February 6, 2010

TIme to vote - on the color of my blog!

Design is very important to me, so I take comments about my site design very seriously. I accept that as a designer, one cannot please everyone, for, design is very personal, and many non-designers measure the rules of design against what they know, or against what they have been told.

Today there are many outrageous acts of poor design happening from what we read in some magazines and books, to what we watch on Television. I find nothing more annoying than the pop-up animated teasers that occur in the corner of the screen during a movie, or the 'bug' of a network logo remaining on-screen the entire time I am experiencing the entertainment.

What we should focus on is the 'experience', not the 'rules of print-on-paper' today, for each has a set of different rules. Rules which change as technology moves forward. First, about print and paper: Some of you have read me wrong, I LOVE print on paper, but yes, I do think it is going away. Maybe not in our lifetime, but certainly in a few. Right now, I like the feel and non-techyness of paper, but.....a big but.......it's going away, whether you like it or not. Not because people don't like it, it's going away because it isn't profitable.

Gourmet Magazine, The Boston Globe, Plant Journals, all going way. Let's face it. My point it, I would rather have a digital journal than NO journal. How many young people do you know under 30 who read a newspaper today? Even libraries are going digital, Google is currently undergoing a project to scan every book in the world, and Cushing Academy closed their library and went digital for their students. DO I like it? Maybe not, but the option is worse, so when you write and tell me that paper isn't going away, think first, inform yourself, and, it you don't agree, fine, but don't use it as an excuse to reject digital mediums. We all need to change, to adapt with technology, or we become cultural roadkill.

But back to color, and this blog.

This week, a few readers have written me some notes of encouragement, but also a few complaints about how dark my site is, and how difficult they find it to read. It should come as no surprise that I prefer dark websites with light or white knocked out type. Perhaps a personal preference, but there is some logic behind it too. I have found, being a designer, that many people apply the same rules as print on paper, to digital mediums, for black backgrounds with white type is difficult on paper, but the human eye and mind, prefers the white text on a solid black.

Part of the problem is that I am writing too much, for too much text with this layout, is difficult to read. Maybe I should just compose captions for photos, until I migrate the site to one that offers both fonts for text on white, and captions that are in a different typeface?

Look, monitors are like TV screens, essentially, lightbulbs, and good designers know that part of designing stunning web experiences comes in controlling the light, setting the stage, and everything becomes part of the look, from the style of the photos to the lighting an art direction of the shots, to the color palette. But I have resisted going to a white page online, On paper, I would agree, for I am old school when it comes to the rules of typography, in fact, I am a geek about type too.

The rules for digital design is different than that on paper, but that too is changing, and although subjective,But there is a grey area, and infact, it may be either grey, or as newer mac's and other screens allow, a dimming switch. Plasma and LED screens are also less white, so white suddenly works better. Still, for color photography, I prefer dark environments, because of the theatrical nature of the soothing low tones. Still, I am willing to listen to all of you, and get to a better place. If I was not limited to a template, I would have more freedom, but more on that later. I am working on starting another site.
The Gasterias are starting to bud up in the greenhouse.

Guess that we can't have both. Besides, the font that this Blogger template limits me to use is too bold, and the leading is too close for so much white text on black. I will over the next few days reintroduce my wood vector background, as well as play with some of the tints of the type to reduce the contrast until it is just perfect. Until then, look on the left and add your thoughts and vote. Or, email me and let me know what you think.
But there is a whole group of people who beleive otherwise.

So, let's vote. Do you prefer a dark background ( on which photos look best)
or, a light background?

Photo sites like Nikonians for Nikon fans, know the benefits of dark.
Some sites have an elegant use of dark, but the gradations are what really make it.
Here are my thoughts. I agree that the current design is hard to read, I lost the link to the brown wood pattern, which made the black less deep, and the off white type was less harsh in contrast. I also belive that an all white digital page is tiresome on the eyes, if one looks at one all day, as I do. As a prefessional designer, I sell many ideas that are grey, or screens that emit less color. The finest image sites use black or dark backgrounds, as do theaters, credits on films, broadcast. However, lately, soft grey gradations with black or dark grey type is possible, so I may look at that as an option.

The fine design blog Design Sponge has a design which I admire, but is a bit busy for what we do, but I like the collage aspect of it. When, and if I move to a website, I might consider some collage concept like this, or perhaps more styling like Terrain.

Nike knows the benefits of theatrical lighting and dark sites. Still, the solution should use elegant type rather than the horsey fonts offered by BLOGGER.
Anyway, I am open to designing a new site, but please understand that this Blogger platform limits me on what I can actually do, since I only have a few templates to work with. Also, I have been planning to move my blog to the other service called Wordpress, and host it on a server at Bluehost. I bought the URL, and was ready to move it on Jan 1, but found out that I would loose all of my photos over the past 4 years, and in order to keep them, I would have to re upload each one. Which is an impossible task. I looked at hiring someone to help me migrate my blog to Wordpress, but the cost was a little high ( at $1500) so I an stuck here for a while, until I start a new blog on WordPress maybe. Still working on that one!

