Archive for the 'Featured' category

 | January 9, 2011 5:37 pm

Last week, I agreed to help a local non-profit create a brochure for a well they are sponsoring in Africa. It’s part of my drive to gain graphic design experience by volunteering for various non-profits.

As I was talking with the development director, she was adamant that the visual message of the materials should be positive.  If you look at the advertising and propaganda materials of many non-profits working in Africa, they share a common theme.  Specifically: You of the first world have it good, and those of the third world do not.  Therefore, you should give to those in need.  They are, in effect an attempt to guilt-trip people into making donations. Consider the example below, from WWF.

A poster from WWF

It incorporates prominent death imagery and shocking statistics in order to dredge up the specter of both long and short time crisis.  The problem with these posters isn’t that while they may be effective in the short term, shock and guilt wear off.  People become desensitized to them, then they get tired of them, finally, they tune them out.  For that reason, the next time you want to motivate someone to action, you need to come up with an even more dramatic statistic.

The need to continually one-up yourself results in a distorted public perception of what the situation actually looks like.  Hans Rosling does a magnificent job in explaining why in the video below.

There is also a secondary problem, when you treat a long-term problem as a crisis, people expect immediate progress on a solution.  When that progress isn’t forthcoming, they become frustrated and may withdraw support.

There is another way to tell a similar story, and that is by focusing on the problem as something that can be overcome. In the realm of water charities, no one is doing this more effectively than charity: water. For example, consider the promotional banners below, which were taken from the charity: water website.

Like the example from above, they tell a similar story. They highlight the importance of clean over dirty water, but they do it in a way that offers hope in the battle against an enormous problem. In other promotional materials charity: water uses statistics to educate about the scope of the issue, but in a way that provides context and shows progress.  (For a fantastic example of how they blend the line between education and propaganda, see their annual report.)

I bet you can tell who I would rather give my money to.

 | December 14, 2010 3:15 am

AccordionNote: Still working on the book.

Though I am still wrapped up in the book, it is finally starting to succumb!  I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

That means that the month of January is going to be a big month.  There will likely be a new release of Time Drive (with file syncing), an alpha test of LyX-Outline, and the release of a lot of typography related resources.

It should be awesome! (I believe that in some industries, it is referred to as a “data dump.”)

Knowing that it is coming, I am starting to rev-up for it.  The new version of Time Drive includes some pretty big changes and LyX-Outline has the potential to be a mess.  For that reason, I’d like to have a place for me to exchange information with users, and for users to exchange to help one another. I’d also like a place to hang-out with cool people that are interested in nifty things.

To whit, I decided to create some actual, honest, and real community/discussion forums.  You can find them at

I spent a lot of time working on them, therefore, I hope that they’re helpful, and pretty, and awesome.  If you use Time Drive or LyX-Outline; or, if you care about art, design, typography, or open source, feel free to please come over, chat, and share.  Community forums only work if there is a community that uses them, so, here’s hoping that this community will be spectacular.

 | 2:12 am

Roman Forum

Note: Still working on the book.

For quite some time, I’ve wanted to add forums to my website.  Forums are great way to interact with your readership or to provide community support for projects.  (This is particularly important for me as I get ready to release a new version of Time Drive and an alpha of LyX-Outline.)

Every time I try to find the perfect forums software, though, I usually come away somewhat disillusioned.

This isn’t because there aren’t great platforms out there, or that they are difficult to install and administrate.  Quite the contrary, actually.  The problem is that most of the forum plugins available for WordPress (the content management system that runs my site) are ugly.

I know that design aesthetics are a personal thing.   I also know that one person’s trash is another person’s art.  But for a quasi-business website, I would like to have professional looking and attractive forums.  I want them to match the appearance of my website, I would like the headers and backgrounds to use my stylesheet, and it would be nice if the visual hierarchy were established via typography.

Are these such unrealistic desires?

Every time I look, though, I fail to find a forum plugin that meets my needs and satisfies my tastes.  There are some that come close, but as math instructors have told me since grade school, “Close is still wrong.”  Life usually doesn’t offer partial credit.

This last round, I got so frustrated that I decided to create a somewhat custom solution. (Action born of frustration is becoming a theme in my work.)  Truly, if you want something that matches your vision, you really need to do it yourself.  And I have.  After a month of work, you can find my now-functioning forums at

For those too lazy to click on the link, here’s a preview. Forums Forums - Grid

While there are several goodies lurking below the surface, here are the most important features:

  • The forum is a stand-alone plugin for WordPress.
  • The user database is integrated with the website database.  (This means that when people are registered for the website, they are also registered for the forums.)
  • There is a notification system.  Users receive an email (or RSS item) when a response to one of their threads is posted.
  • The administration panel integrates with the WordPress dashboard.
  • The stylesheet uses the website headings and typographical hierarchy.
  • The plugin allows skins.

