Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Last, Last Call For Entries

Chances are really good that this last Spring Exhibit at my college will be the last one I’ll ever be allowed to participate in and I have mixed feelings.

First, it’s the first one that I’ve ever entered photographs. I had an incredible experience with Professor Bob Mayer in my Intro to Photography and I really got into it and found another love of my life. (No, not another woman… a camera… but that’s another post.) I found myself opening to a new level of creativity that I’ve never really enjoyed with a camera. I’m not just taking photography but capturing light – the exact light.

Second, I go from being worried that I’ll win too many awards or not win enough. It’s a complication emotion. If I sweep every award in the category that my work is nominated for than I’m like the major league ballplayer going up to bat against the local junior varsity team and my be perceived as a “talent bully” or a ringer. If I don’t win up against students with less experience than I, what does that say about me, I’m not that good as a designer?

Third, I just didn’t throw in pieces I’ve worked on during the last two semesters; I threw everything at “the wall” to see what sticks. Rather than be a graphic designer sniper tactfully hitting the target with one strategic piece – my work is more like a shot-gun blast hoping one of my pellets hits something. A couple of pieces that are either refreshes of pieces I entered last year or work is completely new. Then there are some that are deeply personal and from my life outside of college. While I tossed everything except the kitchen sink (I would have illustrated it if I could) there is the feeling that I left something out. Don’t ask me what, I just get that gnawing sense that something that should have been entered wasn’t…

Finally, there’s this overwhelming sense of loss which isn’t unlike the passing of a close relative or family friend. It’s not unlike that feeling one gets when they must move on, like the final days of summer camp or having to leave the ideal job that has become too comfortable but has lost all the opportunity to grow. I’ve never played in competitive sports so I can only imagine that this must be like for a college or professional athlete must feel like during the last game of his career.

In many regards this final Spring Exhibit is a going-away party for all the other graphic designers who I’ve learned and worked with for the past couple of years. It’ll be a rite of passage and a passing of the torch to the students that will follow us in the semesters yet to come. It’s also a sign that the training wheels are coming off and it’s time to get moving under our power.

I am passing through this threshold with the inability to see what lies beyond. Not because I don’t have eyes but because they have not trained to be able to see in the new universe that waits ahead. Is it like the one I occupied before returning to college, or is it a brand new realm that’s unlike any experience I had before?

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Age Gap: Young Turks VS Angry Graybeards?

David Gerrold of Star Trek fame (“The Trouble With Tribbles”) wrote about the illusion of a generational gap between younger writers and older ones.

“I have been unreliably informed that one of the current kerfuffles in SF is the generation gap between young turks and angry greybeards. This is news to me.
The young turks did not invent science fiction. Not when Asimov and Pohl were young turks. Not when Ellison and Spinrad were young Turks. Not when Gibson and Gaiman were young turks.

The "generation gap" in science fiction is an artificial argument -- the same way the New Wave versus Hard Science was an artificial argument back in the sixties.

The fact is that SF is an evolving literature. Unlike any other branch of literature, SF functions as a series of unanswered questions. Like science itself, it's not about answers, it's about questions and possibilities and more questions and more possibilities.”

I encourage everyone who likes good SF and an intelligent debate from a liberal (and albet sometimes angry) perspective to check out his writings. He’s very similar to Harlan Ellison in respect to experience and angst – I wouldn’t mind sharing a bottle of wine with those two for a podcast someday.

There are aspects of what Mr. Gerrold says that I agree with, and there are some parts that I flat out deny or shun. There are aspects of the different age groups that are totally different from one another; there is indeed a difference between the “Young Turks” and “Angry Greybeards” that needs to be addressed.

First you can take SF (also known as “Sci-Fi” to the uninformed and uninitiated.) and replace it with any other art forum; art, dance music, architecture, graphic design. Anything that involves creativity could be covered under his rant. If you are a so-called “creative” then his message could be received and understood by you.

The young Turks haven’t been beaten down by the system of concerned parents, pragmatic editors and bitter failed authors turned critics. Young artists and creative types think anything and everything is possible because they don’t know better. To them there are no limits yet because nobody has smacked them out of the sky with the back of their hands with a loud, authorities thunder of the word “no.” They think they are invincible because they are – their armor of youthful enthusiasm has not been worn down by some “elder” indoctrinating them with “the rules” of art and/or the steps to becoming “successful.”

For many youthful artists the only thing keeping them from doing incredible work is experience with their medium – if they can imagine something than it’s just a matter of working with the materials and getting it done since “can’t” hasn’t been ingrained into their vocabulary.

As for the angry graybeards - there is a reason why they are angry. They were former young Turks with all the aforementioned youthful enthusiasm and boundless creativity until they were indoctrinated by the angry graybeards of their time when they were young. They accepted the words or phrases “can’t,” “must not” and should not” into their vocabulary.

I am one of those aging graybeards who refuses to be angry. What is my secret? I made the conscience decision to refuse to allow negativity to creep into my life and the work I do. I’m older with more experience with the elements and principals of design under my belt. I know the rules so I have a good idea how to bend them without breaking.

The problem with many of my fellow graybeards (especially the angry ones) is that there came a point when they became afraid to fail. Failure sometimes means going out on the limb for the sweeter fruit and falling out of the tree. After this happens, too many times, we become too cautious and play it safe; playing it safe means not trying anything new.

The trick at this stage of being a graybeard is to tap into the youthful enthusiasm is to literally unlearn fear and then find new ways of doing things. Like I said in my earlier rant, “Graphic Designers Are Reading: Science Fiction” you literally have to allow yourself to experience and explore new things. Go back to the time of your life when you had nothing better to do that experience life as you were coming into your own, the universe was boundless, and literally, anything was possible. Relearn what it is to be free enough to fail just enough to get that twinge of excitement that went with every new venture.

In short, angry graybeards need to relearn how to be Young Turks again…

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Time For A New Printer

Print quality is everything, if the printer isn’t up to the task of color fidelity then your perfectionism is for nothing. Perfect example are a handful of projects that I submitted for the spring exhibit at my local college, there were some incredible pieces that I worked really hard on while there were a few others that just naturally came together. Some of them didn’t look as good on paper as they did on the screen.

I thought all of them were guaranteed to at least receive a nomination for an award. There was one that I just “knew” was going to win. As a freelance graphic designer there are times when something needs to be printed professionally so your best work will look it’s best. I know that sounds like a cliché and it’s right out of a horrible ad from the 1960’s (something Don Draper or Dick Whitman would throw out with his empty rye bottles.) but if a printer or their equipment is horrible your work is going to look horrible.

When I went back to get my pieces that were rejected I took an extra moment to look at them. I mean really look at them. All of the pieces that I entered and were rejected had horrible print quality – they leaned too hard on one hue or didn’t reproduce the picture fidelity I was expecting. I was angry at myself thinking that the numerous sins of not taking care of the printing myself elsewhere would be forgiven by the fact that everyone’s pieces would have been printed on the same printer and would look “just as bad,” too.

In years earlier I took my best pieces that I knew were worthy of being nominated and went to an outside print shop and actually worked with the printer and it’s operator to get the best quality out of my work. The best inks, the best processing, and eventually the best cutting and trimming to the crop marks. There’s at least one Achievement Certificate on my wall because I took the time to make sure the final product came out right.

This might sound crazy but I feel as if I betrayed some of my best work because I didn’t take the time nor money to get my work printed elsewhere. I skimped and my work suffered and I used the excuse that I was “too busy” with other projects to get it done right! I wouldn’t have done that for one of my clients or employer, why would I skimp on myself?

My advice for myself and everyone else in this position is that maybe it’s time to invest in in a new high quality printer. I’m not (necessarily) talking about an actual printer that sits in your office but an actual printing service where someone makes a living out of printing professional products. Making content is what we do for a living and we depend on folks to pay us for the work we do for them shouldn’t we “pay it forward” by seeking out someone who prints out our content with the best equipment their money can buy.

