Friday Flick: Real Beauty

Even if you’ve seen this classic commercial, it’s a great reminder that what we see in certain environments bears no resemblance to reality.

It’s also a reminder that some revisions go too far.

Dove Evolution of Beauty commercial

Dove Evolution of Beauty commercial


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Writer Beware

You don’t have to write in science fiction or fantasy to love Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This organization serves all writers by warning us of disreputable editors, publishers, agents, contests, and other scams in their Writer Beware. And naturally, they also blog about other topics you might be interested in.

Here’s their current list of so-called literary agencies whose habits range from unprofessional to fraudulent. And here’s the list of publishers to avoid. (Most are vanity presses, the dark side of self-publishing.) No list is complete, of course, but you can easily rule out any who show up here. And if you’re new and don’t even know which practices are considered unprofessional or fraudulent, you’ve just received an even greater gift.

Thank you, SFWA!


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Your Brain on Ads

Screenshot of My Brain on Ads by Maya CuevoTake a therapist who trained her daughter to watch media, including ads, with critical attention. Now imagine this daughter, Maya Cueva–already a journalist while still a teenager–not only applying that understanding to her buying decisions, but taking her curiosity to the lab and the radio studio. She interviewed researchers tracking brainwaves for advertisers. They can not only measure which ads make an impression with our attention, emotions, and memory, but which parts are most effective–thus qualifying for the five or ten-second version.

(Are you old enough to remember the sixty-second commercial? I’d call those the Hallmark years–masterpieces of short-short filmmaking. But I digress, as usual.)

I especially enjoyed Maya’s own meta-critical-thinking: her mother’s likely bias, her own decision processes. (My brainwaves probably spiked there.) Maya clearly distinguished that we have brain activity that promotes buying impulses and “just say no” activity. Obviously, she’s still using her brain. Her report might inspire you to train your brain, fight the battle, keep your choices free.

NPR Radio segment, transcript, and video. The radio and video versions are different. I enjoyed both.

Cueva’s Youth Radio profile.

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Photo screenshot from site cited.

Summer Survival

Is summer over yet?

Oh, yeah, I don’t have a break. And my children do! So here’s what I want–or rather don’t want–for me (and everyone around me) to be sane:

No unfinished chores. No whining about housework–and not from Young Son either. No fussing about when allowance is due, and how much is owed. No rethinking every day what needs to be done. No raised voices. No conflict. Sound impossible?

It’s happening! It’s My Job Chart!

My Job Chart screen shotIt’s free. (It’s supported by Amazon purchases; many families choose retail rewards as part of their planning. That’s it!)

The evening we set it up, eleven-year-old Young Son rushed around to do all of his chores rather than wait a whole day to begin earning. Naturally. I had to watch my computer because he sneaked into my side to add additional jobs, like “Make Mom’s bed.” He awarded it 15 points. (Hmmm. Would you pay 15 cents to have your bed made daily?) The child who would rather scrub toilets than sweep floors is suddenly doing both.

My favorite part is the messaging between the site and the parent’s cell or e-mail (or both). Here are a few messages I’ve received:

“I love this. I think that the way that they do this is absolutely amazing.”

“You are the most awesome mom a kid could have. Thank you for raising me to be nice, kind, n civilized.”

“I love you so blinking much, that i’m jolly well tearing up,wot wot!”

“You’re a blinkin’ genius, wot wot!”

(Yes, I am, thank you, but in this case, credit goes to Gregg Murset, My Job Chart founder, financial planner, and father of six.)

And Young Son enjoys my notes as well:

“I always knew you were a hard worker, but this is inspiring. I appreciate all you’re doing.”

So I’ll return to my teaching prep now as a delightful child practices musical theater solos while scrubbing his bathtub.


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Friday Flick: Virtual Choir

We’re so glad Eric Whitacre did not make it as a pop star. Here’s a TED talk on his composing and creating influences: Mozart and a fan on YouTube. It’s also about the lengths to which humans will go to connect, and how well we do connect across technology. Enjoy!

Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir on TED Screen shot
Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir on TED


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Handwritten E-mail

Handwritten E-mail–what a lovely idea! Pilot, maker of traditional pens, is working on it. It isn’t perfected yet–this is still beta testing–but they have a beautiful goal. I suggest you watch the demo video first:

Pilot Handwriting video screenshot Dear Gary

The demo shows cursive handwriting easily edited and masterfully connected. Not so. I’m known for my calligraphy and its influence on my everyday handwriting. You wouldn’t guess that from this sample:

My Pilot handwriting sample 1
My Pilot handwriting sample 1. Translation: "This is the first draft--and it looks nothing like the connected, smooth, and polished version in the demo!

