Design

Fox Creeps into Province House

Here’s my new Prince Edward Island license plate. I paid the $10 premium to support conservation (hence the red fox) and get the special 3-letter variety (the standard is 5); the LHO was what got pulled out of the plate bucket at random, but I like it.

I’ve written in the space about PEI license plates before and their “someone sketched something on the back of a napkin and suddenly it was the design” quality and this new design is no exception; there are no less than 9 graphic elements on the plate:

  1. Raining red maple leaves in the top-left.
  2. Province House.
  3. Canadian flag in the bottom-left.
  4. Prince Edward Island flag in the bottom-right.
  5. The red fox (granted, that was my choice).
  6. The words “Prince Edward Island.”
  7. The word “Conservation.”
  8. The words “Birthplace of Confederation.”
  9. The small map of PEI.

It’s most decidedly from the “cram in as much as we can” school of graphic design.

Most confounding, to my eye, the “Prince Edward Island” and the “Conservation” are set in two distinct typefaces, something you can see clearly by comparing the lower case i, a, s and n in a magnified image:

Without taking away from my commitment to conservation and the letters L, H, and O, my real reason for opting to pay an extra $10 for the conservation plate was to avoid the misuse of the armorial bearings of the province a glorified hyphen:

That was not only one-graphic-element-too-many, but the bearings are rendered much too small to be legible and, more importantly, much too small given their importance as a provincial symbol.

All of this is more graphically tragic given the heights to which PEI license plates have risen in the past. Take 1973, for example:

Was there ever a greater license plate design?  Simple: a single graphic element, plus typography.

And the standard green-on-white that followed and was in place up until the unfortunate Anne situation, was similarly solid and uncomplicated (and, with its simplfiied crest, very much of the design of the times):

Meanwhile, I’m left to deal with a fox creeping up on Province House.

How the line on the CBC became “Home and School Federation also says it's time to look at adding more instructional time for students”

Here’s an interesting and somewhat cautionary tale of how things become “news” in Prince Edward Island.

On Tuesday I attended the launch of Prince Edward Island’s updated school calendar at Spring Park School on behalf of the PEI Home and School Federation. Along with Federation president Pam Montgomery, I represent English parents on the School Calendar Committee, and was invited in that capacity.

After the launch, which was well conducted and communicated the school calendar and the rationale behind it effectively, there was an opportunity for the media to ask questions and interview those present. Pam and I were interviewed by Ryan Ross from The Guardian, and that interview supported the story he published later, where Pam was quoted like this:

For Pam Montgomery, the P.E.I. Home and School Federation’s president, she said her organization had a lot of input in the calendar and expressing parents’ input on maintaining the amount of instructional time.

I think we’ve been very successful in doing that,” she said.

A large part of our interview with Ryan focused on the need to communicate to parents about professional development, about how every home and school meeting should include a discussion of what’s been happening on professional development days, and how it’s important that if we’re going to invest the sacrifice of instructional time in professional development it needs to be high quality and relevant. We obviously didn’t express that forcefully or creatively enough, as it didn’t make it into print.

Later that afternoon, after I’d returned to the office, I got a call from Sara Fraser at CBC. She was having difficulty connecting with Pam to do an on-camera interview and wondered whether I could pinch-hit for her. I agreed, and 30 minutes later Sara was in the basement of my office with a camera operator to do an interview. She cautioned me up front that they were only looking for a short clip, and that I should keep that in mind.

In my interview with Sara I talked, again, about the importance of communicating about professional development to parents, and about some of the challenges that the school calendar committee faced in its deliberations. One of those challenges, I mentioned, was that the structure of the school calendar is limited by two currently-immovable walls: September 1 and June 30, which are the negotiated start and end of the school year for teachers. I suggested that if we really want to get serious about adding instructional time and professional development time to the calendar, we were going to have to address that issue. And that’s the clip that made it to air:

Sara: PEI’s Home and School Federation would like the school year even longer.

Peter: …to really take professional learning and the school calendar out for a ride and get more instructional days and more professional learning days, we’ve got to address that issue and that’s sort of the next hill to climb.

Unfortunately what was missing from the clip was the sentence before in which I explained what “that issue” – the immovable start and end of the school year – was. Without that sentence for context, it seemed like our “message” was dissatisfaction with the school calendar modifications because the school year wasn’t lengthened.

