Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Day 110: The Origin of Blogging?

I had wanted to make my own Hallowe'en costume this year. I was going to go for Batgirl, or a Weeping Angel. But ultimately, lack of resources and man hours nipped that plan in the bud. So I ordered a slammin' Batgirl costume online. But still no Hallowe'en costume. No sign of it.

I think this is going to wind up being another inpromtu costume Hallowe'en.

But the show must go on!

Speaking of, today's lesson is one of those realizations I came to rather than a lesson I was actually explicitly taught.

Lesson 110: Vanity Presses can be viewed as a pre-cursor to modern blogging.

In the 1700s, wealthy aristocrats with too much time and money found a new hobby in this interesting new toy: The Printing Press.

They didn't necessarily have anything they wanted to print, no writing of their own, or particular author they wanted to be a patron to. They just knew that this printing thing was catching on, and they wanted to print something. So they made so-called Vanity Presses and printed beautiful books just to print something.

One of the most well known was called "Strawberry Hill Press". You may remember last year, I mentioned one Horace Walpole who's credited with bringing the term serendipity into use as we know it. He also opened one of these Vanity Presses out of his estate, Strawberry Hill. He had all sorts of grand designs about the castle, the press and his collections, etc.

But isn't that basically what we do with blogs? Lots of people don't know what they want to blog about, but they want to blog. We don't know what we want to say, but we want to say it. We have a new technology, and we want to use it, we want our voices to be heard.

I would totally run a Vanity Press out of my basement... Anyone know where I can buy myself a printing press?

Wait a minute, I live in an apartment... anyone know where I can get myself a basement?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Day 109: Metadata will be the death of me

They said at Access last weekend that "A URL is your contract with the world". By putting something up online, you're agreeing that it will always be at that URL, and if it moves, you'll leave breadcrumbs to lead the user back to the material.

Similarly, I've always understood that a syllabus is a professor's contract with their students. "This is the class, this is how it will be taught and this is how you will be evaluated". It can only be changed in exceptional circumstances and for very good reason.

Lesson 109: Good form or no, some people will break contracts no matter what.

We've been informed of yet another change to our course (or is it a change? no one seems sure).

We now have a take-home essay portion to our mid-term, due immediately before our in-class portion. And we'll have about 24 hrs to do it. Work? Class? Irrelevant. 24 hours. Make it work.

So basically, the majority of us are being told that we are required to pull an all-nighter to write the take-home portion before going into class to do the in-class portion.

Everyone seems pretty resigned to their fate at this point... *sigh*

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Day 108: Conference Learning

I was too excited about the ACCESS conference to post at all on Thursday. And today? Wow, my brain is buzzing!

So many interesting ideas! If you'd like to look over the interesting topics we covered, you can check out the tweets, photos and liveblogs here.

I wound up looking over a #AccessYUL tweet chart one of my fellow attendees put together, I realize I probably owe my followers an apology. With 96 tweets, I was the most prolific tweeter at ACCESS. So if you were interested, I'm sorry for dominating the discussion. If you weren't interested, I'm sorry for flooding your feed with stuff you found boring.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't!

As for what I came away from the conference with? Well, I have a bit of a wishlist now:

  • 3D printer with chocolate instead of plastic
  • a visit to NCSU's Hunt library
  • the means to put together a BiblioBox to give my massive eBook collection new life
Too overwhelmed for lessons though. No lessons today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day 107: A Primer on Printing and Paper

Alright, so this won't truly be comprehensive enough to be considered a primer, but I just couldn't resist the alliteration!

I've briefly mentioned paper and book-binding before, but now I'm going to talk about paper and printing

Lesson 108: Paper can be made from any vegetative natural fibre.

When I was talking about scrolls and codexes, I mentioned that they used to make "paper" called vellum, which was treated calf skin. That's what they used for the longest time in book-making.

Paper as we know it was invented in the 2nd century in China, where they used it mostly for packaging. They also started using it for many of the purposes we use paper today; they made toilet paper, paper money, and even printed books. Arab traders learned the process in the 8th century and brought it home. They built paper-mills, made thicker pages and used the paper to make much lighter codices with silk covers able to do away with the heavy covers and clasps that had been needed to keep the vellum books from becoming wedges.

