Google Does Sales, Fugly.

Although the commercial Web is over ten years young, it’s amazing to me and nearly every programmer with whom I speak that setting up e-commerce on a website is a pain in the ass. Designers and developers spend inordinate amounts of time working with some clients who want to set up an online shopping cart. It can be extremely complicated, demoralizing, death-defying and even overwhelming, depending on the quality of the shopping cart and the programmer or group of programmers who are doing the e-commerce integration.
PayPal has attempted to do good but it never has. It’s either way too easy to set up, which makes it both ugly and dumb-looking because it’s not easily customizable, or it’s way too hard to set up, which makes it a hassle and a half. Needless to say PayPal is not now the solution that I would recommend to many people.
Yesterday, in comes Google, with a hearty huff and puff. Their new online shopping cart called Google Checkout looks a bit too much like a PayPal immitation at first glance (and not enough, upon a second glance). It does seem to connect with their online advertising base and it seems to have many different flavors that should make it a shopping cart contender, in my eyes. Here’s where it fails: the logo. Why, why does Google’s logo need to sit near every transaction button? The buttons are uglier than sin and look as if they were designed by eighth-graders in shop class. I know that much has been written about Google’s weird-bad logos and branding but this new e-commerce application can only suffer from Google’s bad, old design decisions.
Poscript: I was in esteemed company this week regarding Google and the world of fugly.

Beauty and the Beast.

My daughter is busy watching Beauty and the Beast, the 1991 Disney fandangle. I have nothing to say about it because I’ve been researching online the incredible flooding near where I grew up in Pennsylvania. I just spoke with my parents and they noted that one of my favorite towns, New Hope, is totally under water (or at least up to the doorknobs). I have nothing to say about this because I’m working on a laptop, in which I just re-installed Quicksilver a little application, which, it turns out, is even better than Peter Mauer’s little application called Butler, which I have uninstalled. I have nothing to say about this because I’m finishing a nice glass of soda, which they call pop here in Winnipeg. The soda is cold and good. I have nothing to say about it because the music from the movie is distracting me. It’s cold and good. Oh.

My Pretty Desktop.

For the past two years, my daughter has bought into, quite literally, the crazy My Little Pony world of cute, pink and purple rainbow-studded and fresh orange-smelling happy go-lucky ponies. It’s a strange micro-culture that probably builds big profits for Hasbro but, to me, it’s kind of harmless. The ponies, with names like Rainbow Dash, dance around castles and can be customized with tiaras and tutus and kitchens and balloons.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about customizing my desktop, which, to me, always felt like the computer geek’s version of My Little Pony. Customizing my desktop: even the words sound so completely naive, cheesy, and brain-killing that I cringe as I write. For years, I’ve known about a Mac program called CandyBar, which essentially allows you to trick out your icons on your computer – they can take on a whole different look – sassy, techy, funky, queer, whatever. For people with time on their hands, I thought, CandyBar would be a big ol’ fun thing.
Well, I downloaded the program and a bunch of artist-built icons made for Mac from Iconfactory, a site dedicated to showcasing beautiful, original icons for folders, applications, and actions created by different designers. I tried a number of different “themes” and the one that caught my eye most is David Lanham’s Aqua set. These icons are gorgeous, easy-to-read both and large small, coherent, crafty and superbly rendered. I tried to figure out how these are done but, for the life of me, I don’t know.
I’ve now got My Pretty Desktop, full of customized icons. It’s fantastic – for whatever reason, I now actually look forward to looking at my desktop again. It’s a pleasure to look at all of that customization, probably not unlike the good customers of Toyota’s Scion line of personalized vehicles. I’m not going so far as customizing the look and feel of my windows and applications; the one time I did this, using Unsanity’s Application Enhancer, the system slowed down and I felt bad. Sure, it looked nice. But it was like all of the work Apple’s software engineers had invested in producing a breathlessly good, stable, and usable user interface had gone to pot because of my 3-minute installation of a complex system-changing application.
At the end of the day, my computer interface looks different and it’s so nice to be happy and pretty and warm and everything is rainbows and sunshine.

