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    Russell Viers is a Transition Expert in the publishing world. Since 1997 he has helped newspapers and magazines adapt to changes in the industry. Read more...

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  • Archive for December, 2008

    One reason I don’t write books

    Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

    I’m often asked if I have written a book or plan to write a book…and the answer is no.

    I get asked to write books from time to time by various publishers and the answer is always the same: “I’ll think about it.” Then, after 15 minutes or so…”No thanks.”

    There are many reasons I don’t want to write a book, but one of them involves my unwillingness to put something that is ever-changing, like the technology we use, into a permanent form. I just can’t think how much sleep I would lose if I wrote something in a book, then, after it was printed, realized a better way or that I was just plain wrong about something.

    An example of this is this nifty new feature in InDesign that I demonstrated awhile back at the Photoshop Convention in Munich, Germany. I was showing Adobe Bridge CS4 and all the new features…cool stuff…and wanted to show how you can use Bridge with InDesign to place graphics and text quickly.

    I selected several photos in Bridge, held down my mouse and flipped over to InDesign. This loaded my cursor in InDesign with 12 photos.

    If you’ve never used the Multi-File Place before, InDesign CS3 and CS4 allow you to cram a bunch of files for placement into the cursor for faster page layout. You can choose multiple files, including all file formats InDesign supports, including text, photos, Word, PDF, InDesign and more…very fast.

    And you can scroll through the contents of the cursor previews by banging on your right and left arrows. If there is a file you don’t want, after all, just hit escape and it will be…uh…unloaded.

    New in CS4 is the ability to hold down your Cmd/Ctrl + Shift keys and your cursor icon changes from the preview into a grid of small squares. You are now setup to place your files in a grid on your page.

    As you drag, you’ll notice there are only nine frames. You can hold down your left/right/up/down arrows to change the space between the frames, which is cool, too, but there are only nine of them.

    When you let go of your mouse, the files are placed in the newly created frames, and any files left over are still loaded for placement elsewhere.

    BUT I WANT 12 OF THEM!!!

    So this is where my reason for not wanting to write a book comes in. While demonstrating this new feature, an attendee at the conference raised his hand and said “How do I get 12 of them?”


    In my job of learning software, I try lots of things. I push buttons and hold down various key combinations to see what happens. For the life of me, I had not figured out how to get InDesign to change the number of frames from nine…and I tried everything…so I thought.

    I told him “I don’t know of a way…”

    What a loser I am.

    Well, after a few days I was playing with Bridge and InDesign again and I lifted a finger (not the way you might think) and there it was. The secret key. The hidden code. The secret passage.

    After you start drawing the grid holding down your Cmd/Ctrl + Shift keys, release your Shift key and now, if you bang on your up/down/left/right arrow keys, you will remove and add frames both horizontally and vertically, depending on which you hit. And it’s sticky, so if you create a 12-frame grid, it will be a 12-frame grid the next time you do it (this session…next time you restart InDesign it goes back to the default nine frames).

    Imagine my turmoil if I had written that in a book instead of only letting down 30 people, or so. I still lose sleep at night thinking of ways to contact those people in Munich and admitting my ignorance and showing them the missing link to total grid control.

    I need therapy.

    And finally I’ll note that even though there might be some use for this, it’s limited, in my opinion. It automatically places the photos in order of their names, and you can’t control it. So if you wanted to place photos in a certain order, that is not numeric or alphabetical based on the first character, you’re out of luck on this one

    You also can’t numerically control the spacing (gutter) between the rows and columns, so from a design perspective, it’s not as precise as I would like. What if you hit your up arrow twice and left arrow twice to create the look you want for this grid…how are you going to remember that in six months when you need to recreate it?

    But it’s fun to show your friends.

    The Music of Christmas

    Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

    As a rule, I like Christmas music.

    I think it recycles itself well, coming around once a year, like an old friend dropping by to visit for awhile. Often, when hearing a certain tune, I’ll flashback to great Christmas memories with family or friends.

    Some songs, however, are more like that annoying uncle who you wish would forget where you live. Twelve Days of Christmas, for example, is just 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall for Christmas, as far as I’m concerned. Other songs are so over played, that I’ll skip them this year, if I can.

    Here is my short list of what’s been playing on my iPod this Christmas:

    Jingle All The Way by the Crash Test Dummies is a nice retreat from the typical seasonal music. Their version of Jingle Bells makes the record, as it’s done in a dark, Russian music style with lead singer Brad Roberts going deeper than usual. My younger boys said it sounds like he’s “farting” the vocals. On a second listen, I almost have to agree…but it’s a great tune, flatulence or not. Their version of The Little Drummer Boy is a treat, as well.

    For the Space Age Pop lovers in the room, you can’t go wrong with Esquivel’s Merry X-Mas from the Space Age Bachelor Pad. The opening number, Jingle Bells, with his welcome is great and the CD is fun. If there is a negative, it’s that he didn’t go crazy enough. I like his style and I like it especially when he pushes the envelope a little, like you hear on his other albums. A little vanilla at times, but it’s still a lot of fun.

    The prize for best version of The Little Drummer Boy goes, of course, to Ringo. How cool is it that a real drummer sings The Little Drummer Boy…and really drums along…and I mean REALLY drums along. This isn’t just perump-a-pum-pum. Ringo goes crazy on the skins and makes this one of the top songs I’ve listened to this year. And it’s Ringo. I grabbed this CD off iTunes.

    If you are a Warren Zevon fan, and were sad at his passing, try to get hold of his covers of Ave Maria and The Christmas Song. I grabbed them off eMusic from an album named Christmas Moods by Michael Wolff. You’ll see the title of the song, then feat. Warren Zevon in parenthesis. Great find.

    I’ve been giving the Jethro Tull Christmas Album a lot of action, too. I just love it. Listening to Ian Anderson tear up the flute on God Rest Ye Merry Gentemen and others…great stuff.

    One CD that has stayed fresh with me for many years is Bruce Cockburn’s Christmas. A nice mix of standards and original material, I’ve played this every year for, oh I don’t know, maybe 15 plus years…and I still rank it high among my favorites.

    Another hard find that I enjoy every year, but it drives my family crazy, is Tom Waits’ cover of Silent Night. Very dark, but very Tom. I’m a big Tom Waits fan, so maybe I’m not objective on this one. I’ve got all of his CDs, seen all of his movies, have a large collection of covers of his music…so I’ll give you this as a warning. You may just hate it…but I love it every year.

    Other oft-spun CDs this year include Leon Redbone’s Christmas Island, with a great cover of Frosty the Snow Man with Leon and Dr. John, Barenaked Ladies’ Barenaked for the Holidays and Shirim’s Klezmer Nutcracker.

    Notable singles include Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews’ version of Baby It’s Cold Outside, Gesu Bamino by Joan Osborne and Luciano Pavarotti and Steve Earl’s Nothing But a Child with Emmylou Harris (who, by the way, has a very good Christmas Album of her own titled Light of the Stable).

    So what are the most listened to song on my iPod this season? I Believe in Father Christmas, by Greg Lake from his Live album, Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy by David Bowie and Bing Crosby and, the most listened to…El NiƱo, by Willie Nelson from his Christmas With Willie Nelson CD (and his sister backing him up on piano).

    After Christmas, I religiously pack away the holiday tunes until the next year…I don’t want them to wear on my like old friends who come to visit and stay on too long.