Archive for the 'Miscellaneum' category

 | June 20, 2011 4:07 pm

This (more or less) perfectly captures my conflicted feelings about modern art.

 | May 31, 2011 6:03 pm

Once upon a lifetime, I worked in a children’s hospital. Most of the time, I loved my job. Contrary to what you may expect, children’s hospitals are very happy places. Yes, there is some suffering, and that is very sad. But unlike adult hospital, children don’t go to the hospital to die or suffer. Almost always, they go there to get better. For that reason, the atmosphere in a children’s hospital is usually one of recuperation and (subsequently) happiness. It’s a wonderful place to work.

With all that said, there was one aspect of my job I didn’t care for: the parents of aforementioned recuperating children.

While children seem to adapt to the soft color and toys of a hospital quite well, this cannot always be said for their parents. In the best of times, fathers are mothers are a bit … neurotically overprotective … and having a child in the hospital is not the best of times. For that reason, the parents are of a sick child are usually freaked out, insecure, neurotic, and otherwise emotional. Or, as they will so often tell, you “JUST FINE!”

This could lead to difficult situations. Whenever I found myself in a such a scenario, I would try to get through by remembering a bit of wisdom shared by an elderly nurse. When I first met her, she had been taking care of children since the second world war and could effortless manage any crisis, not matter how real or imagined. This is what she said, “Of course these parents aren’t at their best. Their child is sick! For a parent, there isn’t a nightmare any more terrifying. But since they’re not at their best, it’s all the more important they see you at yours.”

Great words to live by, no matter what industry you work in or where you labor. Professional and compassionate service is absolutely timeless, as can be seen in the video below.

Note: Yes, I know. Solemn introduction to an otherwise hilarious video. It seemed right at the time.

 | April 11, 2011 6:55 pm

Note: Still working desperately hard to finish the book. It is nearly done, mostly just tying up loose ends (like getting permission to use all of the pretty pictures). With that said, I’m not going to taunt anyone (especially me) with dates or tentative delivery schedules. It will be done when it’s done. The only thing I’m going to say on the timing is that it will be soon.

I had the strangest experience the other day, and for that reason, I’ve decided to write a strange essay. Here’s what happened.

I was talking with a friend (let’s call him Sam) about recent trends in technology. In the course of the conversation, we found ourselves discussing the finer points of American history. (It then devolved into the anthropology of mushrooms, but, the train of logic made perfect sense at the time. Really.)

Most of the conversation was wonderful. We cracked jokes, exchanged similar views, and generally agreed about everything. I did my usual Steve Jobs shtick, talked up open technologies, and generally babbled about my favorite things. It was a highly enjoyable exchange. Well … right up till we started talking about history, that is. That was when the strangeness happened. As soon as I said, “history,” we found ourselves in disagreement.

Not hostile disagreement or murder your neighbor contention. But it was definitely uncomfortable, and we found ourselves indisputably at odds. No one had said anything of consequence, yet, we were both prepared for a fight over a topic as mundane as “history.” In fact, now that I think on it, the whole thing was really quite distressing.

Not just a little distressing, but the crawl “under your skin and keep you up late at night” type of distressing. And all of this from a single, slightly belligerent comment (made by Sam, of course):

I hate history. Why should I care about things that happened thousands of years ago? I’m too busy trying to live in the present.

At first glance, this might seem a strange thing to get bothered about. After all, what Sam thinks about history has no effect on my life or how I live. It doesn’t impact the type of people I choose as friends or the activities I pursue in my spare time. For that matter, it’s powerless to effect the way I see or interact with the world.

On another level, though, it’s deeply irksome. This is because history is awesome, of course. But it’s also more than that. History isn’t just awesome, it’s also central to nearly everything we do. The way you understand the stories of the past influence how you interpret the future, your politics, and even how you name your children.1

This is why I had such a reaction to Sam’s comment. It denotes a willingness to disengage from the past in favor of a present without context. It also puts you at odds with reality, all 13.7 billion years of it.

image

That’s really dangerous. It leaves you adrift in a complex and stormy world without the benefit of maps, charts, or even horizon to guide you. When history is left behind, it means that you leave everything behind: science, mathematics, literature, anthropology, psychology, medicine … the whole lot. A willful ignorance of the past is also an ignorance of its many gifts. I can’t imagine hating history, it would be like hating … everything.

