Friday, July 31st, 2020

WiFi-delivered internet is a fast thing. LTE-delivered internet can be a fast thing. But when you’re trying to configure a new phone (not mine, for a friend), which on a theoretical level should be a walk in the park. But if the people developing the software assume you have a nice stable broadband connection on both your devices and in reality, the LTE connection on your device is through a cranky sluggish oversubscribed tower, well, patience becomes your guiding principle. The irony of course is that each and every bit of all these apps (and content) exist right here on the old device, and exist here on the encrypted backup of the old device, but no, the new device wants to get them fresh from the app store, in the cloud, y’know, just to be sure.

So this is how July ends. Waiting…loading…

Patterns on the land.

Thursday, July 30th, 2020

Some guy (?) guys? cut the hay in our neighbor’s field (he’s a little old to be steering a tractor.) It made a nice pattern, disturbed the Sandhill Cranes a bit, and as Sammy noticed, a lot of the progress happened in the late afternoon and evening, so the cutter may have a day job.

So the right side of the picture, the green stuff, that’s to the south. That’s our land. Feels funny saying that. But it’s true.


Wednesday, July 29th, 2020

In the Upper Peninsula, the concept of ‘garden fresh’ can vary a great deal.

I’m pretty sure this trademarked cake is not garden fresh.

And yet these definitely were in the ground just hours before processing and eating.

Please hold.

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

I spent some time the past couple of days trying to troubleshoot my rural Michigan neighbors’ cell phone plan(s), which have been offering them marginally OK ways of making phone calls, but as far as data, they’ve been trapped by two gotchas that affect rural LTE data customers.

One is that many plans “deprioritize” your data usage immediately or after a certain amount of so-called “unlimited” data is consumed. That means everyone else with..ah..undeprioritized data gets the first crack at occasionally overburdened cell towers.

“Occasionally overburdened.” Well, that’s not really the situation when you have a touristy town in the Upper Peninsula that attracts a lot of cell phone toting people from downstate or from states even more distant. So calling up even the simplest web page takes minutes, not nanoseconds. That’s especially true when most of these people are sucking their data from one particular cell tower, because that’s the only one nearby. (That’s the very tower of which I speak, pictured above, next to all those fine logos.)

So I think we got our dear friends on a plan where both their devices are at the front of the line, data-wise. It doesn’t guarantee that things won’t get slammed, but the odds are better, and they aren’t paying premium prices for mediocrity. And because of the pandemic, the telecom workers we had to talk to are working from their homes (one guys says he understands this may be permanent) and there are fewer of them, and, well, a process that might in better times have taken ten minutes took closer to two hours, most of it filled with the kind of hold music that makes you want to do physical harm to your device.

So, better data! But you never know. And in a snowstorm or some sort of other weather event, well, the signals getting from point a to point b here are always a bit of a tech miracle.

Notes to end a Monday.

Monday, July 27th, 2020

Today, tidbits, mostly because I’ve had a long day and my mind is going in about fifteen directions, none of which make for particularly interesting reading.

* * * * *

Well, turns out that Hurricane Douglas only grazed Oahu and the other islands in the chain.

* * * * *

Star Trek: Discovery returns to that CBS All Access thing October 15th.

* * * * *

Attorney General William Barr testifies in front of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning. The Washington Post reports he will be taking “a defiant posture,” which, y’know, for so many reasons, I don’t want to see.

* * * * *

John Lewis lay in state in the US Capitol on Monday. I was surprised to hear he was the first black lawmaker to do so.

* * * * *

You want some stuff to read that isn’t people screaming at each other in 280 characters? Might I recommend Mary’s essay remembering John Lewis? Or perhaps Nancy’s most recent post discussing the departed founding member of Fleetwood Mac and the also departed guy who got his obituary ready for the AP. And ababsurdo.com, the home of the fabled Kayak Woman, is always a pleasure for reliably holding up her life in surprisingly abstract ways.

* * * * *

Okay, I think I’m ready for some sleep and a more focused week ahead. And I’m fresh out of asterisks.

