22 November 2006

[pdx_tech] FreeGeek Got 'Jacked

692 Word got round at OryCon on Saturday that FreeGeek, the 2cool4words tech-for-the-needy center in SE Portland, got broken into over the weekend, and lost a good deal of equipment–laptops and such.

One never knows where such stuff may turn up, so here's some vital info:

In this post, John Bartley at KiloSeven gives us the overview.

In this post, John tells us about how to ID FreeGeek hardware.

Find FreeGeek's account on their home page at this link.

We hope whoever did this gets caught, sentenced, dragged over sharp glass shards, then, after they've healed, the only computer equipment they should be allowed to touch are Vic20s. Without the extra 3K RAM pack.

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21 November 2006

[pdx_life] The ZehnKatzen Times Orycon 28 Report

671 Another year, another OryCon.

The best damn science fiction convention in the world took place this last weekend at the Portland Downtown Marriott (the one on Naito Parkway, not the one on Broadway) and by all accounts it was a rousing success.

Last event was the first time in this site, which was arranged with the previously arranged hotel (the old Thunderbird at Jantzen Beach) abruptly going away (it still stands guarding the west side of the Oregon approach to the Interstate Bridges, empty and forlorn), and the paying Con population finding, pleasantly, that it worked quite well.

This year, the second in the event's new home, was better than the last. Marriott Downtown, where have you been all our lives? There was a shuffling of spaces, with the Dealer's Room going to the lowest (underground parking) level along with the Art Show–and though the spaces were in a parking garage area, you'd not know it. Comfortable carpet lined the floor, stanchions were wrapped in fabric, and veils walled off the areas. Actually very sumptuous.

The usual selection of panels and fun were to be had; I watched writers patch plot holes and other writers speculate on what to do after the balloon goes up.

The day-to-day star of this Con was the much-taken-for-granted hospitality suite, the Convention crossroads. Last year's hospitality was a disappointment, a smallish room that was harder to get to than it was worth to go there. This year, removed to the level with the ballrooms, it was large, spacious, and comfortable-a real place to stop, put your feet up, feast on junk food, and check your email (in a master stroke, the space also housed the traditional "internet cafe" (which in the past was a room with just computers in it...hardly a cafe, really). Just keep the food and drink away from the boxes, kids...the network was fast and friendly. Used Wintel and Fedora boxes provided the access, and yes, Firefox was available to all.

Personally, to me and The Wife™, going to OryCon is one of the lynchpins of our lives; our relationship was melded through this shared experience (as well as other übergeekiness) and we couldn't conceive of a year without one. The last thing we do on the way out the door is buy next year's membership (and at $25, it's a steal over the door price, highly recommended), and we did so gladly this time; it's never felt more like a second home. Very comfortable, refreshing, and inspiring.

But then, our Artist GOH was the legendary Vincent DiFate, and while I didn't get to meet the fellow, I did get almost nose-close to some of his artworks, including works I've seen reproudced on book covers for yonks now. Meeting the Artwork in Person isn't transformative, but it comes close, let me tell you.

It also gets me tapped on the shoulder in traditional art museums. I want to see the brush strokes up close, dammit!

Acrylic on hardboard, FWIW. You can really do fine work with acrylic, as it happens. Fine detail!

Musically, the highpoint was the Heather Alexander concert on Saturday night at 2100. Heather has quite a reputation, and there's a reason: she has a stage presence that will entertain you so much that, if you're sure you don't like Celtic-flavored folk music, you'll revise your opinion after you see her.

She's had a devoted following all over the West Coast for many years now. On last Saturday she gave us all a treat; a polished, professional concert being recorded for a DVD being released early next year, I understand.

The last song was done more as a performance art piece, where she retreated backstage under a ivy-entwined arch in a dramatization of her going to join the fae folk, thus actualizing a lietmotif of some of her work we've heard over the years. It was incredibly moving. There was a feeling of putting a full-stop on a period of her performing life; someone after the performance wondered if she was retiring. We take the view expressed by the moderator of Heather's message boards that she was taking a break for a while.

