Thursday, March 28, 2013

Worst ever logo-to-be

Never mind the monopolistic implications: The merger of OfficeMax®™© and Office Depot©™® portends the worst logo yet created.

Just look at the parents:

OfficeMax©®™: Never the best name to begin with, succumbing as it did to the unfortunate '90s business trend of adding "Max" to common nouns (does it still have Copy Max©®™?)

So of course, make the name worse by setting it in off-the-shelf American Typewriter font (because who doesn't think "typewriters!" when shopping for inkjet cartridges?). The rubber-band ball is added, I'm guessing, to compete for cute with the Staples' Easy button (see below). OfficeMax®™© tied it to coverage of the world's largest rubber band ball. Remember? Me neither.

Office Depot™® fares a bit better, with a more lucid name (similar trend with "depot," though, and the rise of big-box stores) and what appears to be a custom type treatment. Why "Depot" is set in small capital letters, though, is not lucid.

Office Depot©®™, though, used to look like this:

Similar typewriter font to Office Max™©®, though oblique (slanted, a poor cousin to italics typeface).

Oh yeah, Office Depot©®™ has a stopwatch logo-ish/animation thingie. Did you know that? You would if you even so much as looked at an item at its online service: You would be sure to get an annoyingly loud, unstoppable Office Depot™®© commercial the next time you look up Flock of Seagulls™ on YouTube™©®.

Please tell me some creative agency made millions and millions on these designs. That would be justice.

Office Depot™® and Office Max™©® now join forces to compete with Staples™©® … economically, if not graphically.

At least Staples®™© shows a measure of clever with its double-entendre, the staple-y "L" and off-the-charts use of Helvetica.

But the logo as it has evolved makes me think the folks at Staples®©™ are afraid of you and your ability to appreciate double-meaning. Could they be very far away from renaming the chain "that was easy™®©?"

Staples in Canada adds to the confusion:

What do Canadians look at? The slab-serif (looks like Rockwell) "Business (all freakin' caps!) DEPOT™®?" that literally looks stuck on? Poor Canadians.

Sometimes in Canada Staples is known as:

I'd go to a place called "BUREAU EN GROS™®©" just to shout it once I learned the proper pronunciation.

But to shoppers, it's all the same experience no matter what happens: Relaxed, peaceful perusing for your item in empty aisles — because everyone else in the store is waiting in a long line at the one open register, where the clerk will ask if you need printer ink.

The OfficeMax™®©/Office DEPOT©®™ merger could reach stratospheric heights simply by using Garamond for the font. Or making the logo blue; red already seems to be well in hand.

But the result, I'll wager, will be red and black, typeset in typewriter-y font, and called Office DEPOT Max™®©. It's gonna happen.

(I'm gonna wild-ass guess more people
buy these useless Staples©®™ buttons than the
practical OfficeMax™®© rubber-band balls.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What I did on my spring break

Looking in on my mom- and dad-in-law last week in southwest Oregon, I swam each morning in a small lake minutes away.

It was an illegal act.

Though what should be illegal is the low regard the keepers of Cooper Creek Reservoir hold for swimmers.

It's not a swimmers' lake. Oh, it has a swim area. It's a tiny pocket, not quite a cove, poorly promoted and marked, about halfway along the length of the lake, and a hike down a bluff, far from the main parking lot, the one with long parking lanes for fishing boat trailers.

High contrast reminded me of  the lighting for
opening scenes of
Snow Falling on Cedars in the San Juan Islands
A gunky rope, fastened once and forgotten, delineates the swim area, where disuse has encouraged a thick forest of plants to reach their bony limbs through the mustardy water to the surface. Children's nightmares spawn here; or would, if any children ever dared swim.

Just beyond the fetid rope, the middle of the lake is given over to personal watercraft. Not that I could imagine Sea-Doo™® and Jet Ski©™ riders rooster-tailing this lake. Too small: At about two miles, Cooper Creek Reservoir is half the length of my home Lake Natoma, and only a couple of hundred yards wide.

