Thursday, April 26, 2007

The font of horror

HappyTech used to have a fake IT guy so woefully underqualified for the position that he eventually left in shame for a menial job at some hospital. When I took over as technical writer I was mortified- mortified, I tell you- to see the documents he had been sending out to our customers. Not only were they confusing, badly-written instructions, he had printed them in a butt-ugly, juvenile-looking font intended for use on day care signage and flyers for adult baby parties. No wonder nobody took us seriously!

Fortunately there are those among us who understand my trauma, and I applaud their efforts in the fight to ban Comic Sans. Here's an interview from Earz with one of the brave souls spearheading the campaign:
Why Ban Comic Sans

By Martin Skivington
Posted Sunday, 25 Mar 2007 03:42:23 GMT

Somewhere in the murky underworld of graphic design there is a band of renegade activists who answer to no-one, and are willing to fight against anyone using the Comic Sans font.

You know the font-- it's goofy-looking and a bit cheese. You will have seen it used everywhere, from movie posters and powerpoint presentations, to corporate logos and car park signs. So what's the problem?

Folks behind the 'Ban Comic Sans' campaign say it's disrespectful to the old art of typography. It's use implies naivety and silliness, and should be confined to pink lettering on little girls' bikes-- and not on serious media forms.

But what of the campaigners-- a shadowy bunch, they use quasi-religious terms like "the sanctity of typography" in their propaganda, while appealing to the "working man" to join their campaign erradicating a simple computer font.

So are they a dangerous militia? Or just some peeved designers armed with little more than stickers and an artistic temperament. I spoke to the movement's head-- who I'll refer to only as "Dave" --to find out if it's all about art, or all a bit fart.

Earz: I assume that you lot at 'Ban Comic Sans' are designers?

Yes, that's correct. My wife Holly and I are both graphic designers, and when we realized that we shared a common disgust for inappropriate Comic Sans usage we decided that rather than just complain about it we should take action.

Earz: Why, according to your manifesto, should comic sans be banned?

In short, it's just not safe for unregulated public use. It should be handled like controlled substances or firearms, and should be used only by licensed professionals in very specific settings. Since we can't have it that way, I'm afraid it should be banned altogether. As an aside, I've actually used Comic Sans for web design appropriately in its intended context:

Earz: Do you find in the design world your campaign gets a lot of respect, is it only lay designers who go around using comic sans?

We get letters all the time from designers thanking us for starting the campaign. Some have shown the site to their clients who "just adore" Comic Sans and want to use it for their corporate communications. At least a few corporate identity catastrophes have been averted in that way. I suspect that most trained professionals would rarely find occasion to use Comic Sans, but I've heard that professional graphic designers for Disney have used it.

Earz: Are there any major guilty parties you'd like to name and shame?

I guess I just did in that last response. I won't name the hospital, but there was one with a sign in front of their building which stated "Accepting New Patients" in Comic Sans. A ban comic sans sticker was applied to the sign and about a month later the sign was replaced with the same message set in much more dignified Helvetica. I don't know if that helped them gain new patients or not, but the new sign was only up for a short time which would suggest that it did.

Earz: I found a weird website on typography, it was written in Italian I think, and had images of a gravestone lettered in comic sans. What does that say to you?

That would only be appropriate if the deceased were a clown or comedian, but other than that, I'd come back to haunt whoever did that if I were the dead guy.

Earz: With regards to the campaign... Are people listening? Or are you the lunatic-fringe of the design world, like the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is to Christianity?

I think people are listening. The hospital sign person did. The whole campaign is a bit tongue-in-cheek, mind you. We know there are bigger issues in the world like war, pollution, and poverty, but this particular issue did seem to need a voice which it found in our campaign. For every person who sends an angry email telling us to "get a life, it's just a font" we get about 20 praising the campaign. No kidding.

Earz: What are your next moves, and where do you see the campaign going? What is your message to the world?

I've given some thought to collaborating with some different artists and designers to breathe some new life into the campaign, but haven't pursued that to date. If anyone's interested in collaborating with us they can contact us through the site. All on it's own, the campaign has spawned some similar campaigns in France and the Netherlands.

