Ariana Osborne Eighty rod from the edge of the world. Less when the fog rolls in. Thu, 14 Jan 2010 18:38:39 +0000 en hourly 1 Thoughtdump 14Jan Thu, 14 Jan 2010 18:38:39 +0000 Ariana Osborne Marking/Mapping internet territory: Delicious links for the day auto-posted at midnight. Twitter/RSS auto-posts. Linkblogging. Geotagging. Picture tumblelogging (with credits, preferably).  “I went to this site, found these things, made a couple of notes/hobotags/signposts for future travelers, moved on.”  In this way we map the massive online space for our own benefit (to retrace our steps, to remember which houses had nice people and not mean dogs), bring home souvenirs (pictures, postcards, business cards), and point our fellow travelers to safe-but-interesting routes (in theory).  Of course, sometimes it’s really “I took a picture of the best part of this destination to save you the trouble of ever having to go yourself.”  (A concept that’d be a bit sketch in the real world, but fairly common online.)

Interspersed between other (more “destination in its own right”) content, those are interesting and often useful opinions.  As a “for myself but maybe useful for others” dedicated online notebook, those may also serve a solid purpose.  If you are an internet trailblazer looking to build a Frommer’s (with the audience to go with it)… then you’re in a very crowded market but best of luck to you.  But as a way to fill space – i.e. if you never read your archives, and no one else does, either – it’s the internet equivalent of scrawling Killroy Was Here in the sand at the beach.

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Some five to seven minutes later: Wed, 13 Jan 2010 18:15:43 +0000 Ariana Osborne Louise M has never read the book, but clearly recalls Carol Blymire having written a blog post about it.

Simultaneously, Cherie Priest has a vague memory of having seen it in a bookstore and with a more carefully constructed google search string, arrives at the same blog post.

“Piping Hot”

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Piping Hot Wed, 13 Jan 2010 17:44:33 +0000 Ariana Osborne All right, let’s see if this works:  I’m going to call upon the interactive memory of the Internet Collective to identify, not a classic video game or 80s jingle, but an old and probably inconsequential book.  Because it’s an interesting game, is what.  Come on, I can’t be all helpful DIY ideas and commentary all the time.

So: I’m thinking about what to have for lunch today, when I suddenly have one of those Polaroid memories that’s so incredibly fucking crystal clear in the middle, and all faded at the edges, and abruptly stops after three inches.  I can recall (in fact, for a moment there I can’t NOT recall) with perfect clarity, a single page of a book I read (probably owned) when I had to have been barely five or six years old.

It’s a children’s book, probably, because the page I’m remembering has an illustration to go with the handful of words I remember: Lunch, a fried chicken leg, and a thermos of piping hot tomato soup. “Piping hot” is particularly clear, and that’s how I can gauge about how old I must have been and that I probably owned the book – the word “piping” has that extra brightness that accompanies my recollections of my first encounters with certain words, where I not only learned what they looked like, but had to decipher their meaning from context.

So it’s a book about… something… and somewhere in there a girl sits down to have a packed lunch of a fried chicken leg and a thermos of piping hot tomato soup.

I only remember it’s a girl having the lunch because of the accompanying picture:  a nuclear-era black and white line illustration of the girl sitting with a checkered napkin spread neatly in her lap, her impossibly tiny ankles crossed beneath her, primly holding a chicken leg the proportional size of a turkey’s, eyes closed as she takes a single, delicate bite.  I want to say that she’s in school or at the park, but I can feel that’s a more fuzzy idea that may well be imagination or an amalgamation of children’s books trying to fill in a synaptic blank.  I think she might have short, curly hair, but the focus of the memory is too tightly trained on the chicken leg, and it could just as well be a ponytail.  But there’s some tiny nag of something that’s saying “short, perfectly curled hair” was a relevant plot point.

And that’s it.  That’s all I’ve got.  A snapshot of a single page in a single moment of my childhood shaking free some many, many years later as I think about what to have for lunch.  Which is, as you may have guessed, probably going to be fried chicken and tomato soup.

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Zzzt crackle hsssss Mon, 11 Jan 2010 17:13:26 +0000 Ariana Osborne I know, it’s gone a bit quiet over here.  Some of that’s just your normal gearing back up for the new year – everyone’s back to work, things are getting a little busier, there’s a little rush of jobs need clearing out of my inbox, etc.

Some of that’s me having started on some New Ideas that aren’t yet to a point where I have anything to show, yet.  I’ve dropped a few hints here and there about my thought processes lately, and readers of Warren’s site will have seen the day I dropped him five very long emails in a row (I’m scheming!) – I’m just at the point in that process where anything I have to say is going to be pages and pages and pages of theory and braindump… and some of you might not mind trying to unravel all of that, sure – but I haven’t the time to do it and to write it all down.

But! It’s Monday, and IEU is  over our holiday hiatus, so we’re back with a new TOTW!


Not a bad way to start the day, that.

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No, but really: What does your blog do? Wed, 06 Jan 2010 18:33:05 +0000 Ariana Osborne Side-effect of not having had the time or energy to write down any of the spiderwebby thoughts that built up in my head over the holidays: I may burst waaaaaaay off seed topic and ramble on for a couple of pages about Other Stuff that really doesn’t have a whole lot of relevance in the sentiment unless you’re in my head.  Which is why two hours after I hit publish on yesterday’s post, I remembered what set me off on that train of thought in the first place, and realized I’d never quite gotten there.

So: What does your blog do?

Now, with that question I’m doing something that I hate: I’m saying “blog” when I really mean “homepage.” The page that you link in user profiles.  When you sign up for a new social network there’s usually a homepage url field.  It’s the link that shows up inn your twitter sidebar, and an optional bit of information you can link from Lulu or Cafepress.  It’s the thing some folks stick in email and forum sigs.  You get what I’m saying.  The url of the page that’s supposed to link to something essentially yours out there on the web, because sometimes you can’t sum up yourself in a 200 word bio.

For most people, at  this point, that just happens to be a blog.  Sort of.  At least, for most people, that happens to be a page that links to a blogging system of some sort.  (And twitter, tumblr, and flickr do all count as blogs, in that they are Web Logs.  They do log things, and they do it do the web.  That wordpress, twitter, tumblr, and flickr can all serve dramatically different content doesn’t really matter in terms of the origin of the word – they’re all, at the backend, chronological logs of web data.  There’s an entire other post in there, I know, so try not to argue that point too much, because it’s not the point of this post, okay?  All right, back on track.)

So, yes: What does your blog do.  Or, more importantly: What does your Thing With RSS tacked on do?  Because RSS is a huge and important tool in online communication.  I’d argue that it’s more important to have an RSS feed of your current content than it is to be easily crawlable by search engines.  Because your RSS feed is, more than your page URL, your broadcast frequency.  It’s the thing people can plug into their own RSS readers LONG after they’ve gotten tired of hitting actual pages every day.  For those of you that don’t update daily, it’s the only thing that’s going to alert some of your readers when there is new content.  And, again, I’m segueing into another post.  You see?  There’s going to be plenty here in the next few weeks.

So, finally back on track: if someone who doesn’t really know who you are or what you do wanted a link to your online content that they could plug into Google Reader – how would you describe what your site does?  How, in fact, would you make someone WANT to add your site’s RSS feed into their daily/weekly/whatever reading habits?

That’s apparently a difficult question.

There are a metric fuckton of creative people on Whitechapel, right? I know this because we’ve got artist and photography threads, we’ve got people constantly lamenting the “no fiction” rule, we’ve got musicians and comic writers and people that want to make magazines and all sorts of things.

And, so far, we’ve got six of them linking their blogs.


And, okay, there’s a little of what sounds like snark in that link.  It does look like I made a lot of really mean rules, carefully crafted to keep people from just posting: “Hi, my name is [name] and this is my blog.”  Which, yes, I did.  But that’s not mean of me:  that’s helpful.

Because, look, how many of you have made something, are in the process of making something, or trying to make something, or trying to think of something to make? Quite a few of you.  And of those quite a few, how many of you are going to want to tell people about that thing what you made?  I’m going to guess quite a few. Where on earth do you think those imaginary people that are interested in your Thing What You Made are going to come from? 

Yes, in a perfect world, you could quietly toil on your creations, and when you finished you could just put up a link and people would magically appear to buy it.  Unfortunately, the internet is not a perfect world.  The internet is a noisy and hectic world where, very likely, when you finish your creation and put up a link, you’re going to have to shout VERY LOUDLY to get the attention of ten real people.

