Thursday, May 27, 2010

On Hiatus

Just a note to let you know that this blogger blog is going to be retired. I'm working on another setup that will allow me to better control and organize what I put online. I have nothing against blogger, but for my purposes, it doesn't work to have my blog hosted by an independent provider.

However, the blog ("Just to Get Some Attention") itself is not going away, it will be reborn at another place. I will make a post here when that occurs. See you soon... ish.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Just a Reminder

We all need a reminder sometimes...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Google Buzz Rethink

In my previous post, I tried to give a run down on how use Google Buzz (Gbuzz) in a manner that would allow you to share things with an intimate group of people without exposing yourself to the world. However, after thinking about it for a while, it is apparent to me I was attempting to use Gbuzz in a manner contrary to its intention.

I wanted Gbuzz to be a private area where sharing and communicating as a group was easier than it is with email, but still allow each participant as much anonymity as they wanted. And certainly, I wasn't interested in broadcasting things to the world with Gbuzz. And yes, sometimes just exposing people's names is too much information especially when I'm put into a position of having to decide for other people whether their names are exposed.

However, private use really isn't the intended use of Gbuzz. Gbuzz is really about public communication. I can speculate about (and even appreciate) the reasons why Google would embed Gbuzz in the middle of their private communication Gmail app, but the bottom line is I think it was a poor choice, and I definitely feel the roll out was mismanaged with unclear configuration options and poor documentation. (To Google's credit, they are responding quickly to many of these things.)

The bottom line is that I will leave my Gbuzz account enabled as I feel I finally have a handle on privacy issues and privacy controls, but I will only use it for public postings. I'll only use it for things I'm comfortable having in public.

This will actually limit its usefulness to me. I really have no need for another public platform. What I really wanted was that more private area that I can't seem to find in the google world outside of Gmail. I suppose there are other social applications (like Facebook maybe?) that might fit the bill, but I really don't feel like joining yet another social web site.

Anyway, I'll keep an eye on Gbuzz, and who knows, maybe it will demonstrate its usefulness as a public platform? But for now, I'll just follow Gbuzz developments with interest and maybe play around with the API.

Also, for further thoughts on other services related to Gbuzz that I didn't even touch on, see this piece. And here's a link to the Gbuzz privacy FAQ again. If you want to completely disable Gbuzz, I would pay particular attention to question 15:
Q15: How do I get rid of Buzz?
A15: Follow these steps:
1) Delete your profile by going to, clicking Edit Profile, and then Delete Profile (at the bottom). This will delete all of your Buzz posts.
2) Block all of your followers (See Q10)
3) Turn off Buzz in Gmail by clicking on "turn off buzz" at the bottom

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Some Gripes About Google Buzz

This post is mostly about issues of privacy surrounding Gbuzz.  If you don't care about the private use of Gbuzz and want to use Gbuzz to share everything with everybody on the internet, you don't need to bother reading this post.  However, if you'd like to give Gbuzz a try to share with an intimate group of family and friends without exposing yourself to the rest of the world, then you may find this post useful.

You may have heard that Google rolled out a new product that they embedded into their Gmail application. It's called Buzz, but I'm going to call it Gbuzz for the purposes of this post. Gbuzz is a new "social application" that google is trying to leverage Gmail to launch, and I think they botched this roll out for a couple of reasons. (If you don't currently have Gbuzz enabled on your Gmail account, you soon will.)

I understand Gbuzz is web software, so it will likely see many changes perhaps even quickly. So the information in here (and my gripes) could be addressed very quickly. But we'll see.

Before I go any further, my comments below are premised on how I treat gmail. For me, gmail is a place when I have private conversations. It's a place where I can assume that the people I communicate with don't necessarily know any of the other people I communicate with (at least if I'm careful with email To: and CC: lists), and ordinarily my address book is not exposed to the people I email let alone the whole world.

These are qualities also shared by standard email services, and I assume I'm not alone in how I regard Gmail. I consider these desirable features not just for myself, but also for the people with whom I communicate. And I think it is an underlying assumption of email communication and a generally understood etiquette (which is why long email To: lists are generally considered a no-no when they contain a bunch of people who don't otherwise know each other).

