Monday, December 12, 2011

The Coming Robot Holocaust Part XIII: The Cutening

It's been a while since I last fretted about the coming robot holocaust which will see all of humanity enslaved by our mechanical overlords (Daniel H. Wilson's novel Robopocalypse earlier this year wasn't bad but was far too optimistic), but then I came across this horrifying story over at New Scientist: "Fluffy baby robot helps keep you company":
Babyloid, Japan's latest therapeutic robot baby, is also designed to help ease depression among older people by keeping them company.
Uh huh. That's just what they'll be expecting us to think...Until it shoots icy death from its eyes!! But I could be wrong.

Also, too: slitherbots!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Between the Lines

Over on the Facebook, Margie Dana and Katherine O’Brien simultaneously shared a link to a site that explains how to turn any* digital photo into a coloring book image, using a free online image editor that bears an uncanny resemblance to Photoshop called Pixlr. I was intrigued, so I thought I’d have a go.

Since the idea of a coloring book is to stay “inside the lines” I thought it apt to use a photo with a line inside me: a photo of me, taken by Steven H. in 2007, standing astride the Prime Meridian at the Greenwich Observatory in London.

The steps are pretty easy to follow, and it takes a few tries to get the Gaussian blur amount correct. (Pixlr itself is pretty easy to figure out; well, at least for me, since it is virtually identical to Photoshop which I have been using since 1992. In fact, I replicated the exact steps in Photoshop and got pretty much the same result.)

As you can see in the before-and-after, it came out OK, but not especially great, largely because of the source image.

It never occurred to me to do this before, but I there is likely a far more elegant way of doing this using Photoshop filters. But if you don’t have Photoshop, Pixlr is a pretty easy way to create printed “toys” for (and even of) the wee ones. Or perhaps even the not-so-wee ones (who am I to judge?).

* Well, as anyone who has played around with Photoshop’s myriad filters can tell you, what you get out depends on what you get in. For best results, photos should not be out of focus, and images with high contrast between foreground and background images work best.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Turbo-Entabulator

Via Chris Mooney's The Intersection blog, a very funny old video demonstrating the dangers of talking in "jargon," whether it be scientific, economic, technological, or entemesmomodic.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A New(ish) Book!

Soon to be available via, what was known in a previous life as Getting Business: Opportunities for Commercial Printers and Their Clients in the New Communications Arena has been retooled, recrafted, and had all references to the printing industry removed.

It is now "Does a Plumber Need a Web Site?": Mad Dentists, Harried Haircutters, and Other Edgy Entrepreneurs Offer Promotion Strategies for Small and Mid-Size Businesses.

The official blurb:
"Does a Plumber Need a Web Site?" was the question someone asked Dr. Joe Webb, and thus launched an unconventional business book, written with "co-conspirator" Richard Romano, about a handful of interesting characters facing small business sales and marketing challenges. None of the case studies are real, but the business situations and challenges they illustrate are faced by entrepreneurs every day. This entertaining walk through business media is designed to stimulate ideas and provoke thoughts about how to engage customers and prospects. Whether you're a plumber, a haircutter, a B2B manufacturer, a restaurant owner, a B2B services provider, a doctor, a health club owner, or any other entrepreneur or provider of marketing services to small business, this book will get you chuckling—and seriously thinking about new ways of promoting a business.
I don't mind saying that it is perhaps one of the strangest books--certainly one of the strangest business books--ever written. And that's just the way we like it!UPDATE: It is now live on Lulu's e-store.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

While I Was Out

Yeah, I know, long time no blog. Okay, so what’s been going on?

Well, firstly, Syracuse played the best game it has played in at least a decade (that is not hyperbole, alas), blowing out #11 West Virginia 49-23 at the Dome. (We suspect they did so well because we did not go to the game.) I wonder how many couches were set alight in Morgantown.

Secondly, the Colonial Little Theater in Johnstown, NY, will be performing a staged reading of my play Takeoffs and Landings (link is a PDF) on November 11 and 12, s part of their New Play Festival. You may recall that this was the same company that performed my Christmas play Past & Present Tense in 2009.

