30 January 2007

[art] Whither Bob Ross and Happy Bushes and Trees

723 Bob Ross.

He's got no galleries named for him; no career retrospectives coming, no monographs being published, no critical reappraisment seems in any way imminent. But, because of him, more Americans are wielding oil paints than ever before, if the PR is to be believed. What does not seem to be a matter of opinion is this: the conventional wisdom holds that his half-hour PBS (typically) instructional, The Joy of Painting, is the single most popular program of its type ever seen; we will tacitly accept that its continued availablity in many markets, almost 13 years since his rather untimely death from leukaemia in 1995, serves as adequate evidence of this.

We have had respect and awe for the Ross method, where a variety of wet-on-wet oil panting is practiced, but as EmptyEasel notes here, have had our doubts about its effectiveness at creating actual artists.

We do not come necessarily to praise the late Mr. Ross, nor necessarily to bury him further. Furthermore, we are not CRI-playa-hatas; after watching the Ross method in action we find that a lot of people derive happiness and fun from producing Ross-style paintings.

It must be said, though, that we find the typical Ross-method paining unremarkable, the sort of thing you'll find in hotel-rooms and for sale at those "starving artist" road shows that occaisionally come to the nearest fairground/convention center/roadside inn.

We've arrived at this conclusion after years of being a quite devoted fan of The Joy of Painting. This program, which ran for around 10 years through seemingly uncounted series and over 30 volumes of at-home "how-to" books featuring detailed instructions on how to reproduce the paintings seen on the show, has developed a cult following both ironic and non-ironic, and the show can be enjoyed for its mere presentation value alone; utterly confident with his materials and tools, Ross produced a completed imaginary oil landscape in a mere 25 minutes, more or less, complete with a folksy, low-key style complete with a soothing voice which has been compared with tranqulizers such as Xanax; quite a few of his signature phrases, particularly those about happy clouds, trees, and especially happy accidents, have become similarly iconic.

I always liked him saying "just a hair, and some air", when lightly applying paint.

The Ross Method

The process of oil painting is something masters aspire to for a reason; it is sometimes complicated (with the art theory required to properly nurture and mature the talent) and time consuming (parts of a painting are typically painted and then set aside to [at least partially] dry).

Ross method painting, on the other hand, and when done as Bob did it has a name in the art world: alla prima, which is Italian for "all at once"; the painting is done in a single sitting. For this to be possible, the additional paints must be applied while other parts of the painting is wet, or very fresh. This is known as "wet-in-wet" or "wet-on-wet" painting. From our understanding of wet-on-wet, a reason an artist will explore this method is because of the color mixing that can happen between the wet colors which can produce unexpectedly interesting and unusual effects.

However, if one tried to paint Ross method with traditional oil paints and brushes one would find an unexepected adventure in painting; our guess is that the results would be quite different. Ross oils are thicker than traditional oils, and the tools one uses are a rather limited selection of a small handful of brushes (including two landscape brushes that look like house painting brushes) and palette knives of unique design. The Ross technique absolutely depends on using these non-traditional tools, as mentioned in the how-to literature our own autographed (seriously!) Joy of Painting collection, and even on the Bob Ross website:
Bob's amazing technique works because of the special tools he uses. In addition to the special basecoat, he has developed brushes and paints that are quite different from traditional painting materials. Without them, the quick and easy results cannot be achieved.
The "special basecoat" mentioned is called Bob Ross Liquid White (there is also a Liquid Black), and must go on before any of the other paints are applied.

Exploiting the System

Computer programmers know the value of portablility and the value of exploiting inherent benefits of any system. Designing applications to a universally-accepted standard is the best way of assuring that the application designed will run on the widest variety of platforms. Inherent in any system are exploitable benefits, however; they are available, and can vastly improve the performance in a given environment, but if used the range of platforms which can run the design can decrease in kind. You lose portablility.

It's a tradeoff.

By the same token, the Ross method has to have certain tools that work just so; a certain thickness, a certain style of use. We think it not unreasonable to say that, at its heart, the Ross method may produce very apt Bob Ross-style painters, but it won't, in and of itself, produce many capable artists. The Ross method is very unportable.

