Illustrator CC on Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Of late, I have become averse to using the computer—sitting at it, anyway—and this has been cutting into the amount of time I’m willing to work in Illustrator. For a while now I’ve been thinking about the Microsoft Surface Pro, imagining myself working while sitting on my couch or lounging outside. I had really been hoping to trick someone (Adobe, Microsoft) into giving me one to try out, but it would appear I’m not that well connected.

So, with some misgivings, I bought a Surface Pro 4 i5 with 8Gb ram. Here is my experience, after having it for a few days:

The Machine

The Machine itself is pretty gorgeous, and I love the blue keyboard (additional cost*), although it has a tendency to wobble up in the back when I’m typing**. The screen is sharp and rich, the pen is comfortable, though I wish I could program the top button to do things other than currently prescribed. In general the initiation process was smooth … ish. Cortana (MS Siri) was surprisingly difficult to get started (something to do with me being Canadian), and I have not done much in the way of setup, as my plan is to use this thing for work only, so no email, calendars or any of that personalization. Installing my printer was as easy as on a Mac.

There does seem to be something a little funky about the trackpad, and sometimes tapping it will open things (like web links), and sometimes it seems I have to press harder to click. Sometimes clicking gets what I want, other times it opens an unwanted contextual menu. I also have the option of touching the screen with my finger or the Surface Pen, so at the beginning I was doing a lot of tapping, poking, touching and a fair amount of muttering “wtf?” But if I keep away from the trackpad, and remember to lift the pen away before using fingers, it’s working most of the time as expected.

Microsoft has a login called “Microsoft Hello” which recognizes your face. Sometimes. This was amusing at first, but after it failed to recognize me several times it became annoying. I also don’t want to stare directly into my computer when I start it, but I haven’t figured out how to turn this off.

With the keyboard attached and the screen up with the little flap on the back out for stabilization, the whole thing takes up at least 10 inches of desk space. Fine for a desk, but for me, it keeps falling off the back of my lap-desk-thing, and would also probably be a problem on an airplane. Annoying. My Macbook Air, by comparison takes up about 7.5 inches of desk space.

**Astonishing discovery

I started writing this post on the Surface, but when I needed to make an em-dash I had to go to the internet to find out how. Did you know that PC users are still using the “character palette” or ASCII codes (ASCII CODES!!!!!) to get accented characters, and things like em- and en-dashes, copyright symbols, etc.? I can’t even figure out where the character palette is, and entering ASCII codes is too primitive to contemplate. (Did Apple somehow get proprietary use over using the Alt-key+letters, or holding down a key to get its alternates? If so, how did they manage to do that and NOT have proprietary use for pinch and swipe movements?)

So I will not be doing any writing on the Surface, which is a disappointment because I really do like the keyboard. The keys make a nice little “thwock” sound, and writing on it would have been a pleasure.

Illustrator CC

What I’m really here to talk about is Illustrator CC, because that is entirely the reason I bought the Surface. Illustrator on the Surface operates in 2 modes: as a laptop with keyboard attached, with the full desktop Illustrator interface (that you can touch and draw on); and in “Touch Workspace” mode with limited access to tools, but the whole display given over to the artboard. As soon as you fold the keyboard back, it enters the Touch Workspace. You can also access the full desktop interface without the keyboard by tapping an icon. More about this later.

I think I use Illustrator a little differently than most people. Judging by the tools available and the artwork I see produced in Illustrator, it seems a lot of people use it quite loosely, brushing and filling and texturing and who-knows-what. I use it as a precision tool. The reason I got the Surface is that I could find no other drawing program for the iPad that allows me to precisely control vector points. That is how I work. I draw, point by point, and then I adjust and adjust and adjust … and then adjust some more until every curve is to my satisfaction. I do not use the brush tool to make variable thickness lines, I do them by hand. I do not autotrace, I do not gesture, I do not spraypaint, I do not warp. I fiddle with vectors, sometimes to minute detail. And I cut things at precise points, and make things different colours.

So … what I like about the Surface is working on my lap or on a desk. I like leaning over the artwork and drawing directly on the surface. It’s taking a little getting used to, and the glass is a bit slick, but I like it. Adjusting vectors by their nodes and handles is working great (once I turned off “Smart Guides” which for some reason was making nodes near impossible to move, even though all the snap-tos were off). And I’ve gotten used to the “undo” button–in fact, what I love is that most of the time, I can use 2 hands: one holds the pen, and the other can switch the tools, and tap the undo. For some reason this doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s brilliant.

