Thoughts, comments, images and reflections from the people who bring you BeansAboutIt [dot] com


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Friday, January 21, 2005
2:31 PM      

Whoa! Big news - Michael Powell resigns from FCC. I don't know if that makes Janet Jackson or Howard Stern breathe any easier.

Without Powell, “there just won't be as much acrimony, and there won't be as much contention.”
- Jessica Zufolo, telecommunications-policy analyst, Medley Global Advisors in Washington


A week ago, I constructed a 98-or-so-page booklet in InDesign for a client. The task was mainly one of copy fitting an MS Word document formatted for legal size paper into a booklet with half-letter (8.5 x 5.5) pages. The Word document was heavily formatted, and had a lot of inconsistencies in its style sheet, plus a lot of styling had been applied directly to the text. But the biggest challenge came in dealing with a large table that was appended at the end of the document. The table had been formatted at 14" wide, and rotated. It did not import well into InDesign at all.

The first task was dealing with the style sheets in Word. I simplified them as much as I could, set the font, size, and leading appropriate for the smaller format, and confirmed that all styles were based on the “Normal” style. Next, I converted a number of smaller tables to tabbed structures. I put the final, giant table off to the side, then placed the rest inside my InDesign document.

InDesign's formatting palette gives an indication when the style applied to a paragraph has been overlaid with direct formatting — something I was not able to see in word. That allowed me to go back to all of the sections in the document where direct formatting was applied, and revert the section to its underlying format. A few additional tweaks to the style definitions, and I had consistent looking text with the styling for sections and headings intact. Believe me, it was better than importing plain text and starting over with styling.

The imported tables based on tabs just needed their tab rulers adjusted. Several tables had the same basic arrangement. I was able to create styles from the tab stops, and apply the style as a shortcut to establishing the basic shape of subsequent tables. From there, the tab stops could be adjusted separately from the style definition, as each table needed small tweaks to some of the column positions.

The only major hurdle left was the monster table. Trying to resize it in Word, much less in InDesign, was a losing proposition. There appeared to be no direct way to scale the table, and many of the tricks I tried, caused the columns to drift, or the text to wrap in unsightly ways. I decided that working with it as text was a big problem, but maybe I could find a way to manipulate it as a graphic.

I tried several approaches before I finally hit on one that worked: I was able to “print” the chart as a PDF from Word, then open it and rasterize it in Photoshop (200 dpi was a workable resolution). Within Photoshop, I was able to break the table apart into workable chunks that would fit in spreads across 6 pages at the end of the document. Rather than rotate the table, which would have required more severe reduction, I kept the text oriented horizontally across the spreads. I replicated the headers across the tops of each page for convenience. After all of the pages were properly composed and aligned, I trimmed the edges, and saved them as .psd files. From there, I could place the Photoshop files directly within InDesign.

Final tweaks and adjustments in place, I exported the entire document as a PDF for delivery to the printers.


The Workaholic Circuit
In primate studies, scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have developed a technique that allows them to temporarily turn off receptors in the brain which control the apes' ability to determine whether it is worthwhile to continue working at a task. In effect, they found a way to flip a switch that deactivates a circuit inside the brain, and turns the apes into workaholics.

Like many of us, monkeys normally slack off initially in working toward a distant goal. They work more efficiently — make fewer errors — as they get closer to being rewarded. But without the dopamine receptor, they consistently stayed on-task and made few errors, because they could no longer learn to use visual cues to predict how their work was going to get them a reward....

The monkeys became extreme workaholics, as evidenced by a sustained low rate of errors in performing the experimental task, irrespective of how distant the reward might be. This was conspicuously out-of-character for these animals. Like people, they tend to procrastinate when they know they will have to do more work before getting a reward....

...In this case, it's worth noting that the ability to associate work with reward is disturbed in mental disorders, including schizophrenia, mood disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, so our finding of the pivotal role played by this gene and circuit may be of clinical interest.”
- Barry Richmond, M.D., NIMH Laboratory of Neuropsychology

“Clinical interest” means the possibility of human trials. Presently, the technology requires an injection directly into the rhinal cortex of the brain; not exactly what I'd call stealthy or non-invasive. But if they can work the kinks out... that might mean some kind of pill — Hello Zoloft! Burroughs-Wellcome, are you listening? — down the road. They could call the new drug Workahol, if that's not too pedestrian. Otherwise, I'm sure the folks at Namelab will be more than happy to charge a pretty penny to come up with a more sophisticated moniker. The prospect of being able to manage OCD and other mental disorders would be a positive outcome. What if Coca-Cola could mix it with their venerable Classic formula, amp-up the caffeine and sell it as a “motivation booster”? I imagine that might be a big hit with college students around exam time. Coke could call their product “Cram” ... But there could also a dark side: Just think... what if states could compel mothers in their workfare programs to take Workahol? What if big companies could get it blended into the coffee or slip it into the desserts in the cafeteria? Or, maybe it becomes a secret ingredient in Big Macs...