Most of these features come from forking Mingle forums, a WordPress plugin.  But there are also some significant changes to the way in which the forum integrates with the website and a completely rewritten/designed the header and footer.  (In the case of the footer, I simply got rid of it.)

In the near future, I’m going to make a few additional changes.  I’d like for the plugin to use a WordPress template instead of hard coding the layout.  I’d also like to add a preferences pane.  In the meantime, though, I thought I would post the files in the hope that they are useful.  Enjoy!

The project is licensed under the GPL.


Somewhat Simple Forums (version 0.1).  WordPress plugin forked from Mingle forums.  In includes several typographical enhancements.


To install:

  1. Download the archive file.
  2. Go to Plugins > New > Upload.  From there, find the .zip file on your hard drive and upload to your server.
  3. Activate the plugin.

After the plugin has been activated:

  1. Create a new page for your forum.
  2. Turn the comments off.
  3. Paste the command [mingleforum] onto the page.
  4. Add categories and forums to the database.

 | December 9, 2010 1:46 am

I’ve got this thing against mushrooms and fungus.  I don’t like them, they don’t like me, and we don’t get along at all (in the shock inducing, “I’m going to kill you” sort of way).  Regardless, just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean that I don’t respect them.  This video from BBC Planet Earth shows why you should respect them, too.

I think that the bits about cordyceps fungus (a parasitic specimen that takes over your brain before killing you) tends to justify my overall feelings toward the little brutes.  Check out what it does to a group of bullet ants about 4 minutes in.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Via Boing Boing.

 | October 26, 2010 2:37 am

Note: Still working on the book.  Making progress, hope to be finished very soon.  (Very, very soon.)  Regular programming will resume when the draft is sent to the editors.

There’s nothing like a deadline to throw you into pandemonium and confusion.  I am trying to finish up the chapters on stuff and things, and I’ve found myself deeply conflicted on what I want to do and how I want to do it.

I can take one of several paths, but all options require compromises which don’t excite me.  And due to the need to actually finish sometime in my lifetime, I’m going to have to cut material.  I’ve already made really deep cuts and  now it’s time for more.  Without supporting bits (already cut) I’ve discovered that a lot of remaining material doesn’t make sense.

This is painful, because I thought the material lovely, interesting and essential.  The bits were amongst my favorites, and I hate to see them go.  (But then, after you’ve worked on a book for a year, you lose any semblance of objectivity. Ideas are like your children, cutting them feels tantamount to murder.)

One piece that I had and really liked was a bit about the history and evolution of type, particularly how new letterforms allowed for new stories and types of ideas.  Then, I removed much of the surrounding material and the graphics no longer make sense.

But some of the ideas are nifty, and I’m always a sucker for history of any kind, so I’m making a last minute salvage attempt.

What do you think of the layout below?  (PDF to be found here.)  Is it too dense?  Are there too many words?  Does it work?  Does it help to tell a (somewhat butchered) story?  Opinions, thoughts and critiques welcome.

 | October 9, 2010 10:04 pm


This is a presentation that I gave at the Utah Open Source Conference on Friday, October 8th 2010.  It covers Linux Archiving and Backup strategies.

Here is the presentation abstract:

The digital era has fundamentally changed how we store the physical artifacts of memory. Email replaced the letter, digital photography replaced film, scholarship moved online, and much of the most amazing art now exists only on the Internet. While digital has the potential to exist forever, the reality is that it usually has a much shorter shelf-life.

This presentation will overview the challenges of preserving memory in a digital world. It will introduce two different types of tools: those used for backup, and those used for archiving. It will then describe an automated, open source system for routinely creating a backup of digital memories. Technologies previewed: rsync, Duplicity, AmazonS3, Google Storage/GDrive, Time Drive, Deja-Dup.

As promised, here are a few links that expand on the information in the presentation.

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 | October 1, 2010 5:00 pm

imageNote: The regular programming of this website has been interrupted to complete due to the need to complete the Open Source Writing book.  I fully intend to pick things up, but I must first send a finished draft to my editor/publisher.  Though I have been more responsible in the past month, meeting the deadline is going to be very rough.

I haven’t wanted to do this, but I’ve decided that I need to implement a commenting policy.

In the past few months, I’ve noticed a significant uptick in the amount of spam that I’m getting on this website.  In and of itself, this isn’t a terrible thing. When a website gets a lot of traffic, it tends to get more spam and I’ve had more traffic of late.  Plus, Akismetdoes a very good job of getting most of it.

There is a category of spam, however, that is driving me nuts.  It’s the spam that appears to be written by a person, but is actually deposited by a spam bot.  These types of comments are generic, usually complimentary, and appear generally human.