I did have to go into preferences and remove the time, sound, battery, and wifi icons from the lower right corner because I kept leaning on them and opening unwanted items. As it is I still accidentally open a bar of Notifications somehow, which I haven’t yet figured out how to turn off. Not too big a deal: one tap and it’s gone.

Zooming in and out with 2 fingers, or panning with 2 fingers works most of the time, though sometimes causes unexpected results.

However, there is a major flaw in that Adobe has decided which tools we are most likely to use in Touch mode and provided them, but there is no way to get to the others without switching back into Desktop mode. For instance: Layers. LAYERS. How more fucking basic can you get than Layers? I use them constantly, switching them on and off, locking and unlocking them. Now every time I need to, I have to go back into Desktop mode. Idiotic.

Also, I am a nudger. I set my cursor increments to 0.1 or 0.2 points, and I use the arrow keys to nudge points a little this way and a little that.

So, on the first day I was doing a lot of unfolding the keyboard (which automatically switches me to desktop mode), nudge with the arrow keys or activate layers, and then go back to the Touch mode … I also tried just leaving the keyboard out and working on the Surface in Desktop mode, but then my hands rest on the keys, and, well that’s fucked up.

On the second day I came up with a brilliant workaround. I detached the keyboard, and instead paired the Surface, via Bluetooth, with my Apple keyboard. Because this keyboard can sit anywhere, I can rest my wrist on the Surface, and use my other hand to use the keyboard. It wasn’t long before I gave up on the Touch mode altogether and am now working exclusively in the Desktop mode, using both hands. It’s working great! Already I’ve completed three projects I’d been putting off because I didn’t feel like sitting at the computer. Of course I’m still sitting at a computer, but it feels so much more like drawing, which of course it is. *So if you get one of these things, don’t get the keyboard, just use a Bluetooth one.

For the touch mode to be useful, Adobe needs to have customizable toolbars. The Touch Workspace has plenty of room on both the right and the left for more tools and menus. The user should be allowed to choose what those tools are depending on how they work. This is actually something I’ve wanted in all Adobe programs since the dawn of time, but now, with the Surface, it’s more important than ever. But in all honesty, aside from some extra space, I don’t really see advantage of the Touch workspace once you’ve got a Bluetooth keyboard on the side, unless you have difficulty with small icons, which I personally don’t.

The files are cross-platform, and Creative Cloud applications can be used on 2 computers, so I can use the same program, for the same price, on both the Mac and the Surface.

In a day or so I’m going to check out Photoshop, and maybe Lightroom (I’ve been doing a lot of photo sorting and tagging in Lightroom lately). I have doubts about Photoshop on the Surface over my iMac, but I  am curious.

If you have anything to say to me about this, comments are off, but you can email me at contact at this website address (or just go to the Contact page).

What makes me hate the TV shows I hate

Unlikeable characters

Rescue Me was a perfect example: after watching more than a season (on the strong recommendation of a friend), and hating the Denis Leary character in ever increasing amounts, always thinking he couldn’t possibly get any worse until he did, I eventually decided I’ve got better things to do than watch shows about assholes. Since then, that has been a prevailing sentiment. This is the reason I won’t watch Sons of Anarchy.


I can put up with only so much. But what really blows my mind is how stupid details that could so easily be fixed without any impact whatsoever on the plot get overlooked. Science gobbledygook is a common one (often used in the CSI franchise), as are simple things like the continued use of “enhance” where people zoom into fuzzy photographs or videos and see impossible details. Also, the guessing of computer passwords. In a scene in the otherwise potentially promising Mr. Robot, one of the characters, a supposedly excellent hacker, needing to get into someone’s computer apparently looks up at something above the desk, finds a “clue” and viola! that is actually the password! The absurdity of  this makes me irate. Why not just have her use a USB stick that runs a password-cracking program and then when it finds it in an implausibly short time, she could comment on the inadvisability of a 4-letter all lowercase password or something? And while these little details are not enough to make me hate an entire show, the more of them there are, and the more heavily the show relies on them (CSI), the less patience I have with said show.