This leads me to my first gripe about Gbuzz. When you first sign into your Gmail account after Gbuzz has been enabled for your account, Google requires that you create a public Google profile. Google profiles are something that Google rolled out a while ago that is associated with your google account.  They are intended as a place where people with Google accounts could provide discoverable information about themselves.

Generally Google profiles have been something that could be ignored while using Google services, but it appears Google is being more aggressive with attempting to expand how many users create (and potentially fill out) their public profiles.  I assume this is in an attempt to convert Gmail users into instant Gbuzz users and thus creating a very large, public social network in one fell swoop.  Perhaps there is a technical reason for requiring public profiles to use Gbuzz, but I can't imagine what that would be nor that these technical reasons couldn't have been surmounted if Google didn't want to require public profiles to use Gbuzz.

Now I admit that your public profile does not need to contain much in the way of identifiable information, but if you are like most people, and use your real name when emailing, and enabling Gbuzz is the first time you've created a public Google profile, then it will at least declare your name. That's not such a big deal right?

(By the way, this is a link to my public Google profile.)

By itself that wouldn't reveal too much except to let people know that you have a Google account of some kind (and even that you might want to keep to yourself depending where you work), but the next step Google has you take is to decide whether you will share your list of following/followers to other Google account holders. Here's what my screen looked like at this point:

This is where I get a little upset because Gbuzz takes your initial set of following as many of the people in your list of Gmail contacts without really explaining the ramifications. If you accept this default option, your profile will now expose a list of names from your contact book in the following list!

Granted these don't necessarily expose email addresses and other personal information.  Just their names and public profiles, but even the relationships alone can be revealing for people. Not just your relationship to them, but also their relationship to you. You are making decisions on the behalf of others and the others don't get a say in the matter. I think making this the default behavior is a poor choice. Google should not be treating your Gmail contacts like something that can be easily turned into a social application's buddy list.  They aren't the same in the least. Your Gmail contacts were generated over months or years under a wholly different set of assumptions than your typical social application buddy list.

You can turn this feature off, but at the moment it seems you only get one chance to do so when you are signing in to Gbuzz the first time. (update: I found a way.  See end of post.) On a test account I have, I turned it on, but I couldn't find a way to turn it off after that. The same was true for the other way around. A setting for this may be coming shortly, but I don't think it will be fast enough for some of us. My recommendation here is to turn off sharing of your followers and following lists.  Your screen should look like this:

My second concern in that in the attempt to leverage Gmail to launch this social network app, Google has conflated the private and the public domains in a potentially dangerous manner without properly warning users. After you've enabled your Gbuzz account, you can now make posts directly within Gbuzz. By default, these posts are public. Meaning they are available to all your followers (which can be pretty much anyone [see below]) as well as on your public profile (again, see my public profile for an example of what that looks like).

However, you can enable a private posting which allows you to select which people are able to see your post. This is done by grouping your followers into new groups that are managed like contacts.  I haven't bothered to appropriately manage my groups yet, so my friends and family lists aren't filled in, but you get the idea.

The good news is once you set this privacy post option, Gbuzz seems to default to it. The bad news is that Gbuzz defaults to public and the user has to take the second step of establishing a private post. I don't think Google has taken sufficient steps to warn people that what they post to Gbuzz can be exposed to more people than they realize if they chose the default public posting.

My final gripe is that while Gbuzz has a way to block followers after they are following you. There doesn't appear to be a way to require potential followers to ask permission before following. So somebody undesirable could follow you for a while without you knowing about it. Now, if you're careful about using private posting, then you can mitigate this issue (see below).

Again, all these things that I consider issues have mostly to do with how I expect Gmail to operate: as a private communication domain.  Maybe other people don't feel this way, but I'm touchy not just about my privacy but also the privacy of others.  It's fine to share things, but people shouldn't be ambushed into sharing things publically either by intent or by poorly designed software.

I feel the roll out for Gbuzz has been poorly done. Too little information is provided to new users (I found out everything I did by trial and error with one public account and multiple test accounts I keep around), and the default for Gbuzz settings should've been highly restricted privacy. Then users would hopefully be made more appropriately aware that Gbuzz is not Gmail and that steps need to be taken to keep information and posts as private as they are comfortable with. Users should have been forced to choose to go public, not to have to stumble into realizing their posts and contacts aren't private by default. By placing Gbuzz in a convenient tab in people's Gmail window, Google has conflated the private realm of Gmail with a potentially much more public realm of Gbuzz. This will likely have undesirable consequences for users.