Still, a nice how-do-you-do? to hardy swimmers: Don't swim past the rope. Or else. A second boat ramp nearby reinforces the threat.

No personal watercraft rode the water when I swam past the rope last summer, my first time in the lake. Just fishermen. In every cove and finger of the lake's midsection, where the Sea-Doos™® are supposed to roam. Every place I wanted to explore was already occupied, fishermen ensconced in the shadows, their lines blinking in the sun.

This visit I skipped the swim area and went where the fishermen launch, thinking that in the early morning, on the cusp of spring, I'd have the lake to myself. I didn't bother, until after the last morning, to read the signs saying I wasn't to swim that end of the lake.

No one in the superintendent's double-wide off the parking lot ever came out to tell me no. Barely obedient civility ensued.

Even last Sunday, St. Patrick's Day, with three fishing boats in the water, I went unnoticed, invisible, even with my bright orange "butt buoy" bobbing behind me, and a diver's blinking red light clipped to my goggle strap because of the morning mist. The water was maybe 50 degrees, a bit warmer than my home lake, opaque and pea green, mysterious.

I kept to the far alien shoreline just in case, wearing the water like a St. Patrick's Day robe, and the dark rising forests like a mantle, swimming leery that a boat might approach.

Water muddled my message: The forest behind had been clearcut, leaving
the spaces between these trees to shine.
It was stop-and-start as a result. Even when I gathered a swimming rhythm, a high strangling scream in the water made me stop abruptly to see a fishing boat roaring past at 40 mph to the far end of the lake. I don't know; I've always perceived fishing as a contemplative activity.

Since I was bound to do a lot of stopping, I made a game of taking mental images and then painting them back at my in-laws' place in the beautiful leatherbound book of watercolor papers my sister had given me long ago. The book is ever so slowly filling with images, mostly from camping vacations.

These are some of the results, two or three a day, which became a fine way of passing the time to talk or be quiet or listen to golf or spring training baseball or NCAA basketball or The Andy Griffith Show on TV.

Outside my mom- and dad-in-law's quiet forested place …
More to come soon.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

St. Paddy's Day Hanukkah

Here's hoping the vibe from Sunday's holiday resonates long enough for this
Guitar Player
Magazine piece not to seem so late to the party.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lemme askew some questions

What exactly does Boy Scouts of American want from me?

Twice in as many weeks, BSA has asked me whether it should change its membership policy and allow Scouts and adults who are homosexual.

The first online survey felt like a friendly neighbor jawing over the back fence, just to hear my thoughts.

The second, longer survey felt like a befuddled scold. It was a bit … strange. I don't know if that stemmed from the lack of professional polling assistance, or a careful calculation to arrive at a desired outcome, or just an honest mess.

To both surveys, I said Boy Scouts should change its membership policy. BSA's governing board is expected to discuss and perhaps vote on the issue in May.

As it is, Scouting does not serve its mission to boys of the nation, who will grow up to serve a diverse world.

I'm a registered adult leader in my son's former troop only by the generosity of the parents' committee, who hope that I would be able to return in some role. I was Scoutmaster for a while. We've yet to figure out what that role is, and I'm hesitant mostly because I believe parents and guardians of active Scouts should be the ones assisting the troop.

Some troops — probably a lot of them — are led by adult leaders who hang on long after their own children have left, or never had children in the troop. They're real-life versions of Lem Siddons, Fred MacMurray's Scoutmaster character from "Follow Me, Boys!" They provide continuity, and I'm sure they're honorable, but the concept has always unsettled me, and I don't feel right being one of them. Nonetheless, as a registered leader I got to weigh in on the survey.

The long-form survey made me wary — and not because the wording on some of the 13 questions made me re-read them several times to make sure I knew what it was asking; or because the range of answers would abruptly reverse in order from one question to the next, so that I might have answered opposite my real thoughts if I wasn't careful.

