Typography, Web Design, Motion Design and Animation
I’ll be speaking at WordCamp Fayetteville 2011 at the end of July, organized by Christopher Spencer of Ozarks Unbound and some others. The title of my presentation hearkens back to the “heady” days of the 80s hair styles: “Embrace the Mullet: CSS is the Party in the Back (a CSS ‘how-to’)” that I alluded to very briefly last year during my presentation at this same event.
The jist is that a web page many times is made up of a structural HTML document (the more business-like/boring part that comprises the structural markup code) and a CSS document (the “party in the back” that provides the page with the fun stuff: color, layout, fonts, drop shadows, etc.) In the HTML you can wrap some text in a paragraph tag. Then, in the CSS you can tell the text in that paragraph tag, or all paragraph tags, to be bold, red with the “Homemade Apple” font, for instance.
I’m very familiar with both concepts, having been in the web design business since the boom of the mid-to-late 90s and having had a mullet during the mullet-boom of the early-to-mid 80s.
During the presentation, I’ll deal with the basics of Cascading Style Sheets in WordPress, such as structure vs. presentation, the box model, basic selectors, a simple page layout and some new/upcoming features of CSS3 such as basic responsive animation.
I want to continue to like and enjoy my friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances. I really do, which is why I’ve hidden many of them from my Facebook news feed. I want to continue to use Facebook because I see the potential. Ultimately, I think Facebook will do much more harm than good to many friendships, much like a disastrous Thanksgiving meal can erupt into emotional chaos.
For years, we Americans have hunched around the Thanksgiving dinner table with friends and family discussing benign subjects while avoiding divisive and contentious topics. Many of the people in attendance we haven’t seen for most of the year, if not for many years, and it’s truly wonderful to see them. We love them and they love us and it’s great to catch up. There is a comforting spirit of peace and ease, mixed with a comforting mountain of turkey and peas. It is truly a warm and fulfilling time and we discuss mutually interesting topics.
It continues, of course, until Uncle Harry burps up something squarely in the realm of the forbidden topics of politics, sex or religion, as if everyone at the table naturally is in complete agreement. The candles suddenly sputter out as the room is thrown into darkness, the temperature drops 20 degrees and Grandma shatters the platter of green bean casserole all over the kitchen floor. That congenial atmosphere is gone as if it never existed, as Niece Ashley picks up the proverbial gauntlet from the bowl of cole slaw, and, peppered with sophisticated words she’s learning in college, challenges Uncle Harry on the fuddy duddy hyperbole. Suddenly, witches are flying in through the windows, everyone is drawing their sabers, Grandma is face-down in the casserole on the kitchen floor and Mom’s essence is draining right out through her shoes onto the shag carpet.
The Facebook Feast
Facebook used to be a feast and a gathering place for me. All my friends and family in one place, communicating. It was as if the people from all the epochs of my life had died and we were all together again in the post-mortal world of spirits, and it was wonderful. Worlds were colliding in a positive and clever way, and I was seeing pictures of my old high school friends with the reminiscences of the summer nights full of Camaros, mullets and Funyuns. The compartmentalization of time periods was suddenly open for simultaneous, non-linear enjoyment, and I enjoyed it immensely.
I enjoyed it until many people became Uncle Harry or Niece Ashley. The willingness to broadcast trite, usually uninformed conclusions about very serious and deeply held beliefs of others seems to easily outweigh the risk of harming the actual relationships, and they don’t seem to care. Suddenly, someone’s almost certain myopic and uneducated view of various topics in, say, politics, sex and religion are preached without the slightest worry of offending. The people at the Thanksgiving table have always represented the widest spectrum of beliefs, but the beliefs were held in reserve for the sake of civility and courtesy. Very little convincing and changing of beliefs, in my opinion, happened over the dinner table or happens now through improper and loaded social network postings. In the ridiculing delivery method many people use, it’s not a sharing of beliefs. It’s not causing pondering and reflection. It is alienating.