But even though they appear plausible, such comments cause problems.  About a month ago, I got fooled by one (which linked to a Russian porn site) and didn’t delete for several days (yes, I’m in a deep period of self-loathing).  That particular post now gets between two and three spam comments a day.  Worse, many of those comments get through Akismet, which means that they end up in the comments RSS feed.  This annoys me at a very deep level.

No, really.

The presence of spam on a personal website is like finding cigarette ashes on your couch.  It’s unsightly, violating and sends the wrong message to visitors and guests.  (I don’t smoke.  If I did, maybe I’d feel different about it.)

For that reason, I’m just going to start deleting any comments that look like spam.  Or comments that I find annoying, unseemly or derogatory.  (For that matter, if I don’t like you, I’ll probably delete your comments too. It’s my house, and I can be as capricious and arbitrary as I want.  If you want a right to express yourself, get your own blog.  There’s a lot of providers and most of them are free.)

With all that said, I’d like to clarify something.  I don’t like deleting comments written by people.  Some of the best stuff on this website came in response to a comment (or an email).  And I like interacting with like-minded individuals.  It’s actually why I continue to play and experiment with things and to post ramblings here.

Nor am I opposed to the idea of self-promotion.  If you have a blog post, piece of content, or product that is relevant to something I’ve written about, please say so.  I just re-discovered Dropbox because of a virtual friend who gave it a plug.  Sharing stuff is what the Interwebs are all about.

For that matter, insults and flamefests can be fun, too.  Just because something is derogatory isn’t a guarantee that it will be deleted.  Scathing takedowns delivered with wit and poise are very welcome.  Hell, they’re positively encouraged.  If you detest the sight of me, or the sound of my voice makes you nauseous, please share.  Bonus points if you use obscenities from more than one culture.  Just be sure to use periods and paragraphs.  Calumny without style will be deleted, or mocked.

And if I know you in real life, I’m not above sending your stupidity to friends and family.  With commentary.

But I digress.

Here’s my policy:

If a comment looks like it was written by a machine, it will be deleted.  If you write to me and can satisfactorily prove you are not a machine, I might restate the comment.  In such cases, though, you really should answer an important question:

Why do you write like a machine?

That is all.

 | August 25, 2010 3:35 pm

Finally, someone has answered William Herzog’s timeless question:

Why is it that a sophisticated animal like a chimp does not utilize inferior creatures?  He could saddle a goat and ride off into the sunset.

Show me more… »

 | August 3, 2010 5:50 pm

Vignelli-SubwayOver the past couple of weeks, I’ve been wandering about in a daze.  (This often happens when I’m doing too many things at once.)

I’m trying to get LyX-Outline done, finish my book, and draw up plans for  Time Drive.  I’ve also got dozens of ideas for blog posts, scientific studies, articles, software projects, and even books dancing about in my head.

(I wish I could figure a way to make some of these ideas pay for themselves, as I would like to pursue them more aggressively.  But, that is a topic for another day.)

Amidst all of the creative chaos, there is one question that I find particularly interesting.  Namely: How the form of a thing influences its function?  This question also goes by a secondary, better known moniker: “the medium is the message”.

Like other dynamics such as nature/nature,  form/function is  a constant in graphic layout, analytic design, horse training, writing, software development, scientific inquiry, marketing/advertising, neuroscience, and behavioral psychology (basically everything which interests me).  My obsession with it has already filled one book chapter and, unless I can exercise some self-restraint,  will likely consume another.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  While researching typographical examples this morning, I found a very interesting instance and thought I’d share.

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 | July 27, 2010 11:10 pm

McKean Stamps - UnicornIn general, I’m horribly clueless about advertising and marketing.  Sure, I know some of the general principles and basically how it works.  I know that it peddles in subtlety, perception and elegance.  I also know that these are not my areas of core strength.  (I have about as much subtlety as self-restraint, which is to say, not much.)  And that is about it.

But ignorance aside, I have a tremendous appreciation that advertising/marketing are important, and in most cases not nefarious.  I know that they’re not really about manipulating people into making a purchase, or about separating them from their money.  I even know that at its best, advertising (like propaganda) can be very helpful.  It can expose you to new ideas and products you wouldn’t otherwise consider and help you to locate needed services.

(There is, after all, a reason why Google has significant amounts of money and I do not.  Their soul sucking ads are a very effective way to find people who might be looking for something to buy.)

Which makes my ignorance all the more distressing.  Advertising is important, I don’t understand it, yet I often find myself in a position where I need to promote goods, products and miscellaneous services.  And of course, I’m terrible at it.

(In most cases, I can’t even effectively promote myself.)

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