Invincible villains

I can name three off the top of my head: The Danish show The Bridge, in which the villain starts off by mysteriously killing the power to a bridge connecting 2 countries (Denmark and Sweden) and somehow, during some period of no traffic, taking a body which has been cut perfectly in half to the exact centre of the bridge and placing one half on the Danish side and  the other half on the Swedish side, without the slightest trace of blood or (of course) clues of any kind, and then vanishes without a trace. I forget, but I think other impossible acts carry on from there. In one of the later seasons of Dexter—a show that throws all plausibility to the wind as a matter of course—the city is tormented by a killer who manages to create a series of complex tableaux in public spaces of murdered victims decked out with wings and other set pieces without ever leaving a trace of himself. Where ARE these places where everyone sleeps solidly from midnight to 7am and surveillance cameras don’t exist? True Detective (Season 1) is another one with a killer that builds complicated ritualistic sets and leaves ridiculous clues hanging around, seemingly moments before without leaving a trace of himself.

Episodic overextension

Some shows stick to their premise so doggedly, week to week, that they create super-unbelievability over the course of the show. Take, for instance, Dexter. What if there were this character who is a controlled serial killer by night and blood-spatter specialist by day, but instead of murdering another killer per episode (resulting in a simply ludicrous number of murders and serial killers), he took an entire season to plot, stalk and kill his victim. It would probably be more interesting, more nuanced and certainly less absurd. The Americans (one of my favourite shows for other reasons) suffers from the same problem: every week, more assignments, more disguises, more missions … these people wouldn’t have time to sleep, let alone raise kids, pretend to run a business and retain a semblance of normalcy. I know, it’s only TV, and the shows are there to entertain. I’m not suggesting they be broken into pedantic slavery to veracity, but I think that they suffer from overextension, and that slowing the pace wouldn’t hurt them at all. On a slightly related note, how much better would the X-files have been if half the time, or even part of the time, Scully turned out to be right and the hoax was revealed? Much better, in my opinion.

Unnatural dialogue

This is strictly an American thing. The whiz-bang, rapidfire dialogue of certain shows is something I simply cannot tolerate. The actors speak quickly back-and-forth in perfectly constructed sentences and sometimes witty repartee. There is no thought, reflection or error. This is what caused me to dislike The Newsroom and Scandal among others. Related to this is precocious children: children who say things only an adult would say or in a way that only an adult would say it (and who do this regularly as part of their character).

The Tough Guy

I am convinced that there is no easier role for an actor to play than a tough guy, and TV and movies are riddled with them. They show no emotion other than lust and anger, maybe a bit of drunken camaraderie with the boys, or maybe a little bit of hurt (from whatever tragic thing it was in their past that made them so closed off). They are distanced from their lovers (who inexplicably love them nonetheless), they are never actually happy, they don’t laugh except to intimidate, they are ultimately boring beyond belief. They glower, clench their teeth, lower their eyelids and barely talk. The vast majority of cop/detective shows harbour at least one tough guy. A perfect example is Ray Donovan: a show I’ve been trying to watch, but simply can’t because I desperately want Ray’s wife to murder her tedious, boring, absent husband and go have some fun with his money.

Strippers and gratuitous sex

The Sopranos started  the stripper thing with the BadaBing, and it seems like every American drama since then has picked up on this “great idea” to have their men hanging out having conversations in strip clubs so they can get some naked women in there just for the fun of it. Similarly, I’m pretty sure that nearly every sex scene is a gratuitous sex scene. Ray Donovan has one or two per episode, and often starts with one. I was starting to worry about myself: am I turning into a prude that I find these scenes boring and moderately offensive? Was I wrong to feel that they are basically pornography, where the focus is clearly on the man fucking and  the woman receiving? That the shot is often absent the woman’s head, especially when fucked from behind? That there is little actual enjoyment going on other than perfunctory orgasm? But I’m pleased to report that I saw a show recently that completely vindicated these thoughts: that I am not having a prudish reaction, but that these observations are true in the overwhelming number of cases. The show I saw was Catastrophe: a British comedy about an American man who has a short affair with an Irish woman and … well, nevermind, but there’s sex: there’s realistic, mutually gratifying, believable sex that is necessary to the plot and not male-centric pornography (nor is it the silly, fast-motion, hopping up and down, legs akimbo, shapes under blankets “funny sex” that some shows resort to). They’re both having a good time, there are moments of awkwardness (but not all-awkward Girls-style sex), and of happiness. So I’m not a prude, I’m simply bored out of my mind and fed up with the incessant man-fucks-woman scenes in most TV shows.