The question is: is the present usage of social media tools ruining more relationships than strengthening them? Or maybe it is simply fostering relationship stagnation? I think I have gotten to the point where I have many more people hidden from my News Feed than are still showing. Why? Because I like these people, even though we have differing beliefs. I have started to see too many reasons to not like them, and I don’t like how it makes me feel. The fact that I am a Christian doesn’t stop some of my “friends” or past-students from posting decidedly anti-Christian statements. The fact that I am conservative in many things, that my “friends” of course know about me, doesn’t seem to stop them from comparing me to the basest of idiots. The fact that I attend an “organized religion” (you know, where we focus on how to forget ourselves and serve others) is regularly mocked by my “Facebook friends” as they actively “like” their Facebook faux social causes.
Are we going to change each others’ core beliefs in throwing down hateful tweets? Hardly. A few years ago I posted some divisive, politically driven snippets on Twitter and Facebook, but I stopped. I believe in my relationships too much, maybe, and I believe in the power of tools such as Facebook for the potential to strengthen relationships. I have as many firm and fiery beliefs as the next person, but it is increasingly being proven that our need to be heard, and spout out to the world any of our beliefs is ultimately becoming more important than the originating relationships. That seems very disingenuous and selfish. As far as I can tell, we have not been given the permission to not be classy.
Shouting or Sharing
I’m sorry, I don’t buy it that social networking has become some sort of meaningful belief-sharing tool where everyone learns from each other while shouting. That can be accomplished, with proper non-combatitive wording and patience, and ideas can be shared and discussed, probably in person, maybe at a small, personal non-holiday gathering. However, under the definition of that stereotypical Thanksgiving dinner that we love, we have proven that that isn’t going to happen. Really, those in charge of the meal just want everyone to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy some good food. Save the heavy stuff for another time.
I thought I would solve some microphone challenges that Mac users face, based on my recent experience, and based on my ensuing web search for a solution. (I can’t believe I didn’t know this in more detail. Now I, and five of my friends at Best Buy know the difference.)
Background: I want to record some screencasts for students that deal with some potentially tedious software procedures that I find myself going over with them multiple times. Then I can put these video files in Blackboard, our course management software, and the students can watch and re-watch a video of my screen, with me narrating as I go, as I instruct them how to accomplish the task, such as connecting Dreamweaver to a server. Such a headset device is also used a lot for Skype and gaming.
So, I went to Best Buy to buy one of those headset/microphone combos so that I could get a good recording of my voice as I narrate the screen capture. After being persuaded by the Best Buy guy, I first bought the Microsoft LifeChat LX-2000. It was $30. It says right on the packaging “PC/Mac, (10.1 – 10.5)” so I hoped it would work fine with Mac OS X 10.6.x, too. It’s an analog headset so it comes with two 3.5mm connectors, such as the one seen at right: one for the microphone jack and one for the headphone jack. After being assured by the Best Buy guy that it has to work, because it’s printed on the packaging that it works for Macs, I took it home and tested it.
So, I brought it home and the headphones worked fine, though they were really uncomfortable. But the microphone didn’t work at all. I went into the System Preferences > Audio and changed the Input to “Line In” instead of the default “Internal microphone” as required, but nothing. So I did some web searching. Here’s the answer:
The little jack on the MacBook Pro is a “Line In” jack, not a “Mic In” jack. It seems that PCs typically have a “Mic In” jack and Macs have the higher-quality analog/digital minijack “Line In.” In order to get a microphone to work with the Mac’s line-level “Line In” jack, it needs to be powered. The “Line In” jack requires more power, which the typical low-end “passive” microphones apparently can’t supply. One solution is to plug the microphone into a mixer or some type of pre-amp, then plug that into the Mac.
Another solution is to skip the 3.5mm minijack connector scenario and go with a USB solution. So, I went back and related my findings to all the Best Buy guys who were around and they were completely surprised. I had them show me a USB headset/microphone combo and then I asked them to open it up and test it. So, five of them (including the Apple representative who assured me yesterday that that Microsoft mic would work fine) and I gathered around the little Apple area of Best Buy and plugged the first microphone into the Mac with the expected results (nothing). Then, they opened up the new headset, plugged it into the USB port, selected it in the audio preferences, and the microphone worked instantly. The new one is a “Logitech ClearChat Pro USB” and costs $52.99 at Best Buy.
