a good model thesis?

So I dropped into the grad office again today to look for theses to read, and I noticed that there were a few new ones that I’d never seen before and that didn’t look like anything I had ever seen. In fact they looked so different I thought maybe they were not theses.

They I pulled them out and they were theses. Must be the new “bespoke” formats…

So took out a few and the first one I tried to read was Spooky Action at a Distance: Fragments of Presence in Remote Objects : A Master of Design Thesis by Jackson McConnell (yes, that’s a title with a subtitle with a sub-subtitle).

Less than halfway through scanning it I realized that I virtually did exactly the same thing as he did (except, very possibly, worse), and how I wrote my draft is virtually exactly the same as how he wrote his final thesis (again, except, very possibly, worse).

So have I finally found a possible model to follow?

I sure hope so…

Still don’t know what to do at openings…

I went to both of Jay’s openings today—not a feat by any means, as the two galleries were really close by.

The artist was not there. I went, looked at all the artworks, took some pictures, and left.

I still had no idea what else to do. I knew no one, and I felt awkward to talk to people I didn’t know. I was not one of the artists.

How to data merge QR codes with InDesign

So how did I end up mail merging my QR codes? My solution turned out to be typographic after all, but it did not involve contextual glyph substitutions.

The key to mail merging QR codes is to realize that while we cannot control formatting in InDesign’s data merge, square shapes exist in Unicode, so if there is a programmatic way to generate the dot patterns, we can pick a monospaced font, vary the glyphs used, and end up with a scannable QR code.

One way to generate the dot patterns is to use the qrencode tool by Kentarō Fukuchi. Its “-t ASCII” option is especially useful, as this means we don’t need to interface with the C library; the ASCII output can easily be parsed using a Perl script or similar and turned into a simple pattern of zeroes and ones.

So two things came out of this exercise: First, InDesign cannot handle ideographic spaces (U+3000) in data files, so CJK fonts are out; and second, qrencode -t ASCII doubles up the ASCII characters so that the dots come out visually more or less correct, so to convert this output into a dot pattern we need to deduplicate the ASCII characters.

The key portion of my code looks is this:

sub get_qrcode ($$) {
    # Note that qrencode uses ## for a dot (and 2 spaces for no dot), not just #, so we need to deduplicate first
    my($s, $quality) = @_;
    my $h = open(INPUT, '-|');
    die "$0: exec: fork: $!\n" unless defined $h;
    my @qr = ();
    if (!$h) {
        my @cmdline = ('qrencode', '-o', '-', '-s', '1', '-l', $quality, '-m', ' 0',  '-t', 'ASCII', $s);
        exec { $cmdline[0] } @cmdline;
        die "$0: exec: $!\n";
    } else {
        for (;;) {
            my $s = scalar <INPUT>;
        last unless defined $s;
            chomp $s;
            $s =~ s/([# ])\1/\1/g; # deduplicate
            my @spec = map { ($_ eq '#') + 0 } split('', $s);
            push @qr, [@spec];
    return @qr;

Provided that qrencode is installed, this code will convert the input string into a QR code bit pattern with the specified quality.

To form the dots it is necessary to choose a perfectly square glyph. Since I was dealing with print, I can also pick a rectangular glyph and scale it horizontally to make it square. One obvious candidate is U+2588, which fills up the entire glyph space and is naturally square in most CJK fonts. Unfortunately if we use a CJK font we will need to use the CJK space, and it turned out that putting CJK spaces in the data file will cause InDesign to not recognize a UCS-2 file as UCS-2. So there are two options: Use U+2588 with a normal monospaced font and scale the glyphs horizontally, or use something else such as U+25A0, which is a smaller square dot.

It turns out that if we use U+2588, we will need to typeset the dots in a really small point size, like 2pt. If we then generate a PDF and view it in Apple’s Preview tool, the QR code will get greeked, so this is undesirable. Using U+25A0 allows a larger point size to be used which decreases the probability of the QR code being greeked; the only problem is that with U+25A0 spacing cannot be as exact.