If you want to sell something online, you’ve got to make a network online. You’ve got to go places and talk to people, yes – but unless you are struck by lucky lightning, you’ve also got to give those people something they can link and remember and pass along to other people.  And, for most of us, that “business card” if you will, is our homepage.  In theory, that homepage should be something people can bookmark to remember us by – but if it’s a static page there’s a very good chance that people will forget why they bookmarked it in the first place.  So most of us – by accident or with some thought – have created a blog of some fashion.

And then a lot of those blogs very quickly turned into “well it’s the place where I kinda collect stuff that’s cool, or that’s where mostly twitter updates and delicious links feed in automagically, but I haven’t really updated in forever and I know I should but I never know what to say so it’s not really current or relevant  or even MINE anymore.”

And yet (and we’ve done this in the past on Whitechapel and I’ve seen it in many other forums, so I know it’s true), whenever there’s an open “link your blog here” thread anywhere, that’s still the site most of us plug.  We just happen to do it with some variation of “My name is [name] and there’s really nothing interesting here, but you can follow it if you like, I guess.”

So, then, back to the Whitechapel thread I just opened:  for my own selfish sorting purposes, yes, but also in an attempt to get people thinking about those poor neglected blogs, I made some hard (and a little mean) rules.  Think about how you would like to sell your blog (your homepage, your web presence, your business card).  Think about how you would get a complete stranger, not someone who already knows and likes you, interested in who you are and what you’re doing.  Refine that down to an easily digestible paragraph (or picture, because I do know that some artists really speak better in images, and that’s fair).  Polish up that idea of what your homepage does into something short and informative, and then put yourself out there.

There’s only six up so far, right?  But they all look incredibly interesting, don’t they?  That’s the sort of thing that you could do if you wanted to.  And if you’ve got a book or some art or a shop or even if you’re just feeling a bit bored with whatever you’re doing online right now, that’s the sort of thing that you maybe should do.

Of course, for some folks, all their homepage really is is a notebook-lifestream-junkdrawer-thingie.  There’s nothing really wrong with that.  Nor is there anything wrong with a page that really is just a personal rambling journal that happens to be public-ish, and it doesn’t really matter that its not locked because no one read is, anyway.  I’m not going to tell you how to use the web, because I’m not you and I don’t know what works for you.  If you honestly have no desire to make your site into a destination, or your RSS feed into a must-read… then, hey, that’s cool.  If your tumblr is something you use as a scrapbook for web-thoughts just for you, or your flickr is just your own personal album and you’d just as soon no one pay attention to it, anyway – again, that’s your call and that’s totally cool.  Hell, almost my entire Delicious account is private, because the links are really just for my use.  maybe your wordpress blog is all just Delicious links that you want to keep sorted in that particular archival system.

In no way am I saying if you don’t have a site to link that there’s something wrong with you.

What I’m saying is: if you do have a site that you want to link, if you sometimes sigh that your Analytics account never tops twenty readers, if you wonder how you’re going to go about reaching the people that you think would like your new magazine, if you’re a step away from being a bit surly about how hard it is to get attention online – basically, if you’re looking for interesting people to be interested in you and what you do… Well.  Then you might want to think about how to tell people about the site you want them to remember and visit and share with their friends.

And if you haven’t got one of those sites yet, well, it’s January 2010 – now’s maybe a good time to start one.

When you figure it out, seriously, come tell me (and the other nearly 8000 people on Whitechapel) about it.

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In which I talk a good game Tue, 05 Jan 2010 18:42:21 +0000 Ariana Osborne I can’t go a year without circling back to the web as radio.  (Actually, I can’t go more than a month, but there’s plenty of stuff that my poor friends have to listen to that I don’t post here.  Well, I don’t post here all the time.)  At any rate, I know I’m right because Warren can’t go more than a year without circling back to the web as radio, either.  (And if you’ve got your copy of Shivering Sands, you’ll have seen that he’s been calling broadcasts for what they are much longer than I have.)

But Warren’s usually on about music radio.  That’s due, largely, to the fact that he’s a musician. (Not the Australian one, no. But a musician nonetheless.) I won’t have been the firs to say he makes singles and albums for a living.  I’d call Crooked Little Vein a musical, except that he’d kill me for it. But that mental image you just got of a dancing Uncle Sam, well that’s my gift to you.  And Shivering Sands and Knock John, well, I don’t think anyone could argue if I called them samples and soundscapes.

But for me, well, music’s a thing I listen to, or make sleeves for, or format the liner notes of… but it’s not a thing I make, so it’s not a thing I talk about.

Talk, though, now that’s the radio I remember. And not just the morning and afternoon talk radio that came about as commutes grew from down the block to two hours both ways including bridge, tunnel, and ferry. Nah, I remember all the talk.  DJs and hosts, sure, but also CBs and Short Waves.  Every other damned thing on the AM band.  Numbers channels and the staccato beat of chatter breaking through the static.  Call-ins and surgeries and even request lines.  Airport control towers and walkie-talkies.  Those were the sounds I turned, tuned, and listened to.

Some of that difference is down to the ten years and 6000 miles difference in how Warren and I came about the radio.  When he were a lad, the pirates were just about to straighten up and fly right, but the legends were still going strong.  The BBC ran the radio, but the good stuff was a quarter turn to the left.  And if you wanted strange and ghostly mystery talk, well you could pick up Norwegian when the wind was right, and that wasn’t even all that odd. 

But when I were a lass, Radio was that thing you turned on when the TV wasn’t around.  It was the thing you scanned in the car and the back yard, and the first thing Radio Shack helped you build.  It was the thing in the cab of delivery trucks that still picked up chatter going over the mountains.  And living in California there were equal parts Top Forty and Cowboy music, if you wanted it, but if you switched to the AM dial it was nothing but ghostly mystery talk, with a fair bit of Spanish cut through with Opera as the signals fenceposted, bursts of half cut-off words as an 18-wheeler cut through the local college station, and sometimes, the sound of someone crying or laughing in the dark but you could never tune in clearly enough to hear which.

That, to me, was Radio.  The sounds of imaginary people talking to an imaginary world. And me, very much an imaginary little girl, listening intently to everything they had to say, safely unable to answer with anything but my imagination.

And then we all got to the web, didn’t we?  And our blogs all became our own little broadcast stations.  And me, I still love sifting through the chatter so I didn’t mind so much that that’s pretty much all there is. The Twhirl window I’ve got on the other monitor right now is nothing but a CB that’s wide open and ready to cut through my drive whenever I give it a glance.  I only thumb the mic to answer someone else or say when I’m pulling in somewhere, but there’s plenty of other folks keeping the chatter up all day and night. Your blogs are your short waves, your BoingBoing and other curators of the web are the Top Forty channels I can tune to when I want to hear the pop hits of the last month, last week, and today.  Places like Coilhouse remind me of the college radio of my youth – not because the lovely ladies are amateurs by any means, but because I’m of the age where the college stations where you went to hear the bootlegs, the obscure, the alt, and the imports – the Avant 40 with hours of liberal talk, if you will.

But the thing is, I don’t mind the chatter, and god knows that’s all I do… but I wonder sometimes: where is the rest of the music?  ‘Cause it turns out, as always, that Warren’s right and I’m just rambling sentimental.  Because if everyone’s a DJ, then who’s writing the bloody songs?

And, more importantly… where the hell does someone like Warren go to listen to it?  Are there few-to-no pirates because there’s nothing for them to play?

Oho, turns out there was a point to all that sentimental rambling, and this is it: Are you an online DJ, call-in host, personality, or musician?  Take a look at your own blog, if you have one, and tell me what it is.  Is it starts and stops to fill the space between tracks? Is it your own Top 40 of mostly links and tumbles?  I mean, you’ve probably got something like a blog, because that’s very web 2.0 of you… but is that what you actually need?

I’ve talked the radio metaphor out, for now, so let me throw it off and be a bit more blunt about it: What are you trying to do online? If you’ve got a long haul day job that you’re perfectly happy with and all you want is something to let you tell dirty jokes at 3am to pass the time, well then you’ve got Twitter and Facebook and you’re all sorted, fair enough.  If all you want to do is curate, then you’ve got Tumblr (or a Wordpress/Blogger account that’s way more than you actually need, but works fine) and if you’re very good at it, you might have even carved out a twenty-or-two-hundred niche for yourself.  If you haven’t really settled on anything, you’ve probably got accounts all over the place, and they all pipe into a lifestream service of some fashion that you really thought was a good idea in 2008, but haven’t thought much about, since.

