Should PDF be killed too? (second thoughts on @NellChitty’s (rhetorical?) question)

Yesterday, Vitamin T retweeted an article on Web Designer Depot claiming Flash is dead (in Chrome), and we really mean it this time.”

The article is surprisingly misinformed. (For one, Linux users will not “rejoice” because finally throwing out a piece of garbage that has been gathering dust in the attic isn’t cause for rejoicing – Flash is not working on Linux and has not been since ages ago. Let’s not even get into the question of how YouTube is even relevant.)

But the article does suggest an interesting related question: Should PDF be killed too?

Just as Adobe has artificially kept the zombie of long-dead Flash version 11.2 “alive” on Linux, what they’re giving Linux is also just the zombie of long-dead Adobe Reader version 9.3.3. Yet even Apple’s Preview on recent MacOSX versions cannot understand some of the newest PDF’s generated by Adobe Reader DC, such as those with custom stamps. If even Apple’s Preview is incompatible, Adobe Reader on Linux is useless.

However, Adobe Reader DC features are increasingly used by, for example, professional editors. Just as most professional editors demand that their clients use Microsoft Word, they also demand that their clients use Reader DC. If the client uses only free software, then, it will not be possible to satisfy the professional’s demand except by succumbing to non-free software running on non-free operating systems. Then what Reader DC represents is really a privileged power (major software companies) trying to subjugate an already-oppressed population through the hands of unwitting accomplices.

If a PDF win is equivalent to oppression, then PDF must be defeated. Perhaps the only defensible answer to Nell’s (rhetorical?) question – at least in light of current circumstances – is that PDF must lose and HTML must win, perhaps in the form of EPUB.

A time bomb, accidentally discovered?

(I’ll adjust the vocabulary so that it’s understandable by most OCAD students. But nothing essential is changed. In fact by adjusting the vocabulary it becomes clear why I say the situation is ridiculous.)

So what essentially happened in the past couple of days was that I have been banned from a studio. The tech specifically requested that I be banned only from his studio, but what happened was that I seem to have been banned from the entire building, including the elevator.

Now this is a serious problem, because there can only be so many reasons how this could even have happened:

  1. The person who made the change intentionally made the wrong changes (malice);
  2. The person who made the change on the computer made a mistake and did not check their work so they never noticed there was a mistake (carelessness);
  3. The person who made the change on the computer did everything correctly but the computer did something else and then lied to the person saying it did what was asked (logic error + bad UI);
  4. The computer is incapable of making the requested change and does not provide any feedback as to what it has actually done (software deficiencies + bad UI);
  5. The computer does random unexpected things from time to time, possibly when people try to make certain changes (random errors).

Any of these reasons are serious, and with the SU office having moved to 205 Richmond they have become more serious than ever. Just imagine, if a student has been unfairly banned from a studio and needs the help of the Student Advocate, they might not actually be able to get to the SU office to get help. Or students could be banned from the SU food bank. Worse, the entire SU staff could be shut out from their own office for no reason.

(Even the second possibility is serious. I have basically been banned for carelessness. But if the person who banned me is as careless as I was they should be banned too =P)

I think this needs to be looked into as soon as possible, before the Fall semester kicks in and make this problem one that potentially affects >4000 OCAD students.

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 theses 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 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 (this is not my observation, but a paraphrase of RT’s observation when we, the studio regulars, were discussing Project 31 in the studio), 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.

Gestures and prejudices

There is an exhibition going on at The Power Plant called Postscript: Writing about Conceptual Art, featuring a number of contemporary art pieces with a strong connection to the spoken and written forms. I went to see it last Sunday and yesterday, and I think I have now seen all the pieces — not meaning I’ve understood them, of course, just that I’ve seen them.

One of the pieces is an installation consisting of a book with Braille and a video of a blind person reading aloud from that book. Or at least that’s what the description says. The blind person read from multiple spreads in the book, but at The Power Plant the book is locked inside a glass case, so even if I were a blind person I wouldn’t be able to read the Braille.

Except that a person who is not blind can actually read the Braille — with difficulty of course, but for sure can read. Last Sunday when I spotted the piece I tried hard to read it. The lighting (and the fact that it’s in a glass case) makes it really difficult to read, but I actually managed to make out all the words on the spread. I was surprised I could actually read it, but I was more surprised by a couple of other things: First, the Braille is in the wrong language, and second, there are errors in the Braille.