While we will cop to not being apt enough to produce professional art ourselves, we have aptitude in drawing and are not unfamiliar with the watercolor (you want living on the edge, paint watercolor. Trust us on that). We have, however, had a bit more art training than the average bear, and producing art is more than just knowing how to put paint creditably on a canvas or paper.

Artist not only produce compelling works, they learn, at an early point, how to look. This is hard to put into few words, and goes very deep. In naturalistic landscapes, which don't necessarily lend themselves to viewer interpretation, and the reproduction is very faithful to what the artist has seen, the artist has usually spent time sketching, exploring, and really getting to know the landscape. Even when painted as a strict interpretation, the artist has added insight and interpretation to it, raising it to the level of art.

What our training taught us is that looking is great, but seeing is better. The Ross method goes nowhere near this.

EmptyEasel has the right of it: the Ross method teaches a kit approach, where every item has a prescribed use, which leads to a legion of similar-looking works, with no hooks for artistic growth and providing no obvious way of going beyond the imaginary scene.

We did enjoy Bob's program for many years, but quit watching when we realized that creativity and talent are not required.

So, What's The Use?

Earlier we said that we come not to praise Bob but not to bury him further. Time to make good on that promise.

We, despite what we see are the flaws inherent in painting with the Ross method, don't think that it's without value. It should, however, not be seen as the be- and end-all of learning how to paint.

Learning Bob Ross painting technique provides, at least, the benefit of brining a novice out of thier artistic shell. This is probably the first time any of them have ever bought a serious art supply before, and this will introduce them to the process (and expense!) of buying art materials, and get them over the considerable intimidation factor in using art materials. It also connects them to a larger community of like-minded novice artists.

Commercially, the motivated Ross-method painter will probably want to avail themselves of BRI Certified Instructor status, which can lead to a profitable side-occupation in art instruction. Moreover, it occurs to us that a lot of people who paint don't want to be professional artists: The Joy of Painting is much more about the fulfilling act of creation than anything else. Most people don't desire to move outside of hobby-painting; Ross-method is perfect for this audience.

But as an entry to art Ross-method can only be seen as that: an entry-level experience. The aspiring artist who starts by learning the Ross way really just learns to paint the sort of picture Bob Ross would have painted; this, in our opinion, is where they're getting shortchanged. We think if you've tested the Ross-method to its limit and want to do more, what you ought to do is begin reading up on how to paint in general; you can get this at the local Community College or even at the local public library.

The Ross-method may or may not be innovative (even he learned it from someone), but if you really want to try it, it would be most valuable when seen for what it is, so you can either enjoy it to its full, and move on when ready–if that's what you're after.

If you do want to learn to paint the Ross way, BRI has a website located here.

Bob Ross To Go can be had instantly at YouTube.com, and The Best of The Joy of Painting can currently be seen Tuesdays at 13:00 on OPB.

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27 January 2007

[bloggage] Exploring the New Blogger: Editing Layout

722 The first thing I want to find in the new Blogger in how tweakable the HTML is.

My current template is still Classic mode, and the editing I've done in the sidebar is direct and HTML-textable: I went in to the "Edit HTML" pane of the Template tab and lovingly typed in every link, styled every textual bit, and set up little javascript widgets all by myself, and I've gotten fairly confident in what I've been doing there.

New Blogger's "Layouts" both streamline the process and place a barrier between me and the code. Example: I just installed the "Graphic Design World Domination" logo on a test blog I'm playing with. It's 350 px X 350 px. Now, in the classic template, I inserted the "size=200px" attribute in the img tag that linked to it, which made it fall nicely into line since 200 px is the width of the rest of the banner art there.

In the new Layout process, however, the img tag that refers the image doesn't seem directly editable. You can upload a picture and drag it from the footer to the sidebar (niftykeen), but even with "shrink to fit" checked it still comes up huge and chopped. So I download the image, resize it to 200 x 200, and replace. Works fine.

