Albert J. Petron

Albert J. Petron worked in a top secret bunker, monitoring the private communications of his fellow citizens and reporting them to his superiors in an un-named intelligence agency. He had no idea if anything actually happened as a result of his reports, but figured he should probably continue filing them if he wanted to keep his job.

He was only allowed out of the bunker one day a year. Ordinarily, he chose to take this on his birthday, but as this fell in December, he usually spent it being cold and miserable. This year, however, Albert didn’t take his one special day in the bleak midwinter and waited until early April.

As he stepped out through the blast doors, Albert he felt a light breeze run through his hair and caught the faint scent of apple blossom. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, he turned to face the sun, the light of which – magnified through his coke-bottle glasses – concentrated into two white-hot beams and burned his fucking eyes out.

Open Source Design Software Workflow

  • Identify software for task
  • Download
  • Attempt install
  • Download dependencies
  • Install dependencies
  • Install software
  • Start software
  • Use just long enough to gain confidence
  • Begin chosen task
  • Re-attempt task
  • Re-attempt task
  • Google reasons for software failure
  • Read 3 year old forum post detailing solution on previous version on completely different OS
  • Google barely understood concepts like “bash scripts” and “compile from source”
  • Look at clock
  • Contemplate mortality
  • Torrent Adobe
  • Complete task

“A Little Off The Top” in Postscripts #32/33

postscripts-32-33-far-voyager-hardcover-edited-by-nick-gevers-2524-p[ekm]226x317[ekm]I have a story called A Little Off The Top in the latest Postscripts anthology, “Far Voyager”.

The hardback edition is £30 from www.pspublishing.co.uk

That may seem a little steep, but it has a wide range of great stories.

I’m not sure what I can post here, so I’ll just copy and paste my little blurb from the beginning.

“I’ve always liked the idea that medieval barbers used to perform surgery,” writes Tom Alexander, “and I suppose ‘A Little Off The Top’ speculates as to how that might have evolved, had the practice continued. Drinking heavily in my twenties probably inspired aspects of the story as well, so maybe it wasn’t a complete waste of time.”

Tom Alexander has several writing credits that he doesn’t like to mention in polite company. His latest work is an as-yet untitled memoir about the Amstrad PCW.

What a tit.

Nah.

Scrap that. I hate Linux. But I am seriously thinking that the Chromebook has to go. I’m fairly happy to trust Google with the trivial stuff, like my calendar, contacts and email (hmm…) but I think I’m going to draw the line at the things I actually create. The idea that all my work – drafts, notes, concepts, roughs and all the things that lay somewhere in between –  might suddenly disappear for some arcane violation of their Terms of Service doesn’t sit well with me.  Need to find something else.

As for doing something more meaningful…

I’m trying.

The Underground Biography

Underground Biography
tubemapcrop

Click image to open map in new tab. Click and drag to pan. Alt+click to rotate

The Underground Biography is a series of interconnected personal anecdotes based on and around the London Underground. It is a development and expansion of an earlier typographical piece called Northern Line, which had a more straightforward timeline (although the branching structure is perhaps used more effectively). I have been a life-long resident of London and have many memories connected to the tube. It was only when I started putting what I thought was going to be placeholder text into the design that I realised just how much of my life has been spent underground. Each line inspired a different memory and seemed to flow very easily onto the page.

Although it wasn’t intentional, the themes of love and sex come up time and again. Perhaps it’s because of trains and tunnels, either way it struck me as sort of funny. For a while, I was toying with the idea of calling it “Lay-Lines”, but I didn’t have enough related anecdotes for every branch of the network. Call it a work in progress.

The initial mapping happened very quickly, but there’s been a lot of tweaking since then. The process of writing to fill a particular amount of space (combined with a desire to make station names match up with their approximate location on the real London tube map) meant there was a lot of editing, tweaking of curves and minute adjustments to kerning. There are still lots of rough edges but it’s at least in a state where I could leave it alone for a while.