Doesn’t our work deserve the very best?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Graphic Designers Are Reading: Science Fiction

Inherit-the-StarsRecently I’ve been thinking about my most creative and productive periods of my life and what those moments had in common. In my youth I had great creative bursts right around the time I discovered an incredible new novel or motion picture that captured my imagination. One clue was thinking back to when a new SF (Science Fiction) blockbuster would arrive in theaters and most of my free time was spent with blank sheets of paper trying to recapture the visual aesthetics that I saw. I’m not sure if I was tapping into the inspiration or trying to mimic what what I saw with my own variations. Does it matter?

As I chronicled in my earlier rant (Remembering Frank Herbert) I was inspired to go even deeper into my own imagination and tried to create things inspired by what I read. I had no real “visual” queues other than the cover art and it’s font. Everything was from what I was interpreting from the text, period. My vision of the landscapes of worlds like Caladan, Ix, Giedi Prime and especially Arrakis were either similar to what other readers envisioned thanks to concept art by concept artist John Schoenherr or totally different.

I was amazed by the differences that I saw when I talked with other artists who were trying to draw the same things. 

That’s the amazing thing about actually reading science fiction – your version of “a world beyond your imagination” could be totally different than my “world beyond your imagination.” My idea for the Atreides crest were similar to many other artists because of the description and different in some ways thanks to our own interpretations. This is neither good nor bad – it’s the creative process.

DUNE is just one example of a book that ignited my imagination. There are dozens of other books that I’ve read that caused me to just start drawing. Currently I’m working on yet another project and I’m listening to “Inherit The Stars” via Audible and the ideas just keep flowing. Why is it important for Graphic Designers to read Science Fiction? What does my source of inspiration have to do with you and our other fellow graphic designers?

Without a doubt – and I know I’m reiterating a point that I’ve already made in other rants– SF expands the mind and increases imagination. An author takes you to another place via his words and your mind has no other choice than to try and fill in the blanks and create the “movie in your mind.” Especially if you’re a creative, our minds are specifically built to create something out of nothing, filling a vacuum that nature abhors.

The best suggestion that I can give is for graphic designers to get their hands on any good SF book and actually start reading and see where it takes you. Let the book take you to somewhere new where you’ve never been before, especially if you’re new to the genre or haven’t been able to enjoy it in the past. Keep a sketch book near by and just see what happens. I know that winter is behind us and the majority of us have or long reading days behind us until next December – but just bring your book and pad with you to enjoy the warmer weather during spring cleaning breaks.

If you try this experiment (read some good SF and see where it takes you creatively) please send me some of your results. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Monday, April 7, 2014


An updated, edited, more comprehensive version of this rant can be found on The Fedora Chronicles

In my hands I have this short stack of pages all stapled together on the left hand side. On the front over there’s a map of this town pirated from Google Maps and inside there are other maps that illustrate the center of town the way it is now and how it could be again if we all just “cooperate.” I’ll admit that there are a couple of good ideas but the question remains – how are we going to pay for any of these ideas and can we take just the good ones and ignore or delete the bad ones?
“Bad ones?” you ask. On some of these maps there are “shopping,” “business” and community centers proposed right where people already have homes and/or business already. This committee suggested that “The Town Of Rindge” seize these homes in North Rindge at “fair market value” via “Imminent domain.”
There are also aspects of this “Charette” (the name they gave this proposal) that suggest that some parts of the town (or the whole town) be “rezoned” to accommodate smaller buildings. As it is now, you need a minimum amount of anchorage before you can build – part of this ‘proposal’ suggest that we turn minimize that minimum to just 1 acre … or a half… maybe… depends on who you ask. That (might) mean that if you own a 5 acre lot, the new zoning laws will turn that into individual 1 acre lots (all bunched together) and your taxes (might) go up. …Depending on which expert you ask.
A small group of people actually read this proposal and have concluded that this isn’t good for this town. They took what they learned and made an effort to tell their friends and neighbors – “Hey, we don’t think this is good for this town, we gotta divorce it from the actual town’s master development plan.”
Before I got on the bandwagon I asked a lawyer friend of mine to read it and give me his thoughts; his conclusion that this short stack of paper be a bane for some but could be a boon for others. It could cripple some people who want to start a business out of their home, it might not. The problem with this “Charette” is the ambiguity. If the town commits to making this their actual plan you could see your taxes go up while your property values go down.
(Again, I’m abbreviating because I’m dancing too close to 500 words here… just to the point where I might lose your attention. I bet there are some lurkers who are reading this screaming “you’re over-simplifying!” Yea… no kidding, ya think? )
Other people looked at this, didn’t like it. Some people actually spoke up at one of the town meeting I attended and said that they read it and it’s pretty clear that this contains a plan to remove them from their homes to put something in its place to give other people the sense of a community.
This past March “The Town” put it to a vote – should we keep the Charette or exclude it from the town’s over-all development plan. The voters said ‘get rid of it’ via an overwhelming majority.
Since then there have been a handful of people (some who were involved with it’s development) cried foul. Voting against this thing is “racist” and against “poor brown people” – says the white people who were in favor of the Charette.
To clearify – the pro-charette clan now claim that these people who were against it are “racist.” The people in West Rindge who were going to be displaced via Imminent domain? According to the pro-Charette people: RACISTS!
On what basis does one become a racist because they don’t agree with a development plan that doesn’t mention race? White people who are for something can claim that other white people who are against must be… what? Just make something up. That’s like saying that people who doesn’t like anchovies are UNIX experts.
Now, I asked the question publicly – how is voting this “plan” out racist? What evidence do you have that the people who don’t like this are bigoted? Give me some quotes, screen shots, audio recordings… anything to prove that the people who were against this plan are racist.
Nothing. No response… except I’m no longer “Facebook friends” of some of the people who are charging the Anti-Charette people with racism. Well, now they’ve moved on to calling the deletion of the charette with book-burning, an obvious allusion to Nazism.
There’s more detail to this that I’m oversimplifying this for brevity sake(because graphic designers and digital artists don’t have time to read about bullshit that involves a town they don’t even live in…) but this bundle of paper called “The Rindge Charette” caused a big stir.
Why is this important for graphic designers? This is “Fisk’s Graphic Design Blog” after all.
Business is good for graphic designers. If you have business coming into the region and you’re a good graphic designer you’ll always have enough work. You could also have enough steady work to start your own Advertising/Marketing company. So long as the business climate around you is fine your bottom line should remain in The Black.
Local controversies like this – especially when it comes to politics – could also kill your career if you’re not careful taking sides. There’s a fine line between being involved with local issues because it does affect you and taking a side that’s too controversial. Some might go out of their way to ruin you for retribution for what you said and done. At the same time – as part of that balancing act – not taking aside and not being involved might be detrimental, could be misconstrued as waiting for one side to win before you pick aside.
I picked my side when I saw, read and heard some of my friends we being called racist – including some of my Hispanic friends were tainted with that label. The audacity of white people calling Hispanic people racist is beyond irresponsible; it’s reprehensible.
ksv094IcU42As to the name-callers; I can have an honest and even heated debate with literally any reasonable person on almost any subject and I pride myself on admitting when I’m wrong or misinformed. I quit debating with people when they’re obviously losing and frustrated and thus resort to name calling because my continued participation might be misconstrued as an endorsement of that person or obstinate views.
The charges of “book burring” is an obvious reference to Nazism in the Nineteen-Thirties, egregious – especially after your claims that anyone who voted against The Charatte is “racist” and “hates brown people”- immature, immoral and unfounded charges like that means that whatever moral-ground you had is lost.
For me, your credibility and even respect is diminished. You’re not the person I thought you were if that’s what you really think of people who simply want Rindge’s future in the hands of Rindge citizens, period. You can justify it all you want, but to resort to calling people harsh names like “racist” reveals a cruel and ignorant streak ingrained in your very nature.
My only regret is that I didn’t “unfriend” you first.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Utah Mom Spends Family Money For Censorship

judy-loves-coxFew friends of mine asked me what I think about the news story about a Utah Mom who went to a “Pac Sun” store at the local university mall and bought up the entire line of offensive T-Shirts to prevent anyone else from buying and wearing them. She’s planning on hanging on to them until day 59 of the guaranteed 60 day return period so that in the meantime nobody else can buy them, either. She also said that charges should be filed against this outlet and or the entire chain of stores because they violated the city and town’s decency laws.

