Dampened normality.

Monday, May 19th, 2003

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Well, when we complained about how dry it’s been, when we bemoaned the low lake levels and felt for the rural Georgia farmers just one scant year ago, we definitely weren’t expecting this deluge (aprés-moi).

But here we sit, soggy and hacking up some sorta moldy allergy cough that won’t quite go away, watching a stream of tiny black ants parade along the wall where the windowsill has leaked water where it wasn’t supposed to.

It’s been rainy.

It’s been very, very rainy. And as is the fashion in this age where everything is talked about and dealt with in extremes, the stories on the news are all about inundated crops and earthen dams failing and sewers clogged across town.

I mean, ye gads, if it isn’t one thing, it’s the extreme other.

And in and around it all, life goes on, comfortably and quietly enough. Sam’s cranking on a journal article and we’re making plans for a midsummer trip to Oaxaca, where she’ll do some work in the mountain highlands and I’ll spend some time alongside, at altitude, scribbling notes, typing in the Powerbook, and maybe shooting some video that’ll resemble some cable documentary on archaeostuff.

Last weekend, we went down to Jekyll Island for the Society for Georgia Archaeology
conference, where, to my surprise, self-styled penurious archaeologists who would never, never
give up their tightly-clutched slide carousels were there slapping up cluttered powerpoint presentations on the big screen using pricy presentation projectors which were paid by, well, someone.

I think a tide has turned, and where I of course vastly prefer the image control and typographic beauty of Apple’s Keynote application, the standard name that has become the nearly generic term (a la ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Xerox’) is, of course, PowerPoint, from the evil Microsoft corporation. So I’ll lowercase it: powerpoint, in hopes of helping that process along. At any rate, when Rank Amateurs Who Aren’t Designers Go Wrong and toss up images cluttered with way too many photos, reduced to tiny squares on the screen, I find myself nostalgic for the old days of nice simple photographs, presented as slides.

So in the interest of making a contribution, I offer here a quick bulletpoint list of things to do and to avoid:

  • If you have a nice image, show it off. Make it huge on the screen.
  • If the image needs help, crop it tightly to the relevant content. This goes for photos or tables or anything that is reduced in the image. Remove borders and margins on reduced images, but…
  • …maintain a border (in TV we call it a ‘safe title area’) of no content around your entire graphic. Stuff should not be positioned at the edges.
  • It’s better to go through several large easy to read graphs, images, or lists than to be forced to parse one compound graphic with all kindsa stuff displayed at once.
  • The graphic is up there to lead your audience through information–not to serve as notes and structure for you. Put up one thing at a time, instead of displaying a huge and complex outline all at once in tiny type.
  • Use downstyle capitalization on all your text–including headlines. Capitalize it like you’d write a sentence.
  • Resist the urge to be cute. Humor is OK, but ‘cute’ isn’t.
  • Don’t use the standard yellow text color Microsoft suggests. Make it peachier or orangier. trust me on this one.

Okay, I feel better now. Great folks, important content, but ye gads, I beheld some powerpoints that besmote my eyes.

Hope you have a dry(er) week.

Cool tools for cool times.

Monday, May 12th, 2003

This is one of those sections that if I don’t keep it current, it ends up sounding pathetically, hopelessly outdated—darn quickly, too.

Not long after I started this site, back in May of 1995 (!) I was able to proudly write:

Well, I have high hopes for this section too, But for the moment, suffice to say that I use a Macintosh, in fact a DayStar Genesis MP 800, which is four 200mHz PowerPC604e chips running more-or-less together, and I’ve got something like 200 MB of RAM.

This is way too much power, of course.

Way too much power!? What the hell was I thinking!? Well, okay, it was impressive at the time. Impressively loud, too. And it did a great job of keeping the office warm on winter days. And at the time, it was a pioneering machine in terms of its multiprocessor abilities. And the folks at the dear departed DayStar in Flowery Branch, Georgia built the thing like a Soviet tank…so much so that when someone broke into our house, he just stepped from the window right onto the Genesis—using it like a stepstool…way too heavy to steal.

What’s funny is that the core collection of my cool Mac tools remains the same since those early times. Only the version numbers have changed to protect the innocent.

First and foremost, Adobe After Effects, of which I’ve been an ardent supporter since it was a modest application from a company called CoSA. It is now, in brief, the ultimate desktop compositing program, and responsible for more of the television placed in front of your nose than you could possibly imagine. Back in 1998 or 1997 or so I wrote this about After Effects 3.1. It’s almost up to version 6.0 as we approach the summer of 2003..

Then, of course, there is the legendary Adobe Photoshop, the amazing paint program (okay, an image manipulation program) that put Quantel’s paintbox (priced at $170,000 US in 1984) to shame. In January of 1990 I wrote this about the future of video—and although I didn’t foresee After Effects, I did think Photoshop was just around the corner. And I’m proud to say that I used Photoshop-created images in my graphics and animation just about as early as anyone. Yes, I think there has bees some dilution of the pure Photoshop paradigm (particularly when you consider this as a video tool), but I’m hopeful that the pendulum will swing towards mo’better with Photoshop 8.

To complete the Adobe trifecta, I use Illustrator, not because it’s necessarily better than Macromedia’s Freehand, but it is better integrated and plays better with its Adobe brethern.

For 3d animation, I use Electric Image, even though it’s been bought and sold and bought again and sold again and, well, horribly mismanaged. it remains about the fastest Phong renderer on the planet. That works out fine for me. I bought a copy of Lightwave to work collaboratively with my brother, a true Lightwave master, but

And I use all of these, still on a Mac—but now it’s a dual 800 mHz Quicksilver model with 1.5 GB of RAM and almost 200 GB of storage, when all of the firewire drives are plugged in. Sammy has my hand-me-down 500 mHz G4 (jeez, with only one processor), with 892 MB of RAM and something like 100 gigabytes of online disk storage. And my sister Leslie has taken Sammy’s hand-me-down Blue and White 500mHz G3.

For portability, we’ve got a 500 mHz Titanium powerbook—hardly state of the art, but still fine as a travel partner and a walk-around-the-house reference tool. Data flies into, out of, through and around the place via an Earthlink DSL connection and Apple’s Airport.

Amazingly, this is by no means a state-of-the-art setup—Sammy and I both have, for example, a strange dual hybrid of digital LCD displays (beautiful, crisp, clean) and clunky fading RGB monitors—17 inchers, all. One of each per person.

And thus we await the new Apple processors—the 970s—with bated breath. DDR RAM without any bus speed bottlenecks? Wow.

Six years or so on from being the first to use DV video for actual broadcast television (in 1997), we still use Sony and Panasonic’s DV, DVCAM, and DVCPRO stuff slammed in and out of our machines via Firewire like crazy.

Still kinda feels like way too much power. What the hell am I thinking?