Sunday, October 3, 2010

Otter Necessities on Etsy and ArtFire

Oops, looks like I wandered off again and didn't post for a while.

I did get Ron the shooting table, and he's been taking pictures.  He also talked me into a ring flash so he could take better ones.  Yes, that is a "sucker" stamp on my forehead.  OTOH, we paid for most of it with bank card reward points. 

My Etsy and ArtFire shops are not only up and running, but now populated.  OtterNecessities all squished together as one word on both.

If any of you, gentle readers, have accounts at either place, please let me know and perhaps a hint on how to do a friends-linky type thing?

Off to work on the WindyCon program book.  Also a block party this afternoon.  Making a couple turkey breasts for that.  Initial plan was to do them on the grill, but we decided the weather was a little too chilly, so they're in  the oven. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Not Quite Day Off

Too many nights up past my bedtime this week makes for a very tired Otter.  Tired enough that I didn't go to work yesterday.  Ron said I could stay home as long as I came up to his office to go out to lunch with him.  Seemed like a plan to me.

After breakfast I checked Google Reader, which is how I follow a bunch of blogs, and found a post with information on a special at an Etsy-alternative,  If mumble people sign up for special deal, they get a Pro account for only $6/month for life, instead of the usual $16/month, and you can cancel any time after the first month. 

This inspired me to take a look at both ArtFire and Etsy.

Etsy is the better-known, at least for me, but does not have a "leather" category, although you can search for "leather".  No monthly fees, they go with a listing fee and percentage.  ArtFire, OTOH, has the flat monthly fee, and there's a link to a "leather" category - I think as what material.  But not as well known.

Well, what the hey, neither of them are exactly expensive, we'll try out both and see where I do better.  OtterNecessities on both, although neither one has anything actually up yet.  I also started the process of getting a GoogleCheckout merchant account, although I'm not sure Google is any less evil-empire-ish than PayPal.  But it's a choice for people that absolutely can't stand PayPal; and I can't blame those that feel that way.

Ron, obviously (?) agreed to this experiment, and made an offhand comment about not doing events.  Not unless on-line business really takes off.

Ron also said he might petition for this very spiffy shooting table ( which we've drooled at before.  The surface is transparent, so you can get diffused lighting from below.  Nor is it outrageously expensive.

Well, something must have been very soft and smooshy inside my head, because I called Calumet, then set off.  After coaxing Eowyn upstairs to her crate: she did not want to wake up and climb up the stairs, dammit.  Shooting table procured, along with two shot bags - those are for something completely different, I've had the shot to make some for a year or two, and decided $10 each for Calumet's were worth mumble month of further failing to find Round Tuits to make my own.

Road construction made the trip down to Oak Brook slow, and was spotty on the trip from there back up to Vernon Hills.  And some back down to Palatine after lunch.  'Nuff said.

The table comes in a nice sturdy carrying bag, with a second lighter-weight bag to contain all the hard bits, which fit inside the rolled-up white semi-flexible tabletop.  The angle of that back bit adjusts, too.  So now Ron's agitating for a ring flash, sigh...

Anyhoo, after I got home I started doing the books from Saturday's event.  Finally, that is.  I'd meant to start them right after checking Google Reader, see way back above.  I hit some snags:
  1. Our cost for the black cartridge pouch (see the relevant SB project posts for pictures).  I'd never figured it out.  
  2. An entry for a "brown belt" in Ron's handwriting.  That . . . covers a lot of territory.
  3. An entry for something unspecified sold with a pouch, in my handwriting.
  4. An entry for a pouch that we sold last year.
#4 I've dealt with a couple times before.  Usually it's an oops in either the tens or ones place, sort the inventory list by price and scan for likely suspects.  It was the tens place, this time.
#3 I decided was a plain black belt, based on price, and the color pouch.
#2 we decided was a havana belt - havana is a brown-brown, the other two are a golden brown and a red/burgundy brown.  Price and memory supplied hardware details.

#1 is still not completely resolved:

Robin and I couldn't find the original pattern, or the photocopy that was cut up for actual use.  We have the pouch made in two colors of brown, at worst, but measuring an assembled pouch is not a fun way to figure costs, especially one that complex.  And we want to make another one.  Aaah, the problem with using Someone Else's pattern.