But if what you do is Make Things, first and foremost, and all the rest is noise… well the internet hasn’t caught up with you yet.

Now, Warren and Wil and many others have done a very good job of making do with the internet they’ve got, but it’s a fuckton of work.  They’re their own DJs and Hosts and Musicians, and they’ve cobbled together massive radio towers with blogs and syndication and twitter and forums and every other bit of metal and tech they can get their hands on.  And bless ‘em, they know how much work it is so they even do Top 40 broadcasts to link new artists to lend a hand.  But, fuck me, that’s an awful lot of work.  And when you’re just starting out, it doesn’t seem entirely fair that you’ve got to do that much just to get a few listeners, does it?  Especially if you’re not really interested in doing anything but Making Things.

But it turns out that Social Networks aren’t social or networks, so for right now, that’s your lot.

For right now.

But I’ve got a hunch, somewhere along the lines of a Prediction Ov Footure, that we’re juuuuust about to figure out the next step.  That we’re juuuuust about to realize that just because everyone can have a blog, doesn’t mean everyone should be focusing on keeping one.  That “lifestreaming” was pretentious bullshit from day one, but aggregation makes sense if it’s done right. That keeping the front page of a site fresh doesn’t necessarily mean pushing relevant information down to replace it with pointless chatter is the right way to go about it. 

Someone’s going to figure out how to make stations on the web that you want to leave the dial locked to, because it’s always good, and the only way to get on there is to actually have something worth listening to.  Not in the current Top 40 linkblog sort of way, but more in the best-kept-secrets-aren’t-that-secret piratey sort of way. And then, of course, someone will call it Web 3.0 and I’ll want to shoot them, but we can’t have everything.

But we don’t get there by sitting back and waiting for it.  We get there by doing what Warren and Wil and some other folks are already doing: cobbling together their own stations with sweat and constantly good content and making dangerous leaps of POD and interesting new formats until the rest of the world can’t help but notice.  Spending less time on Facebook collecting husks and more time making actual networks of listeners.  Because getting real people one at a time is an awful lot of work, but it makes more sense than collecting a hundred of nothing at a time and then wondering why all you ever hear back is static.

And if you’re good at talking, keep talking – there’s folks like me that turn the dial listening for what you have to say. But if you’re only talking hoping for someone to stop long enough for you to show them your music (or art, or book or photos or what have you)… well, I’ll bet that’s not working out as well as you’d hoped, is it?  Can you chatter less, work more, and still be heard?  Sure you can.  You’ve just got to chatter less, work more, and find real people who will tell their friends that you’re always worth a listen.  It looks like a slower way to build an audience, but trust me, 20 avid listeners beats out 500 channel hoppers any day.

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Greater than the sum of its crap Sun, 03 Jan 2010 18:38:14 +0000 Ariana Osborne Every year, Kieron Gillen does up his personal Top 40 of the previous year, and they’re always fantastic.  Music is something that I listen to, but I never think too much about it past “well, that was blah” or “oh yes, that’s going on repeat.” So I find Kieron’s yearly lists an excellent read not because they’re in-depth reviews or beat-by-chord analyses, but because they’re bite-sized little queries: “Did you hear this song?  But did you hear this?”

I also almost never agree with his rankings. But that’s really not the point at all, because it’s not my top 40 list. It’s a glimpse at how one of my friends (and one who’s a bit more invested in and attentive to the why and how of music than I am) heard the world in the previous year.  And that’s always fun to read, so you should go look, too.

That’s the first music wrap-up I look forward to every year.  The second one is the yearly pop mash-up.  I unapologetically love that every year, several people take the top 20/25/40 charts and smoosh them all into one big “this is what last year sounded like” track.  And this one, from DJ Earworm, is probably the best I’ve seen yet:

That’s the amalgamated poptimism of 2009, right there, isn’t it? Almost every single one of those songs on their own were cheesy little party balls from a crap year for the economy and fun and a whole mess of other things – bubbly little ditties crafted for maximum earworm value and escapism.  But add them all up and they sound all right, don’t they?  They’re still cheesy, they’re still a poppy little earworm that’s far happier than anyone really was last year… but listen, isn’t that the sort of get back up and keep dancing sound you want to take from last year to move you into this one?

It certainly sounds good to me – a ribbon of shiny all rightness pulled off the box of meh that was 2009. It’s a bit of a lie, but it’s one I whole-heartedly endorse on a regular basis: keep the good, file the crap under “lessons learned” – and make something else. But, like I said, music is just something I listen to.  I leave it to the smarter folks to write about the rest. I just like having something nice on to keep me company while I work.

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Twennyten Fri, 01 Jan 2010 18:53:12 +0000 Ariana Osborne Hello, New Year. There’s so many lovely metaphors for you: you’re like the first page of a fresh empty notebook, the first brush-stroke on a newly-stretched canvas, an empty plot of land just tilled for a new crop, the first needle-loop of a new skein of yarn, and all the other sorts of things you can start with old tools and known skills and a bit of something new to use them on.

Which is the sane way of stating what the cynics in the room (which I’m only ever accused of being when people don’t like my jokes, haha) will have said at midnight:  It is, after all, just the day after last year.

Optimists and pessimists and soon-to-be pessimistic optimists are all flippity flopping about how 2010 will be better or worse or just the same as 2009.  Of course, from where I’m sitting, it’s already better: today’s weather is just a touch warmer than yesterday’s, a little bit of nagging elbow pain faded overnight with some ibuprofen (and that same pressure change that brought the weather, likely), and people have started saying “twenty” instead of “two thousand” – so that’s three points to 2010, just in my first ten hours of it.

But, yes, of course – there are bound to be colder days again, this elbow is a chronic condition, and some people will I’m sure, continue to say “two thousand” for as long as we’re in it.  You pessimists and already-broke-your-resolution-and-so-shortly-joining-them optimists can stop reading now, warm in the assurance that my 2010 may look better but it certainly can’t last.

Silly kids.

Everyone that’s still here, lemme start with the good news: 2010 is going to be better than 2009.  Honestly.  This is based not on some vague feeling or gambler’s fallacy, but on absolute fact: lately I’ve only been on about one thing – making things, and how, and just get ‘er done – and if you’re still here reading me, it’s because that’s what you want to do.  And if that’s what you’ve decided to do, then 2010 can’t help but be better than last year, when you didn’t.  Can (and will) things go wrong?  Yeah.  They can.  And will.  I’m not going to lie to you. And that possi-probability for disaster is the bad news, sure.  But that’s no worse than it’s ever been, so there’s really no need to dwell on that.  All you need remember is that this is the year you decided to Do More Stuff, and so loong as you don’t sabotage yourself, there’s no reason why you won’t.

Eventually.  But very probably this year.  Barring that self-sabotage thing.

Take a look at this pretty little site I found this morning: My Someday. It’s yet another to-do/goal/planning network amongst the gajillion others already online.  I’m not endorsing this particular site over any of the other apps/widgets/sites/etc that already do much the same thing, I just liked the timing of it (it is a rather New Year’s sort of site, innit?)… and it reminded me of something that’s a good thing to remember any time, but especially on January First, while we’re thinking about it.  A little copy paste from the site:

For each Someday, we’ll show you related step-by-step Plans for achievement. You can copy and customize a Plan or build your own.

[. . .]

Help others by posting a Plan with the steps you used to achieve your Someday.

There you go.  Don’t forget those bits, yeah?  I’m not saying sign up for yet another site (although if it floats your boat, then go right ahead. I can already see little mini-nets piggybacking on the service), what I’m saying is that achieving, making, doing anything does require some sort of plan.  And it needn’t actually be that detailed – god knows I make shit up all the time – but parceling your plan into easily managed (and swappable/changeable when necessary) modules never hurts.

And that second part is what I do here, sometimes, and what I always like seeing from other people: there is, again, no harm in lending a hand to other folks that want to make things, too.  There are very few actual trade secrets, in any trade. More often there are just folks that are terrified that if they tell someone how to install a word-processing program, those other folks will finish their books, first.  Which is a ridiculous and, worse, lonely way to work.  It’s worth noting that when you make friends by helping them learn how to do their things, you’re not usually making competitors – you’re making a network of folks that may very well be your first customers, sure, but will certainly be your first supporters.  And that second bit, support, is something you’re not going to succeed without, period.