What caught me off-guard was the survey's construction. It first asked whether I thought Scouting should allow homosexuals to join (I do) and whether I found current policy acceptable (I don't).

Then it presented several brief scenarios, some ripped from the headlines, some hypothetical, depicting Scouts or adult leaders who are homosexual, and then asked if I thought it's OK to have homosexuals in that situation.

For example, it asked if I thought it OK if a mom who is lesbian should serve as den mother for a Cub Scout den (from an actual case, and one that became a tipping point in this whole debate). Another scenario from an actual event asked me if a Scout who rose through the ranks and earned his Eagle award should receive it even if he then revealed he is gay.

Yes and yes, I said.

Another asked if a Scout who is homosexual should be allowed to share a tent with a Scout who is heterosexual (I'll presume this is a hypothetical); or if a boy who is homosexual should be able join a troop over the objects of another boy who thinks homosexuality is wrong.

Yes in both cases, I answered. Deal with it.

After the scenarios, the survey repeated the first question, whether Scouting should allow homosexuals.

It was as if to say, "Didn't think it through, did you?! All progressive and full of righteous relativism, but you didn't account for the possibility of gay Scouts sharing tents with straight Scouts, didja? Or a lesbian leading your Cub Scout's den, huh?! Whaddya think now?!"

My answer didn't change.

If I was smart, I would have copied and pasted the questions before completing the survey, so I could write with more authority — and because in researching the survey, I came upon the Christian Broadcasting Network report that said one of the questions is whether those surveyed think a homosexual adult leader should share a tent with a Scout.

Good Lord! I hope the Christian Broadcasting Network got that wrong, because I wouldn't consent to an adult sharing a tent with any boy, ever. Scouting may be wrong on this issue, and has made major missteps in preventing harm by sexual predators over the decades, but it has worked hard to prevent abuse since, and two of the smartest steps are requiring at least two adults in attendance at any Scout activity, and prohibiting adults from sharing sleeping spaces with Scouts.

I'm already re-thinking my answer on whether gay and straight Scouts should share tents; co-ed Venture crews (a program for teens and young adults) prohibit young men and women from sharing sleeping quarters. It's an issue for program policy, but should not preclude homosexual Scouts and adults from membership.

Next, the survey asked whether each chartering organization should have its own say whether to admit homosexuals, an idea leaked in January when BSA's governing board began official consideration of its membership policy.

I said no. Imagine Scouts and their families asking this and that troop for their policy on gays before considering membership. Usually Scouts pick troops based on their level of support, degree of activities, and discipline or lack of it, to find the one that fits them. Sexual orientation should not be a factor.

In my myopic life view, chartering organizations, even churches, don't micromanage a troop's activities anyway. I guess that in the minds of most, Boy Scouts are apple pie and Americana and Fred MacMurray and Kurt Russell. Except for the Disney corn and the fact that Scouting never reaches the fraternal ideal in "Follow Me, Boys!" that's pretty close to the mark.

Scouting is about going outdoors, learning leadership and citizenship there, and learning to plan and get along in the weekly meetings for planning the outdoor trips. It's about service, about each Scout and adult leader looking beyond himself and reaching out to others.

Scouting is not about sexual politics, but BSA's intransigence has now stitched it into the program's fabric.

Further, the survey asked whether I thought homosexuality fit the core values of Scouting (the awkwardness of the phrase "morally straight" notwithstanding, yes); finally, it asked me some general Scouting questions (did I find the monthly Roundtable, in which adult leaders gather to get news for their troops, very effective? … not really … and if there was one thing I would change about Scouting, what would it be?)

You mean, what would I change about its membership policy, or in its entire program? Why, I asked the computer screen, was Boy Scouts of America asking me these off-topic questions?

It sounded oddly like the Eagle boards of review I've sat on, in which adult leaders query Eagle candidates to determine whether they should receive their highest rank; "What would you change about Scouting?" is a classic review board question, among many that roam far and wide, about Scouting and life and the Scout's Eagle project.

