapping issue got me so angry last week (here’s why), the fourth box would have looked mighty tempting. As Robb said at Denny’s on Sunday, repeating what so many of us have said so often since 2000, “What does it take for people to say, ‘Hang on a minute here…’?”

(Four boxes link found via Daring Fireball)

Permalink Comments Off on LFTI: The Following Conversation Never Took PlaceComments Off on LFTI: The Following Conversation Never Took Place By

I did not post on the LFTI blog last week, so I tried to make up for it this week by using a fun new format. And by “fun” I mean “very mildly amusing,” and by “new” I mean “tired.”

Give it a read, won’t you?

Permalink Comments Off on Indiana Jones and the Crystal MacGuffinComments Off on Indiana Jones and the Crystal MacGuffin By

Oh, this is fun! It hits all the points I’ve been making about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Blah Blah Blah. Lovely.

Reminds me of what I used to do, back in the day. (Plus other fun, non-review-like formats!)

Permalink Comments Off on The Garmin iPhoneComments Off on The Garmin iPhone By

So far, it seems only one company is close to releasing anything that has even the remotest possibility of being a competitor to the iPhone: Garmin. Its Nuvifone was announced a while ago, and since Garmin is big into GPS units, the GPS features of the Nuvifone were a huge selling point over the iPhone. Of course, now that the iPhone 3G includes GPS and, I’m guessing, much better nav maps, the Nuvifone’s GPS is no longer a unique feature.

But that’s not what I wanted to discuss. I want to specifically talk about how Apple has, in less than a year, completely defined how the touch interface on portable devices should work. The Mac set the standard that is still followed today (unless you’re using the nightmare Microsoft Office for Windows 2007), so we’ll see if the iPhone UI lasts as long.

Here is the Nuvifone in action (video is from Laptop Magazine):

Let’s go through this video and check for examples of the iPhone UI as copied by Garmin. (The Nuvifone in the video is not a production model, so who knows what may change by the time it’s on the market?)

0:07: The Garmin man is already comparing his product to the iPhone, saying “we have the same screens as the iPhone.” That’s probably not entirely accurate.

0:17–0:27: The Nuvifone uses the “fling” scroll with velocity slow-down and the all-important elastic stop. The genius of this design in the iPhone UI is that when at the very top or bottom of a list, if you try to scroll, it gives you a visual clue that your scroll was executed but that you are at the edge of the list. Imagine if there were no elasticity; you might try to scroll, but nothing happens. Does this mean you’re at the edge of a list, or that the scroll did not work? The ambiguity is gone with the elastic visual.

0:17–0:27: The narrow, disappearing scroll bars from the iPhone are here. Unlike using a cursor on a desktop, the scroll bars on an iPhone are merely there for reference, since the entire screen is scrollable. The bars appear when you start to drag your finger to scroll, then fade away when you remove your finger. No extra space is wasted on resilient scroll bars. The Garmin’s bars do not fade, they just vanish. The scroll bars in the Nuvifone do not look translucent, like the iPhone bars, but it’s hard to be sure on this video.

0:21: “It’s not a multiple touch screen, it’s a single-touch … including the scrolling function.” I assume this means no double-finger tap to zoom out, no pinching or spreading, none of the multi-touch features that make the iPhone UI utter fun to use.

0:36: Applications and widgets on the iPhone zoom in and out when launched or closed, but the Nuvifone uses a sliding transition. On the iPhone, the sliding “drills down” into lists and such, giving you a visual clue as to which way you are moving into and out of pages and lists. We can not tell from this video how the Nuvifone will handle such drill-downs.

1:30: Screen rotation was not invented for iPhone, but it sure was stepped up a notch. The Nuvifone screen rotation is orientation sensitive, but the graphical iris out transition is pretty low-rent. The iPhone could definitely benefit from using the landscape orientation mode in more places in the UI; however it’s not as good an idea to use it for the home screen as the Nuvifone does. Why? Because you want your launch buttons to always be in the same place to aid in motor memory. The home screen icons will be in different places if you rotate your home screen. You would also have to set up two sets of custom layouts. Not very easy to use. This is more of an issue for the iPhone home screen grid layout than it is for this Nuvifone sliding pane layout.

2:04: The Web browser “experience is very like iPhone Safari.” Without multi-touch? We shall see! Multitouch is the most useful tool when browsing the Web on an iPhone.

2:20: Ah, a keyboard demo! The Nuvifone’s keyboard slides up from the bottom of the screen, just like the iPhone’s. This is a pretty obvious behavior, whether it started on iPhone or not. The Nuviphone copies the iPhone pop-up letters when you type. I’ll be very curious to see how the predictive text works. The iPhone’s “reversed” predictive text set-up is fantastic, allowing you to continue typing as correct suggestions pop up and requiring you to stop typing only if you disagree with a suggestion.

