Month: August 2010

Print Is Good

The news is full of stories about e-books and the shift from print to digital. While I support that shift and am a heavy consumer of digital content, I still love print for certain things. Here are a few of them:

I like print for handy, domain-specific data and tips. Take a look at the print items below, for example.  They are from various collections I’ve kept over the years from my days at two of the historic “Big Eight” consulting divisions. 

The first image is four, two-sided cards from Arthur Andersen (now Accenture).  They were laminated to last and sized to fit in a purse or suit coat pocket.  The examples shown are for effective presentations, effective written communications, management tips, etc.

The next image is a set of nearly a dozen similar pocket cards from Coopers & Lybrand (now part of IBM Global Services).  Each one was a guide – a checklist, really – for different aspects of microcomputer services, from design to testing of systems and everything in between.  Unlike the Andersen cards, these would fold out.

Speaking of IBM, the next image is a couple of IBM pocket cards that I used for quickly troubleshooting code in Assembler, JCL,  or COBOL.  I’ll admit, they are a little bit like the slide-rule equivalent of paper.  But, man, once you got proficient with these things, they were instant reference tools.
In every case, these print materials are like flash cards for business – info rich, easy to carry, quick to search, and not reliant on a power or network source.

I also like print for “right brain” publications. Go to the magazine rack and pick up a magazine on architecture, design, or other specialty subjects. A couple of my favorites are below. 

The first is from a multi-content magazine of poetry, short stories, criticism, and other writing and art, named Fishes.  And, yes, that is a fish hook tacked to the cover.  You can only find that kind of innovation with a print publication.

The other example is the most awesome vendor-sponsored newsletter I ever received.  The four issues I got in the mail are below.  Look at the amazing diversity in cover and interior typefaces and artwork.

Here’s another example of an interior spread – look at the page layout and the full bleed for the large image from Leonardo da Vinci on the left.

In addition to the innovative content, the form factor itself was innovative.  In the next image, you can see an example of one of the issues in relationship to an issue of Good Housekeeping and one of Craft magazine.  The Good Housekeeping is the typical magazine size you see in a bookstore or supermarket.
I consider these high impact publications which could only have the effect they produce through print.  They may be dangerous (as in a fish hook) or expensive (the “World Tour” issues must have cost a fortune), but no PDF could ever duplicate the impression they leave with the reader.
Perhaps my most favorable, old-school bias towards print is that I prefer to have at least one item that is principally designed for print for any company, organization, or major project (like an event, for example) that I run. 
Whether it’s a glossy, sixteen-page, full-color brochure or a suit-jacket sized pocket folder with a space for a business card and other on-demand inserts, I find that there remain too many situations where having something that you can physically hand to someone helps differentiate you from others and keeps your brand physically present on a table or the desk of the recipient.
Again, just because it’s print, doesn’t mean you can’t leave as innovative an impression as you would working only in digital form.  A couple of examples include the image below, where a company where I worked prototyped a version of the book that you see on the bedstand tables by most medium- to up-scale hotels.  Only, in this case, the book was intended to be another reminder of our “high touch” customer service to complement our high tech services. 
The sleeve on the upper cover of the book was designed to hold the business card of the customers, to personalize it.  Inside the book were:
  • a personalized welcome and thankyou letter from our company’s chairman to the customer,
  • business cards of our client service team assigned to the customer,
  • pre-posted business reply post-cards that could be mailed to our company at no charge to the customer indicating issues going poorly or well,
…and other customer- and project-specific materials.

The other image, below, shows examples of various print pieces produced for internal, company purposes – all focused on mission / vision / values, and important contacts.  They are all business card sized and could easily fit in a pocket or notebook.

Pardon my pop-psych analysis, but my opinion is that these kinds of unique uses of print have a way, by their very physical presence, of sub-consciously producing a recipient’s greater trust in the “real-ness” of the company or organziation.
The last instance I’ll admit to preferring print is for most of my book reading.  The preference is health-related in two ways: in one way physical, and the other way financial.
Regarding physical health, I’ll share that I probably spend half of my book reading time in bed at night.  And I don’t know about you, but I just can’t get comfortable with an e-book in bed.   But far more importantly, there are some early warning signs that the electronics of e-books may be bad for you – especially at night. 
For example, in a June GigaOm post, one commenter chided Om for not giving enough attention to the negative consequences, writing:

Reading for extended periods on an ipad (or similar device) in bed prior to going to bed has a significant effect on melatonin production and other key neurotransmitters and biochemistry…. drastically impacting the the immune system and your ability to have restorative sleep.

There is a huge difference between reading a regular book which reflects low ambient light into the eyes compared to direct observation of an intensely illuminated surface… bottom line .. this trend will lead to a broad epidemic of auto immune disorder in the coming years…

For the financial health side of things, I love that you can get all of the print books you want from libraries at no cost (well, almost no cost, if you don’t count the mandatory $4 per year library card renewal and the optional library donation of $20 or so). 
Our own local library even reminds you how much you have saved in books, movies, and other content you might check  out during the year, with a little receipt it prints every time you visit.  As you can see from the image below, barely half-way into August I’d saved over $2,200, mainly on books. 

While you can get books on CD or DVD and tape, many library collections remain limited compared to print and e-book content almost universally comes with a cost, for anything other than the classics that are available for free download.

So there you have it…at least four instances why I think print is good.  Will we ever have a paperless society?  To me, that’s like asking will we ever have a garden-free society or a bicycle-free society.  Yes, we could, but why would we?  Let me know what you think.

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Robot Art Lessons

HandDetailIf you know me or you read my blog, then you know that: I LUV ROBOTS.

I’m not a mechanical engineer, I’m not a robot builder, I’ve never written software for EPROMS, and I probably wouldn’t know what I was looking at on a LabView screen to save my life.

But, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been fascinated by the possibilities of robots.

(In fact, I think I’ll save a deeper exploration of the “Why?” for this love of robots for a future post… but at its core it has more to do with a personal belief that a deeper understanding of robotics and other forms of AI or “artificial life” is in fact a deeper search for our own humanity, not unlike the perspective recently shared by Jaron Lanier in a New York Times Op-Ed piece.)

This intense interest in robotics is why I regularly follow a handful of publications and blogs on the subject.

And, when I speak of robots, I’m not just referring to the cute little Lego-toy or cuddly animal ones, like Paro.  I’m also talking about the bizarre ones, like your garden trellis gone-wild-and-suddenly-climbing-the-side-of-your-house.

And the semi-scary ones, like the severed limb of a Transformer playing catch with your cell phone in the video above.

In a way, robotics – which may seem at first glance to be a domain purely of the left-brained, hard science type – is a field where right-brained creativity has a chance to run amok. No doubt, this is among the reasons for the explosive popularity of the Maker Faire phenomenon of recent years.

It’s also a reason why the South-by-Southwest Interactive (or SXSWi) panel proposal I’m part of for 2011 is themed “Robot Art Lessons.”

The panel proposal was inspired by a year-long correspondence with my (former-nGenera) colleague, Alan Majer. Alan left nGenera before I did, to pursue his dreams, principal among them, work on multiple dimensions of robotics. You can follow his work on his GoodRobot wiki.

Earlier this year, Alan did a show of his work at Toronto-area museum. You can view a number of the pieces in the installation on Flickr.

We thought it would be fun and informative to combine Alan’s work and research with my own interest in robotics, visual arts, and the intrigue of the creative process in general – be it for business, government, products, education, whatever. And it seemed to us that SXSWi would be a premier venue with an audience open-minded enough to join us for a conversation about what you get when you “glom together” fine arts and hard science.

If you count yourself as a potential member of this audience – whether you’ll be attending SXSWi or NOT – please do Alan, me, and our to-be-named panelists a great favor and vote for “Robot Art Lessons” to be included in the Southby program for 2011.

The PanelPicker process is a critically important part of the Southby planning process and, thus, we need your VOTE. We would really, REALLY appreciate it. Thanks!

Museums and Bombs

Ok, hang with me here, because I’m going to toss a jarring and circuitous route to the theme of this post in a couple of quick paragraphs, so here goes…

We just got back from vacation last weekend, during which we took a big loop from through northern and southern New Mexico and Arizona. Our key stops along the way were Lubbock (home of best friend since 7th grade), Santa Fe, Sedona, Tucson, and Carlsbad (home of the awesome Caverns).

In Santa Fe, we took a quick afternoon trip to Los Alamos, which we had never done, and shuffled along the nearly empty main drag and Hill campus to soak in the vibe. While there, we spent about 90 minutes (which is about one-tenth of the time one could easily spend, just in reading time alone!) at the Bradbury Science Museum.

Sci-fi fan-boy that I am, I had assumed that the Museum was named after legendary science fiction writer Ray Bradbury (Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, R is for Rocket, etc.). I was wrong. Turns out, the Museum is named after Los Alamos National Lab’s second director, Norris E. Bradbury.

Bradbury was the Lab’s director the same year that the atomic weapons – the primary deliverables of the Manhattan Project, which was the genesis of the Los Alamos Lab – were dropped on Japan. Robert Oppenheimer was the civilian leader of that project and today – August 6, 1945 – marks the 65th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, which triggered the immediate surrender of Japan and the end of WWII.

Here are a couple of photos I took of scale replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man at the Bradbury Museum.

A day later, we were at the South rim of the Grand Canyon, near sunset, having dinner and musing on the grandeur that nature hath wrought. And, while the Canyon – truly one of the great natural wonders of the world – was created from millions of years of erosion, it got me to thinking about the “dark side” of nature’s power as well.

Such a “dark side” is indeed present when you browse the history of the world’s great explosive events, one viewing of which you can sample from my late-night guilty pleasure, the VLOGbrother’s video blog on YouTube. In this particular post, Hank (the younger brother) narrates a top 10 list of explosions.

What’s fascinating is that 3rd place and 1st place explosions (not counting scientific theories about the comet-initiated origins of the moon and extinction of dinosaurs) are natural explosions.

So, the greatest destructive force is natural, not human. One is destined, one is not. Or is it?

And that, my Silicon Hills friends, gets you to the end of this little preamble and the theme of this post, which is the hope of inspiring you to visit the Austin Museum of Art to view the Chris Jordan show sometime in the next ten days while you still have a chance.

(For everyone outside of Austin, you can view Jordan’s works online or perhaps in your local museum.)

In the current AMOA show, Jordan’s work frequently juxtaposes the man-made and the natural to evoke questions that ultimately lead to dialog about our roles as global citizens.

It’s a terrific example, I might add, illustrating one of the core values that I appreciate the most about the City of Austin’s anchor museum: a curatorial priority to promote questions and generate dialog.

A museum is more than a place to view the beautiful, the spectacular, or the rare “thing.” It is, in many ways, the least expensive and most easily accessible way for every citizen in a community to have a face-to-face experience with new ideas, questioning traditions and considering possibilities – the way to “knock you for a loop,” as mom would say.

And, in the age in which we live, where one can deliberately or accidentally, surround oneself through media and communications with a monolithic point-of-view – be it about politics, science, religion…you name it – I know that, for me, such a regular knock on the side of the head is an essential habit for my mental health and creativity.

So, do yourself a favor: visit AMOA and the Chris Jordan exhibit. Or, if you can’t get there by August 15, visit the Museum when you can – it may not beat a trip to the rim of the Grand Canyon, but it’s certainly an hour-long vacation for the soul.