Now, fortunately, the notion that the school year should be longer reflects almost all of the feedback we’ve had from local home and schools on this issue: parents, in general, want their children to be spending more time in the classroom, not less.  So it’s not like I was quoted as saying something untrue or not reflective of parents’ collective feelings.

What has happened next, however is that that comment that went to air has been quoted in another CBC story, held up beside an opposition call for more instructional time that you probably heard on the local news this morning:

The Home and School Federation also says it’s time to look at adding more instructional time for students.

Well, yes, that’s, in essence, what I said. But is it what I meant?

Is it an effective distillation, in a single sentence, of what “parents of PEI feel about the school calendar”?

No.

Presumably this is why people who speak in public take “media training”: to understand that it’s about what you say and don’t say and how you say it that will determine what appears on TV and what the public hears. If I hadn’t made an honest but, in the grander scheme of things, “off message” comment about why making a school calendar is hard, then the CBC headline might have been “Parents say communication is key to implementing school calendar changes.”

Lesson learned.

Oh, and I need a hair cut.

How far apart are my eyes?

Speaking of eyeglasses: when I was in Boston last month, my friend Tom took me to see the Warby Parker shop on Newbury Street. They are a boutique maker of high-fashion, low-cost eyeglasses and have positioned themselves as the “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more” competition to the old-line Big Eyeglass cartels. From the team of enthusiastic, fresh-faced young eyeglass zealots that staffed the place, and the crowds milling about, it’s working.

One of the bizarre aspects of the eyecare industry is that the person who tests your eyes and writes you a prescription – despite having all the equipment at the ready – doesn’t tell you what your pupillary distance (distance between your pupils) is; rather it’s part of the “dispensing” that happens where you actually buy your glasses.  This makes it a lot harder to mail order for glasses because, well, it’s hard to measure your eyes over the phone.

Or it was. The rise of online eyeglasses retailers has created a need for DIY pupillary distance calculators. Warby Parker has a very slick one that gave me a measurement of 62.5 mm (over 5 tests the range was 62 to 64 mm). They have you hold a credit card up under your nose and use your webcam, which is a smart way of getting an everyday object that most everyone has that has a standard size into the frame to use as a benchmark:

Warby Parker Pupillary Distance Calculator

The slightly-less-elegant online tool at FinestGlasses.com calculated the distance at 64 mm (part of the reason it’s less elegant is that you need to measure your glasses to get a baseline, and that’s hard to do if (a) you don’t have a ruler and (b) you can read without your glasses so you can’t see the ruler).

There’s a relatively simply way of calculating your pupillary distance offline that’s outlined here; it suffers, alas, from the problem of needing to measure your glasses so if you can’t see without them you end up with a chicken and egg situation. There’s also the problem of ending up with black Sharpie dots on your glasses ;-)

For the record, recognizing that online eyewear is a thing, the place where I go to get my eyes tested, Charlottetown Vision Centre, will measure your pupillary distance for $69, something they advertise with many “we can’t be held responsible if the cut-rate back alley shop you get your glasses at screws things up”-style language.

How I Changed the Way I Knot

I’ve been tying knots the wrong way, I have learned.

First, I’ve been knotting my shoes the wrong way, as I learned from this TED video. Six months ago I switched to the new system espoused there, and went from having my shoelaces becoming undone two or three times a day to having my shoelaces never becoming undone. I took about 2 weeks until my muscle memory learned the new method, but it’s now second nature.

Second, I’d been knotting my scarf the wrong way. Truth be told, I wasn’t knotting my scarf at all, simply draping it around my neck and holding it on with my coat. But then, two days ago, I carefully watched as my friend Shelley did what I’ve come to learn is called the “Parisian Knot,” a simple technique that is well-illustrated here:

I’ve only been Parisian for 12 hours now, but the change is palpable: I’ve moved from “vaguely warmed neck” to “warmly swaddled neck.

World's Tiniest Christmas Card

After flirting with an elaborate 5” x 6” Christmas card design that went horribly wrong at makeready, I’ve opted for a simpler design. A design that will, I think, end up being the world’s tiniest Christmas card.

Merry Christmas