September 2007 Archives

PPT Presumptions


Earlier this week, I gave Tod a hand preparing a PowerPoint presentation. As a Unix geek, he really doesn't have any experience with MS Office "productivity tools" and it was stressing him out.

After having seen the corporate internal style guideline, I can understand why he was concerned. This incarnation of PowerPoint is not meant for the busy executive who needs to convey a message or share info in a meeting, but for someone concerned with looking good. Not productive at all!

Fonts and basic layout are covered by the custom "New Corporate Presentation" wizard in the File menu. After choosing whether of not you need a table of contents, various heading and subheading pages, you can start adding your content. Sounds fine, right? But the styling doesn't stop after the wizard. There are lots of tweaks you must apply manually.

A designer prepared a huge set of rules, including three pages of acceptable colors, combinations and gradients. I can understand something like "the contact page is required" since presentations often get passed around and it's helpful to be able to chase down the author, but there were also rules like: if your topic covers two or more slides, the same headings on the subsequent slides must be gray (150 150 150)." Um....ok. How much time is that going to take to implement if your presentation is so long that it needs a table of contents?

Applying these rules requires a fairly detailed knowledge of PowerPoint. If you didn't know how to get into PowerPoint's Master Slide section, for example, your presentation would always scream DRAFT in grey letters on every page no matter how final it might actually be.

Tod's presentation looked good and his content was solid. But the amount of time it took to prepare the presentation to spec was almost as great as the time it took to gather and edit the materials. Inefficient!

Notes on Fusing Plastics


Today I experimented with fusing together plastic bags to form an expanse of fabric. There are plenty of tutorials around on the 'net, (see EtsyLabs or Craftster or this video on YouTube for a start) but you really have to try it yourself to discover what works. I tested out three different kinds of plastic today.

  1. プラPE - Polyethylene. Fusing point: 70 - 110°C. Unlike in the US, this doesn't seem to be divided into HD and LD types. It's all marked "PE" even though it is, of course high and low density plastic. Grocery bags are LDPE and should fuse at about 70- 90°C.

    My High-Medium-Low iron's lowest setting must be well above 90°C because the PE started to shrink quickly almost as soon as I touched the iron to the layers of plastic and waxed paper.

    Wrinkles in the fused PE indicate too much heat.

    Six layers of this heavier smooth LDPE bag worked better but I still wrinkled it .

    Another wrinkly PE attempt, but this time oversewn as a test swatch.

  2. プラ1 - PET. Fusing point: 80 - 150°C. I played with the stiff PET labels from PET bottles. They shrink down to a small fraction of their size in no time and they do not fuse together. It's cute, but not very useful for making fabrics.

    A former 500 ml bottle label

  3. プラPP - Polypropylene. Fusing point: 110 - 160°C. This worked much better for me, my hot iron isn't so hot as to totally melt PP. Tod's dry cleaning bags now have a second life as translucent fabric.

    The completed 4-layer fabric is too stiff to use for clothing (unless you were making something really structured) but ideal for bags and things like that.

    PP fabric is smooth and easy to work with

    I made a PP zippered pouch with machine sewn embellishments

Bits & Pieces

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I didn't know a spider would follow a computer cursor...

  • Cyrillic spam? Since this morning, I've been inundated with Russian spam mail. I'm used to the English and Japanese ones but what Russian spammer got my e-mail address?
  • My aura was seen this weekend - it's dark blue.
  • Modern fashions seem to be quite maternity minded - empire waists, soft flowing tunics and stretchy leggings. Will this subtly encourage Japanese population growth?
  • I stopped eating meat and dairy 20 weeks ago. I don't miss it.
  • After a couple of "Indian Summer" weeks, it looks like the weather's turned cool again, if 28/82 can be considered cool.
  • I discovered that I fit into size 71 jeans at Uniqlo. Never thought that would happen.
  • I keep forgetting interesting things I see and hear. I should take notes.

Silver Clay Bell


Silver clay doesn't look like much to begin with

but after it's shaped, fired and polished, it looks ok.

Digital Photography Basics

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About five years ago, I taught a workshop on Digital Photography to an audience of DigitalEve members. Today I found the materials I used and realised that they are still useful, excepting some time-sensitive bits about price, online services, and upcoming DE events. It's embarrassingly full of photos of me and Zoupi, but I didn't have another model handy when I was getting ready for the workshop.