Of course, don’t give yourself away completely – unless your goal is to become an advice columnist, you can’t spend all your time giving advice.  But there’s a lot to be said, as you all start your new years and your new projects (well, for some of you, that might come after your new hangover, sure, but you know what I mean), about how you’re going to exchange information in 2010.  If you’ve got things you’re going to need to learn how to do to get your thing done, chances are other folks do, too.  It won’t hurt for you to ask, and it won’t hurt for you to offer, either. 

That little segue done, let’s circle back to the start of this post: I can’t honestly say how the year’s going to play out all across the board, but I feel pretty good about mine, and I’ve got a hunch yours is going to turn out all right, too. 

So welcome along in 2010, thank you for reading, and let’s see how it goes, shall we?

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A Decade in Review. Hahaha sort of. Tue, 22 Dec 2009 17:43:18 +0000 Ariana Osborne Oh hell I may as well do one too, right?

If I must use a cute double-entendre nickname for the decade, I think I’d pick “the oughties” over “the naughties,” personally.  Because there wasn’t anything particularly mischievous or indecent about the decade, not really.  I cannot, no more than any other ten years, call ‘00-‘09 a Naughty time in the world.  I mean, sure, there was some naughtiness, I suppose – and far more of the childish than of the sexy variety – but really?  Not the defining adjective of the past ten years.

But “Oughties” – now that fits. The archaic spelling of aught gives us “zero” for years and “anything” for the possibilities, but the current and commonly-used definition of ought give us precisely what, for the most part, became the favorite auxiliary verb of the decade: “We really ought to do X.”

We really ought to have done a lot.

And we did do quite a bit, in fairness.  There’s good, bad, and ugly lists showing up all over the magic of the internets right now – I don’t need to give you my personal list of favorites or worsts when you can just type the word “decade” into Google’s  blog search and get some 20 million hits, half of which are probably top-and-bottom ten lists.  But for me (and for many people I know, and for many more I’ve only just met), in between all the stuff you’d really have to have done in ten long years to keep from falling over with an atrophied body and brain, the last ten years really were just the longest making of a To Do List in memory.

Which I think is probably all right, so long as we’re done with the pre-flight and cabin prep, and ready to do some actual taking off in 2010.  (Oh, go ahead and groan at that metaphor, yes. I know it’s awful. But I do like flying.)  Some folks have already started.  Over on Whitechapel they’ve axed the word resolution in favor of the (slightly) less passive manifesto.  It’s still all talk, mind you, and I think I would have preferred map or schematic, but it’s a thing of heavier intent, perhaps, and I’m happy to see that.

But I think part of the reason we soft-launched the new century is that we all spent a bit too much of the first ten years bitching about the previous hundred years, and talking about how much better we ought to be able to do, now.  Funny thing about bitching, though, is it takes an awful lot of time and energy to work up a really good scathing commentary, and often there’s very little left to do anything better at the end of it. (Which is why there are plenty of people who make their livings doing absolutely nothing but saying mean things about other peoples’ work…  but god help them if they ever run out of things to trash because I just don’t know if they can do anything else.)  So, I mean, yeah: go ahead and get a little bit of OHMYGOD2000-09SUUUUCKED out of your system, sure.  Just don’t spend the next ten years still whining about how much you ought to have done, right?

Because every year the temptation is to tally up the wins and losses of the previous, and be unrealistically pessimistic or optimistic about the next – and that’s probably a little worse at the turns of the decades.  And a little bit of that is healthy purging… but too much of that and you’re just doing it all over again.  And with my love of lists, charts, and graphs, I’m as guilty as anyone. But this year, as much as some of it has suuuuucked, I really have found myself pulling up into something better, here at the end.  I could stop and try to figure out where I’m going, next, but I think I’d rather just roll with the momentum for a while, you know?

If all goes well – and I’ve every intention of all going well, so let’s see how that works out – when 2019 rolls around I shouldn’t have to tell you how my decade went.  I’ll have shown you by the things I’ve done, and I honestly hope you’ll have done the same.  A little bit of Getting Stuff Done in 2010, a little more in 2011, narrowly dodging the end of the world in 2012 and getting more done in 2013, and right on out and up.  I’m not planning for any singular moments of greatness that’ll break my heart and set me back if they don’t happen on schedule… just a steady series of more small successes than epic failures.

It’s about time, innit?

What about you?  Don’t make me bust out my standing-ready puns for the next decade – like: The Road To Hell Was Paved With Good InTENtions; or: the Untenable Tens – because nobody wants that.  Nobody.  Just gimme a decade I can’t sum up with any one word or phrase, because we’ll all have done so much more than that.  Just one sure step at a time.

And that, I think, is me signing off for the year, dear internets.  A little bit of maintenance, holidays, cleaning, and inventory.  Have a happy whatever you’re doing, and I’ll see you next year or in a couple of weeks, whichever comes first.

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Imagekind vs. Cafepress Fri, 18 Dec 2009 22:34:52 +0000 Ariana Osborne God, I really hate that title.  Because it shouldn’t be what this comes down to.  That really should be a bit like saying Apples vs. Pears (because they aren’t quite as dissimilar as pomes and citrus, but they certainly aren’t the same) – only for the purposes of my ongoing “getting started with POD” series, it turns out that, yeah, Cafepress is probably a much better bet than Imagekind.

Which is a damned shame.  Cafepress just don’t offer quite the same quality as Imagekind, nor some of the nice customization options like shape, paper choices, and frames and mats.  So for the really fine artists in the room, I’m kinda saying “sorry, you’re screwed” for one-off works.  But Imagekind just aren’t quite set up for one-offs and beginners, not really.  They’re more of an in-between option for artists that are already shipping and printing their stuff, and want to move to a more automated system, but aren’t ready for a full-time storefront of their own.

The single biggest hurdle for any artist in any medium, starting out, is building momentum.  When you first open a Cafepress or a Lulu shop, you may only make a couple of sales that first month.  That’s just one of those things, you know?  It might take you two, maybe even three months to hit that minimum $25 revenue required for them to cut your first check.  For a book on Lulu (the smartest service out there, frankly), you’ve only got to hit a $5 minimum to get your first PayPal transfer.  And, no, hell no we’re not talking making a living with $25 or $5 check, are we?  But we are talking about results – and when you’re starting out?  Those first tiny checks… well they fucking mean something, and rightly so, don’t they?  You spend that first $5 from Lulu on a celebratory cup of coffee, because you earned it, goddamnit, and it tastes good.

It’s the little things that build and build until, a year later, you’re looking back on that first check and laughing – but you still remember it.

Imagekind, on the other hand, sets the first check (even with the PayPal option and search me as to why, it’s not like it costs them that much in processing fees) at $50.

Think about that for a second.  $50.  To a new artist, trying to build an audience, maybe only marking things up a buck just to get their stuff out there, that could take anywhere up to six months.  And let’s be honest – how many people do you think completely lose momentum waiting for that first $50 to clear?  Right.  Or maybe they do make $60 that first month… followed by a frustrating four months of $47 more dollars that, let me tell you, would buy a lot of ramen. But it may as well not even be there, and I’ll bet you $50 that there are hundreds of abandoned Imagekind accounts permanently locked at somewhere between $10 and $49.  Which isn’t so bad for the company, I guess – but you can bet none of those sellers are recommending the service to their friends.

Which probably explains why Imagekind have a couple thousand twitter followers, and Cafepress, Lulu, and even Zazzle are all closer to ten grand each.

The shame of it is that Imagekind and Cafepress are apparently under the same umbrella, and besides the difference in payout minimums, Cafepress are a much more intuitive backend, too.  Some of that is just the difference between multiple products and one basic product in different sizes, but some of that’s just weird intent on the part of the interface developers, I think.  (And I really wish there were a bit more integration between the two services than some confusing links out on Cafepress and the Cafepress logo on the Imagekind header.  But that’s a pretty common scenario in the wake of early ‘00s buy-outs, and doesn’t really factor into this review.)

And (and Cafepress is no good at this, either, but) is it really that hard to set up a markup settings page where totals update as you type in the markup, instead of having to save, close, reopen, check the totals, and save again?  I might just have been spoiled by Lulu and Zazzle, but man would that save some time and headache.

But, again, I think Imagekind are set up for people that already have a system, prices, etc, and just want to transfer that to an online system with offsite fulfillment.

