Publicious Links: The Moonwalking In Threes Edition

They say celebrity deaths come in threes. I say, you see what you want to see. But this past week was pretty hard on 20th century cultural icons. If you’ve lost track of who’s still with us, consult Dead or Alive? Oh, nevermind, I’ll save you the trip: Abe Vigoda still walks the earth.

First off, poor Ed McMahon. The guy spends decades in the public spotlight as Carson’s sidekick. Night after night, and with Memorex precision, he delivers the chiseled-in-the-collective-memory line, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” For a side gig, he props up a molten Jerry Lewis every Labor Day for the final timpani. He even has the cartoonish celebrity second act with Star Search and the thing that wasn’t quite Publisher’s Clearinghouse. And when he dies, he gets two seconds of attention.

Next up, poor Farrah. I never quite got the obsession with her or her bodacious hair. Yes, Farrah was incredibly beautiful. But I had only one true love during my single-digit years, and that was Lindsay Wagner, aka Jaime Sommers, the true, be-scarfed Bionic Woman. Still, the impact of Farrah’s locks and teeth is undeniable. And happily, she earned major props for her acting craft as well as her looks. So she got four seconds of attention this week.

Which brings me to the King of Pop. What more can anyone say about the Curious Case of Michael Jackson? I was a teenager in the 80s, but it never occurred to me to actually buy Thriller. It would be like buying air. I watched MTV for about four years straight, without blinking, from 1982-1985. I heard Thriller on a daily, if not hourly basis, for years on end. It was like life in a prison in the Phillipines. Now I watch this video of him auditioning for Berry Gordy at age ten, channelling James Brown with such precision that it freaks me out. For his otherworldly talent, this ten year old kid got his childhood replaced with showbiz, and became the most famous person on the planet. The unraveling that occurred afterward, is amazing to me, only in that it took so long.

So to Ed, Farrah, and Michael, I will picture you three moonwalking off the stage together. Rest in peace.

Oops, in my self-indulgence, I forgot this is a blog about publishing technology. How about some links?

First, GridIron Software has just released Flow. It is way cooler than sliced bread. How would you like for your files to know how they are all related? Images know which InDesign layouts they’ve been placed in. PDFs know which documents they were created from. You say you only remember the name of a layer in a Photoshop file? No problem, you can find it. And so on and so on. I don’t like to throw around the word “amazing,” but Flow really is A-freaking-mazing. I’ve installed the trial version and I think living without it is going to be impossible from here on out.

From the how did we ever live without Photoshop category, part 1: Gizmodo has 65 Ancient Video Games I Wish Existed.

From the how did we ever live without Photoshop category, part 2: Wonkette has Sarah Palin’s quixotic and hopeless war vs. Photoshop.

Ever wonder how Adobe came to be? Wonder what it might have to do with Xerox? Check out a nice little bio of founder John Warnock.

Here’s a couple of my recent posts from InDesign Secrets: Honey, I Blew Up the Color Panel, Bridge Font Blind Spot, and Eye Candy, Part 5: Blending a la Mode.

As the digital revolution comes full circle, the phrase “Web to Print” is going to be heard a lot. Bitstream’s Pageflex Storefront uses InDesign Server to power its piece of the Web to Print pie.

GREP Master Peter Kahrel has posted a brilliant tutorial on Dealing With Long GREP Expressions. My advice: caffeinate heavily before reading.

At work, I was asked to evaluate someone’s choice of 100c70m drop shadows. My evaluation was “um, no.” Here’s how to make a blue shadow in real life.

Brian Lawler (author of the Official Adobe Print Publishing Guide) has posted an interesting idea for using Photoshop’s Count tool.

From the It’s A Small World, But I Wouldn’t Want to Print It Dept: How about a digital archive that contains all the peer-reviewed mathematical literature ever published? That’s about 100 million pages. No sweat, say the folks behind the Digital Mathematics Library Project.

Print and prepress guru par excellence Steve Werner is giving a eSeminar on InDesign Best Prepress Practices on July 1. If you miss it, you can catch the recorded version.

Thomas Silkjær has posted a nice set of highly-organized pre-defined styles for InDesign, which you can modify to suit your own needs.