What’s to say about this, especially from a Graphic Designer? Where can I start?

I would actually like to applaud the graphic designer or design team for coming up with this design of T-Shirts that caused a controversy so powerful that people are talking about their shirts. The photographer who took risqué photos of the woman or women who are in various states of nudity also deserves a lot of credit. Anyone who can create any design that generates news deserves a lot of a special commendation since it’s so hard to generate this kind of buzz especially when we’re being bombarded with other designs from other graphic designers.

Second, I have some experience with being prosecuted because of a design I made and it’s always bittersweet, especially when it’s intentionally offensive. I created this one poster with the “stop smoking” theme; my idea is to show people what smoking actually does to your lungs and wallet. My poster was so offensive that it actually made people turn away but the message stuck – If you smoke one pack a day you’re spending over $2,000 a year making your lungs look like ‘this.’ It’s intentionally offensive and it makes people think; mission accomplished. I had to debate or argue why my poster works and should be kept as-is. I created a debate and a controversy and hopefully moved some people to take action. Which leads me to…

Three, I thought Utah was still a part of the United States where The Second Amendment still holds some value. One of the aspects of living in a society like this is that people have the right to publish whatever they want just short of child pornography or instructions on how to make a bomb that will kill the president or any other public official. I’m allowed to write anything so long as it doesn’t cross the line into deformation. I’m allowed to buy anything that’s on the open market, period.

If I want to buy smut or pornography and someone wants to sell me smut or pornography, that’s my business. If someone wants to pay me to make smut or pornography, that’s my business too. The only institutions that can or should get in my way is my marriage (the supreme law in this house in that jurisdiction) The State and Federal Government (to make sure that neither children or animals are being exploited) and my religion. Period.

What this woman, Judy Cox has done is prevented me from going to that specific store and buy something that I might want. By buying up all these shirts because she thinks they are indecent she has prevented me or others from that area from exercising their First Amendment Rights. She has the right to be offended, but she doesn’t have the right to censor other people.

It doesn’t matter if she thinks they’re offensive, I’m even a little disturbed by how young women are becoming more sexualized, simply because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you get to ban it. What this incident has done is given the anti-religion crowd an precedent; since you think this is offensive, I find your Christ paraphernalia offensive and I want that removed from my sight!

Judy Cox may have started something she can’t finish. There are going to be a lot of people who are going to raise the bar and hope that there’s another woman out there just like her who will buy up all of their offensive material. What she’s also done is she’s caused everyone to take a moment and look at Pac*Sun’s products and I’ll bet their sales have grown significantly over the past week. Pardon the pun, but I bet they think this controversy is a Godsend.

What do you think? Write a comment below or send me a tweet…



People: “Utah Mother Buys Out Store's 'Pornographic' Shirts over Teen Concerns,” By ANDREA BILLUPS 02/19/2014

WHEN THE SHIRT HITS THE FAN: Woman buys all 'indecent' shirts to remove them from store.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Since When Is Success Bad

One of the phenomenon’s I’ve been witnessing over the past decade that really has me concerned is the attitude that hard work and success is somehow bad. In some circles, taking too much pride in your work and what you’ve built is now a source of shame. It’s amazing to me that even the current president’s on the band-wagon with is ridiculous “You didn’t build that, someone else made that happen” speech a few short summers ago. There's the notion that if you're successful and made a lot of money, you screwed someone else. If you want to succeed then there's something "wrong" with you.

AdWeek reciently printed a critique about the new Cadalac ad that asks some of the same questions I’ll be asking here in this post but from the other perspective: “Is Cadillac's New Ad Totally Inspiring or Completely Repulsive? Viewers divided by this guy's view of America” By Roo Ciambriello

There was once a time in my own life that being “this guy” (Neal McDonough) was “the goal.” This is who and what you were supposed to be, someone who picked a career and was driven for success. We were not driven for financial gain - that was just the added bonus – but for personal fulfillment. Being ‘the best’ was it’s own reward and everything else was only the icing on the cake.

Now we’re supposed to hate that guy while we’re trying to teach ourselves and our children that it’s not OK to be successful because you might ‘hurt someone’s feelings’ or it’s not politically correct to be too good at anything and be boastful. Anyone who is at the top of any organization is subject to criticism and public scorn. Business leaders and owners are now the pariah of our society – a step up above pedophiles but just below those people who won’t shut their cell phones off at the theater.

Anyone who is successful and loves what they do are suspect to others, it’s now the safest prejudice to have.

People love to bash entrepreneurs and CEO’s and lump them all together. There are also a number of folks, especially some of my far-left friends that love to bash those of us who started up businesses out of their own homes or garages because they (or we) aren’t playing by ‘the rules.’ What we’re supposed to do is what they’re doing and failing. We’re supposed to go to a job we hate, driving a car that we hate to work in a house that we hate while living with a spouse that we hate who are helping us to raise spoiled brats that we hate and are growing to disrespect us. We do this in the hopes that we get tapped on the shoulder and given the keys to the executive washroom in recognition of our long and almost endless sufferi.

By starting our own business, we’re breaking the rules they live by and what we’re doing isn’t fair, thus we are fair game for criticism and too often I’ve been lumped in with the “villainous” CEO’s  who are taking too much and aren’t paying their own fair share.

Turns out, after examining what these people have to say about “all” CEO’s and small business leaders they don’t know what they’re talking about; which of course reminds me of an anecdote. A while ago I was sitting at a table in the cafeteria with a fellow droid “Bob” talking about how “Jack” the CEO of this company was doing a horrible job, that we were losing market share because of him and that the CEO’s job was so easy even he could do it. I had a huge smile across my face the entire time cause the CEO – Jack - was standing right behind him the entire time.  Jack said – “I really appreciate it when our fellow co-workers” – he regarded EVERYONE as a fellow co-worker – “have ideas on how to make this company better. Please come in Monday morning  with your best suit and take over for the day. I look forward to hearing your ideas.”

Flash forward to four days later; the Tuesday afterwards Bob quit because while he was trying to do Jack’s job, Jack was on the assembly floor and did Bob work for an entire week in just one day. In short, Bob obviously didn’t what the funk he was talking about, he knew it and was embarrassed.

If you took any of these people who think they could do better or that CEO’s or business owners and gave them the similar opportunity they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. They couldn’t hit the ground running.  If I offered some of my critics the chance to be in charge of “Eric Fisk CGD” for the day starting the next morning – they wouldn’t know the first thing to do besides make coffee and check the email. Yet these clowns still think they know better than I do about my own business.

And yes, as a freelancer I get a lot of worthless and unsolicited advice from people who know nothing about graphic design, freelancing or running a sole-proprietor business, or even how to self-motivate. If you’re successful and make a decent living doing what you love to do you’ve some how cheated and you need to be brought down with horrible advice by these people who think they know better than you.

A good CEO or business leader is the one who steps in and makes sure that the business doesn’t fail and the company folds – if other employees fail at their job the worst that could happen is that a project might be delayed or that specific employee will be fired. If a CEO fails then the whole company serious loses money or fails. If a lower-level employee fails hardly anyone hears of it, but if a CEO fails there are news articles or even magazine covers devoted to his or her failure.

The same CEO doesn't demand a high salary, he would rather get paid a percentage of the profits and stock options who's value depends only on the performance of the company. If the company does badly, he gets paid nothing but if it succeeds he gets paid what he's worth. Asking for only one one-thousandth of a percentage of the overall company's profits makes him a bastard (or a bitch) and they aren’t playing “fair.” It’s not fair, because those are rules that nobody in their right might would take unless they were willing to gamble on the success of the whole collective.