Delete 10,000 [a.k.a. Entourage Error 4362].

I use Microsoft Entourage for most of my emailing, calendar, to do list and address book purposes.
Lately, my whole computer has been slow, in small/large part to having too many files on the hard drive.
And Entourage has had, for about 1 month, some kind of odd database error that I’ve been diagnosing and perhaps fixed by rebuilding. We’ll see. I just went through all of my spam emails, all of my mailing list emails, all of my subscribed unreads, and all of my Deckchairs spam. It amounted to over 10,000 emails and I just deleted all of them. I’ll either go straight to technology hell or efficiency heaven. G-d help me.
Postscript: After many hours of researching the error I had, which was generally around the full deletion of emails in my Deleted folder, there are two key sources of information:
Plan A: The fine folks at this MVPS page indicate that this error could be a result of a bad email and I’ve been convinced that this was the case for many weeks. The solution I used was to turn off the Preview pane in Entourage and then go to Tools > Run Schedule > Empty Deleted Items. This essentially forced the database to kill the bad email and everything seems, seems to be okay.
Plan B:: This link will take you to Microsoft’s solution which is not lovely. They basically tell you to back everything up, export all of your data, and then open a whole new account in Entourage and import your old data. I was not looking forward to this and the question in my mind was whether, if I had to export all data (emails, contact, calendar items, and todos) would I just go straight to Apple’s, Address Book, iCal, and OmniOutliner or try to reinvent my existence in Entourage. I’m glad I didn’t have to make the decision. If you ever do, take a look at this healthy discussion of Mac email clients at TUAW.
Sorry to bore.

Manitoba Rebrands.

I never heard of Manitoba until 2000. That was when I met my incredible wife and learned about Canada, Canadian culture and politics, and a place called Winnipeg. Actually, I had known about Winnipeg because I had been a huge of Guy Maddin since 1995. (He was and still is my favorite director, believe it or not.)And when I saw the first show of Marcel Dzama‘s work in New York at David Zwirner, I saw Winnipeg on the map again. (Dzama became and still is one of my favorite artists, believe it or not.)
Manitoba generally, and Winnipeg specifically, to me, has a tendancy to breed unusual characters, kind travelers, and a spiritually committed group of people.
Two days ago, the province revealed its new brand identity, a process which took two years and $2.1 million. Needless to say, the naysayers are out with their knives sharpened. In just one day, letter writers and columnists have said that the branding was alternately a waste of money, a process in futiliy, an act against the province of Manitoba, a slap in the face to design firms in Manitoba (the branding was provided by Interbrand’s offices in Toronto and New York). Others say that the brand, consisting of a complicated and flowing type treatment, bright colors and references to native symbology, should have a bison in it.
I’ll cut to the chase. I like the logo. I like the branding work that Interbrand did in conjunction with the Economic Advisory Council, organized by the premiere here. I like the way the beautiful type flows from one letter to the next, like the rivers connecting the various parts of the province. I like the weight of the text, which is blocky and bold but unpretentious and pretty. I like the way that different colors and patterns are shown behind the knocked out text and provide a sparkle, an energy that is like that of water meeting land. I like the tagline: “Spirited Energy” or, en francais, “Vibrant d’Energie.” Not all energy is spirited; most visible energy that we see these days is either generated by artificiality or is spent on the unnecessary. Spirited energy, to me, calls forth a feeling of bounty, brevity, clarity, and friendliness and these are all of the things that I would like to associate with this province, Manitoba.


