Alex Campbell in a Tiny Box

My colleagues at Robertson Library have been hard at work in recent weeks publishing the audiobook and ebook versions of the Alex B. Campbell biography by Wade MacLauchlan.

Librarians are nothing if not keen to innovate, and so among the various ways you can buy the audiobook is pre-loaded on its very own MP3 player.

It’s Alex Campbell, in a tiny plastic box:

Alex B. Campell Audiobook on a USB Player

If you’re looking for a more conventional audiobook format, the book is available as a download, on a USB stick, and in a massive CD set.

My small contribution to the effort has been to work to put the ebook and audiobook on sale in iTunes, on Google Play and on Audible. This has turned out to be akin to opening a hornet’s nest full of complicated paperwork and technical requirements, so it’s slow-going. It has born some fruit, however: you can now purchase the eBook from Google Play. Others to follow.

If it can't be found in Canadian Tire, try the 3D printer...

I’m coming up on the end of a 14 year program of resuscitating the old metal window blinds that were in our house when we bought it in 2000. They’re generally in good shape structurally, but the cords have been chewed up by time, and so they need to be taken apart, the old cord extracted, new cord wound through, and new “blind cones” stuck on the end of the cord that hands down and allows them to be raised and lowered.

Which is how Oliver and I ended up roaming up and down aisle 17 and aisle 18 at the new Canadian Tire store in Charlottetown, where we were directly by comically unhelpful staff, looking for cord and cones.

I was looking for 1/8” cotton cord, but they had none, so I had to settle for nylon. That’s fine.

As to blind cones, none were evident, and, returning to other members of the comically unhelpful staff for additional help, the reaction was close to indignation that anyone would ask for directions to such an unusual product: “I know we don’t sell blinds… you could try aisle 18.” Where we’d just been roaming. We left the store.

What to do?

Fortunately, at this exact moment I remembered that there is a Ditto 3D printer sitting here in the office, on loan from Robertson Library at the University of PEI for a “Minecraft Party” at Birchwood Intermediate School on Monday afternoon where we’ll use it to take Printcraft out for a ride.

So why not, I reasoned to myself, simply fabricate my own blind cones, Canadian Tire be damned.

And so that’s what we did.

Thingiverse to the rescue: we found a ready-to-print Window Blinds Pull Cone, free for the taking. We grabbed the STL file, ran it through Tinkerine Suite (the software used to “slice” the STL file and make it ready for sending to the Ditto 3D printer) and copied the object 3 times so we could print 4 cones at once. We copied the resulting “.g” file to an SD card, slid the SD card into the printer, hit “print” and we were off.

And the result, 37 minutes later:

3D Printed Window Blind Cones

Score one for the awesome power of personal fabrication!

Support Everything Gary Schneider

I have a general policy of donating to any project that Gary Schneider, coordinator of the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project, is behind; the latest is the Restore An Acre initiative. It’s a sensible project, that connects a donation of $200 with the restoration of an acre of the Selkirk Road Public Forest. I’ve just made a donation; I’d ask you to do the same.

Restore an Acre from Macphail Woods on Vimeo.

Mystery Virus Destroys Capitalism

In the fall of 1992 I was living in Peterborough, Ontario doing freelance design work after almost 2 years spent in the composing room of the Peterborough Examiner newspaper. Catherine and I were living in a spacious apartment on Hunter Street. A few months later we’d leave Peterborough and relocate to Prince Edward Island, so what ended-up being my last design job was to design a season poster for Artspace, the artist-run centre that, at the time, was based in the Market Hall downtown.

It was a happy accident that I got the job: Artspace was in transition that year and, if memory serves, had no staff for a time. So I could get away with a lot, and had no “branding guidelines” to stick to. Nor, indeed, any oversight at all, excepting the very flexible, accepting imagination of board member Lynn Cummings, whose responsibility it was to have a season poster designed.

By lucky happenstance, I happened to be browsing a book in the Peterborough Public Library that week about the history of the city, and I came across a photo of the central block around the Market Hall being redeveloped into Peterborough Square, one of the many downtown-redevelopment projects that afflicted (or saved, depending on your point of view) urban cores in small-town Ontario in the 1970s. All of the buildings on the block, save the Market Hall, which was to remain, had been torn down. The site was empty. The block, for some rare months, was free of any business activity.

And thus was born “Mystery Virus Destroy Capitalism.”

Mystery Virus Destroys Capitalism

I figured if I was being irreverent, I might as well go all the way, so I took the opportunity to design a new logo for Artspace while I was at it. The new logo didn’t take – as far as I know, this was the first and only time it every appeared in print.

The poster was printed on glossy 11” x 17” card stock and distributed liberally about the city.

It was the most fun I ever had doing graphic design, and the only time I think I ever managed to capture a small slice of the zeitgeist in my work.

Metered Water vs. All You Can Eat

We’ve now had a water meter in our house at 100 Prince Street for almost a year, so it’s a good time to look at what it’s costing us for water with a meter vs. what it was costing us under the old “all you can eat” plan.

Our 2013 annual bill was $510.88, payable in four installments of $127.72.

We’ve received three bills under the new metered regime that reflect full quarters: May’s bill was $99.08, August’s bill was $113.12 and November’s bill was $112.40, for an average of $108.20, or about 15% less than what we were paying before.

Charlottetown Sewer and Water redesigned it’s bills this fall, and the new bills provide much more detail about usage and billing. Here’s a snippet from our November bill:

Water bill excerpt, November 2014, 100 Prince Street

A couple of things jump out on that bill.

First – and this is something that was never broken out before in the old bills – is that we are billed for both water coming in (“water”) and water going out (“sewer”) and we pay more than twice as much per cubic meter for sewer than we do for water. This used to be ganged together under “water and sewer” on the bill, and it’s nice to see it broken out as it reinforces the fact that water used is water that needs to be disposed of, and that costs a lot of money.

Second is that the “base” rate, which isn’t affected by consumption, is a significant part of the bill – about 70%. That means that even if we used no water at all we’d still pay $80.33 a quarter just to be connected to water and sewer. I don’t begrudge that, as there’s obviously a liability to the utility as I could use water at any time. But it does dampen the incentive to conserve, and it dulls the financial feedback one gets from conserving or consuming more. For example, here’s our consumption history for the past five quarters:

Water Usage History, 100 Prince Street

Our consumption from last quarter increased 7%, and yet our daily cost for water went from $1.19/day to $1.23/day, an increase of only 3%; the fixed base charge made the perceived cost of our increase in consumption less than half as “impactful” as it would have been without the base charge.

All that said, the new water bill is a huge improvement over the old design: here’s a comparison of old vs. new.

Here’s our bill, in the old format, for August 2014:

Old Water Bill

And here’s our bill, in the new format, for November:

New Water Bill

The new format is clearer, exposes considerably more detail, and provides consumption history information that was never aggregated together before.