I do want to say very nice things about whoever is running Imagekind’s twitter account – within moments of my tweet mentioning them and the word “difficult,” they responded to me. And not in that creepy twitterbot sort of way, they actually followed up after. So someone at the company is clearly engaging with the public, and that goes a long way for my opinion of a company.  And I’ve seen the quality of their prints (very nice), and have nothing but good things to say about their costs and fulfillment.  Like I say, as a solution for someone that wants to move selling prints out of their office and stop stuffing envelopes themselves?  Sure thing – Imagekind are probably one of the better online solutions out there (before you get into the really high-volume fulfillment centers and print shops).

But for the people that have been asking me where they can go to start out – to test the waters of online print sales?  I really think I have to recommend Cafepress’ posters.  You’re only going to get three size options (medium, large, and whoa), and one paper and not the best quality… but you can branch out the products you offer, and you’re going to get your first check before you run out of steam.  And believe me, I know how big a deal that is, and how much that little bit of encouragement goes to keeping the creativity going.  And that keeping yourself going and making new things is how you’re going to make  2010 the year you finally start Really Making Things, isn’t it just?

But, sure, for the Getting There artists and photographers that are at that in-between point where you’ve got people asking you all the time for prints, and you’re looking at getting your own printers and postage but that seems just out of reach, yet – Imagekind may be right for you. I know a bunch of the pros in the room just gasped a bit, at that – and, honestly, they’re right to do so.  If you can afford (and your business is at the point where it makes sense) to do your own printing and shipping, you are going to make more money once you pay off your set-up costs.  But setting up with a service that handles printing and fulfillment is a good halfway step that can pay for that fancy gajillion dpi printer, and make sure that’s the route you want to take.  And, you know, if time is a huge factor (if you’re still rocking the day job and trying to market prints, too) that’s another consideration.

So too if you’ve been doing prints for a while, but you’re only really pulling in a hundred or so a month, and you really just want to phase out the envelope stuffing in favor of some bigger and more time consuming project.  Something like Imagekind is probably a great way to keep up the quality (again, they really are nice prints) and quantity of your print sales, while putting some of your time into something else.

For me, I’m not too disappointed that my own Imagekind account is very likely going to be one of those abandoned accounts with (well) less than $50.  Sometime around or after the New Year I may move some Venn stuff over to a Cafepress store if folks ask for it (EDIT:  Why the hell not?), but like I said a couple posts back, I was more looking for an excuse to try Imagekind out and post about them than anything – so no great loss to me.  (Although, for the Venn image, I won’t be doing Cafepress posters, just because their size options don’t suit the image, so I will leave the Imagekind print shop up – it’s not like there’s any reason to close it. *Edited, see end of post.) For any future (real) projects, though: no, I don’t think they’ll find a home with anything fancier than Cafepress.

But I did get a nice long post out of the experiment and, if I’m lucky, I saved some of you some time or at least gave you a good chunk of info to add to your own toolboxes, yeah?  And that’s what it’s about.

(And, you know, I did get a couple Art and Science Venns out into the wild, too, and that still makes me grin, hehe, thank you!)

*Edit: Bradley Schenck (Who would know better than I would, as he’s been doing this for years.  I know you’ve seen his lovely RETROPOLIS merchandise, which I’ve been enamored with since I saw it a linked couple of years ago on… some site. Maybe a Project Wonderful ad?   Regardless, it’s good stuff, and you should go take a look if you haven’t) sent me an email this morning to correct my “only three sizes” comment about Cafepress:

I’ve been following your POD posts, and I have an observation about the latest one.  You mention that Cafepress posters come in only three sizes: but the way it actually works is that those three sizes are each a *maximum* size, and the poster can be trimmed to any size smaller than that.
So, for example: if you create an image that’s the right resolution and aspect ratio for an 18 x 24" poster, you create a new "Large Poster".  Its *maximum* size is 23" x 35".  Then you add the image to your new poster product, and select the correct image height from a dropdown list.  If you then select "No Border" from the next dropdown, the system knows that the poster should be trimmed to 18 x 24".
This has had bugs from time to time, but it seems to be working now – with the minor annoyance that the product image and thumbnail are smaller than they should be, because blank space is left in the image for the trimmed margin.

Which I had completely missed on my first look at the Cafepress poster templates, so thanks, Bradley! There’s one more point to Cafepress.

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While I’m thinking about it! Thu, 17 Dec 2009 19:04:30 +0000 Ariana Osborne Just quickly, before I forget again: If circles and text aren’t your particular aesthetic, but you do have an empty space on your wall, I’ve been meaning to link Jamie McKelvie’s limited-edition Astrid prints, which are just about sold out, so you want to move on those quickly if you want one. Edit: All sold out!

And, in case you missed my Black Friday shopping list, now’s a good time to remind you of Emma Vieceli’s iChats prints, too:

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Empty walls and xmas money Thu, 17 Dec 2009 18:37:07 +0000 Ariana Osborne (EDIT:  Much of this post refers to an Imagekind Store that’s no longer active.  You can read about my Imagekind thoughts, here.  Suffice to say, I couldn’t find a single reason not to move the image to a Cafepress store — I even found a comparable print size for close to the same price — and now, what the hell, I can offer mugs, too! )

The Venn diagram of Art and Science – the actual image of a circle with nothing outside the overlap – came to me before the rest of the post.  While I was setting the type and measuring out the negative space in photoshop, I was talking through the rest of the conversation in my head.  I do that fairly often, actually – while I’m fiddling with a visual I’m thinking through the conversation, and vice versa.  And I thought it turned out simple and pretty enough that I’ll likely use it as a header when I revisit the idea a little later on.  I’ve gotten such positive feedback – and some really great follow-up questions – that I don’t think I’m done talking about it.

But I was most surprised when @jdaysy on twitter asked if I’d offer a print of the image, because she’d already printed out a low-res version to tack up on the wall.

Because, okay, that’s really just neat, isn’t it?  It’s one thing to think to myself this could be a conversation piece, because if I’m just absolutely wrong, well, it’s just a moment online.  It’s something completely different and wonderful when someone else – someone I didn’t even know until twitter linked us up – says “hey, this is something I’d like to have as a conversation piece in the real world.”

But my first answer was: No, I hadn’t really thought about it – because I don’t really have a set-up to offer prints, and mailing things out seems like something I don’t really want to work into my already busy schedule, and who knows if enough people would want a copy to justify a print run and…

And then I remembered that I’ve been on about POD for months now, and I even spent some time last month trying to convince a very good artist on twitter that he should be offering prints off his portfolio because there’s no real risk involved if you go with something like Imagekind (a Cafepress company).  And I’d even been meaning to get a crack at the seller side of the service for possible upcoming projects of the Mad Science variety (and so I could write about it for the visual artists that read along over here).

And just to give me that extra little kick in the pants, I got another little flurry of links and positive feedback when @jennybmurphy passed the link to the post on to @badastronomer (thank you both!) and several people said nice things about the post – but a few people linked the image.

So, okay, yes.  Absolutely.  The idea of having my simple little print tacked up above easels and lab tables and computers and whatever else – maybe perpetuating the conversation out into the world – that’s so nifty I just can’t say no.  Especially when all the work left on my end – since I already had a .psd on my desktop – was scaling the image up to print resolution and uploading it to an Imagekind account.

So, it may not make it in time for the holidays, since we’re at the tail end of shipping deadlines, but if you’ve got a little extra xmas money kicking around and you want a high quality print in whatever workspace you’ve got, I would be absolutely thrilled if you want one of these:

Either later today or tomorrow (we’ll see what my schedule allows), I’m going to do a write up on using Imagekind for those of you that want to make prints of your own.  Most of my POD talking lately has been books and tees (and mugs, etc), and I know there are a few of you that work at finer resolutions than Cafepress or Lulu (black and white) are good for, or that don’t have enough photos, for instance, to do a full photobook on Lulu or magazine through Magcloud, but would be interested in offering prints – so I’m happy that I might have some useful tools for you, too.

But while I’m working on that, I’d love it if you’d link and twitter this around for me a bit, and thank you in advance.  I’d also really like if the photographers and artists start thinking about what prints you’d like to offer, if you don’t already – because how brilliant will it be if I help more people make pretty things that I can put on my walls?  I’ve got this print right around the $15 range for the three small-to-medium sizes just because I really do just want to get them out there (I’m serious!  Send me pictures of it up in your workspace if you get one! I’m totally linking every shot I get, here.), and there are greeting cards for $3.99 if you want to put one in a picture frame on your desk on the very cheap.  But I do think $20-$30 would be more than fair for your photographs or fine art prints, so that’s something for you to start thinking about, yeah? 2010 wants to see your work out in the world, too.

Thank you!