Acually, Pariah says I should be doing that anyway, since if you let your browser resize images you'll usually end up with bad-looking images. I've never noticed this, but my eyes are not the strongest in the world. I'm probably not seeing it.

The sidebar elements are pretty inscrutable at this moment. The functionality of the page elements seem to be based on something in the XHTML called the "widget", which can be expanded in the edit HTML view, but seem to have none of the content I put into them; rather, they seem to refer to data that is stored elsewhere, which location I've not found yet.

But then this new XHTML code is eye-glazing, at least for the moment. I'm seeing tags that I'm going to have to get educated up on, no doubt about that.

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[design] NO!SPEC: Someone Gets Out the Big Crayon On Craigslist

720 Go here to read something that Calvin Lee of Mayhem Studios (another person I hope to grow up to be like) posted that was originally posted by an anonymous designer on Craigslist.

The subject? "Spec" work.

Think about it; if you take anything asking for free work from a designer and replace it with any other profession, would you accept this: speculative plumbing, speculative building, speculative neurosurgery...

Sounds kind of silly, neh? And, cop to this, the examples were maybe a little absurd. But the point is that each one of those trades/professions are highly trained and come with skill sets that nobody that isn't those fields has much command of.

When a pipe in my house goes wrong, I'd much rather opt for the professional plumber, thank you. They know what they doing!

So when you get ready to release every design zig for great justice, think about the designer you're using. If they're a pro, they either have years of experience in the field or a nice sheepskin they paid good money for (be it AA, BA, MFA, or what have you) and they cared enough about their passion to get properly educated about it.

They will do a better job for you. You will get value for money

You want professional work? Pay the professional.

Also, visit NO!SPEC for education you can use.

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[bloggage] A New Day With The New Blogger

720 There are, so far, quite a few things to like about New Blogger.

The most important thing is the speed. It seems noticeably faster...no more of the rotating "throbber", it simply sucks things up and–bingo–it's done.

The next thing is the post Label. When I started putting the bracketed "faux tags" (like [bloggage] in front of this one's title) on the idea was to make it searchable by subject matter. The blog search has not always rendered the results I've wanted, but I kept doing it because I liked the look. I don't see myself ending it soon...it's part of the 'blog's character, the Elements of ZehnKatzen Style.

But now the label really returns some searching power.

The Create Post interface is neat–works the way it always has, with the goodies cleverly designed in.

What I do not look forward to is transitioning this template to New Blogger standard. It means lifting all the personalization from the current and placing it into your New Blogger Basic Minima Black. Typing HTML is, of course, a pain...but that's why Dreamweaver exists.

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26 January 2007

[design] AdSwift: Postcard Promotion for Everyone

719 Something I've been meaning to comment on is quite an interesting bit for the little guy's marketing toolbox.

There's a local (Portland-based) company that is trying to make a living providing a service the small business may not realize they needed. One thing every business (or person striving to build their rep) will need is publicity. Where to get it–that's the problem.

Enter AdSwift. If postcards are in the cards for you as part of your promotional mix, you'll find that AdSwift makes it very easy to accomplish, and the cost is 40 cents per card. I've seen the product and it's glossy, very good looking. And, as a bit of disclosure, the firm I work as my 'design' employment just embarked on a relationship with AdSwift, so I got a closeup look at using it to good effect. I'm very impressed by what I've seen–they've got some net mojo in full effect over there.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The beauty of AdSwift is that, to begin with, anyone can go use it. You don't need to sign up for anything if you don't want to; the five step process is testable up to the point of shipment by any surfer who wants to do it. Registering to use AdSwift is free as well, and you don't pay for anything unless you order cards.

They have a respectable array of ready-made designs to use but once you register you can get yourself a "Swift Box", which allows for online storage of all graphics and mailing lists...you can use what they supply, AdSwift will connect you with a mailing list, or you can upload your own graphics and define card backs. You can also create multi-card "campaigns", and set them to mail out in a burst or what they call a "drip"...a little now, a little in a week, etc, etc.

