Thank You and Happy New Year

Happy New Year!To all my readers: Thank you, and Happy New Year for 2016. You made 2015 special for me. In this year, my readership more than doubled. I have had more visitors in 2015 than my previous two years combined. Each year, my stats have doubled over the previous year.

Clearly I must be saying something someone likes, because the numbers keep growing.

This year marks a decade blogging for me. I welcome all of you and hope my humble scribblings can continue to amuse, bemuse, inform and entertain you. I may be opinionated, but I try my best to be accurate, informed and honest with you.

Of course, I write mostly for myself, because writing is something I feel compelled to do, but also because I truly enjoy the experience of writing. And since my interests are rather eclectic, I tend to write about many things, many issues, events, ideas and philosophies, often as I encounter them.

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The Tribulations of an Evil Mastermind

Despicable MeSome days it doesn’t pay to be an evil mastermind plotting to destroy the very fabric of our community. Seriously. It’s just too damned hard keeping all the bits and pieces together.

Take today, for example. Here I was, out with my co-conspirator minions at a local restaurant this morning, trying to come up with some new, despicable act to commit and what do they want to talk about? Grand kids. The weather. Snow plow blades. Pickup trucks. The Republican candidates. Movies. Christmas dinners. New Year’s Eve plans. Monty Python skits.

Monty Python skits! How can you seriously concoct a plot to overthrow democracy when someone keeps breaking in with lines from Holy Grail or Life of Brian?  Then they go into the back-and-forth, trading lines from the cheese shop skit or the argument skit.

You just have to wait it out until the laughter dies down because you’re not supposed to bring out the whip in public places.

Worse, they had toast. Toast! Can you imagine how difficult it is to focus their nasty little minds on being evil miscreants when they’re always asking the waitress for more jam or peanut butter? And then you have to repeat everything because they can’t hear you over the crunching noises.

And don’t get me started on the interruptions for coffee refills. What kind of Machiavellian has to get up in mid-plot to go get more coffee? Everyone else has to shut up and wait until he gets back because otherwise you just have to repeat yourself all over again. As if it wasn’t bad enough doing it when they had toast.

I tell you, being an evil mastermind isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Then I was supposed to go home and print up a bunch of Evil Manifestos to distribute to the populace, and thus destroy confidence in our local government and foment the populace to revolt against them. But I ran out of printer ink.

Why does the printer never run out the day before you’re ready to run riot in the streets? Couldn’t it give you some sort of warning?

It’s really hard to get the revolution started in Staples where you spend an hour trying to figure out what printer model you own so you can buy the right ink cartridges. I mean, why can’t they give printer models names instead of those stupid code names? PRZ6103ZC2. C3PEO-455DWX. LMNOP7890.

I can’t even remember the manufacturer’s name, let alone all those letters and numbers for the model. Why don’t they make it easy? I’m an aging evil mastermind, not some twenty-something nerdy one. My computer and my car dashboard are already covered with sticky notes so I will remember to pick up milk when I’m out bringing down western society.

By the time you’ve found a sales associate (yeah, that takes a while in itself…) who can figure out which one of the 1,500 possible printer models you have and then tell you the ink’s out of stock until next week, well the glow is pretty much off the revolution by then. And even when they do come in, you have to shell out $100 for the damned things. I sometimes think I should charge people for the manifestos instead of just giving them away. Or just print them without cyan. Who needs cyan ink to ruin the world, anyway?

But then, even if I had the ink and was ready to overthrow the establishment, I have to walk the dogs first. You can’t bring down society when your dogs need to pee. You’d only have a wet spot on the carpet afterwords, if you didn’t do it beforehand.

Mrs. Evil Mastermind does not take well to wet spots on her carpet.

I tell you, I’m getting to old for this stuff. Maybe I’ll trade in my secret decoder ring (necessary for getting all that confidential information translated) and my membership card in the Despicable Me Society and stick to playing the ukulele.

Next time, I’m ordering toast, too.

Just My Type

BemboThose long legs. Gently sloping shoulders. The swelling curves above and below. The sophisticated line of the throat. Everything to attract me, to draw my aging eye, to warm my heart. The sensual Bembo. She’s my kind of type.

Bembo is one of the great Renaissance typefaces that has since been revived. It was designed by Francesco Griffo and first used in a book of poems and essays by scholar Pietro Bembo, published by printer Aldus Manutius, in 1495. Monotype recut it for modern use in 1929, digitized it in 1990 and more recently, in 2005, redesigned it for today’s printing as Bembo Book.

Bembo Book’s designer, Robin Nicholas, says this of the typeface:

Bembo was drawn to embody the elegance and fine design features of the original but marry them with the consistency of contemporary production methods… (Bembo Book) is slightly narrower than existing digital versions of Bembo, it is a little more economical in use and gives excellent colour to continuous pages of text. Ascending lowercase letters are noticeably taller than capitals, giving an elegant, refined look to the text.

