SMICK.NET | Website of Mike Smick Graphics and Web Developer

The Forgotten Adobe Customers

Adobe has announced their move to Creative Cloud this week.  And though it seems like a great deal to some, I’m beyond skeptical and downright disappointed. For one thing, it’s not really a great price as far as cloud storage goes. To get 20 GB of space, you can spend a heck of a lot less on your own hosting where a much smaller number of people will be hitting your own server every day. So your throughput will be better elsewhere for less money.

I’m sure Adobe knows who their customers are right? But I think they will find after a while, these forgotten user-types will have stopped buying the software and Adobe is going to miss it.  Will somehow the funds recovered from piracy make up for it?  Maybe. Or will the pirates just continue to pirate the best version out there?

The Administrative Assistant

This user is employed at small or medium business, like an architectural firm and the boxed Creative Suite Standard was purchased for them for occasional uses such as photo work, newsletter development, presentation graphics. The facts about this user are interesting. They don’t actually need the Creative Suite. It’s way too powerful for the kind of superficial edits that it will be used for. Lucky for Adobe though, the company boss purchases the license for the potential use by the employee. And it’s convenient for them to have the software around.  They get it installed and don’t have to think about it much.

The IT Guy with a Creative itch

This is a very common archetype if you will. The IT guy might own his own copy or convinced the boss to purchase the extra license.  The IT guy bangs on the companies fledgling website using Dreamweaver and a little Photoshop. Of course his graphics always display out of proportion, but things work. Maybe he’s aware of other options for web development, but this is the tool he knows is popular and was easy enough to get started and find tutorials. . Again seeing the potential of it’s use over time, it was a purchase made to get tasks done and scratch that itch.

The Retiree Hobbyist

He or she has graduated their careers and maybe is moving into a new hobby or startup doing weddings or nature videography / photography, and to maybe play around with music a bit.  Sure their Windows computer has the movie maker software on it but they never bothered to notice.  The Video Collection was a steep purchase, but they were sure they will have EVERYTHING they need to get things done. Because they often get stuck on things, weeks or months will go by on projects because they aren’t sure how to complete various tasks. They also have the patience and available time to return to something completed and rework it after they’ve learned a new technique.

The Disenchanted Freelancer

This person is me.  Not on the continuous upgrade path, but willing to spend on the new Adobe Collection every odd or even version to stay up to date with colleagues and vendors. Things are expensive to stay current but on the plus side, a having those older boxed versions to outfit a second computer for an intern or collaborator, or to make an aging machine capable has been great.  As far a loyalty goes, a freelancer is about the best Adobe can hope for. Despite being more than capable of learning other tools, the freelancer uses Adobe because it’s convenient. The freelancer owns his / her own company name. They like having their own systems in place. They like not having a boss to tell them what to spend time and energy on.

All of these users are valuable customers and revenue for Adobe. And yet all of them represent a thin thread, easily broken.  That thin thread for many was the creative potential that owning your own software brings. Sure they won’t be able to crank out webpages, or videos or right away, but if they can sit on it for a while, let the ideas digest and come to fruition.  Then they can make something special or useful.  Or they won’t. But the point was the potential. With Creative Cloud, you remove that potential.

The disenchanted freelancer will sign on for a month when absolutely necessary to fix up a problem in an incompatible proprietary file, but otherwise, there’s no benefit to paying to borrow software for many of us.  Ask the IT guy whether he’s cool with yet another subscription. I mean he only pays for TV, ESPN, HBO, Family Cell Phone plan, kids hockey, Netflix.  Will the boss pay for a creative cloud subscription for the admin assistant or will he figure out that Office has Publisher and she can use Picasa or some online photo editor to handle the image crops. And the Retiree? Good luck getting his money now on something he’s only using 11% of realistically.

I’m not sure presenting people with the decision every month or even every year if they want to keep using the Creative Cloud is a good idea.  Because it’s a reminder of whether or not it’s worth their time or money. Whereas before somebody only had to worry about if they were living up to their creative potential.

May 9, 2013 at 10:45 am | computers, design, freelance, graphics, publishing, rants | No comment

Free and open source CMS’s that don’t suck

Other than for a couple outlying examples, a CMS is the right choice for a website, period. Now keep in mind though, the the point is to make your site easier to update and retain flexibility that you need. A CMS can be an enabler.  What a CMS often does though is put you in a position where a slight modification on a single page requires you to go back to the drawing board and figure out how this odd page will still work. Unless of course a plugin or two will save the day.

