A bookstore as a means of inspiration

Jason Santa Maria of Happy Cog likes to look at lots of different things as a means of inspiration for his design work (I know this because he told me so in his An Event Apart presentation ;). Riffing on that theme myself I headed out to a place that never ceases to grab my attention and imagination when I’m there: the bookstore.

The bookstore in question is a local Barnes and Noble and I had not been there in a long time mainly because it, or any bookstore really, is also a major inspiration for me to liberate cash from my wallet. I intended to go there this evening though with the sole mission to take a look around at all sorts of books and magazines with an eye towards their design and not buy anything. Inspiration only, no debt :)

I can easily spend hours browsing in a bookstore but I have to say that going there with the intent to look at how books and magazines are designed was very cool. I can honestly say that while I have always enjoyed thumbing through books and magazines I’ve never quite seen them the way I saw them tonight.

Normally I’m focused on the content because I’m an avid reader but with the focus on the elements of design I started noticing things like how different publishing houses format their books or magazines in the exact same format across authors (or magazine titles). A very simple example that most programmers would readily know is O’Reilly Publishing.

Their titles are instantly recognizable: a plain white cover with an illustration of an animal of some kind usually just above the title of the book. The title itself, or most of it, is in white text on a background of a certain color. Here is an example:

O'Reilly JavaScript: The Definitive Guide bookcover

The O’Reilly web design series always has the same green background for the title. The scripting books have blue or pink. You get the idea. This is all about a brand and making sure that brand is consistent and easily recognizable. Other publishing houses have done the same thing with their technology lines.

What was far more interesting though was to look at the use of color and type in the magazines. I looked at a pretty wide range of magazines to see how color, type, and layout were handled depending on the title. Not surprisingly colors tended towards the warm, inviting hues in the house and decorating magazines. There were exceptions but generally most people don’t paint their houses in jarring colors and the magazines tended to reflect that fact ;) Quite a few artsy photo magazines were in black and white. History magainzes trended towards historical color schemes, etc. Typefaces matched the color schemes (ie: more formal type in the history magazines). My biggest hit came from the books in the arts and crafts section.

I have to say that at one point I thought my head was going to explode with ideas when I was looking through a book in the Art section called Euro Deco: Graphic Design Between the Wars ;) I really, really, identify strongly with the artwork during this time period. It never fails to grab me and start pulling me in. If I didn’t know better I’d say I had a past life as an artist during that time period – it affects me that strongly (not surprisingly I feel the same way about swing music/dancing). Flipping through the pages of that book and looking at the art (not surprisingly a lot of it was advertising art) my brain was dripping with ideas of how I wanted some personal things I need to work on to look. Obviously I need to peruse the bookstore more often ;)

That all is fine and dandy I guess but where I then get socked in the gut is when I need to recall those ideas when it’s time to actually get some work done. Jason (Santa Maria that is…I’m not referring to myself in the third-person) had ideas for that as well that I need to try. More about that in another posting.

Farmers Markets – Not this week

Ouch. I missed all of the markets this week because of work. I was out at a conference on Tuesday and today I missed the Daley Plaza market because of work. However I found out about another market that is closer to my office on Thursdays that is over by the Sears Tower. I’ll have to check that one out next week.

Update 2: Indiana Allows BP to discharge more waste into Lake Michigan

I had wanted to follow up on this a lot earlier than today but all things being what they are I didn’t so I am right now ;)

According to several sources BP has stated that it will find a way to not increase the amount of pollution it is dumping into Lake Michigan while still moving forward on it’s plan to expand the refinery.

The interesting quote to me is this:

BP officials have stood behind the expanded permit, saying it meets state and federal guidelines and complies with the Clean Water Act, but outrage from citizens and lawmakers from several states have created an “unacceptable business risk” for the company, BP said in the Northwest Indiana and Illinois Times report.

Reports like this are why businesses totally confound me sometimes even when I know the #1 reason they’re in business is to make money. BP sells itself as an environmentally sound company yet they propose to dump more pollution into Lake Michigan and then act surprised when people start to complain? Whether or not they would still be in compliance with the EPA is irrelevant really. What does matter is that we should not increase the amount of pollution in our waterways for any reason, especially when the waterway in question is such an important part of the natural resources of the region.

When are companies like BP going to realize that they would have had themselves quite a bit of good publicity had they decided from the beginning to increase the size of the refinery while keeping pollution levels the same, or better yet lower the pollution levels? As it stands they’ve created a lot of bad blood out there because lawful or not the reality is that people are sick and tired of corporate polluters fouling their water.

