Odds and Ends: Emptying the In-Box

I tend to let emails collect in my in-box, then once every three years I go and delete them by the thousands. I have a special folder for things people send for IBD, and it has reached a point where it needs to be emptied. So I give you the following odds and ends.

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Knowing that we love interesting and funny signs, Friend (and Occasional Nemesis) of IBD Phil Broder sent a series of photos from a recent trip to India.

The above photo is from a park where you are not allowed to do anything, including “misbehavior” and “eatables.” I particularly like the relaxing sound of “Garden Timing” followed by “By Order.”

This one reminds me of a Steven Wright joke. He said his parents read that most accidents happen within five miles of the home, so they moved 15 miles away. I’m glad in India that they keep their accidents confined to one zone. (And those “Dang District Police” are misusing their quote marks.)

The “Don’t Spit Here” sign seemed kind of funny to me, until Phil explained, “India has a real tuberculosis issue, and there’s a campaign to curb spitting as a public health measure.” Thanks for being a buzz-kill, Phil.

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Another Phil, this time Friend of IBD Phil Sexton, sent a link to a website called Free Font Manifesto, which asks the question:

This site paves the way for professional designers to create a collection of high-quality fonts available in the public domain (there are lots of free fonts available already, but not necessarily high-quality ones). This raises questions about how these designers would earn a living, but it’s an interesting conversation to have.

Phil also sent me this funny little cosmetic tip. Phil and I are always sharing beauty tips, so I was happy to get this from him:

I guess my friends think I need help with my body image, because Friend of IBD Chris Mayer sent a link to a tongue-in-cheek video about using Photoshop (Fotoshop) to achieve unrealistic goals:

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Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell also shared a few photos with us in recent* months:

This is one she took during the 2010 NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas (I did say that it can take me a while to get to emails). I have to admit, because I’m slow sometimes, that I did not get it right away.

This one I did get right away.

Kelly also sent a link with the subject “Arkansas on the Cutting Edge” to a story on the website The Barcode News, which states:

In October of 2009, Arkansas became the first state to use QR Codes…. Since that time, the QR Code has appeared in the 2010 Arkansas Tour Guide, the Arkansas State Parks Guide, the Arkansas Spring newspaper insert and in publications such as The Oxford American, Southern Living, and National Geographic Traveler.

I can see why Kelly, a proud Arkansan, wanted to share this with us, as we have written about QR codes in the past. I was particularly impressed by one aspect of this whole story: There is such a thing as The Barcode News.

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Finally, my coworker Deb Tewell took this photo in Argentina. It’s a great example of all the reasons we can just never predict how our work will look when it’s released into the wild.

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Check back for Part 2 of “Emptying the In-Box” in March 2015!

The Annual IBD Holiday Gift Buying Guide

Christmas gift buying personifies my procrastination. I was well trained by my father to make last-minute holiday gift purchases so that pressure aides in the decision-making process. I’m of course in the same boat again this year. But as a gesture as to the selfless person I am, I’m going to keep tradition alive of the annual IBD annual gift buying guide. (Well, this is actually the first in the line of a soon-to-be tradition. We have dropped hints before.)

By focusing my efforts into online searches of items for the designer, interpretive designer, blogger, or all around geek, it keeps me from thinking about the needs of my friends and family.

This really began when IBD reader Phil Broder emailed Paul and me saying, “All I’m saying is that one of you is getting Superman socks, and the other is getting Wonder Woman socks, and I’m not gonna say which.”

We are still waiting on the socks. Phil, here’s the link just in case you lost it, Fashionably Geek.

Check out these other gifts for the IBDer.

This shirt actually shows you available WIFI connectivity strength by lighting up. It also measures how many bars of geekiness are available from you. It can be purchased at Think Geek.

Amazon.com describes this book as “interesting and eclectic journey examining the unending versatility of nature, showing how to uncover nature’s ingenuity and use it to create beautiful and compelling designed communications.” I haven’t read it yet but I plan on it (as soon as I receive it as a gift). As an interpretive naturalist, the concept sounds promising. I’m always down for an interesting and eclectic journey.

Interested in getting your little woman inspired in the kitchen? First stop calling her little woman and second, buy her this. That’s Nerdalicious reports that the Kitchen Aid mixer are only available in Brazil, which seems well worth the trip for your Wonder Woman.