SO, to redesign this site ( which I seem to get bored with and redesign often, anyway,, I would love to hear all of your thoughts. After all, you are the ones who need to read it, not me! take the poll, let me know! Then, I can post some designs and you can choose. Unless you are all willing to just move to a new URL, then, I can have a magazine style layout, with thumnails and pull down tabs for bulbs, alpines, vegetables, design, etc!

February 4, 2010

Hello, iPad! Goodbye Print On Paper

Apple's new iPad will change everything for us gardeners who are missing good gardening books and journals.It’s here, well almost, and I am thrilled. I’ve been waiting for a device that will offer more mobility than a laptop, so that I can read it in bed, and one that had internet access, bright light and fast interface. Zthe new iPad promises this and more.

Imagine what a Kew Magazine will look like, a North American Rock Garden Society Journal, or a Scottish Rock Garden Club interactive magazine will look like.

Many gardening magazine with some botanical interest are already available in a flip-page format, all we needed was a excellent quality larger reading device so that we can carry them anywhere with us, the Apple iPad is just the thing.

Nothing excited me more this week than Apple's long awaited anouncement about their new four color, thin, affordable, clear screened, light, amazing iPad. I am already waiting in line, for this is something that I believe in - this one invention will change everything, a tipping point, if you will, on how we consumer information as gardeners. (OK. groan everyone, but just watch).

Don't get me wrong, no one loves books and magazines more than me, and believe me, I've resisted every tech trend that has "ruined" my passions - Casettes to CD's, Ektachrome to digital, and letters on paper, to email. But what this really is about, is simple adjusting, for now, we can have more. More information, more color photos, more video, more mobility. Our beloved garden and plant magazInes ( and plant society journals) are not going away at all, they will become more plentiful, and more available to more people.

We've all survived the whole "We don't have a digital projector" thing as gardeners, and now, we groan at those who have to set up their glass slides, when we are attending a plant society meeting. We do adopt tech faster than we think, sometimes. Sure, the charm of print on paper will be missed, and maybe, it won't go away at all, for, just at cooking books, maybe our publishers will focus on high quality plant publication rather than magazine and monographs. Besides, nomenclature and classification changes so fast nowadays, that this might be one way to always stay current. Medical journals and other scientific journals are already published digitally.

Zinio, a quality digital book and Magazine site may be a source for plant society journals in the future, they already offer text books and some plant magazines from around the world.

Check out Zinio, which is doing something along the same lines with magazines & iPhones. It’s a brilliant site, with amazing content already, albeit a little pricey, I would imagine that the cost for subscriptions will move downwards soon.

There is alot for us to get over, mainly, don't bitch about having to "print out the pdf". There will be a day, when we can sit up in bed and read a digital reader, like this first generation iPad, which allows you to elegantly "flip" pages which look nothing like the Amazon digital reader's, but has pages that look exactly like real paper. It has gorgeous wooden bookshelves on which your fav garden and plant magazines can be stored, but it offers so much more. Imagine a plant magazine or a quarterly such as the North American Rock Garden Quarterly, now you can have color on every page, tap a photo on an artivle, and it can become a video, tap another page, and an entire list of plant species with links to sources or other videos can be accessed, and, best of all, you don't need a bedside light!

Then, imagine that this one device can hold ALL of your fav magazines, pdfs, or whatever we will call them, so when you are in the Dr. office waiting room, or on a plane, you can have not just 5 magazine, but ALL of your collections, plus some movies, a few nature shows, your entire music collection, your photos, and access to the internet. It also will have the Wall Street Journal, and the London Times. You choose, but my point is that you can have it all.

I was curious this week, since I already started publishing a digital magazine of sorts, I was wonder what was already out there, and I was surprised. The site Issuu allows you to publish your own digital documents with page flip, and there are many others. Then there is this site called Zinio, which already has many books and magazines available by subscription. There is still alot to work through, first, the cost, but that will come down eventually, just as music has, maybe we will be able to down load just the articles we like for .99 cents similar to iTunes.

Plant societies, take note- this is the PERFECT device for your members, and any society that isn't looking at publishing or distributing a .pdf newsletter or journal, is not taking advantage of the wonders of free technology today.

Imagine interactive textbooks (say for a book on Cape Bulbs or Taxonomy Science). Today, physical textbooks are as obsolete as chalkboards, and they’re pricing themselves out of existence, not to mention they’re out of date even before they get to print. The iPad will change all of this, because of it’s immediacy and changability.