This is not rocket science folks. If you’re going to tout yourself as good for the environment prove it.

“Deadline Über Alles!” Software Engineering

After expressing my current frustrations with work to a friend who happens to be a software developer he shared with me this link to a blog posting titled Asshole Driven Development by Scott Berkun. The article provided five different kinds of tongue-in-cheek development methodologies currently employed by companies world-wide in their quest for really awful software. The comments to the article provided even more options and here is mine: “Deadline Über Alles! Software Engineering”.

You know you might be stuck in this type of development/engineering when you start receiving emails with lines like:

In the interest of delivering DeadlineBreaker on time, I think we should only be fixing things that are broken. The time for implementing best-practices has passed.


I’m trying to get the projects delivered. We are in QA and DeadlineBreaker has issues. I’m not looking for someone to blame – I’m just trying to identify how to move the project forward to meet our expectation of deliverables.

The emailer is really saying:

I don’t give a damn about niceties like quality code and design….I just want something out the door. Screw the best practices…we can fix that stuff later. Wait…didn’t you say something about design too? Isn’t that just something art dorks do?

Of course later never happens, a crappy product goes out the door, and your group ends up looking like a bunch of stooges who can’t program their way out of a paper bag.

Thoughts on An Event Apart Chicago 2007

Well, An Event Apart Chicago 2007 just wrapped up (brought to you by the folks at Happy Cog and Eric Meyer) and all I can say is WOW! What a conference! If you take a look at the schedule you can see just what an incredible line-up we had at this event.

What sticks out in my mind immediately is that there was never a boring moment. Oh…some of the talks were more hard-core than others (Louis Rosenfeld on search analytics and Eric Meyer’s CSS talks for example) but there was such a wonderful breadth of information provided that attendees were never loaded down with too much of the same material at once. That along with the strict timing of 1 hour for each talk followed by a 15 minute break really made for a well-run conference that was just fantastic to be a part of. The facilities and food were wonderful as well. Thanks all around to the wonderful people at An Event Apart.

Being a server-side Java guy the one thing I do not get to do often (hell….at all really) is talk to designers so being able to hear thoughts on writing copy by Jeffrey Zeldman, site design by Jason Santa Maria, etc. was simply fantastic. I had pretty high expectations but this met those and went way beyond what I expected. I can not recommend this conference highly enough. It simply was that good.

Better yet I’ve really been inspired to get my butt in gear and write in my blog(s) much more often than I do (among other creative endeavors). I keep coming up with the excuse that there isn’t enough time but that really isn’t true and doing so enables me to not only hone my writing blades but also to maybe help others out in different ways (code lightbulb moments and/or goofs here or maybe tips on sustainability over at Greenability). At any rate it was inspiring to say the least. That is the biggest thing I took that away from the conference and I’m really glad I was able to go.

Would have been worth the $800 of my own money had work not been paying ;)

Week 15 – Federal Plaza Farmers Market – 8/21/07

I skipped last week because we were out of town and the week before because we were going out of town and I didn’t want vegetables or fruit sitting around going to waste. This week I returned to a bunch of new stuff available for sale.

Most notable this week were the many different varieties of apples available as well as numerous options for peppers. As always all of the other offerings from each of the farms present were fantastic and looked wonderful but once again I’m restricting myself to things I know will transport well on the train ride home.

Here is the take for this week (most from my friends at Nichols Farm except the peppers which, unfortunately, I forgot to write down the name of the farm from which they came):

  • Apples
    • Ginger Gold
    • Paula Red
    • Luster Elstar
  • Green Beans
  • Bi-color sweet corn
  • French fingerling potatoes
  • Sweet peppers (not sure which variety)

Given the lack of veggies and fruit at our house at the moment this is a much-needed infusion of food ;)

Farmers Market while Traveling – Pittsford, NY

We stopped at the Tuesday edition of the Pittsford farmers market just to check it out. I was just curious to see how things were in places other than the Chicago area. The market was fairly small with about 5 vendors tucked into the back parking lot of a strip mall near downtown Pittsford. The quality of the produce was fantastic however and we ended up picked up a cucumber, a cantaloupe, and a small bag of Williams Pride apples.

I do have to say that the people manning the booths seemed friendlier than what I’m used to in Chicago. Not that those people aren’t friendly but the people at this market were far more willing to talk to us and one of the women even gave my daughter a free apple. Big deal? Maybe not but its good customer service and it costs them virtually nothing.