I just ran the demo myself, and found that they will produce and first-class mail 100 jumbo (6"x9") postcards for $69. But what if I just want them shipped to me so I can distribute them the way I want? No problem...they ship them direct to me for $49.

I don't have too many yardsticks to use, but the price impressed Design Big Boss enough that he really wants to use them. And they really bend over backwards to please...the web archtecture apparently allows them to reconfigure to a great deal of client needs, and the COO and CEO (both of whom I had the pleasure to meet) are very friendly and knowledgeable (the COO, Cliff, is a Photoshop wiz as well...he clued me in on a SeKrIt PS technique for making your images pop, taking the drab out...but I won't let on at least not now).

They really want your business. Taking under account that I work for a company that's using them as a vendor, I really think if anyone is looking for postcards on the go, a real turnkey process that involves no installation on the client side, they ought to check AdSwift out.

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[uspolitik] Guess Album Sales Are Off..

718 Damascus Road Conversions, episode shfifty-five:
Toby Keith, who engaged in a public feud with the Dixie Chicks and once sang a two-fisted song about putting “a boot in [the] ass” of the terrorists, tells Newsday that he doesn’t support the Iraq war. “‘Never did,’ he says — and he favors setting a time limit on the occupation...
Oh, wait. He didn't have an epiphany. He was against it all along. Must've been a subtext in all that Dixie Chick-hating that I missed.

(Via Eschaton, Think Progress)

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[netlife] Need Sci-Fi Desktops for Free?

717 The Wife™ turned me on to this one today: it's Desktop Starships, http://www.desktopstarhips.com. A metric ton of wallpapers from more than one genre (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, even Space:1999 represent there) in a wide variety of resolutions to mix with almost any monitor dimensions.

The vast majority of this art is skillfully executed, realistic–and free. As in, doesn't cost ya nothin'!

So if your desktop's looking a little drab, go!

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[bloggage] Finally Over To the New Blogger

716 Several posts back, I enthused about how the Blogger upgrade invite had finally showed up on my dashboard. I mentioned I was going over.

When I tried...denied, again, with some vague stuff about one of my blogs not going over but no reason why.

Last night it happened again, but this time, it worked. More than that, it worked sweetly. Keeping in mind the horror stories of those whose transfers had taken hours (or longer) or who has somehow lost their blogs completely, I clicked the link and crossed my fingers.

The transfer happened in less than 5 minutes, and the blog came over absolutely intact. No problems so far. New Blogger? Why yes...I'm soaking in it!

I can't vouch for anyone who hasn't transitioned yet, but for me...smooth as silk, and just about as sweet.


21 January 2007

[zeitgeist_sunday] News Flash: American Idol Judges are Mean!

715 We have, thus far, remained safe, secure and immune from the electronic drug that is American Idol; the manufactured stars it produces we don't find amusing, interesting, or particularly inspiring. In particular, we find that Taylor Hicks has a fan following strongly suggestive that Hell is full and the dead walk the earth.

But this season, we dipped our toes in. The Season Six premiere was on the big screen at the Tik Tok and the closed-captioning was on so that The Wife™ could see it, and we were really gobstopped by the people who dared to try. Now, it doesn't take an A&R genius to know that these people are, the most of them, chosen for their entertainment value; the also-rans, if sufficiently bad, are much, much more entertaining than a glowing audition show full of successes.

We love snarky bad reviews much more than happy reviews of good things. We also think David Walker is underrated, but we digress (where have you gone, D.K. Holm? Good times).

The trademark snark of Bertelsmann's A&R man Simon Cowell has become legendary. Of course, the spectacle of AI gets people tuning in, but when it gets right down to it, you'll come for the acts, but you'll stay for the insults. From our points of view it seems that it's one of the major reasons that AI is so damned popular. So one can imagine our amusement when a writer for the AP, in Saturday's Oregonian, that the Idol judges are...perish the thought...mean.

I mean, it's a true enough criticism, but isn't it a little like criticizing a tree for being green? It's kind of an obvious and pointless thing to say. And if it's true that the formerly-tender mercies of Paula and Randy have developed a jagged edge, I suppose that going down this road now six times will kind of do it to you (still, we'd trade thier problems for theirs in a second).