I checked the Tandy website, but no luck.  It isn't standard Tandy stock, it was something GDI manager Bill carried because he liked it (as I thought).  Sadly, Bill has retired, and when I was last in the new manager is toeing the company line.  Then my google-fu was not helping.  Lots of hits, but all for completed pouches, and the designer's website is really deficient.

Finally, I had the sense to ask Robin to check the other patterns we have by the same designer.  Distributed by Hide Crafters (who I don't normally shop with, since the first few times I tried over a couple/few years I experienced found  not-low prices, when I could even get their website or PDF catalog to work at all).  Success!  I went ahead and ordered the missing pattern, and three more (different) patterns (tries to look innocent).

My logic?  The missing pattern is, at this point, not going to show up unless/until I replace it.  I could prolong the process, but by ordering a new one ASAP I can get on with finding my old one sooner.

Robin suggested that the missing pattern would show up last night.  We explained no, not until the new one ships, at best.  Probably not until the new one arrives and is opened, and maybe not even until it's in use.  If it had shown up last night, I could have called first thing this morning and cancelled the new one.  Murphy's Law does not work that way.

Anyhow, except for the cost of the cartridge pouch, the books for Saturday's event are done.

Back to Etsy and ArtFire, my plan is not to spend much time rooting through merchandise bins.  I think we'll start out with new pouches, etc., as we get them done.  I think I'm going to keep comparable selections on both (some items can be identical - like X-style all-black pouches or belts) for a while and see where the best return comes from.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back in the Hunt at Fox Hunt

Friday and Saturday were mostly successful.

I got out of work a little late Friday afternoon, and thus didn't get 
home until about a half-hour after Ron and Robin. But I'd sent Ron the packing list, so they had started packing the truck. I went through some of the bins in the trailer and the bin of finished pouches from in the house, deciding what to leave home and what to take, and consolidating where I could. Taking the 2 Easy-Ups meant that much less space for other stuff. Truck packing was accomplished without incident, or even snapping at each other.

Then we moved inside, and I started packing up tools and the other things in the house, like price list sheets, receipt books, etc. I once more went through some bins of odds and ends that had been going to events and decided what we really needed and what we didn't, and consolidated.  Still no snapping.  We must be growing up or something.

Robin took the results of the indoor packing out to the truck, and then we went off in search of dinner. On the way home we stopped for snacks - getting up at 0-dark-thirty AM generally means the hungries before what most people consider lunch time.

Up at 5 am, and off for Earlsville, IL. The site is waaay out in the boonies, a place called Stonehouse Park, which bills itself as being a dedicated site for re-enactors. From a very quick glance at the a month or two of their calendar it looks like LARP groups use the site about half the weekends, also saw this SCA event a WWII event, and an Airsoft event. Some things the park is closed for, it looks like others it's open, altohugh I'm not sure what exactly they mean by open. Website is

We weren't too far from the front entrance, across a dirt road from a big old barn, which was used for morning court, A&S, and feast. Down said road was a house/cabin where I think feast was being cooked. Down a little further was the bathhouse with flush toilets. There was a port-o-let by the barn, which was taken away presumably for cleaning, and returned Saturday about mid-afternoon. Some areas were paved with cobble-ish pavers, and on the way in there were several pallets of additional pavers and retaining blocks. Nearer the entrance was a shed-ish building with windows (think farmstand) that had a "Troll" sign, although the SCA group wasn't using it. Looking at the website there's also an old inn/farmhouse on the property, but I missed it.

The campsites where merchants were had water and electrical taps. The water tap by the breakfast/lunch pavillion was marked as non-potable, but it appeared I wasn't the only one who used it for hand-washing. There was no hand-sanitizer dispenser in/on the port-o-let, which I've gotten used to seeing. I didn't get any farther than the bathhouse, can't comment on the various fields.

All in all, it seemed like a decent site.

The morning was drizzly, but the out-and-out rain held off until we were set up. Happy happy. We discovered that a mouse had nested in one of the EZ-Up bags. In 20/20 hindsight, leaving dog betting and rope toys in the trailer in folded-up wire crates was pretty stupid. (They were sent to the garbage or washing machine as appropriate on Sunday) The rain and later sun and wind seemed to have quickly eliminated the bit of mouse-funk. Turned out we could have left the handtruck at home, we could pull right up to our space and the ground was not squashy.

After morning court everybody seemed to head out of the barn and across the way to the merchants. Specifically, to us. I'm not complaining, but I wouldn't have minded people browsing at other merchants or otherwise spreading out the busy-ness time-wise, so I could pay more attention to everybody.