So I think the message is catching on and spreading as it resonates with people just from the website, flyers, and stickers we've done. We get 200+ visitors to our website daily so people are hearing the message. If after visiting the site they think for just a few seconds longer before they select a typeface for their next email or sign they're about post in the company breakroom, I'd say we've done our part.

Our message to the world? BAN COMIC SANS, of course! Thanks for the interview, and have a Comic Sans free day.

Thanks to the eloquent and far-from-shadowy Dave Combs for participating in the interview. I personally agree with his and Holly's opinion--the gravestone clinched it.

Using comic sans in serious literature is akin to wearing pink to a funeral, and should be avoided at all costs by persons with a brain. For more information, stickers and propaganda on the ban comic sans campaign, check the link below.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Now we do the dance of joy

At HappyTech we support software for a major auto manufacturer; let's call them Schmysler. Our customer-facing identity is that we're another department of Schmysler and customers reach us through an extension on their help desk. Fortunately HappyTech is a separate entity that operates at a different location, where we don't have to deal with the rigid, uptight environment of a corporate behemoth's headquarters.

With our business in a slump, the boss has been investigating moving us to the Schmysler offices as a cost-saving measure. Which would suck hardcore. We'd have a tighter dress code. We'd be subject to lots of call monitoring, statistical goals and quality assurance bureaucracy. A couple of my coworkers are so spoiled by this den of slack we're in now that they wouldn't last two months at corporate. If they didn't quit they'd be fired once it became clear how little they actually do. Then all their work would be shifted onto good old reliable me.

Worst of all, web surfing would be severely restricted and all web traffic monitored. I couldn't even check my private email. I realize most people don't get the down time or the freedom to spend much of the day web surfing at work. But it's what I prize most about my job and the main reason I'm still here after a year of lousy pay and ridiculously inequitable work distribution. I'd be miserable at HQ and would have to devote all my spare time to finding another job.

The threat of the move has loomed for a couple of months. But the boss just announced the great news that HappyTech has re-upped the lease on our current office space for another three years. A pictorial of my reaction:

Friday, April 20, 2007

Praise the Lord!

He has His own blog.

Respect that vagina

If you prowl the innertubes much you may have come across her. Alexyss Taylor, feminist author and host of her own public access show, preaches the gospel of Vagina Power. Why do I want to move to Atlanta so as never to miss another show? Her hilariously graphic descriptions of psychosexual relationship dynamics? Her oft-mortified mother looking on from the McMahon seat? Whatever it is, I don't even care if she's real or another lonelygirl15. From the moment she used the phrase "pussy control" I knew I Alexyss and I want her to be my BFF.

Respect that vagina

Piloting the pussy on Halloween

The man that is living to ejaculate? He's in a predator mode.

Look out for penis power

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Salem Al Fakir - This Is Who I Am

Salem Al Fakir is an immensely talented singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Sweden. This Is Who I Am debuted in the US last month. Several tracks recall Lewis Taylor with their blend of soul and seventies rock influences, but this album encompasses many more genres. I also hear echoes of early Prince in his work. I first heard about him in this review on Cool Hunting:

One of the most exciting artists I’ve encountered lately, Salem Al Fakir (first mentioned on CH six months back in an article about upcoming Scandinavian talents) released his first full-length solo album, This is Who I Am, in January in Sweden. In the six weeks since its release, it has been on the top ten Swedish album charts and just this week went gold.

Raised in Sweden by his Syrian father and Swedish mother, Salem was an unmistakable child prodigy, touring Russia as a solo violinist at 12. Like other über-talents before him—Prince, Omar, D’angelo, Stevie Wonder—Salem now plays virtually every instrument. On This is Who I Am he plays them all in addition to writing, arranging, producing and mixing. His virtuosic abilities on the violin and keyboard instruments are most obvious. But he also holds things down nicely on the drums, bass, guitar, xylophone and who knows what else.