The reviews on this headset aren’t great, unfortunately. Many reviews say the microphone just stops working after a short time and the computer will refuse to recognize it. So, I bought the $10 warranty that will allow me to return it for two years. This was a big pain that I really think the Best Buy guys, especially the in-store Apple solutions guy, should have known about. Lesson learned: don’t trust the packaging and don’t necessarily trust the Best Buy guys, because they aren’t actually trained in every single device in the store. Do some research online and read the reviews, and you’ll have good luck. Probably.
My first column for the Design.org blog is up and running. The main site is going to go up within the next week, and aims to be the top design destination on the Web. See it here at Design.org
The new Visual Design handbook is live! A tool for the UA Visual Design students to help them through their student years here. Enjoy!
Eureka Pizza will continue to get my business. Vistaprint will not. Off The Press Printing won’t either. Cox Communications will. [Yikes. Sorry for the length of this.]
How many times have we been lured into buying a product or service that turned into a disaster, or just simply didn’t pan out? Were we persuaded by the promise of good “support” in case something goes wrong? It seems that the bigger and, perhaps, more geographically distant the business, the worse the experience can be. It can be incredibly frustrating to feel that you’re being taken advantage of and have lost money.
In the past, when we had poor results from a business we were only able to moan to a few friends at the party, or threaten to “call the CEO” or in worst-case scenarios sue the company, which very few people ever did.
I had a less-than-positive experience with the businesses listed above. In each case, a combination of promised services, ensuing frustration, an iPhone, Twitter feeding into Facebook, and the entitled modern consumer, led directly to a discussion with a representative of the business itself. A smart business today employs tactics to instantly head off any negative feedback by following Twitter’s trending topics or any reference to their business. The important factor is what the business does with any negative tweets.
Lately, I’ve been debating the relevance of social networking tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, as a “watchdog” of business performance. This hive-mind collective system we have of “friends” and “followers” who can receive instant positive or negative reviews to their phones and computers within seconds of the “broadcast” really changes the whole system of user and customer reviews. When the Web itself became a massive conduit of the judging of business performance on Web sites such as Epinions.com and on the retailer’s own site, the game of purchasing changed completely. I NEVER shop for something online without reading the customer comments/reviews and almost always base my final decision on the reviews of a product or service. Only problem was, these are random people with all kinds of taste, from even possibly a few years in the past, in various parts of the world, with possibly nothing in common to us. If they’re even real or sincere.
Enter social media: Our hundreds of friends, family and work acquaintances instantly receive our review. They know us. We know them. We undoubtedly share certain likes, disklikes, tastes. They sympathize directly with us. They believe us and there’s a good chance they’ll take our purchasing advice. Just think of the “stick-it-to-the-man” potential. If businesses promise results or good service, we should expect it and demand it. It seems that social media channels could be the tool that ensures good quality business.
At Eureka Pizza, a local, really good pizza place here in the area, I recently had, in the end, a good experience. It was three times the combination of an extremely busy week and a matter of minutes to pick up a dinner with the promise of “Hot and Ready” pizzas. The idea, as I understand it, is that you swoop in and buy a pizza that is sitting, waiting for you. For a good price. However, the last three times I went in, there were none ready and I had to wait, one time for 10 minutes. It feels ridiculous typing it, because it’s really not a long time. However, when you’ve got every minute planned with several kids at activities, someone usually sick, places to be, it turns out to be a long time. I was comparing it to the Little Caesar’s “Hot and Ready” pizza in Tucson, which had a stack of pizzas always ready and it took about a minute to go in, get the pizza, pay and leave, even at the rush of dinner time. The crucial part of the discussion is that the pizza is less expensive this way, and you know it’s been sitting there for awhile, it’s not fresh, and that’s OK. It’s cheap and quick and you agree to lose a little quality. For the record, Eureka is way better than Little Caesar’s, even in the “Hot and Ready” scenario, and when we order pizza we usually order from them. (I had a competing, delivery style pizza a few days ago and it was bad bad.)
It was only because of social networking that my “case” reached the owner of Eureka, a discussion came around and I continue to like Eureka Pizza. The owner, Rolf Wilkin, saw my tweet, contacted me, apologized, asked me for more details, and offered to refund my money. Amazing! That’s a great business owner. To do my part, I went in and deleted those tweets and will soon tweet about my continued pizza purchasing from them.
