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Tony vs. Paul

Thursday 30 November 2006

Tony vs. Paul is an amazing stop-motion amateur video, two guys battling with their various stop-motion super-powers. This is the kind of thing my boys will be talking about for a long time. Looks to me like they must have taken full video and selected frames individually to include in the stop-motion.

Tabblo books

Sunday 26 November 2006

We've just released our latest product at Tabblo: books! Now all the creative control we've given you for making online tabblos and posters is available for creating books from your photos.

It's been a lot of hard work, but I think we have a kick-ass book editing experience. Lots of other sites let you make books, and they give you nice templates for laying out your photos, but they don't give you a way to break out and make your own page designs. Tabblo gives you page layouts as a starting point, but then we let your creativity take over.

We've got two book products now: 9½×8-inch with a laminated wrap-around cover, and 4×4-inch with a black linen cover and a customizable sleeve. The 4×4 book is cool because it combines the size and portability of an informal book with the cover and style of a serious well-designed product.

To entice you to try it out, here's a deal: the 4×4 book costs $10. Here's a better deal: use the coupon code NED17 at check-out, and we'll take $10 off your order, which means these little books are free. How can you pass that up?

Alright, enough selling. From an engineering perspective, this has been a really interesting progression. Tabblo started with online tabblos, and then offered posters. Posters begat postcards, and now we have books. At each step, we built on what we had, and added to it to make the next product. Each time we undertook this, we figured, "Well, it's just a little different". We anticipated the differences, and planned for them, and then learned as we went how a slight difference can really be a big difference.

For example, posters differed from online tabblos because they had a finite length. So we needed to address how to end the tabblo, and how to decide what fits and what doesn't. Then we added multi-page posters, and we didn't need to kick out any pictures, but we had to deal with pagination. We figured postcards were just like two-page posters, but they were also our first full-bleed product (that is, the photos could extend all the way to the edge of the paper).

At each step, we were challenged to extend the infrastructure to include the new member of the family. I think it has held up very well, if I do say so myself.

And books, too, "are the same, except...". Books have brought with them a number of challenges in all areas: data model, editing, production, and so on. Some are big and obvious (covers!), while others seemed simple but turned out to have deep roots. The lesson in all this? It's hard work building a great product, and categorization schemes (how is a book like a poster?) don't always give you the answers you thought they would. The real world can be maddeningly difficult to categorize neatly.

But we've done the engineering work, and now the books are ready and waiting for you. Go and give them a try.

Thanksgiving

Thursday 23 November 2006

A blue bottle, the sun at just the right angle, a quiet corner suddenly lit by celestial alignment. Magic and peace in the midst of the bustle. Stop for a moment, see the serendipity, then carry on...

Tabblo: Thanksgiving

Drawing games

Thursday 23 November 2006

Similar in spirit to Doodle-O, here are two drawing games, playable by artists of all ages and skill levels:

And in case you need more inspiration, here's a stop-motion video made on a whiteboard. The whiteboard in my office is not this interesting...

Stranger Than Fiction

Sunday 19 November 2006

I saw Stranger Than Fiction last night, and enjoyed it very much. It has the same reality-bending sensibilities as movies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Unlike those movies, it is not a black comedy or a depressing tragedy. It is funny and touching, with some very sweet moments.

Will Ferrell has been criticized as underacting, but I think he did a great job infusing a nebbish with innocent charm. And of course, Dustin Hoffman makes his character fascinatingly watchable.

Goodbye Lemon

Saturday 18 November 2006

I just finished Goodbye Lemon by Adam Davies, about a guy coming to terms with his past, including a dead brother, and with his dad, who has become totally paralyzed due to a stroke. It was a good book, though I thought it ended a bit simplisticly and somehow didn't have the scenes I expected with the dad.

About half-way through the book I realized there were a lot of words in it that I didn't know. I started writing down these words, and ended up with 19:

  • numinous: not in the dictionary!
  • lanceolate: shaped like a lance. Usually used to describe leaves, he was talking about fingers.
  • scarified: to make a series of small cuts, to criticize sharply.
  • brady: to move slowly?
  • hypnogogic: not in the dictionary!
  • cloacal: pertaining to the cloaca, a sewer-like cavity in many lower animals.
  • macerated: wasted away.
  • diluendo: diminuendo, gradually diminishing the volume of music.
  • thrombus: a blood clot.
  • shogunate: the government of a shogun (used in the book to describe a crowd of people?)
  • reticulate: formed of a network.
  • indurate: hardened.
  • spavined: affected with spavin, a disease causing lameness in horses.
  • glozing: from gloze: specious talk or flattery.
  • ineluctable: not to be resisted by struggling, inevitable.
  • trippant: from heraldry, portraying an animal with one foot lifted off the ground.
  • addorsed: also from heraldry, two figures back-to-back.
  • desiderate: to want.
  • empurple: not in the dictionary, so I guess he meant to turn purple.

