concept to publication

Month: April 2008 Page 1 of 2

Is our journalists educated?

This is pretty awesome. When Hillary challenged Barack to a “Lincoln-Douglas” style debate, Fox TV’s national news ran the following graphic.

lincoln - douglass debate

I guess they thought she said “Lincoln-Douglass.”

What a debate that must have been!


via Wonkette


A quick history of typography

The Porchez Type Foundry has restored a former feature of its site, a whirlwind tour of the history of typography. It says on the site that “This history, normally told from the Anglo-Saxon point of view, is from a French perspective, allowing the reader to form one’s own opinion.” It’s not evident to me what is particularly French about this history, but maybe it will become clearer in the second part, to be released soon, on twentieth century and contemporary fonts.

porchez type history


Publishing role visualization

Don’t waste time taking those long multiple-choice tests where half the answers seem equally right but answering one way says you should be an airline pilot and another means you’re destined for accounting. Instead, take Tom’s instant vocational test. Based on science! Results guaranteed! And it’s random!

Okay, ready? What we have here are the first pages of results from flickrCC for a few publishing-related activities. Which set of images do you immediately respond to? Don’t look at each thumbnail, just get a quick impression. And absolutely no thinking allowed.





Marketing [Specialist]
marketing specialist

Graphic Designer
graphic designer

Okay, I admit it, I just like images.


Easy conversion of Word documents to html

Say you need to do a quick web page from a Word document. I know Word claims to have a “save as html” function, but it produces hideous code. The easy way? Get a gmail account, attach the Word document to an e-mail, and send it to yourself.

Then just select “view as html” and save.


Language Maps

Oxford University Press has placed the data from its World Atlas of Language Structures online. There’s some interesting information here. Following are some examples.

The map below shows this distribution of various arrangements of objects and verbs, and adjectives and nouns.

verb-object map

We can zoom in on the map to see how English relates to other European languages in this respect.

zooming in on object-verb language map

The next  map shows the kind of distinctions or lack of distinctions made in words for green and blue and other colors.

words for green and blue

The final example charts rhythm types. I didn’t realize how predominant the trochaic type — represented by the red circles — is. (This is the strong-weak-strong-weak pattern: DUM-dee DUM-dee DUM-dee.)

map of language rhythm families

Much of the data is technical and will be mainly of interest to linguists, although translators would be well served to give it a look. It seems to me that writers may wish to glance at this kind of information as well, not only to better understand the medium in which they work, but maybe also for insights in handling dialect and conveying regional flavor.


Tips for writers who blog

The resourceful C.M. Mayo — a Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction winner, the author or editor of several books, and founding editor of the bilingual chapbook series Tameme — is preparing a panel on “Writers’s Blogs: Best (& Worst) Practices” for the Maryland Writers Association Conference. In preparation for the conference, she asked me to list three do’s and dont’s for writers’ blogs. My answer in brief: Don’t be too self-referential, Do have a consistent focus, Do create useful and original content, Don’t confuse press releases and publicity materials with blog posts, Don’t blog in a vacuum, and Do be generous. To learn more you’ll have to head on over to Madam Mayo’s place and read the full post.


Friday Roundup

“If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which ….” – William Butler Yeats

Classic writers quiz

literary quiz images

Here’s a simple quiz. Identify these writers based on these brief, slightly edited excerpts from their Wikipedia entries. I have provided the author’s images above, in a random order. These writers are all men so that I don’t have to play around with the pronouns; I’ll do a female version later.

He developed had a close relationship with his mother. In order to appease his father, who insisted that he pursue a career, he obtained a volunteer position at a library. After exerting considerable effort, he obtained a sick leave which was to extend for several years until he was considered to have resigned. He did not move from his parents’ apartment until after both were dead.

Supposedly studying medicine in Paris, in reality he squandered money his family could ill afford. He returned home after a few months, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She finally passed into a coma and died; he refused to kneel with other members of the family praying at her bedside, and after her death he drank heavily

He was devoted to his father. The same year his father died he suffered a severe head wound: during treatment, he nearly died of septicemia. While recovering from the accident, he began tinkering with a new style of writing, for which he would become famous.

