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Posts filed under 'Issues'

Victory Over Donald T. Sterling LA Times Ads

Today, after nearly two-and-a-half years of struggle, and many more years of pain and suffering, the Donald T. Sterling Graphic Design Foundation very tentatively declares victory over Donald T. Sterling Corporation’s ugly ads in the LA Times!

No, DTS did not actually hire a designer to make the ads look better. But the ads have been conspicuously absent from the paper in recent weeks. As noted by “Anon” in the comments of the main blog post:

Well, it’s one month into the Tribune Company bankruptcy and I haven’t seen any DTS ads for weeks. Did the Bankruptcy Trustee decree no more freebies for Sterling and he has to pay the regular rate card like everyone else?

Maybe the contract finally ended –we had learned that the ads were actually a freebie for Sterling in exchange for LA Times advertising at Clippers games. Maybe it is part of the Tribune bankruptcy. Or maybe it is because Sterling is too busy being sued so he doesn’t have time to personally create the crappy ads. Or maybe, just maybe, our pleas to the new Obama administration worked.

Any further news from our loyal membership is welcome! We are not popping any champagne corks yet — as far as we know, we may start seeing the ugly ads in lighted billboards on every block or plastered all over the sides of buildings.

Thanks to everyone who has supported the campaign! We remain cautiously optimistic. Hopefully this moratorium will remain in place so we can finally stop spending every waking moment on this issue and turn to other pressing matters. I’m looking at you Odet, Vice President!

2 comments February 19th, 2009

Ditching the Lawn to Feed the Butterflies in Los Angeles

I’ve dreamed of re-landscaping with native plants for ages. But, like our decrepit bathroom, we just hadn’t the time or energy to get around to it. Until now.

This is just a long-winded account of what we did to reclaim our yard, under the guidance the many online tips from folks at Las Pilitas California native plant nursery. Hopefully I’ll write up a full-fledged guide shortly.

We never really watered our weedy lawn much, out of environmental consciousness and a little laziness. It managed to survive pretty well until one drought year when it went really brown. So finally one day I saw a crew of gardeners ripping out a lawn up the street (to re-sod — ew), and I had em rip out our remaining grass. Then to make sure all was REALLY dead, I watered for months and waited through the rainy season for anything to sprout, spraying nasty, evil chemicals to dispose of the rest. Rampaging weeds and invasive grasses are a sure way to ruin a native planting before you even start.

After much soul-searching, we murdered our 40ft eucalyptus tree so that it wouldn’t destroy our new native habitat with its thirst for all moisture in the soil and constant rain of leaves, seeds, blossoms and bark. I will miss the shade and smell, but not the daily sweeping. Here in Santa Monica we are frankly lucky we didn’t get protested for chopping a tree, even if it is an invader from Australia. We offed it swiftly.

I did a modest amount of research and at first it was hard to track down NATIVE plants at the local nurseries. Everyone sells so called drought resistant stuff, but almost all of it is from the Mediterranean, Australia and Africa. The same handful of species is sold everywhere. It just doesn’t make sense — why not salvage a little of the local biodiversity with perfectly suited plants that need little or no care? I suppose it is just the economics of nurseries — they all get plants from the same national distributors and customers all ask for the same silly plants.

Finally I found this quite cool California native plant nursery with a brilliantly informative website (laspilitas.com) with easy online ordering and delivery. I picked out critter-friendly buckwheats, salvias, manzanitas and more. I carefully (more or less) diagrammed the mature sized plants across the yard. I contoured a couple of modest mounds into the yard. I even filled the Civic with 700 pounds of rocks to welcome the plants. The sprouts arrived by UPS, surprisingly tiny and a little smooshed. I planted the suckers as planned. Contrary to every gardening instinct (and against advice from our neighbor the professional landscaper) I followed the instructions from the native plant people – no soil amendment, no roto-tilling, no organic matter, no fertilizer, no composting. Just stuck the plants into the hard, minimally disturbed ground. Ok.