In contrast to his precociously adult arrangements, Salem sings imperfectly with an almost childlike quality. That said, I like his voice and it works. Being the consummate musician that he is, he must know it’s his weakness and perhaps the title reflects that.

Though barely old enough to remember the 80s, one of Salem’s many gifts is an ability to craft sophisticated and catchy pop songs fusing the refined feel and rich arrangements of the 70s with the musical simplicity and catchiness of the 80s. His songs are playful and often unfashionably pretty and upbeat, with melodic keyboard solos and bright-eyed lyrics refreshingly free of irony. Short instrumental interludes between radio-friendly songs showcase his skill and deep musicality.

As the title suggests, This is Who I Am is a multifaceted collection of personal-feeling songs. The scope of styles he tackles is staggering, including rock, jazz, soul, folk, melodic pop, classical, blues, gospel and more with influences as diverse as Steely Dan, The Motown Sound, Stevie Wonder, TV theme songs, and Earth Wind and Fire.

Clearly Salem Al Fakir can do just about anything he wants musically. But unlike others before him who’ve had innate talent without taste and restraint (leading to numerous unlistenable self-indulgent “masterpieces”), Salem is thankfully blessed with both and we are all the better for it.

(Reposted from my MOG, where you can hear several songs and watch more videos from This Is Who I Am.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Esquivel – King of Space-Age Pop

Esquivel is my favorite composer of exotica, lounge and space age pop music. He took a zany approach to the sonic wallpaper of cocktail lounge music that flirted with parody, spiking it with quirky instrumental interjections and singers cooing nonsense syllables. Esquivel’s production style makes for great headphone listening. A pioneer of stereo recording, he sometimes directed two bands in separate studios by closed circuit.

The Space Age Pop Music Page has a detailed bio with discography and sound clips, excerpted below:

Juan Garcia Esquivel was born in Mexico in 1918, After mastering the piano, he taught himself composition and arranging when he was fourteen and headed a 30-piece orchestra by age 17.

Esquivel honed his talents with a 24-piece orchestra at Mexico City’s popular radio station, XEW . In addition to writing jingles, he composed an original soundtrack every day for Panseco, a popular radio comedian. “The entire orchestra would arrive at ten o’clock in the morning,” he recalled recently, “the comedian would give me the script for the day, and the boy who set up the music stands would give each musician a pencil, an eraser, and blank music paper.” By the time the comedian’s show aired at 8:00 p.m., Esquivel had composed and arranged the score and rehearsed the orchestra.

When he first arrived in Hollywood in January 1958 to record “Other Worlds, Other Sounds” for RCA , the record company gave him just five hours of studio time to record the twelve tunes. Esquivel had rehearsed the orchestra so well that he finished in three and a half. He used the remaining hour and a half to rehease and record an entire second album’s worth of material with a smaller combo, released as “Four Corners of the World.”

Later albums became more elaborate—and more expensive to record. 1962’s “Latin-Esque” required stereo separation so total that the orchestra was split into two parts and placed in two entirely separate studios a block apart, linked by closed-circuit TV and headphones. Esquivel conducted both orchestras simulaneously, recording the album in the new 4-channel method. As with all his recordings, there was no overdubbing. Each tune was recorded live, though Esquivel was such a perfectionist that many takes were usually required.

Esquivel wrote, arranged, and performed incessantly, working for 32-hour stretches and then sleeping for eight. His live show, “The Sights and Sounds of Esquivel,” had a 12-year gig at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, and toured other cities, and Esquivel also found time to compose and record for dozens of television series (including Markham, The Tall Man, The Bob Cummings Show, Kojak, Charlie’s Angels, Simon and Simon, and Magnum PI, among many others), and record several more lps for a total of eleven domestic releases. When his orchestra broke up in 1974, he returned to Mexico where he continued to record for film and television; an album tied to a children’s TV series sold more than a million copies in 1978.

Esquivel’s lasting influence can be felt especially on TV soundtracks. He not only provided music for many series, but his style can be readily discerned in many others of the same period. The percussion and brass arrangements in the theme to “I Dream of Genie,” for instance, fairly drips with Esquivel style.