Since she's been incredibly productive and creative over the past 15 years, we rather think she's entitled to one.

We recommend to you that you get the DVD when it comes available.

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15 November 2006

[misc] I b0rked my OS. Recovering Now.

Really, in the end, I have nobody to blame but myself, I suppose.

I found out that, when the Mac can't find its system folder, it will flash a folder with an alternating image of a question-mark and a Finder logo.

It's all kind of amusing, actually.

Now, for some dumb reason, I'm determined to learn PHP and MySQL. Having obtained the most recent PHP, I wanted to install it, and I did so.

I'm thinking now that I didn't completely understand the installation instructions, because what I did caused PHP to break down...or at least that's what it looked like. I was treated to the amusing spectactle of typing 'http://localhost/~eagle/phpid.php" only to have Apache tell me that my machine couldn't talk to herself. Hmm.

Ah, no worry; I'll just reinstall Tiger. After waiting for it to me most of the way done, the installer got to 98% finished in installed Finnish and...stalled. I didn't panic-immediately. Things sometimes pause. But after a half and hour of being 5 minutes away from being done, I had suspecting that all was not well.

Reboot the computer. Remove the Tiger DVD-ROM. Try to reboot. And the Mac tells me "you took away my system folder, you bastich!"

So, we're reinstalling but starting back from OS X 10.3.2. The applications are complaining; I'll have to reinstall QuarkXPress, and work out an activation issue with Adobe on the Creative Suite.

But...hey...at least PHP is working again! So, there's a takeaway right there.

11 November 2006

[design, web_design] PHP and MySQL, Bearing Down on Me

Why this seems evident is still quite ineffable to me, but it seems that learning PHP and MySQL is bearing down on me.

In my day-design-job, there is a website, and significant parts of it are being actualized by PHP and MySQL. These are actually things I've always thought I've needed to learn, but never had the gumption or the need. Now I do.

What I like most of all is having the functions local–I don't like having to have to go online to get them (part of this is, of course, that I'm still limited to dialup). Mac OS X, if you aren't running the Server version, however, does not have MySQL installed. And PHP requires you to go into the system and un-comment a few lines in the /etc/php.ini file.

So, I did that and PHP is working; I have MySQL Community server to install (at least it's free), and the question now is do I leave PHP alone, or upgrade to PHP 5?

Research is ongoing.

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[design] In-House: Organizing Assets With iPhoto 6

One of my current tasks is organizing a photo library, as I've said before. At the same time, I'm learning a new corporate culture and way of communicating and looking at the world via this culture.

It's fascinating.

Also rather fascinating is the process of using iPhoto 6 to do all this.

The benefits of iPhoto are simple to list; it's quite user friendly, the interface is very accessable, you can easily shift from one size thumbnail to another, and getting information on the pictures themselves is easy.

There are some drawbacks. For instance, you can only have one iPhoto library at a time. To chance libraries one actually has to quit the application, move or rename the default library (moving which can be a stone pain if it's very large, and the one I'm working with is currently at about 80 GB...but it has a lot of duplicates), restart iPhoto, then choose the new library–which, if you aren't too familiar with the essentials of how iPhoto arranges its stuff, can be the very definition of non-intuitive.

If Apple asked me one new feature that should come out in the next iPhoto, I'd tell it that they need to figure a way to let the user maintain multiple libraries. That would be sweet.

Also, one of the big problems with iPhoto as it is is that certain older TIFFs will cause the application to crash on import (at least that's what I'm being told–it hasn't happened to me yet but I haven't been able to reproduce the exact conditions of the crash, which is kind of an impractical thing to do anyway, considering the sheer mass of the files involved).

Anyway! After flailing about with promising but ultimately unproductive experiments with Automator (which is sweet but I'm not quite on the same page with it as yet) to do things like extract the images from the folders and move them elsewhere so I can sort through them, I went back into iPhoto to see what I had to work with via that app.