Thirdly, Dr. Joe and I have a new book out, called Getting Business: Opportunities for Commercial Printers and Their Clients in the New Communications Arena. It’s a series of made-up case studies (the best kind!) of a cross-section of businesses and their ideal marketing and promotion strategies. It was a lot of fun to write—and we have received a lot of good feedback on it. We are working on a “generic” version that is designed for companies outside the printing industry. Dr. Joe wants to use the book to get more speaking gigs. I’d rather get more writing gigs, since I far prefer writing to speaking, and it has the added advantage of avoiding all the aggravation of traveling.

Speaking of travel, fourthly, I have continued racking up the frequent flyer miles, grudgingly, thanks to a trip to Nice, France, earlier this month for a Pira International event. Nice was rather pleasant, and I can see how one could easily adapt to that Mediterranean lifestyle. However, the fact that 99% of the population smokes like crazy meant that you really can’t go anywhere without being engulfed in billows of cigarette smoke. I think I came back with black lung. Next week, I head to New Orleans for CSICON, a science and reason conference, which should provide some good and highly welcome non-printing-industry networking opportunities (as well as a chance to meet in person of the my grad school classmates). I sincerely hope that is the end of the traveling for a while. Although, given Southwest’s intense love for kicking people off planes, there is a good chance I may not make it out of Albany. (Memo to Southwest: I’d much prefer the lesbians to the screaming children.)

Fifthly, my favorite contemporary author, Haruki Murakami, has a new novel coming out on Tuesday. Interestingly, the publisher produced a “trailer” for it. This week’s New York Times Magazine has a good story about Murakami.My weekend plans involve rereading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, easily his masterpiece up to this point.

Sixthly, Last week, I got a welcome surprise in my mailbox: Magnet magazine is back in print, after a three-year-hiatus. I never did like their Web site much.

Anyway, that’s all the news for now.

Btw, two excellent new albums on heavy iPod/CD rotation: They Might Be Giants’ Join Us, and Fountains of Wayne’s Sky Full of Holes.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Past, Present, & Future

Ever since I pilfered my mother's vinyl copy of Time Passages (1978) circa 1983, I have been a fan of Al Stewart. Anyone who was vaguely conscious in the late 1970s knows a few of his top 40 hits—"Time Passages," "Song on the Radio," "Midnight Rocks," and (you'll know this one) "Year of the Cat." They were actually pretty unlikely top 40 hits, in retrospect, and as much as I liked the hits (pretty unusual for me) the album tracks reflected Stewart's tremendous in history, such that he today has been dubbed "the king of historical folk rock." Time Passages alone includes "The Palace of Versailles" (the French Revolution), "A Man for All Seasons" (Thomas More). Other Stewart subjects have included American presidents, Nostradamus, World Wars I and II, somewhat obscure figures from British History (Lord Grenville) and so on.

So when I saw that he was going to be playing Caffe Lena here in Saratoga, I couldn't resist. So last Tuesday, about 80 people packed Caffe Lena (it sold out)--and I have to admit it was one of the best shows I have seen. As of late, Stewart has been doing more the folk thing, touring with co-guitarist and singer Dave Nachmanoff (who also served as opening act--he has a few albums out and his latest Step Up is fantastic; I got to meet him between sets--and meet Al after the show). The set was an eclectic mix of stuff--some obscure, some not so much--from his 44-year career (his debut album came out in 1967--damn, that was 44 years ago...), up to his recent album Sparks of Ancient Light (2008), which is every bit as good as the records he put out in the 1970s and 80s, even if he doesn't have Alan Parsons as producer any longer.

He was big on between-song banter, talking about the historical subjects of the songs, albeit in a humorous, light-hearted way (he's a very funny guy), or just joking about the songs (like the lyrics "The literati in their cellars/Perform semantic tarantellas" in "Princess Olivia"). He and Nachmanoff play together extremely well, they have a great chemistry, and they seem to be having a blast. And Nachmanoff knows many of Al's songs better than Al does--they didn't stick to a preset setlist, but tended to wing it. ("Let's see if I remember this one..." was a recurring line, and at one point kept changing his mind about what song to play next.) Toward the end of the second set, he asked for requests--and everyone shouted out a a cacophony of titles (someone even yelled out "Freebird"--no, not me). "So, basically, every song I ever wrote," he commented before doing "Merlin's Time" from 1980's 24 Carrots. He followed that up, and closed the second set, with a rousing acoustic version of "Year of the Cat." Afterward, he commented, "Some crowds prefer obscurities and get upset if you play a hit. That seemed to go okay." Indeed it did.