The role of women

This last one should have been my first reason for hating TV shows because it has become a real issue for me with anything I watch. I’ve become very aware of the roles that women have in TV and very critical. This was a huge reason why I couldn’t get into True Detective: that the only women in the show were victims, strippers, and a wife who became an adjunct and mere plot device to both characters. This relegation of women to minor and often abused roles is outrageously common. I’m fucking sick of it, and I’m going to write an entire post about it.

The best TV I’ve ever seen

Why do The Wire, Deadwood, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights and The Slap make my top list for the Best TV I’ve ever seen?

What I have come to value in cinematic watching experiences above all else are nuance, and believability (which does not exclude genres such as Science Fiction). I’m a huge fan of character study, but not without story arc. Character studies without an overall arc run the risk of turning into soap operas, and many recent shows have fallen into this trap.

I almost don’t need to talk about The Wire, as it is widely acclaimed as the best show ever made. What I love about it is that there is little difference in the “goodness” or “badness” of the characters, no matter which side of the law they are on. The people are complex. McNulty, the ostensible “star” of the first season becomes so disgusting at some point that I felt I could smell the stale liquor and vomit on him. Many of the drug dealing characters are heartbreakingly endearing. And what makes the show most remarkable is the barely connected plots from season to season: from drug dealing to human trafficking to the education system to politics and finally the media, with characters evolving and reccuring from one season to the next.

Deadwood comes a very close second, partly for dialogue that is so fantastic it’s a pure delight to parse. The characters are intense and the plot is brutal. Al Swearengen is the role and performance of a lifetime for Ian McShane, as a man so basely human and yet surprising in the revelation that he is not, in fact, a psychopath (his delivery of the raving minister from his misery being one of the great scenes of this show). E. B. Farnam, that mewling little sycophant, gets the richest dialogue, serving as king’s fool to Swearengen. In fact every nearly character is rich beyond the degree of any other show I’ve ever seen, with the exception of poor, wooden, humourless Seth Bullock played by Timothy Olyphant. Presumably the intended hero of the show, he is easily overshadowed by the other players, as he skulks around with a rictus of bared teeth and little else to show for himself. Initially I was concerned by the depiction of women in the show, but they quickly came into focus with some terrific roles: The resourceful and tough-as-nails Trixie, tragic Joanie Stubbs, beleaguered yet oddly comical Jewel, and of course the fantastic force of nature that was Calamity Jane, played beyond belief by Robin Weigert. Three seasons was not nearly enough for me: at that calibre I could have watched it for ten.

The Sopranos earns its place by being the first to delve deeply into the psyche of its characters, notably Tony, through the device of speaking to his psychotherapist. It is particularly in the first two or three seasons as he reveals his ordinary vulnerability, and middle class concerns, contrasted with the brutality of his business, that made this such a surprising delight. The death of Nancy Marchand as his mother was a huge loss for the show, as it took with it Tony’s third side (as child), as well as the only comic element of the show. Without his mother, and for a while without his therapist, Tony and the show became one-dimensional: a show about the mob. Which is not to say that there weren’t brilliant episodes in subsequent seasons, but at the beginning of the 5th season I realized that I despised each and every character in the show and I stopped watching (though caught up later, a few years after the series ended.) The second strongest character in The Sopranos was Tony’s wife, Carmela, played by the wonderful Edie Falco. She twists and turns throughout the series, at times disingenuous about her part in the Soprano family business, at times every bit the mobster’s wife, with full advantage of the position. Her morality escapes her even as she genuflects and prays.

Breaking Bad makes most people’s Top TV lists, but for me it ended up there mostly on the strength of the final season. Don’t get me wrong, this show had me from the opening scene of the first episode, but it wobbled at times, and nearly lost me in the 4th season. However, Bryan Cranston’s lauded portrayal of an ordinary man who transforms into a megalomaniacal killer pushes through what flaws the show has. One of the other strengths of this show is Walter White’s wife, Skylar, who wobbles on the edge of her husband’s insanity. At turns horrified, frightened, and conciliatory she both abets her husband’s schemes and plots her escape. She is the metaphor for every woman trapped in an abusive relationship without ever succumbing to stereotype. Walter’s Jekyll and Hyde transformation into Heisenberg, particularly over the first few seasons when the Jekyll in him was still occasionally apparent, was a delightful and fascinating transformation, but it wasn’t until the fifth season when you see everything he worked for falling apart, and the man comes out of the monster in the realization that he has lost absolutely everything, including the love of his family, that the story arc brilliantly completes.