The original workshop was 3 hours long and geared towards novices. I'm sure everyone and her dog knows this material now, but in case you need a refresher or are curious about the state of digital photography in 2002, here's what you'll find in the PDF of the handouts linked below:

  • Overview of hardware
  • Secrets of taking good photographs (digital or otherwise)
  • "Photo safari" where everyone went out to take photos
  • How to get the pictures from the camera to the computer
  • Image editing hits and tips
  • Photo sharing options

Digital Photography
(21 MB PDF)

Blow, Fitow, Blow

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The rain started at about 6 pm, just on schedule with the predictions. By eight pm Typhoon #9, called Typhoon Fitow elsewhere in Asia, was dumping down and trees were whipping around, but we and the other diners at a Marunouchi restaurant didn't seem to mind - most hardly noticed. We waited a few minutes for a taxi at nine o'clock, so that we wouldn't have to walk home from the station.

I went to bed just before the eye of the storm passed over the city and I slept until about 3, when a door in the apartment slammed shut in the wind. Tod had gone outside on the verandah to watch the storm a while. He was soaking wet.

This morning the rain's falling in gusty bursts, trains are delayed and around town (but not too near us) are the expected post-storm tree falls and flooded areas, but the storm is speeding up north and the sun's due to shine this afternoon. The sky will be beautifully clear and pollution free.



One of the interesting things about Japanese lessons is learning new things about my own language. Here's somethign I learned last week.

In Japanese, each sort of sugar-based sweet treat has its own name: chocolate is チョコ (choco) ; old fashioned hard candies are 飴 (ame); soft chewy sweets are カンディー (candy) and so on through jelly beans, caramels and gum...each one is its own thing and there's no general category into which they all fit except the very broad category of "snacks"

So I figured that "candy" as a category was an English language thing. But I am wrong. It's an American English thing. In Australia, candy is chewy gummy things just like in Japan, and each sweet stands on its own. I don't know about the Queen's English. Is there a general category for all sugar-based treats in the UK?

Obligations of Free Things


I'm reading Ruth Benedict's book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword for the first time. It is a study of Japanese culture written in 1946 as a way for Americans to understand their Oriental enemy. It's rather academic, but mostly on target even today. That is pretty amazing because Ms. Benedict didn't have access to Japan at that time (we were at war) but conducted interviews with Japanese Americans, read Japanese books, and watched Japanese films instead.

The book is mainly concerned with what motivates the Japanese behaviours that can seem so contradictory to Westerners. Some of the concepts she details are things I already understood to a certain extent just from having lived with them for nearly a decade. But having them well-described in writing gives me a further and fuller understanding.

For example, yesterday when we were handing out Morsbags at Alishan Market Day, many people accepted the bag and said "Sumimasen," which is a way of saying thank you, but also "I'm sorry." This may seem a little weird, but it makes sense when you understand the Japanese idea of obligations. Benedict explains it charmingly:

In English, sumimasen is translated 'Thank you,' 'I'm grateful,' or 'I'm sorry,' 'I apologize,' You use the word, for instance, in preference to all other thank-yous if anyone chases the hat you lost on a windy street. When he returns it to you politeness requires that you acknowledge your own internal discomfort in receiving. 'He is offering me an on [a favor and an obligation] and I never saw him before. I never had a chance to offer him the first on. I feel guilty about it but I feel better if I apologise to him...I tell him that I recognise that I have received on from him and it doesn't end with the act of taking back my hat. But what can I do about it? We are strangers.'

And that's what happened to us yesterday. We handed out bags to strangers and some of them felt uncomfortable accepting this favor from us. A few refused the bags but most took them. They seemed more cheerful when we didn't hand them out directly but let them choose as if they were shopping.

Some of the stall owners repaid the favor by giving us produce. Even though we wanted to give our bags no-strings-attached, it is really impossible to do so here. I certainly accepted the return gifts with happiness. We got all kinds of vegetables, some crackers and this huge cabbage!

Cabbage in Trade

Now I may understand why many Japanese find volunteering a strange concept. If you volunteer your time to a cause, who repays the favor to you? The world at large? The organizers? The simple cycle of obligation and one-to-one repayment is broken and that is out of step with the usual way of doing things.

Which means I may owe a debt to all the people who have volunteered for Morsbags. It's easy enough to give a fabric donor a bag and clear the debt - but how does one repay the people who volunteer their time and talent? Do fruity drinks and our post-Morsbag dinners count? Is that a payback in equal measure in a reasonable amount of time? Maybe I'd better keep reading Benedict's book and see if she has a suggestion.

Still-Living Food

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Friday night, Tracey & Tod ordered a sashimi plate at dinner. It arrived at the table and as they were admiring the choice cuts of fish, the head of the fish that decorated the plate started to gasp for air.

Ack! Horrors!!

It continued intermittently gasping and lashing its tail as well for at least 15 minutes. I was horrified and too distressed to eat my salad. Tod & Tracey were distressed, too, but it didn't stop them from enjoying the fish, which they declared very fresh and delicious.

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