See also:

Juan García Esquivel on Wikipedia

Esquivel’s Allmusic bio

(Cross-posted from my MOG)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Essra Mohawk

Essra Mohawk is one of my favorite semi-obscure artists. Born Sandra Hurvitz, she began as a songwriter for other artists and was a member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention before launching her solo career. She changed her name to Essra Mohawk (Mohawk being her husband's surname) in 1969. In 1970 she released Primordial Lovers, which was named one of the best twenty-five albums ever made by Rolling Stone, and a string of acclaimed albums followed. But record company mismanagement hampered her career and she never got the recognition she deserved in a market flooded with talented female singer/songwriters.

One reviewer called her voice "a remarkable instrument -- not the shrill piccolo of Joni Mitchell, nor the darker, mesmerising recorder of Laura Nyro, but more a multi-range brass and woodwind hybrid yet to be invented." Essra opened for the Grateful Dead, Cream, Procol Harum, and Jimi Hendrix. She has sung with John Mellencamp, Carole King and Al Jarreau. Her vocals appeared on the Schoolhouse Rock songs, “Interjections!”, “Sufferin’ Till Suffrage”, and “Mother Necessity.” Her songs have been recorded by The Shangri-Las, Vanilla Fudge, Tina Turner, and Cyndi Lauper, who had a number three hit with Essra's "Change of Heart."

Essra still tours and records. Her latest album, "Love Is Still the Answer", was released last year.

This article is cross-posted from my MOG, where you can also find relevant audio and video clips.

See also:
Wikipedia entry
Allmusic bio
2003 interview

Thursday, April 12, 2007

We're the Stains, and we don't put out

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, my favorite flick from the eighties, got MeFi'ed yesterday. This influential but criminally ignored film inspired a whole generation of feminist punk bands. The movie's official site promises an upcoming DVD release but no date is forthcoming. I'm practically salivating for those extras and commentary tracks but for now I'll have to be content with my grainy bootleg copy.

A great mini-documentary about the film.

"Join the Professionals" performed by The Looters, a.k.a. Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, Paul Simonon from the Clash, and actor Ray Winstone.

The inauspicious debut of the Stains.

The Stains rip off "Join the Professionals".

"Join the Professionals" covered by Nasty Ho.

See also:
Bright Lights Film Journal review
Film Threat review
Cashiers Du Cinemart review article

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

HappyTech comes through

Everyone at HappyTech is concerned about our dwindling customer base. Up to now there has been a lot of hand-wringing and very little action. Management finally did a little cheerleading and announced they're going to do something about it. We're launching a sales program that will scare up some desperately needed new business. This has been talked up before but now there's actual money and effort behind it. It might be too little too late, but at least some steps are being taken to save our business. I feel marginally more secure about my job.

Gordon, our boss, says he is optimistic about the company's future, but what else is he going to say? Selling our software is an uphill battle. Our fledgling product is competing with many older, well-established ones, and those companies have a large chunk of the market locked into exclusive contracts. We rolled out our software with nearly twice the customers we have now, but scheduled enhancements to our software were delayed again and again. The word spread that our product is crap and scores of subscribers bailed. Gordon feels that we can lure many of them back with ongoing improvements to the product and aggressive sales. I call that cockeyed optimism, and not just because of his lazy eye. If I bought software that was integral to running my business and found it sorely lacking, it seems unlikely I'd want to try it out again in six months. Our end users are too busy to be beta testers, let alone on their own dime, when they already have another solution that works better. I think our best bet is to go after new customers who didn't see the older, worse editions of our software and hope they haven't heard any of the negative buzz. Since I'm part of the sales force maybe I can push things in that direction.

Annual reviews were yesterday. One by one, my coworkers marched into the conference room with the solemnity of the condemned. They all came out looking sheepish and stung, then spent the rest of the day grumbling about their small raises. I, on the other hand, practically skipped into my meeting and came out with a big shit-eating grin. It speaks volumes about this office full of fuck-ups that I can goof off as much as I do and still be considered the star performer.