The presence of Friday Night Lights on this list may be baffling to some. But what could be written off as wholesome American schmaltz is in fact one of the best acted, most loving portrayals of a group of people that I’ve ever seen. This show is a standout in this arena because unlike the vast majority of good shows on TV, it’s about good people. No cops or killers or psychopaths, no crime or mystery or incest or rape. It sounds deathly dull. In fact, the subject of  the show contains three words that fill me with profound disinterest: Texas Highschool Football. So how does it do it? By portraying, in believable, gorgeously acted detail, the lives and concerns of very ordinary people. With one or two small exceptions, I loved every single character in the show. I cared about them. I marvelled at their tangibility. Kyle Chandler may have just been playing himself, but his ability to express himself in the slightest look was like watching someone you intimately know. I loved these characters so much I forgave them their Christianity, and that’s not something I forgive easily. The show has a major flaw, and that is the second season, where it lost its way so badly in implausible plots and dead ends that at the beginning of season three they wiped half of them from the slate, like it had all been a dream. From there on it marches firmly forward to a strong fifth and final season. I can genuinely say I miss these characters, and remember them fondly.

The last show in this list, The Slap, is a slight cheat, because it’s a miniseries, and as such benefits from the lack of pitfalls of multiple seasons. However, it is an utterly brilliant show from beginning to end. Based on the book of the same name by Christos Tsiolkas, it follows the aftermath of a party where the parent of one family slaps the child of another. As in the other shows, it is a study of characters, but driven by plot in which your allegiances change as the show progresses. Contempt turns to pity, sympathy turns to disgust. Your support of one character disintegrates while another one builds and then falls again. A situation that seems simple gets complicated and your opinion changes as each character takes their turn, episode by episode. I was positively riveted throughout, and have recommended this show with urgency to everyone I’ve met. The version I saw was Australian, though I understand an American version has been made—I can’t imagine why, as the Australian version is brilliantly and perfectly acted and staged throughout.

TV Addict

When I was a teenager in the 1970s I watched lot of TV. A lot. I once counted that I watched approximately 5 hrs/day (all in the evening). Starsky & Hutch, The Bionic Woman, Six Million Dollar Man (is that all?), Charlie’s Angels, Kojak, The Rockford Files, The Streets of San Francisco, Dallas, Dynasty, All in the Family, Police Woman, Columbo, Happy Days, The Partridge Family, Switch, Hart to Hart, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Phyllis, Rhoda, Maude, The Jeffersons, M*A*S*H, Mork & Mindy, Taxi, Welcome Back Kotter, the Waltons … and many others; variety shows such as Sonny & Cher, and Carol Burnett; and of course reruns of Get Smart, Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeanie, The Twilight Zone and more.

And then, I stopped. For most of my adult life I lived without a TV in the house. I have, for instance, never seen a single episode of Friends. A couple of decades of TV pretty much passed me by, and I’m glad to have missed it.

And then came The Sopranos. At the turn of the century, my boyfriend had a TV that I disdained and generally refused to watch, but somehow The Sopranos came to my attention, and not since I was 14 had I been so completely riveted by a show. Obsessed to the point of agony is more like it. We didn’t get HBO in Canada and so I had to wait (after the first season aired, second-run, on CTV) for it to come out on DVD. And thus, binge-watching was born.

I still don’t have a TV in the house, but I do have a computer hooked up to a video projector and a 7-foot screen in my living room. And via DVDs, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” I once again watch a lot of TV shows. Not, I’m happy to say, 5 hours a day, but probably half that.

Much has been made of the current “Golden Age of TV,” that we are currently in. I can’t speak for the majority of what’s on regular TV these days, but most of the shows I’ve watched have been good to excellent. Great TV is my medium of choice over movies. And happily, in the past few years, I’ve been keeping a list. Following is my list to date. It’s short on the “hate” side partly because I’m selective in what I watch, and partly because I’ve forgotten to include many shows that I briefly started and didn’t continue with. Some of this list requires explanation. I will explain later.