Other highlights included the "Presidential trilogy," when they realized that they could actually play three songs in a row about U.S. presidents--well, not actually about them, per se; "it's just another way of using metaphor," he explained. Warren Harding and William McKinley? Strangely it works.

The crowd was a little hardcore; at my table was a longtime dedicated fan who drive up from Newark. Another felt compelled to correct one of Al's comments about William Jennings Bryan having lost the Scopes Monkey Trial (this was true, Bryan won, but Scopes' conviction was overturned due to a technicality). That's the kind of crowd it was.

It was a fantastic show, and I hope to catch them again.

Setlist (his Web site includes links to historical info about the subjects of some of his songs):

Fragile Thing (Dave Nachmanoff solo)
In Sickness and in Health (Dave Nachmanoff solo)
House of Clocks
Lord Grenville
Like William McKinley
A Child's View of the Eisenhower Years
Warren Harding
Mr. Lear
On the Border

Rain King (Dave Nachmanoff solo)
Palace of Versailles
Midas Shadow
Timeless Skies
Post World War II Blues
Princess Olivia
Merlin's Time
Year of the Cat

Sheila Won't Be Coming Home (Dave Nachmanoff solo song with Al playing along)
Katherine of Oregon

Here's an oldie, Al Stewart performing "Time Passages" (still my favorite) in 1978 (the shrill female voice is not on the record):

Monday, July 04, 2011

Ran Ran Ran

Learned a few lessons, and hills are not always my friends, but managed the Firecracker 4-mile run in 43:32. Worst part was dealing with the crowd (2500 people signed up for this thing) at check-in. More water stations—especially early on—would have been a good idea (the first one didn't turn up until the 2-mile mark). The "misting stations" were an OK idea—except if you wear glasses, then you're blind and trying to wipe them off while running. The final mile included the steep hill up Excelsior/Maple Ave. past the Courtyard—that almost did me in (probably could have made it under 40 minutes without that hill). A few clouds would have helped, too, but at least it wasn't that hot. Other than that, it was a bit of fun, and I discovered some Saratoga streets I never knew existed!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Run Run Run

On Monday the 4th, for reasons passing understanding, I shall be participating in the 5th Annual Firecracker 4 four-mile run around Saratoga. The winners tend to finish in the 20–21-minute range. (I can manage it in about 55 minutes). I wonder if I can get Dr. Scholl as my primary care physician...

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Rhythm of the Heat

The great Peter Gabriel plays SPAC (Saratoga Performing Arts Center) tonight, and thanks to Audrey B.'s uncanny ability to win tickets, I get to see him live for the first time since 1986 (we had taken a road trip from Syracuse to the Rochester War Memorial, and I recall that at one point the stage show had him attacked by what appeared to be giant desk lamps; oh, and he didn't play "Solsbury Hill" which annoyed me, especially as I was not a fan of "Sledgehammer," his big hit single).

This time, he is backed by what he is calling the New Blood Orchestra and doing orchestral versions of his back catalog. If this version of "San Jacinto" (my favorite song from my favorite Gabriel record, 1982's Peter Gabriel [aka Security]) is any indication of the rest of the concert, I am even more eagerly looking forward to it.

Oh, what the heck, let's have a hit single (from the same album). Don't know if this would work with an orchestra. We'll find out:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy Bloomsday

Today is June 16—the day on which James Joyce’s classic novel Ulysses is set (June 6, 1904). To my great delight, I discovered last week (via NPR) a weekly 5-minute podcast by Irish writer and BBC broadcaster Frank Delaney called Re: Joyce in which he is reading and annotating the novel sentence-by-sentence. He estimates the project will take him about 22 years. He’s been at it about almost a year already and I am halfway through the archive. It’s really quite good.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


As I head to Toronto today, my inner (and outer) Rush geek takes especial notice of the Toronto Pearson Airport code: YYZ.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Saucy Autocorrect

Every now and then, when I need a good laugh, I check out DamnYouAutocorrect. Although they do get rather repetitive, and some just seem a bit contrived, every once in a while I'll fall out of the chair laughing:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Plank Stares

a man died on Sunday taking part in the latest craze going viral on the Internet — "planking."

