22 September 2006

[tech] Things That Make You Go Hmmm: Cheap-Cheap Software

As a user of online ad-supported things, one sees amazing offers; design software that costs literally hundreds of dollars for, almost literally, a couple of bucks.

We have no evidence on this, but we suspect people like this is where a significant percentage of that cheap-cheap software comes from (via BetaNews):
A California man has been sentenced to seven years and three months in prison and ordered to pay $5.4 million in restitution as a result of a federal piracy case, software company Autodesk said Friday. In addition to Autodesk, 26-year-old Nathan Peterson also was copying and selling software from Adobe, Macromedia and Symantec, the company said in a statement.
It got our attention because we find insanely great cut-rate prices for things like QuarkXPress
V7 for less than $200, and we even Googled a price for QuarkXPress Passport 7.02–the international version–for $50. For reference, the full price for QuarkXPress 7 is $749 from jump street, and $1,499 for Passport.

And Autodesk, for those who don't know, produces the may-as-well-be industry standard CAD program AutoCAD (I remember version 10...good times). A seat of AutoCAD 2007 will set you back...are you sitting down? Good...$3,995. I was able to find a vendor who'd send you ACAD for $55.

You know how your mama said that if a thing seems too good to be true, it is? This is one of those times. The version you get from a cheap-cheap software vendor may well be cracked or compromised, and if you want to register it to get upgrades–forget it.

Yes, its true that the design software worth having is pricey. I don't like it much myself, but, despite the heavy load of cost I don't feel I've been gypped by buying honest-to-God actual software from a reputable source. QuarkXPress 6.5 is a good goer, and the Adobe CSs have been golden. You get what you pay for.

If you really want the good tools, spend the money. If you're a student, get those student-licensed products–the upgrade path is the same for student users as pros...Adobe allows you unlimted use of your student-licensed software, and even Quark has been loosening up on things lately.

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21 September 2006

[design, blog] Commerce Magazine Takes Note!

Thanks to a tipoff, we learn that we are getting a mench in a local magazine.

As hinted at in the previous entry, the Times has garnered a mention in the magazine Commerce,
published by the Daily Journal of Commerce. I understand the issue is themed in local design, and right there, in what appears to be an "A to Z" listing of interesting things, is my own humble missive mill, mentioned in the same breath as Blog-oMotives, Kamp Grizzly, and SportBucket.

We are thrilled to be considered in such company. Click on the graphic to see it bigly; here's the text of the part that mentions us:

Portland designers blog in–and about–thier downtime, too. Random thoughts and news from designer Samuel John Klein show up at zehnkatzen.blogspot.com, plus a click-through feast to Klein's current projects, such as Designorati.com and Quarkvsindesign.com.

It must of course be said that if it weren't for Pariah S. Burke, I wouldn't have Designorati or QVI in my portfolio. He's definitely the genius there.

We haven't seen the issue yet (though DJC was nice enough to pop one in the post for the asking–thanks, you guys), but thanks to the tip off of Friend Of Zehnkazen John Chilson at Stumptown Confidential, we got a look at the page. We don't know who put the article together yet, but we thank them.

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[bloggage] Welcome Commerce Magazine Readers

A little bird has told me that I was listed amongst the design-oriented 'blogs in an article in the current issue of Commerce magazine, a publication of the Daily Journal of Commerce.

This is, of course, most cool. If you're reading this blog because you were referred here, then welcome...feel free to converse!


[design] Dreamweaver 8 Enters The Creative Suite

This is fairly big news if you're wondering what the next release of the Adobe Creative Suite is going to look like.

According to this article posted on CreativePro.com (and commented on by me at Designorati) Adobe is going to kick GoLive, thier web-authoring tool, out of the Creative Suite, and before the next full version release.

Apparently what's going to happen is Dreamweaver 8, nee Macromedia Dreamweaver 8, is going into the Suite and GoLive is getting cut loose as a stand-alone application. Not only this, but the new Suite, saith CreativePro.com, is going to be released in November as Creative Suite 2.3. It won't be Universal; that's not due till CS3, next year.