After I explained this idea, Sam seemed to get it. (At least he said he did. That might have just been to get me to shut up, though.) But Sam couldn’t quite let it be, he had to explain the rationale behind his comment. This is what he said:

When I said I hate history, I wasn’t referring about the sum of human experience. Rather, I was talking about the very narrow way that history is presented in schools. I hate history as a table of dates, irrelevant names, and uninteresting successions of kings.

At which point, I said, “Oh. Yeah, I hate that too.”

Which raises an important point. Why is that we teach something so vitally important to our children in such a bland form? It’s not how history is studied by the “professionals” nor is it representative of how most think about reality. Yet, it’s what we force feed our children.

Neither one of us could come up with a good answer to that question.

Luckily, it seems like the status quo might be set to change. Over the weekend, I came across the following video by David Christian (and the related project of the same name). From the video and available course materials, it looks like they aim to do something audacious: place the subject of “history” within its proper context, as the story of universal existence.

As far as I’m concerned, that is a good thing. Perhaps it might even result in a little less hate for history.

1 As a case of how history can impact child names, consider the case of Chastity. (A story which I heard over the weekend.) She was given the name by her parents, after a great aunt, in the hopes that it would inspire her to a life of service and devotion. There was even some talk of Chastity taking religious vows. None of that happened, of course, because Chastity ran away with an older man to have a family.

 | March 31, 2011 3:44 pm
 | January 21, 2011 9:34 pm

Most of the time, I don’t really consider myself a blogger. Nor do I think of this website as a blog. (This is mostly because I absolutely hate the term “web-blog.” It sounds like something you would give to a dog for constipation.)

I don’t post on a set schedule, I don’t cover a single topic, and I most emphatically do not believe in transparency. This website is here primarily to give me a place to run at the mouth.

With all that said, in the past few days I’ve run across a number of awesome things. And I’ve found myself lamenting (maybe for the first time ever) that I don’t have the time to be a do proper write-ups. Most of them deserve to be shared.  Thus, today I figured I would do a mind-dump of cool stuff.

What follows is a collection of awesomeness that has been culled from my readings and web-wanderings. There is no order, or logic. Hopefully you’ll find something beautiful and enjoyable.

Styrofoam Cup Art

The other day, Don’t Panic Magazine highlighted the work of Cheeming Boey, who transforms disposable garbage into beautiful art.  They’re beautiful, and awesome (even if drawing on styrofoam is kind of crazy).

Boey explains his madness like this:

You draw on styrofoam cups. But we throw those away! That’s crazy! Why do something so crazy?

I didn’t think it was crazy. People draw on napkins, receipts, wood. I was outside a coffee shop and had the urge to sketch while  people watched. I found a foam cup on top of a trash can, and it was all I had, so that was what I worked with.

It turned out nice, and I kept it. Then I made it a point to collect more, so I drew on more cups.

One day a co worker asked what I was going to do with all the cups I had around my workspace, and I said,” they’re nice, maybe I can sell them one day.” To which he said, “no one is going to buy that crap.” And here I am.

Here are a few examples of his cups. There are more on his Flickr page. If you like them, you can purchase one from Etsy.

Coffee Cup Art 1

Coffee Cup Art 2

Coffee Cup Art 3

Coffee Cup Art 4

Coffee Cup Art 5

Hvass & Hannibal

While browsing about on the website, The Fox is Black, I found a fabulous post about the work of Hvass & Hannibal. Hvass & Hannibal is a design duo based out of Denmark. They do really cool things with mixed media, origami, and color. Looking at a few of the pieces in their portfolio, I actually found myself wondering if there is anything they don’t do.

The pictures below show their facility with posters, paper, and paints.

Efterklang-Island

Hvass-Hannibal1

Hvass-Hannibal2

Magic-Hour

Book Cover Infographics

This last piece is also something I saw on the Fox is Black. It’s the cover for a book of illustrations called “We are the Friction,” created by Jez Burrows. I’m a little put off by the 2 horse deaths and wanton sex act (but apparently, there’s only one of them), but I really like the chaotic combination of type, stylized illustration, and … transparency. (It’s pretty clear what the book is about.)

We are the Friction

In a lot of ways, it feels positively Victorian, although modern. (And no, that’s not supposed to make any sense.)

 | 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 22, 2010 7:11 pm

The last couple of days have been rather difficult.  Not that anything major is amiss, but it seems like the trivial and mundane minutiae of daily life have conspired to be as difficult as possible.  (I hate it when that happens.)