I’m not much on hyperbole, but this is the single greatest piece of furniture ever made. I can be purchased at Tom Spina Designs.

What would an IBD Christmas list be without a flow chart? This one leaves all other weaker flow charts (including Which Baseball Team Should I Root For? and Which Football Team Should I Root For?) tapping out in submission. This appeals to me with the subject matter and the taxonomy. It can be purchased at Pop Chart Lab.

Once you have bought all of this nerdy loot, you have to wrap it. This is the coolest wrapping paper I have ever seen. Based around QR codes (You can read Paul’s post on QR codes here. Also here.) Design Boom states the “UK-based studio The Chase have designed several Christmas wrapping paper using QR codes that suggest gift ideas when scanned.”

I have more. If you are interested let me know and I’ll put up some more. Happy shopping!

The Power of the Close Crop

When I’m with friends or family in a public place and we want a group photo, I hate asking strangers to take the picture. It’s not that I don’t want to bother strangers. I like bothering strangers. It’s that strangers, as a rule, stink at taking photographs. Waiters, in particular, are the worst. (If you are a waiter and you are reading this post, I apologize. Also, I would like an Arnie Palmer and a dozen wings.)

The primary offense of the waiter-stranger-photographer is that they stand too far away and zoom all the way out (and somehow still manage to cut off everyone’s feet). The photo ends up being mostly sky with a tiny collection of nearly unrecognizable, feetless people at the bottom. On occasions when I do resort to asking a waiter-stranger-photographer to take a picture, I find myself saying, “Step a little closer, don’t be afraid to zoom in. And where are those wings I asked about?”

By way of example, I offer this photo of my family and me taken by a waitress at Smitty’s Clam Bar in Somers Point, New Jersey, last summer. (To the waitress’s credit, she did not cut off our feet in the photo, and she was very good at her actual job, but you’ll see what I mean about the zooming. Did she think that tubby guy on the bench was part of my family? And does that guy think he’s fooling anyone drinking beer out of a paper Coke cup?)

Granted, nowadays it’s easy to crop digital photos, so this is less of a problem than it was in the days of rolls of film and printed photos. But still, why do people stand so far away and zoom so far out? And is it just me, or does my brother look like he’s eight feet tall in this photo?

On a seemingly unrelated note (I’m getting to the point, I promise), I recently received an email from Friend of IBD and noted Detroit Tigers fan Phil Broder with images of “actual billboards in Detroit, Michigan, put up by GM.” (The forwarded message says, “This is definitely cool … Pass this on to anyone who thinks old things can be cool!” I don’t know what it says about me that Phil thinks that I would think old things are cool.)

You can see a bunch more of these here.

The first thing you’ll notice is that these billboards were clearly not designed by the waitstaff at Smitty’s Clam Bar.

In my opinion, there are two elements to these billboards that make them successful. The first is the succinct, clever writing. Each slogan is short and packs a punch (much like most of the Tigers fans I know). The second element is a distinct aesthetic that relies on strong color combinations and sometimes extremely close-cropped images.

The close crop is not just a striking visual technique. It’s a powerful statement, one that expresses confidence that the subject of an image can withstand scrutiny. (Come to think of it, this may explain why waiters stand so far away when they take photos of my family and me.)

Moreover, in my opinion, close-cropped photos are more interesting to look at. (That said, cropping to the point of abstraction is a technique that has its place. For instance, I would not recommend cropping head shots down to a single nostril.)

Whether you’re a designer working with photos that have been provided to you, a photographer trying to capture the essence of a thing, or a waitress at Smitty’s Clam Bar, I’d recommend cropping just a little more closely than feels comfortable, and see how you like the result.

Odds and Ends: Good, Bad, and Ugly

So this is one of those posts where I’m cleaning out my email inbox filled with ideas from readers to share on IBD. This week’s collection of odds and ends deals with one of my favorite things and one of my least favorite things and something simply ugly.

Let’s start with the good. The email was from Adrianne Johnson an interpreter at Niobrara National Scenic River in Nebraska. Warning to the birders: If you don’t have any free time step away from this link.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is working on a project known as Merlin. According to the website:

Merlin will be a new kind of bird identification tool—one that combines artificial intelligence with input from real-life bird watchers to produce an online “wizard” that helps people ID birds quickly and connects them to more information.