And now time to mulch. The one things the native plants do need is a few inches of wood chips to recreate the natural organic matter that would cover the ground in the wild. I carefully calculated how much I’d need and started looking for sources. It was gonna cost at least $500 to either buy the dyed crap they sell at Home Depot, or to get some nicer stuff delivered. It would cost more than I’d paid for plants and rocks! The City of LA also offers free mulch that you can pick up at several yards throughout the city, though I read reports that it often has a bunch of trash in it. Then I found a tree trimming company that would, for FREE dump FREE wood chips and it was completely FREE, including the FREE delivery. I was mighty excited about the free part. The minimum they’d deliver was a bit more than I needed, but I figured I’d easily find some spots in the backyard that could use a little mulch.

Now, in retrospect, I now know that they dumped much more than the minimum portion I’d requested. But when it arrived I had no idea. I had already assumed the pile would seem astonishingly huge – I have no point of reference. But as the pile slid out of the dump truck, I started to feel a little sick. The mountain was much larger than our car – longer, wider, higher. Which sounds kinda big, but, really, when it is in your driveway and you can’t park there any more or use your gate, and all of the neighbor kids want to climb in it and everyone who passes points and starts asking questions, it is impossibly big and seems like a big mistake. And it radiated that nice piny Christmas smell, but multiplied by a gazillion so that the off-gassing made my eyes burn for days, even inside the house. Neighbors were gawking and some passers-by were outright laughing, though I may have been suffering from a little paranoia.

So for a week (during a nasty heat wave) I frantically and desperately hauled wood chips around the yard trying to make the mountain get smaller and prove that I wasn’t a friggin idiot for getting it all dumped there. And, besides, I had to make room to park the car, and get the trash bins out of our gate. Thanks to Mr. Peterson, my neighbor, who witnessed the delivery and lent me a wheelbarrow. I guess I had thought I was going to use a bucket to spread the stuff or something. Yea, right.

Well the pile was a crazy hodge-podge of wood. The stuff on top that I spread on my yard first was too big—giant chunks of pine that were really bright colored and it made the yard look like I was getting ready to light a bon-fire. You couldn’t even see the plants. It was sad and embarrassing. On the other side of the wood pile I found stuff that was equally unacceptable – really papery dusty crap that had mixed with some leaves so it was composting and steaming. A woman actually knocked on my door concerned that the giant dangerous looking wood pile was spontaneously catching fire. Somehow, by accident, I realized that if I spread the composty stuff on top of the absurdly huge pine chunks, it made neither look too ridiculous. So I dumped another layer on the yard. Not bad. Then I spent another few days dumping woodchips in every free nook in the back yard. Finally in the middle of the pile I found some really nice, modest sized, reddish wood chunks, just the kind any normal, self respecting suburbanite would love to have in their front yard. But no more space. Oh well.

I managed to use about 2/3s of the damn pile. Really. It was amazing to see the pile actually shrink, against all odds, as I dragged barrow-full after barrow-full around the yard.

The remaining pile mocked me for another three weeks as I posted Free Mulch on Craig’s List and met about a dozen very interesting people who also like mulch.

Two weeks after the first application, the wood chips settled and the color and scent actually became pleasant. The plants nearly all survived (surpassing all hopes) and after only a couple of months have grown nicely, begun bloom and attract some beautiful native butterflies and birds. I just want to hang out in the yard and water it to show it a little love, but I can’t because it doesn’t need water and in fact it would kill it.

3 comments July 8th, 2008

Climate Change Projections: Uncertain but Certainly Worse

Here on Quixo we’re fortunate to feature a great new article from Carla Wise on the latest Climate Change studies and, of course, she includes resources for you to get involved and make a difference.

Carla would really like to move on and write about some new issues, but it is kinda hard when the planet is slowly boiling over. If your last climate change update came from an Inconvenient Truth, now’s a good time to educate yourself on the latest global warming.
Check out this review of three different climate change projections that, even in all of their uncertainty, are certain about the urgency of our need to act now: Climate Change Projections: Uncertain but Certainly Worse.

1 comment November 16th, 2007

Dingell Carbon Tax — Is it for Real?