His parents were first cousins, members of a family that included brewery owners, bankers, and businessmen. Bullied and depressed as a schoolboy, he attempted suicide several times, some, he claimed, by Russian roulette.

Despite his fear of being perceived as both physically and mentally repulsive, he impressed others with his boyish, neat, and austere good looks, a quiet and cool demeanor, obvious intelligence and dry sense of humor. He suffered from migraines, insomnia, constipation, boils, and other ailments, all usually brought on by excessive stresses and strains. He attempted to counteract all of this by a regimen of naturopathic treatments, such as a vegetarian diet and the consumption of large quantities of unpasteurized milk.

He developed a staccato, nasal vocal delivery, which emphasized each syllable (even the silent ones). He enjoyed ridiculous and pedantic figures of speech; for example, he referred to himself using the royal we, and called the wind “that which blows” and the bicycle he rode everywhere “that which rolls.” He lived in a flat which the landlord had created through the unusual expedient of subdividing a larger flat by means of a horizontal rather than a vertical partition. Guests had to bend or crouch.


Click here for the answers.


(inspired by this quiz)


Cuss-o-meter calls us clean

But fie! What does that frothy mewling crook-pated ratsbane know about cussing?

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?


Better dot those i’s and cross those t’s!

Turkish cellphone storeWhy? Well consider the case of Emine and Ramazan Çalçoban. Theirs was a fatal love affair. But it was hardly Romeo and Juliet.

In the beginning all was sunbeams and roses for this young Turkish couple. But then things started to go bad, and get worse, and finally they separated. A flurry of e-mail incriminations followed, and finally Ramazan in frustration complained to Emine, “You change the topic every time you run out of arguments.”

Unfortunately, Emine’s cellphone didn’t have available the dotless i character that was needed to properly read Ramazan’s sksnca(run out of arguments); instead, she read the word in his message as sikisince, forming the sentence “You change the topic every time they fuck you.”

And that’s the message Emine showed to her father, who immediately called Ramazan and accused him of calling his daughter a prostitute. When Ramazan hurried over to apologize, he met an entire family armed with sharpened knives. Ramazan was seriously wounded, but he struck back, killing Emine; later, he committed suicide in jail.

See, typography matters.


via Gizmodo
(image borrowed from this page)


A rather difficult font game

difficult type game

Typeheads might want to try the Rather Difficult Type Game. I scored 32 out of 34 (didn’t notice which two I missed). Most of the questions can be figured out by elimination, but it kept asking me about typefaces like Affair and Yanone Kaffeesatz, about which I know nothing.


Friday Roundup

“If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which ….” – William Butler Yeats

Insert tab A into slot B

How did the order of letters in the Western alphabet get so firmly established that there are more similarities than differences between such languages as Latin (a, b, c), Greek (alpha, beta, gamma), Arabic (alif, b?’, t?), Hebrew (aleph, bet, gimel), and so on? As Jonathan Hoefler at Hoefler & Frere-Jones observes, the order can be traced back 3,500 years to the Ugaritic alpa, beta, gamla.

Part of the answer might lie in the use of letters to indicate the assembly of parts in construction projects. Witness this passage, which Hoefler came across in Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, eds., The World’s Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, 1996

Ancient Near Easterners used fitters’ marks, single letters of the alphabet apparently used to indicate the order in which various building materials are to be assembled. Various decorative ivory pieces from Nimrud, Iraq, were letter-coded to show the order in which they were to be inserted into furniture. In a temple at Petra, Jordan, archaeologists found “large, individually letter-coded, ashlar blocks spread along the floor of [a] room … in the temple structure.” In a 1971 salvage expedition of a ship downed off Marsala, Italy, Honor Frost discovered “letters at key places where wood was to be joined … the ship assembly [was thus] a colossal game of carpentry by letters, like a modern paint-by-numbers project.”