On the opposing front, I ordered a large banner for a one-time event from Vistaprint, along with some flyers and t-shirts. The flyers and t-shirt came, but the banner did not and wasn’t going to. It was massively disappointing and we were furious. I called, quoted the “satisfaction” language from their site. I sent out a tweet about never using them again, detailing my experience in opposition to their Web site’s claim of “Guarantee of Satisfaction” with all the normal “commitment to satisfaction if you’re not 100% satisfied” and all that rubbish. Someone from that company saw my tweet and asked me how they could “help,” and I eventually talked to some deadpan person on the phone in India who just basically said there’s nothing they could [would] do, there was a problem in prodution (not my fault they admitted) and there was no way they could have it to me. They wouldn’t even refund the shipping to make me happy or even talk about quickly printing the banner, Fed-Exing it to me for my one-time event. I could go on, but I won’t. I now use Print Place for everything else and they’ve been great.
A local print shop, Off The Press, treated me rudely. The owner disparaged the quality of my work, my students, and ignored requests for a press check. It was bizarre. I tweeted/facebook-ed it and several friends and acquaintances agreed to not use them. They lost not only my future work but others.
Cox was to show up one morning to install high-speed internet. Their service is way faster than AT&T’s DSL and seems low-cost for the fast service. However, they didn’t show up. I tweeted/facebooked about the classic case of “waiting for the cable guy” who never came… Someone at Cox in Missouri Direct Messaged me with “How can I help?” and she meant it. She took care of it (they had it scheduled wrong on their end) and got me a quick install for the next day. Day of, she followed up. All able to happen because of these social networking tools.
So, to recap (anyone still there?):
Reasons I’ll keep going to Eureka Pizza
- Good pizza
- Good price
- Local business
- Conscientious and respectable owner
Reasons I’ll never use Vistaprint again
- Remote, faceless owners
- Indian tech support. I’m not sure what it is about the combination and our system of corporate capitalism and something over there, but the near-universal bad experience with Indian tech support is infinitely more frustrating than the malfunctioning product itself. The sly using of some American-sounding name. The attempt to speak with an American accent. The experience is riddled with deceit from the start! (Indian people? Always have loved all the Indian people and students I’ve met and worked with. And the food!)
- Unsatisfactory compensation when they screwed up
Reasons I’ll keep using Cox internet
- A nice, semi-local contact
- I have to — it’s the best provider of high-speed internet
- Good price for high-speed
Personal Goals Based on the above experiences:
- Continue to send out more and more tweets when I’ve had a positive experience with a business, such as the service, food and atmosphere that we’ve gotten at Geraldi’s restaurant. Every time I go, I’m practically sloshing red sauce into my phone “keys” as I can’t wait to spread the wonder of the food to my friends and “followers.” Many of my friends have gone to that restaurant based on my recommendations and have also loved it. Same with Petra Cafe.
- Try to keep perspective before I tweet
- Tweet ever more about positive local business experiences
My Typography class loved the annual appearance of the “Ropin’/Rapin’ for the Cure” shirt. Probably hundreds of these were printed for the event. And as we discussed in class, you really want to be sure of your typeface choices, have others look closely at your event-logo design, and to not promote anything illegal, however good the cause. (Thanks to Brian Wolf for supplying the shirt)
Congrats to James Greeson and Larry Foley for each winning a Mid-America EMMY award for their work on the Buffalo Flows. Greeson’s category award was Musical Composition/Arrangement and Foley’s was Writer/Program. Don’t forget that the film is on national PBS Tuesday night, at 9:00 p.m. CST.
The Buffalo Flows will be showing on the national PBS on October 6, 2009 at 9:00 p.m. CST. PBS has added a page for the film here. Looking forward to seeing this great film by Larry Foley, Dale Carpenter and Trey Marley on PBS shown around the time of Ken Burns’ new series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”
I recently got a copy of the new edition of The Art of 3D Computer Animation and Effects. There’s a nice little summary of “ten career tips for computer animators and digital artists,” and here they are:
- Be prepared for change
- Focus on a realistic goal
- Know your digital craft
- Update and customize your reel and portfolio
- Be prepared to work as a member of a team
- Develop an appreciation for preproduction
- Focus on issues that may impact your health
- Learn about the history of digital creation
- Learn about the business aspects of your career
- Continue to develop your artistic vision
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