Children of Men II.

I’m sitting here, post-watching Children of Men, watching the CBC and all I can see is mayhem. The news is on and I see houses with a man and woman walking peacefully and destruction is everywhere. There’s another woman being interviewed; she’s holding a child and I can’t believe there’s a kid on the tube. A documentary on environmental building looks like a special feature of Homeland Security. The sky on the tube is 60% grey, the color of nothing and fire and endless pollution and chaos. It almost looks like the next television series is on safe houses, tucked amidst giant wind turbines and barren land, the near future part of the next future. [Written on 3/15/07.]

In TO.

We visited Toronto this past weekend. We had a great time, mostly seeing old friends and seeing a few sites. I had a few thoughts on the city that I thought I might get off my hairy chest:

  • People in the Canadian West, including Winnipeg, put down Torontonians for their surliness. I found that there was some truth to this among the few shop owners we visited and among the citizens we ran into. But the reality is that Toronto is a big city and is getting bigger. People in large cities are typically less warm and friendly and thoughtful because they either can’t afford to be, they don’t know how to be, or they’re afraid to be so.
  • Toronto is diverse. I’ve read, somewhere, that the city is the most diverse city in North America and/or The World. I somewhat believe it.
  • The city is relatively expensive. It ain’t Brooklyn, by any stretch, as we could probably still afford a small house within one of the city’s neighborhoods. But I give it just a few years and real estate will be as affordable to most Canadians as Brooklyn is to most Americans.
  • It’s seedy. My wife disagrees (and so does my Toronto-born friend R.B.), but I think the city has a bit of an edge to it that places like, well, much of Brooklyn, lacks. There was a definitely a feeling, in many parts of the city, that you had to kind of watch your back. Not every second, but every few seconds.
  • Marketing works. Here in Winnipeg, advertising is relatively minimal; there aren’t billboards everywhere, busses often market government (rather than commercial) services, and it’s all rather residential. Buildings are pretty low to the ground, not allowing for huge adverts for clothing, cars and travel. The highways stretch for miles and aren’t central to the city. And, in Winnipeg, people are frugal and notoriously stubborn buyers. Not so, in Toronto. Ads are everywhere—along all stretches of building, road, highway, and byway. And it works. In Toronto, I wanted to spend more. I could feel the urge to empty my wallet and I more easily noticed all of the niceties of modern urban existence, from better cars to newer phones to nicer clothes. (Then again, it could have been I was on vacation.)
  • Winnipeg is pretty fricking far from Toronto. Man, it’s far. 2.5 hours by plane. Sure, we’re in neighboring provinces. Sure, there are lots of familial and cultural connections between the two cities. But, let’s face, I live far, far away from Toronto: 941 miles or 1514 kilometers, or approximately the same distance from here to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Goodbye Information World.

About ten years ago, there were a number of good to great magazines about technology that I would actually look forward to getting. These included Wired, of course, but also Info World, PC Week, Mondo 2000 (further back), and other sprightly ones like Upside, which a lot of people hated because of its sappy up-with-technology optimism.
It appears that Information World, the print magazine that has followed me for the past seven or so years, will no longer be printed. In the past year, the magazine has tried to become more gadget-focused, more Mac-happy, and more relevant to non-CIOs. It was a valiant effort and I enjoyed getting every (free) issue. The magazine didn’t always have directly relevant information for me, as its focus was on the alphabet soup of ERP, CRM, KM, and IT applications and news about outsourcing, interoperability, enterprise solutions, and innovations (and competition) in business information. But, through the print magazine, I gained a solid understanding of the big picture of technical innovation and how the larger tech players were advancing and receding. It was also good toilet reading—bite-sized, informative, well-written and cogent.
Alas, no more, no more.

Doerr Cries.