In the 11th century, the process finally made it to Europe.

In the beginning, the Chinese used hemp, and bark from the paper mulberry. In Europe, they used hemp and linen rags. Eventually cotton caught on too. It wasn't until the 19th century that they started using wood pulp like we do today. But where the rag paper was stable and lasted a long time, wood pulp paper is by default acidic and degrades quite badly.

But really, paper can be made of any cellulose, any natural vegetative fibre. You could make paper from the vegetable peelings you threw out while making dinner, or the grass trimmings from mowing the lawn. Heck! There's one company that makes notebooks out of paper using elephant poop as the source of vegetative fibre. The possibilities are endless!

Another fun fact: the paper they made for printing (I can't speak for modern processes) was *not* vegetarian friendly. Paper that had just been made, so called "fresh leaf", would actually wind up absorbing too much ink to print correctly. Kind of like trying to write with a sharpie on toilet paper; the ink bleeds out and becomes a formless jumble.

Instead, they'd treat the fresh leaf with gelatin so the ink would rest on the surface instead of leaking out all over the place.

So that's one more thing for the vegetarians: no Jell-O, Oreos or printed books.

That's harsh, man!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Day 106: Fallacious Fallacies

They did a study.

It's kind of a catchphrase of mine at this point, but hear me out.

There was a study done, and what they did was they asked people to draw bicycles.

They asked all sorts of people; daily bike commuters, avid cyclists, couch potatoes who only ever see bicycles on their TV screen... but all these people had one thing in common.

Barely any of them were able to draw, or even point out, an accurate sketch of a bicycle. Whether they biked every day, or hadn't been on one since their training wheels were taken off, they couldn't independently identify what an actual bike looked like.

They'd accept drawings of bikes as accurate even though the cross bar was positioned such that you wouldn't be able to steer the bike, and all sorts of other structural issues... Whether asked to draw one from scratch, given a partially completed drawing to finish, or shown a selection of completed drawings, failure was the norm across groups regardless of how interaction they had with bicycles.

Lesson 107: Just because you know something really well doesn't mean you can recreate it.

Much like thinking you can draw a proper bike just because you ride them regularly, people have the same thinking about websites. I'm guilty of it myself. We've used enough websites! We know what works and what doesn't! It's easy! I can do it!

But no. No you can't. No I can't. Not without the right training. Bike designers have to learn all sorts of things to know what does and doesn't work, and to learn what can be improved where and in which ways. Web designers need the same.

Just because you use the internet, doesn't mean you can shape it at will.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Day 105: Canadian Architecture is Brutal

Oddly enough, studying books and printing can easily turn into studying architecture, by way of studying typography.

It makes sense enough when you really think about it, but it is kind of roundabout.

You see, a dominant architecture demonstrates the trendy aesthetic of an era/region/culture. The same kind of design principles that influence the architecture also influence what fonts look like and which ones are popular.

Gutenberg was German, Gothic architecture was huge, and he was trying to recreate the look of Gothic manuscript. So his font was Gothic.

But when the Italians took the title of Capital of Printing away from Germany, they hated the Gothic font as much as they hated the Gothic architecture. I mean, how many well known Gothic cathedrals, etc, are there in Italy? So they developed pretty, dainty little Roman fonts, and used sweeping italics.

And so architectural preferences have marched hand in hand with typographic preferences.

Lesson 106: Canada really latched onto Concrete Brutalism.
Scott Library at York University
And honestly, I don't understand why. That shit's hideous! But the main library here at McGill, the library at York U, buildings across the country are these huge, imposing, blocky monstrosities with exposed, raw concrete everywhere. No thank you!

I suppose it probably has something to do with under-emphasized windows being friendlier to insulating for our Canadian winters, but still. Yuck.

Luckily, Bauhaus, also called the new International style, started catching on. It's still very minimalist, with no ornamentation, but at least it breaks up the concrete a little with steel and glass.

Place Ville-Marie
Just look at Place Ville-Marie in Montreal. Sure it isn't the prettiest building, but at least it isn't a complete eyesore!

Photos from Wikimedia Commons