You lucky and wise dogs who have been on the CS train and have CS2 will only suffer $160 worth of damage. If you didn't think you needed CS2 and stayed with the CS, you'll be forking over $550. A new seat of the Suite will still be $1,200.

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15 September 2006

[logo_design] Lowering The Bar Even Farther: MMOL

I just returned from surfing the most amazing, appalling thing I've seen in a while.

It's not even Internet pr0n...

There is, of late, a site called "Make My Own Logo". It is an automated logo creation engine.

I have here, before, commented on what I find a pernicious attitude that you can economize down the creative process and still get a solid logo. The online reaction to LogoWorks catalyzed my thinking in this regard. LogoWorks, it will be recalled, is a site that promises to get you your own customized logo for a fraction of what it would cost to obtain real design talent; the way this was done was by gathering designers desperate for work and throw them on projects in somewhat the same way gamecocks compete at a cockfight, paying them a pittance in return.

It generated bad will amongst designers who had, you know, actually bothered to go out and get trained or at least mentored, to become enlightened designers who'd actually striven to get smart at this. And then there was the plagiarism (including the simple cut-and-paste copying of the Xerox logo, so help me). But I, once again digress.

Alerted by my colleague Elisabetta Bruno at this posting on Designorati here, I looked at the site calling itself MakeMyOwnLogo.com. Here was a site that actually has lowered the bar even farther than LogoWorks did. I didn't think it possible, but it happened.

DIY Logo Development

The model is, to give credit, admirably simple. Surfing the home page you'll find some logo examples and a big yellow button that proclaims a free trial. Clicking that button will take you through a short process:
  1. Input your company name, tagline (if you want), and check the industry segment as appropriate (no Graphic Design there. Coincidence? I think..oh never mind).
  2. Choose a design that speaks to you out of the grab-bag of images they come up with.
  3. Customize the font and color (if appropriate).
  4. Pay $99.
  5. Job done! Your result arrives in email presently.
The images I was given to choose from had this clip-arty feel to them, and the range of type seemed somewhat limited. I chose "Computers & Internet" and "Communications & Electronics" for my industry segments. Amongst the images paired with the word SunDial were: an abstracted Beelzebub, several national flags ghosted in the background of the word (Including Brazil and Turkey (Turkey?)), a classic car, and a fly.

Yeah, those express my mission to a T. Ai yi yi.

But wait, there's less

Now, anyone can debate with me 'til the river rises about how much work ought to go into designing a logo and what a fair price for this service is. But regardless of what anyone thinks about the actual value of a desinger's services, let's instead look at it as a different equivalency: are you getting back value for the money?

Even on my C.A. dialup connection, the whole process of winnowing MMOL's rather (in my opinion) limited offerings to something only vaguely appropriate took less than 10 minutes.

10 minutes of your time to pay $99 for something that thousands of other people could get in a flash, pretty much probably at the same time you are? Doesn't seem an even trade to me.

And when I got to the finish line, where was the free trial? Or was the design process the free trial?

If LogoWorks is like going to the supermarket to get something mass produced but still somehow just for you, this outfit is like going to the convenience store: limited selection, high prices, low quality. There's a bunch of huffing and puffing about the product I could do, but to me it's enough to know that they are making you pay to do what you could do for free with a book of clipart and some low-cost graphics program.

It's bad...and not in the good way.

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14 September 2006

[bloggage] The Middle Earth Journal

Today I linked to Ron Beasley's Middle Earth Journal.

I don't usually announce the 'blogs I link to: that's probably a silly attitude to have, but it always feels like this bizarre cross of bragging and begging (I would like more links, if I may crassly mention in passing, [harvey fierstiein]I just want to be popular, is that so wroooong?[/harvey fierstein]. Ahem. Anyway.)

