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December 31, 2012

What a Year

By Glenn Fleishman

So many societies have myths that basking in one’s good fortune will result in some kind of evil (or sometimes good) force bringing down hell and damnation and boils and plagues upon you that it worries me to recount what a great year 2012 was.

But it was. And I can’t resist.

This year Ben turned 8 and Rex turned 5. Ben is a math whiz and in 3rd grade, and Rex started kindergarten (well prepped by his preschool), and learned to read. Ben and Rex are learning to swim, and Rex mastered a bike without training wheels. They are amazing fellows, great companions, and exhaust us thoroughly (as they should). Their sweetness cannot be measured in any units I know.

Lynn and I had a really wonderful year, our 15th together and our 10th married. We continue to learn and grow together and explore new challenges as the kids get bigger and we need more outlets for our own distinct interests. She’s become one of the best social dancers in Seattle, and helps organize regular dance events and support her dance friends in many ways.

Lynn’s brother Michael and his wife Kathy have the most delightful child anyone could imagine, and then they went and had another! Jordan, the older, welcomed Maggie, his little sister, in October. Lynn went to spend a week to help with Jordan before and after Maggie’s birth, and I had the privilege of a trip in November taking care of the easiest baby in the world and her nearly equally easy older bro. I love them all to pieces, and am glad they are so close by.

Susan glennI started the year off interviewing my friend Susan Orlean on stage at Macworld|iWorld, the current name of the venerable Mac conference. She’s a hoot and a good sport and a real techie geek at heart. (Also a fabulous writer. Get her Rin Tin Tin. It’s not just about the dog; it’s about how we lived in America. It came out in 2011, and it’s a lovely book with lots of resonance, humor, and surprise.)

I wrote some books this year. Take Control of BBEdit, about the program I live in most of the day for writing, editing, and programming. Take Control of Messages in Mountain Lion, the chat app that baffled everyone, and I tried to decipher. I also did a thorough revise of Take Control of Networking and Security (now covering iOS 6) and Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network.

I wrote about 100 articles for the Economist’s Babbage blog — not an exaggeration. I write twice weekly, and I think I’m above 250 since I started doing so in 2010. I also had a few in print in the Technology Quarterly section, notably a biographical sketch of Chris Soghoian.

In February, I traveled east for a few days with several dear old friends from my time working at the Center for Creative Imaging. One of our number was bit by her dog just before her trip, and couldn’t join us in South Portland, Maine. I also had a quick visit to Camden, where the Center had been located to see some other old friends. It was great to catch up and reminisce, drink wine, and eat great food. It’s a sign of age when you realize you’ve known people dearly now for longer than the age you were when you met them.

Lacquer Disc Cutting System
In May, I went to D.C. to see my friend, Matt Bors, an editorial cartoonist, receive the Herblock Foundation Award, the first time an alt-cartoonist had won. Matt won the Sigma Chi Award and was one of two finalists for the Pulitzer. He also later did a successful Kickstarter campaign (with, ahem, some advice from yours truly) for his first collection of cartoons and essays. While in D.C., I did interviews at the Folger Shakespeare Library and Library of Congress’s audio section. On a later trip to Montréal, I stopped over in D.C. to take a drive out into rural Virginia to where the Library of Congress keeps its audiovisual materials in carefully maintained vaults and handles conservation. (The story I wrote about Matt was one of about 18 stories for BoingBoing last year, too. They picked three among their best stories of 2012.)

Glenn Fleishman 6459I’m burying the lede, as it’s said, because in August, I flew to Los Angeles to tape my appearances on Jeopardy! I had auditioned in August 2011, and was called in January to tape in February — right during my trip with my buddies. I asked if I could tape at a later date, and I was lucky enough that they called again in July. I went to L.A. for two days, won two programs, and earned $30,000. Not bad for about an hour’s (on-air) work. I provide links to several articles I wrote in this other blog post. The shows aired in October, and I had a fun viewing party at a local sports bar place with dozens of friends and their kids.

During the summer, I launched a crowdfunding campaign for a book that would explain the ins and outs of…creating crowdfunding campaigns. Yes, I was serious. Within a week or so, I realized I’d made some mistakes in rewards and focus, and decided to pull it down and retool.

XOXO: Studio NeatThat led directly to a podcast I launched in December called The New Disruptors that was also sparked by attending XOXO, a remarkable event in Portland in September. Both XOXO and my podcast are about the new tools that connect creative artists and producers with audiences. The New Disruptors is a weekly interview program on the Mule Radio Syndicate, and it’s a lot of fun. I’m enjoying the focus on creativity and inspiration. (The show may lead to revising my crowdfunding book campaign and relaunching it.)

After XOXO, I went to speak at Çingleton Deux in October in Montréal. A nasty cold kept me from exploring the city much, although the old town is rather gorgeous, but I hung out with many old and new friends from the Mac community. The event was for developers and interface designers, but about the things one can think about in making software rather than about writing programming code. (My presentation and a video of me giving it will be up on the site at some point.)

NewImageAt Çingleton, I met Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper, who had just launched The Magazine, a fortnightly non-fiction publication available only in iOS 6 and only by paid subscription. It’s a fascinating attempt to make a sustainable publication with fresh material. I pitched myself as editor shortly after Çingleton, and Marco took me on. It’s a part-time gig, and an enormous amount of fun assigning out articles (with a good pay rate, even) and working with writers to bring their voices out in the stories they write.