To build Merlin, we need to know how thousands of people remember and describe birds. You can help us by playing games that gather the information to help Merlin understand what bird watchers see. The more you play, the more you’ll help Merlin become a true bird ID wizard.

The website generates a random image of a bird. Like this one of a Sanderling.

The challenge is to see what three principle colors you see in that bird, and report it to Merlin. It is loads of fun, more or less the Wheel of Fortune for birders (minus all of those complicated conversations about consonants and vowels). You are also helping build a database of information. I completed 10 birds when I should have been concentrating on this blog.

Oh yeah, by the way, I love Cornell Lab’s logo.

Now for the bad from Phil Broder, as you would expect. His email plea of “Please, oh please, for the love of god, write an IBD about these!” sounded desperate, so I decided to include it. Also, based on an established history of turtle-related text messages from Phil, I was nervous about the ramifications of not sharing the story.

Several weeks ago I wrote about the new uniforms of the University of Maryland Terrapins. Keep in mind this post was about college football uniforms and not baseball, displaying our “fair and balanced” approach on IBD. For those who didn’t read the post (the majority of the free world), I can sum it up in one thematic statement: The Terps went all spandex on the state’s flag and that’s simply wrong.

Each week Maryland continues to unveil new versions of their uniforms. This week brought the latest helmet. Though creative, the helmet is embarrassing to all real terrapins out there.

Now for some ugly.

This is ugly for two reasons. One because I’m in it and second since I’m taking this opportunity to rub in my lunch with the Philadelphia Phillies’ starting pitcher Cliff Lee, at Paul. He had pork chops, turnip greens, pinto beans, cornbread and milk to drink, just in case you were wondering. He still hasn’t responded to my friend request on FB, but I know he’s busy.

Grammar Pet Peeves: Nerds Unite!

The last time I wrote about grammar, anonymous commenter Shea Lewis of Hot Springs, Arkansas, asked this intriguing question: “Paul, are you serious with all of this?” To which I respond today: “Yes! On with the grammar pet peeves!”

Lets Go
I think there’s a perception that the only people who care about grammar are lonely nerds and retired teachers. I once got into a conversation about the use of less vs. fewer with a very nice lady in the express lane at a grocery store. She asked if I was a school teacher, and I said no. Then she smiled weakly and responded, “I got mace, you know.” To which I responded, “No, you have ma—AAAAAAAAAAAGH!”

But every once in a while, some jerk who was probably the captain of the high school football team and dated the cheerleaders and kicked sand in the nerds’ faces makes an embarrassing, high-profile grammar mistake. And then even regular people with social skills and friends talk about grammar. Then who’s laughing? Nerds, that’s who.

Well, nerds are still laughing at Old Navy, which is selling T-shirts that are an apostrophe short of being proper English. They mistakenly used Lets (as in, allows) instead of Let’s (let us) in designs on a series of college T-shirts. It got a lot of coverage, and of course, half the people I know emailed it to me. (See it on Gawker, Refinery 29, and the New York Daily News.)

Viola/ Voilà
This one occurs almost exclusively in the cooking column in your local newspaper. Every now and again, the author of this column, who is almost certainly named Mary Lou, writes something like this: “…and then you pour in the milk, and viola!, your cereal flakes are ready for breakfast!” In this instance, it’s likely that Mary Lou means to say Voilà (“Look there!”) instead of viola (“The violin’s dorkier older cousin!”).

Amount/Number
If you’re annoyed when people misuse less and fewer, then this one will get you, too. As with less and fewer, amount and number can be addressed with what I call the Stuff and Things Rule. You should use amount with stuff that cannot be counted (an amount of sand, or milk, or work), and number with things that can be counted (a number of runs scored, or dollars in your bank account, or bricks thrown through your window for being an obnoxious blogger).

Anytime vs. Any Time
In the comments on a previous installment of this series, IBD reader “Susan” (name not changed because we’re unimaginative) asked, “Does anytime/any time work the same as everyday/every day?” The answer is yes. Anytime (one word) is an adverb that means whenever (“Anytime a former child star Tweets about IBD, Shea passes out.”), while any time (two words) is a noun phrase (“Dear Alyssa, I hear you’re a big baseball fan. Do you have any time to read all these other posts we wrote? Love, Shea. XOXOXO”).

