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/, 2): no suitable image found. Did find:
/usr/local/lib/python2.7/site-packages/mercurial/ 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:


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” and worse things

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.

I didn’t know @SEGD has changed its name

Earlier today I went to SEGD’s site to look for some information. (I forgot what I was looking for…) Much to my surprise, I noticed that it showed its name as the Society for Experiential Graphic Design.

I never knew of the change, and according to the What is Environmental Graphic Design article on SEGD’s site, they changed their name way back in 2013.

The same article mentions EGD as becoming the “enabler of Smart Cities.” So things are actually falling into place… (just not where I want them to be, I guess…)

Rare gem found at @BMVBookstores

I dropped by BMV today by chance. As I walked in I thought, “So where should I go to?” Then I instinctively walked to the “Languages” section.

Scanning the shelves, I spotted a very rare gem:

(This is the very rare gem that I found: the green APA manual.)

It looked exactly like the APA manual, but it’s a different colour, and it says “Presenting Your Findings” on the spine. I took it out and there it says, “Presenting Your Findings: A Practical Guide for Creating Tables,” published by the American Psychological Association.

I scanned the shelves another time to see if the other one for figures was there somewhere. Nope. I scanned it another time to make sure. Nope, not there.

Still, just this one was a very unexpected find. Who would have thought, BMV? I literally had never seen this book before, anywhere: not even at Chapters or at the U of T Bookstore.

Graphic design seen from another perspective

You might not think an editors’ conference would have anything to do with graphic design, but in fact it did. Other than getting to know “industry standard” practices and expectations, it was revelatory to look at graphic design from the (stereotypical) editor’s viewpoint. My two surprising finds: Graphic design is misunderstood in editing circles, and bad graphic design is giving graphic designers and other artists a bad name. Since summaries of the relevant sessions have already been posted, I’ll just comment on a few observations I had.

“Graphic designers,” it was said during the Q&A at Sunday’s “Clear Communication” session, don’t care about communication but instead care “only about visuals.” This is, of course, a grave misrepresentation, since graphic design is all about communication. In fact it is so much about communication that it’s also called “communication design”; I find it incredible that a quarter century after graphic design has been called communication design people are still claiming that graphic design is not about communication.

So how did this misrepresentation come about? Friday’s “How and What to Edit in Visuals Accompanying Text” gave us a clue. The presenters showed a lot of badly designed visuals that don’t communicate (including apparently-not-to-well-conceived illustrations, badly designed infographics, and badly set text). Eventually I just had to say “bad graphic design is giving us artists and designers a bad reputation.” Editors have this misinformed idea that communication design isn’t about communication because there is simply too much bad art out there.

Outside the art and design circles, it also appears that the term “illustration” is misunderstood, since one of the presenters said the style of a graphic can be “realistic” or an “illustration”—The problem here, of course, is that illustrations can be realistic. “Illustrations” is not the right word (which should be a big problem in an editing conference); the correct word should be “caricatured.”

(My handwritten notes for the session “How and What to Edit in Visuals Accompanying Text”)

The idea of caricature returned later when the “suppression (?) of irrelevant details” was mentioned. Suppression of irrelevant details is, of course, caricature. Strangely, McCloud’s Understanding Comics was actually mentioned. Perhaps the word is too technical for people outside art the design circles—or perhaps I see it as a normal word only because I’ve worked so long with this prof.

We all know that colours have cultural significances, but I found it bizarre that at one point it was suggested that yellow should not be used because it would be misunderstood as indicative of a warning. I was shocked; not even American and Canadian designers would agree to that statement, and the example was an illustration. I had always felt Ontario to be boring but I’d have never thought of this as one of the reasons; in a multicultural country like Canada such a claim also sounds culturally biased.

It was also mentioned that (if I read my notes correctly) neuroscience tells us that our brain cannot hold more than seven pieces of information at the same time. But I was skeptical because this contradicts Malcolm Gladwell’s claim (which I happened to be able to check because I happen to be from the right linguistic background). That said, since I’m actually working on a neuroscience project right now maybe I need to somehow weave this claim into some sort of query that I can ask the neuroscience people; this might prove productive :-)

This is about all in terms of comments I can still make out of my notes, but perhaps I should mention two more interesting connections near the end: “Grouping like items together” was mentioned (Gestalt theory, something I’ve never been strong at); and reading information that isn’t really there into graphs (semiotics—debates around iconicity in particular—, another thing I’ve never been strong at). There was actually more semiotic talk earlier when perceptual resemblance (and of course, the comment about yellow that I disagreed with) was mentioned. This has little to do with editing but I guess these are reminders that I should brush up on my theory.

For some reason that I’ve already forgotten, I tweeted a few times during Sunday’s session but didn’t take any notes. Why I didn’t take any notes on Sunday will forever remain a mystery…

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