Adobe also made a Bembo typeface, but it seems to have drawn criticism from the admittedly rarefied community of type aficionados. Thomas Christensen, who writes The Typehead Chronicles, says this:

Adobe Bembo, however, has received a lot of criticism in the typophilic community for not living up to the quality of the metal version. It is said to be light and spindly and to produce a palid gray page. (Some of this criticism may be overdone.)
Some recommend Minion as an alternative, but I am not a fan of Minion. Another proposed alternative is Dante, but I think it has an entirely different feel. There are a couple of new versions of Bembo-like digital fonts that might be worth looking into. One is JY Aetna by Jack Yan. Another is the new Yale typeface by Matthew Carter, but it is only “available to Yale employees, students, and authorized contractors for use in Yale publications and communications,” a restriction that is a giant step backward.
Now, in 2005, Monotype has released a new digital version of Bembo, called Bembo Book. It is said that this version restored many of the admirable qualities of the letterpress Bembo…

Although dismissed by Christensen, Robert Bringhurst’s book, The Elements of Typographic Style, is set in Minion (with captions in Scala Sans), possibly because it doesn’t intrude into the language and the message (Bringhurst shows many typefaces in his examples). For the most part, a typeface should not be visible to the reader any more than a  window pane is to someone looking outside.

But it will be visible to a typographer or graphic artist, much like one magician knows another magician’s tricks. The trained eye will see how the text flows, how the eye is directed, how well the elements balance.

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Architeuthis dux redux

Imagine swimming beside a giant squid. That’s what happened recently to some Japanese divers, on Xmas eve, who happened to have the presence of mind to film this extraordinary event. The video, above, shows the animal in its glory. Stunningly beautiful.*

Giant squid are rarely seen, and generally inhabit much deeper waters than humans can reach. Having one close enough to touch is bother exhilarating and – I suspect – terrifying. They are, after all, large, efficient carnivores. This one, however, was a baby at 3.7m.

Surprisingly, the divers believed the animal was lost and gently pushed it in the direction of the deeper water. Frankly, given the Japanese predilection for slaughtering whales, I hadn’t expected this kind of humane behaviour towards another large sea dweller.

These squid have been seen by sailors for centuries. Marks have been found on sperm whales, as well as squid parts found in their stomachs. A few dead squid bodies have washed ashore, but seldom have we come close enough to one in the water to make a positive identification.

Then in 2006, a Japanese vessel videotaped a 3.5m female which had grabbed some bait and been hauled to the surface. That’s small for an animal that can reach 13m. The first time this elusive creature was caught live on camera in its natural, deep-water habitat, was in 2012.

Now we have this remarkable and clear video. It’s simply stunning footage.

~~~~~

* Architeuthis is, of course,  an invertebrate and moves through the water with great grace, as you can see by the video. They are quite different from the sessile invertebrates who write local blogs and newspaper columns, and lack any semblance of grace.

PE5: Corel’s Wrong Direction

Way back in 1990, a program called Fractal Painter was published by Fractal Design. It offered a “natural media” approach to digital art: mimicking real world art tools and media in the digital environment. You could  – if you had more artistic skills than I – make an image onscreen that looked like it was a photo of a real-media image. Images had texture, oils had highlights. You could mix colours like you do in real life.

It was brilliant, exciting and ground-breaking stuff.

In 1997, after gobbling up several other products (including Poser 3D), the company became Metacreations, but it and extended itself a little too far, and split into fragments that were individually acquired by Microsoft and Corel.*

Corel continued to publish – and enhance – Painter. It turned Painter into the foremost “natural media” digital art program on the market. Its latest incarnation is Painter 2016, a remarkable and powerful art program that sells for $500.

The price, however, deterred many users who wanted a simple art program for non-commercial uses or to just make art-like variations of their digital photographs. So Corel developed Painter Essentials,  at a modest (under $50) price. PE was, essentially, Painter-light, offering a stripped-down subset of Painter tools.

The big draw in Painter Essentials (PE) was its auto-paint feature. It automated the brush and pen strokes. With a few clicks, users could turn a digital image (a photograph, for example) into an art-like rendition. Oil, charcoal, pencil, watercolour, impressionist, modern, pen-and-ink… just a few easy clicks to create an art-like image. Even watching the process work was mesmerizing.

Want a photo to look like a charcoal sketch? A watercolour? A Cezanne or Van Gogh painting? PE 4 had those options. But better yet, it had options to control the brush size, colours, canvas, stroke frequency and so on in each category. That meant users could personalize images in many ways previously unavailable except at much higher cost.

People loved PE. It filled a need for creating beautiful art without the effort, time or cost of Painter, but without the talent required to use all those tools. It offered enough control to make each resulting image unique and give users a feeling they had accomplished something other than just clicking.

It had many powerful tools and features – Painter’s brushes – to make it more than a toy.

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