I got a 25% raise (half now, half in October), even more than I hoped for. The little bug I put in Dawn's ear helped my case. Gordon said he fought to get me an even higher increase than originally planned in hopes I would stop looking for another job.

The boss also officially relaxed the restriction on web surfing. It was almost more good news than I could handle in one day.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Image overhaul

Nothing says "slow Friday at work" like a total blog makeover.

If you subscribe to this blog by email, you may need to sign up again as the title has changed.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Pay raise politics

After a long meeting with my office manager Dawn yesterday, I'm web surfing at work again. As I told her, one coworker saved a bunch of porn on a company PC and two others never do a damned thing. If all that flies, there's no way in hell they're going to fire their hardest worker for web surfing. As predicted, our boss Gordon never implemented any monitoring measures. Dawn says as long as I'm not surfing blatantly when he's in the room it's fine.

When I started at HappyTech I had been temping for peanuts at some truly horrible jobs. Desperate to get someplace with health benefits and better pay, I gave a very low salary requirement to get hired. Since I have proven to be an asset to the company and have eight years of experience in the field, there's no reason why I shouldn't have a significantly higher salary now. Especially since I found out one of my do-nothing coworkers makes way more than me. Back in December I told Gordon I was barely making ends meet and was about to take on an additional $600 a month in car expenses. I explained that I like working here but would be forced to look for another job if I don't get a significant increase soon. He has been promising that raise ever since. A while ago he told me he had asked the bigwigs for the highest pay increase he has ever requested: 20%. We were supposed to meet about it last week. My annual increase is already a month late.

Dawn is my secret pipeline for all inside information. She told me my raise had been approved, sort of. They planned to give me 10% now and the other half in six months. I told her it was too little too late and reiterated what I told Gordon in December. I also admitted I'm job hunting and claimed I have already gone on one interview. I know I can get away with putting the pressure on because Dick, my help desk supervisor, is constantly threatening Gordon he'll find another job.

Dawn thought Gordon could be persuaded to do better, so she relayed some of our conversation to him. Later she told me he was on phone with the CEO trying to negotiate. I just got an email from him saying, "I have your payrise approved but need to discuss somethings with you. We will have a review and 2007 objectives meeting next Tuesday." Dawn thinks this means I'll get the full 20% raise now. I'm skeptical.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sex World

This month's disc goes out to the ever-so-cool ChrissySissyStar, who was only too happy to hear this mix would be slightly smuttier than usual. Along with some recent favorites, it features porn soundtrack tunes, snippets of porn dialog and music with porn samples.

1. Man - Erotica
2. Alice Russell - Take Your Time, Change Your Mind
3. William S. Burroughs & The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy - Dr. Benway Operates
4. Ja'Net DuBois - Queen of the Highway
5. dialog from Orgasmatron 75
6. Sam Phillips - Faster Pussycat To The Library!
7. Chari Chari - Strictly Porn
8. Survival Soundz - Twilight
9. Tift McGinnis + 3 Wheels Out - live from the Clermont Lounge
10. The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health
11. Owusu & Hannibal - What's It About
12. Nick Faber - Same Girl, Different Wig
13. Vanity - Flippin' Out
14. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Gettin' High in the Morning
15. Pineapple (dialog from Maui Wowie)
16. Bilal - You're All I Need (Feels Like Heaven)
17. Diamanda Galás - Dead Cat on the Line
18. Inevidence - Cum Dancing
19. Jamie Lidell - Multiply (In a Minor Key)
20. Blossom Dearie - Just One of those Things (Brazilian Girls remix)
21. Berry Lipman - Sex World ft Toni McVey


Welsh psychedelic rock band Man had a European hit in 1969 with "Erotica" but failed to chart in the UK due to the prominently featured orgasmic female moaning. I first heard the song on The Mood Mosaic 12: Mondo Porno.

Alice Russell is a British singer with an immense talent for soul, blues and jazz vocals. "Take Your Time, Change Your Mind" appears on Under the Munka Moon II.