There’s a reason why business leaders and entrepreneurs get paid so much – it’s called pressure. It’s the kind of pressure that average people can’t or refuse to understand. When the majority of workers call it quits around 5 or 6 in the afternoon many of us are only half done. I’ve stayed awake for 24 hour long periods just to finish a project and in the end of many instances if I had to put an hourly wage to what I’ve done it (hours worked for the money I’ve earned) it would be less than minimum wage. The compensation I get for great paying jobs is in compensation for the sacrifices I made in the past while learning my trade and craft.

There are some jobs I take that severely underpay me for the work I do and the people I work for couldn’t afford my real wage. I live, eat, and breath projects every waking hour until it’s done and the hours I charge are gross underestimates of the time I takes me to get the work done but I continue to do it anyway. I do it for a reason too many of those clowns can’t understand – it’s pride and ambition above compensation.

So I’m supposed to feel guilty when my wife and I buy a luxury cross-over SUV, or remodel my office, or buy the genuine leather reading chairs for me and my guests and potential to enjoy? I’m supposed to be ashamed when I take my wife on a trip to someplace tropical to celebrate our anniversary with the capital gains earnings from the money we saved and invested? Am I supposed to be embarrassed when I actually enjoy buying a new high-end server to service my client’s needs in cash? I don’t think so.

What’s going to happen we’ve gone too far vilifying people who either want to be or are already successful? What’s going to happen when too many of us want to stay under the radar and not achieve too much nor want to lead? How long will it take for our civilization to completely collapse?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Remembering Frank Herbert

Frank Herbert“DUNE.” At the time I was an avid Star Wars fan and we were talking about how I wanted more of that. Knowing how I had trouble reading at the time because I was easily bored with anything that resembled schoolwork, she still suggested that I tried reading Frank Herbert’s original novel. Little did she know at the time that it would change my life since it opened my eyes to a whole new universe and ways of seeing life. After a couple of years of picking it up, reading a couple of chapters, then putting it on hold for a little while longer, I finished the book in earnest when my brother gave me a copy that coincided with the release of the 1984 motion picture directed by David Lynch.

I somehow got my hands on the 1978 calendar with art with conceptual paintings by John Schoenherr which led me to find more of his work that was published in periodicals like Analog and Omni magazine. That conceptual ‘space art’ inspired me to look into other artists like Roger Dean who created the amazing cover art for music albums. Those SF periodicals caused me to follow other artists like Andrew Probert (There are kids who's parents worked in mechanical - drafting pencil factory who were able to go to summer camp because of my obsession with line quality thanks to Mr. Probert) which led me to trying to mimic their styles.

The LP of the Original DUNE soundtrack led my search for similar music like that of Brian Eno who’s song  “ Prophecy Theme” was included in that album. I dabbled in New Age and what some called Industrial ambient music which then lead me to one of my favorite musical artist or bands of all time; “Tangerine Dream.” – Much of that music I still play when I’m trying to create work that’s outside “the box.”

So why is Frank Herbert important to graphic designers or modern artists in general? Why should we take a moment to remember his work via this blog post? For all the reasons I’ve covered already and more.

Artists and graphic designers need to spend time outside of work exploring other ideas and other realms. We need to explore and even dabble in Science Fiction and Fantasy from time to time because, let’s be honest, what we’re doing is creating design of the future. Not the far off distant future but the immediate future and we have to never be afraid of embracing that idea.

Because I tried to take what I pictured in my imagination from what I was reading and translate that onto the paper of canvas I was able to practice and hone my craft. Years of practicing trying to create (or recreate) SF art taught me how to handle mediums like oil paint, airbrushing, and eventually the Adobe Creative Suite. I am the artist I am today of a journey that began with the words “A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”

Frank Herbert died 28 years ago this week and it’s a privilege to take the time and look back on his legacy. His son Brian and fellow author Kevin Anderson have picked up where he left off with the DUNE saga and I can’t help but wonder who else were inspired by his work and what we enjoy today thanks to his motivating vision.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Coke Ad Did What It Was Supposed To Do.

Right after the Super Bowl there was a huge controversy about an ad from Coca-Cola featuring people from all over the world singing “America The Beautiful.” Not going to lie, my wife and I got choked up when we watched it the first time.

It’s a just a commercial and like anything it’s up to interpretation – beauty or ugliness is in the eye of the beholder. When I first saw this commercial all I thought it was about people who came from other parts of the world to be in THIS country rather where they came from and the first they learned to do is learn to speak “America The Beautiful.” Maybe they learned that song in their native language BEFORE they came to this country. Who knows and who cares? Fact is, they wanted here and they want to sing “America The Beautiful” period.

As someone who was treated as an outsider, as someone was weird and strange, and even excluded by people who were supposed to make me feel at home - I still love America. I love this country and the freedom to be me. I also love that people from other parts of the world want to come here. People want to come here, to the United States for whatever reasons. Doesn’t matter where or why, they want to come to The United States and become something new while at the same time bring a part of where they come from to help them feel more at home. Not only do most of them integrate into our culture, but they also bring something to integrate into ours.

We have the best of the entire world here, it’s not just the best of two worlds, it’s the best of all worlds and cultures. Not only that, but we also have the freedom and the power to disagree. If you don’t like the aforementioned commercial (or any commercial) we can talk about it. We can argue and debate and at times our discussions become super-heated. Some of us get angry because the others can’t – or won’t – see things their way. On the bright side we don’t have the state sponsored media beating it over our heads how “great” this country or lining dissenters along the wall to be shot.

If some people saw something else out of that commercial because of their own baggage they brought to the TV that’s their burden to bare. It’s America, we work out our differences and we get better. We expose all the parts of ourselves – the good and the bad – and we hammer out.

Most importantly, The people who came to this country also learned to drink Coke! What’s more flipping American than that?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Even In Death We Stand Together.

The Names Have Changed But The Deaths Are All The Same

This morning I’m not in mood to vent or make jokes about graphic design and how clients, family, friends, strangers make it harder by making stupid comments or ask stupid questions. Today I need to make a plea to my younger readers to stop and think about themselves and how important they are to us and how they are the future of not only our culture and future of our industry and the rest of the world.

Mid-January is always hard for me; not only because it’s the start of the new year with either a new college semester and/or new projects but around this time of year I’m haunted by the mysterious suicide of a friend that I virtually grew up with. Jeremy Green was the bright center of our world; he always had a smile and was always doing well. He never ceased to make us laugh or make us look at the world differently which is what made his death in 1987 so senseless. I was left with the sense of shock and pain; if he couldn’t make it an endure the hardships of adolescents and growing up than how could any of us.

At the time I was in serious pain thanks to the degenerate pedophile, animal and child abuser that was living with my family at the time and those who turned a blind eye to what happened. I had no means of escape because I was too different, too contrarian, and too much like my father whom my mother hated with the passion of 10,000 burning suns… whom we hadn’t seen since I was four. I was called a “faggot,” a “pussy” and a “retard”… not only from my mother’s boyfriend but by some of my own teachers and peers – people who were supposed to be looking out for me.

The only thing that kept me going were my fellow artists and a special teacher who genuinely cared about his students… and the one occasion when two extended family members asked me if I was OK. Just that ONE specific moment when someone asked me if I was OK most likely saved my life.

All these raw emotions are churned up again after reading the news item about another young man attending the same school killed himself. He’s not the first young man to kill himself since January of 1987 – I can think of five other young people w who lived in the same region and have done the same thing –taken their lives because they were hurting so much. What’s genially sad is that I look at this kid’s Facebook profile and pictures and I see a kid who was included in his peer group. On the outside he had everything I didn’t, all the things I wanted and thought would make my life better and less painful.