ShapeCollage is a nifty, free tool for making collages out of your photos. You can arrange any number of pictures into any shape.

Popular Science has a prototype color-picking pen, that mimics Photoshop’s eyedropper. It’s supposed to scan the color of any real life object and then recreate that color with ink. Too bad the desinger needs a remedial lesson in the physics of subtractive color and CMYK. Still, it’s a mind-blowing concept.

The Bits and Pieces X: Training in Practice

There are many ways to train people to use complicated new software. You could sit down with each new user individually and show them what to do. Because you have 300 people on staff full-time to do that. The training might be a live demo of some of the processes, or one of those movies. It could be a series of online modules that take the user through various steps of various workflows. There might be a quiz at the end. Everybody likes quizzes.

We chose a variety of training approaches. This is a nice way of saying we didn’t really have a coordinated training approach. Our training started out with the best of intentions, of course. Unfortunately, our system was pressed into service before it was really finished, so the training program was REALLY not really finished.

Our first attempts at training involved the time-honored “live demo in front of a group of people” technique. I wonder if there’s anything more useless. Imagine a group of 20 people who don’t really know what’s going on, in a darkened room, staring at a projection of a completely foreign UI, listening to some dork (me) droning on about “tagging” and “attributes” and whatnot. For an hour. And at the end, being told to go back to their desks, and the software would be installed within the next couple weeks, and there are no handouts or manuals, but when you get the software, start using it all day as this is now your new way of working. We didn’t even offer snacks.

So that having predictably failed to impart all the vital skills they needed, the next step was to sit down with them individually or in very small groups and, with one of the users driving, talk them through the tasks they needed to do. “Click on the File menu . . . no, the Documentum file menu, not the Netscape file menu . . . good!” This actually worked pretty well. The only downside is the “trainer” has to spend all day doing it. And the trainer is never really “the trainer”, they’re more like the project manager who’s dropping everything to train people as they have questions.

To try to organize the random training and ensure that everybody in the group was getting the same information, we decided to hold weekly meetings to go over any questions that came up. Emergencies would still be handled as they occured (an emergency being an “I can’t do any work until you explain to me how to do this” situation). Unfortunately, or maybe inevitably, no questions ever came up in these meetings. I’m not kidding. “So how’s everything going?” “Fine.” Then an hour later 15 phone calls come in asking for individual help.

Then there’s the problem of “rogue training.” There’s always somebody who kind of gets it, assumes they totally get it, then trains their colleagues on their own. It is, after all, easier to ask the person sitting next to you than calling the person who caused all this pain and inconvenience in the first place. This caused no end of issues for everyone involved. Someone determined a simple 35-step procedure for creating a page and printing it out for further editing. The problem: the same thing could be accomplished in 3 steps, which had of course been covered in the original dark-room demo, but everybody forgot about that. And even better, the page didn’t really need to be printed out every time as it was after all a PDF file which could be viewed onscreen. But that rogue trainer had shown everyone their technique, everybody started doing it, and hours upon hours were wasted waiting for pages to process and print. And even after we discovered this and showed everyone the “right” way, many people still did it the “old” way because that’s what they were comfortable with.

(We also had someone come up with “rogue documentation” which was presented to me at a project postmortem. “Look at how complicated it is to use this!” “Where did you get this documentation?” “I wrote it up myself because this is so hard I needed a cheat sheet.” “I understand your frustration. I wish you would have talked to me during the project because most of this could have been done differently which would have made it easier.” ” . . . “)

When it finally became obvious that our ad hoc training program wasn’t going to cut it, we assigned someone to be a trainier and come up with a hands-on training program. And it wasn’t me. That was one of the happiest days of my career. It was one of the users, who knew what the users were going through, and spoke their language, and had credibility within their ranks. O joy! I just peeked in on the first couple sessions to make sure they weren’t talking crazy talk. And they weren’t. And everything went pretty smoothly from then on. Imagine that.

Publicious Links: The Parallelepiped Edition

Had a “whoa” moment a little while ago. Whilst taking a deep dive into Adobe history and technology, I came across an article on the math behind Bézier curves. If you’ve ever used any of the Creative Suite apps, you know what these are. They’re the edges of objects you shape by pulling little control handles attached to the ends of lines. You can draw pretty much any shape by varying the number, length, and angle of the control handles.