First, anyone who can read some Braille by sight soon figures out the Braille on the book is in English. But the blind person in the video was reading in Spanish. The Braille in the video is virtually impossible to make out, but yesterday I managed to make out two words in the video, and I had no idea what they meant — they were, I assumed, Spanish words. The blind person in the video was reading from a Spanish book, yet the book in the exhibit is in English.

And when I tried rereading it yesterday I couldn’t figure out what the first letter was, and after a few minutes I figured out why: The first symbol was not a letter at all, but the uppercase indicator — a non-English uppercase indicator with two dots, not the one-dot uppercase indicator used in English Braille.

Aside from the two-dot uppercase indicator, when I tried reading it last Sunday I got stuck on a word — or rather a letter: dots 1-2-6. I was thinking “Ugh, I can’t read Grade 2.” Then I realized all other words were in Grade 1, so there couldn’t be a single word that’s in Grade 2. In other words, it wasn’t a Grade 2 symbol at all; it’s a typo. What I saw was just the letter “h”, and the word was just the word “the”.

So why the uncorrected mistake? Is it because whoever made the book (who might or might not be the artist — it might have been just someone helping the artist) thought no one was going to be able to read it so it wouldn’t matter?

Which brings us back to the glass case: Why the glass case? Why make it inaccessible to people who would actually be able to read the book? Is the book with Braille just a gesture? Is the uncorrected mistake borne out of a prejudice?

Blind people not welcome?

“Crime prevention program in effect: For the safety of our customers and staff, please remove your hat, hood and dark glasses before entering this building. Your cooperation is appreciated.”

There is neither a braille nor an audio version of this notice anywhere.

So, in other words, “blind people and Muslim women are not welcome at our bank.”

Is such the attitude of our society’s institutions? Or are they just so insensitive that they didn’t know blind people exist?

Blind people not welcome?

Blind people not welcome?

“Crime prevention program in effect: For the safety of our customers and staff, please remove your hat, hood and dark glasses before entering this building. Your cooperation is appreciated.”

In other words, “blind people and Muslim women are not welcome in our bank.”

What is the rationale behind timeouts?

I logged in to my course account yesterday, left it open, and today I found the login screen sitting where my studio course’s syllabus should have been.

Why is a timeout even necessary? To force students to take breaks? These annoying timeouts are there even if you saved the pages onto your hard disk.

Why is this happening in this program in particular? Isn’t our program the unlikeliest place on earth that this happened? I am sure this is an act of exclusion at least for blind people, people with learning difficulties, or people with motor impairments. Did the programmer even try out that green dot computer interface thing? Are they telling us to block the timeout code as if it were a virus?

Why are all web sites getting less and less usable? What is it, really, that we—the design, IT, and engineering professions on the whole—are striving towards? Isn’t our goal usability and not uselessness?

Exclusivity, or the unreliability of Wikipedia

I have long claimed that Wikipedia is strongly biased against knowledge that comes either from non-English-language sources and from cultures (and subcultures) where most of their practices are undocumented. This is cultural imperialism. And I have also long claimed that its now-standard requirement for references (that are not dictionaries and encyclopaedias) are also hindrances into knowledge dissemination. However, during today’s synchronous seminar a different picture of how exclusive Wikipedia has become emerged.

It turns out that last year they also did a class project on Wikipedia. And it turned out that most of the stuff they wrote about were deleted. Not edited. Just deleted. On what amounts to bogus grounds.

We are talking about a field that, even though can still be emerging already, already has tons of English-language literature published in English-speaking countries. This is a bias that is not even against non-white, non-English-speaking cultures. It is outright unfathomable.

What of attitude, really, is this?

This of course is rooted not only in the current focus of references, but also on the “principle” of “notability,” which I have always found to be incomprehensible. You can’t imagine when anything will become important. If there were no “notability” requirement, then the second the thing becomes “notable” (whatever notable means), Wikipedia will be the only encyclopaedia in the world to talk about that thing. That would be an unmatched advantage.

Whoever is in control of Wikipedia certainly has no such vision. They only focus on short term measurable success, on duplicating the accomplishments of traditional encyclopaedias. They used to talk about knowledge contribution as their fundamental principle; but that is probably one of the biggest lies that ever came out of an entity that purports to belong to the free culture.

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