The definitions are my understanding, taken from the 2000-page Webster's New Twentieth Century dictionary. Some of the words were fancy words for precise meaning (lanceolate), some seemed almost misused (glozing, shogunate), as if he dived into a thesaurus for a fancy word and didn't bother to look it up to see if it really fit.

Non-euclidean juggling

Saturday 18 November 2006

Greg Kennedy calls himself an innovative juggler, and he is right. A friend sent me his video of juggling in a cone, and it is very cool. It made me think about the physics of juggling. Juggling works because you throw a ball, and it comes back to you. With most juggling, the force that returns it to you is simple gravity. You throw the ball up, it comes back down.

What Greg has realized is that there are ways to construct other environments in which the returning force is different. In his cone, the balls are constrained to orbit him circularly, so that the return can be horizontal rather than vertical. In Hemisphere, the balls oscillate hypnotically in a large transparent bowl, and in Triad, three balls are tethered together somehow, so that they perform a complex interconnected dance.

Being mathematically inclined, this all reminds me of non-euclidean geometry, where the old assumptions about how a geometric system had to work were challenged. By changing one fundamental principle, new systems were developed that obeyed the remaining principles, but with radically different results.

Tired

Tuesday 14 November 2006

Things I could do right now, but I'm too tired:

  • Work some more on the latest new features I'm supposed to be building for Tabblo. It's been a few weeks of intensive work toward a big goal. Today was one of those days where you take a quick detour at 10, and it lasts until 4:30. D'oh!
  • Work some more on the latest new features I'm not supposed to be building for Tabblo. This is one of those side-projects-at-work deals. Except if I get half way into it, it's harder to abandon.
  • Continue to work on moving my wife's blog off of Blogger and onto Wordpress on a new hosting provider, so it will work the way she wants (well).
  • Balance the checkbook.
  • Write something interesting for this blog.
  • Update coverage with any of a handful of submitted patches that I've been sitting on for too long because it's difficult to make the cognitive context switch.
  • Help Max with his Django-based comics site.
  • Work on my latest side project. Seems crazy to nurture a new one when there are existing ones withering on the vine, but who can steer their own passions?

Actually, writing this list has ironically made any one of them seem more do-able, so...

Tabblo 8, Flickr 7

Tuesday 7 November 2006

Wired magazine has a year-end gadget guide called Wired Test. Nestled in among reviews of digital cameras is a sidebar reviewing photo-sharing sites. They reviewed 5 sites: Buzznet, Flickr, Tabblo, Webshots, and Zooomr.

They liked Tabblo best, giving it an 8 out of 10. Flickr got 7, Webshots and Zooomr 6, and Buzznet brought up the rear with 4. Their summary of Tabblo was,

Superior customized templates tell a story through images and words. Web-based apps let you zoom in and edit shots right in the browser. Order posters and prints when you're done. The best part? No ads.

None of Wired Test is online, but here's a photo of the entire matrix.

Box rivets

Sunday 5 November 2006

Mr. McGroovy's Box Rivets is a site dedicated to selling one small product with a seemingly small market: plastic rivets for building with cardboard. I love this for a number of reasons. One, it is an example of the web as a place where small producers can connect with enough consumers to keep a business viable. Two, I am a dad of three boys, so I have built plenty of cardboard projects in my day.

Three, Mr. McGroovy isn't trying to over-state his place in the world. Other people in his position would try to come up with other uses for the rivets, or other reasons people might build with cardboard (shelters for the homeless, college dorm furniture, rapid prototyping, etc). Nope, his example projects are all aimed squarely at the true cardboard-building public: parents and kids making forts, fire engines, and so on.

Fourth, his ambitious example building plans include instructions like this:

You need 8 refrigerator boxes to build this design (DON'T PANIC...see How to Get FREE Boxes).

And his "How to Get FREE Boxes" page includes tips on how to fit 8 refrigerator boxes in your car. This guy has clearly walked the walk!

Drawing and manufacturing, then and now

Saturday 4 November 2006

Two recent Boing-Boing posts resonated with me. Both touch on the connection between drawing and manufacturing, but at very different times, with very different styles and results:

  • Sol Geduld Notebook #1 is a hand-written notebook done 60 years ago in fountain pen. It is a meticulous set of notes for airplane construction. I am extremely envious of his ability to record thoughts so lovingly and beautifully.
  • Sketch Furniture by FRONT is a cool demo of a 3D prototyping technology. Two furniture designers sketch in space with some sort of pen, the computer tracks their movements, and a rapid prototyping machine spits out a chunk of plastic like what they drew. I'm not sure it would actually be useful for prototyping (the result is very crude, and how does the designer see their work as they create it?), but as a technology hack, it is amazing.

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