But I wanted to recommend a few that you may not have heard of, content management systems that just rock. Everyone needs choices, especially in technology.

WordPress

You probably know about this one. It is awesome. I have used it for years and I’ve bought some of the best open source commercial add-ons for it because it’s a mainstay. But I want you to know that even WordPress can make your life difficult when you want to customize a single page or section. It’s great when the plugins work and solve the problem, but sometimes they just don’t and you’ll be building something outside scope that can take you a while. So you have to keep the ROI in check. Good planning will tell you how WordPress will make you happy and make you sad.  WordPress.org

ModX

I hope you know about ModX. Because it’s genius. It takes the good parts of a CMS and adds in a feature called snippets. These are chunks of code such as PHP or Javascript code and insert it into a post easily. You can store these snippets and use when you like with an easy tag added in the page editor. Unlike WordPress, ModX makes this easy and makes it more attractive for some projects.  Get revolution from ModX.com

Concrete5

Concrete5 looks so beautiful. The method they use to log in and break up a page, which allows on-page editing is something you’ll really be able to sell your clients and friends on using. Buy the add ons, support a good open source system and you’ll see how everybody wins. Concrete5.org

Fork

Another extensible open system. The name itself encourages you to open it up, tinker and continue development. Fork-cms.com

SilverStripe

Like a few of the others, this system presents no limits to how you want your site designed. It offers modules and widgets to cleanly extend your site’s capabilities. They also have a vibrate community and some very professional training videos. silverstripe.org

Wolf

Wolf CMS has the php coder in mind. You can publish regular text of course in the CMS editor to make your pages, but the real benefit comes because you can add PHP code, loops and things right in the editor. This is often shunned by other CMS’s, but it is a welcome feature. So you might expect as this is built for coders, it might have an interface that you’d want to avoid. Not so, in fact it offers one of the cleanest admin sites I’ve seen. wolfcms.org

Symphony

I’m not sure this would be my first choice, however Symphony is unique in that it uses XSLT as the templating background. The system is efficient and the way it handles dynamically resizing of images is unique and quite clever. symphony-cms.com

Whichever you go with, make sure you find the sources of support that help you the most. If you want to pay to get an annual support package from the company, that’s one thing. If you’d like to just know there are a few hundred people lurking in that CMS forum, then you can post questions as you build and tweak your next website using the CMS that suits you best.

October 26, 2011 at 4:20 am | publishing, webdev | 2 comments

Fighting the PDF web problem

PDFs are a pain. They are VERY good for a few things, but they make sharing difficult because of a few reasons. 1 is for mobile browsing, the browser has to handle the PDF, download it, launch the client. And so many sites don’t identify the download size of a PDF, or alert you in the first place that the link is a PDF.

Because of the annoyances embedding converted PDFs has become somewhat popular, taking a PDF, converting it using a 3rd party service and them embedding it using Flash or a unified Javascript / HTML player.

These are somewhat improved over a straight PDF embed and download. But you’ll find some services are better, faster or cheaper than others. And if you’re taking the time to optimize, upload and embed your document, you want it to be available for the future and easily accessed.

Scribd is arguably the most popular doc embed services. They went from a Flash player to a very capable HTML5 player. It works well and renders fast. It also has a great full screen feature. But for downloading and printing, your visitors will have to login to the service which is annoying, jarring and takes them away from your site. It’s not that the reasoning of Scribd isn’t clear, it’s just not the model many of us would like.

In any case, I wanted to keep this short and offer you a few ways to get docs online and embed them to get around the PDF problem. One only hopes these technologies don’t introduce a host of new problems for you.

September 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm | media, publishing, webdev | No comment

My plans for 2011

I’ve had a great 2010. I watched my beautiful son in his first year, did some home improvements, had a lot of fun riding my bike. Went to Japan again. But I also have a lot of empty spaces. Well intentioned things left undone. And I want you to know, I write this up not because I think I need to somehow be more of a person to be worthy or loved, but because life is short and a little more pressure and alignment with my life goals is a great thing.

So here’s my list of things to crank on for this year under my chosen categories.

Health, Fitness and BMX

I used to run pretty frequently, and I did run a couple miles maybe 2 weeks ago, but I’ve started to let that slide. Mostly because winter kills my motivation. Luckily there’s a new image of motivation helping me during this winter… This.