This was a year of podcasts, too, in which I appeared on innumerable ones, many after winning Jeopardy, including John Gruber’s The Talk Show. As in previous years, I appeared many times on the geeky podcast The Incomparable, including hosting an episode about Futurama and co-hosting one on dragons.

I continue to work hard on TidBITS, a Mac publication that now has the record of being the longest-continuously produced Internet-only publication after an Irish newsletter shut down. Going strong since 1990, we launched paid memberships in late 2011, and had a tremendous response that allowed us to fund more writing and development. I handle server operations and programming, and write regularly — about 70 articles of varying lengths in 2012. (TidBITS also publishes the Take Control books that I mention earlier.)

I’m sure I’m leaving plenty of things out, as impossibly packed as my schedule already sounds.

Life is quite wonderful on all fronts, and 2012 may be my vintage year. Subsequent years will have to work hard to live up to it, but I think I could take some quieter times ahead without complaint.

Posted by Glennf at 12:59 PM

December 19, 2012

Time Yells, and You Are There

By Glenn Fleishman


I didn’t move to Maine in mid-1991 to take a job in which the art director of Time Magazine would call me up and scream impotently at me, but then we never know how life will play out, do we?

Once upon a time, Kodak built a teaching center for creative artists and professionals in mid-Coast Maine, one of the most beautiful places in the country. People came to take classes to help them navigate the rough transition between analog media and new digital tools, like photography. My job was to keep 100 Macs and all the peripherals running and help design courses that served thousands of students a year. We also invited up well-known professionals for special, lavish events. One of them was a regular Time Man of the Year cover photographer, Greg Heisler.

It’s hard to recall now but Time and the defunct Newsweek were respected publications in the early 1990s, closer to The New York Times and The Economist, before they moved towards being like People without People’s integrity and reporting skills. Time’s Man of the Year was a press event in itself that made piles of money for Time with extra issues sold.

Greg was an incredibly nice guy, and we loved him in part for his devastating shot of George H.W. Bush that had graced the January 1991 Men of the Year cover. Called “The Two George Bushes,” Greg had arranged the shot meticulously “in camera” as two exposures with no digital work involved, to show Bush as a stinking liar. The White House was not pleased, and Marlin Fitzwater banned him from the press pool temporarily.

The 1992 Man of the Year was Ted Turner, and Greg asked (and our director agreed) to come to the center and spend days, which turned into weeks, producing a digital cover of Ted and hundreds of video frames grabbed from news events covered by CNN, such as the Gulf War. These frames were made as photographic slides—that was state of the art in 1991, thank you very much. Greg’s vision was of a globe comprised of gleaming TV screens cracked open to see the back-lit bodiless head of Turner emerging from within.

With the help of one of my staff, Jessica Simmons, a 17-year-old prodigy who a couple years later joined a top-drawer Manhattan design firm, Greg scanned photos and started to assemble using computers that were state of the art and crammed with RAM in 1991; the cheapest digital camera sold today likely has 100 times its computational juice. I kept attaching more and more bread-loaf-sized hard drives that stored hundreds of megabytes each. It all seems ludicrous these days, how much we did with what seem like pocket calculators now. (Do kids still have pocket calculators? And vinyl records?)

Several days in, Time’s art director, who I will call “Bill,” flew up from Manhattan to check on progress. He arrives in Camden, Maine, decked out head to toe in newly purchased L.L. Bean gear. I’m surprised price tags weren’t still attached. He was a birder. He was delighted to visit and add to his life list. He took the three of us to dinner, which came to the whopping price of $80, and he paid with a $100 bill. Fancy. Seemed a nice guy. Was appreciative of us pushing the envelope. He flew back and started drumming his fingers on his desk awaiting the photo’s completion.

While Greg and Jessica worked nearly round the clock at a more and more frantic pace, the deadline to get the digital composite ready for offset printing grew ever closer. Bill became more agitated, apparently. Drives filled, software and computers crashed, files corrupted. The very real possibility that we couldn’t finish the work before it needed to be on press started to emerge.

And then I got the call. Bill had wrangled my number from the night watchman at the Kodak center, and phoned me at home. He had a large and choice vocabulary of words describing my incompetence and the state of things he had been talked into by supposed experts. He did go on.

I was rattled, but not too much: I had no financial or employment stake in the outcome. I was a worker bee, and he had my phone number! A classic case of finding the lowest man on the totem pole onto which to heap abuse. (The same thing happened a few years later at Amazon when a not-long-after-departed-for-personal-reasons director of marketing shot me an obscenity-laden email about my failure to do things that were entirely out of my control.)

I called Greg, Greg apologized, Greg called Bill, Bill stopped freaking out. A few more days passed, many Persian buns were consumed, but, in the nick of time, the file was flown to New York (it would have taken days to transmit it by dial-up modem at 14,400 bits a second; yes, keep laughing, children), and the presses rolled!

Greg was lionized for producing this digital masterpiece and rightly so. I think even Turner liked it. Days later a package arrived from Greg. It was a four-color proof of the cover signed by him with a thank-you note full of filthy plaudits tracing the entire border. I cherish it to this day. But I never heard from Bill again, who left Time not long thereafter. Not even an L.L. Bean gift certificate in apology.

Posted by Glennf at 2:15 PM


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