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TOTW008: The Maddest One Yet Mon, 14 Dec 2009 17:27:37 +0000 Ariana Osborne (NB: if you look at the little countdown thingama in my sidebar, you’ll see this one’s running until MONDAY to make up for today’s lateness)

Sometimes, it works like this:

Warren and I were discussing two potential T-shirts of the Week (both of which we’ll likely get to later, so you get no more detail than that) when he offhandedly added, “I thought about SCROTUMPUNK but…” – and I’m not sure what he said after the “but” because that’s when I stopped listening, cleared off whatever else I’d been working on, and threw together the first draft of what you see up there at the top before he could go back to talking about the other two designs.

And then we both cackled a little hysterically for several minutes, because sometimes this project is really just the most fun, ever.

At some point in the design process, Warren realized in a moment of absolute brilliance that we really needed to work a pressure-release valve into the works. Obviously.  And my mock had that umlaut in a separate hidden layer from the beginning, because I thought it was perfect, but I wasn’t sure if that was just, you know, my own madness.  But as we were wrapping the design, he said, “I feel like we should put an umlaut over the…” – and, again, I’m not sure how that sentence ended because that was good enough for me, so I rushed into the image and toggled the layer visible before he could have second thoughts.

So, sometimes, yes, TOTW is a delicate process of creating a subtle design to show off a clever chunk of text.  But sometimes it’s a few glorious minutes of being fully invested in the absolute wrongness of the endeavor.

And you know you love it.

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It’s the most [. . .] time of the year. Sat, 12 Dec 2009 16:47:35 +0000 Ariana Osborne Even though I don’t really do any holiday-specific holidaying in December, I still end up dropping my online time like whoa for the last few weeks of the month.  For one thing, almost everyone else does some holidaying – so there’s printer deadlines to be met, last-minute scrabbling to get caught up with people going offline (or out of the city), even (and there have, ack, been a couple years I for got this one) making sure I’ve got supplies to last me through the stores closing and bills paid before the offices close.  So all of that adds up quickly to my being busier than I necessarily should be.

And then there’s the blanket of quiet that covers everything when you all duck offline and leave me to my workshop and my thoughts. I imagine that part’s a little like Santa’s Chief Toymaker feels on the 25th, when everyone’s off celebrating another year down, and he – or she?  Probably she, now that I think about it – has the whole factory to herself, for a bit.

(And suddenly, the way memories work, I’ve a crystal-clear recollection of one quiet day around a holiday or a weekend, when my grandfather and I stopped into the cavernously empty glass-and-metal-making factory he ran for a living.  Just miles and miles of building materials waiting to be built, all lined up quietly and echoing every thought a hundredfold.)

The blinding chill of the past week finally broke this morning when a lid of clouds rolled in and covered my little edge of the world.  It’s drizzling just a bit outside, and the light’s still dim, and the only sound is the roar of the ocean and and patter of drips off the overhang.  I’ve got four dayjob deadlines and a TOTW needs wrapping for Monday, but right this very second it might as well be Christmas day.  I’ve got a hot cup of coffee working its way into my bloodstream, and any moment now it’ll kick me into first gear, but right now I’m just smoking and caffeinating and idling with my thoughts for a minute.

Posting will likely be a little spotty for the next few weeks, here – I’ve got some more POD bits percolating that may or may not be finished soon, but they may trickle in semi-continuously in between projects or they may flood out after the new year.  Today I’m just going to get my Happy Holidays wishes in to those of you that celebrate whatever and are shutting down your machines now or soonest, and my Best of Luck wishes in to those of you that will be, like me, taking the quiet time to Get Stuff Done.

I’ll be around on Whitechapel and Twitter (and, like I said, maybe even here) if you feel like saying hello. And I’ll definitely be here Monday, because I really can’t wait to show you just how mad the next TOTW is. Oh yes really.

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POD: Try not to fuck it up Tue, 08 Dec 2009 19:30:31 +0000 Ariana Osborne

Working on the TOTW projects with Warren is one of those things that can go one of two ways: Either I get to go a bit mad having fun with over-executing a simple concept (as with SPACE BASTARD), or Warren’s been so clever that I really couldn’t fuck up the design unless i really tried.

This week I accidentally really tried to fuck it up.

What you see above is actually the second incarnation of this week’s design.  In the first attempt, in my fried-from-a-crazy-week state,  I completely ignored my general let-the-content-do-the-talking rule, and went a bit stupid with the execution.  And it looked… all right, I suppose.  But even as I was showing it to Warren, I didn’t think it was really what we wanted.  So I said, you know, it’s cute and all, but let me take a day to work on this pile of other stuff and I’ll give it another go later.

(Which is why it’s sometimes a really good idea to have a pile of other stuff wanting your attention.  Because sometimes it’s a good thing to take a break from one project – so long as you’ve got something else to keep your fingers moving and your gears turning.)

A day later, when I came back to it, it hit me like the proverbial ton of feathers: Oh wait, this is just funny as it is, I don’t have to fuss around with making it busy and ridiculous.  And in about 15 minutes I’d sketched out a layout, picked a typeface, slid everything into place, and tada that’s how you do that.

My design process for a tee on Cafepress is (usually) not so different than the process was for (Happy()Sad), even though the finished products are different. Cafepress use a heat transfer system which is, in essence, printing out an RGB image on a CMYK machine onto heat-transfer paper and then ironing it on to cloth. (Happy()Sad) is a three-color screen print, which means that each ink is placed on the shirt individually.  That’s why, with Cafepress, you can print a photo onto a t-shirt or mug, but screen-printed tees usually have one to eight solid colors. 

But, with the exception of FUCKABLE ZOMBIE (and even with that one, I stayed within one shade range which, having worked with RGB to CMYK for some many years now, I knew would look good in final print), I tend to stick with solid colors and thicker line-widths.


Because that’s a very good guideline with any POD service (whether it’s prints, tees, or books): the less fussy you make it, the better it’s going to look.

From anything other than an inch away, a solid black circle is going to look (close enough) as crisp on a heat press as is on a screen print.  The folks that will argue with that are, technically, correct, but the difference is the same as Mp3s and Oggs – as long as you’re aware of the near-lossless range, you can do pretty damned well with both.  It’s not until you break out of that range that you get toppy on an Mp3, and it’s not until you start fussing with a million colors that  you get sketchy on tees.  Likewise, while the interior text of POD books is, at this point, flat gorgeous, I’ve detailed before that interior B&W photos are not perfect, and your cover restrictions tend to top out at 300dpi.

(Anyone who works with big, broad colors isn’t too worried about 300dpi, but the comics and other lineart artists in the room probably just shuddered, just a little.)

So, when working with POD services (and this will probably remain true for the next 5 or so years, at least): it’s best to design within the range of the upload options.  Which, for Cafepress, means thinking about what 200dpi means.  200dpi does not mean ugly – I mean, you’re reading this at 72dpi, so 200 gives you a lot more leeway.  But it does mean that a delicately fussy image with a lot of lines or shades or whatever else is not going to be as well served by going on a t-shirt as it even would by being printed out on your home laser printer.  Because not only are you working at 200dpi, you’re working at 200dpi on cloth, which is not a nice, smooth surface like paper.

This is where my suggestion of standing up and walking away from your monitor to take a look from a distance is particularly helpful, not just for cover design, but for everything and especially clothing.  Because that’s when you’re going to notice that your smallish, slender type is illegible.  That’s also when you’re going to notice that million-color photograph has just kinda turned into a meaningless blob. 

And, going back to the beginning of all of this: that’s  sometimes when you’re going to realize that what started out as a funny block of text has just kinda turned into a complicated jumble of… stuff.  Good design isn’t always about making something look good – sometimes it’s about making sure something that’s already good doesn’t get overwhelmed by trying to dress it up.

So two somewhat unrelated concepts – don’t overwhelm your content with your design, and keep in mind the constraints of your printing process – are covered by one universal guideline: don’t overdo it.  Do precisely what it takes to get your design across, and then stop right there – because at that perfect point, anything else you add is just going to start weighing your design down with unnecessary clutter. 

And, you know, when you know you’re at that point when you’re just dressing up a pig, put it down and come back to it later.  No sense in going blind spending hours and hours trying to perfect something right now, not when you could spend those hours working on something else, and finish this one up in 15 minutes when you’re fresh.

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The Venn Diagram of Art and Science Mon, 07 Dec 2009 17:57:08 +0000 Ariana Osborne
(If the above image makes perfect sense to you, you can go ahead and stop reading, because the rest of this post is just going to be me ranting a bit to the people that don’t get what the hell we’re talking about.)