It’s a photo of a guy in Belarus, a republic in eastern Europe. I don’t need to explain what’s going in this pic do I? Not only does this make me laugh thinking about it. It’s also an example of some of the eccentric badassery in the world that is unfortunately in short supply around me. So I’ve got my plan to do winter runs. Do them because they suck, but also because they are a small form of badassery. Much more rewarding afterwards than during. (Well except for the part where the thick air made you taste like you’re coughing up blood for 2 hours afterwards.)

BMX. My passion is Flatland BMX, no doubt. Running is fun, but nothing beats coasting on the front wheel of my flatland bike, spinning, switches, scuff tricks. I’m extremely excited to say I ramped up my riding in 2010 to levels not seen since college. But it’s not enough. I’ve got a few stunts to pick up and practice from that I demand from myself in 2011. Not that most people care, but making gains in this sport matter to me, even if I know I’ll likely never be a Matt Wilhelm, Simon O’Brien or Matthias Dandois. (Video links of those guys in action)  I believe that to get good, you have to go out with a mission every day, an agenda of what to accomplish. Usually I figure that out once I get there, or I’m just on fire in my mind, something burning to be learned that I’ve been visualizing over and over. That needs to continue and be exploited. I’ve had a hard time riding in this weather, so getting around that problem is next. By warmer weather, I intend to participate in more shows just like I did in 2010.

Knowledge

I want to read one book a month. That’s reasonable right? There are a few classics I need to get to as well as some newer books that I own that have been untouched. Couple classics to mention, Great Gatsby, Art of War, and biographys of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Some newer ones to enjoy, Where ideas come from, Hitch-22 and something by Seth Godin.

I also want to write a book this year. Doesn’t need to be awesome, it just needs to be a contribution. I think I want it to be a book to my son, so far anyway. And it can include pictures / photos or not. Actually I’ve already started this book, but it’s not had a direction. That’s all it needs, focus and continuous contribution.

The last part of knowledge I’m stealing from a writer, Steven Johnson. In a book he wrote (and I’ve read this before.) he said most of the great idea people always had their notebook with him to record their ideas, document their experiences and work and their findings. I’ve started to do this already. It’s no masterpiece, but I found the book I like and filling it in has been helpful. I feel better knowing that interesting quotes and observations are slowly making their way into my little archive. I’ve always wanted a book like that to pick up 40 years later to say “wow” this is a fun little legacy keepsake. I’m not gonna lie here, basically I want my own grail diary from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I’ve always wanted one of those. Or my own DaVinci notebook.

Freelance

The bottom line on this topic my freelance work needs a reboot. I’ve tired of my web company name, SmickWorks. Too many company use the word “Works” in the name and I need something that feels a little more fun and unique. I don’t mind changing things up and I think the right name will draw the right clients. I don’t take on too many clients because I’m too busy in life, but I desire to keep my company strong and to always have it ready for when it can take an uplifting turn to something bigger. Let me quote Steve Jobs, I want to make a dent in the universe with this one, but despite not always knowing how, I’ve gotta set myself up that way. And if it’s my son who ends up building from a foundation here, then I’m more than happy to let him make the dent.

Not to get too far off course here because this is more important in the short term. I’m ashamed to say it, but I’ve allowed the clutter around me to drain me and to let my freelance projects slip. I’m embarrassed to say it and if you’re a client who has suffered waiting for things longer than you should have. I can only say I’m sorry and I don’t mean to put anyone through that. The road to good intentions is paved with milk and cookies, or however that saying goes. BUT I realized that I don’t have a simple enough way to keep my project tasks in order. Emails, phone calls, text messages. My requests come in and I just can’t seem to keep it all in my mind when I need it.

To combat this, I’ll be installing a very cool Issue Tracking app on my website. What this will do is allow me to post project and bug fixes to the database. And I always know where to look. Not only that, but I can set up my contact form on my websites to auto-generate an project request. So it doesn’t have to be a complicated extra step or require sending logins to clients.

I have a few freelance projects I intend to do. Both are actually secret, but they are 2 websites I think need addressing. And this is all doable. Nothing amazing required except for the desire and follow through.

Learning in my field of web and design.