It’s also worth noting that InDesign turns out to be incapable of handling UTF-8 in data files. Although you can specify Unicode, Macintosh platform (and Unicode on the Macintosh platform invariably means UTF-8), InDesign will silently ignore the file. You have to use little-endian UCS-2, which InDesign will interpret as “Unicode, PC platform” even if you don’t specify any options.

Lastly, with a programmatic way to generate QR codes, we also don’t need to worry about choosing a quality. We can just let our code search for an optimal quality. For example, my code (clearly not the best code as I noted in the comments) currently has the following:

sub qrcode ($) {
    # Compute the best QR code by sucessively going from the highest to lowest quality.
    # Stop when we get something of the correct size.
    # Don't bother returning an error value because only 1 line uses this function and that line uses its own error checking.
    my($s) = @_;
    my @qr = ();
    for my $quality (qw(H Q M L)) {
        @qr = get_qrcode($s, $quality);
    last if @qr == $qr_code_size;
    return @qr;

Just define some constraints (such as a fixed size for the dot pattern, $qr_code_size in my case) and let your code search for a quality that is adequate for your requirements.

confluence of lab and thesis^H^H^H^H^H^HMRP, again

A few problems surfaced today while I was trying to beat InDesign into submission mail merging my questionnaires. Basically, I tried too hard customizing the questionnaire booklet, and I found I had to mail merge the whole thing, not just the cover and the first signature.

Most of InDesign’s deficiencies (well yes, there are many…) could be worked around, but one remaining thing stuck out: How do I mail merge a QR code? Will image merge actually work?

(Oh yes, and I really feel offline formatters like LaTeX are still light years ahead of commercial page layout systems in terms of mail-merge-ability.)

When I was waiting for the train back home I actually thought about contextual glyph substitutes. This is, of course, what we talked about in the lab last week. Obviously, this would be a crazy idea, since I have zero experience making this kind of stuff, but if I can’t get InDesign to work, what else could I do?…

Maybe I’ll just generate 18 INDD files and replace the QR codes by hand… That’s probably going to take less time than figuring out how to create a custom OpenType font…

thoughts about Glenn Adamson’s “Thinking through craft”

I just finished reading Glenn Adamson’s (2007) Thinking through craft. I started reading it to find material for my thesis, and I ended up completely disappointed.

Yes, disappointed, but no, it was not a futile exercise, because it taught me two things.

First, Adamson has managed to show me the irrelevancy of the so-called avant garde; he has managed to show me that art criticism is essentially just the biased opinions of a few individuals completely disconnected from the non-art world and nothing more. And secondly, he has managed to make me “get” feminist art, at least in a way: According to how he described it, feminist art can totally be reframed in racial terms and still be completely valid. Art criticism, as Adamson has described it, is absurdly sexist and racially biased. And if Adamson has also managed to show it as irrelevant, I don’t feel sorry at all to be left out of an irrelevant discussion.

Adamson also shows a complete ignorance of basic design terminology or the realities of design. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t get “craft” (as Ric Grefé said during AIGA Pivot’s post-conference, we must not give up our craft, or we lose our specialness), and perhaps that’s also why all the other avant-garde high art critics also don’t get “craft”. They have no right to critique it, if their irrelevant babblings can even be called critique.

art as an intrinsically non-inclusive practice

One thing we in the ceramics studio has been constantly reminded of is that ceramics is considered inferior because it is craft and not art. We are constantly being reminded of not only how the material arts are looked down upon in our school, but also how the art world as a whole is unfair.

Yesterday, when I finally got to going to the grad office to borrow some thesis to look at (not borrow as checking out the thing, but as reading some library-use-only item on the spot). While most of these theses just made me even more worried and depressed, I did notice a couple of books in the bibliographies that I might find useful: One of them was Glenn Adamson’s (2007) Thinking through craft.

So I didn’t even wait until I got back home or to the studio; I just took out my computer on the spot and searched our library catalogue: The OCAD library has it, but it was checked out, so I immediately tried the public library instead, and found that both North York Central and Toronto Reference have a copy.

According to Adamson (p. 39), the defining characteristic of art, according to art critic Clement Greenberg, is “opticality”, that is, art exists to be looked at. This “opticality” is, in a way, seen as a condition for “autonomy” (i.e., the quality that a piece of artwork can be isolated from its environment and exist by itself, devoid of context), first proposed by the Marxist (gasp) Theodor Adorno (pp. 9ff) that is so prized in the modern art world.