Shown: Artist’s reconstruction of the palace at Nimrud


Book design fees

Recently I had occasion to research rates charged by designers for text-based book work. I was trying to determine a reasonable price for a 320-page hardcover collected poems, interior and cover/jacket design. Since I have mainly worked with heavily illustrated books over the past decade I had lost touch with going rates for text-based projects.

According to the 2001 edition of the Graphic Artists Guild handbook of Pricing and Ethics, for an average poetry book a designer might charge $7,500 to $15,000 to design and set the interior plus $1000-$2000 for the jacket. That gives a total range of $8500-17,000. Those figures are seven years old, but several people say the prices in this publication skew high.

For my informal survey I consulted four designers.

Designer A would charge $4-5/pg, depending on complexity, on top of the design charge of $350-$500. Cover design would range from $350-$1000. If there’s a lot of text prep (coding), he charges that hourly ($50). This gives a total of $1980-3100, plus coding, by far the lowest fee in my sample.

Designer B would charge $20-25/page “all in” as a nonprofit/university press discount rate for a non-illustrated book. Plus revisions at $50/hour. This would come to about $6400-8000, plus revisions fee. She says she gets $35-50 per page for an illustrated book from a commercial press, which obviously would as much as double the total.

Designer C would charge $1500 for the jacket + $1000-2500 for interior design + $8-15/page typesetting. When she totaled this up she got $8800, suggesting she favors the high end of her range, and I expect she would much more often come in there than at her low end.

Designer D would simply charge a flat rate of $35-40/page. This would come to $11,200-12,800. He claims “some people charge $65/page.”

It’s interesting to see the different bases designers use for calculating fees and the different rates and totals yielded ($3100, $8000, $8800, $12,800; plus extras) for the same job.


More posts on graphic design:

[catlist ID=32 numberposts=10]


Against branding

cattle brand
Among the words I’d like to retire, toward the top of the list would be branding. It’s not, of course, that I’m opposed to marketing, or creating a coherent and persuasive product or company identity. Helping products find appropriate audiences is good for everyone; in the book world, you don’t want books going out to all kinds of wrong places and then having them all come back a couple of months later as returns.

But focusing on branding can deflect attention from the products the brands are supposed to support. Branding has become so much a part of the contemporary ethos that its metaphorical origin as a stamp to identify cattle headed to the slaughterhouse has been forgotten. As brands become more important than products, we are more and more selling the idea of things rather than things themselves. (Naomi Klein has written about this in No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.)

What I most hate about “branding” is the magical thinking it represents. Marketers and their clients believe that if they can get the brand just right, all their problems will miraculously disappear. NeurocyberSeo puts it well: “Branding is the corporate equivalent of sex, drugs and rock-‘n’-roll — a shortcut to all that seems good. Companies look at the rewards from branding sneakers, fizzy sugar water and coffee and say, “me too!” Advertising and PR agencies no longer promote or increase visibility — they ‘brand.'”

Recently I heard the head of marketing at a cultural institution complain about surveys that showed a lack of general awareness of his institution in its local community — it just wasn’t on enough folks’ radar. His proposed solution? A $500,000 “brand study.” In other words, he was proposed spending half a million dollars before actually doing anything to actually address his problem. I say that for $500,000 he could give $10 to 50,000 people in his community on the condition that they visit his institution and mention it to two or three friends. Not only would the word-of-mouth do its thing, but the giveaway itself would raise attention. I’ll bet his institution would be on a lot of tongues in no time.

But no. The magic power of “branding” will cause that money to be spent on a study, which will then be analyzed for action points, and then more money will be spent to implement them, with the result that awareness of the institution will increase by 10 percent or whatever a reasonable return on that kind of initiative is. The whole project will be a net loss. But the institution will point with pride to its refined brand.

And then it a few years it can begin the next phase: “rebranding.”

So adult it smarts

x-rated movie posters

There’s a collection of supposedly x-rated movie posters from the 1960s and 70s over here. What’s a little surprising about the collection is that the graphic design is pretty good. And the posters are very tame by today’s standards. The years slip by, and you don’t notice these sorts of changes until you look back . . .