Outside the regular book reading I want to do, there are gains I want to make in my work. I’ve never been a trained artist or a programmer. I’ve tried to fill the shoes wherever I could. Sometimes that meant looking for the right solution premade because I couldn’t do it myself. And that will get you pretty far, but I have a few areas where I think I can be more helpful (and enjoy my work). That would be learning Javascript (JQuery) and PHP. There are a massive number of resources to do this. Too many actually. But the key is to stick to something and practice. That’s it.

Other than Javascript, I want to dabble a little in IIS web server so I understand how it works. And install a few instances of Dot Net Nuke to see where it will help me, if at all. At work we have a need for one-off microsites and it might be a good way to deploy them. Or not. But I’ll never know if I don’t jump in.

Besides Dot Net, there are a few Content Management Systems I want to work on. I’d like to work more with ModX CMS, Mediawiki, and MindTouch Deki. I’d also like to continue to use WordPress and maybe try out WebGUI.

I’ve already kinda mastered 2D graphics software, but my art still needs a lot of work. That’s why I’m so happy my wife bought me this sketchbook called 642 Things to Draw. It’s a book of blank pages, but it has labeled spaces for certain things to sketch in the spot. So it narrows focus. That is awesome. I want to make a big dent in this, getting about 80 drawings into their spots. When I was little, I remember my dad helping me with a drawing, he did a really good job. I think having a sketchbook to give to my son might inspire him to learn how to see and practice the craft too.

Another end to exploit is video. I’m actually pretty flipping good at video when I eventually get onto the editing suite. I’m NOT good at thinkng about video projects because the amount of footage overwhelms me before I even open the tapes or files. I procrastinate on that. The difference now is, well I’ve got a kid and a life and an opportunity to share things with his family overseas. So video is the way to do that properly. And it’s a skill I want to teach him and I want to document our experiences that way. So I’ll be adding short videos to my monthly projects. Not enough to overwhelm. But things to get done.

Lastly in terms of planned learning, I want to get my head around the latest incarnation of Blender 3D. I haven’t worked with 3D for a while. I’ve played around a bit, but there is a lot to enjoy when you can get around the software. Since Blender changed so much I’ve avoided it to see where it finishes. But it’s pretty much where it’s going to be in terms of interface and so I need to dig in. Plus it will help me contribute to projects and solve visual problems.

Finishing projects

I’m ashamed to say it, but I’ve got a lot of half-finished projects I must address. These are videos and websites. I’ve made some promises, but kept the deadlines as soft. This has got to stop. Because if you’ve ever read anything about Getting Things Done, there’s a premise in that book that says projects that are unfinished make your brain always have to work harder because it’s always looping back to them. The more things in the done pile the better you’ll feel. I’d venture to say that unfinished projects even pulling softly at you could even affect your health.  Time to knock out those. Most if not all could be finished by March if I don’t pile anything else on them.

Family

My son is almost one years old. My wife has spent most of the year cooped up in the house and not seeing a lot of outside. Some by choice, but I think introducing activities will help Andrew’s brain and let us enjoy our lives more. So I’ll be cooking up at first, monthly outings and then maybe increase that. Part of the things that can help a lot are family home projects that also need addressing. I’ve never been particularly good at them, but it’s not that I can’t work on them. I just too often choose not too. I have a basement to get situated, and a few wood projects and trim work. Those will be done in 2011 even if I have to enlist my dad.

Blogging in the ole notebook

A hundred thousand people will be resolving this year to write in their blog in order to make something meaninful. I’ve kept mine for years and several times made commitments to fill it up daily or weekly. BUT what I never did was create an editorial calendar to schedule blog posts. And that’s what I just did now. I used a google doc spreadsheet that lists the 52 weeks of the year. And I’ve made columns for each of those weeks to list a 1st blog topic and a 2nd blog topic. Two blog posts a week could be one post covering graphics, design or other area of my interest. Topic 2 can be related to family or photo post, or could be a contribution for my upcoming book. Filling in these areas on the editorial calendar is the important thing. I already know I can write. It’s the habit I need. I’ve already made twitter a habit by using a few tools and slightly modifying my routine. That will be helpful to lead into expanding tweets into full posts. Not only that, but I’d like to see my blog be a little more relevant and interesting to friends, family and colleagues. It’s always been challenging mixing the 2 topics, but 1 post per week of both types will let me do that. One challenge will be that I also operate 2 other blogs, Snackhunting.com, and Readerwar.com. Trying to contribute to all of those is probably too much on a weekly basis. I think that’s ok though. My editorial calendar will help me iron out how to space those as well.