You’re Going the Wrong Way
I wrote last week about how annoying it is to me that the Baltimore Orioles have a version of their logo with an apostrophe that’s facing the wrong way. The other time you see apostrophes facing the wrong direction is at the beginning of abbreviated years, as demonstrated above (the red one is incorrect and infuriating, the green one correct and soothing). Unfortunately, most fonts treat the apostrophe in this case like an opening single quote, so you have to trick your computer into turning it around. There’s a funny post about this called “Apostrophes don’t swing both ways” on the site I Love Typography.

That’s it for now!

Odds and Ends, mostly Odds

This week I decided to share with you three items sent in by readers. I didn’t have enough on each to make them into a full post by themselves (who am I fooling, if I can transform a discussion revolving around socks into something about social networking, then I surely could have done a post on each) so I rolled them in to this odds and ends post.

The first comes from Phil Broder. Every time I get an email from Phil, I make sure I don’t open it on a work computer. I don’t want to get put back on the watch list. This email was okay and worthy of sharing. He stated:

Take a look at http://www.jameshance.com/index.html. He’s my new favorite artist (Muppets and Firefly… two of my favorite things!). But you Star Wars geeks should love this too. There’s definitely something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.

In a snobbish follow up email from Paul (in which he didn’t copy Phil) he stated that he would leave this email for me to respond to since this topic was more in my court nerdom. He may be right but he didn’t have say it like that. I did like the fact that my “Star Warsness” is automatically being tied to Paul. It is about time considering many of his quirks have been connected to my persona.

The artwork offered by James Hance is described as “relentlessly cheerful art” on the website. His trademark is the combination of two distinct styles that most wouldn’t draw conclusions to and from.

The image above known as Promise is part of Wookiee the Chew (yes, Wookie is spelt wrong, silly artist) is a combination of Star Wars characters and Winnie the Pooh. Phil mentioned that there may be “something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.” He’s right; I’m not sure what there is to say except it is awesome. It’s also awesome that Phil admitted to liking Muppets.

The part that I find powerful is that it makes you think specifically about the decisions made by the artist and how specific styles can be connected to genera. This could be applied to an interpretive center making design decision to be at juxtaposition of the complexity of nature by choosing a clean, open, or geometric typeface (such as Futura) to add impact. Otherwise the art by Hance should simply be enjoyed.

The second piece comes from Sarah Keating. Sarah has issues with denial. She wants to claim that she’s a cool kid and not a member of the nerd herd but she can’t seem to stop showing people her membership card. Sarah stated in her email:

Each day I find myself acquiring more nerdy tendencies. A few weeks ago I found myself downloading NPR apps on my iPhone, and now I am reading NPR stories on the internet. Today, for instance, I was looking for a little inspiration on the NPR interns’ website and I clicked on a story link about plastic bag use, only to get the ever so popular “Page not found” – story of my life!! But as I continued to read I realized that NPR has taken it a step further and instead of making you disappointed in their inability to locate what you were trying to find they have put a positive spin on it (see below). HOW REFRESHING!!! I really do love NPR – GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

Sarah, embracing your inner nerd is the second step to obtaining personal peace after admitting you are a nerd  (immediately followed by the cessation of the excessive use of capital letters and exclamation points).

I wish I knew how to make the 404 Page not found on IBD offer suggestions, but I don’t. For those web gurus out there this is a great idea. I also have to admit that Sarah really doesn’t claim to read IBD but sent the email to me and several others. I don’t have her permission to share it here either.

The third piece comes from me (uh yeah, I’m a reader too, someone has to read Paul’s posts so you don’t have too. It’s just something I do for you). You got to love this link offered by the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City). Who doesn’t want a custom NYC Subway Sign set in one of the most famous uses of Helvetica, featuring the Yankees Stadium stop on 161st Street? You could also have one with some other landmark in New York City. Do they have others?

These iconic signs as well as other MTA items are offered on the website. The signs start at $25.

Keep the suggestions coming…you know we need them.