Sometimes, words  simply fail to describe the of failure, dismay, or despair.  For that, there is the face palm.

To all those suffering in misery and confusion … I hope that these make you feel better.

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Source: www.asciifacepalm.com

 | December 15, 2010 2:32 am

Note: Still working on the book.

I just saw this quote from Neil Gaiman and loved it.  He’s talking about one of his cats, and why he’ll miss it when it’s gone (even though it is mean, grumpy, and dangerous).

I’ve also felt this sort of strange affection toward animals that might be, charitably, called evil. I think Gaiman does a nice job of describing why these creatures find a place in our hearts.

There used to be seven cats in this house.  There were always seven cats.  As one died off or went walkabout, never to return, another would turn up at the back door.  But two large white dogs sort of put an end to that, alas.  So as the older cats have died off, the house cat numbers have diminished.

Cocunut, who was once Maddy’s kitten, is the youngest.  He’s a very amiable, easygoing sort of cat.

And then there’s Princess, who is not amiable, and is only easygoing in the sense that the mad old lady who lives down the road and glares at you when you walk past her house is easygoing if you don’t disturb her.  Princess is the oldest cat we have.  She arrived here on June 26th, 1994, Holly’s 9th birthday.  But I’d glimpsed her at a distance, a feral ghost living wild in the woods for a good year before that.  She’s feisty and grumpy and likes making people do their trick for her, which is turning on the tap so a trickle of water comes out, and then waiting while she drinks a little.

She glares at you if you turn the tap off before she’s done.

She also likes making visitors pet her.  In the old days, she would let you know she was done being stroked by viciously sinking her teeth into you, deep and hard.  But she’s tool old for that nonsense now.  I used to have to muzzle her before I could trim her nails or remove knotted balls of fur.  Now she’ll submit to anything. Beneath the fur she weighs nothing at all …

And I just discovered that she has a lump on her left cheek.  I’ll get her to the vet… I hope it’s not something big and bad.  I’ve grown so used to having a bad tempered but beautiful cat that I need to warn visitors about.  She’s outlasted all the cats I loved and all the cats I bonded with.

And I think she’s grown very used to me.

When Zoe died, it was really easy to explain to people how much you could miss a sweet, gentle cat who was nothing but a ball of utter love.  I’m going to have a much harder time one day, months or even years from now, explaining why I miss the meanest, grumpiest, and most dangerous cat I’ve ever encountered.

I totally understand where he’s coming from.

As an example of one of my evil animals, I once had a horse that thought it necessary to buck people off and tap-dance on them.  Over the course of two years he bucked off and kicked everyone who thought they could ride him.  This includes me.  Twice.

(Most of the time, though, he was just fine.  It was just that once in a while when he felt the need to remind you he was evil where you had to be careful.  I’m not really sure what happened to that horse.  My parents waited until I was living overseas, and then sold him quietly. Now, he’s probably off running the Evil League of Evil.)

 | November 17, 2010 11:11 pm

Note: Still working on the book. Hope to be done soon.  More information will be posted when I actually finish.

image

Image Source: Odds and Ends

To the many kind people who have asked, I am still alive. Yes, I am still working on the book.  Large projects have minds of their own, and I am having a very hard time convincing this one that she should be “finished.”

Every time I think I’m nearing the gate, I discover something else that needs to be done.  Writing a book is amazingly like writing software, at least in that respect.  They are the only two activities I’ve ever done where the inside usually ends up being bigger than the outside.  (Well, that and horse training.  But for different reasons.)

You look at the size of the job and think, that won’t be so bad.  Then, once you get inside it, not only is it worse, but worse on an unimagined scale.  Things take ten times as long and you realize that you need to produce about twice as much material as you thought, only to kill half of it.

Then, you hit every bump in the road, and realize you need another illustration, but there’s no budget. So if you really want it, you’ll have to produce it yourself … which takes a long time, and further destroys your objectivity about the project … To say nothing of image licensing …  You get the picture.

Writing books is hard.

(To the million or so souls who are participating in NanoWriMo this month, I wish you my best.  May you meet your word counts and find inspiration.  And I sincerely hope you are spared from murdering your ideas.  It’s painful.)