But after stopping by MEJ, I really began to apprciate his style. Even I remember a time when the vox pop could have a contentious discussion without the powerful side turning into a bully who attacks every one who disagrees with them as unpatriotic, unAmerican, evil and very possibly going straight to hell.

That's not to say that I disagree with Ron; as it happens, I agree with him more often than not. But reading his reasoned (and rather well-written) prose I find that I've pictured him as a man whom, if I did have a substantial disagreement, we could actually come away respecting each other.

That's a rare quality these days. Some other 'bloggers share it.

So a link goes in, and if he recpirocated, I'd be quite flattered, actually.

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[misc] This "Dog" Ain't No Sleuth

(NB and disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with this fine fellow but for lifting his 'blog's name for the purposes of satire. Sincere apologies.)

When I heard that Duane "Dog" Chapman got arrested and was facing extradition to Mexico for messing up on the job that made him famous, I had to laugh.

Now, I actually don't necessarily have anything against that singular American character the hustler. As long as he's giving us a good show and isn't hurting anybody, having one around can add spice to a mundane, dreary life. And, after all, regardless of what anybody says or thinks, America is a place where the motto ought to be "fake it 'till you make it".

So, we have the hustler, the BS artist supreme, making you think he's all that regardless of whether or not they are all that. And, by doing so, he can sometimes becomee famous, which I also don't begrudge, because that's the way sometimes things are done. And, like I said, if you don't hurt or steal from anybody–what the heck. We got entertained by you.

Now, Mr. Dog enters into this because, whenever I hear about anything he ever does, I think of a few years back, when he pretty much blew into town, bad taste incarnate, stomping about braying about how he was going to find Brooke Wilberger, and then pretty much blew back out when the PR machine ran dry on him.

I don't know about anybody else, but I got the feeling of all mullet, no cattle there. But, hey, he got his few minutes of press, neh?

Although he does give a bad name to the mullet.

That, and his escapade, depending as it does from his bad-boy style and rep, did nothing to add to the public regard of the "bounty hunter".

And so we have today. The case that made him famous, the apprehension of Andrew Luster (who, we must note, is going to be in stir for an awful long time to come, rightfully) was handled–well, a bit sloppily. As we gather from the news reports, "bounty hunting" is illegal in Mexico; when the Mexican police caught up with him and demanded Luster back, Dog said "No", proceeded directly to Hawaii and collected his fame and fortune. When Dog didn't return to Mexico to resolve the charges he became a fugitive (maybe he had a hint that his case was a bit weak) and made himself vulnerable to what eventually happened: The Mexican Government initiating an extradition.

I mean, he works in the sphere of the law. Shouldn't he of known better?

Though they don't usually chase people down after a span of years (the Luster case happened back in '03). That is kind of weird, I understand. But then, if you black somebody's eye like that, I guess you've got to expect they'll come after you eventually.

So, no, I don't have a great deal of respect for the man, and I find his current travail ironically hilarious, and something that reminds me of something said by more than one police officer on the show Cops to a perp getting jacked up on outstanding paper:

"You've got to take care of your warrants."

Words to live by.

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13 September 2006

[design] Have You Seen The New QuarkVSInDesign.com?

If you haven't, then you should.

QuarkVSInDesign is, of course, an association I am most pround of. Some four years ago, Pariah S. Burke, another of Portland's, hidden gems, noticed that entries on his 'blog, I Am Pariah, titled "Quark Sucks!", came up regularly in the top three on Google.com.

No mean feat.

The talk got so thick, as a matter of fact, that he eventually hit on the idea that "World DTP War II: This time it ain't PageMaker" had legs and needed attention of its own, and the world got QuarkVSInDeisgn.com, "The Authority on The War of the Desktop Publishing Giants™". Ever since then it's been doing the yeoman's work living up to that billing. Along the way, it picked up me.

Times change, and the digital design world hardly stands still; nor does QVI (as I call it to avoid having to type out the whole URL alla time). Quark 7 is out; CS3 is down the road just a little bit; the DTP War doesn't appear, to me, to be as close to over as it used to.