It's not to say that there weren't inspiring moments, such as the blond girl (we forget her name) who had the bad judgment to try a Blondie song for her audition. We've spent our time in the karaoke pit of honor and shame and if there's one truth there, it's this; Blondie songs are only good for oversinging at karaoke. Simon asked her to name a favorite singer; she said Shakira, and did a Shakira bit, and that got her the Golden Ticket (nice stealing from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, guys).

But most of the rest were truly dreadful. That fellow who Simon compared to a bush baby didn't deserve to go on, or his big friend; the voice coach who Randy savaged didn't move us either, and that red-haired fellow at the last of the Seattle auditions should really seek professional help.

The professional entertaining business, we hear, is rough. From what we've heard, those folks got it easy and got it early. They may chase their dreams of peformance, and if they do, they may look at the harsh words of the Idol judges as kindness personified. And, yes, we think they are setting themselves up for it. This show's been on for six years. How much more warning do they need?

(NB: Photo of Simon nicked from a random blog who nicked it from someone else. Words in background added by me. Credit will be gratefully acknowledged by me if I ever find out who actually created the base photo)

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12 January 2007

[breaking] Tsunami Warning

714 As related to me just now by The Wife™ from the next room:

The AP has just reported that a Richter 8.3 undersea quake has been reported as having occurred off the coast of Japan, and that an estimated 3-4 foot tsunami is expected to impact somewhere along the coast of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido.

We're a little bit unclear on this next point, but we hear that there is either a tsunami watch or warning for the Pacific Northwest coast on now, and will probably be in effect until about 0300 local. Since the waves expected to hit Hokkaido are merely 3-4 feet in height we expect little or no effect on the Oregon coast, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

A tsunami watch for the Oregon coast is serious indeed. A time to really worry is if the warning is issued for Saint Johns.

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[bloggage] I've Been Invited to Upgrade

713 Well, the invitiation finally happened on the Dashboard; I'm going to upgrad to the "new" Blogger.

I've been looking forward to this for a while. I like the new features of Blogger and I'm looking forward to using them. The drawback is that I won't be able to post for a while, but I'm going to go for it. We'll see if it lets me and how it works.

I'm out!

Update: False alarm. Though I do have the invitation, I still can't switch over. Same enigmatic message about them not being able switch my blogs. Same unhelpful Blogger help. Same group of folks in the Google Blogger Help Group who are just as frustrated and in the dark as I am about it.

Try again later.

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[lit] If This Is What Passes For Thought These Days...

712 I just can't (or maybe don't really care to) put my finger on it but this makes me angry.

In my surfing the politblogs I find a link to this new book, Applebee's America, authored by people specialized in telling acceptable truths (as opposed to what we all actually need to know) and, because I'm feeling a little off today, figured I'd do something I usually resist–filling in an online quiz.

The idea apparently is that the key to attaining power in America these days is by giving the punters–who are now divided into "tribes"–what they need to hear. This is not necessarily a bad thing–like many tools, the good or the evil is in the use. It does, however, illustrate the utter poverty of what passes for thought in the political arena these days.

The quiz starts out alright enough, though I should have probably been clued to the shallowness of its approach by the fact that only two responses are given for each question. Check–check–check...but then came this:
You're at a cocktail party, and the only choices are gin, bourbon, scotch and vodka. Which liquor do you choose?
  • Bourbon or Scotch
  • Gin or vodka
Well, not that I stand a chance of being invited to any cocktail parties anytime soon, but I'd go for the scotch. Of course, a party without rum is lifeless anyway, but beggars can't be choosers, or so it's said. So, I check "Bourbon or Scotch", but I'm hoping it's understood that by "Bourbon or Scotch", I mean "Scotch", because, "Bourbon"....urgh.

Anyhow! Moving on, we come to this question:

You're at happy hour and there is a special on domestic beer. Which do you choose?