But before I get lost in the, "Writing books is hard", rant, there is actually a purpose to this post.  I have favors to request and a couple of things to announce.  So … to the meat.

Layouts

First things up, I need to put out a request.  One of the chapters in the book is on layout and design using Scribus.  For this chapter, I would like to include nice examples of different document types.  (I’ve written on this before.)

Here is what I’m looking for, specifically:

  1. Double Page Spreads
  2. Flyers
  3. Posters
  4. Research Related Posters

I’ve created several layouts on my own, but for this chapter to work, I would love to have examples from others.  If there is anyone who wouldn’t mind having their layout work included, please contact me at:

lyx-devel@oak-tree.us

Scientific Content

There is also a second part to this request.

I really want to include one or two examples of Research Symposium posters.  The book is skewed toward an academic audience and research posters are the most visually oriented document that students/researchers produce with regularity.  Moreover, few layout/type books talk about their design, nor do they include examples.

(Or if they do, they’re utterly ghastly.  Not just bad, mind you, ghastly.)

Thus, if there are any research scientists who wouldn’t mind contributing examples, I would be tremendously appreciative.  Or, alternatively, if you wouldn’t mind contributing text and images toward an example, I would be happy to help you put one together.  You keep the copyright, a copy of all the template files, and everything else that gets generated. The only thing I need is a right to include a version in the chapter on layout and design.  Consider it free design work, even if the "designer" is mostly just an enthusiast.

(After checking multiple conference websites, AHA Scientific Sessions, HRS, and others, I don’t believe this type of use will cause problems with submissions or "prior publication."   The purpose of the chapter is to show layout, not release scientific content.  Moreover, it will be printed at a size which renders the type mostly illegible.  If you are think this might interest you and you are concerned about your work being accepted due to previous publication, please check the specific conference guidelines.)

image

If interested, please send me an email.

Spam

For the past month or so, I’ve been fighting a losing battle against comment spam.  I’m not sure why, but it seems that Akismet has mostly stopped working.  Yesterday was particularly bad and I had more than 35 variants of:

Great post man.  Love the blog!  (Click here for penis enlargement!)

I’ve already talked about why spam bothers me, so I won’t get into it a second time.  This note is mostly to talk about a couple of things I’ve done, or rather the filters I’ve installed:

  1. TanTan Noodles’ Simple Spam Filter.  This plugin comes highly recommended as a way to catch spam.  I installed it this morning.  It appears to be working.  Since installing, I haven’t seen a single spam comment.  But then, I haven’t seen a single real comment either.
  2. Anti-Captcha.  This is a technological solution meant to kill spam-bots.  It uses a bit of random trickery and nonce key to prevent automated spam submission.  Again, it comes highly recommended.

The reason I am talking about this is because, with new filters in place, I’m worried that real comments might be marked as spam.  And, what is a blog without comments?  I’m an attention whore and this website gives me a (relatively) healthy outlet for those tendencies.  (It also makes me less obnoxious in family, professional, and social gatherings.)

Comments matter to me.  If your comment gets marked as spam, please send me an email.  I’ll try and fix it.  Also, if you wouldn’t mind leaving a comment on this page to say hi, that would also be appreciated.  (I’d like to test the filters and see if they work.)

Poster PDFs

As the last piece of miscellanea, I’ve had a couple of people ask about PDF copies of my posters.  (Not just the maps, which you can find here, but the actual posters.)  There have been enough requests, that I have decided to post them.  Download options can be found on the poster page:

http://www.oak-tree.us/posters

Note: Because those particular posters actually have a specific purpose – to fund the development of LyX-Outline and Time Drive – I am charging for them. The PDF proofs of the maps are still available, and always will be.  If you would like to support Time Drive development, please consider downloading a copy.  Or, you can donate directly from the software development page.

 | November 2, 2010 4:33 am

Note: Still working on the book.  Hope to be done very soon.  Prayers, pleas, or sacrifices to deities of your choice for speed and few complications would be greatly appreciated.

Some things are simply too awesome not to share.  I overheard this snippet earlier today.

She-person: I am going to remember that.  An elephant never forgets.

He-person: Then it is good that, on many levels, you are not an elephant.  You are far too pretty, refined, and talented.  And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never actually seen you eat with your nose.

Oh!  And Happy NaNoWriMo to everyone who is participating!  Best of wishes in your wordcounts, and I sincerely hope to see you in the winners’ circle.