Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Battle of Black and Dogs at Yale Rep

Pointless. Dated. Gratuitous in more ways than I care to describe. Go out to dinner instead.

Should I mention that the actors did a great job with awful material or that the lighting and set were fully up to Yale Rep standards? All that’s true, but there is still no reason to subject yourself to this black dog of a play.

What is this font good for?

People who notice for the first time that they have at their disposal a great many fonts they’ve never used remind me of a three-year-old who can just reach the dessert tray at a buffet and decides to lick them all to see which one she likes.

Ooh! Isn’t this one pretty? I wonder what I can use it for.

It seems to me that the right question to ask is this: How can I solve my design problem? In answering that question, I’m sure I’ll find an appropriate font, but font selection is the output of the design analysis, not the input.

Fonts are like buttons in your grandmother’s button box. The reason she kept a box full of buttons was that it increased her chances of finding the button she needed when she needed a button. She didn’t stare at the box wondering what she could use them for. Ooh! Isn’t this one pretty? I wonder what I can use it for. No. If a garment turned up in the laundry missing a button, she could then go to the button box and look for a suitable replacement. She began with the design problem and went to the button box to solve it, not the other way around.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The age of bloviation

I’m editing an organizational history of an educational institution (for an upcoming major anniversary/fund-raising opportunity). It’s organized chronologically and contains a great many quotations from people active in the respective decades, gleaned either from their published writings or from author interviews.

The chapters have been coming to me in order, and I’ve noticed something.

The early chapters are fascinating. The people being quoted are long retired and have polished their anecdotes through frequent retelling. (In fact, some are deceased and the anecdotes are secondhand, retold by their adult children.) The stories are tight, pointed, and interesting.

But the most recent chapter I’ve received concerns the early careers of people nearing retirement age who are still working, still attending conferences, still schmoozing their colleagues, still getting grants, still asking favors. Their interview quotes are boring as hell. They pepper their answers with lists of names of people they want to be sure to flatter; they summarize their career accomplishments (or at least the stuff they’ve done that they’re proudest of, even if it’s not interesting to anyone else or relevant to the subject of the book); they pull their punches on any anecdote that might be amusing if you knew who it was about. The whole chapter is leaden.

This is not an editing problem. The author and I will tighten it up as much as organizational politics permit, and life will go on. I just think it’s fascinating how people in a given stage of their careers exhibit such a consistent response, in the way they write, to the external pressures that come to bear at that stage.

This is similar to the phenomenon that middle managers in hierarchical organizations have enough similarities in their behavior that Dilbert—along with countless sitcoms—resonates with nearly everyone who has ever worked in a cubicle farm. They’re not evil people, even if the way they behave, driven by the organizational structure, makes them seem that way.

We think we’re in control of our own actions, but quite often we’re deluding ourselves.

Friday, April 09, 2010

A step in my spring

Garden diary department

[Spring blooming in my yard for the last three years summarized here]

Step 1. Here it is April 9. Andromeda, weeping cherry, Bradford pear, early azalea (that one cerise or magenta variety that used to be the only one you could get in the Northeast, not the more modern ones), and the forsythia are all more or less in peak bloom. The magnolia, which only fully opened yesterday has begun to drop petals already. This is the earliest any of these have bloomed since I have kept these notes.

Step 2. The remainder of the azaleas, the rhododendrons, and the wisteria are not even hinting any awareness of spring. Perhaps the winter was not kind to them this year. But last year it was the third week of May before they were fully involved; so there is time yet.

I post these notes for myself. If other gardeners are interested, so be it. For the rest of you, move along. Nothing happening here.