During the past few weeks, Pariah got busy, and QVI got a major makeover. Gone is the old color scheme, which some readers found a bit hard to read, to be replaced by some eldritch web wizardry implementing an office-supply motife that is the most fun thing I've seen in a while (index tabs, torn sheets back up documents, and you actually seem to be entering your comments on a Post-It™ Note.

Amazing how he does this. As usual, I stand in awe.

You guys don't have to stand in awe, you just have to get over there and avail yourself of the sassiest, most independent writing on the web about QuarkXPress and InDesign (and occaisionally, my own quite modest writing).

What are you waiting for? Git!

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12 September 2006

[design] QuarkXPress Vs. Its Installed Base

Just caught a job listing on Craigslist here in Portland looking for a QuarkXPress expert who can work fast. There's one important caveat though. More on that momentarily.

A central concept in computer software/hardware sales is that of the "installed base"; that pool of users who already have a version of what you're trying to sell 'em. They're already using you. They'll continue to use you as long as they work for you, moreover, they're more likely to use you in the future when your product improves through successive versions.

The pitfall here is that your successive versions need to actually be better. You still have to sell yourself–not as hard a sell, to be sure, because that installed base is most likely to use you again–but if you deliver that base infrequent updates that are either poor quality or of only dubious functional improvement (at best), then they will stay with your old versions; they won't follow you no matter how sexah you make the product.

And if something that looks better comes along, they'll look at it. And if you keep shining them on, they'll jump (helloooo, InDesign...).

You keep the fans fans by giving them compelling reasons to come along with you.

This factors back into the history of Quark because, before the current release (QuarkXPress 7), thier last big-time version was QuarkXPress 4.1. This was back in 2001. Five years, as perhaps goes a certain tautology, is an eternity in computers and software. In that time, Adobe was able to make InDesign ready for primetime and QuarkXPress is no longer the undobted king of the hill.

Back to the installed base, however; another thing that creature dislikes is change, because change is going to cost you; sheer money, to buy a seat of the software (InDesign and Quark are now about even in cost, but the entire CS2 is going to run you slightly over one-large, and the multi-langugage version of XPress, Passport, is still several hundred dollars more than QuarkXPress Regular), and time (and also money) to train yourself (or your staff) to shift over to the new software.

As time has gone on, it has made more and more sense for former Quark shops to go Adobe. And those shops have been, not XPress 5, 6, or even 6.5, but 4.1. Quark's biggest threat may be Adobe, but its biggest competitor is QuarkXPress 4.1–a software application more than five years old.

This is why XPress is vulnerable, why Adobe has been stealing market share and slowly (but inexorably) chipping away XPress's installed base, and why even though Adobe isn't going Universal until CS3 (due sometime next year) it shouldn't hurt them much, as, by the same token, even though QuarkXPress 7 is Universal, it probably won't make a difference to them long-term.

The job listing I was talking about at the front of this article insipired me down this road with one certain caveat, as I mentioned: the designer must be able to save back to QuarkXPress 4.1. If you have QuarkXPress 6.5 (as I do), you can't do it. If you have 5 on the shelf (as I do), you could do it, because XPress saves one version back...but do you want to? Will your computer even tolerate two different XPresses on the same disk?

I don't know. But as long as one can still find need for designers who can save back to QuarkXPress 4.1, regardless of how shiny-new XPress 7 is, Quark's going to have problems.

(NB: This article should not be construed to, in any way, cast aspersions on the people who placed the ad. If you're interested, go to Portland Craigslist right now, and if you're a Quarkster who can save back to version 4, hey, you might get yourself what looks like a neat freelance opportunity. The title line is :Need Quark Expert on Mac ASAP)

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09 September 2006

[distractions] Gordon Ramsay: He Hates The French, Too

Just stumbled on this little nugget via Topix.net...