I know — conspiracy theory stuff again. I'm not entirely serious; there's a bit of a smirk on my face as I write this. But it wasn't I who said “The Patriot Act is so 1984,” and nobody expected that the all-but-confirmed next Attorney General would be the same guy who wrote a legal brief exploring ways to justify torture in the prosecution of the war on terror. Then, there's the small matter of the drug companies' extensive influence over the FDA, and the fact that productivity boosts do enhance a company's competitive position...

So, don't be surprised a few years from now, if you suddenly find one day that you can't tear yourself away from even the most unsatisfying work! It's all for the best. After all, we're gonna need an army of workaholics to make that whole mission to Mars thing work!


Lowered Standards
“There's a lower standard, frankly, for Attorney General than for judge, because you give the president who he wants”
- Sen. Charles Schumer

“When you start looking at torture statutes and you look at ways around the spirit of the law, you're losing the moral high ground... I do believe that we've lost our way.”
- Sen. Lindsey Graham

If you've got the stomach for it, the New York Times has published the entire transcript of the Gonzales confirmation hearings. 78 pages you can read for yourself.

[ link | e-me ]

Thursday, January 20, 2005
2:01 PM      

“WASHINGTON - George W. Bush swore the presidential oath for a second term in turbulent times Thursday and issued a sweeping pledge to spread liberty and freedom ‘to the darkest corners of the world.’” ... [A.P. report]

Typical rhetoric.
1) Aren't “liberty” and “freedom” the same thing? Does he have to be tautological about it? Or, by Liberty, does he mean one of 17 towns, including one in Texas?*
2) I thought we realized that Earth wasn't flat several centuries ago; or are we going backward? In this article, it seems the world is being spoken of as a box we're living inside — at least some of us live inside it; then there is the select few who are on top, doing their best to keep from being knocked off.

From: Brendan
Subject: Anti Inauguration Not One Damn Dime Day
Date: January 19, 2005 7:30:33 PM EST

Hi there. I wanted to pass on to you this message about how you might want to respond to Bush's Inauguration tomorrow.

It was big business that helped get W elected & an inequitable economic system that offered us the choice between him & Kerry to begin with — so why not send the US economy a thank you note. It won't cost you a dime.

A one day boycott won't have the same impact as, say, the US-led embargo on Iraq that killed as many as one million people before Bush's war even began. But it might lighten the wallets of the people for whom the US economy has been booming in recent years — booming not despite but because unemployment remains high & the most that most americans can hope for is to rent themselves out from 9 to 5 for lower wages than they would have gotten for the very same job last year. I'm going to bring my lunch to work & cook dinner when I get home. I'm even going to forgo the bottle of tequila I was counting on to get me through the entire $40 million swearing in.

So: we can sit around all bummed out or we can try to get the bums out. After all, four years will go a lot quicker if we stay playful & compassionate, right?

Thanks for not moving to Canada just yet. It's nice having you around.


  • Immunity from arbitrary exercise of authority
  • The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing

Liberty, IL (village, FIPS 43133)
   Location: 39.88076 N, 91.10802 W
   Population (1990): 541 (216 housing units)
   Area: 0.8 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 62347
Liberty, IN (town, FIPS 43434)
   Location: 39.63447 N, 84.92697 W
   Population (1990): 2051 (888 housing units)
   Area: 2.1 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 47353
Liberty, KS (city, FIPS 40250)
   Location: 37.15614 N, 95.59775 W
   Population (1990): 140 (63 housing units)
   Area: 0.7 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 67351
Liberty, KY (city, FIPS 46072)
   Location: 37.31785 N, 84.93060 W
   Population (1990): 1937 (905 housing units)
   Area: 4.4 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 42539
Liberty, ME
   Zip code(s): 04949
Liberty, MO (city, FIPS 42032)
   Location: 39.24205 N, 94.41911 W
   Population (1990): 20459 (7645 housing units)
   Area: 69.7 sq km (land), 0.1 sq km (water)
Liberty, MS (town, FIPS 40640)
   Location: 31.16015 N, 90.80121 W
   Population (1990): 624 (300 housing units)
   Area: 5.3 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 39645
Liberty, NC (town, FIPS 38100)
   Location: 35.85416 N, 79.57136 W
   Population (1990): 2047 (929 housing units)
   Area: 6.5 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 27298
Liberty, NE (village, FIPS 26980)
   Location: 40.08503 N, 96.48304 W
   Population (1990): 74 (44 housing units)
   Area: 0.6 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 68381
Liberty, NY (village, FIPS 42224)
   Location: 41.79746 N, 74.74636 W
   Population (1990): 4128 (1827 housing units)
   Area: 6.0 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 12754
Liberty, OK (town, FIPS 42860)
   Location: 35.85872 N, 95.97720 W
   Population (1990): 155 (67 housing units)
   Area: 15.8 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
Liberty, PA (borough, FIPS 43064)
   Location: 40.32380 N, 79.85798 W
   Population (1990): 2744 (1144 housing units)
   Area: 3.7 sq km (land), 0.2 sq km (water)
Liberty, PA (borough, FIPS 43128)
   Location: 41.55987 N, 77.10511 W
   Population (1990): 199 (86 housing units)
   Area: 1.3 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 16930
Liberty, SC (town, FIPS 41380)
   Location: 34.79247 N, 82.69536 W
   Population (1990): 3228 (1357 housing units)
   Area: 10.6 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
   Zip code(s): 29657
Liberty, TN (town, FIPS 42040)
   Location: 36.00398 N, 85.97782 W
   Population (1990): 391 (160 housing units)
   Area: 2.7 sq km (land), 0.0 sq km (water)
Liberty, TX (city, FIPS 42568)
   Location: 30.04602 N, 94.79769 W
   Population (1990): 7733 (3125 housing units)
   Area: 92.0 sq km (land), 0.9 sq km (water)
Liberty, WV
   Zip code(s): 25124


Million Dollar Baby
is an extraordinary film. We saw it last night, and it's been bubbling in my head ever since. The film is rich with threads that make connections between disparate scenes, without the heavy handedness typical of the foreshadowing in many popular movies. Well, it was playing in an “art house,” so maybe I shouldn't compare it to popular movies. Clint Eastwood's skill and finesse as a director and an actor are abundantly apparent.

The movie is about a lot more than boxing. It's about relationships and the bond of kinship. It's about faith, redemption, acceptance, and forgiveness. It's about leaving a mark. It's about being your own person, and it's interesting how that theme connects back to the Jack Johnson story. It's about our notions of gender. It's about class struggle. It's about doing the right thing. Ultimately, it's about the consequences of our choices and the struggle to make things right.

The movie isn't light, but it's not heavy, either. The pacing is good, and the plot has a few important surprises. The performances are solid. See it. Even if you don't consider yourself an Eastwood fan, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Now that Hilary Swank has won a Golden Globe, I wouldn't be surprised if she takes home another Oscar. She's that good in this movie.

[ link | e-me ]

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
4:00 PM      
This is a really good, engaging, and revealing film. It's not just about Jack Johnson, but about America in the early 1900s. See it, if you have a chance. The PBS site has additional materials and screening schedules, or you can buy the video.

[ link | e-me ]

3:30 PM      

Killz Germz on Kontact
A Lysol ad, probably aimed at compulsive types, shows two boys playing with a toy train. Mom is in the background, and becomes alarmed as one boy sneezes. She runs to the cupboard for a can of Lysol. Close shot of the caboose moving by, spattered with gooey looking gobs. Cut to Mom's finger on the spray nozzle, a stream of spray washing across the caboose, as the globules slowly disappear. [Immediately I think of those folks who wash their hands 100 x per day.] The narrator's voice (feminine and motherly) chimes in: Lysol spray kills nn% of germs on contact — even the germs that cause the flu.

Sounds nice, except influenza is caused by a VIRUS.


CSS success
Using techniques I've gleaned from Meyer and Zeldman, I've been building the prototype design you see at right. If you've ever done HTML layouts before, you know that without CSS, you're going to need a bunch of tables and rows (some of them nested), maybe a pile of spacer GIFs, and a mess of fiddling. The result can look pretty good, and watching all the pieces fill in as the page downloads can be kind of fun - for a minute.

Well, creating the CSS to do this for 6 different layout variations took a bit of doing, but now it's pretty simple to do variations on the theme, and it's a lot easier to make minor positional tweaks. As I said, the HTML is a lot leaner. I was able to put most of the CSS in an external file (only the page-specific styles are inside the page), and I use server-side includes to keep the thumbnails and menus modular. I didn't get rid of every table, though: Some of my positioning requirements didn't seem to be working in an all-CSS design, so I added a few tables to simplify the setup and get the look I wanted.