And it's turning out to be productive. The first phase is complete; naming the film rolls (which is the latter-day iPhoto's way of allowing the user to view picture files by import session) by date and by descriptive contents in plain English so at least I have some idea of what I'm looking at (and I can skip, for now, rolls marked "Personal Photos").

iPhoto isn't the idea application for this, but then, I can really find no ideal application that fits all the needs. It is one of the better ones (despite being developed for the home user) which has the definite benefit of being able to catalog about a quarter of a million photos–more than any user I'm aware of might need.

So, I'm forging ahead in iPhoto, all the while with an eye toward eventually growing the cataloging system out of it. All that is wanted here is storage, identification, and retrieval, with usablility.

Somehow, I want to craft a reasonably tight system that can be maintained by cow-orkers or anyone who follows me.

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08 November 2006

07 November 2006

[design] Boxing Your Text

In the previous post I detailed what it means for the electronic layouter to have much fun bossing around font files.

There is a secret weapon that allows the intrepid artist to get round the 'gotta havea font file' problem, because, sometimes, why send an entire font file when you can just send a few characters?

One of my favorite play toys in QuarkXPress is this little jewel called Text to Box, which, takes text and creates of it a Beziér picture box, complete with handles and everything. I just summarized my finding on QuarkVsInDesign here.

Just one thing: if you convert a complified font like Papyrus...watch out. You're in for some work, yo.

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05 November 2006

[pdx] The Oy! Mercantile

So, I resisted the urge for as long as I could, but eventually I had to stare into the abyss: the CaféPress Emilie Boyles online shop.

It's all there; the prolific production, the awkward self-promotion ("Emilie Oy! A product of Emilie Boyles), the egregious abuse of Cooper Black. Seems authentic.

Why, she's even inaugurated a line of stuff under the banner of the new moniker b!X has crafted for her; we give you the 'Lie Boyles line. Here. No, you take it. Seriously.

It's true what they say; it does take all kinds. And twice on Sundays. Altho' I don't see much of a demand for a 100-pack of "'Lie Boyles" refrigerator magnets...but hey, I'm hardly a marketing genius. I could be wrong.

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04 November 2006

[design] In-House: Fonts, Fonts, Fonts and Collecting For Output

This in-house designer lesson-of-the-week (more or less) is brought to you by the majesty of digital fonts and the fact that they are, in actuality, application files. It's supported by what is sometimes the sheer complexity of the actual digital design proposition.

Fonts on your computer are, in a way, not merely data files. They are produced by people–companies, individuals, consortiums, or what have you–and copyright pertains naturally, even in our currently messed-up, subject-to-politics legal system (I'm not against copyrights, mind...that's all for another program actually. Excuse the digression). As such, the original creator retains all rights to the font files, but you, the user have the right to use them to create layout and documents within reasonable limits.

Being commercial digital software, all the other limits and rights also pertain: you can't give them away, if you provide them to another then it must be within the context of a specific use, you can't sell them as your own, and you can't get a commerically-available font from another user free and use them in your own for-profit projects without risking copyright infringmement.

Yes, all that good stuff.

The Application Told You So!

Moreover, the leading layout and aggregator applications are designed with this in mind.

InDesign calles it "Package"; QuarkXPress calls it "Collect for Output..."; both options can be found in the respective application's File dropdowns. What they do is gather all the files used in production–the layout document file, supporting pictures, color profiles, and germanely, fonts, and deposit them (and plain-text report about the process) in a folder of your specification.

This is a very sophisticated and valuable function. There was a time, back in the days of Mac System 7 and OS 8 and before, when Quark was King and PageMaker was still in the game, when the digital designerista had to manually collect the graphics and fonts they used to design the layout manually (that is, finding them in the disk and copying them into the output folder that was destined for the service bureau). As far as my limited awareness of the history of electronic layout goes, font collection was kind of late to the the game, not showing up in QuarkXPress until version 4 (or maybe 4.01), in the mid-late 90's.

Since Adobe and Quark are both major shareholders in the idea of digital rights, each layout application flashes a big ol' warning sign your direction when you collect or package. Here's what InDesign CS2 tells you:

And here's QuarkXPress 6.5 harshing your vibe:

The differences in approaches are intriguing; Indy gives you the full monty (at least as succinctly as possible), QXP is a little less informative. And while, in QXP, if you don't care for the fonty restrictions you can go on without them, Indy wouldn't think to go on without those fonts (Indy wouldn't think of leaving his buddies behind!).