Sleep

Most of my issues in life are the result of a degree of discipline, focus and being energized and ready when I need to be. Sleep has always been hard for me because my cycle seems to be longer than most. Meaning I don’t get tired at 11pm, I get a second wind, that can take me to 4am without any effort. But I admire more the ability to wake up early being prepared to handle tasks. I’d like to beat a few people into work each day and even do morning exercise before breakfast, like the runs I mentioned earlier. I can do that if I make a habit of sleeping a little earlier. A fresh routine with the proper sleep-wake, wake-sleep transitions will help. This might be the hardest though. Because I tend to love the quiet of the night. But when you go to bed earlier, actually you can still get the quiet stillness of the night, just that it’s the after you’ve had full nights rest this time. I need a few tools for this one I think. On my own I’ll probably fail. If any of you have suggestions, please send them along!

So that’s a big list, but nothing too crazy, and it aligns with what I want to do just fine. I think that it will make a great year for me. Just have to read it over, stick to it.

December 31, 2010 at 8:19 am | family, inspiration, learning, publishing, writing | No comment

Yahoo! is not shutting down Delicious social bookmarking

Update: I knew I was rigth on this one. Not that I had actual facts, but just because of critical thinking. Delicious may live somewhere else. (Why not keep the same domain too!) A blog from the Delicious team confirms it will live, though the actual posting is down at the time of this writing.

* * *

No web service is certain. Del.icio.us, or Delicious.com has been around for years and is no exception. So you always take a risk in depending on the cloud, using a free service. And given what happens to Yahoo services like Geocities for example, we’ve been shown that web services from Yahoo can be vulnerable despite their longevity.

Screenshot of Bookmarking and tagging a link on Delicious

But Delicious should be more immune than a lot of other fly-by-night web services. It represents a very important informational center with a long history in web years. Not only that, but as boring as bookmarks might seem it also makes up a unique and usable social network. Using Delicious, I can gauge interest in a particular subject, participate in the promotion of something, and find things that I wouldn’t normally be exposed to. I can locate like-minded people and get a hell of a lot of entertainment from all this information.

I was understandably shocked at the articles about the “sunsetting” of Delicious and a screengrab of an internal presentation at Yahoo! that proves it.  But here’s why I don’t think we have to worry.

We have entered the period where data visualization is JUST about to get a hell of a lot more interesting to a lot more people.  Touch devices in the hands of millions, tablets and readers set to become mainstays, phones, large format screens. This is the age where reading data live and interactive is going to enhance people’s lives.  There is NO slowdown. And let me quote Joshua Schachter, an original creator of Delicious, “Showing a user how popular his actions are is inevitably addictive.”

Ever since I watched this TED talk on Data Visualization by Hans Rosling I’ve understood how meaningful this is.  Services and tools that can be used for trending in more animated ways are here and are coming.

A problem with delicious is that it can be misused and spammed. This hasn’t been much of an issue for most of us though. The popular feeds may contain uninteresting items, but they don’t make up the majority of bookmarks and things will be uninteresting whether they be spambot or deliberate human bookmarks so users expect anomalies and know how to ignore them. They also don’t infect the more specific or specialized tags so the more you need good specific data, the less you’ll see spammy residue.

Let me point to the main reason I’m not convinced of it’s closing Delicious.  PR is a bitch. A user revolt on Yahoo is NOT what they need right now along with an impending layoff. They can call it a service that doesn’t align with their goals. But social bookmarking, whether they like it or not is a service people want and need.  I personally have invested enough time to generate close to 8000 bookmarks of my own. The beauty of it is, even though many of my stored links have probably expired (from dead sites) there is an extraordinary amount of data in Delicious, and feeds are generated from every which way. The mining of that data is valuable, but only if the service remains current.

If people who use Delicious and Yahoo are stripped from their Delicious collection and the ability to use, track and follow the site, you’re going to see blowback in the form of cancelled Yahoo Mail accounts across the board. Delicious being a very “hackable” simple system and has gathered followers that respect that kind of software. Those same followers aren’t ones you want to cross. Because those same people blog, promote and above all, complain in all the right spaces.

