All Posts in Writing

April 9, 2013 - Comments Off on Forcing a login to unsubscribe is Fail

Forcing a login to unsubscribe is Fail

I subscribe to a LOT of newsletters. I pretty much sign up for whatever comes around, because I want to see how people are presenting themselves through email. Sometimes I get tired of a certain channel, or I just wholesale cut back on newsletters.

Recently I've noticed a couple of services make me log in to unsubscribe from emails. This is for them.

Maybe you think it will keep me from unsubscribing, maybe it's just the way your "community-management" package works. As the visitor / email recipient / unsubscriber, I don't remotely care why I'm being horribly inconvenienced:

  • After clicking the "unsubscribe" button, I'm taken to a login page.
  • The password to the site I never visit doesn't work. Twice.
  • I click the "password help" button, and get a reset link in my email.
  • I click it, create a new password, type it in again, and (hopefully) am logged in.
  • Sometimes I have to actually log in after creating the password.
  • There's no "unsubscribe" button to be seen.
  • I go back to my email and click the "unsubscribe" button on the original email newsletter.
  • I'm Unsubscribed! Yay! Sixty-five button presses later.
  • I send a snarky support email to the site in question. And write a snarky blog post.

See what happened there? Now I HATE you.

You should make unsubscribing easy and painless, especially if you are a charity that relies on the goodwill of strangers. Don't make me think you're a graceless, desperate, selfish clod who is bad at the internet.


June 28, 2012 - Comments Off on A good UI designer is lazy and stupid

A good UI designer is lazy and stupid

A headhunter asked me "why do you think you're a good UI designer?"

Instead of saying, "because I've spent a dozen years constantly figuring out how to make complicated software accessible to normal people," I said what I really thought: "I'm a good UI designer because I'm lazy and stupid, and will rage-quit anything that isn't easier than cracking open a beer."

Hmm. Discretion might well be the better part of valor.

April 22, 2012 - Comments Off on Find a Font online

Find a Font online

What the Font vs What Font Is

I've been using What the Font for several years to find fonts for graphics my clients send me. "We have a logo, but it's a tiny jpeg." I rebuild (vectorize) clients' logos pretty regularly, since even resizing for the web can make them blurry.

Today I downloaded some iPhone and Android template PSDs, and saw a new "font finder" website at Curious, I tested it with a pair of jpegs I used last week to find a font. I'm sticking to

Font-finding Tests

1. JPG one:

What The Font: Pre-loaded the correlating letters, lots of errors and split-images (drag them over each other to combine). Showed five fonts*, none of which were correct. Fail, but I didn't have to work too hard to know it had failed - see below.

What Font Is: Failed to load image. Repeatedly. Fail.

2. JPG two (inverted for clarity):

What The Font: Pre-loaded the matching characters, 90% correct. Showed me 5 fonts, with the correct one first. The next four were all the same font with different names. Win.

What Font Is: Didn't pre-load correlating letters; lots of split images. Showed 100 fonts, none of which were correct, starting with "Duck Duck No. 2" and "Cooper Black." Cooper Black, I tell you! Hard Fail.


WhattheFont processed both my images, gave me short lists, and found the font.
WhatFontIs only processed one image, gave me a giant list of bad matches, did not find the font.

What The Font has a funny name. "What the FONT?!
has an anti-grammatical name that would work if it was on an Italian TLD (ie: "")

* WhatTheFont allows linkable results. Useful for blog posts, and presenting options to clients. Links EXPIRE quickly.
What Font Is
has no linkability, But I can save the list of 100 wrong fonts to my account, if I had one... No thanks.


April 21, 2012 - Comments Off on iPad Bike Bag

iPad Bike Bag

The bag I want to make. by BikeTinker
The bag I want to make., a photo by BikeTinker on Flickr.

My concept for a bicycle handlebar bag that can mount an iPad in the lid for maps, cue sheets, phone calls and videography (the right-angle camera periscope is the interesting idea here).

You'll see these. It's such a good idea (I think), that someone's making a prototype right now. I should cancel my meeting tomorrow and do it myself...

I drew this with Sketchbook Pro, my new favorite toy.

