Forgot how to make a book

Almost a year after I printed a copy of my thesis (intending to put it on display at GradEx, but shelved the idea when I thought the print shop didn’t print it), I finally took a few hours to gather all the signatures, sew them together, and glue them together into what vaguely looks like a book. It’s still not in book form only because my X-acto is with my box of tools in the studio and I forgot to print the cover.

Half-finished book, opened flat

Yes, of course this was going to be in the form of a real book, because that’s how all the process books at GradEx look like! :-)

Anyway, while I was doing this, I kept thinking things like “I’ve forgotten what the signature size was”, “I’m supposed to know how to do this”, “too many signatures!” and “I think I did this wrong,” A year after I did the Student Press’s bookbinding workshop I have already forgotten how to sew signatures together.

I still managed to bind the whole thing together. I’m going to get my X-acto back tomorrow and do a layout of a front cover and print it out somewhere… (Hmm… that will have to be printed at 12×18…)

(Oh yeah… and don’t bother to use staplers. Thread and needle is actually easier because you have more control. And awls… they make holes that are too big; I actually like pins better…)

Ubuntu disappoints, and software tweaks are what makes Macs usable

Months after the thought came up and my first failed trials, I have finally managed to install (so to speak) Ubuntu on my Mac, and I have to say Ubuntu disappoints on many small details. Coming from a pre-GNOME traditional Unix background, that’s some major disappointment I’m talking about.

My major disappointment is with the trackpad. With Ubuntu the Mac’s trackpad is barely usable. Right-clicking doesn’t work, even with the ”Accessibility” option turned on. Heck, even single clicking often doesn’t work because the system would register some tiny, stray vertical movement so you would end up clicking the wrong thing. The system also often registers stray horizontal movements (so that, for example, when you’re scrolling through a page the browser would suddenly switch to a different tab, or even a different app). So it seems that the Mac’s trackpad isn’t actually any better than what Windows laptops have; all the perceived usability is in the software drivers and Apple has done a lot of work making sure the drivers are tweaked to screen out stray movements.

Keyboard input also disappoints. The ”English (Macintosh)” mapping does not map the non-breaking space, and Chinese input does not seem to work. (Maybe Ubuntu is trying too hard to be “smart” and I need to disable all the modern stuff and go back to xkb and scim… or maybe it’s debugging and bug report time….) It’s also a major surprise to see that Emacs-style editing keys work on MacOS X but not in Ubuntu.

With more than one input method installed, simply clicking the input menu would often, inexplicably, switch to a different input method.

The Character Map is completely writing-script-based so you can’t pick out punctuation marks and other non-letter symbols; I had to resort to using printf in the terminal to get the symbols I need.

All in all a disappointment, and in the meantime I’ll need a bigger (and hopefully faster) USB stick.

Org charts are not trees

The first thing I tried was to read about D3 and tried to modify their example code to see what I could come up with. And then I realized something Very Important:

Org charts are not trees.

I should have known better. I had drawn org charts before and had already found out back then that org charts are not trees (okay, maybe for “normal” businesses they are… but a lot of nonprofits don’t have “normal” structures, so any alleged normality is only illusory). So all tree-based layouts are out. Back to square one…

First thoughts

I got the file yesterday but I just started looking at it.

A few problems stood out right away:

  1. I can’t read the names; they are too small. Even in Preview I have to zoom in twice for the names to even become legible.
  2. I actually don’t understand the relationships. The way they drew the “members” box makes it look like committees aren’t composed of members. (And are staff members?) And the arrows are confusing. They jump over boxes without indicating they’re jumping over things, and boxes in their way appear to be sometimes also connected to the arrows.

And of course a few thoughts jumped out right at once too (yes, even before the problems, actually):

  1. Do I need to do it in a file format they can update? Does this mean I have to do it in Word? (No…)-:
  2. The org chart on the site is the same as the Word file I was given, only that what’s on the web is a pixel dump of the real thing. Does that mean I should do it as a web app of sorts?
  3. Would D3 be of any use?

How should I even start thinking about this?

How do you feel to have something you didn’t write attributed to you?

Not my article, but I’m still deeply disturbed because librarians and open-source advocates share the same ideals (and I was an OLA member at one point). The whole dubious deal is chronicled on Stewart Varner’s blog.