Yahoo isn’t ready for the backlash. They aren’t prepared to lose their ass over a simple site. Time to man up, get the right people, lean and mean on the job creating the next generation of tools used to view and data mine all these wonderful resources. And then selling those tools to the tablet content creators, to the tablet owners, to the digital signage companies, making them offers they can’t refuse. That is how Delicious will continue, through exploiting it from the inside and outside. Because as long as the data remains for the majority of us to share easily and hack a little bit, how it’s sold and marketed doesn’t really affect us. After all, we chose to make these things public because we want this data to be seen and found.

December 17, 2010 at 5:32 am | computers, media, publishing, tools, webdev | No comment

A clever visual mystery for a Facebook promotion

WOWIO books is an online ebook marketplace.  I stumbled across their site today as one often does in this world. What I encountered was so simple and clever it has to be shared.

One of their home feature banners offers a free Ebook, but you don’t know what it is, just that it’s a graphic novel. Of course you want to click to find out, they grab you with the mystery and the FREE, which is a real whammy.

Next you are transported to their facebook page. Actually they tell you this will happen, but you didn’t read that because you were too busy imagining the free awesomeness of a mystery revealed.

Then very clear instructions. You know you want the ebook, just press Like, as in become a Facebook fan.

Then a nice satisfying landing page to download the ebook. All within the WOWIO Facebook page in a customer “Offer” tab.

Fun, clever and a great use of visuals for a simple promotion.  The power of ebooks is that they are both flexible and attractive like that. They serve as a great free gift, because they have an emotional value to them. I feel bad ruining the mystery of this offer, but it’s worth it to point out what you can do with just a few images.

Nice job WOWIO. I’m your newest Facebook fan or “Likeee” or whatever you might call it.

October 25, 2010 at 9:43 pm | books, games, graphics, inspiration, interesting, media, publishing, webdev | 1 comment

Xara Xtreme Pro 5.1 graphics software

If you’re into the digital graphics for a hobby or work, you’ve been told that Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are the industry standard. This is certainly true, but the “standard” doesn’t mean better in all aspects. Xara Xtreme is one of the few lesser-known alternatives that in some areas measurably outperforms Adobe’s offerings. I’ve been using it for several years. I fell in love when I saw the speed and clean interface of the program. Multiple updates over the past couple years have made it even more flexible. I always enjoy telling people about it because it’s simplicity and performance is surprising.

Some notable favorite features for me including some new ones out with the latest 5.1 version:

There are limits to Xara’s superiority. Looking at Illustrator, you can tell it has a great deal more features, just look at Illustrator’s Effect menu. But if I had Xara when I was learning vector graphics instead of Illustrator or Freehand, I think I would have enjoyed the process much more. I also believe if Adobe Flash had Xara’s tools for vector drawing it would also be a better program by far. I’ve often composed in Xara just to export to Flash in order to bypass some of Flash’s clumsiness. In short, I want Adobe to be more like Xara, just as much as I’d like a few things in Xara that Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and even the new and free Inkscape has. I have other “underdog” programs that I swear by, but this is the big one that I happily pay for.

Downsides of Xara, first it’s only on Windows. Linux users can use an older open source free version of Xtreme, but is hasn’t been feature-developed since 2007. This free version is fast and certainly good, but it’s missing some terrific features that Windows has. Mac has no Xara and I wish it did.  Also there are some file import issues I’ve found. Fore example, sharing SVG and EPS files has given me plenty of frowns. Sure it’s not a big deal when you control everything, but when you need to collaborate with others, or send files to print, you need reliability. Also despite the type features having massive improvements over the past few years, you will find InDesign a little better for you for composing most longer documents. I could think of a few more issues, but I could dig for more in any software.

Xara Xtreme has become over the years a must-have tool. Adobe users have become converts plenty of times, after being hypnotized by its beauty.  Even though I really love most of Adobe’s collection, Xara does certain tasks better and faster. You’ll use it for full graphic and page creation, enjoy it’s speed for mockups and maybe as a thinking tool before you’d open anything else. I love working with objects, breaking them apart, modifying shapes. The projects I’ve been able to do solely in Xara such as illustrations and diagrams, I’ve nearly always completed more efficiently than I could with other tools, and with a lot of enjoyment.

www.xara.com

June 11, 2009 at 4:23 am | 3D, design, graphics, publishing, tools, webdev | No comment

Great little bookstore

I’m giving a little promotional shout-out to a cute little store in Webster Groves, St. Louis.  If you are in the neighborhood, stop into Pudd’nhead Bookstore.  The reasons I appreciate this store and want to give the owner Nikki compliments is because they are doing a great job picking out a very enthralling collection for retail.  It makes browsing fun, and where many small book stores bore me, she seems to be able to sync with people’s characters. Also she’s very excited about the best books and hopes others will get the enjoyment too. That’s love.  These days you can get almost anything online, so it’s important that when a local store inventory is smaller that a store can still put a smile on your face. The books really need to grab you.  And you can’t just stock the popular books that are at the grocery store, you have to take risks.