April 4, 2012 - Comments Off on 35mm film in a 120 camera (sprocket holes)

35mm film in a 120 camera (sprocket holes)

I used to make "sprocket hole" photos, by running 35mm film through a 120 camera. I invented it, but you see it everywhere now. If you can prove you made one of these images before 1992, I'll give you a framed picture of Angelina in Edinburgh. Anyway, this is the method I used, and may use again. The impetus was the usual, "poverty begets invention" story: my 35mm camera broke right after I bought 100 feet of 35mm film. I had no money, a lot of film, and a 120 Ciroflex camera I'd bought at the Sausalito Flea Market for $12. "I bet I can use this stuff to make some photographs... otherwise, I fail the class."

sprocketparts by BikeTinkersprocketparts, a photo by BikeTinker on Flickr.

Cut down the 120 film spool right at each ‘window.’ Slice the 35mm spool at the ‘step.’ Everything fits perfectly, to let you put two 35mm spools into a 120 camera. One empty, one full.

sprocketrolls by BikeTinkerThe whole operation can be done with a pocket knife. It’s like the Civil War all over again, but with fewer maggots, and more sprocket-hole pictures.


sprocketrolls, a photo by BikeTinker on Flickr.

April 1, 2012 - Comments Off on Anaïs Mitchell at the Wildwood Hotel

Anaïs Mitchell at the Wildwood Hotel

This was so good. My friend Peter did the artwork for Anais' Hadestown album. Here she is playing down the road from me, at a cool and funky venue. I got to chat with Anaïs about Peter, and bought the new album. It was a moving and elegant show, in front of about 40 people at the Wildwood Hotel.

I love how people would quiet down and listen as Anaïs got into each song. This is Neil Young's "For the Turnstiles," and "Goodnight Irene," the encore songs. The Nex and the vintage Zeiss lens did a good job with the low light.

Katie at the Wildwood offers a room for a night or two, in exchange for a set in the bar. Coming through Portland? Want a day off from the road? Give her a call.

March 3, 2012 - Comments Off on My Usability Philosophy

My Usability Philosophy

Edward Tufte's books on information design and Donald Norman's books on usability continue to influence me. When I first read it, "The Design of Everyday Things" explained the principles behind things I had noticed all my life. "Why do I pull this door when it clearly says push?" Because it has a handle on this side, and handles are for pulling. I continually read articles and discussions on usability and information design but these are what got me looking at the world this way, and they are still the sources I go back to. I also like Steve Krug's book "Don't Make Me Think," which is worth it for the title alone.

These are the basic people-centric principles I try to keep in mind:

  1. Be clear. The layout and language should set and meet expectations.
    • Clarity is in the mind of the beholder. Is the proper information and action clear to your intended user?
  2. Be responsive. When someone does something, let them know it happened. Give feedback.
    • Tufte's idea of "the smallest effective difference" is appropriate for response cues as well as layout informational hierarchy.
  3. Be forgiving. If a person does the wrong thing, allow a graceful recovery.
    • We're building tools for people to use, not tests for them to fail.
  4. Be visually appropriate. Any design needs to reinforce the overall story you are telling.
    • The look and feel of the design sets the stage for the actions people will take.

I subscribe to the Nielsen/Norman newsletters (along with some 80,000 other people) for usability information on new devices, intranets, etc. The basic principles the Nielsen/Norman Group uncover in their studies seem to stay the same, even though the devices and uses change. In a recent newsletter, Jakob Nielsen said, "Technology changes quickly, but people's brains stay the same." As long as we're designing things for people, we should keep the same fundamentals in mind.

February 19, 2012 - Comments Off on Angenieux lens love at B&H Photo

Angenieux lens love at B&H Photo

I went to B&H Photo when I was in New York. It's a Mecca for photographers (funny simile), and I thought they might have a lenscap for the old P. Angenieux lens. The business end of the lens is very small, with a 44mm outside diameter, and I hadn't been able to find a lenscap to fit it.

I went up and got in line for the next available helper at the SLR counter, which is a row of maybe 25 clerks seated behind a counter that runs the length of the store. The store is half a city block. The person directly in front of me became available, and I explained that I wanted a lenscap that was much smaller than normal, and hard to find.

He said, in a light Eastern European accent, "For SLR?"

I said, "Yes, it's an Angenieux," and started to pull it out of my bag and unwrap the balaclava and cycling cap that was protecting it.

"I was afraid you were going to say that," he said, taking the lens. "You will never find a metal cap for this lens."

"Pinch-cap is fine," I said. The Angenieux caps I've seen on eBay are always about $90.