I had hoped to get to the bigger market in downtown Rochester but there just wasn’t enough time.

Local food in Pittsford/Rochester, NY

The grocery chain in Pittsford is Wegmans. Every time my wife and I have been here to visit her parents I have been impressed with their flagship store that is located in Pittsford. I was even more impressed on this go-around. Local produce was very prominent up front and very well labeled. The names of the farms the produce came from was there as was a story of the farm itself.

I only wish that anything in our area came so close but we only have the huge chains in our area who don’t seem to have any interest in dealing with local farmers. If there is local food there is no labeling as to where it came from. Even Whole Foods, who claims to support local famers, has never come this close, at least in the Chicago-area stores where I’ve been, to giving local food the prominence it deserves.

In fact, this summer Whole Foods in Deerfield, IL has not had any local produce beyond some lettuce from Wisconsin. Last year they had a lot more throughout the summer. What the hell is going on with that chain? I realize that as a big chain that it just isn’t as easy to deal with items outside of your supply chain but come on. How hard can it be to work with local food producers during the growing season to get their food into the store? Whole Foods needs to shift back to worrying more about getting the food miles out of what they sell vs. worrying about organic food. Is mega-farm organic really that great? It certainly is better than mega-farm conventional but in many cases the stuff I’m buying at Whole Foods is conventional these days. If they’re going to be doing that they should be have their district/regional managers working more closely with local farms to get food that is as fresh as possible on their shelves.

Garden Progress – 8/6/07

It has been a good season so far. I’m pretty sure my cucumber plant is about done. I just picked what looks to be the last cucumber off it tonight and I didn’t see any new buds or flowers indicating that we’d be getting more.

The zucchini plant is still producing like crazy and I have to keep cutting parts of it back so that my herbs and onions aren’t covered by the leaves. I never expected to get so much from those plants.

The carrots and radishes have been interesting for several reasons. I have never planted carrots before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just dug up a small grouping this past weekend to see how things were going because I have no idea how long it was going to take to get something large enough to be edible. Nothing that I dug up was astounding. I had a couple that were large enough to eat but not what I would like in a carrot. I had lots of small ones that were just not usable. I think next year I’m going to have to be a lot more careful how I’m planting the seeds but they’re so small it was hard not to plant too many. I thinned them as well per the seed packet but I don’t think I thinned enough. The same goes for the radishes. They’re both experiments this year :)

My orange peppers are finally starting to turn orange (the ones that are big enough anyhow) and the tomato plant has been giving us a nice steady stream of tomatoes. Next year I want to plant more tomato varieties so that we can have an earlier supply and one that matures later. The flavor of what we planted though is fantastic. There just isn’t anything like a fresh tomato from the garden.

The pumpkin plant has been a real surprise. Given my last experience I wasn’t expecting a whole lot but this year we have one medium-sized pumpkin that is starting to turn orange and two smaller ones that are still growing. Since I wasn’t expecting anything really I’ll take what we’re getting ;)

I’m going to wait on the onions until sometime next month. As with the carrots/radishes I’m just not sure what to expect and its kind of hard to tell what is happening underground. They’ll sit tight for a bit more.

I am already starting to get ready for next year though. Black plastic sheeting went down over a section of the lawn right next to my current spot to kill off all the grass and weeds in that area. That area also gets more sunlight during the day so it should be better for certain plants.

What have I learned so far? Planting close together in the garden is definitely a great way to keep the weeds down to a minimum once the plants have matured enough. I’ve barely had to weed once the veggies became established. I also learned that I should be putting down mulch ;) It certainly would have helped keep the moisture levels more even and meant less watering.

I’m already looking forward to the seed catalogs in the winter…

Week 12 – Federal Plaza Farmers Market – 7/31/07

As has been the case for over a month now the selection of items at the market has been fantastic. However I’ve been finding that buying the things that are not as hardy, like berries, just isn’t such a great idea since I have such a long train ride home. Even items like peaches don’t seem to do well during transport home so this week I just decided to buy some veggies and fruit that can take the trip (read: apples). Here is the take for this week (all from my friends at Nichols Farm:

  • Beans
    • green
    • wax
  • Red Mars onions
  • Apples
    • Summer Red
    • Hazen
    • Zestar
  • White corn

I’m looking forward to the Fall selection of apples coming up soon and the other autumn items (squash anyone?) but I’m certainly going to miss the summer stuff. I’ll remember the nectarines for a long time :)