Douglas’s pending arrival.

Sunday, July 26th, 2020

One year ago today we were in a very different place with a very different culture.

Now, the good people of Hawaiʻi have to endure Hurricane Douglas on top of the pandemic, and I sure wish them good luck, continued fortitude, and favorable winds.

July doldrums.

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

You know that ‘doldrums’ is a term from the world of sailing and navigation, and the real pro sailors of today refer to it as the Intertropical Convergence Zone, which just doesn’t have the same punch…? Kinda sounds like where people to meet to discuss varieties of orange juice.

But what I’m trying to describe is not particularly intertropical, nor does it rely on prevailing winds of any sort. It’s the feeling when it’s hot, very hot, and even with a breeze, one doesn’t feel particularly inspired to take on major outside chores or, well, much of anything. We’re most of the way through July. We can see August there in the distance, with its promise of the first breezes of autumnal coolness.

It’s very hot in Atlanta. It’s pretty darned hot in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. So maybe we should get into the truck and drive to Anchorage? Yeah, it’s only 58º there in mid-afternoon.

But no matter where we go, we’ll still have to deal with the pandemic and its effects and (at some distance) the throes of the Trump administration trying to pull an election victory out of a strategy that seems to mix equal parts fear, xenophobia, and general stupidity.

I wish the winds would pick up and hurl us more quickly toward November.

Shaped letters.

Friday, July 24th, 2020

Gotham Bold.

Snell Roundhand.

Clearview Highway. (The modern freeway sign font.)

Marvin (or to be precise, the redraw of the 1970s font, now called Marvin Visions).

Interstate Bold. (The old freeway font.)

Glaser Stencil.

Lubalin Graph Bold.

I was browsing Font Book the other day—it’s the Mac OS app that manages and displays the installed fonts you have on your system. At home, I have a luxury of lots of disk space and a collection of TrueType and Type 1 fonts that date back decades.

When we travel, I have to stop for a moment and say, “hm, is that one on our laptop too?” I’m often surprised what is and isn’t there. One example: there’s a bunch of stuff from when I was working on a poster while we were staying at an AirB&B in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I finish something like that up and we hit the road, and my workspace is, in effect, paused at the moment I turned our attention back to travel again.

I have, in fact, had to work on a file that required a font that sat back on the big hard drive in Atlanta. Fortunately, if the gods of Internet-ness are willing and our Atlanta home isn’t experiencing a power outage, I can usually yank it from there to here.

But today, I didn’t have any urgent mission, I was just enjoying the labors of font designers who do battle with legibility and tone and balance and consistency. I was letting the letterforms remind me of projects past, of places visited, of freeway signs admired, of invitations received.

One of the fonts to the right reminds me of the bold typography (and imagery) to come out of the Obama presidential campaign. One of them, a longtime favorite, surprised me on the emergency exit door of a mothballed British Airlines Concorde, but you could see it on a TBS Movie open I did back in the day. Two of them show up on American freeways, leading you in what we hope is the right direction. One is a font I used for a magazine ad I designed for my Uncle’s freeze-dried food business in 1972 (don’t ask.) And so on.

They’re all peaceful, and bold at the same time.

Axe capital.

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

I present to you Harold (right) and his uncle Red Green, the star of a fine Canadian comedy show that was based on the idea that guys were, well, big goofballs and there’s nothing that duct tape won’t rig or fix.

But what’s that…device that Harold is holding? It was always some sort of strange prop slash remote control slash whatever they needed it to be at the time. He called it his “axe,” like a cool electric guitar.

Take a look at my fine, fine rendering of an Ampex 2-inch videotape recorder from the late 1960s just below it. Why, yes, there you go.

And to be comprehensive, from the Classic Red Green Page: “Red mentioned that Harold’s Axe is made up of the control panel from an Ampex 1200 plus the keyboard from a Commodore 64 and a pair of rabbit ears.”


Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020

We just have too many high-priority crises happening simultaneously.

There’s a global health crisis—the pandemic.