I have had the experience of having my writing rephrased so that it didn’t read like my own, and having all communication cease right after I turned in an article. I thought that was bad; what the American Library Association has done is infinitely worse.

Mercurial problem on my Mac solved!

I have been having trouble getting Mercurial running on my Mac. Basically, I have been getting this error message:

ImportError: dlopen(/usr/local/lib/python2.7/site-packages/mercurial/osutil.so, 2): no suitable image found. Did find:
/usr/local/lib/python2.7/site-packages/mercurial/osutil.so: mach-o, but wrong architecture

So, by chance, today I found out that if I use an account that is different from the one I normally use, Mercurial actually ran. Since this wouldn’t make any sense if the installation didn’t work, the installation must have been actually working, and the problem I had been experiencing must have been the result of incorrect user-specific configuration.

I did a little investigation and it turned out that this line in my .bash_profile was the culprit:

export VERSIONER_PYTHON_PREFER_32_BIT=yes

I have no idea why I had this line or what put it there (or whether I put it there myself and if so why). But now I’ve had it disabled and Mercurial is finally running…

This means getting Pidgin running will now be a distinct possibility…

A possible connection between craftsmanship and affordances

I had not thrown for literally half a year before I started again earlier this semester, and when I tried to bisque my first batch of work half of the batch got rejected for failing quality control. All the faulty work looked something like this:

Picture of a representative piece of the bad work that got rejected

Now what’s wrong with this? Look again from the bottom:

Picture of the above piece of bad work from the bottom

Although the picture is, unfortunately, cropped, you can still see that the handle is essentially the same width as the diameter of the body of the cup. The problem was with the proportion between the attached handle and the body: The handle is too far out, and when you grasp a cupful of hot liquid you might not be able to securely grasp it at the correct angle.

There’s a second problem in some of the faulty pieces, mostly to do with the thickness of the handles. In effect, the faulty handles were too thin; visually they didn’t match the size of the cup bodies—in other words, they looked flimsy.

A third problem in a couple of the faulty pieces relates to the attachment of the handles. The faulty attachments look somewhat like this (unfortunately this is a bad picture for showing the fault; but all the faulty pieces have already been destroyed so I can’t reshoot them):

Picture of a piece of bad work with a faulty handle attachment

When I asked RT about what problem was with this, she looked at it a second time and said something like “I thought the bottom was not attached.” Although theoretically the attachment might have been secure, visually it looked unattached and therefore someone using the cup wouldn’t feel safe.

Getting back to my main point, in an earlier post I voiced some pretty nasty comments about art criticism, especially as it relates to craft. But I think the QA fail has highlighted a possible reason for instinctively disagreeing with describing skill as merely reduction of uncertainty.

Returning to the three problems I mentioned above, the first problem was failing to afford a secure grasping action, while the other two problems were the presence of false affordances (that is, apparently affording a safety hazard when the affordance is probably not actually present). Although RT has described everything in visual terms, all this visual talk is actually a proxy for a critique on the work’s ergonomics and affordances.

I think ultimately, at least certain aspects of craftmanship are directly related to affordances and therefore craftmanship is not entirely subjective.

Why blindly following accessibility guidelines isn’t always a good idea

I have not been logging in to my student email as often as before, and when I logged in earlier today I noticed this — am I allowed to use the word travesty? —:

Slightly censored screen capture of a piece of email I received that is replete with meaningless repetititons of Title: XXXX Logo - Description: XXXX Logo

Does the endless repetition of “Title: XXXX Logo - Description: XXXX Logo” make sense to you? Does “[cid:image006.png@01D0EF06.71E85C40]” look meaningful or accessible to you? No, they don’t, but this is what you get when you blindly follow “accessibility guidelines” and trust Word to mail out form letters.

Which brings me back to a point I’ve been trying to make since first year: You can’t divorce alternate text from its true roots: As fallback for text browsers and plain-text offline formatters. In other words, as fallback for what is to be inserted in place of the image whenever — not just when the final output is speech — the final output is plain text.

This is why alternate texts that say “XXXX logo” are almost always wrong, or for that matter why (as this example shows) anything that results in “Title: X - Description: Y” is also almost always wrong.

Alternate text for screen readers was not the original intent; being usable for the screen reader is actually the curb cut. Alternate text was invented for accessibility, for sure, but the true intended medium was the text screen, not the screen reader.

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