It’s time we get real and ask ourselves some genuine questions. We keep asking the same wrong answers and will not ask the questions that really count and won’t get to the heart of what’s really wrong; as a society we need to start looking at ourselves. Let’s stop with the nonsense and stop blaming the usual suspects; it’s not the guns, it’s not the video games, it’s not heavy metal music, and it sure isn’t the additives nor preservatives. It’s time to get brave and bold and ask the real question.

We need to ask ourselves – in this specific community – what are we doing that’s so horrible that makes our youth want to kill themselves? How are we treating our kids so poorly that they lose their wills to live and how are we encouraging them to take their own lives.

Colby Donovan is dead because of us. Colby Donovan took his own life because we refused to learn the lessons from the past and we broke the promises we made when this happened before. We made a decision to ignore the warming signs and instead focused on our superficial wants and needs.

He can not be blamed for what he did; not only because he’s not with us any longer but because he’s genuinely not at fault – somewhere out there there is a person or group of people who did a number on his confidence and sense of self worth. He was made to believe that he wasn’t one of “us” or that he was excluded to the point where he felt the need to take his last breath.

I say this as someone who was there and felt the same way when I was that young – as parents you and we reap what you sow. If you treat your child half as bad as I was or you treat your classmate horribly they will either take their own lives too. If they live long enough they will run away from you as fast and as far as they possible can the moment the opportunity they find. Or kids who are in that position do far worse to others before doing onto themselves.

That blood is on our hands because we choose to ignore, ridicule or shame our youths into doing what they do. It’s not the gun, it’s not the knives, the drugs they overdose or the poison they take – it’s us and how we treat or mistreat our youth or peers.

My aunt Gina and Uncle Bob got on the phone, dialed the number for my house only to ask if everything was alright on my end is the reason why I’m alive today and as the result my wife and I have the family we’re raising today. Think about that for a second – a simple phone call changed the future. Reading posts left on the Facebook page of a young man who just killed himself. Maybe if they made those posts before he died he would still be with us today.

Our teachers, or principals and school administrators need to be embarrassed about what happened, especially since this happens time and again in the same places. The peers who may have bullied this kid and bullied those like him need to be shamed into look at their own inhumane, animalistic behavior and then be forced to see the blood on our hands. Since it takes a village to raise a child, then that village has to be held responsible for when they allow something horrible to happen to one of our offspring.

For my fellow graphic designers and artists; we need to stand together, especially those of us who aren’t considered ‘normal’ by our peers. We need to occasionally reach out to our fellow artists, designers, and musicians and remind them that they count. They are important to us even though they are our competition or professional rivals. We uplift each other and remind ourselves that we count, we matter. When you succeed we share in your success because you make our industry better. When you fail, we mourn you loss and it’s up to us to see you through your short comings and help you improve. I don’t even know many of you who read this blog – but know this – you are important to me. You are my brother and sister in graphic design and commercial art.

I’m here! I’m not going away and it’s up to you to make sure you do the same.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

“Space Update”

I wrote the last blog post on the premise of a rule or local law that might not actually exist as  it was explained to me by a professional small business advisor who has been helping me out since I started my home-based Graphic Design business back in 2004.

Each year I’m asked a series of questions about what I do, where I do it, and if I have all of my statements and receipts from the past year. We go through the annual kabuki dance of what’s valid and legitimate, what’s questionable, and what’s not acceptable. For example ; A book that I bought at Barnes and Noble about Graphic Design is OK to take as a deduction, but going to Burger King and eating while I’m reading the introduction to that book is not! (Good to know for the next time.)

Each year I was told by this same professional told me that my home office couldn’t be more than 25% of our homes living space. I was also told that I can only use this space for actual work, not for my own personal recreation. (I jokingly asked, when am I not working?) If there’s anything like a dogs bed, kids toys that are always kept there, anything not directly related to “the business” might disqualify my office from being “an office.” The operative word is might.

These rules or law are both local (The Town Of Rindge) and Federal via the IRS. I took this as gospel. I thought this was written in stone, and that tablet was carved out somewhere here in Rindge, New Hampshire. We talking to other freelancers or people who work from home I would give them this warning; “make sure your workspace/office isn’t too big.”

I admit that I make mistakes, and mine was believing that this was a strict rule handed down by the town and I wrote a blog post asking what I thought were silly questions about the strict rules... along the theme of ‘how do they know, how do they measure, and what if you’re only using 24%?” I’m concerned about government intrusion and to what extremes “they” will go to enforce them.

Zoning issues affect Freelancers working from home. It’s a big subject, how do decisions that come from The White House, The State House, and our Town Halls affect us and how (or if) we can conduct business out of our own home offices. Some of our trade magazines have also devoted huge articles if not entire monthly issues to the top of home offices that echoes some of what’s been said in the comfort of my tax specialists office.

David Lister – a Facebook friend of mine posted this link to the IRS and I found this: “IRS Announces Simplified Option for Claiming Home Office Deduction Starting This Year; Eligible Home-Based Businesses May Deduct up to $1,500; Saves Taxpayers 1.6 Million Hours A Year”

Pretty cool, hu? And then there’s this nugget:

“The new optional deduction, capped at $1,500 per year based on $5 a square foot for up to 300 square feet, will reduce the paperwork and recordkeeping burden on small businesses by an estimated 1.6 million hours annually.

There’s more to it than that… but from what I get out of that paragraph anything over 300 square feet you can’t deduct. If your home office larger than that is fine, I guess, but you just can’t conduct it.

Currently I’m looking for the actual rules and regulations on home offices and I left a message with my advisor to get back with me with some answers. If YOU know where these rules are written, let me know so we can talk about them later. It’s important we know the actually facts – especially during tax season!

I’ll hammer out a rant about the strict rules (with links) later on.

Friday, January 24, 2014

How Much Space Do You Need, Anyway?

There’s been a lot of controversy the past couple of months in my region about FEMA, The NSA, Agenda21, HUD grants and the power of the local planning boards. Specifically the questions echo the same theme; on what authority do these organizations have to do what they do? Nobody can argue on behalf of the NSA keeping tabs of our emails and cell phone conversations, it’s inexcusable, illegal and is a clear violation of the constitution. If you think it’s OK because you have nothing to hide, you’ll change your mind when it’s your driveway their parked in looking to ask you questions.

The other organizations I’ve mentioned are controversial due to their claims to authority. The local planning boards, “Agenda21” and HUD; specifically what power do they wield in deciding who gets to build what and do what they please when they’re done. For freelance graphic designers like my self and small business owners who are working out of their houses there are specific restrictions that are imposed by the local, state and federal governments.

First is the size of our workspaces. I was told that only 25 percent of my house can be used to run my business – but that’s only via the town rules or ordinances. I can only allocate one quarter of our home to “The Eric Fisk Graphic Design House.” More to the point, “The Eric Fisk Graphic Design House” can only be one room on one floor and maybe (if I behave myself?) some square footage in my basement.

How do we even begin to measure this space? Are we talking square floor space, or are we talking cubic square feet?

What if I create this beautiful poster and my wife falls in love with it, has it framed and then hangs it on the wall of our stair case? Does that count as some of my work space? Does it depend on who hangs it, or does it count because I created it for work?

Sometimes I have to use the glass top table that used to be in our dining room that’s now in the basement. I use that space to cut back core black matte board for finished projects – does that count as my 25%? When does it count if it does? I also like to sit in the big comfy chair and catch up on emails or read the trade magazines while the rest of my family is doing something else like watching TV. How much of that chair counts towards my space? If we get a matching ottoman, does that count when I put my feet up on it?

The town of Rindge has the ‘right’ to tell me how much of my house I can and can’t use to run my graphic design business. Do I get credit for only using 24%? What’s the penalty if I use twenty-five and a half percent. Or… heaven help me if I notch it up to TWENTY-SIX percent!