Acton Beale, 20, plunged to his death after positioning himself for a picture on a balcony railing seven floors up in Brisbane after a night out drinking.

He was a "planker," a fast-growing group of people who lie flat on their stomachs with their arms against their bodies — to resemble a plank — in unusual and sometimes dangerous situations.

Photographs of their exploits are then shared through social media sites.
Really? This isn't a story from The Onion? Nope; it's apparently a real phenomenon, for some reason. Viral is right; something is infecting these people.

(I know from my gym that the "plank" is actually an exercise designed to strengthen ab muscles--but you do it on the floor on a mat, rather safely.)

Then again, these types of silly stunts are nothing new to social media. I remember back in the early 1990s when a movie called The Program came out, there was a scene in which several characters, in a rather ridiculous demonstration of courage (as most such demonstrations are), lay down in the middle of the road and had trucks drive over them. Apparently, there were enough copycats in real life that the filmmakers had to excise the scene.

Get the Darwin Awards people on the phone...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Berlin Fact of the Day

Not many people know this, but the real reason the Berlin Wall had been built was to keep in the thousands of completely and utterly psychotic bicyclists. Now they're loose!

By the way, Continental Airlines (I'm talkin to you), a 9-hour transatlantic flight in a densely packed 757 could be considered a form of torture. To paraphrase Roy Scheider in "Jaws"--we're gonna get a bigger plane, right?

I am now in Newark waiting to take what is a dead ringer for the original Wright Brothers plane for the last leg back to Albany.

If anyone knows what's good for them, they won't try to call or e-mail me for at least two days!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Bitter Bitte

Okay, so my Learn German in a Hurry book doesn't say what the word for "exit" is, but it does inform me that Tischtennis spielen means "play ping-pong." Helpful!

Also, I do recall in Montréal a couple of years ago (where four years of high school French failed me) discovering that there are two absolutely essential words to learn in any foreign language to avoid looking like an utter dork in public: "push" and "pull." Which are not in my Learn German in a Hurry book. "Hang-gliding," though, is Drachenfliegen. It's like they know me!

Also useful: "walrus" is "Walross." I probably could figure that out by myself, should the need arise. Which it almost certainly will.

Achtung Baby

Heading to Berlin today for three days to yammer to the masses at a Xerox Premiere Partners event. I have never been to Berlin, although I do have the Lou Reed album. Surely it's not that depressing...
In Berlin, by the wall
you were five foot ten inches tall
It was very nice
candlelight and Dubonnet on ice

We were in a small cafe
you could hear the guitars play
It was very nice
it was paradise

You're right and I'm wrong
hey babe, I'm gonna miss you now that you're gone
One sweet day
Oh, right, there is no wall anymore...

I bought a little German language tutorial book; curiously, it does not have the word "reservation" (as in "I have a reservation at this hotel") but it does helpfully include the word for "rhinoceros" (Nashorn), because you never know when an Ionesco play is going to break out.

I have a longish layover in Newark this afternoon, and they have a Sam Adams brewpub at EWR, so look for some increasingly incoherent Twitter posts later on...

Oh, and just a formality:

Sad Macs

Over at PrintCEO Blog, I write about a new Mac-based malware attack—MAC Defender. By the way, yes, Macs can get viruses, it's just not that common.
[T]he other day a number of friends and colleagues—some of whom were Windows users, so I detected a certain “nyah” factor—forwarded me stories of a new Mac malware alert. It’s not a virus per se, but is rather something called “rogueware.” Says Computerworld:

“The program, dubbed MAC Defender, is similar to existing ‘rogueware,’ the term for bogus security software that claims a personal computer is heavily infected with malware. Once installed, such software nags users with pervasive pop-ups and fake alerts until they fork over a fee to purchase the worthless program.”