Free cellphone ringtones technique

miles davis, by thomas christensen

This is off topic from my usual subject areas, but I haven’t seen this technique suggested anywhere else, and I thought I would share it since it’s so easy and produces good results.

Since I sometimes travel overseas, I wanted to get an unlocked quad-band cellphone that I could use abroad by switching simm chips, rather than pay the outrageous fees for overseas calls of the U.S. cellular providers. Other countries offer such chips on a pay-as-you-go basis without locking you in to a long-term commitment I purchased the phone from

I already had a usb cable that fit the phone. It took me a while to realize that the simm card is not also a memory card. Once I got past that bit of dimness I installed a memory card (I happened to have one the right size), which enabled me to drag files to the phone’s memory using Windows Explorer.

I wanted to use “So What” by Miles Davis as my main ringtone. But I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of audio editing to create a sound file that would be the right length. Like most recent phones, mine can play MP3s as sounds. It occurred to me that the little sample sound snippets that offers on its CD pages are just about right. So it was just a matter of activating the Freecorder toolbar (for me it doesn’t work well on Firefox — I think it conflicts with some other toolbar — so I use Internet Explorer). I set Freecorder to record and amazon to play, and voila.

At that point it’s just a matter of saving the file and dragging it to the phone’s memory card.


Image of Miles made in Adobe Illustrator by me (see the gallery)


Raul’s Lies

Lies I’ve told my 3 year old recently
By Raul Gutierrez

Trees talk to each other at night.
All fish are named either Lorna or Jack.
Before your eyeballs fall out from watching too much TV, they get very loose.
Tiny bears live in drain pipes.
If you are very very quiet you can hear the clouds rub against the sky.
The moon and the sun had a fight a long time ago.
Everyone knows at least one secret language.
When nobody is looking, I can fly.
We are all held together by invisible threads.
Books get lonely too.
Sadness can be eaten.
I will always be there.


via Swiss Miss


Creative barcodes from Japan

creative japanese barcodes

Barcodes are the graphic designer’s bane. I’ve tried to integrate them in designs through color and other placement, but you constantly run up against the distribution people who insist on conspicuous white rectangles, regardless of the context. (I’ve tested barcodes on color backgrounds and found that they scan perfectly well.)

So I love these creative barcodes from Japan.


More posts on graphic design:

[catlist ID=32 numberposts=10]


The Medici Conspiracy

medici conspiracyPeter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini’s The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities–From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums is a real eye-opener. I had always imagined that the movement to repatriate art was largely based on the rape of colonial nations by the colonizers — that countries like Italy or Greece were trying to recover objects that had mostly been removed long ago. But Watson and Todeschini reveal that there is an extremely extensive digging operation going on right now that is turning up invaluable ancient art. (The clandestine diggers are known as tombaroli, or tomb robbers.) And this art is deliberately broken, smuggled in fragments out of their homelands by elaborate criminal networks (cordate), and reassembled. Then, with the explicit complicity of some auction houses, collectors, and museum curators who work closely with these criminal networks, the art makes its way to museums like the Getty or the Met. Sometimes, to conceal the criminal connections, the objects are acquired from third parties as sets of fragments over a period of years and then finally reassembled by museum conservators.

The books reads like a police procedural. The authors worked closely with the Italian investigators and had ample access to documentation related to an elaborate art smuggling ring that funneled art through a dealer named Giacomo Medici. Medici kept elaborate, detailed records of his activities in a warehouse full of antiquities in Geneva; these records were key to breaking the case. The authors also rely extensive on police interrogations of principal figures in the smuggling network.

An essential book. As Art Quarterly says, “You’ll never again look at some lovely painted pot in a museum . . . without a sharp stab of unease.” (For a dissenting, if not very convincing, view that attempts an apology for some of the museum curators involved in the case, see Hugh Eakin’s review in the New York Review of Books.)


Buy from Powell’s
Buy from Amazon


Page 1 of 2

Some rights reserved 2021 Right Reading. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via