Here's my suggestion to people interested in using Gbuzz for private sharing with close friends and family, and not interested in exposing everything to the whole world unintentionally.

  1. When signing into Gbuzz for the first time, disable sharing of your following/followers.  Maybe in the future there will be more control, but for now, I feel this is the best way to go if you have a respect for you privacy as well as those of your friends and family.  If you're sharing Gbuzz with an intimate group of people, making your list of following/followers public doesn't add value to the experience.  You all know each other already.
  2. When making your first post on Gbuzz, select a Private post, and create a group that contains the people you most often would like to share with.  This will make this private posting group the default (but keep an eye on it to be sure).
  3. Now if you always use this private group for your postings, you don't have to worry about accidentally leaking information outside that group of contacts, and your posts won't show up on your public profile.  Even if you get new (undesirable or unknown) followers, you will not reveal anything to them without you adding them to your private group.  This creates a de facto permission to follow feature (which is perhaps what Google intended, but they should've made it clear).

If you follow those three steps, I think you will find that your Gbuzz stream is about as private as your Gmail account (assuming you trust the people in your private posting group).

Finally, despite my gripes, I do think Gbuzz has some potentially nice features for staying in touch with friends and family, especially if you already use Gmail.  I intend to give it a try.  I hope you do too.

  1. Gbuzz docs
  2. Gbuzz privacy FAQ 
  3. You can change the setting for publicizing your followers/following list here

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Christmas Card 2009

For quite some time now, I've wanted to design my own Christmas card. In the past, the closest I came to making my own Christmas card was a linoleum block print I attempted, and that failed miserably. I couldn't for the life of me get a good print.

In 2009, I finally succeeded thanks to the assistance of my mother and my girlfriend. Both of them provided not just encouragement but also ideas for the card, and they both put up with my indecisiveness. Also, while they didn't see themselves this way, I felt they were both "clients" of mine, and I didn't want to disappoint them. My mother planned to use the card as her Christmas card, so she actually was a client. For experienced artists, I'm sure designing a card like this is no big deal. For me, my inexperience proved to be something of an obstacle and added to my insecurities and fed my procrastination.

At any rate, my experience with the linoleum block print taught me not to waste my time this year with too much of a hands on effort. Maybe some other time I will attempt a more personal approach for the construction or printing of each card, but for this year I decided that if I wanted to get some cards made I should rely on professional printers.

Early on I chose Overnight Prints to print my cards. I came across them via a tweet from a professional cartoonist who mentioned using them. Considering the time of year, I'm sure they were extra busy. The results were pretty good, and I had plenty of good cards I could send out. But the print quality was a bit uneven. So if I decide to print cards again this year, I will try to locate a printer local to me. I may not get better results, but at least I have the option of working more closely with them and not have my experience mediated through an opaque web site.

Once I decided on a printer, all I needed was an idea. This proved to be the biggest obstacle in all this. I brainstormed with my mother one day while running errands in Billings, and we pretty much came up with the basic idea immediately. Great! Only problem was that it was scatological humor, and I was very reluctant to use that as a Christmas card. I wasted a lot of time trying to come up with other ideas and delayed working on the design. However, this may have been a good thing as we came up with three variations of the joke. The third one we came up with at the last minute, and I think it was the best.

While brainstorming, I doodled and sketched on a couple of different pages. The page below was done at a coffee shop shortly after we came up with the first version of the scatological joke. I had already come up with the second version of the joke on the page. But it was harsher than the first joke, and I didn't really like it either.

After delaying starting the card design, I finally gave in and decided to start working on the design based on the second joke. At this point, I was still doodling, but I was also trying to come up with final designs and working on the basic approach. I decided I was going to go for a cartoon look: black ink lines with flat colors. Here I have played with inking some ideas to see how they look.

Here's a thumbnail of the interior of the card. I wasn't worried about details, just placement, proportions, and composition. I was worried that the interior scene was a bit crowded, but it seemed like it would work.