We have a new submission in Carla Wise’s Fun Facts on Global Warming column. She tries to figure out why John Dingell, the staunchly pro-auto industry congress man from Michigan, has suddenly decided to endorse a carbon tax. Is it smoke and mirrors? You decide:

Is John Dingell for real? Floating a carbon tax

September 27th, 2007

More Toy Recalls — Buy Fewer Toys, Buy Natural Toys

Hoo boy. More toy recalls. I really don’t buy into the hysteria and I think there is probably too much emphasis on a few bad toys right now. Generally I’m glad to live in a time where we have monitoring and product recalls.

But the real issue is this — there is a constant market for the newest, cheapest, character branded trinkets. So companies just keep churning out new plastic crap that has an unnecessary environmental impact all the way from production through transportation and finally to its disposal.

The real solution isn’t to more closely monitor China. Really we make better toys that last longer. We don’t need to come up with a new line of toys every few months. Concentrate on making a few simple toys.

And that all comes down to us. Buy the good stuff. By less…

(Here’s our list of the top toys that our kids enjoyed as toddlers and babies. We focus on the best toys that last a long time. Some are plastic and there is a place for plastic. But only when it is not used for some disposable crap that is just going straight to the landfill.)

September 27th, 2007

Quixo Finally Hits MySpace to do some designing

Quixo on MyspaceWell I finally got myself on flippin’ MySpace. Yea, I know, I hear you saying I’m too old for that crap, it is a complete waste of time and, besides, it is sooo last year. You know what I say? Like, whatever.
MySpace actually keeps growing, especially for musicians, film makers and non-profit organizations who want to connect and to have a place where it is easy to post updates, music and videos. In fact, the new non-profit/issues section, “Impact,” is getting revised and improved as we speak. I just keep bumping into people who need professional design for MySpace pages. Thought I might as well join on in.

Myspace was not originally written to be customized or used for anything but personal profiles. And for some reason they refuse to change that. Much whining has been blogged over this. So customizing is a bit limited and takes some ugly code. Still, within those restrictions one can find comfort and there there is plenty you can do (especially if you know a little css and html). And show some restraint. And more restraint. Like anything basic design principles apply — pick a limited cohesive pallet of colors and type faces. Line stuff up. Sketch and mock it up before you try to force it to appear in myspace. Oh, and there are massively helpful css hacking tutorials like this.
So I have some custom pages coming up and I’ll share them when they are ready. And till then, you can stop by my custom Myspace page and befriend me.

August 20th, 2007

DVDs Make Your Babies Dumb

It is just so hilarious and sad to read this article in yesterday’s LA Times – educational videos reduce the vocabulary of babies. When I wrote up my best toys for toddlers article a couple of weeks ago I included a mini-rant against dvds for babies and toddlers and Baby Einstein in particular. I think it is pretty self-evident to anyone who has actually watched these videos that they are crap.

If you haven’t seen them, they go something like this: Bad music (the kind that some annoying toys play so you let the batteries wear out), very bad puppetry (the kind you could do yourself, only worse, and without the benefit of seeing a real, loving human), bad video clip (often blurry and poorly edited), repeat, repeat, repeat.

Baby Einstein clearly doesn’t offer anything truly innovative or stimulating and the horrible production value should be a tip off. Nobody spent too much effort making them. “Heck they’re just for babies they won’t know the difference,” evil laugh, sound of carting off bundles of money. These videos are just a mind numbing distractions that a parent can justify because they are well marketed.

And I guess they pulled it off. Disney bought up Baby Einstein. Then, the poster child for reduced vocabulary, President Bush, in one of those ridiculous staged moments of his 2007 State of the Union address, pointed to Baby Einstein founder Julie Aigner-Clark to celebrate her enterprising spirit. Yea, for selling that crap business for $200 million. Go America!

I actually like TV and think it is a powerful educator. Especially when kids get older and can really learn from it. And I can even imagine videos that could be properly researched and well executed so that they stimulated the minds of babies and toddlers. I suggest a video of the kids’ caretaker talking to them and playing with them. But Babies and toddlers can find so much more in the real world like playing with their feet, looking out the window and shaking rattles. Anything.