I was really struck when my friend, R.C., told me about John Doerr’s public, tearful breakdown at the TED conference, where perhaps some of the smartest and most privileged individuals gather each year to talk about the future.
Doerr has an amazing biography, but here it is in a nutshell, taken from a comment on the New York Times: “John Doerr has an undergraduate degree in engineering and a M.B.A. from Harvard. Over the course of his career, he has earned several engineering patents, and has helped to fund, among others, Compaq, Netscape, Symantec, Sun Microsystems, Amazon, and Google.”
Anyway, here’s what happened, according to the same Times piece: “Much is being made of venture capitalist John Doerr breaking down into tears as he talked about global warming on Thursday during the TED conference in Monterey, Calif. But what may be more disturbing is what he actually said: ‘I’m scared. I don’t think we’re going to make it.'” He left the stage, weeping, and then hugged his teenage daughter.
Here is a man who, as a paid optimist focused on building wealth and opportunity and innovation, clearly sees something coming down the pike that is not all that good. I take his cry as not so much a plea, which is how some in the media are spinning it. Rather, I take his cry for what it is—a clear sign of despair about the future, delivered directly to his peers.

Illustrating Yorke.

I used to be able to draw. Someday soon, I plan on getting back to it.
In the meantime, there’s design.
In the interstices, there’s digital illustration:

Microsoft's Excellent Decision to Use Word as a Rendering Engine for Outlook 2007.

I’ve spent a little bit too much time over the past three days researching and re-researching what the repercussions are of Microsoft’s decision to use its Word product, instead of Internet Explorer, to render HTML emails in the new Outlook. There are a few good blogs posts about the issue, which will increasingly affect many people who are starting to use Outlook 2007. Most of these come from the fine folks at Campaign Monitor, an email delivery company I’ve been with almost from the start (I dissected a Coudal email way back to see who they were using). And the ball really got rolling thanks to Kevin Yank’s great article on Sitepoint.
In order to see what kind of damage Outlook 2007 does to Web standards-based HTML emails, I tried a new online application by SiteVista. You can see what the MANOVERBOARD Telegraph, the email newsletter I send out semi-regularly, looks like with Microsoft’s Outlook 2002/XP and its newly released Outlook 2007.
Long story short: I’ve been trying to come up with a nice, pithy, easy-to-use statement about what this means for the few MANOVERBOARD clients for whom I designed and created HTML email newsletters using Web standards. (And, let me say this: Despite excellent support from and a valiant effort by Campaign Monitor, I consider myself fortunate that, as a designer, I only have a few HTML email clients.)
Thus, after a lot of thinking and work, here is my brief statement on the issue:
Using Web standards to create HTML emails is no longer possible because of Microsoft’s decision to use Word rather than HTML as its rendering engine in Outlook 2007. You can still create HTML emails with poor/complex/table-based code and they may look fine. Or you can send Web standards-based emails and just give up on anyone with Outlook 2007, as those folks will see a terrible mess. Or you can just send plain text emails, which are great (and superbly legible), except you’ll get poor reporting on your campaigns because good reports rely upon HTML and images being embedded in the emails you send.
All of these are bad solutions with the last one being the least bad, imho. This is what I will recommend to my clients who need or want an email newsletter, for now.
Postscript: My new understanding of all of this is that many of us designers and developers were trying to apply the beauty and elegance of Web standards to a medium (e.g. email) that has very competing needs (communication, marketing, file sending, and news) and stakeholders (email users, technology providers, ISPs, and software developers); a longer and more complex technological history than the Web browser; and, no governing organization or consortia (including the W3C) that have the teeth or cojones to police, enforce, or cajole companies to agree on standards for the rendering of emails.

300 For Some (Reason).

I don’t know why exactly but I really want to see 300, the super-crazy, Spartan Frank Miller flick by Zack Snyder. From the previews I’ve seen online, the movie comes closer to a moving painting than any film I can recall, including those by Terrence Malick. Everything about 300 smells of the sweat of Géricault, the pain of David, and the solemnity of Rembrandt. I love how, at least in the trialers, the shapes and forms looked burned and blurred around the edges and the colors drip gothic lust. The sepia and pale blue colors, the harsh contrasts, the glorious backlighting are, to me, simply stunning.