concept to publication

Month: March 2010

No. Why do you ask?

Folks online are getting too damn helpful.

Mistakes designers make

Tara at Graphic Design Blog lists seven mistakes beginning designers make. It’s a pretty good list — I see the first item a lot.

  1. Producing two or more design concepts that are very similar
  2. Adding things in rather than taking them away
  3. Concentrating on features rather than benefits
  4. Not targeting the right audience or having enough gravitas
  5. Not presenting the finished design in the best way possible.
  6. Not sketching first
  7. Underselling your design work

Read more at Graphic Design Blog.

Reading up on health care

At the Christian Science Monitor Marjorie Kehe offers a few suggestions for reading up on health care. Her list of five and a half books includes the following:

  • Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis – and the People Who Pay the Price by Jonathan Cohn
    Case histories illustrating the complexity of insurance and health care issues
  • Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee
    Health care and economics.
  • Boomerang: Health Care Reform and the Turn Against Government by Theda Skocpol
    Analyzing the Clinton adminstration’s failed attempt to fix healthcare in 1994 offers interesting background and many instructive points relevant to today’s healthcare debate.
    Also recommended on the same topic: The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point by Haynes Johnson and David Broder.
  • The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care by David Gratzer
    The case against government involvement.
  • The Health Care Mess: How We Got Into It and What It Will Take to Get Out by Julius Richard and Rashi Fein
    The case for government-financed universal healthcare.

I have read none of these. Are they really the best?

“Books” in the age of the IPad

books on an infinite plane on the ipad platform

Craig Mod makes an interesting case for celebrating the (supposed) demise of “disposable books” — he elaborates at some length a simple distinction between books where the content and form are integral and those where they are independent — and welcoming the IPad as a reading platform. Here’s a sample:

We’re losing the dregs of the publishing world: disposable books. The book printed without consideration of form or sustainability or longevity. The book produced to be consumed once and then tossed. The book you bin when you’re moving and you need to clean out the closet.

These are the first books to go. And I say it again, good riddance.

Once we dump this weight we can prune our increasingly obsolete network of distribution. As physicality disappears, so too does the need to fly dead trees around the world.

You already know the potential gains: edgier, riskier books in digital form, born from a lower barrier-to-entry to publish. New modes of storytelling. Less environmental impact. A rise in importance of editors. And, yes — paradoxically — a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything in that last paragraph were true! Unfortunately, part of this is fiction writing. Check out the NYT bestseller list and see if you can observe “a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.”

To me the most interesting part of Mod’s argument is his vision for booklike content that disposes of the metaphor of the page, as shown in the image above (the image is Mod’s). In this vision the content metaphor is not the bound book but the East Asian handscroll, on which stories were rolled out continuously from one end to the other rather than proceeding page by page.

The book is a perfected technology, but why should the electronic platform inherit the binding metaphor?


Link: Books in the Age of the IPad


New new Shakespeare portraits

More fun with computer morphing. What did Shakespeare look like? It’s possible one of these computer morphs might provide a clue. The image on the left morphs the Sanders and Chandos portraits. The image on the right morphs in three equal parts the Sanders, Cobb, and Chandos portraits.

For a full discussion of what’s going on here, see this previous summary of Shakespeare portraits, with a morph of the Chandos and Cobb images. I have made these new morphs in response to Jim Hale-Sanders’s arguments in favor of the Sanders portrait.

For reference, here are all three morphs, with the original Chandos/Cobb on the right:

all three new Shakespeare portraits

A new look for the BBC

Bronwyn van der Merwe has an interesting post over at the BBC Blog about redesigning their web content. Whether you approve of all the decisions or not, what’s wonderful about the post is how through and generous it is in sharing the various elements of the design. The design uses a grid system, which is pretty standard for print materials but is more difficult on the web because of the lack of uniformity in screen resolutions. The post looks at banner design, embedded media, mobile platforms, fonts, sources of inspiration, type over images, color palette, and more. They are moving away from lefthand navigation to top-of-page horizontal navigation. They even created a new set of icons. And a style guide, which they are sharing as a download.

I’m not crazy about the aqua tones (this site also uses a blue palette but I hope with a bit more soul), and I don’t really understand combining Helvetica with Gill Sans. Etc. Still, it’s a great look at the process of rationalizing design on a large site with many different kinds of pages.

A new portrait of William Shakespeare

What did Shakespeare look like? I will come to how I created the above image in a moment. First we need to review the existing portraits that are claimed to be of Shakespeare.

All of the three or four likeliest images of him are problematic in one way or another. The three likeliest portraits are the Cobbe portrait, which portrays the forty-something Shakespeare as a gallant young courtier; the Chandos portrait, which presents him as a comfortably well-off bohemian; and the Droeshout portrait — the familiar one from the first folio — which is so inempt and cartoonish that it gives little sense of any real person. (A Scientific American article once put forth the bizarre theory that it actually depicts Queen Elizabeth). Brice Stratford has helpfully assembled the three portraits, along with some supporting text, on this page. As you can see from the details below, all of the portraits share points of similarity, notably the high forehead, deep-set eyes, and long nose.

3 portraits of shakespeare

The problem with the Droeshout portrait (right) is that its young and inexperienced artist never met Shakespeare. He may have worked from the Chandos portrait, although this is speculation. Still, Ben Jonson and others who knew Shakespeare seem to have approved the image.

The problem with the Chandos portrait (middle) is that its ultimate provenance is unknown, and the sitter is not identified as Shakespeare. Still, the National Portrait Gallery in London, which has researched the issue, believes that this is probably Shakespeare, though there is no proof of that. I like this candidate because it is from the right period — the first decade of the seventeenth century; the black robes suggest affluence, and we know Shakespeare was doing pretty well by this time; and the rakish earring suggests a bohemian or artistic lifestyle. Moreover, this image simply has more presence than the others.

