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.



Subbing In Design

October 27, 2006

We married off a graphic designer last weekend. Chris, who has survived a couple of pretty heavy romances unscathed since he began working with us, finally succumbed to matrimonial bliss. The wedding was beautiful. The music was absolutely wonderful. The bride was exceptionally lovely. The preacher couldn’t read his notes because it got dark sooner that they planned for. Flustered, he told Chris to “chris the bride.” God’s blessings to Chris and Jenna!

The newlyweds are on a boat to the Bahamas and I’m doing keyboard duty. I haven’t subbed in design for a while, and my eyes are a little crossed at the end of the day. In truth, it’s not my eyes that are the problem. It’s my brain. By the end of the day it’s mush, oatmeal. The synapses no longer connect. If this post is disjointed, you know the cause.

Today I am a victim of the annual report of the Ambidextrous Association of Prehistoric Baptist Churches (obviously not their real name). We’ve been doing the annual report for this group of small churches for as long as we’ve been in business. In fact, neither the customer nor I had any gray hairs when we started this project. We’ve both started marking time by his annual visits to the printshop.

The booklet is always the same . . . a bunch of text, followed with several pages of numbers that have to be manually entered into a spreadsheet and then converted into .pdfs for printing. When I got to the numbers my bifocals shorted out. I just couldn’t seem to get them into the right cells in the spreadsheet. I checked and double checked and I’m still not sure they’re right. Maybe the years of printshop fumes are finally taking they’re toll.

Which leads to another tangent. I’d like to take a formal poll to find out if the printshop fragrance is marketable. I’ve lived with it so long that I really can’t smell it at all any more, but I’m always entertained by the occasional customer comments when they walk in the shop. I think it’s split about evenly. 50% walk in the door and say, “Oh, I love how a printshop smells!”

The others say, “How can you stand it in here?”

I’ve had one rather delicate gentleman leave the shop because his eyes were burning and a couple of high school kids who wanted to stay because they thought printshop solvents smelled better than Testors airplane glue. Is there a market for this? Should we bottle “Eau de Printshop” or “Dilettante Repellant?”

Back to the Ambidextrous Baptists. Their association is a group of some 20 or so very small churches in Georgia and Florida. The statistics are always fascinating. Last year they added a couple of churches. This year they dropped a couple. The parishioners are obviously aging, and the churches are losing members by attrition. There are definitely more deaths this year than new baptisms. A couple of the small churches are down to 2 or 4 members. The most interesting column is the stats is the numbers for excommunication. I’m not sure exactly what you have to do to get excommunicated from the Ambidextrous Baptists, but a few folks do it every year.

If I mark the years with the Ambidextrous Association of Prehistoric Baptists, I’m marking the days until our graphics guy returns. I certainly don’t begrudge him his honeymoon, but I’ll be glad to get my nose out of the computers.

Ben’s Reconstituted Printshop

October 16, 2006

I’ve been off for a week . . . not psychologically, but physically.

My daughter and I went to Pennsylvania to visit colleges. She’s going next year, I just wanted to revisit my young adulthood.

Anyway . . . we visited University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and had a day to kill, so we did the tourist thing. We saw Independance Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the entire 8 block area where almost all of the history of the entire United States of America took place.

After the fact, I’m convinced that the most important change in the last 230 years is the advent of security equipment. We had to go through a lot of it. Button Gwinnett would have never made it . . . the brass on his waistcoat would have set off the alarm system. The wisdom of screening Amish visitors for shoe bombs is a story for another day, though. What I really want to write about today is Ben Franklin’s printshop.

We visited Franklin Courtyard, which is where Ben built his house. Actually, Ben’s wife built the house, because Ben was kicking up his heels in France. There wasn’t much left of the original except the hole for Ben’s outhouse. It seems that Ben’s grandkids were more interested in real estate than statesmanship, publishing or inventing. Land values had increased near the waterfront, so they ripped down Ben’s famous house and built condominiums, or the 19th century equivalent thereof. So, there’s really very little of the original Franklin there.

The house must have been pretty fantastic for the time. It had indoor plumbing of sorts and a unique ventilation system that Ben designed to draw air and steam out of the kitchen. None of this can be seen, it’s all been torn down. All that’s left is the holes for the privy, and those have been completely scoured by archaeological types.

There is a great reconstituted printshop, though, put together with equipment that was kind of current for the period. They’ve even built a facsimile of Ben’s letterpress. The press is new, but according to the pressman, the wood used to build it is 200 years old. I’m still digesting the importance of this singular fact.

The pressman, who is a certified United States Park Ranger (and thus exempt from getting his shoes screened), was producing unauthorized copies of Poor Richard’s Almanack on the press at an astounding speed of about one sheet every 10 minutes. He claimed that he could achieve a speed of 3 sheets/minute, but we did not observe this degree of productivity. In fact, he seemed much more interested in talking with the tourists than getting the daily production out.

I was fascinated. Even assuming a snail’s pace for production (180 sheets/hour compared to 10M on a good press), it was obvious what a massive technological breakthrough the printing press must have been. Setting type took hours, creating a graphic required the painstaking process of creating a woodcut; but once the type was set it could be reproduced inexpensively and exactly.