William S. Burroughs was an American Beat Generation novelist. "Dr. Benway Operates" is excerpted from his seminal 1959 novel Naked Lunch. His performance, backed by San Francisco alt hip hop group The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, is from the album Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales.

Best known for playing Willona on the sitcom Good Times, Ja'Net DuBois also sang and cowrote the "Movin' On Up" theme for The Jeffersons. "Queen of the Highway" appears on the compilation The Kings of Diggin' mixed by Kon & Amir and DJ Muro.

Dialog from Orgasmatron 75 appeared on the compilation Deep Note: Music of 1970's Adult Cinema.

Singer-songwriter Sam Phillips is known for her idiosyncratic voice, Beatlesque songwriting, and fruitful collaborations with Van Dyke Parks, Elvis Costello and her husband, producer T-Bone Burnett. "Faster Pussycat To The Library!" is from her 1996 release Omnipop (It's Only a Fleshwound Lambcop).

Chari Chari aka Kaoru Inoue is a Japanese DJ and producer of minimal techno. This track is a mashup of burlesque tunes guaranteed to make you bump and grind. "Strictly Porn" appeared on the 1999 compilation Suck It & See.

NYC band Survival Soundz fused soul, jazz and underground hip hop with an Afrocentric aesthetic. "Twilight" appeared on the 1997 compilation Mutant Beatz:
Abstrakt Hip-Hop, Future Funk & Science Fiction Soul.

I couldn't find any info about "Tift McGinnis + 3 Wheels Out - live from the Clermont Lounge" but I'd love to know more. This excellent spoken word piece about the intrigue and danger of sex work also appeared on Suck It & See.

The Knife are a Swedish brother and sister duo whose indie electronic music is heavily informed by synth pop and electro. "
We Share Our Mother's Health" is from their acclaimed 2006 release Silent Shout.

Danish duo Owusu & Hannibal make electronic music inspired by classic funk and soul music.
"What's It About" appears on their 2006 debut Living with Owusu & Hannibal.

Nick Faber is a DJ/producer and sought-after remixer. "Same Girl, Different Wig" appeared on Suck it & See.

Denise Matthews was a nude model and B-movie actress who was re-christened Vanity by Prince and made the lead singer of his side project, Vanity 6. "Flippin' Out" displays the full range of her vocal talents from A to B. It appeared on her first post-Prince album, Wild Animal.

Ariel Rosenberg is the visual artist and musician who records under the name Ariel Pink. He produces lo-fi, off-kilter rock that still manages to be catchy and melodic. "Gettin' High in the Morning" can be heard on his 2002 release House Arrest.

Dialog from Maui Wowie came from Deep Note: Music of 1970's Adult Cinema.

Philadelphia singer-songwriter Bilal's neosoul compositions are informed by his jazz background. He has worked with Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and D'Angelo. "You're All I Need (Feels Like Heaven)" is from his unreleased 2006 album Love for Sale.

Diamanda Galás is a performance artist, singer, keyboardist and composer. Possessed of a four octave range, her distinctive vocal style is informed by opera, blues and avant-garde performance art. "Dead Cat on the Line" is from her 2003 live album La Serpenta Canta.

"Cum Dancing" by ambient electronic group Inevidence is a dance track notable for its amusing porn samples and memorable dialog by Cheech Marin as a brothel carnival barker in From Dusk Til Dawn. Also from Suck it & See.

British artist Jamie Lidell, once half of experimental electronic group Super_Collider, marked his debut as a soul singer-songwriter on his 2005 album Multiply. "Multiply (In a Minor Key)" appeared on his 2006 remix album Multiply Additions.

Blossom Dearie is a jazz singer, songwriter and pianist since the 1950's who still appears regularly at a NYC cabaret. "Just One of those Things (Brazilian Girls remix)" can be found on Verve Remixed, Vol. 3.

Producer Berry Lipman's "Sex World" inspired this mix. A parody of Westworld, Sex World was a resort where guests went to live out their secret fantasies. The theme song, with singer Toni McVey belting like Shirley Bassey on mushrooms, manages to be hilariously cheesy and oddly funky at once. You can hear the song on Star Maidens: The Girls from Space.