(Obviously, anyone coming from math or translation would be immediately suspicious of anything that alleges itself to be self-sufficient or autonomous from all context. In our world such things don’t exist and cannot possibly exist. But let’s ignore that for now.)

Ignoring the fact that Adamson described Greenberg’s idea as “counter-intuitive” (p. 41) and mentioned that it has been attacked ever ever since it was proposed, an assumed primacy for “opticality” does seem to explain why the material arts are looked down upon. This would explain why anything two-dimensional would be more highly-prized, as if any technique used for two-dimensional work must be more difficult, as if any two-dimensional work must be more valuable than three-dimensional work.

But this also brings us back to the only art course in my program that we had at the start of our second year (or even farther back, in first-year foundations, if anyone still remembers that one reading we were required to read): that is, can art be inclusive?

If opticality is of paramount importance, art can never be inclusive, or at least art centred solely around opticality can never be inclusive. If we aim for inclusivity in art, the primacy of opticality must be dethroned.


When Danica finished her thesis three days ago and the three of us in the studio went out, she mentioned GradEx was next week. I thought that was soon but I didn’t realize what that implies for me.

The thing is, the nominal deadline for submission to Empty Bowls is just three weeks away, while the actual event is just half a week after that, and I have not even submitted a draft of my ethics proposal

For this to be part of my thesis MRP I will need to get approval in less than three weeks.

I am doomed.

Why we should start thinking about a GMail exit strategy

I love GMail, or at least used to. But I think we should start thinking about dumping GMail in favour of something else—I don’t know what that thing is, but we must move.

GMail’s appeal is its accurate spam filtering, and that any spam you still get is just put into a special Spam folder instead of being rejected outright. Or so they claim, or so are things used to be. As I found out a few years ago, GMail actually does email blacklisting (in a particularly clueless way, I might add) and worse, GMail’s spam filtering accuracy has been dropping significantly since a few months ago, almost as if Google is trying to make its spam prediction as unreliable as their automatic labels—as if Google’s true goal were to provide buggy, unreliable software.

How bad is it? Two days ago a whopping 31 pieces of legitimate email were erroneously marked as “phishing” (not just “spam”), and it takes almost 100 clicks to tell Google that these are neither phishing nor spam; all the while the actual number of spams received two days ago was in fact zero. You can see why I often don’t bother using the Mark as non-phishing command any more, and increasingly I don’t even bother pushing the Non-spam button any more. Marking them non-spam or non-phishing is getting too time consuming and the act doesn’t seem to actually achieve anything; Google still screws up at least a dozen times a day, every single day.

Worse, today I checked my spam folder and noticed something that not only is clearly legitimate, but that I had manually applied a tag to it. Which means that when I saw the mail two days ago it was in my inbox, but today it has mysteriously been moved to the “spam” box.

Read this: Your spam box is just another inbox. It is possible to receive dozens of legitimate—even important—emails in your so-called spam box. I have received email from the government in my “spam” box, some even marked as “phishing”.

Read this: Having received an email in your inbox is no guarantee that it will stay in your inbox. Neither is tagging it. Nor is archiving it. Anything can suddenly be retroactively considered spam, even phishing, all on the whims of mighty but flimsy Google.

GMail is my main email provider, my university has switched to GMail a few years ago, and a professional organization I belong to has switched to GMail a few months ago; but I think relying on GMail is increasingly a mistake that we will have to correct soon. GMail has become far too unreliable even for personal use; we must find a GMail exit strategy before all our important emails disappear into the so-called spam box.

you never know what comes in handy when

I never expected my work on Cadmium would one day come in handy for my thesis MRP, but I just realized the question of how to lay out Cadmium was exactly the same problem as how to lay out the questionnaire needed for my thesis MRP.

And the funny thing is that I don’t even need to build a prototype to test whether the thickness will work, because I already know: The issue of Cadmium that I designed is my prototype, with precisely the thickness that I need to test. The only difference is that I’m now doing it half size; that’s all.

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