Now, as I type this entry on my trusty PowerBook, I wonder where Gutenberg’s technology will wind up. Will the next generation even need paper? How soon will it be before my “state of the art” printshop is exhibited at a national park?

“This is how they did it back then.” echoes in my ears, and the grey hairs in my beard are becoming more numerous by the day.

It takes grace to laugh

October 4, 2006

I was nervous. Actually, some pretty significant frustration had turned into just general nervousness. It began early. We were on the verge of completing a nice looking, color catalog sheet for one of my favorite customers (and causes). I had grabbed a couple of samples on my way to our morning staff meeting with the intent of paying a compliment to our designer and pressman. I sat down at the conference table and opened the piece. Something was wrong.

“It’s upside down,” stated Brian, our production manager, in a matter of fact voice.

“It can’t be,” I said, as I folded the sheet back up.

I guess I was thinking that somehow everything would be right when I unfolded it again. Nope, the fold was a little complicated, but the reverse side was definitely upside down. My next brilliant move was to go get 5 more sheets and open them up to check. I was hoping that somehow only a few sheets had been printed upside down, although I knew this was very unlikely. No such luck . . . they were all wrong.

Standard operating procedure calls for a folding dummy to be placed in each job jacket for the pressman’s reference. There wasn’t one in the jacket for the project in question. I’m thinking that the dummies didn’t do the dummy. The worst part is that I had looked at the piece several times during production and I didn’t catch the mistake either . . . dummy me.

“Everybody just guessed on this one, and you all guessed wrong?” I questioned. There were long faces all around the table.

Back to the nervousness. It was an important job, due now, for a great customer. I had been working on the project with Steve (actual name, don’t think he’ll mind) for over a month. I really wanted it to look great. And now I had to talk with him and tell him what had happened. I called his office.

“Not in yet, but we’re expecting him any minute,” the receptionist said.

“This is Richard at AlphaGraphics. I’ve got a little problem I need to talk with him about. I’m heading your way.”

He still wasn’t there when I arrived, so I sat down in the lobby. I think I knew that it would be all right, but the jitters got a little bit worse.

Steve’s a tall, friendly fellow with a great personality and usually a big smile. He is the prototypical nice guy. I didn’t expect him to lose his temper, but I hated to disappoint him. I heard the door open downstairs and footsteps coming up.

“Hey!” he beamed, as he saw me and the brochures . . . “Our catalogs!”

“Not a good start,” I thought. “There’s a little problem,” I said.

“What, they look great!” he responded, opening the first fold. Then he flipped the piece over . . . and over again . . . and over again and broke out laughing!

The jitters vanished as I heard the laughter and I knew it was going to be OK. I thanked Steve for his reaction and apologized for the mistake and the delay. He was more than understanding and we set a new timetable for printing and mailing the catalog sheet . . . with both sides oriented the same way.

It takes grace to laugh, and I knew where Steve’s came from. His organization is a Christian ministry for women and he demonstrated that he truly lives the life that he espouses. He may not have realized the effect it had, but Jesus came right through in his laughter and in his reaction. Thank you, Steve  . . . and thank God for the little daily blessings!

Graphic Designer or Graphic Disaster

September 30, 2006

Printers don’t use cameras anymore. At least, very few of us do. If your printer still does, better ask him why. Cameras are old technology, just like the typewriter. I could never make much sense of the phrase “camera ready” anyhow. What it was supposed to mean was that the customer was bringing art that was ready to shoot for plates or film. Colors were separated, clarity was good, the art had been prepared in a way that would make it suitable for printing. In practice, “camera ready” meant anything from finished boards to crayon scribbles on a paper towel.

Today, the “camera ready” phrase has been replaced with “on disk.” Even that is passe’, we hardly ever receive anything on an actual disk or even CD any more. It all comes via file transfer over the web. Nonetheless, “on disk” comes with a similar set of problems to “camera ready.”

To paraphrase Corrie Ten Boom, having a computer no more makes one a graphic designer than having a garage makes one an automobile. I’ve ranted about Microsoft in a previous entry, so I won’t go there again today. But even users of real, honest-to-goodness layout and design programs can be dangerous. If graphic designers were issued licenses to drive their computers and printers were allowed to issue tickets for violations, there’d be a lot of designers in real trouble . . . and a few with their licenses revoked completely.

The big problem is that it is relatively easy to design something that looks pretty good on screen and fails miserably when printed. Designing for the web is so forgiving. The WYSIWYG acronym applies. Just preview your web page in Internet Explorer and you’re going to see what most of the world sees. In the print world, WYSMBWYG applies–what you see might be what you get! Those cool effects that look so great in Photoshop, Illustrator or Publisher might translate into a black box when they run through prepress.