The upshot of all the legalese is this (as I understand it; IANA Copyright/digital rights L):
  1. You're about to copy software you have rights to, but do not own copyright for.
  2. It is your remit to to understand copyright law and license rights as they apply here. Just like the traffic code, ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
  3. All else being equal you do, however, have the right to pack up a copy of the font files you used for this particular job only with the document file to send to the service bureau.
  4. The service bureau may use the font you supply, but only for the purposes of print production of this job and nothing else.
  5. There may be unusual circumstances that mean that, despite the previous two allowances, your service bureau is not authorized to use the fonts you send (we certainly can't think of them).
It's The Chewy Center

So what's the point, after all that legal blah-de-blah? Simply this: fonts are not integral to the digital file a layout artist composes. They are an include.

If I came up with a brilliant layout (If? Sorry, when...) e.g. in QuarkXPress, and gave you a copy of the .qxd file and nothing else, you'd open this up on your workstation and, if you don't have the fonts I do, you'll get the layout-file equivalent of a dog's breakfast.

Lets, for the sake of argument, assume a text layout with no graphics at all. If QXP does not find the fonts the document file tells it it's supposed to be linked to, you'll get a host of dialog boxes that encourage you to link to the proper files (or, if QXP 6.5 and later doesn't find the fonts in disk it'll ask you if you want to purchase them and then whisk you off to the appropriate retail website). If you decide to forge ahead (hey, I said forge! Like metal type! Funnay joak!) anyway the layout will be populated with defonts (what I call default fonts when I'm in a hurry). Type selection is a concious choice meant to support the overall message the design sends.

The layout collapses in a heap of embarrassment and tries to hide out as a Word doc. Not pretty.

But what if you seem to have those fonts anyway? So far so good; you diligently relink (swearing bad mojo upon the layouter who sent you the fontless layout file) and–bingo!–you have the layout as the artist intended it be seen.

Or do you?

The fact is that similarly named fonts from different founders may have differences in metrics (kerning, letterspacing and the like) that range from the subtle to the amazing. So, the text is imported and looks right but now it's not flowing properly, H&Js aren't working out, and in really irritating cases, the copy actually needs to be refit. If your correspondent is sufficiently patient and generous to refit the copy on thier end and send you back the result, it's going to be all When Worlds Collide again and the errors can pile up.

You Can Turn Off that Damn Theremin Now

The previous tale of typographical horror is just hypothetical, now. But it illustrates the reason why layouters have to be aware of what relationships fonts have to thier documents and why they have to be aware of copyright and why we collect for output.

Generally speaking, common-sense best-practices instilled as almost-ritual in graphic arts (and drummed unrelentingly into design school students heads) make the habit of checking and conforming with them almost subliminal. I hardly have a birds-eye view of the field but here at the Times we hear very little about such problems being a huge issue.

But if there are a set of commandments for layout artists, two of them must be: Thou shalt package and preflight, and Thou shalt be aware of copyright.

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03 November 2006

[design] Quark's Got a New CEO. At Last.

When last we heard the travails of Quark, Inc.'s management staff, they had canned Kamar Aulakh, the CEO who was leading Quark into the new customer-centered era of corporate culture (as opposed to the Ebrahimi-led years, which typically held the customer base in veiled contempt, which was something they did because they could).

Then, on 12 June 2005, Aulakh resigned abruptly, amid cirucmstance which still remain a mystery to this day, and Quark appointed a marketing supremo as interim CEO.

The long interregum has ended, as Quark has at last anointed a new CEO: Raymond Schiavone, co-founder of Arbortext, which is apparently a company that specialized in dynamic publishing for the enterprise.

We here at the Times don't know if this will mean any change in direction for the erstwhile DTP king, but QuarkVSInDesign, of course, has something on it (credit Pariah Burke, natch), and here's Quark enthusing about it, in the press release style.

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