2:27: “You can see there is no [sic] any button in the front panel. It’s even better than iPhone.” But no, it’s not. You’ll notice that there is no way to just get right back to your home screen on the Nuvifone without touching the arrow icon to back up through multiple “open” screens. (There could be a side button on the Nuvifone that accomplishes the same thing as iPhone’s home button, but I’m guessing that’s not going to be the case.)

3:13: Damn is that navigation/map app one ugly chicken! The ocean is DOS Blue. And those plus and minus buttons! Good UI design is hindered by bad graphical design.

3:36: That Home button in the navigation/map app… is it a sign of inconsistency, or maybe just a sign of an unfinished product? The return arrow icon we saw in the rest of the UI should be here instead. (Or, I guess you could argue, there should be a Home button everywhere else in the UI! Oh, wait, wouldn’t a physical button on the front be a great solution?)

4:32: Seems the screen has haptic feedback. The day the iPhone gets haptics will be a day I rejoice. There is no better way to improve the confirmation of a virtual button press than a physical event. Haptics on an iPhone will be complicated to include, though, when you consider the feedback will be different if you are touching and holding or touching and dragging. I obviously do not know how the Nuvifone will handle these situations, but I’m sure Apple is putting a lot of thought into that very thing. Assuming they are working on haptic feedback to begin with.

I think we will be seeing a lot more of this kind of borrowing in the smartphone field. Of all the interfaces and UIs from all other PDAs and phones, Apple’s is the most graceful, the best-looking, and, most importantly, the most thought-out. There’s a reason why the iPhone is such a pleasure to use. None of my other handheld devices have been nearly as fun and useful. Oh, except my Newton. I loved the Newton!

Permalink Comments Off on Otlet and the MundaneumComments Off on Otlet and the Mundaneum By

An article on The New York Times‘ site tells of a Belgian named Paul Otlet who, back in the ’30s, conceived of a network of “electric telescopes” that would allow people to connect, browse vast libraries of information, collaborate, join social networks, and other very modern-sounding stuff.

Otlet’s ideas were too vast to be realized in his own time, and the Nazis, of course, destroyed a lot of his work, but much of what he was thinking is present in our current Internet. The article says that Otlet would most likely have been overwhelmed at the Internet’s lack of organization and its “dumbness.” But you have to imagine he would be pleased as all get-out were he to watch me post this tidbit that anyone with the right device would be able to read, leading them to the original article about his ideas outlining this all over 80 years ago.

Permalink Comments Off on There are No WordsComments Off on There are No Words By

There really are no words for this:

I saw it on the 101 south on the way into work this morning. Eddie Murphy’s head just appeared from an on ramp, merging gently into traffic. It’s (obviously) a promotional… thing for Meet Dave.

Thoughts that went through my head: “Who sculpted this thing?” “Is it as top-heavy as I think it is?” “Who exactly pops out of that door in his ear? Certainly not Eddie Murphy himself!” “Does Eddie know this exists? If so, has he seen it?” “Who gets to keep it when the movie promotion is done?” “How many of these are out there?” “What if I rear-ended Eddie?” “If Eddie’s head fell onto my car, would the insurance company consider my car totaled?”

Permalink Comments Off on Program NotesComments Off on Program Notes By

For some reason, I just poked into an e-mail folder I have called “Classics and Keepers.” There are not many items in there, and not much I’d label as “classic.” Except maybe the one I’m reprinting below.

But first, some explanation so that you know what the hell prompted me to write such a long (and often historically accurate) “essay.”

In April, 2004, a month before The Wren Forum opened for business, I had sent an e-mail to friends asking them which L.A. Phil concerts they wanted to choose for the second season of Disney Hall. I listed several concerts in detail, but snuck some pieces by a little-known composer named Lekowicz into the list. (They were: Symphony No. 1 “Cake and Cookies”; Symphony No. 3 “Not Too Early in the Morning”; and Hungarian Suite in G “Tchotchke.”) Sven noticed this, and asked for some background on the composer Lekowicz before he could make a decision.

My friends got the following on April 12. Good luck!

* * * * * *

Stephen James Lekowicz was born in 1769 in Englewood, Poland, to the renowned artist and philosopher couple Sletvanya Polisnika Harrison and Trevor Singh. (It is interesting to note that Polish surnames are not passed from parent to child, a practice which was seen as pompous and cruel.) From an early age, it was determined Stephen had a keen musical sense, and was soon encouraged by his parents to develop his musical talents by banging on tins of potted meat product with wooden spoons.