He rotated the barrel of the lens, racking it out, "Mm. That's actually pretty smooth."

I said, "It's a little beat-up, but it's a good lens. It takes nice pictures."

He looked at me. "Takes nice pictures." He paused, and I thought he was going to give me a lecture on photographers taking nice pictures, not lenses. Instead, he announced, very distinctly, "This is the best lens on the floor." It gave me a chill.

What? Behind him, I could see giant multi-thousand dollar Nikon lenses. This is B&H. It is filled with legendary lenses. This was the best lens on the floor? It turned out that the clerk was the biggest Angenieux fan in the entire world, and I had randomly walked up to him and pulled out one of his favorite lenses. He turned to the young woman next to him and said, "See this? This is the lens I was telling you about!"

Over the course of finding me a $12 plastic push-on cap, and getting it sent up from the basement ("have you ever seen that place? It is more impressive than the rest of the store put together"), he told me about the unique color properties of the Angenieux lenses (which I'd noticed), their semi-affordable c-mount movie camera lenses, and the Optimo lenses they now make. B&H can order them; they cost $20,000. He was pleased to see the Zeiss Biotar ("Bee-otar") on the Nex, and we talked about the new Sony 5N and 7. I want the 5N.

My little lens cap errand in New York made my day.


April 9, 2011 - Comments Off on What is it about stick figures that make you want to kill them?

What is it about stick figures that make you want to kill them?

stick figure sprints into a wall

My 10 year old son downloaded the free "Pivot" stick figure animation program, and I started playing with it this morning. This is my first go at using Pivot, but Max has been animating dramatic fight scenes with Halo guns and characters he created.

As soon as I started making a 'walk,' I turned it into a run, and then I had to smack him off the side of the frame. I kept making the bounces bigger, and for some reason the twitch at the end cracks me up.

March 9, 2011 - Comments Off on London Rinpoche

London Rinpoche

I have an idea for a music video about a 1979 British Mod who is also a Nepali rinpoche - the reincarnation of a Buddhist saint.

Set to this: Surf City by The 101ers, Joe Strummer's band before the Clash.

:00 A thin asian boy on a vespa turns into an English street of brick fronts and short steps.
He parks and runs up the steps to ring a doorbell.
He waits, agitated, but no one's home.
:20 He's in full mod drag - fancy clothes, nice shoes, overcoat.
Walking back to his scooter, he flashes out a kick at a trashcan.
He vrooms off.
:30 snogging in an alley, he fumbles at her breast.
She slaps his hand,
but kisses his hurt look away.
:37 He watches a double decker bus pull away from the curb.
:45 Lighting incense,
prayer flags on a London balcony.
:56 A prayer wheel spinning round fades to
Nepali characters painted on his Vespa wheels,
and he's riding again, through the countryside.
1:12 He's standing on a stone balustrade,
looking at the sea,
the wind whipping his air force parka.
1:30 He's throwing things into the sea.
Prayer wheels, stones,
1:40 He's walking with the girl,
and three skinheads in suspenders and boots approach.
She watches them defiantly,
but he turns his head in the parka hood so they can't see his face.
She's pale and English. He is not.
1:48 Tea in a cafe, just the two of them.
1:53 They're on the Vespa, she's behind him, arms around him.
She's standing on the same steps as the beginning.
A black London taxi pulls away from the curb into traffic
He's riding.
2:04 He's standing on the beach, wind whips the foam off the storm waves
2:15 He's kneeling in red Tibetan/Nepali robes. Men in red robes are moving around, lighting candles.
2:28 The girl is in a library, a big book in front of her, with pictures of mountains and monasteries.
2:35 She opens a travel brochure with an airline ticket inside. One way to lukla nepal LUA.She stands up.

March 2, 2011 - Comments Off on Donald Norman is meticulous and communicative

Donald Norman is meticulous and communicative

I get Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox newsletters on usability design (as everyone should). He invented cheap UX prototyping, and is partners with Donald Norman in the Neilsen/Norman group of usability consultants. Donald Norman wrote "The Design of Everyday Things," among other seminal works on creating things well for humans to use easily.

The other day I clicked a link from Jakob's newsletter, to a page on his site, to a page on Donald's site about UX design for the iPad. Halfway down the page I tried to use a search box that didn't work. Figuring a usability site would want to fix a busted search box, I emailed the "contact" address to report problems, since it was the least I could do.