Packing, it turned out, had been deficient. I grabbed the small bin that looks just like the one that holds hole punches, even though it's clear and you can see that it does not. Nor did I pack the rotary punch, or a mallet. So we may have lost a couple sales of buckled belts, since we had no way to put the holes in them. Although we did still sell a couple, to people who had or could borrow hole punches. We also forgot to put out the dog leashes and collars, which was a D'OH moment, as the Queen had said she wanted hounds at the event.
Note: a half-grown Borzoi has a wonderfully soft wavy/curly coat and is very good at the "nobody loves me" face.

By lunchtime the sun came out, and in the afternoon the breeze picked up. By mid-afternoon I'd taken down the walls we'd hung, because of the wind. The scaffolding/belt rack attacked Ron in the afternoon, because non-centered loading (intrinsic to how we have the actual belt-rack part of it), gravity, and wind pressure are like that. A nice customer helped stand it up and hold it while Ron made the short walk to the parking area for stakes from the truck.

I had a minor fail and bought some "butter" amber. Need to take it with me tomorrow night and see about getting it re-strung with a clasp, currently it's on two separate bits of fishing line.

Very tired when we got home, but happy.

Sunday Ron supervised Robin unpacking the truck, while I ran out for more small bins, to re-pack some of the things that are in big bins, which just get too heavy when full. We also retired our very first merchandise bin, which is about the size of a footlocker trunk, but maybe 2/3 as tall. I remember the days when it held *everything*, sniff sniff. It's still in good shape, just has that heavy-when-full problem, and it really isn't modular with the rest of the bins. Now we're down to two heights of Rubbermaid Roughneck bins.

I didn't update inventory with the new pouches before we left, but I did print out the list of pouches, so once I got everything else put out, I went through the new stuff, and got it on the list. Ron and I had the price list and sales tax cheat-sheets as PDFs on our phones, but I also need to remember to bring a paper copy of the price list, in case of low batteries, etc. And pack the hole punch and a mallet.

Haven't done the books from the event yet, but I need to get working on making more stuff. Some of the types of pouches were looking rather sparse by the end of the day...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Waffle waffle

My incentive to work on the pouches kinda fell off - I think finding the stash of finished ones had something to do with that.  So did the whole truck question, even though I had a contingency plan (and friends offered a contingency plan to my contingency plan).  Most of the pouch cutting-out binge is still unfinished, never did look any more for the frogs, and I didn't even go through the finished pouches (both recent and the found stash) and update inventory.

But we did get the truck back in time!  Wednesday afternoon.  There was much happy.  I think Ron was secretly disappointed not to have it totalled and try to replace it with a big pick-em-up truck.  But there we are.

And even once we got the truck back, there was more waffling: 
  • Who would go, who would stay home?
  • One-day, or stay tonight?   Where and how stay, if so?
  • One person stay, other commute?
  • Whole big damn trailer, or just a truck load?
  • Weather 
  • Ron and I don't actually like spending our weekends apart
The staying home question is dog-related, in part.  Too long a day for them to be home alone, and taking them requires either taking both vehicles or the big damn trailer, provided they're even welcome.  I'm not assuming they are.

At one point my preliminary plan was to take Robin and a truck-load of merchandise and two easy-ups, and leave him overnight.  Then I looked at the travel time - closer to one hour than two.  Plus the weather thing: easy-ups are not good when it comes to wind and any but straight down plain rain.  Leaving Robin alone overnight to deal with weather could be Bad.  Hotels can get expensive.  Ron and I are getting too old for this camping shit.  Yadda yadda.

And we still haven't packed the truck, or even started hauling stuff out of nooks and crannies and sorting.  Although we finally did decide that Ron and I would do a get up ghu-awful early daytrip and leave Robin home.   

Yesss, precious, it's gonna be an interesting evening around the Otter den, oh yes indeedy...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Workitty Work Work

Much progress made on pouches over the weekend.

It was too [expletive] hot on Saturday to do much more than hide in the air-conditioned bedroom, and although yesterday was cooling off to almost-comfortable temperatures, we still spent a fair amount of time hiding in the cool room.

However, I did find the various pouch parts that were scattered around the house.  I set up a synchronization rule to keep Otter’s books up to date on my laptop (they’ve been living on Ron’s desktop the last couple years), and checked inventory.  Fortunately, before I started cutting much out, I found a stash of finished but not into the inventory spreadsheet pouches.  Revise list of what I need to make.

