There’s something Objectionable about Green People

November 29, 2006


We printed the oddest brochure today. It was totally GREEN!

I’m just not sure about green people. This is not a personality disorder on my part, nor is it indicative of some sort of latent prejudice. I’ve never actually met a green person, nor a blue one for that matter.

I don’t think that I’d be judgmental if I met someone who was actually green; i.e. born that way like Elphaba in Wicked! It’s just that folks like this don’t really exist. So, why would anyone want to take a perfectly good photograph of a naturally colored individual and print it in green or blue or red. It looks weird.

Consider the photo above. These are my kids. They’re really neat kids, but they’re not green. Here’s what they look like in color:

Kids in color

As a printer, I’d naturally like to see everything printed in color. But I understand that there are some projects that have to be produced economically. One or two color printing can be very cost effective and when designed well, can make a very good impression on the target audience.

Here’s the point: Green photography is almost always a poor design choice. Green photography is an especially poor design choice when the shade of green resembles the color of spinach baby food. Those of you who have experienced this Gerber delicacy will recall that it looks about the same going in and coming out of the infant.

We are used to black and white photography. Good black and white photos, with the levels adjusted correctly for print, are pleasing to the eye. Here are my kids in black and white:

Kids in Black and White

Now I’ve totally exploited my kids in my blog to make a simple point. Color works, black and white works, green people are strange.

Of Bindery Machines and Dishwashers

November 26, 2006

Maytag Dishwasher

What is it that makes machinery so diabolically fascinating?

There is something in the psychological makeup of anyone in the printing business that makes them inherently susceptable to the mechanical addiction. To us, machines are just damnably intriguing.

One of my friendly competitors has disassembled cars in his printshop. He says that they are therapy for him. When the printing machinery gets the better of him, he goes and tinkers with the cars. I doubt that the level of frustration is any less, but sometimes you just need a change of machine.

Much of Friday after Thanksgiving was spent tinkering with our Bell and Howell Mailstar 5000. With a name like that, you’d think that this machine would be able to send mail via light waves . . . something like the transformer in the old Star Trek series. The actual function is much more humble. The Mailstar stuffs envelopes. I’m convinced that it was invented by Rube Goldberg . . . you know him from the Mousetrap game you played as a kid. This machine has more moving parts than a submarine, and they all need perpetual adjustment.

It ran great for me for about 3 hours. I was even able to set it at low speed and walk away for a minute or so. Then, after successfully stuffing about 4000 envelopes, the Mailstar quit working. Actually, it just worked in a different way. Instead of stuffing the invitations into the envelopes, it began crumpling them and ripping the envelopes to shreds. I tinkered for a while, then gave up in frustration and went home.

It’s called the “Fixit Theorum.” It goes like this:

  1. All machines break.
  2. All machines can be fixed.
  3. Therefore I can fix this machine.
  4. Right now
  5. And it won’t take too long.

So much for theory.

On Saturday, the dishwasher broke right after lunch. We have a large family (9 with oldest daughter at home from college), and the dishwasher is an integral part of the smooth operation of our household. Beautiful wife informed me of the disaster. I came in from the yard to take a look.

I could tell that the problem had something to do with the latch. When you jiggled it, the lights went off and on (the “jiggle” corollary to the Fixit Theorum). It’s a Maytag, I reasoned. They don’t even have repairmen anymore . . . the lazy guy on television must be in his 90s by now. I’ll just dig into it and see what makes it tick.

It was easy enough to get into. Simply unscrew seventeen allen screws and the door falls off. There were two limit switches in the handle. Cleverly engineered for multiple redundancy, I figured. I pulled the finely crafted plastic latch into pieces and clicked the limit switches a couple of times. Sure enough, the dishwasher started up, splashing about 3 gallons of soapy water into my face.

Reasoning that soapy water and electricity were probably not a great combination, I asked beautiful wife to unscrew the fuses until the flashing lights went off. She did her usual efficient job and we managed to turn off every appliance in the house before finding that the last fuse in the box controlled the circuit for the dishwasher. With success in view, I reassembled switches, and reinserted 16 of the 17 allen screws. One was eaten by the cat.

I reactivated the circuit, closed the door of the dishwasher, and expected it to begin the task of cleaning the lunch dishes. Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. No lights, no whistles, no whirring noises. Nothing. I slammed the door a couple of times. No results.

I reassured myself that I must have missed some little something in the handle. Another corollary to the Fixit Theorum goes as follows:

  • If you take something apart and put it back together and it doesn’t work; sometimes it will work if you do it all over again.

So I removed 16 allen screws, reassembled the limit switches and the finely crafted plastic handle , and put it all back together again.

No success.

About this time, son Wil and second daughter informed me that the internet router was on the fritz. This constitutes a real crisis at our house. We just don’t function well without internet. It may be more important than the dishwasher, even.