  • Coors
  • Bud
Um, how about a third choice: Gag? The world of the writer of this quiz either has a very dreary life or is a Manichean. Both are like making love in a canoe (fill in the punch line yourself, it's an old one). So I (almost literally) hold my nose and choose Bud (there are some things even Yours Truly won't do).

Which special event would you be more inclined to attend?

  • Monster Truck Show
  • Pro Wrestling Match
How about neither? Without putting too fine a point on it, I'm not the Monster Truck type, and Pro Wrestling started to suck the day Frank Bonnema died.

After the end of this pointless excercise, I'm told I'm part of the "Tipping" tribe. See, there's "Red", "Blue", and "Tipping" tribe, and even though the implication is clear, I still don't understand what the hell that's really supposed to mean.

But it seems like they want the reader to be some sort of fool to sell a book . Because, after all, we aren't partisan anymore, but we all are part of some sort of "tribe" (which is a very hip thing to say) depending on whether we're liberal, conservative, or somwhere in the middle.

Ai yi ever-loving yi.

I used to wonder where were were going and how the hell we got in this handbasket. Well, get out of the handbasket; we've arrived.

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10 January 2007

[design] Pantone's Colors of Spring 2007

710 Trend-spotters and culture-vultures take note: Pantone, the God of Standardized Color, have announced the fashion and fashionable colors of Spring 2007. I stripped out a sample in the illustration (clicky to embiggen). They are, from the top: Silver Peony, Tarragon, Opal Gray, Golden Apricot, Hollyhock, Green Sheen, Grapemist, Café Creme, Strawberry Ice, and Sky Blue.

But what if you don't speak Fashion Designer? No worry; the Pantone 2007 Spring Color guide includes everything including the Pantone numbers and CMYK formulae for all colors.

Part of the obligation of any designer is to stay as current as one can with trends. Pantone, the name for color, interviewed a scad of fashionistas, including such lights as Betsey Johnson and Kimora Lee Simmons, to see what colors they were using to infuse excitement into their spring designs. This is what will be seen on the runways soon, and from there these colors will diffuse into the design world at large–fashion, print, web, and so on.

So even if you aren't a fashionista yourself, you can include one or two of these colors into your print designs and layouts as the opportunity presents itself, and that's an easy way to stay fashionable indeed.

Oh, yes, the Pantone 2007 Spring Colors report is a 2MB PDF available hither.

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09 January 2007

[design] Toot Toot!:My 2nd Article for CreativePro.com

709 It certainly don't hurt to see your name in print, virtual though it may be: CreativePro.com has published a second how-to article from me. The topic is a QuarkXPress function I am quite fond of: Text To Box.

I like Text To Box (Menu Bar>Style>Text to Box) because it lets you have such fun with text in QXP, where text can be styled ad nauseum but is immutable and indivisible, like the classical atom or a dormitory meatball. With Text to Box, though, you can fill text with pix, stroke it with any stroke you can come up with, fill with color and gradient. You can get really silly if you want and Text To Box makes it all very easy actually.

I hit the high points, though, but you be the judge: read my nifty little article!

(Thanks of course to CreativePro.com for having the entirely effable good taste in putting my articles up to begin with!)

(NB: Toot Toot! borrowed from Jeff Fisher, who reminds us that if we don't toot our own horn, nobody else will)

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07 January 2007

[zeitgeist_sunday] The Days After "The Day After"

708 In 1983 dread of The Big One Going Up was about as big as it ever was going to get. I remember those times, as a younger one, well. Back then, Americans were Americans, the Russians were the Soviets, and I think we all kind of lived in denial most of the time.

The preferred delivery for each power's serving of "nukey" was ballistically, of course, over the North Pole (whatever tactical mixup in what was universally assumed to be the soon-radioactive-wasteland of the Germanies important, but notwithstanding from yours truly's POV). And, hidden in the country's midsection, like that crazy aunt nobody ever talked about, were the death-dealers and, obversely from the Soviet POV, the targets.