Best TV I’ve ever seen

The Wire (5 seasons)
Deadwood (3 seasons)
Friday Night Lights (except Season 2)
The Sopranos – esp. Season 1
Breaking Bad (as an overall arc of all seasons)
The Slap (miniseries)


Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Freaks & Geeks
Nurse Jackie
Curb Your Enthusiasm
DaVinci’s Inquest
The Office
– British

Excellent shows I’ve seen recently

(not as far back as The Sopranos)

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell (miniseries)
The Legacy – Danish (a contender for the top list after the first season, but 2nd season flirts with soap opera)
Bloodline (A stellar first season, but maybe it should have been a 1 season miniseries?)
Dicte – Danish
Peaky Blinders
Borgen – Danish (3 seasons)
Rectify (brilliant? or depressing?)
The Good Wife
Top of the Lake
Intelligence (Canadian)
The Americans (3 seasons)
The Hour (2 seasons only)
Silk – British (3 seasons)
Salamander – Belgian (12 episodes)
The Fall (but the second season was a disappointing repetition of the first season)
The Killing – Danish “Forbrydelsen” (3 seasons)
Wallander – British version
Wallander – Swedish version with Krister Henriksson, esp Season 2

Very good shows

Witnesses (French)
The Jinx (6 part miniseries documentary)
The Missing
Scott & Bailey
Happy Valley – fairly standard cop stuff, but with strong female lead and support
Call the Midwife
Orange is the New Black
House of Cards – British
Hit and Miss (1 season only)
Life on Mars

Shows I thoroughly enjoy/ed

Game of Thrones (until some point in the 4th season when i became excessively bored and remained bored throughout the 5th)
Mad Men
Key & Peele
(I have only ever seen isolated skits on YouTube, but I love them)
Portlandia – (I have only seen clips on youtube – almost all funny)

Good shows

The Affair
Rita (Danish)
Survivor’s Remorse (has its moments)
Justified – mostly because Timothy Olyphant is incredibly sexy
The Office – American
The Long Way ‘Round

Shows that were great for 1 or 2 seasons, but …

Love/Hate – Season 1&2
The killing – US version (3.5 seasons)
Homeland – first season only (Seasons 3 & 4 are abysmal)
House of Cards – American – first season
Misfits- 1&2
True Blood– 1 season

Shows of potential

Black Mirror – 21st C Twilight zone
Fresh Meat

Shows I like/d pretty much or with reservations

True Detective (I have reservations even about Season 1)
Episodes (I don’t think this is very good, and I was slow getting into it, but then I obsessively binge-watched 4 seasons)
Real Humans (Danish Sci Fi)
Ripper Street
Secrets & Lies (miniseries?)
Getting On
Southcliffe (was really good but no real ending)
The Shadow Line (good despite omnipotent antagonists)
The Bletchley Circle
[Broen] The Bridge (Swedish/Danish) (WAY too omnipotent antagonist)
The Thick of It
Shameless (US version)

Guilty pleasures

Dexter – truly an awful show; couldn’t stop watching it (until i did)
Battlestar Galactica – dreadful military dreck: totally addictive
Downton Abbey – utter schmaltz: highly satisfying

Shows that were OK

Wentworth – Australian women’s prison series
The Honourable Woman – well done but Israel vs. Palestine
Last Tango in Halifax
Mad Dogs – very strange. Is it a comedy?
the Riches
the new Dr. Who

Shows I couldn’t get into or didn’t like

Better Call Saul
Schitt’s Creek
Hjordis (Danish: sequel to Rita)
The unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Olive Kitteridge – depressing but well done
Hinterland / Y gwyll
Ashes to Ashes
The Walking Dead
Boardwalk Empire
American Horror Story
Rescue Me
An Idiot Abroad
Spooks (MI-5)
Mr. Selfridge
Parks & Recreation
Arrested Development
30 Rock
Les revenants – the returned
The Newsroom
The Shield
West Wing (I’ve given it only a cursory trial. the reason I’m resistant to this show is an expectation of too-pat liberal utopia)
Veronica Mars
Orphan Black
It’s always sunny in philadelphia

Shows I hated

(not incl. shows I would probably hate but have never bothered to watch)

House – is one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen in my life. Totally reprehensible misrepresentation of medicine & utterly unbelievable.
Scandal – I watched about 15 minutes of idiotic rapid-fire dialogue up to the point of someone going through a file folder of information and flinging photos to the floor, and couldn’t take another awful second.

Shows I don’t want to see despite recommendations

Sons of Anarchy

Shows I’ve been recommended but haven’t yet seen

Maison Close (French)
In the flesh
The Staircase (Sundance)
Restless (Sundance)

Fire Light

I have a skylight above my bed, and I am used to waking up and seeing blue or grey, sometimes a little pink, but not—as I saw yesterday morning—orange. I usually sleep late but at 7:30am yesterday, approximately 3 hours after sunrise, I struggled awake to the possibilities of an orange sky. Not fire, thankfully, but the result of morning light through smoke. I could smell it.