The problem was obvious in this case. During our search for the correct circuit to disable the dishwasher, we obviously rescrambled the configuration of our Linksys Wireless Router, thus illustrating how a simple switch on a dishwasher can destroy the nerve center of an entire operation. If the terrorists ever find out about this, Washington D.C. could be in real trouble!

Fifteen minutes later, the router has been reconfigurated and we’re ready for a test. After rebooting my trusty Powerbook, I’m waiting for the network icon to appear when from the kitchen comes a familiar whirring sound. It’s the Maytag, back in service (at least temporarily).

This brings us to the final corollary of the Fixit Theorum:

  • Sometimes you can fix a problem with one machine by solving an altogether unrelated problem on another one.

Maybe the Mailstar 5000 will work again when I get back to work tomorrow morning!

Now I know where she came from . . .

November 19, 2006

I’ve written about this one before (Don’t think she’s from around here). Now I know where she came from.

I took son Wil to the Macon Symphony last night. It was another wonderful performance, starting with a Ludwig van overture that was vaguely familiar to my unenlightened ears and ending with Bobby McDuffie playing an amazing Tchaikovsky violin concerto. More about this later . . .

I heard the familiar voice shortly after we were seated. It turns out that she’s actually not a season ticket holder, but she is related to one. I’m not sure, but I think she’s a frequent visitor to Macon. I’m also not sure what her vocation is, but she is obviously an expert on a broad range of topics, from symphony conductors to fermented yak’s milk.

That’s right . . . fermented yak’s milk. She started the evening’s discourse with a commentary on Berea, a small city in Eastern Kentucky (her hometown?). Apparently not much happens there, but that was not a limiting factor to the story. Her description of the town began with the recounting of an encounter in a grocery store with a visitor to Berea from Nepal. Mind you, our narrator was not particularly surprised that a visitor from Nepal could be encountered in a grocery store in Berea, KY. She was astounded when the visitor told her that he found Eastern Kentucky “a little boring.” How could Kentucky be boring in comparison to Nepal? After all, Berea is near Cincinatti!

“It’s a dry county, though,” she continued. “Maybe that was the problem.”

Her companion replied that she did not remember that Nepal was known for it’s affinity for alcohol or for it’s famous alcoholic beverages.

“No, they’re big drinkers,” replied the voice from Kentucky. “You know, they all drink that yak’s milk.”

I was fascinated, but the conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Adrian Gnam on the stage and the Macon Symphony began the evening’s performance. I am continually impressed with this fine group of musicians. I’m certainly not a classical music “aficionado.” I don’t know much, but I love the music. Last night’s performance was no disappointment. The short Beethoven piece and the Mozart symphony of the first half were wonderful, but the second half was amazing.

I went to high school briefly with Bobby McDuffie. He wouldn’t know me from Adam and I really don’t remember him very well, either. But, as my buddy Bubba would say, “That boy can flat play a fiddle.”

More precisely, an 18th century violin that’s probably worth more than the house we live in. He stood as he played . . . I think he had to to keep his balance. I wondered how much of what he was playing was actually written by Tchaikovsky and how much was interpretation or improvisation. The range of sound that McDuffie produced from the violin was amazing in itself, but more astounding was the coherence of it all. The four movements ranged from lyrical melodies to very complicated, difficult “duels” between the soloist and the orchestra.

Son Wil’s response was, “Way cool!”

Our visitor from Kentucky was also impressed, but not so much with the music. We didn’t hear much from her at intermission, but her commentary after the concert was certainly enlightening. She’s obviously got a thing against conductors, or at least our conductor. At the first show of the season, she had remarked that Adrian Gnam, the MSO conductor, was not “dynamic.” (Unfortunately, she missed the second concert of the season, when Gnam dressed as Superman as the MSO performed the John Williams overture.) Tonight, she was nonplussed with Gnam’s humor as he stepped briefly back on stage with a smile for a third round of applause before intermission. “He’s a control freak . . .” was the muttered comment from behind me.

After the concert, though, her attitude seemed to have improved a little. “You know,” she remarked to her companion, “that violinist seemed to have brought out a lot in your conductor. He really looked alive when the violinist was playing.” As we departed the Grand, she discoursed at length about the soloist, who she did not know by name, but who had been involved in “a bunch of workshops and things” of which she had intimate knowledge.

I’ve actually been to Berea, KY a couple of times and it didn’t seem like such a bad community to me, even despite the proximity to Cincinnatti. I haven’t heard the Berea, KY symphony or seen their conductor. I’m reluctant to blame the community for the negativity of their representative in the row behind me.

I’m sure she had an excuse . . . maybe it was just the fermented yak’s milk talking.

Smoky Mountain Nervous Breakdown

November 17, 2006

DollyWe went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee . . . for a meeting. 17,633,421 other people went to Pigeon Forge last weekend because they think that Dolly lives there. Another 7,344,012 people went to Gatlinburg, TN, about 4 miles away from Pigeon Forge. They got lost looking for Dolly. All 24,977,433 people that made the pilgrimage to the Smokies last weekend like to drive. They like to drive very slowly in bumper-to-bumper traffic, because neither Pigeon Forge nor Gatlinburg can accomodate the 7,136,409.4285714 automobiles required to transport all of the Dolly seekers and the 1.5 children in their nuclear family.

