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!