Couple of weird things: CSS has a vertical-align attribute. You'd think there'd be an equivalent attribute called horizontal-align. There isn't. It's called text-align, and it doesn't just align text. I thought I'd do the menu states with CSS — I've seen examples where it's used to create rollovers with graphics instead of just text. So far, no luck. Seems IE and Safari disagree greatly on how to apply graphics to the background of a link.

Even with the hiccups and frustrations, I'm hooked.


I've just started reading Bringhurst's “The Elements of Typographic Style.” The writing is fun. In a section discussing line length, he talks about the risk of “pig bristles” (excessive hyphenation) or “white acne” (erratic and splotchy word spaces) when lines of text are set justified and made too short (typically less than 40 characters). He recommends using right-ragged alignment when columns have to be more narrow: “Setting ragged right under these conditions will lighten the page and decrease its stiffness, as well as preventing an outbreak of hyphenation.”

An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns — but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver. The scribes made this old and audible abstraction into a new and visible fact. After long practice, their work took on such an even, flexible texture that they called the written page a textus, which means cloth.

Earlier in the book, Bringhurst points out that typesetting was one of the last crafts to be mechanized, and one of the first to be computerized.


I passed by the site of the Russian Tea Room last week, and saw a sign hanging in the door:


I don't know how long it's been closed, but it been closed and reopened once before. I guess the second coming didn't last either. Interesting that even it their demise, they thought to label themselves a landmark.


Whose Reality?

[Jean] Baudrillard interprets many representations as a means of concealing the absence of reality; he calls such representations ‘simulacra’ (or copies without originals). He sees a degenerative evolution in modes of representation in which signs are increasingly empty of meaning... As advertising, propaganda and commodification set in, the sign began to hide ‘basic reality’. In the postmodern age of ‘hyper-reality’ in which what are only illusions in the media of communication seem very real, signs hide the absence of reality and only pretend to mean something. For Baudrillard, simulacra — the signs that characterize late capitalism — come in three forms: counterfeit (imitation) — when there was still a direct link between signifiers and their signifieds; production (illusion) — when there was an indirect link between signifier and signified; and simulation (fake) — when signifiers come to stand in relation only to other signifiers and not in relation to any fixed external reality....

Such perspectives, of course, beg the fundamental question, What is “real”?...However, even philosophical realists would accept that much of our knowledge of the world is indirect; we experience many things primarily (or even solely) as they are represented to us within our media and communication technologies. Since representations [signifiers] cannot be identical copies of what they represent [signifieds] they can never be neutral and transparent but are instead constitutive of reality... Semiotics helps us to ... take them apart and consider whose realities they represent.
- From Semiotics: The Basics, by Daniel Chandler, pp 77-78

Few of us have direct knowledge of either the tsunami or the wars in the Middle East, much less the strife in other parts of the world. Submitted for your consideration as possible simulacra:

  • War on Terror
  • Terrorist
  • Freedom
  • Justice
  • Equal-Opportunity
  • Level playing field
  • The American Dream

Funny to read this stuff on the heels of the Armstrong Williams “fake news” scandal, and especially after having seen “Outfoxed.”


Dubya Who Cried “Bankrupt”
OK, I know the intelligence was a little off and there were no WMDs, but it's got to be different this time with the whole “Social Security is on the road to bankruptcy” thing, right? After all this is a man who has direct experience with failed businesses, right?


What?! Don't Worry — It's Not Like We're Destroying Biblical Artifacts...
“ This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain.”
– John Curtis, keeper of the British Museum's Near East department

“...just dreadful. Not only is what the American forces are doing damaging the archaeology of Iraq, it's actually damaging the cultural heritage of the whole world.”
- Lord Redesdale, an archaeologist who heads a parliamentary archaeology committee

A while ago, Denise and I saw a documentary about Iraq, some of which was shot just before the assault on Baghdad began. Hussein was building an airfield very near the site of one of the ancient ziggurats, a very important archeological treasure. We figured there had to be significant damage to the site during the war. We've heard nothing about damaged or lost antiquities in Iraq since the early stories of the looting of the Baghdad museum. That is, until now:

U.S.-led troops using the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon as a base have damaged and contaminated artifacts dating back thousands of years in one of the world's most important archaeological sites, the British Museum said Saturday....

...large quantities of sand mixed with archaeological fragments have been taken from the site to fill military sandbags....

A.P. report 1/15/2005 read more

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