Even though there are a “slew” of restaurants in Dollyland to feed all of the pilgrims, there aren’t enough. “Slew,” by the way, is a mountain word. Here in Perry, we would say a “mess,” as in “mess of catfish.” Anyway, the situation in the “slew” of restaurants was a mess. It wasn’t a problem, though, because the pilgrims were willing to wait.

In fact, the pilgrims all seemed to have come with the understanding that lots of waiting would be part of their weekend vacation. To me, waiting (especially in traffic) and vacation are opposing concepts. Vacations are fun. Waiting interminably is not.

I don’t think that anyone found the real Dolly.  There was Dollywood, Little Dolly’s junk shop, Dolly’s restaurant, and Dolly’s image everywhere; but no Dolly.  I think that there was probably a Dolly’s lingerie somewhere, but I missed it.  I’m sorry, because I’ve been wanting to recreate an egg launcher that my buddies and I made in college.  It featured an exceptionally large brassiere cup and some surgical tubing, but that’s a story for another day.

I love the mountains.  I don’t love being in a small mountain community with 24,977,433 others.  I won’t be going back to Pigeon Forge.  I’m never watching “9 to 5” again.



Just How Much Is Too Much?

November 7, 2006

perfumes.jpgSubtitle: The fragrance of death

The printshop was in Brian’s capable hands on Friday when the moon was full. It was November 3, but she hadn’t changed her Halloween clothes. The eyes were real, as I understand it. They just looked as if they came from a mask. And the smell was potent; potentially an amalgam of every perfume at the cosmetics counter in Parisians at the mall across the street.

She needed flyers. A local sign shop had done the art and she’d make sure that they’d send it to us by email. Could we do it?

I’m sure that Brian responded politely. There are some jobs that are better for other printers and this was surely one of them. The customer was insistent. Wisely, Brian asked for a deposit. That was apparently difficult, because he had to test four credit cards before one would work and still had to get a little cash for the deposit needed over the limit of the card. The order was placed and the customer would make sure that the art was sent . . . that is, if she could remember where she was when she walked out the front door.

My beautiful wife didn’t like her perfume. She walked in a half hour later and detected the aroma still lingering over the smell of printing solvents. When I got back from my weekend trip, I heard all about the first part of the story.

There was no residual odor when I arrived this morning. We discussed the potential of the job at the morning meeting. No art had arrived from the sign shop and Brian was skeptical that any would materialize. I didn’t detect the smell when the phone rang shortly after lunch.

“Are my flyers ready?” asked a somewhat vague voice at the other end.

“I don’t know, but I’ll check. Could you tell me who you are, please?”

“Oh,” was the reply, followed by several seconds of silence. “Are you there?”

“I know where I am, but she doesn’t know who she is,” I’m thinking, when it finally dawns on her that she hasn’t told me her name. I check on the job and find out that the art still hasn’t arrived. I suggest that she check again with the sign shop.

Two hours later, I smelled it. The overpowering aroma of the Parisian’s cosmetics counter. I considered sneaking out the back door. It was inevitable. Brian walked into my office.

“She’s here,” he said. “She can’t wait any longer for her flyers and we still don’t have the art.”

I noticed a furtive movement in his eyes. He was edging toward the back door. I took a deep breath, knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to hold it for long.

I smiled as I saw her. She was there with a friend, a rather fierce looking young woman, and her eyes really weren’t too far out of focus. Maybe this would be ok. I explained to her that we really couldn’t do anything until the files were sent to us.

“But I left a copy,” she slurred. “Can’t you do anything with it?”

Brian, who had regained his fortitude, produced the wrinkled paper from the job jacket.

“No,” we both replied.

“But I put it together on my computer!” she replied, a little more assertive now.

“Can you send it to us?” I asked.

“No, it’s on my computer,” was the answer.

My eyes had begun to water and I could feel a big sneeze coming on. “You see, we would need it on our computer,” I told her.

“Oh,” followed by the same silence I had experienced earlier on the phone. “I don’t understand.”

The fog had begun to thicken. She lost focus altogether as I refunded her deposits, both the credit card and the cash. She came to only briefly to ask how long it would take before the money was back into her card.

“I have a lot of these,” she murmured as she put the plastic back into her pocketbook, “but I need some more.”

It had really quit being funny towards the end of the conversation, but her last statement made it really sad. It wasn’t just the perfume she was drowning in. I almost opened my mouth, but I think her friend was reading my mind. The fierce friend gave me a fierce look and took her arm.

“Sorry I couldn’t help you,” I muttered as they walked out the door. I was (and am) feeling guilty.
The smell lingered on a while, like dying flowers.