Monthly Archives: April 2006

I don’t know much about art. Thank goodness.

In an effort to encourage V to stop talking about how bad her drawings are, and to demonstrate that what’s required is just more drawing and more drawing, I dug out some of my life drawings from around 2000. I was surprised at how good some of it was (and there were some particularly good examples of drawings that are clearly a work in progress). I started drawing with some recycled A3 paper and some cheap crayons from the supermarket. I upgraded to some from the $2 shop. What I was after was marks on paper, and the vision was to keep trying to make marks that look like the model.

I’ve written about this before, but I’ve got quite a way to go before I will be able to quickly grab a good likeness. But I keep drawing. It’s like writing here. I’ve realised that since I started writing – August 1, 2005 – I’ve written the best part of 100,000 words. That’s a PhD’s worth of words. It’s a goodly sized book. I’m not sure my writing has got better, but I’ve at least kept my hand in. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, I should’ve done 100 drawings. I haven’t. Done some, but not 100. I need to get back to my drawing roots urgently.

more aussie poetry

My writing pal in Perth, Kate, reports on the results of her poetry writing expertise. You’ve seen the t-shirts ‘will write for money’ – Kate needs to get a ‘Will write poetry for software’.

Postmodern bartering? Congrats, Kate, you go girl.

australia needs psychic healing

Straight up, I’m an aussiephile. I like Australia. I love Dorothea Mackeller’s 1904 poem ‘My Country’. She writes first about the love of other landscapes – probably referring to England… and then the second verse cuts to the core of Australiana with possibly the most well known, well loved, and most evocatively iconic lines of poetry ever written about Australia. It’s as near to a quick trip to the essential Australia as you’ll ever get.

The love of field and coppice
Of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance,
Brown streams and soft, dim skies
I know, but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

The stark white ring-barked forests,
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon,
Green tangle of the brushes
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops,
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine
She pays us back threefold.
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze…

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand
though Earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

But the poem has changed for me. It’s become something more bitter and twisted. I find I can’t read the last three verses in the same way I used to. I wonder when I think about Jake Kovco and the drumming he heard, and how he was paid back, and where his homing thoughts flew.

A close friend of mine was ex army. I think about him a lot. He, like Jake, was very skilled at what he did. Like Jake, had every likelihood to have found himself in the wilful, lavish, brown country that is Iraq. I lived not 10 minutes away. We talked a couple of nights before…but my friend, like Jake, both soldiers – brothers in arms, found peace with a bullet.

And this is where their stories diverge.

We buried my friend with due ceremony, and did our best to comfort his family.

In respect of Jake, I find it utterly gutting that billionaire Kerry Packer can get a state funded memorial service, and the Australian army cannot afford to bring one of their own home. But not just one of their own, the first Australian lost in Iraq. It’s not as though there have been thousands lost, and slip was made because of the volume; no, this is sends a signal of gross and callous moral ineptitude not only to the Australian public, and the Australian military abroad, but to the world at large. If you’re after publicity for Australia, John, and I imagine you are because of all the tourism advertising we see here – um, where the bloody hell are ya?

I assume you pimped your role with the aussie flag and struck your usual pose on tuesday. I know you favour attempting to engender respectability by drapping the flag over every event even slightly attended by the media. I believe after it began to stick and stink you offered your private jet to fly Jake’s mum to pick him up. John, it was too little, too late, shamefully late.

I know it’s not deliberate. But it is symptomatic. I know it’s hideous. But it can be used to make meaningful changes. I know you’ll go to the funeral. But there is no alternative. I know there’ll be tears, perhaps even from you. But that’s ok, because puppets don’t cry. I know you can’t make it right. Because it’s not, and never will be. But that’s not a reason for not trying. Not for yourself, or for Jake, or for his family. But for all Australians, and indeed, for the rest of world.

Please, John, have some courage and moral convictions that sound like they came from a human.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady soaking rain.

What Australia needs is the end of the stinking reign. They need the steady, soaking rain.

color (it’s like colour, but with fewer vowels)

The Designer's Guide to Global Color Combinations: 750 Color Formulas in CMYK and RGB from Around the World - view product details at Amazon Lots of life has been attacking recently, and the color drains out of my life. I don’t know if other people feel or notice these things, but for me when I start to get a bit overwhelmed by the day-to-day grind colour starts to vanish out of my life. Truly, I don’t get the blues, I get the greys. The smudges. My world starts to dissolve into more muted tones. It’s a little bit like drawing with aquarelles and using a tad too much water and watching it wash down the sink. Yuck.

I have been enjoying the color schemes available at colorschemer. Some people have just the most beautiful sense of colour and I’m filled (greened) with envy. I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying Leslie Cabarga’s books on color combinations. The second, Global Color, includes RGB (web) colours and I’ve found some of the combinations really nice – makes me want to write a web page just to try them out. I found quite a cool web color picker the other day too – not too bad to test out ideas quickly.