Cut out about a dozen soft pouches, or pieces thereof, and got a half-dozen to the point where the lacing is the only thing left to do.  I also made a bunch of belt loops, since my stash is hiding (glares around the room waiting for them to slink out and show themselves).  I probably did too much, my wrists and hands are grumbling at me today.

I failed to find the belt frogs that are in various stages of completion.  I wasn’t particularly looking for them when I was rooting around the dining room, so another pass through should bring them to light.

I need to check the weather forecast and see when it’s likely to be cool enough to get the pot of wax out and work on the stash of hard pouches I’ve got – a good half dozen of those.  

Haven’t checked the belt inventory yet, but IIRC it should be in reasonable shape.  Also need to check on where we are with book covers, checkbooks, etc.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is this thing still on?

Umm . . . rather a long hiatus, eh?  Since mid-April . . .

(Writing this in bits and pieces through the day, to be posted
tonight, since blogger doesn't play nice with my iPhone and I haven't
migrated to WordPress - a painless process, but I haven't poked at my
personal blog to figure out customizing colors, etc.)

Well, Otter has been napping since then.  Suffice it to say that
MuseCon ate my brain, and Ron's.  Ron was convention chair, I did
publications, signage, and (theoretically, anyway), public relations.
MuseCon Zero was this past weekend, August 6th through 8th.  I'm

At some point in the last month or so I'd started to feel guilty about
neglecting the business, but realized there was no hope until after
MuseCon.  So I decided that I'd wake Otter back up once MuseCon was
over.  I've succeeded so far, yesterday morning I dug out some soft
pouches in progress and finished not one, but two; they're just the
half-soft size, and one already had the flap done, but I'm pleased
with myself.

We'd done a presentation about "Leather for Costuming" at MuseCon,
which had helped the waking-up, because I had to root around and find
a selection of tools and materials, so I knew where to look for the
bits I didn't take to the convention.  Last night I dug out the rest
of the soft pouches in progress, tonight I may see what I've got going
on with hard pouches. And I may see if I can get a couple more soft
pouches ready for assembly - I've got three or four cut out, but no
farther.  Heat and humidity provided, or by moving up to the
air-conditioned bedroom.

A month from now is the Fox Hunt and Ayreton Investiture event - most
of the greater-Chicago-area groups are amalgamating into a Barony, and
that event is the official investiture.  I figure it should be a good
event - Fox Hunt is usually decent, and there should be plenty of
extra people for the investiture.  Plus it's a bit south-ish
(Earlsville, IL), a direction we only go lately for Fox Hunt.

The problem is, on the way home from MuseCon Monday morning the
Durango had a close encounter of the crunchy kind with a semi truck.
Specifically, the rear end of the durango and the nose of the semi did
not successfully share space/time.  The passenger side rear quarter of
the Durango is a mess.  A big mess.  Hopefully the frame is not.  No
humans were damaged, only the semi, the Durango, a cooler, and a
cardboard box.  We are very happy with that state of affairs, as it
could have been much, much worse.

If this was a small fender-bender I wouldn't be worried about getting
the Durange back in time for Fox Hunt. As it is, I have concerns.
Yesterday I checked on the list prices of cargo vans from Enterprise
(where we've currently got a rental car from) and U-Haul.  $200-$225.
Unless we can swap out the rental car for a van for that weekend, or
otherwise get the rental of a van covered, I don't forsee doing Fox
Hunt.  But I'm trying to wait and see what we hear from the shop (had
the Durango dropped off by lunchtime Monday - no point in waiting) and
the trucking company's insurance company.

Going through my Weaver catalog I've found a couple new hardware bits
I'm drooling over - a 1-3/4" strap keeper, and a T-junction piece used
in creating the ear loops on bridles.  Both are the fancy engraved
stainless steel with black accents like some rings and buckles I get
from them.  The T piece is caaalling to me, I need to figure out
something to do with it.  There's also some very inexpensive harness
bellies on the odd lot list that I'm trying to ignore, that would be
great for pouches, if they have any left.  But I have to at least wait
until payday, probably best to wait until September.  But I don't
wanna!  Want to shop and play with new bits and pieces!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

More Grumblies

We've got a "contact us" form on the website.  It's supposed to be set up so that just hitting the "submit" button on a blank form doesn't do anything, but blank e-mails keep coming through.  I suspect some automated annoy-a-tron is filling in spaces or something.  Although heaven knows why, there's no "respond-to" address attached to them.