I live in British Columbia, Canada, and like many other places, we are having an unusually hot and dry summer and the province is burning with over 170 wildfires. The closest one to me is near Sechelt (I live on an island, so unless a fire breaks out here I’m personally safe) where close friends of mine, Jan and Ken Parker live.

While my first thought was for my friends, I confess my second thought was for my camera. Uncharacteristically I got up (7:30 am is the middle of the night, as far as I’m concerned). The sky was amazing: 100% orange from top to bottom, and the light in the yard was eerie and beautiful. Following are some of the photos I took. They haven’t been enhanced, this is the way it looked. (I set my camera’s white balance for an overcast sky to avoid it compensating. Cameras really think the sky should be blue.)



These are fake flowers on my balcony (I gave up trying to grow real flowers in that location last year). Real flowers in my garden, below.



The aforementioned Jan Parker gave me these chinese figurines when she moved to Sechelt. They look great in this light.






The top image was of the sky to the north east, this is to the south west.

Loved to Death

My dog Moser loves getting a new stuffed toy … so he can rip its brains out! He’s not an immediate destroyer, he likes to play with them first, and kill them slowly, like a cat.


He usually goes for the eyes first (especially if they’re plastic), and then the ears, and if  that hasn’t ripped a hole in the head, he goes in through the nose. He is so happy when he pulls their fluffy brains out! Above, a little lion he had when he was a puppy. Below, a flattened bear.

bantjes_blog_bear bantjes_blog_hedgehog1

I used to subscribe to BarkBox, wherein every month Moser was sent a box of things for dogs. There were some pretty weird toys in there. This was a hedgehog that was also a chef. WHY???? I have no idea why, but this is Moser’s favourite toy, much  to my chagrin. Possibly because it seems to contain half a plastic bottle, so it makes an interesting crackly noise. It seems the hat has, so far, protected its brains.


Below is Moser’s Husky; one of the few that he knows the name of. It flies through the air and Moser catches it.

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One of my favourite toys was this Wildebeest that I got in South Africa. Happily, Moser loves it too. It used to have horns, but after Moser removed them I had to perform surgery on its head to keep it alive.

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I gave this yellow bear to Moser for his third Birthday about a week ago. I get a lot of his toys from the local 2nd-hand shop for 25 cents. Moser didn’t even wait to get out of the car before chewing into the bear’s head. Below is a little tiger, friend of the lion, that both came with him as a puppy. They are survivors.


Barbed Wire!

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting around with friends discussing patents, as one does, and my friend Ken started talking about the patents of barbed wire, and how there are many different kinds, with different barb twists or different ways of entwining the wire to create separate patents. Then he said, “Would you like to see my barbed wire collection?”

Barbed wire collection!! Boy, would I! YES! So he went away and came back with a box full of … well, look!


Some of them were labelled, and most seem to come from the 1880s. Apparently the collection and trade of barbed wire (sold in 18-inch lengths) supports quite a large community. Ken also loaned me a book, which has terrific drawings of the knots and wire formations, identified with wonderful names like “Perry’s Cross Stick, Odd Strands” and “Armstrong Doolittle’s Notched Diamond.” It then gives a brief description, sometimes a date and inventor, and patent number.


This patent thing is the surprising part of barbed wire’s history. From the Introduction of Barbs, Prongs, Points, Prickers and Stickers, barbed wire “developed into a source of wealth and furious litigation colored by impassioned charges and countercharges of patent infringement and greed.”

For most of us, barbed wire is something we know exists, but few city people have used it, and I have certainly never given any thought to it, or whether there might be different kinds, let alone that it was once a furiously competitive business. barbedwire8

Despite my genuine interest in Ken’s collection, I confess my imagination did not anticipate the extent of variation in these wires. I find them fascinating and beautiful. The one at the bottom of the image above might be Allis’ Black Hills Ribbon from 1893, and the one above it is Hallner’s Wrap, Single Cut from 1878.

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The last wire in the image above might be Crandall’s Link, Twist-Loop Variation.


I particularly like the last two in the image above. The one with the big metal bits appears to be Stubbe’s Large Formee Cross, and the one below it is Hodge’s Spur Wheel, Ten-Point Variation.

The 2nd-last one in the image above is Allis’ Ribbon, Small Saw-tooth Variation, and look at that crazily specific knot in the one below it. Third row in the image below is Huffman’s Ladder.