So I tried printing.

Pilot Handwriting Sample 2
My Pilot handwriting sample 2: Translation: This is a new scan, of my italic rather than cursive. You can see that precision sizing is important and that an accidental space is appearing before each lower case o.

It took four scans to get this much clarity and to realize that the adjustment feature does exist. You click on each letter before you save the font.

My Pilot handwriting sample 3
"Here's the fourth attempt, printing with a thick pen, then adjusting every letter a little thinner. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Naturally, though, it hardly resembles my actual handwriting."

My attempt to write larger and more clearly improved the spacing between letters, but the lines overlapped because the leading (space between lines) doesn’t change. My “y” was missing, so that one was especially awkward and it turned out too thin.

It was time-consuming and not satisfying in its results, but it was fun to try on a lazy Saturday morning. I made it an artist’s date. If you want to try it, go ahead and read their instructions, then follow my additional tips for you:

  1. Print several copies of the template. Sure, you’re more likely to get it right the first time because you have these tips–and if you nail it, you’ll have extra ones to share with a friend.
  2. Use a thick marker.
  3. Print neatly, with large open spaces wherever spaces should be.
  4. Be as consistent in size and pen stroke as possible.
  5. Be consistent in your letter placement baseline. If I tried this again, I’d mark baselines on one copy of the template and place that under the one I’m writing on.
  6. Skip the Webcam upload. Use a scanner. (I would have tried the digital camera method as well if I could find my camera’s USB cord.)
  7. Adjust each letter by clicking on it, and move the slider bar to the left, making each letter slightly thinner.
  8. If a letter appears to be missing, use the slider bar to find it. It’s usually there, only hiding.
  9. Use the eraser for any extra marks that mysteriously appear. That’s what happened with my lower case O in sample 2.
  10. Fill sparingly. Maybe a stylus or an Etch-a-Sketch artist could manage this, but on a trackpad, I got only ugly pixelated lines, especially on diagonals.
  11. Starting over a couple of times isn’t a bad strategy.

After you send your handwritten e-mail, this message appears:

Pilot handwritten letter encouragement: "Your letter has been sent. Write another one. Or better yet, turn off the computer, grab your Pilot, and write an old-fashioned pen and paper letter."This project is ingenious. By the time you fail to duplicate your handwriting, you’re downright eager to grasp a real pen and paper and write something beautiful. And you’ve just seen that Pilot name how many times? If you know me well, you know I often encourage pen and paper. It’s a personal touch when you send it to another, and it touches your own subconscious, intuitive, creative, receiving soul.


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Images from Pilot Handwriting and samples of my own experiments.

Disclosure: I have no relationship with Pilot, but only discovered this through my usual online serendipity.

Books: Too Good to Die

Antique_books_copyright_Jesse Karjalainen_iStockPhoto_5233400
© Jesse Karjalainen, iStockphoto® #5233400

True–you’re reading this online and you probably read eBooks of some sort. But technology also expands the options for traditional books as well.

Back in 2005, Valerie Kirschenbaum published Goodbye Gutenberg: How a Bronx Teacher Defied 500 Years of History and Launched an Astonishing Renaissance. She was teaching the Canterbury Tales when a high school student asked, “How come our books are not in color like they used to be?” This led to her researching beautifully designed books of earlier centuries, and proposing that since we’re no longer limited to black-and-white and a single font or two, why not design full out? She gets so carried away, there are chapters where you’re ready for boredom relief. But when you reach the chapter printed in black and white, it’s so stark, it’s hard to believe we’re tolerating that.

(I would have titled this book Welcome Back, Gutenberg. I’ve been to the Mainz museum and seen an original Gutenberg Bible; it was stunning. Gutenberg did not invent ugly books. Let’s blame someone else.)

Many of the possibilities she predicted are playing out all over the digital book world. We don’t even remember how recent this is. We’re already so accustomed to it, I feel obligated to apologize for not illustrating this post.

Meanwhile, traditional bookmaking–handbound, letterpress, you name it–is also kicking. Here are a few projects and ventures I happen to know of. Please chime in to share more!

Pyracantha Press at Arizona State University: fine art limited editions

The Paper Studio, Tempe, AZ and online

Elissa Campbell’s handcrafted journals at Blue Roof Designs

Quinn McDonald’s, Raw Art Journaling

University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Kohler Library of Artists’ Books

Minnesota Book Arts

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.