I’d known for many years about the man who invented these curves, Pierre Bézier. He was a French engineer who used them to design precisely manufactured auto parts for Renault. They also come in quite handy in computer graphics. But what I’d never seen before is the control handles in the context of the 3-D shape they describe: a parallelepiped. Here’s the article that blew one of my 100 amp geek fuses. What amazes me is that I never realized how I was in effect, pulling and pushing these control handles in three-dimensional space. Hence the “whoa.” You are warned, there is math involved. If you ever wish you could play with Bézier curves in real life, you can, and probably already did as a kid, with string art.

I’d be remiss to be talking about vectors, without mentioning the VectorBabe, Sandee Cohen. You may know she’s the author of The InDesign Visual Quickstart Guide by PeachPit Press. You may not know she recently launched a blog called From Design to Print to augment her book of the same name.

Sumo Paint is another “whoa” experience. It’s a free, web-based painting application with an interface so full-featured and well-executed, you won’t believe it. Makes you think you could create anything with Flash.

Sixrevisions.com has an awesome list article on 25 Excellent Typography Tools for the Serious Designer. Silly designers, you can click the link, but don’t let me catch you goofing around. No funny business.

While you’re at Sixrevisions, also check out another list: Ten Unusual Places to Get Design Inspiration.

Thenextweb.com has an entertaining man-in-the-street video, produced by Google wherein the question posed to the public is “What is a browser?” How horrified you are at the answers = how much of a geek you are. Personally, my favorite is the WAY over-caffeinated lady who says, “I use the Yahoo!”

Occasionally, we are reminded the world is more than pixels and prepress. You can show your support for those protesting the election in Iran by changing your avatar.

Speaking of the Iranian election, I don’t know if it was rigged, but I do know that the government needs to spring for a few of Deke McClelland’s Lynda.com Photoshop videos. Because, as BoingBoing said, Ahmadinijad Sucks at Photoshop.

You can’t get Flash on the iPhone, but thanks to AIR, you can get the iPhone in Flash. Desktop iPhone is an AIR application that simulates the iPhone on your desktop. You can even make phone calls with it.

Drupal is everyone’s favorite open source CMS, n’est ce pas? RefCardz has a free Guide to Getting Started with Drupal.

MarkLogic is offering another free eSeminar for publishers. This time the topic is Three Ways To Innovate: How Smart Publishers are Thriving Now. Count on a lot of “XML is da schizznit” rap.

Finally, Meninos is at it again, making me lust after geek merch. This time it’s Illustrator and Photoshop palette, er, panel magnets. No geek fridge should be without ’em.

Publicious Links: The Father’s Day Edition

So Father’s Day is less than a week away and you’ve procrastinated once again. What are you going to get the old man? Fear not, Publicious is here to help. We’ve got you covered. Provided your dad is a publishing technology geek, who loves free online goodies. Otherwise, you’re on your own.

Let’s face it, he probably doesn’t want a tie. Buuuut, if he’s a CMYK-D.A.D., he might fancy a halftone tie.

You can come up with your own tie patterns if you read my latest post on InDesign Secrets, Pattern Swatches.

How about a portrait of pop? All the cool kids (and most of the geeks) have jumped on the “drawing with type” bandwagon. If you can’t spare the time to pick just the right glyphs for dad’s eyebrows, use the iPhone type drawing app.

If dad’s a type maven, head straight to CreativePro, as Pariah Burke’s done an amazing job tracking down 103 free fonts.

You can’t make dad rich, but you can get him a rich internet application. Adobe’s announced that the AIR framework has been downloaded 200 million times by people installing RIAs. So AIR Nation would be the 6th most populous on Earth, after China, India, the US, Indonesia, and Facebook. TechCrunch has the details and links to some of their favorites.

Dad’s hair thinning? Forget Rogaine. Get a new hair brush. Not the plastic kind, the Photoshop kind. So you can draw Rapunzellesque locks on Pop.

If dad’s out of shape? No problem, download hundreds of custom shapes for Photoshop.

Speaking of Photoshop, take a minute and read the story of Photoshop’s two dads, the brothers Knoll. You must click this link, if only to see the very first Photoshop icon. I am making a t-shirt with that if it’s the last thing I do. I bet a lot of kids won’t even know what it is.