I’m feeling a bit under the weather. But there’s a certain pessimistic clarity that comes with feeling crappy. There are quite a few shams out there these days:

  1. Yesterday, Steven Hawkings announed in Hong Kong that earth could end pretty soon and that we had all better figure out a way to go to Mars. I’m a bit of a doomsayer myself, but come on. Mr. Hawkings is not only making the dire predictions of the anxious class but his call to arms is weak in both theory and practice. How will we get to Mars when we can’t even figure out (e.g. allocate enough resources) how to cure AIDS?
  2. Increasingly, I see lots of talk about organic food, organic food, organic food. Even Wal-Mart is saying they’re going to get in on the game. I’m a bit of an organic food lover myself, but come on. Do people really believe that processed, industrial organic food is better than processed, industrial regular food? Animals have been eating for about, oh 200 million years or so. I’m thinking that taste will continue to regulate our health.
  3. A designer blog recently redesigned: Design Observer. It went from a relatively interesting, relatively well-designed blog about design to a relatively interesting, relatively well-designed blog about design. I’m a bit of designer myself, but come on. It’s amazing that the good intentions of a group of designers can produce something so average. Some other designers, on a somewhat better design blog, further discuss the redesign of the design of Design Observer>.
  4. I purchased a really nice soup mix today. It contains locally grown lentils and other dried vegetables. The recipe on the packaging calls for adding fresh vegetables to the mix and that, with just plain old water, you get a spanking good soup. I’m a bit of a soup admirer, but come on. The recipe should have called for stock. Well, the soup is bland and I’m taking the heat.

Having said all of that, the universe is expanding gorgeously, the world is spinning magic.


We spent the weekend at KidsFest, a.k.a. The 2006 Winnipeg International Children’s Festival (presented by Tim Horton’s). It was glorious. The days were filled with adventurous performers alternately juggling swords and bats, honking clothing-laden bicycle horns, involving kids in various escapades and general face- and hair-painting and other kinds of kindly despoiling. We particularly reveled (twice) in the Silk Road Acrobats. I forced my daughter to get their MC’s autograph; I now have Fesso’s signature on my bookshelf forever.


A neighbor yesterday told me, in no uncertain words, that Canada has the best healthcare system in the world. He said this without hubris or, in my mind, any feeling of patriotism, though I’m sure that must be an inherent part of his comment. I have no reason to disbelieve him. My experience in the States, with its private and superb doctors and practioners has always left me incredibly impressed. Doctors that I’ve had and nurses I’ve encountered have been, by and large, incredibly talented, committed, and thoughtful. I’m lucky. I realize that 40 million Americans, perhaps more, have no access or have had no access to healthcare.
Coming back to my neighbor’s comment, I believe he knows of what he speaks. He’s a healthcare provider in the province and provides specialized care in a hospital here. He’s traveled and I’m sure he’s read stories about care in the U.S. and elsewhere. I continually confess to people around here my completely naivite and ignorance about Canadian culture and social programs (as well as street names and locations of cities). But this is where my true lack of knowledge bumps up against reality. Are Candians, who genuinely seem happy with their healthcare, better off than Americans? Are they actually healthier, as a recent Harvard Medical School study indicates? Do Americans, who often disparage the Canadian healthcare system, really know anything about it? Is the American media, and its pharmaceutical advertisers, a reliable advocate for American health? Can a bankrupted but excellent American healthcare system really be compared to the Canadian one?
Ultimately, much of this is academic. The Canadian healthcare system, for all of its flaws (e.g. long wait times in some provinces for major surgery, a dearth of good physicians because of a brain drain to the States, problematic differences in quality among different provinces), is inherently democratic and fundamentally cheaper. Only the United States, among industrialized countries, threatens its own, poorest citizens with a lack of healthcare.
I love the U.S. It’s the place where I was made once, healed often, and helped untold times. But the blatant and continued segregation of the country into healthcare haves and have-nots cannot last or stand.

What Kids' Things Are.

Terribly ungrammatical, the above header is meant to merely describe.
As a consumer dad, or a consuming father – whichever comes first – it’s hard not to notice the strong similarities between certain kids’ products and their adult counterparts. Here’s a brief list of some of those products. It’s not exhaustive and you can draw your own conclusions:

  • Crayola crayons box:Marlboro cigarettes
  • Pez candy dispensers::Bic lighters
  • Barbie clothes::Gap clothes
  • Mentos::Uppers
  • M&Ms::Downers
  • Fruit Rolls::Fruit Rolls