Despite knowing the look I wanted, I still didn't know how I would render the design. Would I try to ink with an actual brush like I have with my other cards? Would I attempt to color with physical media? I wasn't sure, but I knew I would start with physical media as that is what I'm most comfortable with. So I started the tighter pencil drawing and scanned the card design at various stages of completion. That way I would have multiple versions, and should disaster strike, I would have options.

It was somewhere in the process of rendering the tighter pencils (before lettering) that we came up with the third joke. My clients approved the new joke, and I kept working.

This is a scan of tight pencils. You'll notice that I was able to fit the entire card design on one side of standard sized paper. This allowed me to work at the actual size of the final card. Initially I thought this was great as I would get to see the entire card all at once, but it may have been a poor choice as it forced me to work at the size of the card which was a bit small when it came to inking with a brush. I should have perhaps worked on the interior and exterior on separate pages at a larger size. I could've always reduced it in the computer. On the other hand, working at actual size did make sure I didn't put in details that wouldn't be seen when printed.

It turns out my plan to scan my design multiple times was a very good idea. When I got done with the pencils, I decided to ink the page with a brush pen. I hadn't used this brush pen before, and the brush proved to be a bit too large for how small my original drawings were. When I got done, I was not happy with the results.

So I gave up on those inks, and used ArtRage 2.5 as a virtual light table and ink pen. My scanned pencils were used as a tracing layer, and I worked on my "inks" directly in ArtRage. Oh, I also used a wacom tablet.

This is an example of the "inks". Depending on your browser settings, the image may look a little funny because the background is transparent and only the ink lines are opaque. You'll notice I've also separated the interior of the card from the exterior as required by Overnight Prints' printing process. This is the interior inks.

The transparency of the inked pages was important because it allowed me to easily approach the coloring stage. I probably could have done the whole card design in ArtRage, but ArtRage isn't about pixel perfect editing, and for the next stage, I wanted pixel perfect editing because I had to meet the very specific requirements of Overnight Prints. So I imported the inks into GIMP. There may be better tools for the job, but I found GIMP to be a great tool for the flat coloring I planned to use, and it allowed me to do pixel perfect editing.

After importing the inks into GIMP, I arranged the inks on the page, and I proceeded to color under them using multiple layers: highlights, mid tones, and shadows. I also cleaned up various ink lines that I was dissatisfied with.

This is the final exterior image that was used for printing.

This is the final interior image that was used for printing.

All in all, it took longer to make the card than I liked, but that was mostly due to my worried procrastination. I learned a lot in the process of making this card, and it has been received rather well. Most importantly, I actually enjoyed the process once I was able to put aside all my worrying about how it would turn out. I plan on making another one this year. There's only ten months before I have to send them out again! I better get started. Maybe something a little more tasteful this time?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Internet Clippings

I'm trying out a new blogging service from tumblr. I'm not moving my blog over there. I'm just going to use it as a place where I can store random neat things I find. I often find cool things I would like to share with people, but I don't like to be a bother. So faced with emailing people junk they don't want or posting all sorts of random things on this blog, I decided to just put these little interesting bits in one place dedicated to sharing stuff like that. A place you can look at if you want, and (politely) ignore if you don't want. I call this new site Internet Clippings.

If you fell like following the things I post there, I recommend subscribing to the feed that you will find linked under "Subscribe". If you don't know what that means, then I refer you to Google Reader which is what I use to monitor blogs and the like.

I'm going to rededicate this blog to be strictly for the things I make or do or think. Which means in short order it could become the internet equivalent of a ghost town complete with virtual tumbleweeds. We'll see.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!

I wanted to post something hopeful and inspirational here as a nice way to start the year, but sometimes it is better to defer to the words of others and simply join in the sentiment. New Year's wishes from Neil Gaiman...

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful. And don't forget to make some art. Write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can.

May your coming year be a wonderful thing in which you dream both dangerously and outrageously. I hope you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, that you will be loved and you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return.

And most importantly, because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now, I hope that you will, when you need to be, be wise and that you will always be kind, and I hope that somewhere in the next year you surprise yourself.

That's a transcript from this video. The audio is fairly decent, but I typed the transcript out just in case you had trouble understanding what he says.

Happy New Year!

Via Terri Windling.