Today, however, I got one with an e-mail address and this message:

"We are interested to increase traffic to your website, please get back to us in order to discuss the possibility in further detail."

Riiiiight.  I know there's some interesting little quirks between UK and US English, such as the construction "difference to" being normal on the other side of the big pond.  However, I don't think the above "interested to" construction is one of those quirks. 

I am tempted to respond that I'm not interested in hiring someone to promote my website who doesn't have a firm grasp of English grammar.  I am also reminding myself that responding to spammers just confirms your e-mail address is valid. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Credit Card Grumbles

Saturday night I decided that accepting credit cards was more expensive than it was worth:  at minimum it costs $280/year, and I don't think being able to accept credit cards has brought in that much in additional sales, much less profit. 

Growf.  It's only been two years since I started taking them (seems more like three).  My contract has a three-year term, with a $295 early-termination fee.  I was thinking it was two years, but the paperwork says three.  And the salescritter that assured me that insufficient sales to support the cost would be an adequate reason for early termination of the contract was apparently incorrect.  My bad for not getting it in writing.  At least I think I don't have that in writing, I do have to dig out my notes and double-check.  But I'm pretty sure it's only in my scribbled notes. 

The customer rep. I talked to did offer to take back my terminal in lieu of the early termination fee.  That's a possibility.

There is one possible out, which I need to the paper copies refer to my latest statements about - last year about this time I argued my way out of an extra $100/year fee for security hoo-ha.  If they try to push that one through again, I will be canceling, I was thiiis far from canceling over it last year (as in, I told them to cancel my account, and they managed to get me exempted so I wouldn't).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Event Schedule

Yeah, I know, there isn't much of an event schedule. I was looking through my e-mail for a couple invitations I'd gotten to SCA events, and it turns out both are on the same day, which is also the same day as the April MuseCon meeting. Which is also the day of Robin's 2nd-degree Black Belt test.

It's been several years since Robin last tested, and it's pretty certain Master Villari will be there. You can guess which we're going to. :)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New Website Branch - Under Construction

I think I've finally figured out what I want to do when I grow up. Is there a problem with the fact that it took me until age 43 to do so? Hope not.

Anyway, my current day-job is not it. I want to Design Things. I'm not, I'm reviewing other engineers' work. I suppose I could try to break out of my rut and jump over to the design side of Civil Engineering, buuuuut . . . I'm so not up on Structural issues. I wouldn't know a Finite Element if it walked up and bit me on the backside. I haven't cracked open a design code book since I graduated. Yadda yadda yadda.

So, helloooo typography. Hello publications design. I like you. You're fun. I like putting words and stuff on a page and making them look good. And maybe someday Otter Necessities Design Services will actually generate some money.

Except that the page looks like carp. I can do page-layout for print, why is website design so hard? It's still just words, I don't get it . . .

Friday, February 19, 2010

Backup Options

Last week the Drobo not only lost one of its drive (the first batch we bought for it turned out to be a set of lemons, although they did make it out of warranty). It should have been able to recover gracefully onto the other three drives, except that the power supply went wonky, making it look, for a while, like it was losing a second drive, power cycle, and otherwise lose its marbles.

No problem, we thought, we backed all the important stuff from the Drobo to an on-line backup service.

Sunday Ron ordered the DVD restore. It didn't arrive until today, and Ron has started the movement of data back onto the Drobo.

If/when we determine we have actually got our data back in usable form, I'll vent some more. It hasn't been a pretty process.

At this point, I suspect our new backup scheme will be a pair of external drives to be sneaker-net rotated between home and one of our mundane offices.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taxing Taxes Taxonomy Tacks Tachs Techs Tacky Tackle

Why yes, I am babbling. On top of less than 4 hours sleep for the period of time known as Saturday night/Sunday morning and still being tired yesterday, after cleaning up some of my mess around my end of the couch, I closed out the books and did taxes yesterday.

I still do the Otter's taxes "by hand" since Otter Necessities is a partnership, and if you want a version of TurboTax that has the partnership forms you have to pay for the expensive business version. Most of the work in filling out the partnership forms for us is filling in zeroes in all the not-applicable boxes, so paying for the software to walk me through that is just not worth the cost. And fill-in-able PDFs, simplify it a bit more than writing all those zeroes by hand.