The other delay was finding the right presentation method. The up-down-all-around nature of the text makes it difficult to read when it’s locked to one orientation (as it would be as a regular image on a computer screen). I considered turning it into a spoken word / moving image piece, but it (or I) felt too self-conscious. What I really wanted was for the reader to be able to explore the map in their own way and thought that being able to drag, rotate and zoom around the text would be the best method to accomplish this. I’m not really a programmer, but figured there would be a simple method to accomplish this in a web page. After all, Google does it all the time in their maps, so how hard could it be? I soon found out. One of the problems with not being a programmer is that when you want something programmed you don’t necessarily know where to start. I tried Processing for a while, thinking that I could use the processing.js library to put it on the web. I could see that this was a roundabout method, but Processing seemed geared to interactive visuals and I knew at least a little bit about how it works. But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and while I was able to pan, rotate and zoom the image, I couldn’t get all three things working at the same time. I also tried timeline based systems like Hype and Adobe Edge Animate because I’m more comfortable with a GUI and a timeline than I am with a blank code window. Again, I could get some of the elements working, but not all of them at once and not in a manner that was satisfactory.

Eventually, I found OpenLayers 3, which is a Javascript library for open-source mapping on the internet. After a lot of Googling and consulting a Javascript reference book I bought, I had a version that worked well enough. This tends to be how my relationship with the technical side of creativity works – I learn just enough to do the task at hand and no more. It leads to a lot of frustration.

More pertinently, the Underground Biography was the start of a distinct phase in which I explored more personal themes through a combination of typography, design and non-fiction writing.

Other things worth noting while we’re on the subject: it was all laid out in Illustrator, using text on paths and exported as an SVG. It uses the P22 Underground typeface, which was purchased from Typekit. Obviously, there’s a massive debt to Harry Beck and his successors, who designed the tube map, as well as Edward Johnston and subsequent typographers.

The tube map is always changing and the version this work is based on doesn’t exist any more. The Circle Line now has a terminus at Hammersmith, but didn’t when the events detailed here took place.

Thanks to Tim & Tom at Codecircus for their technical help.

Birdman

Saw this. Liked it. Michael Keaton now justifiable as favourite actor, which takes the shine off him a little bit. Loved the long takes and seamlessness of it all. Technically, it’s one of the most accomplished things I’ve seen in a long time.

But it’s another film that uses another art form to prove its intelligence. Theatre is fine, but I don’t think it has any more or less validity than moving images. Maybe that’s part of what the filmmakers were saying. I don’t know. But that fetishisation was sort of disappointing.

Great performances, though. Agree that female cast great without exception. Even liked Edward Norton, although he did play a prick so that meant he had a win-win situation with me, as I’ve never really liked him as an actor.

All drums on the soundtrack. Good. Again, though, jazz as shortcut to “proper art” art. Haven’t seen “Whiplash” yet, but am a little disappointed that it’s another work lionising Jazz. While these studies of professional obsession could be about anything, they seldom are. It always seems to default to high art: Jazz, ballet, painting, classical. All fine, but covered extensively already. Where are the films about zip-makers, garden gnome painters or death metal accordionists? I’m not saying these films would be better, but they would at least be different and give us insights into something other than the same old bollocks.

Anyway. “Birdman”. Liked it. Probably didn’t love it. But admire the ambition and the fact that they pulled it off.

Why I Left Squarespace

When I had no money, I pined for Squarespace. It seemed to be everything I was looking for – well designed templates with an interface that meant I didn’t have to get my hands dirty with HTML or Php.

After a year or so with it, I’ve moved away and am turning to a self-hosted WordPress system. This was probably what I should have done from day one, but that’s neither here nor there.
Squarespace has its merits and I think for a lot of people it could be a really good solution. But it’s not for me. Using it felt like I was wearing a tight white sweater: constructive and so immaculate that I was terrified of making a mess. But I’m a messy guy. I like a bit of mess, particularly in my work. It’s probably not a very mature outlook, but my inner teenager still equates mess with freedom. Slopping things together is very much part of my process and Squarespace’s tidy aesthetic goes beyond design and into the heart of their product. I found that I couldn’t fit into its template of what a good website should be and that a lot of its choices were either/or when I wanted both.

Squarespace offers a 2 week trial and I found it was great in that time. It was only as time went on that I found it unworkable. Some things were unsuitable for me and part of that’s down to tangibly frustrating technical things (their handling of blog excerpts, for example) and then there are other, less definable things. I never liked the drag and drop interface, and it felt as if things never dropped quite where I wanted them. More than that, though, I found I never wanted to write use it to write. It was like one of those luxury notebooks that seems too good to spoil. No good for a working writer.

I get the impression that it’s better for catalogues and photography than stories and weird papery things. If you do any of those things, then give it a whirl. It felt a little like Apple in that it provides one way of doing things and if that way suits you, maybe you’ll never need anything else.  After a long trial period (including a cancellation and re-subscription) I think I’m going to stay on WordPress.

At least until I get sick of it.