When I think about it, I realize that for many many years we were, at any time, about thirty dependable minutes from national oblivion. Sounds melodramatic, but it's the truth–transit time from the Soviet silo fields to the American heartland (and vice versa) was 30 minutes, and the early warning systems that were envisioned in the days of bomber planes (when one had enough time to evacuate out of the way) had become early-warning-to-get-good-with-your-maker systems.

Since nuclear destruction paranoia has returned to vogue with the CBS series Jericho (which appears to be delivering on the hope that that network now has thier own version of Lost (and is therefore now fashionable), we can't help but go over our own lifetime immersion in nukey fear and loathing.

Actually, we enjoy Jericho (hell, we have to watch something until the next run of Hell's Kitchen, neh?). Perhaps it was the times we grew up in, but the idea of having to hack it on one's own as a community, group, or whatever (we must put it at this point that we have a hold on at the County Library for Cormac McCarthy's The Road) is a challenging one, and enjoying living in a technological society without somehow reminding oneself that it can be much different and harder with a single event strikes us as the ultimate gluttony.

In 1983, the ABC television network aired a singular movie, The Day After (for you British types, think Threads with a thick American TV cheese topping). There are a lot of differing opinions on the subject, and the movie recieved more brickbats than bouquets it seemed, but I and about half the TV viewing public in America at the time ate it up.

Maybe we liked the spectacle, who knows.

Latterly, a couple of clips on YouTube of the attack scenes from the movie enticed us to find the movie. You can get it on DVD now for a song at places like Suncoast and "for your entertainment".

It still, despite its flaws, was (and is) and important statement. Before the salad days of the 80's, the Conventional Wisdom held that a nuclear war was pretty much it–as a cynical satirical nuclear preparedness poster of the day advised, loosen all tight clothing, sit in a comfortable chair away from the window and when the flash comes, put your head down between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye, and not just that, but the big Soviet bear was pretty much the status quo and we could expect that to remain for good (Germany 1990...who knew?). But as the 80's came to full flower, the idea that for quite a few beleaguered survivors, the day after would come, and those people would have to somehow make thier way through it. Many would, it was thought, die trying.

The Day After wasn't so much about the war as the lives of the people struggling through the catastrophe. If one thing shows through the cheesiness of the 80's TV gloss, it's that; the marquee star (Jason Robards) plays a doctor that we immediately like; his closing scene in the movie is as close to a tear-jerker as there can be. And the sight of a post-Diner, pre-Police Academy Steve Guttenberg is priceless.

They all delivered believable, sympathetic performances, and pretty much made the film.

The effects were the eye-candy, the loss-leader designed to bring you in. It worked very well. To produce the well-known mushroom cloud, the producers couldn't get atomic explosion footage so they had to improvise: as it turns out, dropping paint and/or oil into a water bath, then inverting the resulting image produces a convincing mushroom cloud. The scene of the explosions on what's supposed to be I-70 about thirty miles out from Kansas City is astoundingly effective: the sound fills the experience, and colors are reduced to a duotone of black and a very hot yellow-orange, with what can still be seen though the decreasing glare in soft focus, increasing the feeling of surreality and helplessness. And, in a clever stroke, the effects of EMP (then just a new buzzword for the public at large) are shown on the mundane level.

The story of the dying attack survivors, which is pretty much the second half of the movie, was pretty brave–at least for American television at the time. The deleterious effects, as were understood at the time, of radiation sickness were exhibited with a relatively unflinching eye (and are pretty offputting at times). And characters in the movie who we may have attached hopes to and developed affection for are killed just for being in an inopportune place at the moment–even one who looked like they should have been able to get away.

Notably, in stark contrast to the first part of the movie, which is saturated with off-stage references to the geopolitical crisis and connections beyond the reach of the characters, the world of the second part of the move is reduced to just that of the world of the survivors–no news, no outside world, and no information save for a radio broadcast from the President, which raises as many questions at it answers; we never know who fired first, and the last thing heard in the move is the sound of a hopeful (but unreplyed-to) broadcast from John Lithgow's professor character trying see if someone-anyone-is "out there".

We won't dwell too much on the "x-ray" scenes, though we do admit that they were tailor-made to an American television sensiblity of the day. Like we've intimated, Threads, this ain't.