What if this room or space isn’t always used for my Graphic Design business? There are times when my wife’s parents and family members come over and just drop stuff off – without my permission – on the floor of my office when they come to visit. There are also times when my wife comes through the door at the end of the night and she leaves her lap-top bag on the floor in my office. Who gets punished, me or the company she works for?

The IRS gets involved when I try and claim some of our housing costs for expenses. Specifically I can only use the aforementioned 25% of my house for when I’m working. When I’m not working I can’t ever be in this room, period. I have to shut both the doors and keep people out. Because of our open floor concept of our house that’s not practical; I would have to make everyone walk around the long way to get to the kitchen from the stairs.

To complicate things, if we were to take these IRS rules seriously then we need to qualify what’s “work.” I’m going to college to get another degree in graphic design; does that mean I can’t do homework in this office? I have to have a separate space to do work-work and home work?

Who are these people and organizations to impose these rules and how could they be possibly enforceable? When can I expect the uniformed inspectors to come through the door for a spot inspection?

Because I ask these questions, I’m a “fringe lunatic” to some people. I’m an anarchist, a contrarian. Some might even say I’m an idiot, a right-wing conservative member of the tinfoil hat brigade! I don’t realize that these rules are for “my own good” and are in place to “protect me.” These rules are a good idea, but when I ask why are they a good idea and to whom… I get blank stares.

I’m just asking questions so I’m the bad guy.

I also have questions and concerns about Agenda21 and HUD Grants. I’m not out to run people out of town yelling “Ya niggrahs! Git outah mah town, ya hear!” I just want some answers to a couple of questions.

What is Agenda 21? What does it mean for me as someone who is trying to build a business and might want to hire some people and move into office space outside of my house someday? By merely asking the question, I’m a right-wing radical conspiracy theorist who believes the United Nations is trying to ‘take over the world!’ Could we just settle on the fact that - OK, maybe I like to entertain conspiracy theories around a campfire once in a blue moon – could we please nail down some answers about what is Agenda 21?

Nope. By simply asking for the facts I’m clearly in the wrong and the time for discussion is OVER!

I also want to know what are the strings to my town accepting HUD grants.; what does it mean to my town, the tax rates, the building codes and regulations.. does anything change? What are the benefits and the costs/consequences of accepting HUD grants? I want to hear both sides of the issue while I keep an open mind.

For merely asking these questions about HUD grants I’m a tinfoil hat brigade according to my good friend’s good friend… both of whom also happen to be “blog spotters.” “Susan The Bruce” hammered out a poison pen post about folks like myself who have questions. Some of us have gone too far by wanting us to vote on whether or not we ask for and accept grant money for the likes of HUD.

Wait… I thought voting was a good thing in a democracy.

All I want to know is the answers to some questions about the people “in charge” in appointed positions and the authority they’re exercising when it affects me, my business, my clients and even my competitors. Could the Federal or State government dictate to me what I can and can’t do in my own house via the strings attached to grants issued to my town? Can they dictate to us what I can or can’t do in my own backyard – or can they even dictate the size of my property by demanding that my town rewrite our zoning laws after we accept the aforementioned funds?

This is all about my space and my ability to use it and the gnawing feeling that our rights are being whittled away by unelected officials and those of us on both sides of the political isle are being vilified just for asking questions about the rules, what they mean and who is making them. If that makes me crazy, so be it. I’m not alone and in good company with other well meaning, considerate and passionate people who are also being driven crazy by the same concerns.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Here’s a genuine discussion America needs to have with itself; who gets to decide when “More” is too much? Who gets to decide when someone else has “enough?”

A perfect example would be the conversation I had about getting a new computer for my college work and the future business I hope to have someday doing graphic design, advertising and marketing for people in the region. I wanted to find a server that would do double duty managing my archived files, running multiple printers, and would sever as a workhorse of a work station when I would be creating files that would be too big for my laptop to handle.

I found the perfect machine that had the most processing power, the most RAM, the most hot-swap hard drive bays and the most slots for peripherals and printer ports.

Around this time I had to go to an social event where there would be a lot of people across a broad spectrum of intelligence and income levels. Someone whom I met only a few times before asked me what I was up to and to be polite I told him about some of my plans for the future which included the aforementioned server.

“You don’t need a computer that powerful,” he said indignantly. “No one person should have that amount of computing power, nobody.”

Shocked, I asked; “What makes you say that?”

“You don’t need that amount of computing power, and you have no business having something like that, ever.” He wouldn’t elaborate, nor do I think he could have. This man was, to be polite, one of the dumbest men I’ve ever known. Stone cold stupid, the kind of man who blames everyone when he can’t figure out how to use an iPad or any other kind of “cutesy” smart phone or device much less understand what exactly a graphic designer is or what I even do 20 hours a day.

But somehow he “knows” what I need.

While sharing this anecdote with a friend, he told me about a similar situation he experienced. Someone else told him that he didn’t “need” all that horsepower in the jeep he was refurbishing and restoring. Someone else echoed an experience when she shared pictures of her figurine collection and a new friend said that she didn’t need all of them. While talking about this phenomena with a friend of mine who collects comic books, he has told me that there have been plenty of people who have told him recently that he doesn’t need so many of them, regardless of the fact that he’s trying to get the whole series and obviously new issues come out every month.

There’s been a lot of this in the news, as well. There’s a lot of people quoted as saying that people don’t need a lot of one thing, or asking the rhetorical question “What does any one person need with so many…” of one specific item. One person shouldn’t have too much of this, too many of that…

How is it that this opinion is getting some legitimacy with the general public?

People collect things, and sometimes it makes no rhyme or reason to other people. Collecting a specific type of item is either out of pure joy and happiness, an obsession, or that it’s necessary for someone’s line of work. I actually had to take a count and I have more than 8 Hewlett-Packard products in my house that I use consistently that includes several laptops, monitors, printers, and storage devices. The server that I wrote about in the beginning of this article will also most likely be an HP, as well. There’s someone out there, right now reading this article saying that I don’t “need” all of that, I’m sure.

My neighbor collects vintage printing presses. Is it ironic or just a coincidence that a digital graphic designer is living next to a man who collects the actual printing machines, the fonts, typefaces, and the equipment need to get the job done? I would dare say that he is one of the leading authorities on how people mass produced the printed word in decades past. I would also venture a guess that there would be someone out there who would say that my neighbor doesn’t need all that “printing stuff” and my neighbor would respond by saying; “It isn’t your business.”

Which brings me to my actual point.

Who exactly are these people and how did they get appointed as the arbiter of “enough?” Who exactly are they to say that someone else shouldn’t have too much of something that they enjoy or need, especially in some cases when they don’t know anything about what they’re talking about? And how do they actually know what the cut off is? I would like to know where a lot of these people are going with these statements about people having too much of something and how some of us don’t need so much of what we have?

With some of these items that some of us have “too much” of, is there going to come a time when “They” are going to determine that it’s time for us to let go of some of this excess stuff? Are we reaching a point when “The Government” is going to dispatch the police or the National Guard to go into these homes and remove other people’s property from their homes? If not, how exactly are they going to get the “excess stuff” that some of us have that is no longer deemed appropriate by those in charge?

I’m afraid that there’s going to come a time when the government will indeed sanction confiscation of personal property from law abiding citizens because of the reckless acts of one person that will create horrific loss and pain on other. While at the moment it might seem perfectly “reasonable” to do this because of the raw emotions that will cloud our better judgment and not be able to see the long term complications of their own actions.

I could see a point when someone makes a compelling argument that some of us have too many books. Nobody should have too many books, especially since there’s no way we could read them all in one life time. Besides, with the internet we don’t “need” to have all that information horded in our own private libraries.

Throughout all this, not enough people are asking the right question; who needs all that power to determine who needs what and how much stuff another responsible adult should have? Nobody needs that much power.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Shipping And Mishandling.

As a freelance graphic designer I do a lot of business on-line. I shop for products that I need for my business on websites like Amazon or I buy software directly from Adobe. It would be a cliché to say that I do this because it’s “fast and convenient” but the truth of the matter is there’s no reasonable way to do this especially when I have to be locked in my office to get work done.

