Welcome to Publicious


Hello and thanks from visiting this blog. My name is Mike Rankin and I plan to write mainly about publishing technology since I like it, and I’ve used it to make a living for the last 13 years. I’m most interested in things like Adobe’s Creative Suite, especially InDesign and Photoshop, XML, Flash, and newer tech like rich internet applications. But I’ll also write about things like prepress, CMS, PDF, fonts, color management, etc, and offer up whatever good links I come across. I also hope to have contributions from some of my friends in the design, production, and editorial realms.

But first thing’s first: who am I and how did I get to the point where I would want to blog about publishing technology? I am 39 years old, married, father of 2, living and working in the Greater Boston area. As for my interest in publishing tech, the seed was planted back in 1987. I was a sophomore at Middlebury College, and I got my first computer: the Mac 512k Enhanced. Here it is back in the day.

plish-macintheday.jpg

It cost $2000. In 1987 dollars. That’s like $3700 now. Wow, thanks Mom and Dad.

I don’t have that machine anymore, but a few years back, I rescued a pair of its cousins, 512k that someone had abandoned by the side of the road. One keeps me company at work, the other is destined to be a fish tank, if I ever get around to it.

That first Mac was a huge upgrade over my Sears 300 word processor. Incredibly, the Sears machine was recently unearthed from the darkest recesses of my parents’ closets.

plish-sears300.jpg

It looks like it would still work, and I even found a site that sells the ink ribbons. Stay tuned for the resurrection.

But in 1987, the Mac 512ke was awesome. My friends and I were like the ape-men in the beginning of Kubrick’s 2001, gathered around this stubby beige monolith. We laid our hands on it and evolved.

At first, I used the little machine just to write papers. Usually with Handel’s Organ Concertos as background music. Ah, soothing toots of genius.

For illustrations, I used a nifty application called FullPaint. 72 ppi bitmap graphics, lovingly crafted pixel by pixel. Here are some samples of my goofier artwork.

plish-punk.png

plish-lennon.png

Little did I know that there was a guy out there at that very moment using another MacPlus to set the foundation for a little program we now call Photoshop. His MacPlus should be in a museum somewhere.

Fast forward to 1995. In need of a career change, I took a class and learned Quark XPress 3, Illustrator 4, and Photoshop 2.5 on Windows 3.1. I’d call that a digital hazing. The instructor was equally impressed and horrified when I drew a self-portrait using only Quark text boxes. Look ma, no layers!

plish-selfquarktrait.png

The redraw was breathtaking. It would’ve caused seizures, if only it had gone faster. But what’s up with that mouth? One day I saw a job posting from an educational publisher in Boston. Money was tight, so I applied, and got the job right away. I never actually finished the class. Wonder what the diploma looked like.

Next up, learning the trade. First freelance. And I mean FREElance. As in, “here’s some pictures of internal organs, re-create them perfectly in Illustrator. When you’re done, we’ll let you know if you can come back tomorrow.” Plus no health insurance, and double social security out of your pocket. Freelance makes you learn fast and work faster. I worked on some difficult books, and some silly ones. Interesting times, but I don’t miss them.

Then came Contract. Six whole months of employment? In a row? Yahoo! My very own phone? Luxury! But still, the end is coming. You work hard so they think of you next time around.

Then at last, there was Staff. My first cubicle. 50 square feet of real estate in the publishing empire. Dilbert took on a whole new meaning. I loved what I was doing, and I was good at it. And I loved being good at it. I wanted to know every Quark command, every keyboard shortcut, every “secret.” I read the manuals. I wanted to be faster and more accurate than anyone else. I played Quark like it was a game. My boss said it was like watching someone play pinball. I collected printouts of Postscript errors like pieces of abstract artwork and decorated my cubicle walls with them. I had achieved desktop publishing geek nirvana.

I stayed in educational publishing and evolved along with it. Projects came and went with the years. I learned new key commands, forgot old ones. PDFs grew like moss everywhere. InDesign replaced Quark. I studied up and became and Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and InDesign. We started to make stuff for the Web. And the jobs started moving away. A lot of good people moved on. I went from making stuff, to teaching people how to make stuff, to writing reports about how someone could, in theory, make stuff. More stuff, faster stuff, customized stuff, multi-media cross-platform stuff. My language became softer than a toasted marshmallow. I went from making books, to authoring solutions. I gave up all hope of my parents ever understanding what I did for a living. My job became very Zen. Or very Seinfeld. I worked on nothing. And yet, I worked on everything.

So here I am today, with head, hard drive, and filing cabinets full of information on publishing tech, and few people to share it with. Nearly all the designers, editors, and production people I worked with have moved on. It’s like I’m in some publishing version of the Lorax. Maybe that’s too grim. Maybe I just need to summarize and organize all this stuff. I need to outsource some of my thinking and memory functions to the Web, so I can devote more mental resources to things like learning Japanese and my kids’ science fair projects. This blog is my way of freeing up brain space by giving me a new container for all this content. You see where I’m headed? Sure you do.

OK, that was probably waaay more information than anyone needed about me, but at least now you know who’s typing this stuff. Next up: The first of many XML posts, plus a sampler of tasty publishing tidbits.

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2 Responses

  1. Love it! VERY funny … I could identify, totally, with this:

    “I went from making stuff, to teaching people how to make stuff, to writing reports about how someone could, in theory, make stuff. More stuff, faster stuff, customized stuff, multi-media cross-platform stuff. My language became softer than a toasted marshmallow. I went from making books, to authoring solutions. I gave up all hope of my parents ever understanding what I did for a living. My job became very Zen. Or very Seinfeld. I worked on nothing. And yet, I worked on everything.”

    Sent a link to your post about Cousin Oliver to Jim M. who is a long-time friend of mine. I agree with what you said there, too … read every word. In order. I was very disciplined in the beginning, spent an hour every day working through the exercises. Then life intervened. I think I left off on Chapter 5, just when the interesting stuff was about to happen.

    Glad to see you’re blogging … duly bookmarked.

    Anne-Marie

  2. […] year ago today, I published my first Publicious post. Here we are 150 posts later! This has been incredibly fun, rewarding, and tiring. In honor of the […]

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