At the end of this ramble, we return to a feeling we've had since being a kid and being told that us and our rival on the other side of the world could snuff each other out in a relative instant. That though the technological world around us seems stable a single event could eliminate it in an instant, and not to acknowledge that fact is, as we said, the ultimate gluttony. Realizing this is one of the beginnings of worldly wisdom–which is a bitch, true enough, but something necessary, at least if one's to be intellectually honest with oneself.

Oh, and some bits of trivia:
  • Legend has it that the tank used to generate the mushroom cloud effect was to be subsequently used in the production of the Mutara Nebula effect for the movie Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.
  • In the series Jericho, Lawrence KS is apparently obliterated in the still-mysterious nuclear attacks that kicked off the series. This could be an homage to The Day After, as well as opening scenes of the series, some of which, we understand, were filmed in Lawrence.

(Images audaciously ripped off from the corresponding article at Wikipedia...Shh! Don't tell The Man!)

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05 January 2007

[design] Designorati Gets A Hat Tip from Macworld

707 Designorati's stock continues to rise.

You can embiggen the screenshot right by clicking thee upon or you can visit the Macworld Creative Notes blog entry of writer James Dempsey here. Dempsey cites Designorati as one of his current "Good Sites for Creative Professionals" that merit a look. In saying that D: offers a well-rounded view of the creative world, we find that our little group of D: contributors are accomplishing our mission in having a "360 degree view of the creative world."

He does have a bit of a brickbat about the site layout. Personally, I've always liked it, but in my view his comments–as a user–are fair enough, and especially so if sincere. Speaking for myself only, a site serves its users best when it presents itself well. Pariah has no doubt noted James's opinion and you can count on the fact that it (as well as any other feedback we get) will be carried forward into whatever design evolution the web face of D: enters into. The current layout is a change from what it was at first.

But in all it's bon mots all round, and if it weren't a work night I'd have a little celebration. Suffice it to say that brainfather Pariah (as well as all us braingodparents) are feeling a little proud.

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02 January 2007

[media] When All Else Fails, Blame the Graphics Guy

Update and Correction: It would appear that I got things a bit backwards: it's wasn't Obama that had the "accidental" s, but "Osama" that had the "accidental" b.

Either way, it's shameful for CNN, but then, shame doesn't seem to be on the menu at the major news organizations as much as cozying up to the powerful does so, hey, it's all good.

And whilst I'm (still) on the subject, what really burns me up is that, if I got it right, one of the excuses is that the "b" is so close to the "s". Fortunately I have a keyboard to hand (what are the odds!?!?). One can imagine the feeling I'm getting as I compare the locations of the two keys.

What are they typing with, a battle-axe? Can't they come up with better excuses...well, that question answers itself, I'm afraid.

And Wolf Blitzer's still a putz.

End Update.

706 This one really sets my teeth on edge.

We all have had our little chuckle about how that nutty network CNN accidentally put an s where the b in Obama goes.

Oh, ho, ho, such slapstick funsters they are. Irrepressible!

I mean, please. However, there is an upside here; I no longer wonder what sort of a fool The Most Trusted Name In News™ takes me for; obviously first class.

Mind you, I'm no longer surprised or even depressed at the sloppiness and lack of aptitude exhibited on a more or less regular basis by everyone in the media who is supposed to be telling me the truth.

But this "we can't tell Obama from Osama" joke got old midway through the first telling. A news operation thier size and they can't even make sure the spelling of one of the most visible figures in current American public life is correct? And after the last several years of lazy reporting they wonder why people from both sides think they're in bed with each other's enemy, and why most people trust blogs more than broadcast?

But what really got my goat was, as it was reported in the linked article,

The network referred to the headline a "bad typographical error" by its graphics department.Well, thanks for that insight. Wonder what a good typographical error is?

Of course, the lesson to be learnt here is that having a graphics department to blame means never really having to say you're sorry. They did apologize to Sen. Obama, who, I understand, accepted the apology.

I'm not quite that forgiving.

Wolf Blitzer's a putz, by the way.

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