I also do my fair share of shipping and sometime my daily schedule revolves around when the mail arrives, when does the post office open or closes, or if I have to hustle to get to the nearest over-night delivery service depot? There are no excuses when someone needs something immediately; it doesn’t matter how much snow is on the road nor how much ice is accumulating on the tree branches and power lines. Something has to get to where it needs to be when it needs to be there... and since I have a full-time four-wheel drive I’ll deliver something to the printers or a client on my own if I have to.

I know for some people and companies it’s a foreign concept – reliability.

One of my first encounters with problems with shipping was when I first went freelance back in 2000 (wow… it’s been 14 years?) and I ordered an upgrade to my software packages. I ordered them weeks in advance because my wife and I were going to go on a much needed vacation and I wanted to make sure that when it arrived it wouldn’t be sitting on our doorstep for days and nights while we were gone. The last work day before our vacation came and went, and nothing. Saturday came and went, and there was no package.

My wife and I postponed leaving for our camping trip, staying home on Monday to wait for our package to arrive… and it didn’t. The same thing happened on Tuesday. And again on Wednesday… it finally arrived on Thursday and my wife and I were both relieved and angry at the same time. We paid for “express” shipping… to have it arrive a week late? How much longer would we have waited if we didn’t pay that premium?

This problem has almost vanished since package tracking has almost become standard. I don’t care where the package is or how long it’s going to get here (most of the time) I just want to know when it’s going to arrive to make sure my dog isn’t harassing the delivery man or woman. When I need to be at the door to sign something, or am I’m going to be traveling when it finally arrives?

What a great way to spend a vacation; being in Florida with my wife and kids while worrying about a new hard drive for my server that could be sitting on my doorstep. According to the news, back home there are record low temperatures. If the drive survives – I might label and map it as “Polar Vortex.”

I’m experiencing “daja vu” all over again. As of this writing, I’m waiting for a new video card to arrive. I bought two other things for the same legacy machine I’m restoring – the operating system and another hard drive – that already arrived. Since the tracking number doesn’t work I have no idea if it’s just lost, late, or out for delivery as of this moment. There are places I need to go but can’t until I know for sure if I need to be here to receive it.

I paid for premium shipping. I need to get what I paid for and I need to be able to rely on companies like DHL, UPS, Fed-Ex and the United States Postal Service for packages I’m shipping and receiving. If this is going to become a permanent trend am I going to have to start changing my lead-times to accommodate this new standard of performance?

Time will literally tell.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Save Time - SAVE THE DATE!

clock-31I’ve been using my Gateway 7210 Server since it first arrived in the early spring of 2000 and it’s been a workhorse for the past 14 years. It’s major tasks have evolved over the years, once it was my primary render machine for Lightwave3D, then my primary workstation when my Pentium Pro couldn’t handle the graphic design software, and then became a test bed for many different incarnations of Fedora and Ubuntu. Recently I’ve purchased a copy of Windows Server 2000 and I’m in the process of maxing out this server to see how long I can keep it going and usable for my business needs.

In other words, I’m getting it to it’s most optimal condition that it would have been in a decade ago if I had the funds!

For a reasons I discovered after finding this forum thread via a Google Search, I couldn’t get my other computers to see the Gateway 7210. I spent a couple of ours working the problem on my and was stumped – I tried everything from changing the username and passwords, trying different variations of the path labels, and even triple checking all the connections.

The actual solution was synchronizing the time and date on all the machines. When I set the time and date on the Gateway 7210 after installing the new operating system, I told the machine it was January 11, 2013 – not January 11, 2014! Because both machines were a year apart they couldn’t see each other and connect. It never occurred to me that could have been a problem until I came upon this specific thread In the Microsoft TechNet forum; “windows 7 refuses to login to windows 2000 server…” The thread starter, “The Madz” found the solution on his own after some trial and error combined with back-and-forth conversation with other members.

It was a simple solution to a problem many of us had, a problem that many of us spent hours trying to solve; and all we needed was some kind of error message to let us know what the problem was.

But didn’t we already get the error message? When I first installed the operating system and it rebooted there was an actual loud beep and the warning that the clock wasn’t set. The message continued to say that some features won’t work unless the time and date was correct. I just assumed that since the machine was connected to the next work and the internet it would just correct itself on it’s own. I assumed wrong. Hours that could have been spent doing something else was wasted in my insanity of trying to do the same thing repeatedly expecting different results.

If there’s a lesson to be learned for everyone, especially fellow graphic designers – is to not miss the details. Missing a minor detail can cause you to lose vital hours, especially as a deadline approaches. Don’t just assume a product or program is going to do the right thing – because it isn’t. There are some things that you’re just going to have to do on your own.

Another lesson that can be learned is using the internet to research a problem; simply type the description of the problem in Google’s search bar. One might also want to try different variations in phrasing the problem. Other people may have encountered the same problem as you and they might have already found the solution. If not, you might be part of finding it.

Never be too afraid to look for help, don’t be too prideful to ask for it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Just Say No To Horrible Clients

Occasionally there is a request to do graphic design work that you and I just shouldn’t do for various reasons. Do a search of the phase “Westboro Baptist Church signs” to see what I mean.  That is – by definition – hate speech. Judging by the “quality” of the work featured I can tell that someone with some skill created those signs and if they aren’t members of that organization then the question I have to ask is – how does that person sleep at night?

This is a poignant question for me because I am a graphic designer and I lived in the same city where WBC is located – Topeka, Kansas. There were times when I was living there that I would have done almost anything to pay for my expensive habits like rent, food, fuel and repairs on “The Gray Beast” (Chevy Blazer) and other things like new hardware and software for my hobby that was evolving into a career.

Like I said, that I would have done almost anything… If I was asked almost 20 years ago to create signs for WBC, would I?


At some point while I was living there, I had two jobs; one job at a book warehouse and another job doing temporary work at print shop folding brochures and stuffing boxes. I did not just work there because I needed the money, but because I was new to the town and I needed to be with people. I needed some social interaction because just watching TV is enough for me. Never was, never will be. I thought working at this print shop would have been my perfect entry into the world of publishing and graphic design, and it was. I met many great people and learned a lot.

I was never asked to handle brochures, posters or other printed media for WBC while working for this local printer and I’m sure they never worked for WBC, either. What I do know is there was a conversation that if any of my fellow employees were ever asked to handle anything for that other organization we would walk out.

Nevertheless, what if I had been asked to use my talents to create the images and text for those signs in a moment in time that I really needed the money? And what if I was promised that nobody would ever know. Would I do it? It’s an ethical dilemma that all of us are going to have to face; working with people whose views contradict our own. There are people with ideology that’s so far outside the mainstream and are so controversial that their taint could easily spread and stick to you.

As a freelancer, you sometimes have to decline work if it’s socially unacceptable. Whether it’s a vicious attack against a specific group or mean spirited work targeted at a specific person or organization word will eventually get back to potential clients and they will associate you with the hate you helped to spread. You are who you associate with and work for – at the very least you are the work you do.

Oh, and people do find out – secrets have a way of getting out. If it’s  libel – you could be named in a lawsuit from the victim seeking damages. 

Regardless of whether you want to believe it or not, freelance graphic designers have to consider the social consequences of accepting work from controversial groups or individuals. The consequences of working with your local “Fred Phelps” now might be bagging groceries or picking up returnable bottles and cans along the side of the road later.

Is there any such thing as “Overkill” when it comes to storage?

In an on-line conversation earlier this week someone was asking advice about his own server needs; he’s a videographer and needs a lot of storage space. He was thinking about getting a NAS (Network Attached Server) with 8 or 16 Bays and a couple dozen HD’s for future use…

Another participant said that was “overkill.” I disagreed, respectfully.