Here are some tips from Poor Richard for aspiring new print designers:

  1. Use a drawing program for drawing, a photo editing program for photo editing, and a page layout program for page layout. Adobe Illustrator is the industry standard for vector artwork — that is line drawing and fills in the digital world. Adobe Photoshop is the same for pixels — .jpg, .tif and other file formats that are basically collections of dots grouped together tightly in just such a pattern that your eyes and brain think that they are seeing an image or a photograph. Adobe InDesign, QuarkXpress, and (sigh) even Microsoft Publisher are page layout programs where art, photos, and text are put together in a document for printing.
  2. Ask your printer first. Before you start your project, give your printer a call. Tell him what you intend to do and ask for requirements for setting up the publication. This can save an amazing amount of trouble and expense when your files actually get to the printshop.
  3. Follow the rules. When preparing files for print there are a few things that are absolutely required. Print design can be very unforgiving.
    For instance, if you are printing a one or two color piece, you’ll be using spot color. A spot color is essentially a named color that can be separated out from any other color used in the document. This requires a program that will separate colors. Illustrator does, Photoshop doesn’t. Your page layout program will, but you must assign the colors.If you ignore this, what will happen? Things are going to be very strange colors (or black and white) on your proof. You’ll be mad at your printer. Or your printer is going to call and you’re going to get mad at him because you don’t understand what he’s talking about. Even worse, your job might get printed in all of the wrong colors. Then you’ll get really, really mad at us.We hate it when you get mad and we really don’t want to revoke your computer driving license.
  4. Pay attention to resolution. If you steal photos for your cosmetics catalog from Acme Tweezer Company’s website, they’re going to look crummy. Internet resolution is 72 dpi (dots per inch). A good resolution for printing is 300 dpi.
  5. KIS applies. I’m being nice. I left off the final “S.” Many beginners end up over-designing. Keep it simple. The most effective layouts are clean. They use white space, one or two readable fonts, and clean lines.

We try to be very patient with out customers, especially those who are new to design and really want to do it themselves. For those who are more interested in the product than the process, AlphaGraphics and many other shops offer in-house design services. We actually do even work with crayon scribbles on a napkin from time to time.

I’ll write more about graphic design and the print process as the blog progresses. Send me a comment or a question and I’ll try to address it in another post.

What about the good customers?

September 27, 2006

One of my favorite customers strolled in this afternoon with her monthly project. As is usual, she was smiling, happy and just charming to talk with.

“I read your website . . . you know, the poorrichard thing.” she said. “It’s interesting . . .”

“Uh Oh, I’m in big trouble now,” I’m thinking.

“What do you think that customer is going to think . . . you know, the one who called so many times . . . what’s she going to think if she reads that website?”

“Um, maybe she won’t see it?” I replied lamely.

“Or maybe she won’t know it was about her,” suggested my nice customer. “It might actually help her out.”

“Or maybe she won’t see it?” I replied lamely (again).

It got me thinking. Perhaps I was too quick to write about the problem children when the vast majority of our customers are a real pleasure to deal with. We do lots of jobs on a regular basis that just run like clockwork. And there are some customers that are just plain fun.

The one I’m writing about tonight will definitely recognize herself. Her name begins with a B and she works with a distributor based in Macon. B was actually one of the first people I called on before the shop even opened. She was interested, said that her company did a good bit of printing (they do) and that she would give us a try (she did).

B is amazingly organized. She keeps samples of everything. When she reorders a product, she even knows the invoice number and date from the last run. She is meticulous, very clear in her communications, and (thankfully) very forgiving when we screw up. And she laughs. She has a giggle that is infectious and a sense of humor that makes working with her a great joy.

As I recall, we did a couple of small jobs and then there was a business card order. I don’t know what happened with the ink, but it didn’t dry correctly. With a little effort, B was able to smear it with her fingers. I halfheartedly tried a half a dozen excuses: the oil on her hands, she was rubbing them too hard, the relative humidity was high, just leave ’em a couple of days and they’ll dry.

Finally, I took Oscar, my pressman at the time, over to see about the cards. I introduced him as Herr Doktor Oskar von Heidelberg. B played along. Oscar took the cards, rubbed them between his fingers, and came up with Pantone 300 blue ink.

“So, ve’ll have to do zem again.” he said in a horrible South Georgia German accent. We stuck the old cards in a cabinet . . . the ink never did dry.

You don’t have to worry about where you stand with B. If it’s not right, she’ll tell you. A couple of years ago, our pressman was out with surgery and I was left with the presswork. I ran some letterhead for B late one evening and the press was not being cooperative. I thought that I had gone through the job and removed the sheets that were misprinted, but I forgot B’s eye for color. She can spot shade differences that most human beings never notice and has the best eye for layout and balance of any of my customers. In fact, she’s really better than most of the design folks I’ve met.

The next afternoon the phone rang.

“Richard, this letterhead looks like “*/$$%??!!,” said the voice on the other end. “Who printed it?”

I recognized the giggle. “Um, me I guess,” I replied. I’m sure that she could see my face turning red through the phone.

“Think you better try again,” was the response.

She’s never forgotten either. Last year, we were discussing the timetable for a project and I mentioned that Rickie, our lead pressman, was going to be off for a day or two. “You’re not going to try to run the press again.” was blunt statement.

I shook my head sheepishly. “Um, no.”

“Good,” she replied, “that wasn’t a good idea.”

I wish we could clone her. Hope she reads this so she know’s she’s appreciated. Thank you B and K and the rest of our great customers!