I did have some cursing and swearing about trying to save the completed PDFs in Preview, Mac's native PDF application. The fix was to take over Ron's machine to do them, while he installed Acrobat on my iFruit.

The other problem I ran into was in TurboTax. Ran error-check and audit check, etc. Federal e-file is now free, but it would be $19.95 to send it via Intuit. I decided lazy trumped cheap for that one, and followed all the prompts to pay Intuit. Only after that did TurboTax say "oops, sorry, you can't e-file an IL return where your state tax withheld is over X% of your state taxable pay, please fix this." I contacted them, a refund of my fees should be in the pipeline.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


We are not dealers at Capricon this year, we decided the other time-commitments we have Saturday and Sunday were going to make trying to be dealers on top be a gross over-commitment.

Saturday, you see, is the kickoff party for MuseCon! 8:00 pm until midnight or so. Room 1514. Look for the "Follow the Muses" signs. Full color signs. Pretty pretty signs. And bookmarks. Pretty pretty bookmarks. Admire the signs and bookmarks...

Why yes, I *am* doing Public Relations & Publications for MuseCon.

Sunday, 10:00 am until 2-ish we'll be at the MuseCon sale table.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Still More FAIL

Bad photoshop in a graphic design book (see previous post for book details).

Headdesk, headdesk, headdesk.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Author/Illustrator/Editor FAIL

Apropos of the previous "Design Fail" post,

The Rockwell typeface: is a serif font. (Serifs being the little sticky-outy bits on various letters in fonts like Times New Roman and, say . . . ROCKWELL) No wishy-washy maybe-serifs about this one, those are big chunky ones.

But "Graphic Design for Non-Designers", Tony Seddon & Jane Waterhouse, illustratons by Rick Landers, 2009, Chronicle Books, ISBN: 978-0-8118-6831-0 calls it a sans-serif.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Design Fail

I followed a link from a humor website I enjoy to a site about web design, and then a link from there to another web design site. IIRC both sites were touting themselves as social-networking resources for web designers, and also sources of great ideas, inspiration, tutorials, etc.

You might think that I'd have found them interesting and bookmarked them. Nope.

Cool design is one thing, but if the content is lame, no amount of design fripperies will save the site. And I'm sorry to say that these sites failed on the content side of the equation in very very basic ways.

* Grammar
* Spelling
* Punctuation (and spacing)
* Capitalization

Look guys, if you can't get the basics right, I'm not trusting you on the in-depth stuff. I'll forgive the odd typo (Murphy's Law should ensure there's at least one in this post), but chronic disregard of or disinterest in the basics is not cool, revolutionary, or visionary. Why should I trust your tutorial if the introductory blurb is a mess?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Print vs. Electronic Print

Over on a particularly geeky list, I put my two cents in on a conversation about the new iPad, ePub format for e-books, etc. It started when a couple people said, paraphrasing:

"The relevant Wikepidia article includes a statement that ePub isn't very good for content that uses "fancier" layouts and fiddly bits of formatting. Presumably that means newspapers, magazines, comics, technical journals, computer books and so on are going to be really hard to crowbar into the ePub standard." and another poster stated that they doubt all those really require than degree of control in layout.

I don't think they do, either. I'll put down my reasons why, since I've been cruising through all those layout books in the last few months.

Newspapers and magazines have multi-column layouts in large part because a column that's narrower than their full pages is easier to read, in that it's easier for your eyes to jump over to the beginning of the next page. If you're engaged with reading the item for a while, like a hardback book, you can do a longer line. If you're skimming, or reading short bits, a shorter line works better. Plus, short newspaper paragraphs and stories would both look silly on a wide column, and with lots of short paragraphs, a narrower column is actually more efficient.

I learned that one for myself when doing the DucKon program book. If you have lots of short lines or paragraphs, you can get more information onto your page if you have multiple/narrower columns. The experts probably have guidelines for the optimum column width given this type size and that typical paragraph length and whatnot, but that's neither here nor there. Look at print fiction books - I suspect the usual size of a hardback evolved partly because that's about a maximum comfortable line length.

If you look at (older) newspapers and professional journals that have very few illustrations, they still use multiple columns. It isn't something that's done solely to allow incorporation of illustrations, etc.