By the age of 5, Stephen had already composed two waltzes, a collection of pond songs, and the now-famous Pirogy Mazurka in F. His parents farmed young Stephen’s talents out for pay, having themselves hit upon hard times during Russia’s Smashing of the Poles into Submission campaign in 1774. Through this public exposure, Stephen’s most well-to-do fan was Glinka Hurdy, who, upon hearing the Danse Macaroni i Ser Stephen composed when he was 7, finally felt the composer had entered into his own. Hurdy and his partner, Spears Britney Gurdy, signed the young prodigy to compose works for their music publishing company, Muzyka Hurdy Gurdy.

During the Hurdy Gurdy years of 1777 to late 1777, Lekowicz’s pieces for intimate royal ballroom extravaganzas, such as “King’s Triptych Danse,” and his more extravagant compositions for intimate social settings, such as “The Lily Pixie and the Butter Bun,” became such gargantuan hits that Hurdy Gurdy could not cope with demand. Their shop and press warehouse were mobbed by enraged music enthusiasts, and Hurdy and Gurdy themselves were killed in the tumult.

Sadly, with the passing of his employers, Stephen and his parents were left to the mercy of poverty, and from 1777 to 1782 they roamed the Polish countryside, dodging Austrian, Prussian, and Russian “liberators” and hoping Stephen would soon be accepted into the Stanislaw August “Augie” Poniatowski National School for Poor But Gifted Musicians and Their Parents and/or Immediate Relatives. Their hope was shown light when, in August of 1782, Poniatowski, recognizing Lekowicz as the composer of his favorite dining hall background piece, “Ham and Polonaise on Bread,” welcomed the emaciated but fiercely passionate Stephen and his family into the school.

This period proved to be one of unstoppable musical growth and enlightenment for Lekowicz, who composed no less than 149 pieces under the tutelage of the well-meaning but mediocre masters of the Augie school. Some of the pieces from this era include the Scherzande in B Minor, Sarabande for Flute and Tuba, “Samba dla Idiotów,” and the now ubiquitous Symphony No. 1 “Cake and Cookies.” This latter work has been hailed since its creation as nothing short of light and fluffy. Taking no more than 12 minutes to play and with nothing more challenging in its theme than that of pure gastrointestinal pleasure, this symphony is a model of the period and a delight to the ear.

While Poland was experiencing a slight resurgence of culture, it was still difficult for musicians to make a living plying their trade. It was for this reason that Lekowicz, at the age of 29 in 1788, became a spy for King Poniatowski. From this time to 1792, Lekowicz composed fewer works, but gained a maturity that was not present in his earlier works. Of these newer style pieces are the Scherzo in A, G, and E, the Ecossaise and Requiem in C Minor, Symphony No. 2 “Shaken Not Stirred,” and the Hungarian Suite in G “Tchotchke.” This last work was composed while Stephen traveled clandestinely in Hungary, collecting information for the Commonwealth and sampling the local cuisine. It is considered one of the most accurate portrayals of Hungarian Gypsy music ever captured by someone disguised as a gypsy while under the command of a puppet regime. The ironic title comes from the early 1800s, when the Spanish composer Falla de Guerno Hispola Fernando Hacienda was heard at a post-concert party in Seville to comment that such a “souvenir” of the Hungarian Gypsies was genius, as the gypsies themselves carried nothing more than they needed to live.

In 1792, Lekowicz was caught up in the confusion surrounding the formation of the Confederation of Targowica. When Russia and Prussia came to the aid of the revolt they started within Poland’s borders, The Commonwealth fell, and Lekowicz was one of the four million citizens annexed by Russia. This embittered Lekowicz, and his works became even more sparse in frequency and more revolutionary in tone. It was then no surprise that he moved his way to Warsaw to join the Uprising of the Soon to Be Defeated in early 1794. This uprising was soon defeated, however, and by 1795, Russia forced the abdication of the King and absorbed the rest of Poland.

Now without a homeland, Lekowicz took to writing more furiously. Pieces from this era include The Abdication Waltz in F Flat Minor, “Mass for Sausage and Cabbage,” Piccolo Concerto No. 4, and Symphony No. 3 “Not TOO Early in the Morning.” While only his third symphony, and this while aged 36, this last remains his masterpiece, a symbol of rebellion and refusal to work within a system that included too many countries ending with the syllables “ussia.” Most notable is the symphony’s lack of a fourth movement. Lekowicz claimed in a letter to his sister, Lara, a figure who was so important in his life that it has been decided to ignore her almost entirely in this essay, that his not writing a fourth movement was, besides being a protest against the dismantling of the country he loved, a wonderful way to save time. “This symphony would have taken me nine more months to write,” he wrote. “Audiences of future regimes will thank me, dear sister, for abolishing the necessity for them to stay seated in the hall an extra 20 minutes.”