Anyway, the point is, don’t force your kids to watch this crap. If you just can’t help yourself, show them videos of actual people talking or singing or playing real, good music. Or better yet, give them toys and spend actual time interacting with them.

August 8th, 2007

Jonathan Schneider Goes Ape (and Goes to Washington)

Jonathan Schneider is a nice guy. I get the impression he wants to front a bit of a tough guy image, but he can’t help it. He exudes sincerity and, well, maybe not confidence, but definitely persistence and conviction. It isn’t that he is not confident – he’d have to be to travel to Washington DC, meet with top leaders in the campaign finance reform movement and then create an entertaining documentary about it. But he doesn’t exude any cockiness or snotty pretentiousness.

I guess that’s how he convinced me (and all the other folks who pitched in) to get involved with his new documentary Mr. Schneider Goes to Washington.” I just helped him design and launch his website which serves the dual role of helping him promote the movie and work to change the way we finance politics in this country. See movie clips and learn about “Americans Pissed-off Enough” at LetsGoAPE.com.

Jonathan is a textbook in how to get services donated or offered at a good rate for a good cause. I list some tips in a separate post here on How to Get Cheap or Donated Web Design Services.
And it helps to have a good cause. I’ve long been convinced that corporate money in government is the primary corrupting influence in America. So anything that will help spread the news is high on my list. Will this film make a dent? Who knows, but at least we’ll have a good time trying.

Jonathan goes to Washington, again, this week to screen the film for some participants and press. We continue to build up the website as movie buzz develops with plans for a Blog and more. If you have access to a good Email-Your-Representative database system please let us know!

July 24th, 2007

How to get Cheap or Donated Web Design Services

Jonathan Schneider of LetsGoAPE.com and the new film “Mr. Schneider Goes to Washington” is a textbook case in how to get services donated or offered at a good rate for a good cause. If you are looking for a designer or other service provider to help you out, be like Jonathan. In fact, I think this stuff might help you even when you are paying top dollar for the services.

  1. Be nice. Yes, you can be confident, convincing or even brilliant. But really, more importantly, be nice, considerate and personable with the people from whom you are asking help. If you seem like someone who is going to be fun and easy to work with, you are more likely to convince someone to take on the job, and take it at a good rate.
  2. Be persistent, but not pushy. From the start and through your project, keep calling back and touching base in a helpful available way. Hey, you can’t demand anything when you are trying to get something for free. But if you get some commitments for assistance, the person who offers them to you will feel a personal obligation to follow through. Unless you blow it by being an obnoxious terd. Don’t be afraid to clearly say what you need and call with reminders.
  3. Be organized. The most time consuming part of any project is tracking down documents, troubleshooting problems or managing an onslaught of requests sent in different documents or phone calls. Try to deliver everything in one package AFTER it has been finalized. Don’t wait for your designer to mock something before you proof read it. If you are organized when you first approach someone, they’ll feel more comfortable offering to help or will be able to offer a lower bid.
  4. Provide helpful criticism. Designers and other professionals are used to working collaboratively with clients. We use that interaction and feedback to produce a better product. We can handle the criticism. But, boy, compliments are nice too. At the same time, try to stay out of the way a little. Designers can produce some of their best, most inspired work on side projects (and paid ones) when they aren’t being nitpicked on petty stuff. Frequently on web and graphic design jobs, so much time is wasted on picking apart minor aspects of designs that the design no longer works in its entirety. And the designer gets burnt out.
  5. Keep your volunteers up-to-date about the cause. People help because they care. And they care more if they know what you are working on. Personal updates go a lot farther than cheesy mass emails. But don’t waste their valuable time blathering on.
  6. Get funding if you can. Graphic and web designers don’t earn that much these days and we really need to get paid for our work. A nice custom website runs thousands or even tens of dollars and take a lot of time. If you have a good plan in place to use your website to improve you organization, you can get funding for it.

(Note: this is not an open call for anyone else who wants free design services. I already get flooded with requests and am very busy. If I can offer some advice I’m glad to help. But I would love to talk to you about interesting paid projects. :) I also can provide consulting services to help you organize your project so that you can properly bid it out and push it through to completion. )

1 comment July 24th, 2007

Will Google Earnings Plummet on Made-for-Adsense Ban?