The Cobbe portrait (left) only came to light recently. It had been in the possession of the Cobbe family for 300 years. They had thought it a portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh but it is now believed that it may be a portrait of Shakespeare. It too dates from the right period, and there is at least a tenuous provenance for it, as the Cobbe descent can be traced back to a patron of Shakespeare. Stanley Wells, chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and co-editor of the Oxford Shakespeare, vouches for the authenticity of this one. The problem that I have with it is that it does not appear to depict a man in at least his mid-forties as Shakespeare would have been at the time the painting was made. In addition, the Cobbe family had good reason to think it a portrait of Raleigh, since it depicts its subject as a nobleman rather than a working playwright. (Although by the time this painting was made the status of playwrights had risen, and Shakespeare had even obtained a court of arms.) Nor does the hairline conform to the other images. But it’s conceivable that the artist simply went overboard in the direction of flattering the sitter.

A fourth image is a bust in Stratford-upon-Avon. This one was made by Gheerart Janssen, an artist who lived near the Globe theater during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and it was presumably approved by people who knew the playwright well. The problem with it is that the painted features had been removed and then reapplied in the eighteenth century, long after anyone who remembered him was alive. In addition, it is likely that the conservative Stratford community wished to make their native son look more like a respectable burgher than something as doubtful as a frequenter of London’s rowdy theater scene. The bust looks like this:

I reject the Droeshout image because it is more of a cartoon than a portrait, and the Statford bust because the loss of the original paint compromises the image too grossly. Despite serious doubts, I am inclined at least for now to entertain the idea that the portraits claimed as images of Shakespeare on the authority of the National Portrait Gallery and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust convey something of his appearance (these, if you have been paying attention, are the Chandos and Cobbe portraits).

For my Shakespeare, therefore, I computer morphed those two portraits into a new image of Shakespeare — splitting the difference if you will; the midpoint morph makes him a little less rough than the Chandos Shakespeare and a little less prettified than the Cobbe Shakespeare. If both of those portraits are indeed Shakespeare, then this intermediary version should probably be a fairly reasonable likeness. On the other hand, if the Cobbe portrait actually represents someone else — Sir Thomas Overbury has been suggested — well then we have something like an Overbury-Shakespeare morph. In any case, I think the result is an interesting image. Do you agree?


UPDATE: In response to Jim Hale-Sanders’s arguments in favor of the Sanders portrait (in the comments below), I have made new Shakespeare morphs incorporating the Sanders portrait.


Friday roundup

“Honour commercio’s energy yet aid the linkless proud, the plurable with everybody.” — Finnegans Wake

World Book News: Dictionary of Americanisms

El Pais is talking about a new Dictionary of Americanisms (Diccionario de americanismos) published by the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua in Madrid under the direction of Humberto Lopez Morales, secretary general of the academies. Lopez Morales, though now a resident of Madrid, was born in Cuba and lived in Puerto Rico.

Americanisms are a more vexing problem in Spanish — the second most spoken language in the world — than in English. Travelers across the Americas have to learn new words even for simple things like straws, napkins, and avocados as they travel from Mexico to Argentina.

And of course the language is always changing. While dictionaries of Americanisms exist, there has not been a major new work in this area for twenty or thirty years. This book fills that void.

Logging in at 2,500 pages, the dictionary costs 75 euros — about a hundred U.S. dollars — but for those of us who sometimes translate from Latin American Spanish it will be an essential reference to own or at least consult.

The illusion of competence


I’ve seen them in meetings (especially “NATO Initiatives”: meetings that are “no action, talk only”). They’re listing to the discussion, sometimes contributing comments, browsing documents, and responding to text messages on their cell phones. They think they’re pretty sharp.

But, according to Clifford I. Nass, a Stanford psychology professor, “Heavy multitaskers are often extremely confident in their abilities…. But there’s evidence that those people are actually worse at multitasking than most people.” The surprising result of a survey he conducted was that people who self-identified as multitaskers actually performed worse on multitasking exercises than people who said they preferred to concentrate on one thing at a time.

The reason for this seems to be that chronic multitaskers give themselves up to distractions and overload their memory or attention capacities. David Glenn, in an article about the research in the Chronicle of Higher Education (read more there), writes that “People with strong working-memory capacities don’t have a larger nightclub in their brains. They just have better bouncers working the velvet rope outside. Strong attentional abilities produce stronger fluid intelligence.”


Image via Scott Beale / Laughing Squid,


Can you read this?

early english inscription

This may be the earliest example of written English to survive in a British church. Recently discovered on a wall in Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, it probably dates from the fourteenth century. But what does it say?

Dr John Crook, who produced the digitally enhanced image of the text shown above, is asking the public for help in deciphering the incomplete inscription. “If anyone thinks they can identify any further letters from the enhanced photographs,” he said, “please contact us via the Salisbury Cathedral website…. It would be wonderful for us to solve the mystery.”

Read more at the Daily Mail Online.

Odd book titles of 2009

odd book titles: crocheting adventures with hyperbolic planes

The Bookseller is back with another round of odd book titles. This year the six finalists for the Diagram Prize for odd book titles are the following:

  • Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter
  • Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich
  • Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes
  • Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots
  • The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • What Kind of Bean is This Chihuahua?

As I mentioned before in this context, as the translator of Frozen Coagulated Cultures in Wine, Cheese, and Sauerkraut Production, I fail to see what’s so funny about these titles.

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