Sounds like Norton Antivirus—oh, but I kid Norton Antivirus…

The Eyes Have it

Yeah, I know, it's been a while--but what better reason to return to the blogosphere than a giant squid eye in a jar, this one in the Smithsonian's collection. Hint hint: Christmas is coming...
Kind of reminds me, in a weird way, of the Stephen King quote: "I have the heart of a small boy... and I keep it in a jar on my desk."

Friday, April 01, 2011


Over at WhatTheyThink is our annual tradition, the April Fool's edition of faux news stories from around the printing industry. I think we spend more time on these stories than on our real stories!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Unfriendly Skies

It seems appropriate that I am posting this while sitting in the Albany airport. As some of you may recall, back in November 2008 I won the District 53 Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest with what has become known as "the airplane speech." The contest was apparently videotaped, but three years' worth of effort has not been able to procure a copy.

Last January, though, the District held a special "Jan Jam" event whereby past Humorous Speech Contest winners were invited to reprise their speeches and participate in a panel discussion. This time, I came armed with my own video camera and captured it, for reasons passing understanding.

There was no camera operator, so it's all in long shot, which means the prop "reveal" may not be all that effective. I also screwed up one line.

Anyway, I give you this throwback to the days when I was afraid of flying--a much happier, more convenient time...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let the Madness Begin

Get yer brackets out. Watching ESPN's Selection Sunday while listening to Separation Sunday. I'm guessing Syracuse will be a 3 seed, but I am always wrong. At least SU isn't going into the NCAA finals with a multitude of casualties.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Unfriendly Skies

Yes, I am utterly appalled by this horrific story:

Virgin Blue Flight Attendant Puts 17-Month Old In the Overhead Storage Bin

I mean, come on, that's outrageous. Everyone who flies knows that children should go with the checked luggage.

Alas Vegas

Greetings from Las Vegas, my least favorite place on Earth (it's basically DisneyWorld for people having mid-life crises or pining for the days of adolescence, for reasons passing understanding). I am staying at the Wynn Resort, not, I later found out, named for Ed Wynn, or even Keenan Wynn. One doesn't realize how much one appreciates anti-smoking legislation until coming here. What happens in Vegas stays in my lungs.

The other morning, there was one of those quintessential "Only in Vegas" stories.... I was walking down the hotel corridor and one of the rooms had a Charlie Sheen People magazine cover taped to the door, accompanied by a handwritten note, presumably to the chambermaid, saying "Stop taking down our Charlie Sheen pictures." The chambermaid was behind me and she knocked, then entered the room. I heard her then gasp "Oh, my God!" I did not want to know and kept going. Te CSI people didn't show up, so I assumed it was nothing horrible....

The one good thing about Vegas, though, is that the hotel exercise room is generally empty at 6 am...

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Greetings from Graphics of the Americas in Orlando, Florida. Not many people know this, but this city was actuallt named for 1970s singing sensation Tony Orlando. Every dawn, the entire town gets up and sings "Tie a Yellow Ribbon."

And, needless to say, here is the reason you always want to get a hotel room on the 1st floor:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Death Stalks the Highway

After the television, the computer and the smartphone, the car is set to become the consumer electronics industry's "fourth screen" - a venue where there will not be enough hours in the day for us to spend our hard earned cash on in-car apps and pricey in-app online services.
Bringing new meaning to the term carnage.

Monday, January 31, 2011

UPS Store--U Positively Suck

Ten-and-a-half years ago, when I first moved to Saratoga Springs, I rented a mailbox at the local UPS Store (then Mailboxes Etc.) for my business mail and especially for packages, because I quickly learned that the USPS, UPS, and FedEx liked to leave packages out in the rain and snow. (FedEx in particular has a remarkable knack, I have discovered, for placing boxes exactly where water drips from the eaves of the house.) A PO box was out of the question, because it was predominantly to receive packages from couriers that could not deliver to a PO box.

For 10 years, this system worked fairly well, although once I moved out to the suburban hellhole I couldn't walk up to get my mail anymore, which had been convenient in winter when I can't get my car out of the driveway. The transition from Mailboxes Etc. to The UPS Store went fairly well, and, well, the original owner's idea of "good customer service" was to not actually hit anyone. It also meant that I didn't have to change my business address the three or four times I have moved. And may (hopefully) continue to move.