With all the speculation about Yahoo’s woes and Google’s recent climbs in the stock market, I wonder if investors are aware Google’s recent crack down on Made-for-Adsense websites. I absolutely support June 1 ban on spammy sites that that exist only to trick people into clicking on their Pay-per-Click ads. But the big news is that Google has turned a blind eye to these sites and finally started cracking down on June 1.
I am a big Google booster – I greatly respect their services and their philosophy and I have a bit of Google stock in my retirement account. I also follow search engine news pretty closely. There has been a lot of reporting on this issue among web publishers, and a lot of annoying whining. Though I’m far from an insider, I think most who pay attention to these issues know Google is going to take an earnings hit by banning these sites.

Everyone has seen and despises these Made-for-AdSense websites. They are the bane of the Internet. In a word: Evil. You are searching for some product or service and, instead of getting a vendor or some helpful recommendations, you get a page full of ads. They are a complete waste of time and are often carefully disguised to look like a helpful site. These sites are very profitable for their owners because they don’t supply anything of value to the web surfer. A searcher’s only choice is to click one of the many AdSense links that appear more helpful or click the back button. Good sites with quality content don’t earn as much money because people find what they are looking for and often ignore the ads.

So knowing that these sites are one of the most evil annoying things on the web, wasting many hours of searchers’ time, you would have assumed that Google had banned them a long time ago. I always figured they just had a hard time policing all those tricky scammers. I would even submit complaints against the worst violators to Google to help them track down all the scofflaws.

The real news is that Google was allowing these sites to thrive and just finally banned them on June 1. Moreover, prior to the ban, they issued warnings so that these sites could prepare, and, I assume, get ads from another source. And Google is paying out all revenues earned in this deceptive manner. Instead of just outright banning the sites, they send warnings and give the sites time to comply. It is outrageous. By supporting and encouraging the creation of these sites, Google has created this entire annoying phenomenon, profited from it, and are reluctant to stop it. If this ban is not heavy handed enough to have an impact on Google’s profits, then it is not actually broad enough to stop the spread of spammy sites.
It is not like Google has any problem banning people from their AdSense program. Webmaster boards are filled with people who have had their AdSense accounts disabled and earnings confiscated. I myself have a site that tried AdSense during the first months of the program. I worked at a web design company where everyone was intrigued and loved the program. Based on that experience we recommended it to our clients. And suddenly my site was banned for click fraud. I have no idea why – maybe a co-worker innocently clicked on ads in a way that was connected to my account. I don’t know. I do know there was nothing systematic or malicious. Google won’t give information and the ban is permanent. I was incredibly frustrated by this but always took it as a sign that Google has extremely high quality standards and anything that looks remotely fraudulent would be banned. For some reason Google finds the notion of click-fraud to be a larger threat to their advertising program.

Again, I’m a Google supporter and hate it when I hear people complaining about how Google is solely profit driven. I generally think that Google strives to focus on users and tries to avoid profit chasing and marketing gimmicks. So there are only two reasons I can see that Google has taken so long to ban these sites. 1) It is going to greatly impact their revenue. Search and content ads are THE engine that has fed Google’s growth. It is Google’s main, if not only, revenue source. Or 2) Maybe someone has finally found a way to legally challenge Google on these site bans and they are afraid they’ll be slammed in the courts, especially after they allowed MFA sites to fester for so long.

I’m guessing it is financial. That has to be why Google waited so long to ban these sites and why they are doing it in an incremental manner. They also waited to do it until a time when they are diversifying by offering radio and print ads. It is still disgusting that they let this continue for so long.

Though it may hurt me as a stockholder, I have to wonder aloud how this is going to affect Google’s profits. No mistake – even as a stockholder I don’t care if it hurts profits. I would rather they had banned these sites a long time ago. I really wonder if Wall Street is aware of this big change to Google’s revenue source and what impact it could have. I sure hope that I’m missing something here. I recognize that Google is in a tough spot. But they have been earning money through fraud and deceit and I wish they would move more swiftly to change it.

July 18th, 2007

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