Digital Gardening magazines are already available from around the world, even New Zealand.
So what do you see as the future of the magazine and enthusiast books on the iPad? Steve Jobs mentioned it briefly in his keynote presentation. I envision an interactive experience for students that has layers of depth – like a series of nested sidebars, each one delving deeper into a subject (such as how Hellebores or alpine plants germinate, for example) and going as far as a student has interest in exploring. It would link to on-line content and have multimedia fully integrated into the app’s interface, perhaps even virtual lab experiments that take advantage of the accelerometer. ( My bee and the Androsoce idea!). The possibilities are very exciting; the iPad will be much more useful for education that iPods or Palms simply because they are larger, yet extremely portable. As a media designer and horticulturist, I cant’ wait to get more involved.

Since I also design magazines, I believe that this iPad will change future of magazines and newspapers. I saw an inspiring page of the NYT at the Apple press conference, and amazing games from EA. Now, all of this can be together, and suddenly, and plant journal with 4 pages of color feels very old fashioned. Will I miss paper? Sure, I still do, but I have to admit that I find myself cruising around on the plant nursery sites more than I do perusing catalogs. That was a change I thought I would never make. Still, if Dan Hinkley every opened a nursery again, I would want to read his paper catalogs over and over, as I still do.

By March, we will be able to download magazine app’s, which will likely make it possible to access a number of magazines, and eventually plant society journals via subscription. The big difference here, will be the interactivity that will, or should, be integrated into the media, otherwise these will be nothing but websites. But mark my words it will happen, especially when the still surviving magazines are all looking at producing content like Martha Stewart Living and National Geographic, both are already available in digital versions.

I firmly believe that the new iPad will have a strong and positive impact on all gardeners who love to consumer information about the plants they love. With magazines and journals going the way of the Dodo, we can only choose to celebrate this new device. And, if you are one of those people who still whines about the good ol days ( hey, I was there too!), there isn’t much you can do other then ignore the potential, or lean into it. I opt for leaning, this could be fun.
I can imagine all sorts of digital products being available soon for experiencing on the iPad, including full color books and magazine, with video, music and interactive links to sources.

The iPad will be released next month, but already there are some regular main stream magazines available that gardeners might find interesting. There is a simple but elegant solution for retaining the look-and-feel of a magazine is to go through a service like Exact Editions. I really like the quality of they are offering, plus they have an iPhone app. I suspect they will have something for the iPad soon

February 1, 2010

Potting up Geranium maderense,and more

The massive, and rarely seen Geranium maderense, which I had grown from seed last spring, is starting to mature. I am hoping that this impressive species blooms this spring. A tender species from Madeira, it is sometimes seen in older gardening books, and even grown at Christopher Lloyd Great Dixter at the entrance to the main house. This is s white form of the more common mauve, but what makes this plant so spectacular is it's floral display, producing a massive cluster of flowers which sits directly over the huge, palmate foliage, each head containing hundreds, of flowers. It may self seed in the ideal medeterraniean conditions of California, but in large containers in the north, it can make a stunning plant. Unfortunately, it is a biennial, and although it takes 2 years to bloom from seed, it will most likely die, in the third. Seeds of this white flowered strain, are costly, but can be obtained pre-chilled at Jeletto seeds in Germany ( they have a great website, and ship worldwide). Don't make the mistake I did, and plant your seeds in the greenhouse where it is cool, it took me 2 years to find out that the seeds germinate at temperatures above 80 deg. F. Once germinated, which was fast, within 2 weeks with these pre-treated seeds, they can then be moved to a cool, sunny spot aroung 50 degrees F.

Geranium maderense in its slightly more common color, a mauve form.

Geranium maderense repotted into a larger pot, in which it will most likely remain until after it blooms this spring.

A seedling of Lachenalia reflexa, grown from seed collected from a pot I had grown 5 years ago. These "Yellow Soldiers". as they are known in both South Africa where they are native, and in Australia, are now invasive weeds and the species is finding itself on many country's invasive seed list. Invasive species and the risk of introducing them is a real concern to you environment, but for me, here in the winter-cold areas of northern New England, this genus offers little risk. It does seem a little silly with my one plant, grown from 5 seeds that I saved from a bulb which I grew from a packet of wild collected seed, but the idea would not be silly if I lived in San Diego or Los Angeles. In Australia, some areas have the ground covered with thousand of these lachenalia speices. care must always be taken, I am not aware of this particular species being added to any American seed restriction list, yet, but I would imagine that it will be, soon.

Look, my first Robin of the year! We went out and bought meal worms today, after all, it's January.

A seedling of Cyclamen coum starts to bloom with tiny, cyclamen flowers.

...and yes, these cold, yet sunny January days offer little for the kids to do outside, although, and large Racoon grumbled across the lawn this afternoon, and Margaret and Fergus somehow got the sluggish creature stuck in a tree, along the edge of our yard, with some help from our Polish immigrant neighbors' German Shepard whose name we really don't know, for they call Lubby, or nubby, or buh-yay, we'll just call him Buddy. Ahh....a little excitement at last! Go, bubay, go! Atta boy.