A week or so ago, the UPS Store location began having strange hours, being closed during my usual dedicated errand times, and cryptic signs on the door would say "Due to a change in ownership at the Wilton branch, we are closed." Which meant I couldn't get my mail.

Today, they appeared to have shut down for good--no notes, no nothing. No one answers the phone. The Wilton branch number doesn't even ring. I e0maled the Wilton branch and (shock!) got no response. I called the Post Office hoping to retrieve any mail that had not been delivered, but they "didn't have it" and they pointed out (I could detect the nyah nyah in her voice) that the contract I probably signed with them (I don't recall; it was a decade ago) gave them the right to take possession of the customer's mail and do with it what they will. So I guess my mail, including checks (assuming anyone has deigned to pay me in the past couple of weeks), bills (like for my first semester of grad school), etc., is all in limbo. It doesn't help that I have to go out of town tomorrow for the rest of the week and will be unable to resolve any of this. Grrrrr....

This is just really lousy business practice. If they are in the midst of a change in ownership, I hope they realize that they have lost a lot of customers (given the swearing I have witnessed as people tried to get in), including me. A simple letter or a phone call or an e-mail explaining the situation and arranging some sort of contingency plan would have gone a long way toward not making me feel like a complete schmuck for having been a loyal customer for 10 years. Never again.

I don't like to use this blog to bitch about things, but it has been an incredibly frustrating experience, and I feel I should warn folks out there to absolutely avoid using these services and "businesses" for anything important.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Via LiveScience:
Using a computer program, researchers at the University of Vermont simulated a population of naive "baby" robots. The robots had to complete various tasks in their virtual environment, such as finding objects and walking toward them. Those robots that performed poorly got deleted, while the best-performing ones remained "alive."

The robots that changed their body forms (like tadpoles growing into frogs) learned to walk more rapidly and developed the most stable gait, the researchers found.

“We learned that it is easier to breed robots that change shape,” said lead study researcher Joshua Bongard, a professor of computer science.
Yep, we're boned.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Not So Precious Fluids

I refuse to ever buy bottled water, but it's a safe assumption that I will steer clear of anything called MeatWater: beef-salad flavored water. Beef salad? Okay. They also have cheeseburger-, barbecued chicken wing-, and Italian sausage-flavored water.
For the health-conscious (if that's the right term to use) they also have grilled salmon- and chicken salad-flavored water.

Speaking of vile beverage ideas, Audrey B. passed along a link to a new whiskey-in-a-can:
Wrong. So very wrong. What's next: vodka in a juice box?

Here's an idea, though: want a whiskey and water? Try mixing your canned whiskey with some Meatwater. It would make for some strange tasting notes. Well, stranger tasting notes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Born Under a Bad Sign?

Good grief:
An assertion in a Minneapolis Star Tribune article that our understanding of the zodiac is off by about a month - and that therefore people have been identifying themselves with the wrong sign - caught fire on the internet Thursday, and many folks are in an absolute panic on social media.
Some vowed to get their tats removed. Others groaned about losing the sign with which they’ve identified themselves for years. The zodiac and related terms - including Ophiuchus, said to be a 13th and neglected sign - were trending Twitter topics much of Thursday.

But before astrology fans scrape the ink from their arms because they think they're now a Virgo instead of a Libra, they should consider this: If they adhered to the tropical zodiac - which, if they're a Westerner, they probably did – absolutely nothing has changed for them.

That's worth rephrasing: If you considered yourself a Cancer under the tropical zodiac last week, you're still a Cancer under the same zodiac this week.
Yikes, people still take this stuff seriously?

I've often been called officious--but not Ophiuchus. Of course, there is absolutely nothing to astrology--well, except for The Onion's horoscopes:
You're getting better at figuring out what your dreams really mean. However, all that stuff that happens when you're awake is still pretty baffling.
My favorite debunking of astrology is via the great James Randi:

Fonts of Knowledge?

Says LiveScience:
Want to remember what this article says? Maybe you should read it in Comic Sans.