Stephen Lekowicz soon after met Jaye Davidson Plotknywscz, with whom he fell madly in love. The couple planned to marry in the spring of 1799, but died in January of that year of Walesa’s Disease, a rare deformity of the facial hair. Jaye’s contraction of this disease, known to only afflict men, was confusing to the doctors of the era. Instead of fighting to get the couple well, the doctors spent their time in conference over the odd case, and Lekowicz and Plotknywscz died, covered entirely in beard, in a hospital in Vancouver, Canada.

Coldplay Viva la Vida iTunes Ad Band

That new iTunes Coldplay ad is pretty damn great in just about every way. I think that should be their actual video. It’s beautiful and striking and an amazingly accomplished piece of animation.

Coldplay Viva la Vida iTunes Ad Bass

Coldplay Viva la Vida iTunes Ad Guitar

Coldplay Viva la Vida iTunes Ad Singer

Below is my Monday post over at the Life from the Inside blog, reprinted here for your mild convenience.

* * * * * *

When Tanya and Robb brought me on board as producer for LFTI, they probably did not realize they were gaining a lunatic. Not just any lunatic, of course, but a font, typography, and typesetting lunatic.

I’ve always been fascinated by text. I spent lots of time as a small child trying to draw perfect block letters. I’d take the plastic, all-caps letters (yellow Futura medium) from both our copies of The Alphabet Game and tape them onto construction paper to make signs. I cut out matching letters and numbers from the newspaper to make my own Iran Hostage Crisis count-up sign. I hand-lettered every single one of my campaign posters for Vice President in 8th grade and President in 11th. One of the best things about the Mac when it came out was, for me, that its handling of text was much better than Print Shop on the IIe.

My love for type has never diminished. It served me well post-college, when I worked as a book designer at Birkhäuser Boston, right through to the present day, when I get to contribute to the “online conversation” regarding the fonts candidates use for their campaign materials.

Unfortunately for Robb and Tanya, it currently serves me well on Life from the Inside.

I am of the opinion that text, fonts, typography, and typesetting, while flying under the radar of the general public’s awareness, are some of the single most important elements in adding a sheen of professionalism and style to any project. Most of the quality we strive for in LFTI is applied to the usual concerns: camerawork, writing, editing, music… Very few people might notice if a font is improperly stretched, or if a wayward apostrophe has made its way into an pluralized acronym, or if the hyphens in a block of text are disconcerting to the eye though they may be properly placed.

Robb does 99% of the graphic work for the show, including all the titles, credits, graphic elements, DVD menus (yes, DVD MENUS!), blahdee blahdee blah. And I have to say that 99% of everything he does, text-wise, is fantastically great. Unfortunately, now that I have wedged myself into the picture, I’m here to catch the remaining 1%. If I see some kerning I don’t like, I’ll say so. If the leading between two lines is too tight, I’ll point it out. If there’s a space between a word and an asterisk, I’ll call for its death. If four fonts are being used where two will suffice, I shall champion the cause.

Sometimes, where text is involved, there’s a trade-off between correctness and aesthetics. To me, correctness should win out most of the time, because there is usually an aesthetically pleasing way to correctly render an awkward block of text.

If I’m going to prattle on about this topic, I really should give an example.

Robb had designed a bit of text on an upcoming DVD menu (yes, UPCOMING DVD MENU!) to fit nicely into a rectangular space. The word “jukebox” (yes, JUKEBOX!) had to be split, so he designed it as “JUKE” on the fist line and “-BOX” on the second. Now, the text fit beautifully, four characters on both top and bottom, but I could not stand the hyphen being tied to the second half of the word. That is simply not done. It gave me a case of the frownies every time I saw it. Since I am now tweaking and redesigning that particular DVD menu, I changed the layout to “JUKE-” and “BOX.” It made the text top-heavy, but it was correct. However, knowing that I was changing a very particular design choice that Robb had made, I thought I could compromise. I was willing to—GASP!—have the word split, but not hyphenated! “JUKE” and “BOX” would fit more nicely into that rectangle without a hyphen. Perhaps to some, this would have been the worst choice out of the three, splitting a single word into two sans hyphen. To me, I’d rather have the hyphen gone than have it on the bottom. And jukebox was probably two words at one time, anyway. It’s not like we were splitting “grottos” into “GROT” and “TOS.” Blech!

I have not finished the menu redesign, but I think we agreed to keep the hyphen on the top, probably because I whined enough about it.

So what does all this pain-in-the-assery get us? From my point of view, it gets us closer to looking great. When no detail goes unnoticed, when we can concentrate on the small things that most people simply don’t understand or don’t even notice, we can give everyone a better show. Then, if people do know and do pay attention, they will hopefully appreciate the care that was taken to make LFTI a top-notch piece of time-wasting entertainment!