Reporting broken links on a valuable site really is the least you can do. It's like closing gates when hiking across someone else's land.

To my slight surprise, Donald Norman himself wrote back, and said it was an old page with a bad layout. "Yikes! I didn't realize Jakob had linked to that page!" To my greater surprise, he wrote back the next day, saying it was a bigger problem than he'd thought, but it was going to get fixed.

For me, it was a little like saying, "Hey, Tom Waits! Your shoe's untied," and him stopping me later to show me his new zippered boots.


February 20, 2011 - Comments Off on monkey golfer

monkey golfer




I had an idea for a comic (based on this craigslist rant) about a monkey with a jetpack who befriends random men and provides a secret identity and a jetpack. Cause all men desire three things: a jetpack, a secret identity as an action star, and a monkey. Possibly with his own jetpack.

Each story would be about a different guy and what happens to him with the jetpack and the secret badass identity. Then I was like "if I was that monkey, I'd just keep the jetpack and secret identities for myself."

The day after I drew this guy ("all right, spy monkey with a jetpack!"), I saw Space Chimps, which was truly awful featured like 20 minutes of jetpack-wearing monkeys.


UPDATE: Someone approached me to use this as his logo. For money. I cleaned it up and vectored it and sent it off. Cool.

November 26, 2010 - Comments Off on Crosseye 3D photos for sculptures

Crosseye 3D photos for sculptures

This turned out pretty well using a short lens (35mm), and keeping the camera parallel to the piece.

Cross your eyes until you can bring the combined "middle" image into focus. I thought the cross-eye 3D images I've been seeing on Flickr would be perfect for communicating the physicality of sculpture on the internet.

I really like the effect - suddenly there's a tiny sculpture in your screen! You can get a similar effect by focusing past the images, but you need to switch the images to make them work. If you try the "long-view 3D" on this image, the door appears cut into the panel in a weird way.

November 21, 2010 - Comments Off on Cross-eye 3D for sculpture photos

Cross-eye 3D for sculpture photos

Cross your eyes to see the 3D

I've been amusing myself with my sculpture listings on Etsy by including one shot that shows some evidence of the photographic process - my shadow on the image, the camera taking the picture, etc. Some semi-random, semi-throwaway image to use up the fifth detail shot.

For my Machine Mask Alien, I did a "crosseye 3D" shot, where I moved the tripod about four inches to the right, between shots. To see the image, you unfocus your eyes, concentrating on getting a phantom 'third' image to float in between the two images you see. In a very chi gung way, focus on that image, without forcing it. If you relax and concentrate enough at the same time, the center image should solidify into a three-dimensional (looking) image.

Cross your eyes to see the 3D

I moved the camera between shots, marking the floor where the tripod legs were, and then a spot four inches over for the other "eye." It seemed to work okay, but I've seen more striking 3D effects with this. I think that moving the camera more, or using a shorter lens might exaggerate the effect. This was shot with the zoom set at 70mm, and moving the camera about 4". I think it may help to NOT turn the camera toward the object, too, but I'll have to experiment.

As if you didn't notice... I did the same thing with the 3D glasses I made. If you create the third middle image by looking past the glasses (parallel 3D), they appear to flip over, at least for me.

November 19, 2010 - Comments Off on Cat Painting on a dictionary page

Cat Painting on a dictionary page

ozark-dictionary-page, originally uploaded by BikeTinker.

My son wanted me to make him a drawing or a painting. He's 10, and very very focused on stick figure battles as fine art, but likes my drawings okay, too. Since I wasn't that interested in drawing him an epic battle scene, and I make my stick figures "too fat," I thought I'd draw him a cat.

I did a preliminary sketch of a cat, flat orange and cartoony, using a photo of our old cat Ozark as a reference. "Oh, that's cute, Max likes cats." For the final painting on the dictionary page, though, I actually painted the actual cat. This cat was a hellion, but slept on Max's bed every night, and was just really sweet to him. He loved Ozark, and whenever we get too effusive in praising our current cats, Pippa and Penny, Max will always point out how cute Ozark was, or sweet, or brave.

Then we'll talk about what a shit he was, too.