There’s an extremely important Presidential election where the incumbent is willing to try tactics once considered way, way out of bounds. (And many significant elections at the Congressional and Senate level that will make a difference in how priorities are implemented in law in the future.)

We have issues of violent crime alongside inconsistent application of savagely violent, militarized policing against Blacks, against the poor, against those who have not.

We have a collapsing economy with huge numbers of unemployed, largely but not exclusively a consequence of the pandemic.

We have nationwide protest that is attempting to change the way we look at race in America.

And we have a growing number of…what’s the nice way of saying this? Crazy people who believe a tightly-knit, preposterous set of conspiracies are really happening…or that’s what they say.

I just try to get a good night’s sleep in the face of this, marshaling energies for the wild times immediately ahead.

Won’t be fooled again?

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

Ah, maybe the fooling has already happened. Just spent an unproductive hour reading an online forum (not the Twitter) where people were saying things like:

This is a growing wave of anarchy intended to overthrow our way of life. Watch how it grows and spreads over the next three months. In most countries, this anarchy would be met with lethal force. But the ideology behind this overthrow has already been seeded deeply into our culture. Minneapolis has set the stage by showing that this overthrow will not be resisted because it claims to be peaceful protest which is a fundamental right.

Oh, so many questions. “…intended to overthrow our way of life.” “Everything is at stake if this is allowed to continue.”

Same guy, asked about the unmarked camo guys in Portland:

It is the only solution to the problem.  This is the tip of the iceberg.  In another couple months, we will have many large cities with armed conflict between Federal agents and anarchists.  If people need to be arrested for looting and burning, what difference does it make whether the arresting agents are unmarked or unidentifiable?

Yeah, it makes every difference, and let’s go back and check that Portland videotape. Nope, not looting and burning. Protesting.

I’m amazed how many people who would call themselves “law and order people” have forgotten some of the most basic underprinnings of a domestic police force: uniforms. IDs. Badge numbers. Miranda rights. Legal searches. Speak to the people they’re arresting and inform them of what they’re charged with.

I swear, in a few years we’re going to look at two dozen episodes of ‘Adam-12’ and say “who were these guys who took care of the people while respecting them?”

And then:

Some are now predicting wide-spread civil disorder regardless who wins the November election. (in the election’s aftermath)

I think the antidote to that is to “remember who we are” and “remember what we stand for.” Laws. Due process. Probable cause. You don’t throw all that priceless constitutional foundation out the window just because “some are now predicting” this or that.

Look: a lot of the “some” who are now “predicting” this are trying to make you uncomfortable, afraid, and willing to accept any shortcuts to restore order.

This may be a bit unpopular, but I had this same sense after 9/11. People were freaked out and willing to end-around our constitutional protections because “what if there’s another attack!?” I think a lot more Americans now look at stuff like Guantanamo and say “oh man, what did we do?”

I think we do a better job of being one nation, together, if we’re aware that it’s easy to generate fear and apparent chaos. Sometimes you just need what “some say.”

Doesn’t feel like Monday.

Monday, July 20th, 2020

As the city of Atlanta begins—really, what else can you call it?—an unusual, virus-affected, undefined period of mourning for Congressman John Lewis (and fellow compatriot C.T. Vivian), it somehow feels evasive to be out of our home town and way up North in very Upper Michigan where I feel as if 4 out of 5 residents would be unable to distinguish between photos of Lewis and fallen Congressional colleague Elijah Cummings.

And a month ago, the tiny general store that had a simple “you must wear a mask” sign on the door (we noted proudly) now has a page-long babble that talks about 4th amendment freedoms and exceptions and HIPAA—all the, forgive me, bullshit that people have been dragging out because they just don’t want to wear a mask. My first reaction was to want to rip that sign off the storefront and stomp in and tell owner Steve that this is garbage and he should be ashamed and…well, we were tired from the road.

We still are. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow. (And besides, I’ve been trying to stomp less in daily life.)