Now, for items like PDAs, E-readers, netbooks, and such, the screen itself isn't very wide, so you get away from the need for multiple columns in order to get a comfortable line length. And even on wider-screen displays, like a larger laptop or big desktop monitor, you can re-size your window to give you a comfortable line length - I do this if I'm reading something from Gutenberg on my laptop or desktop.

One of the other reasons for fancier layouts is, of course, getting multiple headlines "above the fold" in newspaper parlance. On the initial screen without scrolling, in web-blather. With hypertext(-ish) links, you can get a similar effect by having a list of headlines possibly with snippets so that you can jump to the rest of the story you're interested in. An RSS feed of the BBC news page would be an example.

Adding illustrations in increases the complexity. If you have something like a newspaper or magazine article where the illustration is relevant to the article as a whole, but you don't need to have a relevant bit of text and the illustration in useful proximity, you can put the articles in-line, at a convenient place like a chapter,
section, or paragraph break - I've got several E-books, I think mostly in ePub format, that do exactly that, and I think it works pretty well. It's like non-fiction print books that put photos or other illustrations in one section for production-cost reasons.

I think a lot of it is going to be the layout and design people adjusting their thinking to work with the single-column paradigm. Things that don't seem to be amenable to it now, like newspapers and magazines, probably will evolve and adapt. I expect they already are, IIRC some papers have on-line versions optimized for mobile, ie: small-screen, browsers.

Where I agree that ePub, and probably most e-book formats, are weak are the things like computer books and other technical publications, and probably some textbooks, where you need this bit of text and this illustration, formula, or whatever, and you need to be able to look at both at the same time. That's tougher to do when you don't can't control screen/page breaks, etc.

I also find electronic publications less useful for things where I use them by flipping around or back and forth a lot, not reading from start to finish, even with linking. That's why I like software that comes with paper, not just electronic, manuals. (although that's kind of a lost fight) It's why I can see e-books working for some textbooks, but not others: an example being my son's math textbook, where he's going back and forth between the problems he's working and the examples.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hey, Where'd my InDesign Post Go?!?

I could have sworn that I posted last night about fun with InDesign. But here it isn't. Grumble.

Last week I finished up a sample Program Book, laid out landscape format, left-bound, 8.5 x 11"-ish pages (so a spread is 22" wide). Part of the reason for that layout is that most people have their computer monitors in landscape mode, which is more condusive to landscape pages. I'm fairly happy with how it came out.

Then I decided to make something smaller. I decided to go with folded letter-size pages, and waffled between doing landscape layout with a top binding, or a normal (ie: boring) left-binding. I decided to go with the boring choice, for several reasons (not necessarily in order):

  • If you view it as a PDF as spreads, it'll match most monitors.
  • I don't have to make the decision for a top-bound book of having "up" always be toward the spine, or have it set up like a calendar, so everything on one spread is up.
  • Easier to wrap my head around arranging the pages correctly for printing, if I couldn't figure out how to get InDesign to do it.
I couldn't leave well enough alone, so I messed around with my style set for the new small book. Not sure which set of fonts I like better.

But I did cut and paste of content over from the big sample book. No, I couldn't just use the usual "Lorem Ipsum" filler text, I went and made up lots of silly content, or scavenged from things like my "Moose Hunt" SCA event ad from my "Writing Event Ads" article, and role-playing game backgrounds/characters.

Meanwhile, Ron converted some artwork he'd made for me to greyscale.

The next trick was printing. So far, I've only printed individual single-sided pages to fake book layouts, or I've shipped things off to professional printers who invoke technology to go from pages in numerical order to actual print layouts. I knew InDesign could do said magic, but I wasn't sure if a plug-in would be required.

Poking around, we figured out that it wasn't possible from my first method of creating the book (separate documents assembled into an InDesign "book"). Probably because that method is really meant for big long real books that you would send to a professional printer, not little short documents that you would actually consider printing as a booklet.

Cut-and-paste and manual entry of some items I'd made gratuitous use of technology to automate resulted in converting it to one document. Test booklet printing to a PDF and VOILA!

So cool! The software sliced and diced and put my pages back together on sheets of (virtual) paper in the right order! I was seriously amused by it, yes.

Today's task, poking around to see if there are any free/cheap InDesign plug-ins to do printing from an InDesign book document package.

Ron, who has access to a printer that can do double-sided printing, confirms my suspicion that I need to fiddle a bit with margins and page number locations.

Hey, one advantage of losing last night's post, this one is longer and probably makes more sense.