Nobody knows your needs and budget more than you do. I have a slight clue because of my own line of work and interests but in the end you have to do what’s best for yourself. When it comes to audio and visual media there is no such thing as having too much storage. My advice is to buy a server with hot-swap bays and load up on hard-drives while you can. You can buy multi-terabyte drives for how much these days?

And if this is all for work and your career, how much of this expense can you deduct from your taxes?

Every graphic designer I know have gigabytes or even terabytes of files that include half-finished projects, pictures, tutorials saved from other websites and let’s not forget to mention our music collections. It’s a sad fact that 100% of all hard drives are going to fail someday and it would be tragic if anyone lost any data when the inevitable occurs. You can save your data on an off-site storage provider but there is nothing better than instant access via your own system.

You never known when you’re going to be in a pinch and be able to pull some half finished project out of your past and get some work done faster because you didn’t have to start from scratch.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Vintage Computing Nostalgia: Strange Server Locations

Elsewhere I was taking part in a conversation about servers of all things and the subject came up; where was the strangest place where you’ve seen a server installed? I commented that I’ve seen servers and media storage devices installed in some really weird places. Not the usual IT Server rooms with controlled atmosphere and temperature, but in some place where you would least expect them and put there by people who you think would know better.

One of the problems I encounter with other entrepreneurs is their false sense of omnipotence. It’s a quality in myself I’m not too fond of, either. Just because we’re an expert in one field doesn’t mean we’re the master of everyone else’s. The biggest problems have always started with me muttering the words; “come on… how hard could it be?”

Just because someone is smart enough to start a business like a restaurant or construction company doesn’t mean they know enough about computers and servers and not put them in odd places.

A restaurant owner I used to work for DEMANDED that his media storage device (where he kept all his records for tax purposes) be installed in the boiler room. No matter how hard we tried to explain why this was a bad idea he insisted it be put where he wanted it.

As you can imagine, he came up to me 6 months later and asked; “Do you know anything about computers?” That was just the beginning of his merriment and mirth. Why would you keep your media storage devices in the same room as the furnace or “Boiler Room”?

While I was doing my morning routine, I was trying to remember all the other craziest places where I’ve seen servers installed. My Dad’s friends who were all Ham Radio operators would work on two-way repeaters on the top of hills and mountains. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s “Pac Net” was becoming popular – people sending data back and forth over specific bandwidths. I saw someone install some DEC server racks mounted in a converted hayloft of an old barn, another system in a junked Ambulance parked on the top of a hill, and the basement of a mountain observatory… I think I’ve seen servers for two-way communication installed on the top of Mount Graylock, Mount Equinox and Mount Washington.

Hobbyists – like myself – are different breeds. “Back in my day…” hobbyists would take whatever they could get their hands on, usually discarded equipment from their own IT departments, surplus or junk shops, swap-meets, and put those machines to work anywhere. I think that’s the time I caught the computing bug and I’ve been trying to mimic what they were doing back then to service my own interests.

I’m still working with my 13 year old server trying to teach it new tricks, just like my mentors and role models did decades ago. There are just some things we can’t let go for sentimental reasons.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Graphic Designers PC Hardware Rant Number 1

One of my biggest gripes as a graphic designer, digital artist, or PC enthusiast is the lack of support from brick and mortar stores. It's the 21st century and people still don't know how to serve us in a manner that suits our needs. Don't get me wrong, there are still a lot of people who do a good job taking care of us on other fronts like the staff at my favorite art supply store that's more than happy to keep me stocked with black core black matte boards and x-acto blade. HP can't help but make new products that I want to buy like laptops and printers. Let's not forget our favorite software company that keeps making changes to our Creative Suite that makes sure we're never bored.
No, damn it, I'm talking about other outlets that keep finding new ways to piss me off.
I don't know if you guys know this yet or not but I love to dabble in PC Hardware. I love to upgrade my own stuff. There's nothing like the thrill and fear that comes with opening up the case to install new RAM or a second hard drive... or just clean off the lint quilt that's been building up on my CPU. I spent two weeks looking into building my own GPU processor node for serious number crunching, getting a new motherboard, stuffing every PCI slot with GPU cards (Graphic Processing Unit) and setting it loose upon the world of digital art by rendering complex fractal patterns and finding new things to do with it after that.
It's what some of us Fisk men do, we build amazing things first and THEN try and find tasks for our monsters to do. It's innovation and invention done backwards.
But during the past couple of years it's been harder to find competent people to help me get the parts I need or want. Perfect example is the video card for my Gateway 7210 Server with it's Pentium 3 dual processors, maxed out ram and Hot Swap 6 bay SCSI hard drive carriage. The video processor built into the motherboard isn't enough to handle the LCD monitor I want to use with it, so I want a graphics card for it. I can handle the millions of colors, but only at 800x600 pixel resolution.
And as a quick sidebar; what the funk is up with people who tell me to get rid of this machine or there's no use putting any new hardware into it. This monster has outlasted every other laptop, tablet, netbooks, washer, dryer, refrigerator and television in this house. It even outlasted the first stove my wife and I bought for this house which had an element short and caught fire. Because it was built as a server with rugged parts for the harshest environments there's no killing this thing!
It's outlasted every car we've had since 1998... so why bother getting rid of it since it's still able to reach our home network and store files for us. Besides, it's bought and paid for! The heart wants what it wants and mine wants a graphics card for this machine!
There was once a time when there were computer parts stores everywhere. There was a chain called "CompUSA" in several locations and I would just go in and grab what I wanted. This was where I bought my ATI All-In-Wonder Pro video card for my first Pentium machine and I genuinely regret not getting it before trading it in for a Windows 7 laptop. I would get really excited when my wife and I (a bigger computer parts nerd than I am!) would go there on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon and buy what we needed and go home and have fun installing.
Now there are none of those reliable franchise around us. I can't go to a "CompUSA" or a "Circuit City" with an idea in my head about what I need or want to do and cruise the aisles looking for just the right product. I can't stop someone in the rows and ask them for a suggestion. There's nowhere I can take my beast to have it looked at by another expert the way I could in the past.
Instead there are a bunch of non-franchise stores. There are a couple of owner-operated shops where I can go and ask for help, but those are hit and miss. One store in particular that my wife passes everyday twice where I would like to give some of my business to. I would love to spend my cash there because these people are technically my neighbors. I would rather give them the money rather than some corporate office in a part of the country (or world) I've never been to.
Instead I was given a lecture about how they could get any part to me - they have organized stacks of used parts to choose from. Even though I know exactly every detail of this machine (and it's manual in PDF form on my tablet) the man I assume is the owner didn't want to do business with me until I brought the whole machine in so he would know for sure what was the right part... and charge me $30 for installation.
After getting home I took pictures of the interior of the computer and the PDF version of the manual and asked them to get back with me with a list of options  I never received a response.
Instead, I went on-line, joined a couple of forums that introduced me to a handful of vendors and parts that would suit my needs. Right now I'm waiting for a beast of a GPU card to arrive... unused in a box that hasn't been opened since it was manufactured around the same time my server was build. Thanks to this awesome group of people I also have an idea of installing a RAID card in this machine with an internal cabinet to reside inside to be stuffed full of SATA hard drives that couldn't have been used with this machine before.
These club members - as far as I'm concerned - aren't in it for the money. They are in it for the challenge.
While I'm sure there are a lot of other independently owned and operated computer stores out there (that are getting harder to find) I'm a bit incredulous with the ones who just don't want to do business with me unless it's on their terms. Don't you have merchandise to move? Don't you want to make a sale rather than not?
Or is it any wonder why some of these businesses are failing? Why bother with these people if it's easier to shop from home via the internet. Sure, I'll get the part a couple of days after I but it... but I know for sure I'll get what I asked for.. Sure I miss the interaction with other tech heads. Sure returns are a hassle if I didn't get what I asked for or if I asked for the wrong thing. But it's better than this alternative.

It's no wonder some of these businesses are vanishing. I want reliability and if I have to go to the internet to get it, that's their problem. Evolve and perform or die!