If you were ever a fan of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, you must remember the ones where Calvin showed his dad charts and graphs indicating the steeply declining popularity of dad’s rules. Well, Calvin was no dummy. He automated the making of those charts, with XML data fed into Illustrator.

Finish off Father’s Day with a treat. Cut dad a thick slice of pie a la mode–blending mode, that is. Digitalartform has one of the most thoughtful (and useful) pieces on blending modes I’ve ever read.

Publicious Links: The Bing Hits Edition

You probably know that Microsoft has released its own search engine to try and topple Skynet, er, Google. A few days ago, in the WordPress stats I started seeing referrals from Bing.com. Literally, Bing hits. Heh. So I searched for “Publicious” on Bing, and we got 9 out of the top 10 spots. Righteous.

If you weren’t totally exhausted from all the Flash Catalyst stuff I posted last week (or if you ignored it completely) you might want to check out Adobe’s summer-long eSeminar series on the Flash platform (Flash Builder and Flash Catalyst). Please don’t call them “webinars.” Eeeech. Ugliest word ever.

If you want to see what some people are actually creating with all this Flash stuff, check out Smashing Magazine’s 50 Beautiful Flash Websites. Don’t forget to follow Smashing Mag on Twitter for tons more.

Here’s my post on InDesign Secrets about continuation of Adobe branding into our geeky lifestyles, Coasting Into A Suite Life. By the way, I’m all for it. I’d buy some InDesign bedsheets in a heartbeat.

By the way, yesterday was Adobe Patch Day. Get’cher security updates while they’re hot.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, unless it comes in a Bezier box. Best Design Options is offering 100 Websites Where You Can Download Free Vector Graphics.

While you’re up, can you grab me a few free patterns from the PatternCooler? Thanks.

With all that money you saved on your vectors and patterns, you can head over to FlashDen and purchase some little Flash applications. It’s a little app market where developers can hawk their coded wares. Even if you don’t intend to buy, it makes for some fun window shopping.

Want to influence the future of Photoshop? Take John Nack’s survey. Vote early and often.

Gurus Unleashed has a really cool new feature, a monthly wrap-up of the best news, tips, tutorials, etc for your favorite graphix apps. Here’s the May wrap-up for InDesign/InCopy. You can also find wrap-ups for Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, MacPaint, etc. Just kidding, I think the MacPaint news would be pretty sparse. Then again, I could dominate it…

Whoever says print is dead is all wet. Literally, now that you can get almost anything printed on a shower curtain. These will be the coolest thing in the bathroom till we get shower curtains that are tv screens.

Or you can get a monitor that’s bigger than a giant flatscreen TV. It’s only $8,000, and so big it has to be curved around you.

Finally, I leave you with some high art, from Prepress Pilgrim, an excerpt from the world’s first prepress romance novel.

The Bits and Pieces IX: Documentation in Practice

So let’s say the stars align and your child’s unicorn is delivered on time, and you actually do have a dedicated documentation writer and training developer on your project. What kind of documentation works best?

I suppose everybody prefers something slightly different. (I personally would love to see the “kinesthetic” documentation for an XML workflow. “Aural” would be cool too.) Most of the time, though, documentation is going to be a fat binder with page after page of text and screenshots, or something online with similar text and pictures linked together in some fancy way.

I feel that you need to have several kinds of documentation available to users. For our content model, we created a very detailed catalogue of all the XML elements and attributes, with tree models to show how the parent/child relationships worked, and output screenshots to show what the XML tagged content would look like “on the page”. I thought it was very thorough yet concise at a mere 300 pages. The users thought it looked like “stereo instructions” and didn’t find it helpful at all. I guess the fact that I helped develop the content model, so I pretty much knew it backward and forward to begin with, clouded my judgment of the catalogue’s usefulness.

So based on that epic fail, we created a booklet of “quick topics” that featured lists of steps in various procedures. Need to know how to import an art file? Here’s the step-by-step instructions. Some of them even had screenshots to show what menus to choose or buttons to click. These were slightly more useful than the catalogue, but most of them had 20 steps or more—the steps add up when you make “click on the OK button” its own step. And there are 12 instances of that in a particular process. (Maybe our processes were too complex? A topic for another time perhaps.)