And in doing so the colour comes back into my work. Which is how it should be. A day without drawing is a bad day. A day without bad drawing is a good day. Plus, there’s the daily photoshoots as well.

if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…

Beware of ghouls, ghosties, and long leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night…

Or so they say.

But if you do have these things going on in your life, please be nice to them, because they could be me. Last night I had a dream which seemed really unusual, and I had a feeling I should’ve been frightened, but I wasn’t. Later, in the morning, I was making our morning coffee and I realised in my dream I’d been a ghost. It’d been me doing the haunting. It’d been fun creeping out people. I was the resident spirit in this abandoned old village hall that was now converting itself back into nature – the roof had fallen in, and there were shrubs starting to grow up to be trees. And this was where I um, lived. I also had a car wreck to haunt. What more could a ghost guy want? His own pad, wheels, and a mission to give people something new to think about…

Side Bar Soap Opera

Once upon a time, there was a far, far off land where most of the countryside was covered in fir trees. The fir trees covered the top of the hills and the bottom of the valleys. Some of the land was farmland, and the asparagus green grass glowed in the sun like a bright gem surrounded by the dark jade of the fir trees.

A rather strange man lived in this far off land. He spent his days planning more forests and his nights writing soap opera styled concrete poems. It was a desperate time and it showed in his writing. It was such a long time ago that the OC wasn’t on the television, even though television had been invented. Just.

Time passed and eventually the end of the century came and went, along with the mantra of the time: Why Decay? The man couldn’t understand Why Decay, so he concentrated on his poems, at least to a degree.

One day he looked up and found he’d finished his degree, the fir trees had given way to interesting yellow flowered bushes, and it seemed like his poems were long gone.

But not all, he found just one and he decided to share it once again with the whole world. In the side bar. And the whole world rejoiced.

design issues mostly resolved

It’s probably tacky to write about one’s own writing spaces, but I’m feeling very happy with the header images and general look and feel of the content at aquaculture.ako.net.nz. I’ve had a great deal of fun gathering the images – it’s been a challenge to capture content suggestive of aquaculture when there isn’t exactly a full strength salmon/tilapia/prawn/mussel farm next door.

There are fish in many of the images, mostly, I suspect young mullet, or perhaps smelt. The species count includes mullet, stingray, chiton, mussels, starfish, triplefins and spotties. Plus a fine selection of various algae. The birds are red billed gulls, black back gulls, and the white faced shag. Eventually every image will include a fish or an aquaculture vulture of some kind.

Here, I’ve had fun including some of the images I’ve gathered into the marginalia gift shop, and I’m in the process of creating content for an aquaculture gift shop as well. So many things to do, and so little time to do them. I notice we keep longer working hours on the weekend than we do during the week … we need to re-orientate our life and times so the working week is about rest ready for the weekend’s blitz.

usability II

Following on from my writing about usability and its various forms, I was thinking about usability and excel in the shower this morning. I hope that idea isn’t excessively frightening – but yes, I think about things in the shower, and yes, on this occasion it was excel. Frankly, this is slightly alarming to me as well.

One of the things that’s a little old fashioned with the big malumba software like excel, and word and others, is that for the average user 75% of the content is never used. This costs the user twice. First the software occupies the your harddrive like some sort of obese blob from outer (out of?) space. Second, you have to pay for software you don’t use or need.

To an extent, photoshop addresses this by allowing actions and plugins – little software snippets which extends the application in new and useful ways; or if the user doesn’t find the snippet useful, they can simply delete it, and the basic software remains unaffected. One of the things I’ve really appreciated with implementing this writing space is the ease of installing and using the many plugins. Some have worked well, and I use them, and others have been not so brilliant, and I’ve simply deleted them – great.

So, what I’m proposing (and would love to see) is an epic scaled software, like excel, with plugins to extend the the capabilities and capacities. So when I need to do a pivot table, or auditing, or whatever else I can just download the plugin and clip it into place. The one I’d most like to see is a separate plugin for spell checking in word. I’d like to remove the US English – permanently, and replace it with the New Zealand English. I’d also love to see a grammar plugin that looked as though people had worked on it in the last ten years.

usability

My blog pal, Mark Bernstein, has been thinking and writing about usability and style – words that pretty much encapsulate Mark himself, by the way – as applied to software. As usual, Mark puts up a compelling argument, and, as usual I’m not sure whether to agree or disagree. Or both. Or neither.

Mark’s final point:

We spend several days, at least, learning to operate a car. We spend longer, learning to operate the basics of algebra and calculus. We spend a few years achieving basic competence in fields like medicine, or gas fitting, or theatrical lighting. Why do we expect all our software to be mastered within an hour or two?

My masters research was into the accessibility of New Zealand government web sites. Accessibility is a subset (or a superset, depending on your viewpoint) of usability, and so Mark’s thoughts are of real interest to me.