The page has the words "unpredictable," and "unpopular," which amuses us. He made our dog's life hell. She was scared to pass him in the hall. He rode another Lab around the yard, claws dug in, while she yelped in fear, then sat behind the sliding glass door and smacked it with his paw whenever she came close. He had orange DANGER stickers on his folder at every vet he ever went to. I would offer to hold him for his shots or examinations, and the vets assistants would say, "no, I don't think that's necessary," and then five minutes later they'd say, "Mr. Williamson, can you come hold your cat?"

Oddly, every vet we took him to (we're pretty loyal, so it was only like 5 vets in the 14 years we had him from abandoned 5 week old sickly kitten to crotchety old geezer), had someone working there with the exact same cat: Orange tabby, super-sweet to them, but at war with the rest of the world. Ozark.

November 16, 2010 - Comments Off on Photographing sculptures

Photographing sculptures

A photograph of a sculpture is not the sculpture.

I try to shoot my portfolio images in RAW format, because jpegs from my camera tend toward the blue and cold. Using the RAW importer in Photoshop lets me choose the white point, which controls the color of the image.

To get the most out of an image, I open two versions in Photoshop: a warm and a cool. I stack the layers, adjust for contrast, and use the warm image for the piece, and the cool for the background. This creates tension, and makes the background recede and the object come forward.

The lighting is flat (I shot this on a covered porch on an overcast Oregon day), and the RAW and the JPG images are both soft, low contrast pictures.

To increase the contrast and sharpness, and make the image more appealing, I layered a warm and cool image together. I played with the Blend Modes, setting a copy of the image to "Hard Light" to bring in more contrast.

The thumbnail images show the layers and settings. From the bottom-most layer:

  1. COOL image as the background layer.
  2. WARM image above it, set to Hard Light, at 90%. It has a layer mask to show only the box.
  3. WARM layer copy, including mask, set to Lighten, at 34%.
  4. A Curves layer, with a simple "S" curve.

Save the large, layered PSD file, and save flat copies at web-resolution.. Later, you can go back and shut off the mask on the "Lighten" layer, or tweak the Curves, and save another copy. Non-destructive photo editing is good.

This "Workbox" sculpture is for sale in my Etsy shop.

October 20, 2010 - Comments Off on Maya – comic heroine

Maya – comic heroine

I developed this character, which was used for a demo of an interactive comic for the PlayStation2. I plotted the comic, designed the characters and drew the storyboards.

More art from this project here: PS2 Interactive Comic.

It was a pretty cool project, using 3D scenes in the PlayStation2 to tell a comic story. There were pages and panels, effects and animation. "Choose your own adventure" choices threaded through the story.

The Plot

The story opens with a young woman, Maya, making her way across the still-hot scene of a futuristic battlefield. She has, until recently, been a privileged engineering student at the elite technical college that was the focus of the short-lived war.

While stripping parts from a personnel carrier, she is attacked by a suit of mechanized armor. The body within is dead, but the combat programming will attack anything that moves. With the help of a "Spirit Cat," a holographic blue animal guide, she defeats the armor. After removing the mummified corpse inside, she repairs it for her own use.

She can now cover more ground and protect herself from the broken war machines she encounters. The spirit cat disappears, in the way that they do.

She repairs the suit's long-range sensors and communication gear, and picks up distress signals from the mountains around the plain. A young soldier, about her age, has been badly wounded in an attack on his base. He can't move far, and has bouts of confusion and disorientation. His situation gives her a destination, and his base is stocked with food and water, with defenses that might be repairable.

Maya starts to bond with this him, as she makes her way towards his position. Right after they admit to really liking each other, she's attacked, and his base comes under fire. She can hear heavy guns on his end, and communication is cut off. She hurries on, desperate.

She reaches the base at the narrow end of a steep wooded valley. It's empty, though, with no sign of her soldier, and it appears abandoned rather than overrun. As she's standing in the empty base, she receives communication contact from her injured soldier again. He admits he tricked her.

He isn't really a soldier, and he was only at the base briefly, a few weeks before. He is, in fact, the artificial combat intelligence built into her own suit. He's been right next to her the whole time, and he isn't even human. She freaks out.

She disables the suit, strips it off in a panic, and locks it behind the hardened blast doors of the abandoned base. She sits the concrete landing apron in front of the bunker, as far from the suit as she can get. Looking over the valley to the plain she just fought her way across, she trys to make sense of the last week of her life. What was a lie? What was real?

She doesn't hear the suit's sirens trying to warn her as large airships move silently up the valley to capture her...