Okay, I'm better. What are they talking about?
Fonts, or styles of typeface, that are relatively difficult to read (including the much-maligned Comic Sans) help people learn new information, according to a new study. The font effect works both in lab experiments and in real classrooms, perhaps by forcing students to work harder to process the information.
Dieman-Yauman, his faculty mentor Daniel Oppenheimer and their colleagues published the results in the January issue of the journal Cognition. Keeping with the theme of the research, they titled their paper, "Fortune favors the bold (and the italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes." Diemand-Yauman was the lead author.

People generally assume that the easier it is to learn something, the easier it will be to remember the information later. But education research has shown that in many cases, it’s the struggle that makes information stick.
Dieman-Yauman and his fellow researchers were interested in whether switching from easy-to-read fonts to more-difficult ones would create a desirable difficulty and improve learning. They began by presenting information about three made-up alien species to 28 volunteers. Each alien species had a strange name, such as "pangerish" or "norgletti," along with seven physical characteristics. Volunteers got a list of alien names and characteristics and had 90 seconds to memorize which characteristic matched which species.

Some of the lists were typed in an easy-to-read font, Arial. Others, the disfluent lists, were typed in either Comic Sans MS or Bodini MT.

After the 90 seconds was up, the researchers distracted the volunteers for 15 minutes, then tested them on their new alien knowledge. Turns out you want your alien hunters to study up in Comic Sans: The scores for those who read the disfluent lists averaged 14 percentage points higher than those who read the list in Arial (86.5 versus 72.8 percent, the researchers found).
Trouble is, Comic Sans is not an especially difficult typeface to read--at least not visually. Sure, it makes me vomit, which is distracting when trying to comprehend something, but it's legible.

Anyway, the researchers then took their experiment to the real world...well, if high school can be considered the real world:
The researchers recruited teachers in six subjects — advanced placement English, honors English, honors physics, regular physics, honors U.S. history, and honors chemistry — from a public school in Ohio. Each teacher sent copies of his or her classroom presentations and worksheets to Dieman-Yauman to be transferred to difficult-to-read fonts.

He and his colleagues chose three difficult fonts based on preliminary studies: the crowded and boxy Haettenschweiler, the cursive-like Monotype Corsiva, and the bubbly Comic Sans Italicized. When there was no electronic version available to alter, the researchers made blurry copies of the worksheets instead.
The students who learned with difficult fonts got better grades and didn't seem to notice the font switch – in surveys after the study, the researchers found no differences in how students liked the material based on font. Novelty could play a role in the results, the researchers wrote, but the novelty of the fonts — which weren't too outlandish compared to regular textbook fonts — should have worn off over the course of the experiment.
As for Comic Sans, this famous photo pretty much sums it up:

Work for Free?

A very funny ('cause it's true!) flowchart for determining whether or not you should ever do work (I am guessing graphic design work) for free.

Click image for large, legible version.
h/t The Big Picture

In Pod We Cast

Dr. Joe interviewed me this morning for a podcast for my WhatTheyThink special report, The iPad: What it Is, What It Isn't, and What It Means for Graphic Communications Professionals. Check it out here.

Coming to a Phone Near You

I guess it's now official: the iPhone is better for making movies than making phone calls. From Reuters:
An award-winning South Korean film director shoots a 30-minute movie using only Apple's iPhone 4.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Damn You, Autocorrect!

Anyone who has an Apple mobile device--iPhone or iPad--has likely at one time fallen prey to the dreaded "Autocorrect," a predictive text correction feature that half the time is helpful, and the other half of the time creates confusion--or hysterics, usually while texting. A wonderful Web site I discovered called Damn You, Autocorrect! collects screen shots from mobile devices and the linguistic anguish it causes. (Warning: Bad language and many autocorrects tend to be obscene. Also, some may find really bad typing and spelling offensive...)

Fake Criterions

Any self-respecting cinephile is familiar with the Criterion Collection, which, according to the company, "has been dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements." Criterion Collection DVD artwork has a distinctive look. I just received my latest CC newsletter, and was reminded of a very funny site Derek L. had told me about a few months ago: Fake Criterions, essentially a Tumblr feed of faux Criterion-style DVD art for movies that would, I dare say, never actually make the real Criterion Collection. For example:
Now I'm tempted to try my own hand at one...