I agree with his posit that why do we expect all our software to be mastered within an hour or two? I’m inclined to think that the best software – I’m thinking Photoshop, GIMP, and Excel in this instance – can produce results within an hour or two. But I’ve never yet met anyone who’s run out of Photoshop, GIMP, and Excel – pushed it beyond its limits. Maybe it can be done, in fact I’m sure it can, but I’ve never met anyone who has gone beyond the limits. In contrast, PowerPoint has very real limits, I myself have explored and pushed them until it broke. In these examples, the real difference between the software is not the usability, but in the customisability. If your want GIMP to do more, get out vi and write something new. I suspect if you’re at the edges of Excel or Photoshop vi is probably your weapon of choice there also.

I have used software with few visual bells and whistles but that just worked nicely and was a pleasure to use, no steep learning curve, and nothing getting in the way of just doing the task at hand. Appleworks on my old Apple IIe, Notetab, and Color Coder as examples. I don’t use appleworks anymore, but it still holds a seat near the fire in my heart. I’ve also used software that was visually beautiful – Bryce 5 as an example – but the intuitive interface just wasn’t quite as intuitive as I would’ve liked. Oh, and then there was Word Perfect 5.1. Informix. DBase IV. Interface – more or less – from the ascetic school of minimalist design.

The best design work I’ve seen in software is one that starts figuring you know a little. As you learn it forgets you know a little and starts to work on the principle you’re moving on. It holds while you learn, and moves on when you’re competent. If you’re a power user it works that way. A newbie is equally accommodated. I can only think of one software package that does that thing of taking you into its world (although I’m sure there’s others) and that’s Psygnosis’ Lemmings – that crazy addictive game from 1991. I had no idea there was a Lemmings fan club, including hacks to produce customised levels.

I guess for me the ideal software – indeed the ideal product design of any kind is one that can be learned very quickly. The razor blade. And then you can spend a lifetime mastering it. Avoid knicks. And worse.

There’s also a perspective I have heard ascribed to the Balinese – I’ve not been to Bali, so I can’t confirm this, but: We have no art, we just do everything as well as possible. Goodness know, there’s probably some poor Vietnamese person saying, “Damn, I wish I’d patented that!”

Would it kill the software producers and product designers to make things where form follows function? This aesthetic is as appropriate to software as it is to toothpicks. Software used to follow commands faithfully. It now asks “Are you sure?” It has ctrl-z. WYSIWYG. Unlike one of the databases I have to use in my job which sometimes wants me to ESCape and other times to F3, to achieve the same result, but it’s not interchangeable. Sometimes it’s one, other places it’s the other. Not really designed for automatic use. The screens have to be read to ensure you’re using the right command at the right place. Neither good form nor good function.

In the end, I don’t know whether to agree with Mark. I’m inclined to. We have had discussions most important to me – what colour it should be. You see, I don’t really care if it takes me a day to learn to use a new car (although that would annoy me) ultimately like Excel I’m only going to use about 10% of all the clip-ons I’ve paid for. What does matter to me is what the colour is. If it mostly works (and doesn’t work in a consistent manner and I can learn to adapt to the not work parts), and does no harm, then the colour is the primary issue for me – how does it look.

بابا غنوج

aubergine image from http://upload.wikimedia.orgThe other day we had a morning tea shout at work – as you do. My colleague had had a domestic goddess moment and made Baba ganoush or Babaghanoush (depends on which school you went to). I begged the goddess for the recipe as it was just delish – we had it on pita bread. And so, from the goddess to you –

There are two ways to do this and it depends on the time of the year (cost of eggplants – aka aubergine).
If they’re cheap, use fresh:
Take a whole eggplant and stab all over with fork, put on greased oven tray for 50-60 minutes on 180 degrees.
Let it cool a little and peel skin and prickly hat off.
Chop up into bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of tahini (sesame paste) and whiz together.

***You can buy cans of “Eggplant Dip” (just the eggplant and sesame paste) already mushed up for you (Durrah brand (???) made in Syria) These are good and much cheaper than fresh during the off season – should have in the pantry in case of bird flu or earthquake anyway***

So now, fresh or canned is at same stage:
Add 1/2 cup (roughly) of lemon juice
good pinch or two of salt

Mix and taste – add more lemon or salt as you want.
1/2 – 3/4 cup breadcrumbs (depending on mixture)
Good pinch of sugar (my secret ingredient) to balance out all that lemon juice.
The recipes all tell you to add 1/2 cup oil and maybe 1 tbs of lemon but I add no oil and pump up the lemon.

Add anything else you want – I like the taste of the eggplant so I don’t add garlic, but you can. You could also use fresh herbs.
You need to make it at least a couple of hours before you want to use it so that the breadcrumbs soak into the mixture properly.

That’s it.

Try it – it’s fantastic.

Variations from the goddess’s sacred recipe: I added a good smack of black pepper – I know – how avante garde. Also, suggest adding the breadcrumbs about 1/4 cup at a time – depends on how moist the mix is and who needs baba-gag-muesli?