Pudd'nhead books logo

Noteworthy items on the shelf, The Anarchist’s Cookbook, which probably frightens off some, but it reminds me that it takes strength to not censor yourself and face danger and reality head on. Books can be powerful and dangerous and still we shouldn’t hide knowledge from people even when it seems like a book has little redeeming value. A design book by Ellen Lupton was another gem. My favorite by far was the entire section called “Economic Meltdown.” That is class my friends.

Visit Pudd’nhead Books on the web and I hope you can appreciate them as much as I did. Sometimes places are best when you discover them yourself.  So forget I said anything and next time you’re in Webster, go where the wind takes you. Maybe get a coffee there while you’re at it.

December 11, 2008 at 3:45 am | books, interesting, publishing | 1 comment

What makes websites lame

So I was reading this page, 21 Factors that influence website first impressions

I started writing this long comment on that posting, and after about 80,000 words I thought, “screw improving this guys site with my genius comment, I’m writing my own posting.”

So here it is with a dark and negative flavor. Let me start with my fist annoyance. Some time in the past few years, some guru destroyed the internet by convincing thousands of web developers and bloggers and marketing scammers that the best way to drive traffic to their site was to create “Top Ten” lists. The top ten is the new sex. It sells. Unlike sex, Top Tens have gotten really old. And so have top 5, 20, 11, 99 or any other kind of list. You are not David Letterman and your list isn’t nearly as useful as you think it is. In fact, it’s the least enlightening thing I’ve read all decade. But surely it got you some visitor traffic. Which is my problem with it. The average butthead is reading your stupid post when they should be reading thought-provoking nine page articles on foreign policy that aren’t getting the attention they deserve. That highly educated journalist is starving while your dumb ass just made enough adsense money to buy an oversized shower head from Amazon.com.

Just to be clear here, I’m not making fun of the author(s) I linked to above from Vandelay web design. This is about lists in general. His wasn’t too bad, but I skimmed it, which is another problem with these lists. They are so easy to skim, they encourage you to stop reading paragraphs all together. Which encourages fake learning through unfocused consumption. That’s what TV is for. Here on the web, we should have higher aspirations.

Speaking of potatoes au gratin, heres my next problem with lame websites. Now that 27 inch monitors are like $18 bucks, everyone has them. Which means that 9pt font size that used to be great back on EVGA, now looks like hollywood hacker type. And Jesus, please stop using Verdana. It’s really gross. I have been told that at one point Verdana had a purpose, but since I just told you not to use small type, you know now that you musn’t use Verdana. It has sucked since 2001. Especially for headlines. Ugh. When I think of Verdana, all I can think of is if Madonna had a sister, she would be named Verdana and she would be disproportionate, ugly, unfunny, lonely and always eating sugary cereal.

The next problem, or if you want to be a corporate wimp, the next “challenge” is the site that looks to be legitimate news site but is swelling from bias and propaganda. One of these is foxnews.com, but it’s not the worst surprisingly. I’m way too tired to even look for them, but they are bound to pop up somewhere for you. They are ruining everything, mostly because they are written by conspiracy sheep or the wrong kind of republican. So if you ever think you want to make a community based news site, let me totally encourage you by saying go for it, as long as you can actually tell the truth.

Next we have sites with imagery dysfunction. In other words, you don’t know how to work with graphics whatsoever, and yet your site has more graphics than a Tijuana hooker? I guess, people long ago, back in 1995 had nothing to do but build very horrid gif animations and offer them as freebie downloads, while making popup advertising money. Those who bought or downloaded those spinning candy cane horizontal lines, or the 3D cats, or anything blinky decided that their website might get lonely without them. I mean hey, who needs white space when you can have that sweet hit counter?

Continuing on, there are still about 500,000 sites out there with background colors that will blow your ears off. There aren’t laws of the web, but let me just write the first and only one. If you are making your first website, you are allowed to use for your background, either #FFFFFF or #EEEEEE as your background colors.