Yesterday, I meant to just post a link over to the ever-excellent I Love Typography blog to answer a FAQ about book layout. And then I accidentally veered off into the start of an unintentional tangent about Art versus Science, because, really, that’s a “debate” that pushes about twenty of my buttons. No apologies for those scare quotes, either, as the word “debate” is supposed to imply some thought and reason… and there’s just not any (sane) reason why Science and Art should be at odds.

Because they’re the same damned thing, that’s why.

No, not “two sides to the same coin.”  That’d mean only one could be showing at the same time, or that one or the other should be used to win any given competition.  No.  Science and Art are two words for the same. exact. thing.

But No! you may exclaim, from whichever side you’ve found yourself aligned, Because Science is all about boring repetition and crazy complicated math / Because art is all about making stuff up with no real logic or proof!

Neither of you has actually ever paid any attention to the either side, though, have you?  You had some (sorry excuse for) a teacher in school that told you that you were good or bad at one of the other, and you didn’t know any better, so you’ve believed them ever since.

Let me talk to the Scientists in the room, first.  (Of all disciplines, yes, and I’m bundling Math and Medicine into this conversation because you’re a part of the whole.) I know a lot of you, personally, and I know that some of you occasionally look over at art with some reverence and a little bit of jealousy, wishing you could understand it a bit better, so that the Artists in the room didn’t recoil in terror when you tell them what you do for a living.  The thing is, you’re both just uninformed.  The opposite of Science is not Art.  The opposite of Science is Ignorance. You’ve known all your life that Science is a means by which we increase and quantify and share our knowledge of the world, haven’t you?  Your biggest battles have been against the people who are unwilling to learn something new, who are stubbornly set in their incomplete views and just don’t care about any proof to the contrary. Those people are not Artists – those people are idiots.  And that some of them have happened to be holding a paintbrush at the time is an unrelated and unfortunate coincidence.  If you can tell me you’ve never met a self-proclaimed Scientist that was actually just a brick of stupid with some basic party-trick math skills… well, you can’t tell me that, because you know that they exist, too.

And Artists, you know I know a lot of you personally, too. (Of all genres, yes, and I’m lumping Writing and Music in, too, because you’re part of the whole.)  Your community is no less scornful of the Scientists than the Scientists are of you.  In recent years I think I’d wager you’ve gotten a bit louder about it, even.  And yet some of you will occasionally look at a beautiful fractal image and not-so secretly lament that you maybe wish you understood the math required to make one. Or you’ve carefully talked around what sort of Writer you are so that the Physicist in the room will take you seriously just long enough to finish talking about something fascinating.  And sometimes you really do wish those particularly assholish folks in the Science community wouldn’t make you feel quite so much like they’re patting you on the fucking head when you tell them what you do for a living.  The thing is, you’re both just uninformed.  The opposite of Art is not Science.  The opposite of Art, really, is Ignorance. You’ve known all your life that Art is a means by which we grow and scale and share our experience of the world, haven’t you?  Your biggest battles have been against the people who are unwilling to look at something new, who are stubbornly set in their unfinished beliefs and just don’t care about any demonstration to the contrary. Those people are not Scientists – those people are idiots.  And that some of them have happened to be holding a protractor at the time is an unrelated and unfortunate coincidence.  If you can tell me you’ve never met a self-proclaimed Artist that was actually just a brick of shallow with some basic party-trick drawing skills… well, you can’t tell me that, because you know that they exist, too.

And those of you in the middle, like  me, well you already know all this.  It just gets a little tiring having people expect you to take sides, doesn’t it? Or just not even asking before they label you as one or the other, depending on the conversation.  Just because I can freehand a straight line doesn’t mean I can’t graph it, too.

Now, I don’t want to get into what we’re taught in schools and how that’s informed the idea of what’s Art and what’s Science.  We all know all the school systems are broken blah blah, but the fact of the matter is we’re all fucking adults, now, aren’t we?  Many of us have learned by now that a lot of things we were taught in school were bullshit, so that’s not really a strong excuse for this.  I mean, I was fucking lousy at History in school, but that doesn’t mean I’m scared of watching the news, now.  Turns out I’m just not wired to memorize dates, duh, but that in no way affects my ability to understand and be interested in events.

You may have been just wretched at Geometry, in school.  You may still have no ability to balance a checkbook.  But if you know where to stand in a room to take advantage of the best light for a perfect photograph, then you’ve got a working knowledge of Physics, and no one ever bothered to tell you so.

You may have been the kid that ate crayons instead of coloring in the lines, in school.  You may still have no ability to draw even a stick figure.  But if you know where to place your fingers to feel for a pulse on a patient, then you’ve got a working knowledge of shape and anatomy that a lot of artists spend years trying to master.

But Science is all about rules and repetition, and I don’t have any rules and I’m constantly changing, you may say.  Well if that’s really true, then you’re a shit artist, and you probably secretly know that. If your style evolves, it’s because you’ve put in the work to get it there, by practice and by applying the lessons you’ve learned along the way.  Maybe you weren’t taught in a brick and mortar school, but if you’ve closed yourself off to learning anything, ever, then you’re a sorry excuse for a human being, let alone an artist.  You certainly don’t exist in a vacuum, which means you are applying theories that others passed along, even if you think you worked your own proofs to get there.  And, you know, the reason you’re a special and unique snowflake is because someone did the math to figure out how many possible angles you’ve got.  (Someone else, of course, figured out that you’re only unique to this particular generation of falling snow, and odds are you may have a twin snowflake somewhere else, you just haven’t met them yet. But I digress.)

But Art is all about making shit up and running with instinct, and I only follow a set of proven rules, you may say.  I’m not even going to bother ranting at you, because if that’s true, then I (and the Physics committee) are very interested in observing the Higgs boson you’ve obviously got on your shelf, thanks.

Writers are professional liars, sifting through the detritus of civilization to create a world never before seen by anyone living today.  Oh, no, wait, I might have meant to say Anthropologists.  Surgeons painstakingly alter organic objects with delicate precision to create or salvage perfected figures that only previously existed in their minds. Oh, nope, whoops, I probably meant to say Sculptors.  Astronomers observe and record subtle and extreme variations in wavelengths in an attempt to not only understand the universe, but to preserve that understanding for future generations.  Or did I mean to say Musicians?

I could do this all day, and maybe I should, maybe I really need to – but I’m going to trust that you can start figuring it out for yourself. Because if you look, if you just look at it, that ampersand between “Arts & Sciences” is clearly not a fucking “or” is it?

All right, then.

(Stealth addendum: Jennifer Day asked me via twitter (@jdaysy) if I’d make a Venn Diagram print, and I really couldn’t think of any reason why not. I mean, honestly, the idea of that Venn on lab/studio/office walls out in the wild just makes me grin. So, if you want one, too, they’re right here. If you do get one, twitter me a picture of it hanging in your workspace, yeah?)

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Design SCIENCE! Sun, 06 Dec 2009 17:45:59 +0000 Ariana Osborne Several people have asked: “What font should I use for my book?”  And I haven’t got a clue, really.  That’s going to differ case by case, book by book, author by author, audience by audience.  But I thought I’d take a look over at the always excellent I Love Typography blog to see if John had any more specific advice.  And it turns out he’s written up an entire post On Choosing Type, tada.

Alas, the first paragraph of it is absolute nonsense to anyone with free-turning gray-matter – for those of us that don’t have a hard line between our left and right brains the statements “Art can’t be Science” or “Science can’t be Art” are a bit narrow and uninformed.  But that aside, it’s all very good advice, some of which you’ll already have seen here (Print out and  read the thing! Consider your audience and intent!).

So yes, there’s very good advice on picking your type that you should go read.  But for those of you that don’t necessarily feel like Artists (and this applies to every bit of design, from colors to fonts to paper to art), don’t you worry: Always remember that SCIENCE! isn’t the cold, dead thing that people that don’t understand it accuse it of.  SCIENCE! is any knowledge base or practice that allows for repeatable and predictable results.  We make our own SCIENCE!, every day, whether we’re smashing atoms together or knitting socks.  Artists use trial and error, too.  Whatever you’re trying to Make, you just give it a go and keep at it until it’s right.  Don’t you ever let anyone put you off by saying “You can’t learn to do this, you just have to know.”

Just get it done, learn from your mistakes, and apply those lessons to the next thing you do.  That’s SCIENCE!  And it’s its own art.