We also had a design catalogue of the various styles available. This actually was helpful as authors and editors developed the concept for certain kinds of pages. When there are 14 different styles available for questions, it’s nice to have a picture of what they all look like. But even this was limited. They had to look in the catalogue to match the design to the XML that was behind it. And they already didn’t like the catalogue because it was too confusing.

I think our main failure was to organize the documentation and training around how the system worked, not how the users would work. A chart of elements and attributes is pretty useless when you don’t know what any of the elements and attributes are for in the first place. Describing steps in using software in terms of the software rather than in terms of your user’s workflow and tasks is also less than helpful. I’m not “uploading a binary object into the docbase”, I’m “putting the picture of George Washington into the system so I can put it on this page.” I’m not “editing formatting attributes for composition”, I’m “making this paragraph be in 2 columns so it fits right.”

For our new attempt at an XML workflow, I hope we can develop documentation that’s short, uses language familiar to users, and is well indexed so it’s easy to find everything. Ideally it would be available online in a help menu within the interface itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to want that stupid talking paperclip thing that interrupts you when you’re typing, but some contextual help would be very cool. We should still have exhaustive catalogues of our elements and attributes, but those would be for the technical people working behind the scenes.

Flash Catalyst Iron Man Train-athalon

Back ’07, I went to an Adobe MAX conference in Chicago with Eric. Had a lovely time, enjoyed the vocal stylings of Richard Cheese, and was intrigued by a little thing shown in one of the keynotes, called Thermo. It was a tool that would allow designers to work in their designy ways, and build UI for Web applications without having to write code. Filed it away until recently, when the buzz about it became so loud it penetrated the constant meowing of my Siamese cats. Renamed Flash Catalyst, the application is now available for free beta testing on Adobe Labs.

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the “wicked awesome” Flash on Tap conference in Boston (more to come on that!). One of the Adobe keynotes featured a demo of Flash Catalyst (henceforth “FCat” in this post). It looked even cooler than what I had remembered from Thermo days in Chicago. You can use layered AI and PSD files as the basis for your interactive designs. And when the design changes, you can re-open a component in Illustrator or Photoshop and make your changes. That is frigging sweet. But even that wouldn’t mean much if FCat generated mucky sucky code. Happily, we are promised that the code FCat generates is rock solid and clean as a whistle. OK, sign me up. Time to start playin’. Just one problem. How do you learn it? Fortunately, with the release of FCat on Labs, there is a flood of tutorials and talk about this new tool.

So, I give you the Flash Catalyst Iron Man Trainathalon. Only the world’s strongest eyeballs and mouse fingers will survive.

Start with Kevin Lynch’s FCat chat at Web 2.0.

Then go peruse Adobe Labs own list of tutorials.

Click over to Lynda.com for Mordy Golding’s freebie introduction to FCat. And for Bonus Mordy, read his essay on MogoMedia.com, Futuristic Hype or Realistic Future?

Back to AdobeTV for FCat videos.

Then hop on your bike and pedal over to the newsstand or library to check out issue 155 of Web Designer magazine, featuring an introduction to FCat.

Go to the FCat Help page on Adobe.com, and download the PDF version of the Help.

Watch FlashBlog’s a 2-part video tutorial FCat.

Then partake of O’Reilly’s Inside RIA screencast on FCat.

Chug a RedBull. There are miles to go!

Put on your swimsuit and take a deep dive into Peachpit’s lengthy article on FCat.

Then towel off and get ready to climb a mountain: Ryan Stewart’s Digital Backcountry blog, for a tutorial in both text-based and video versions. If you’re like me, and have some serious Mac OS beachball issues, you might want to check out Ryan’s Flash Catalyst performance Tips.

After all that, splash yourself with some cold water and read some posts that are not so enthusiastic about FCat. FlashMagazine’s middle-of-the road take on FCat, We Say No To Flash Catalyst Until.., and Catalyst or Catastrophe?

Fortify yourself with a bite from Wikipedia’s page on FCat.

Sprint for the finish line: FCat’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Did you make it? Good! Rest up, kiddo. Tomorrrow we start the ActionScript 3 Steel Cage Learn or Die Death Match.