More graphic fun, my personal favorite in fact, the stretched image. This particular problem shouts out that you A.) used MS FrontPage Express to make your site and B.) you don’t care about human proportion at all. What kills me is that it’s nearly always a womans portrait photo that is stretched the worst. The type of woman who spends womanly-time putting together her best look, the public speakers, influential lawyers, and yet being stretched and gaining or losing 100lbs in the photo somehow goes unnoticed for years.

Add to that, processor eating javascript effects, mostly which are totally useless. My latest one is the moveable sidebars. Who started this? I don’t want to drag around your sidebars and customize your blog. Besides, its not like it saves changes anyway. Just make them static. If I want to stylize websites, I’ll make my own browser stylesheet or use Aardvark firefox extension to remove or add things to your pages. If your site was any good, you wouldn’t have to bother with these javascript toys anyway.

I also hate bad forms. Forms that don’t indicate they were actually sent, or ones that request too much information for their purpose. Or my favorite, the ones that make you type in dashes for the phone number. But hey, your arbitrary database rules are much more important than my time aren’t they? It’s not like you could spend an extra 5 minutes implementing a few checks. How about Law #2, no more requesting phone numbers. What you want to call me? We can have an intimate conversation on the phone. You think I want you to call me? I’ll bet 98% of the shady looking shopping sites out there asking for YOUR phone number aren’t listing their own phone number for you to call. And you know what, here’s website law #3. Online Survey’s must NEVER have any required fields, except maybe a spam captcha. I’m doing YOU a favor by filling your survey. You gotta be pretty goddamn cocky to think that your radio button selections cover the gamut of my experience with your product. If I want to leave a question blank then you let me do it, or I will abandon you forever. Shit-for-brains.

I also despise signing up for things, so stop bugging me about your newsletter and how it can deliver your content to me often and more efficiently. I’ve seen every manner of newsletter popup, slide in, roll down. Screw off will ya?

Meh. I guess that’s about it. As all the top ten lists promise, if you follow these directions you will be successful. Now stop reading this crap and spend some time with your family.

November 28, 2007 at 7:08 pm | general, publishing, rants | No comment

Gutenberg rolls over in his grave

I just started a project for a coworker who got married last night. And before I tell you about it, there is a quote “we will always do more for others, than we will do for ourselves” which is so very, very true.

The project is: Me and Tracey Zoeller are combining the photos we took at a coworker Mike’s lovely little outdoor wedding and putting them into a printed hardcover book created through blurb.com. What a cool thing you can do and for under fifty bucks. Blurb gives you some decent software to put your book all together. We’re really excited to see what we can make. My friend Susan pointed me to an article on slate.com about some of the new online photo book creator services that were reviewed. I wanted to take a look at the review to make sure we were making the right choice.
My favorite quote from the article:

“All the Web sites promised that the books were easy to make. They lied. The simplest site required two hours of pointing and clicking. Some books took as long as four hours to create.”

Tragic isn’t it that the author had to endure such an ordeal? I mean really, how awful. You might compare it to the fate of Nelson Mandela, or Senator John McCain in Vietnam. Next you’ll be telling me that it’s going to take a full thirteen days to rebuild the World Trade center. She had to point AND even click for two hours to create her book. Reminds me of that really difficult day I had at my job recently. To complete a task, I literally had to get out of my own chair and walk down a flight of stairs. God I hope I don’t have to do anything like that ever again.

Being part of the publishing business, I know that books are rarely simple, but we must strive for efficiency and ease. There shouldn’t be any barriers to finishing your project quickly right? The other side is, I have no hope for future customers if people can no longer spend a few hours on a project, personal or not. Every video I’ve ever spent time with was a minimum of ten hours, personal or work. Even blogging this takes a couple minutes.

Perhaps the author would like to step back in time about fifteen years and see what it takes to put together a hardbacked, full color personalized photography book. About ten grand I’d say, with a minimum order of 500 copies. You have to draw it on layout paper, then take a cropper ruler and make the grease pen tick marks to every cropped image. And gasp, no world wide web. I’ve heard how the world is so advanced now that people from yesteryear couldn’t survive in this fast paced climate. I think it’s the other way around.

June 9, 2006 at 3:53 pm | computers, media, publishing, rants | No comment