Meanwhile, the Georgia Democrats have chosen Nikema Williams, a state senator and the head (the first Black woman head) of the Democrats in the state. I would proudly vote for her. I will proudly vote for her.

Cough, cough.

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

Well, sure it says that, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t see a lot, and I do mean a lot of people exercising their particular combination of self-oriented-freedom and general cluelessness.

This was Kentucky. A truck stop in southern Kentucky. We also saw lots of places that said on the door “wear a mask by order of Governor Andy Bashear,” done in a font that somehow carried the message of “it’s that guy saying it, not us.”

And then out front of this place (above), a family got together unmasked and lit up really foul cigarettes, inches from our passenger door.

I felt like I had dropped in from another century.

John Lewis, marching on.

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

There’s the public grief, there’s the political manifestations of grief, and then I’m sure there’s a very private sort of grief that is reserved for the immediate family of our Congressman. Our grief, though personal, is at a certain remove…we’d see John and his good works, but we were not there marching by his side, except maybe in spirit.

For us, Congressman Lewis was one of those forces of nature that, when we saw his efforts manifest themselves, working a jubilant crowd in an Atlanta neighborhood, meeting and inspiring a youthful generation of activists at DragonCon or Comic Con with his (three-part!) graphic novel that told his story and through that, the story of a vitally important movement or, seeing him seated with his fellow protestors on the floor of the House of Representatives itself, pushing hard for gun control legislation in the wake of yet another mass shooting…we could say “that’s the guy who represents us.” “That’s the guy who’s there for all our neighbors.” “That’s a guy who is not in it to make a killing in the stock market on the side.” “There’s John Lewis.”

As you well know, he died Friday, the same day that another veteran civil rights fighter, C.T. Vivian passed away.

I’ll sure miss seeing him…there.

Painting in.

Friday, July 17th, 2020

I found a stack of negatives in some stuff I retrieved from the basement, and after some finicking with the transparency adapter part of our flatbed scanner, I brought a few into the digital domain.

When they’ve been in the basement for decades one shouldn’t be surprised if they have loads of dust and scratches…huge, huge scratches across the surface, folds in the negatives itself, seemingly insurmountable problems.

But there’s a tool in several modern paint programs. Photoshop calls it the ‘healing brush’ and Affinity Photo calls it the ‘inpainting brush’.

The problem is that a paint program can’t know what’s “underneath” a scratch or film damage—what isn’t there now.

So if you use the traditional erase tools, you’d just end up with a solid color of nothing…because it’s got nothing.

But the inpainting tool does a lot of evaluating images and patterns and figures out first of all, if you sloppily draw a line over a scratch, that there is something in that swiped-over area that I don’t want, and it’s smart enough to figure it’s probably substantially brighter or darker than a lot of the underlying picture. It also does some frequency analysis and determines that the damage is, often, crisper than the underlying image that has been scratched. It seems like magic: you casually draw a fat red line over the problem, and then the software kicks in.

Affinity offers this not-very helpful description: “Complex algorithms then take over to harvest information from the surrounding areas of the image in order to reconstruct the missing data.”

So it figures out that there’s a pattern to the fuzzy record albums in this case and constructs appropriate color (or greyscale) values to fill in just the scratched part.

It takes a fraction of a second…sometimes an entire section, if you’re inpainting a large area.

This works great for power lines, unwanted people or animals, but most importantly dust and scratches. Its batting average of doing the right thing is remarkable…and if you don’t like its choices, hit undo and try again.

It’s amazing. It’s a huge timesaver.

Fractional dimensions.

Thursday, July 16th, 2020

Just to follow up from yesterday, no matter how much nostalgia I have for the 1960s and 1970s, I’m very grateful to have worked as a designer in an era where you didn’t have to measure radiuses in fractional inches ( 2 ¹⁷⁄₃₂ inches!) and use a slide rule or a proportional scale to calculate how big this thing would be on a 15-foot-wide blank space on the side of a boxcar.

You just say: here’s the vector file. PDF. SVG. Illustrator EPS. Whatever.

PC 40 foot boxcar

And you’re ready to roll.