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How is it already Friday aaaaaaahhhh Fri, 04 Dec 2009 16:20:13 +0000 Ariana Osborne I don’t even have time to be writing this today, that’s the sort of week it is. And it’s just flown by.  But it occurs to me that your days may be whooshing by, too, so here’s a friendly reminder for any of you that are intending to buy Shivering Sands or the (Happy()Sad) T-shirt for holiday gift-giving purposes:

Lulu have a really detailed chart of when and how to have Shivering Sands shipped (by region, too!) to get it by the 25th, here.

And Rich is a one-man shipping machine, which means he’s quick and efficient, but needs you to have placed your order for (Happy()Sad) in accordance with this list of dates, here.

(And, of course, if you want to wear this week’s STAB&STAB&STAB&STAB T-shirt Of The Week to family gatherings this holiday season, you’ve only got until Sunday.)

Clock, ticking, etc.

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Digital Editions: Yes or No? Thu, 03 Dec 2009 17:26:18 +0000 Ariana Osborne I’ve got about a million deadlines today, so I’m doing this up at a dead run – mostly just to get some thoughts down here, open up the topic, get some preliminary feedback, ramble a bit and get it out of my brain.

A bit of mandatory prefacing, first: I’ve got no arguments against digital editions in general.  In fact, the only arguments against I’ve been able to find anywhere seem to come down to the twin chestnuts of “Piratez!” and “DRM!”  And since one of those is a vague and winding bit of ultimately kinda crazy-talk and the other is more a type than a yes or no, neither is terribly useful for this particular conversation.

Second, I’m not on about dedicated e-books.  In other words, there’s about a million reasons to or not to release content first or exclusively as a digital download.  In those cases, it’s a (as good as it gets) clear-cut case of picking a format, and that’s a somewhat different thought process.  That’s really many of the same decisions that inform publishing a book at all, and we can talk about those later.

The titular question of this post is really this: If you’re publishing a book (and I’ll be working off the Lulu dataset here, again, as that’s what I’ve got), should you also take advantage of Lulu’s simultaneous digital download release format?

And the answer, as far as I can see, is: Well, it really doesn’t seem to hurt anything.

Which is weird, right?  I’m very used to the pros and cons of a system lining up to a solid Yes! or No!  Not an Eh, may as well.  But that really does seem to be where we are (again, with Lulu’s options).

Some of that comes down to the how of publishing a digi-edition (essentially a PDF) with Lulu. I kind of randomly twittered the other day something like “until e-books take advantage of the format, they’re going to be ‘just like’ books.” With the Lulu system, that’s very true: basically whatever you upload (or use their templates to make) can either be printed or downloaded.  But it’s going to be the exact same file, either way.  The only difference is going  to be that a print order is going to be printed, and a download is not.

(And of course, price and a few other details, but we’ll get to those in a sec.)

I am aware of (and thrilled by) some publishers, particularly of technical books, taking advantage of the differences between paper and digital content.  Things as simple as a Table of Contents with links that take you directly to the section with a click.  You can’t do that with paper, but you can do that with a PDF (or a .mobi or .azw or whatever).  Same with inline links that either take you somewhere else within the document, or simply pop up a definition of a technical term.  Or even out of the document to wikipedia or some other web page, although that begins to rely on an external connection and browser of some sort, so now we’re moving to connectivity instead of encapsulated content.

Point is, there’s a lot you can do with a digital format to make it something different than a book.  But many POD publishers aren’t set up (or don’t make it easy) to take advantage of those possibilities.  And, really, if you’re just publishing a manuscript, you’d be tasked with doing a lot of extra work to take advantage of those possibilities, too.

So, for the moment, we put aside all of the things digital format can do, and we come back around to the question: I’ve you’ve got a book all queued up to print via Lulu, should you tick the little box that makes it available for download, too?

Warren and I just pushed the downloadable version of Shivering Sands live.  If you hit that link, now, you’ll see that there’s the option right from the storefront to stick a print or download version in your cart.  Why did we decide to offer a download?  Well… mostly because people asked for it.

We had discussed, briefly, the download option when I was uploading and setting everything up.  The little “make available as a download?” checkbox is right on the page and not hard to find, so it did come up in conversation.  But just because an option is available isn’t a reason to check every box.  Our intent with Shivering Sands was to collect some of Warren’s best writing into a book – an actual, paper, something-you-can-hold-in-your-hand book.  We both saw the value of the editorial and layout work of the file I created to make that book, of course – we’d taken the time to sift through Warren’s rather hugenormous online body of work and collect the best bits into something solid and connected, and I’d taken some care to polish all those bits and make them readable and pretty on paper.  But we weren’t really… well I guess we just weren’t really thinking of making a download, you know?  Our intention was to Make A Book, and so we published A Book.

But intentions evolve, and the brilliant thing about publishing online is that as intentions evolve, it’s the matter of ticking a box to realize those changes.

So, as people asked for a digital version – for every reason from wanting an extra to take with them on their laptops or e-readers, to wanting a more financially accessible version to try out or save on postage, to wanting to print out particular sections (and since I took some care to give every essay it’s own left-facing title page, that’s a bonus), to just wanting to take a look at the layout (thank you!) with an eye to making their own books – we listened to those requests, and said all right then. 

For us, for Shivering Sands, enough people asked for a downloadable version that the answer to Digital Version: yes or no? became Sure, why not.

But for you, and even for future books for us, I can’t say with certainty whether that answer will be different.  Until (and if) POD companies like Lulu make it easy to upload a separate “for download” file so that self-publishers can choose to take advantage of, essentially, a different format, I’m just not terribly excited about the download options.  I can see the case-by-case pros for individuals, and I can see no real cons – but I can’t say “look at this exciting New and Different Thing!”  All I can say is “Here is another way for you to enjoy the original thing.” 

It’s very similar to putting the TOTW design on different styles of shirt, you know?  It’s the same design, we’re just giving you the choice of how you want to wear it.  The Shivering Sands download is the same book, we’re just giving you the choice of how you want to read it.

And choice is good, absolutely, and people are choosing the download, so I’m glad we’re offering it.  But my fellow Mechanics in the room will understand when I say I’m eagerly awaiting the day when I can publish a book and I can simultaneously (and easily) publish an e-book, AND I can say “Here’s two very different and exciting things, and you can get either or both, but the difference isn’t just going to be what you read them on.”

Might take a while, but we’ll get there.

And, in the meantime, my endorsement for Download On Demand versions of your Print On Demand book is a resounding: Might as well give it a go!

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Oh, the internets. Wed, 02 Dec 2009 21:09:40 +0000 Ariana Osborne All joking aside, and with complete sincerity: It looks like I got a new little flurry of traffic to the previous post when someone took it completely seriously and posted a link over to the NaNo forums. Which, you know, on the one hand: who knew you could take a post seriously that includes moonlit ritualistic sacrifices and stern talkings-to by hooded assassins? But, yes, on the other hand, I’ll always feel bad when my words are used in a way that I didn’t intend and which voids the warranty.

But I get the feeling that a few folks wandered over here already ready for a fight and that’s… well that’s a shame. Because I did have a good laugh at NaNo’s expense, absolutely. I marked out all the worst-case scenarios with a heaping helping of snark and snicker. Because I’m a horrible person, mostly — if you read back you’ll see I have a lot of laughs at other peoples’ expense.

(Yes, fine, that last bit is me having a laugh, too. Again. I’ll never learn.)

But, look. Was I talking about you? Are you the person that stops every NaNo (or any project) well short of finishing and then bitches about not being published (and sneers at all the people that are)? Then I was absolutely laughing at you, oh yes. I usually ignore you, because you’re the worst sort of person: one that stops trying when it gets hard and proceeds to attack everyone else that’s worked for what you haven’t got. But every now and again I have fun making an example of you, in the hope that the people I do care about (anyone who keeps trying) will see you as a cautionary tale when the all-too-human feelings of worry and slacking off try to sneak in.

If I wasn’t talking about you, but you still saw no humor… well that does happen. We are on the internet, after all. I suggest (and I’m still being serious and sober, here) that you find blogs and inspirations that do speak to you and give you your own laughs. Because that’s what it’s all about, at the end of the day — finding the voice, inside or out, that keeps you going when you’re tired, gives you a laugh when you need one, and a kick in the pants when you deserve it. For a couple poor bastards, I guess that’s been me. But don’t worry, I usually try to send them somewhere better — that’s why I’ve got the sidebar there on the right piping in people that are far more clever than I am.

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