It was during an Eagle board of review that cemented what I had been thinking for a while, that BSA's membership policy was shortsighted. The Eagle candidate said an open membership is the one thing he would change about Scouting; it's the first I heard a Scout aware enough or brave enough to broach the topic.

If he saw the policy as wrong — if he realized that the amazing benefits available from Scouting should not be for straight people alone — then I realized the time had come for change.

Unfortunately, the survey gives me the feeling Boy Scouts of America has already made up its mind.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Future to the back

The main sign after …
The signs were ahead of their time. Which wasn't good.

So the Delta King asked me to yank them back into the 19th Century where they belonged. Which was good for me and a fun challenge.

Directional sign before …
Here's how the signs looked (right):

The Delta King is a 285-foot sternwheel steamboat, permanently moored to the Old Sacramento embarcadero as a floating hotel, restaurant and theater.

It was built in 1924 and with its sister the Delta Queen served passengers from Sacramento to San Francisco, and even up the San Joaquin River aways.

Painted battleship gray and renamed USS Delta King during World War II to transport naval reservists, it next showed up on the Hudson River before becoming a floating bunkhouse for aluminum plant workers in British Columbia.

The current owners found it nearly 30 years ago, sunk but reparable in Richmond in the San Francisco Bay; they towed it to Sacramento and renovated it.

The Delta Queen went on to ply the Mississippi River and now also serves as a floating hotel, moored on the Tennessee River at Chattanooga.

Serviceable and easy to read, the Delta King's signs nonetheless ran afoul of code restrictions in Old Sacramento, requiring signs to befit the decidedly lower technology of the Gold Rush era in which the city began. Out went the painterly background and the photograph of the trademark red paddlewheel. Out went the collection of 20th Century typefaces — Brush Script Pro for "The Pilothouse," Trajan Pro for "Delta Bar & Grill" and Univers 57 for most of the rest (thanks to my designer son Liam for his keen eye). Even the lively logo for Suspects dinner theater had to go — a 20th Century creation.

The biggest challenge was rebuilding the paddlewheel to resemble an engraving. The wheel has a lot of parts; the illustration of the wheel many more.

The sign went through several iterations, from showcard every-typeface-at-your-disposal dizziness to the result, legible simplicity and muted colors.

The new typeface, Rosewood, is not strictly 18th or 19th Century, but a digital evocation of slab serif types, cousin to Clarendon, an early 19th Century face cut in England. Rosewood is designed with an elaborately decorative alternative (right):

Not everyone likes Rosewood; someone would likely call me out as a fraud. It has the clunky chunky inelegance the project needed.

The URL at the bottom of the main sign, jarringly 21st Century, is set in Clarendon bold.

Directional sign after …
Woodcut dingbats for balance, typographic elements for flourish, et voilĂ !

Though I work just a block away part-time as a tour guide for the Sacramento Underground, I hadn't been over to the Delta King during the signs' makeover.

I was working instead from the client's proportional dimensions of the existing signs, and in my mind the sign was never bigger than my computer screen.

My stomach tripped and fell when I finally saw the immensity of the main sign, some six feet wide. My ego couldn't wait for the new sign to go up, and after consideration by the commission on antiquarian signage in Old Sacramento, the sign is up for the tourist season.

Someone has already put a dent in the directional sign. Signs live a hard life in Old Sacramento, as my other signs in the neighborhood can attest.

Come on out and look, if you fancy a notion.

The main sign at work, alongside 19th Century signs typical of the era.
The Delta King, forever churning up a lazy river …

Thursday, March 7, 2013

All hopped up

Any day I get to     
turn a bud of brewing hops     
into a sentient being …

… boldly if resignedly     
infusing a new     
beer batch …

… sacrificing its     
essential oils for queen     
and country and     
quaffing connoisseur …

that, let me tell you,   
is an excellent day.   