Some say that our pasts leave indelible marks on our psyches; others say it's a matter of perspective. We don't know ourselves, but The Ramdog sure remembers what it was like when he was coming up in the shining capital of world cuisine, and has a notion to even the score...
They make us all look so normal. I got such abuse there, I was like a tortured child. So the idea is to go back to Paris, staff the restaurant all with English and call it Roast Beef.
That oughta learn 'em.

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06 September 2006

[font_design] Over At Designorati, I'm Getting Something Started...

Right now I'm getting something started over at Designorati that's really gotten me excitied. Since Chief Editor and Dragonslayer Pariah S. Burke did some serious battle against the forces of Evil, it's better than it was, and I'm embarking on, for me, a rather ambitious project.

I've done a bit of noodling about font design and have always wondered what it would be like if I could come up with something that I could let out in the wild. I don't know if I can do anything innovative or ├╝bercool but I would like to put together something solid and have someone else use it.

Well, FontLab, who is to font editors what Adobe is to digital graphics, has unwittingly agreed to help me in my world conquest goals (mwah-ha-ha-ha-HA!). Seriously, though, they have two tools for two price-levels, TypeTool and FontLab Studio, which I've long admired and have always wanted to put to a stress test.

Well, now, I get that chance. I have both TypeTool and FontLab Studio and I'm going through an evolution on Designorati in which I examine both tools, cut a review on each, then use one as the design engine that brings my digital vision into reality. This is a big thing for me, and a chance to let my ambition run kinda wild...

This looks like a hell of a lot of fun. Follow me if you want at Designorati.

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04 September 2006

[zeitgeist] The Ironic Demise of The Crocodile Hunter

I've held this down for as long as I can. If you have a low tolerance for irreverence, then please, dear God, disregard this post, but if I don't put it up on the 'web, where everyone will see it, and in, to paraphrase a certain Dr. Lizardo, "in the miserable annals of the Earth it shall be duly enshrined."

Ever since I heard of the tragic, strange end to the life of Steve Irwin (and my sincere condolences to his wife and two children, he did entertain even a hard heart as myself) I learned two very interesting things:
  1. His lovely wife, Terri, was born in Oregon and reared in Eugene.
  2. The incident that took Steve's life, involving a bull ray, was as close to a random accident as Steve Irwin was likely to get.
Point 2 needs elaboration.

The incidents of death from the sting of a ray are exceedingly rare. How so? Reading the Wikipedia entry (yes, I know, caveat lector), I find that the incidents of death from ray-sting in 1996 totalled up to a mere 17.

Not 17 per month or 17 per whatever. 17 period.

Not only that, the venom of the ray sting, while capable of making one sick, doesn't necessarily kill. Quick action by first-aiders can resolve the emergency.

Moreover, way this particular attack did the poor fellow seemed to be as "lucky" as can be: piercing the chest and going through to the heart, in a shot that could have only been one-in-a-million.

So. To summarize: Steve Irwin, during his remarkable life, looked into the jaws of things that would help themselves to some Steve Irwin face; played with reptiles that could poison him to death in an instant; diced with carnivores that consider him a mere snack. But for all his rolling of the dice with the animal kingdom, all his chance-taking, what should get him but what would amount, to you or I, to a careless slip on the kitchen floor that just happened to go wrong.

Here's the irreverent part; the inner part of me, that twisted part that enjoys dark humor, thinks this is incredibly funny. And this chronicler begs his reader's forgiveness, but ever since I computed the above calculus, I just can't quit grinning inwardly about the sheer absurdity of it all.

There. I've said it. I feel much, much, better.

Back to our regularly scheduled show...whatever that is.

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02 September 2006

[transit] Cherriots Announces New Service Levels and Fares

In the wake of the news that the last transit levy Salem voters voted on was turned down and service cuts were to be expected, Cherriots have finally announced just what those service cuts and changes are to be.

All but six of Cherriot's 29 routes (25 regular fixed routes and four park and ride routes) will suffer service reductions or changes. Most of these seem to take the form of elmination of quarter-hour runs, elminiation of two or three early runs, and elimination of inbound runs on late routes.