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Second best use of a dollar

How to build a dog a la Lorence Bjorklund.
Looks easy. 'Tain't.
Lorence Bjorklund and I go way back, more than 40 years. Pity I hadn't bothered to learn his name until last week.

Doubtful he'd have minded. I've been far more interested in his illustrations, which fill the book "The Art of Drawing Animals" my mom bought me for a dollar when I was seven or eight.

Copyright 1965 from The Grumbacher Library, one of a myriad how-to books you'd find in a Woolworth's or Sprouse-Reitz or Rexall, in towns lacking art supply stores.

"Drawing Animals" is the faithful companion to all my artistic endeavors. It's always in reach, somehow easily rediscovered despite the tectonic shifts of my workspace.

Though well-loved and used, it's in good shape, a keepsake for my children to fight over. Weird, what we'd pass down the generations.

Within its pages are dozens of Bjorklund's drawings — of horses in every possible pose and mood, and cats (tabbies and tigers and mountain lions) and dogs and elephants and zebras and monkeys and bears and cows and a warthog.

All pencil or brush-and-ink or fountain pen or charcoal. All lively and made with a knowing hand.

And all wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG!

Or so I thought.

The way to draw — and I knew, because I was eight, the Age of Perfection! — was to start your pencil in one place, then draw around the outside of all the curves and squiggles of whatever you were looking at, until your pencil came 'round again to the start.

Then, like a primitive cartographer, you'd fill in the details by triangulating the odd knobs and jags of your outline, until you'd put an eye or stripe or button — or whatever — in approximately the right place. Sometimes — OK, rarely — the result matched your wishes.

But all these circles and ovals and lines draw within the shape, the way Bjorklund drew?! Just nonsense! And eight-year-olds are nothing if not drawing perfectionists. Circles and lines and squares would just make your perfect drawing a perfect mess. And messes lead to discouragement, which leads to "I quit!"

This is the attitude and approach I carried into adulthood, having skipped art classes because I was focused on college prep and art was foolish.

Of course, adulthood made me realize the simple wisdom of Bjorklund's — and really, all illustrators' — approach, and this is how I draw now.

No more cattywhampus guessing! No mere copying! With the sketchy skeleton of circles and squares and strategically placed lines, an illustrator can build just about anything, and modify on the fly.

This is also how I try to teach kids to draw; of course, they politely comply until I leave their class, when they return to the safety and clean perfection of primitive outlining.

To think of all the time lost, the ground I could have gained, if I had taken heed of Bjorklund's advice from the start. Art school may not have seemed such folly.
What? A kite? And now … a coffin?! And somehow you get a horse outta that? Neighhhhh …
Born in Minnesota in 1913, "Larry" Bjorklund — the Internet archives his legacy — attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, on a commercial art scholarship and made his career as a pulps artist — a denigrating description for a career of creating copious beautiful illustrations that graced the cornucopia of American magazines in the golden age of print.
I love that Bjorklund's  technique still applied
to the cartoon styles I loved.

Bjorklund made tools in a defense plant during World War II, then settled in upstate New York to resume his career in illustration, in a time when many could, and comfortably.

Mr. Arnold, my high school physics teacher, often said I was born too late. Kindly impish Mr. Arnold didn't mean I didn't fit into the time being — not entirely, anyway — but that I loved and was lost in eras gone by. Drowning as I do now in this sea of social media underpins Mr. Arnold's observation.

What a world that would have been, to draw and draw and draw for magazines — if not this one, then that one, or that one over there, all of them hiring — and raise a family on that.

Yeah, I'm probably romanticizing. Not to mention dismissing the dedication, and hard work toward illustration mastery, and self-promotion. Plentiful as I imagined them to be, these jobs just didn't fall into ink-smudged laps.

Bjorklund's drawings take me to that time that maybe never was. They're magic tricks, executed in slow, deliberate sweeps, and I'd be in his Western memorabilia-strewn studio, big drawing pad in my lap — maybe I could call him Larry — practicing the magic sparking from his pencil.

All that, for a dollar.