Saturday service is being retained, but buses will no longer run on additional legal holidays: President's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Veteran's Day. There already is no service on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Day.

The fares are also going up: $1.00 regular adult, $0.75 Youth, $0.50 Senior/disabled. Wow. In my distant past, I remember when the system fare was 35 cents. And, at one time, Cherriots drivers actually gave change.

Good times.

I think Cherriots is to be commended for spreading the cuts in the evenest possible way (at least as far as I can see) and making wise choices as to what services will be maintained, especially the maintenance of Saturday service, which, if I recall correctly, may have been on the chopping block.

A summary of the changes (and links to downloadable schedule information) is here, at the Cherriots website. Changes take effect 4 September 2006.

As someone who grew up (and was a carless youth) in Salem, I always thought that Salem never has had the transit service it ought to have had. It pains me that the voters didn't value it. Such is life, though; things are kind of tough all over. Since transit is a service that serves you even if you don't use it, though, cutting funding for it we either directly or indirectly undermine ourselves.

Healthy cities have good public transportation. The way I see it, that's just the fact.

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[bloggage] Introducing Chef Tony

This 'blog is not becoming a foodie blog; not that that's a bad thing, but it's a bit off-mission.

The minutiae would be threatening to overcome the other stuff, and they shouldn't. That's why we call them minutiae.

However, I would be remiss if I didn't comment on another local. Let's add to this that I think chefs and cooks are cool people. Cookery is a public art that everyone has a feeling on, and watching a good chef do thier job is like watching a painter work alla prima right in front of you, with the additional benefit that it's a lot easier to find chefs to watch than it is painters.

So, allow me to introduce Chef Tony, who had the decency to post a comment about one of my myriad commentaries on Chef Ramsay. He's just getting started with a site at http://www.cheflifeonline.com, so it's a little rough right now, but if we all give him some visitor love, I'll bet he'll come up with something worth seeing.

He works at a famous local restaurant that's a bit outside my budget range right now (that's just the facts, kids), but if any one of you folks stop by there, say "hi" to him for me.

Support your local chef.

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01 September 2006

[artist] Thomas Kinkade: It's Getting Heavy for the Painter of Light™

Warning: If you enjoy the paintings of and admire the work of soi-disant Painter of Light™ Thomas Kinkade, do not, under ANY circumstances, read this post.

Okay, the Kincade fans are on board now. We can proceed.

Some time ago, in this post and this post, we assayed the personal and professional style of one Thomas Kincade, Painter of Light™. Looks like he's been doing a bit more than painting.

In my blog tripping, I stumbled upon this gem (via the L.A. Times, registration may be required). Long story short, the FBI suspects our boy Thomas just may have been getting away with fraud:
The FBI is investigating allegations that self-styled "Painter of Light" Thomas Kinkade and some of his top executives fraudulently induced investors to open galleries and then ruined them financially, former dealers contacted by federal agents said.
The bait? An appeal to Christian faith.
"They really knew how to bait the hook," said one former dealer who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case. "They certainly used the Christian hook."
The switch? Unchristian business practices, quite possibly:
Former gallery owners said that after they had invested tens of thousands of dollars each or more, the company's practices and policies drove them out of business. They alleged they were stuck with unsalable limited-edition prints, forced to open additional stores in saturated markets and undercut by discounters that sold identical artworks at prices they were forbidden to match.
Whatever you think of Kincade, you owe it to yourself to read the full article, and make up your own mind. I, for my part, am hardly a Bible scholar, but something goes off in my head when one uses thier devout faith as a selling point. It cheapens the whole thing. To me, you're either trustworthy, or you ain't. The words "Trust me" should never, ever, be follwed by the words "because I'm a Christian". It matters not whether you are Christian, atheist, Hindu, or Pastafarian, for that matter.

And, as a chaser, peep this masterwork. My understanding is, it didn't sell to well (another warning to Kinkade fans: doubleplusungood to surf this link. I'm serious this time!)

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