The last one above is Scutt’s Plate, Block and Arrow-point variation. Identifying these is hard because you really have to look at which way things twist or tie to get the exact right one. The number of turns in a wire or an extra loop in the knot can make the difference from one patent to the next. For instance there are a number of wires with that zig-zag plate running through them (second in the picture above) but notice how the zig-zag itself gets folded at certain points? That will make a difference from one to the next.


Barbed wire! Who knew? And there’s always more.

For more about the historical significance and social impact of barbed wire, read 99% Invisible’s “Devil’s Rope”

Copy Anti-Copy

There is a Facebook page called Copy Anti-Copy, which is one of my current internet favourites. I have no idea who runs it except that English is not their first language and they have an abundance of work from the middle east. Whoever they are, what they do is post images of design work (with designer and date), next to a more recent example by a different designer that may or may not be a copy of the original. Like this:


The above is a clear copy, totally ripped off a year later. But most of the posts are more ambiguous.


Initially, the above image seems not such a big deal.A musical note and plant/flower. 16 years apart, it seems unlikely to be a copy … until you notice specific details, like the shapes of the leaves/petals are exactly the same in the 2nd version as the first. Which begs the question, if you’re going to copy something like this, why would you scan the original and use the exact same shapes rather than just scribble your own petals, which would surely be easier? It boggles the mind!


The above is much more difficult because it’s not the form, but the idea that has been copied. In this case you have to decide on how common or likely the idea is: that there’s a crown that is also the top of a chair/throne. It seems unlikely to me and a probable copy.


While I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to this one, I thought the bum with ears was a suspiciously uncommon idea. I was wrong: I’ve been told by Stefan Bucher that “Arsch mit Ohren” (“Bum with ears”) is a common German insult! That piece of cultural knowledge makes this most definitely not a copy. [Ammended June 4, 2015.]


Then there’s something like this where your first reaction is total and obvious copy! Unless … they are both using the same piece of stock photography. Aha! That is the most likely explanation (and a good reason not to use stock photography).


Here’s an interesting one, and this has come up a couple of times, when the work being copied is so fucking famous, like this piece by Shigeo Fukuda, that instead of a copy you have to consider it as possibly an homage. The 2014 designer has taken this iconic piece which s/he knows we know, and put a twist one it. Aye, now there’s a head scratcher!

Other times it really is just a similarly obvious idea, or the use of clichés.

To exercise your own judgements on these and many more (and to submit examples you have found!) I encourage you to join, or Like, or whatever it is one does on FB, Copy Anti-Copy. But, oh, don’t try to friend me, I’m pretty much only friends with actual friends so … sorry. But you can agree or disagree with me on copies!

Meanwhile, what do you do if your work is actually copied? If it’s a blatant reproduction like the first example above you should first contact the designer and the organization it was done for and alert them to the fact that it is not an original design. Second, it is often not expensive to get an Intellectual Property lawyer to send a letter, which is often intimidating enough to result in some kind of compensation. If the offending copy is turning up on the internet, you can submit copyright infringement complaints with Pinterest, (and there may be similar complaints areas on other sites). Google will also remove links from their search engine findings if you submit a report to them, with URLs of the individual images. And if it’s widely distributed advertising work for a large company? You should sue their asses.

Games: Alto

I never used to play computer games or video games of any kind until I got an iPad. Since then I’ve become a semi-avid player, which is not to say that I play a lot of different games, but that I spend more time playing than I should. And I’m picky about the games I play. My eye-hand coordination is not great, so games that require too many actions aren’t right for me. And aesthetics play a major role; for instance I refuse to play Cut the Rope, Candy Crush or Angry Birds because I find them ugly, and not worth the wasted hours.

Which brings me to my latest game obsession, ALTO (or, Alto’s Adventure), built by the Canadian team, Snowman. Designed by Harry Nesbitt, it employs the simplified shapes and soft colours of some other recent games, notably the justly lauded Monument Valley. The game is about snowboarding down a mountain, and the play is easy, using only one finger (though the game is not necessarily easy and as in all games, has seemingly impossible impasses). But what I love the most is how the scenery, weather and time of day changes as you play.

The course changes, so you’re not always starting over with the same run, and the light and conditions change to distractingly beautiful effect. Many a time I’ve  run into a rock because I was looking at the scenery, or missed a jump as the sun came up behind me. I have even gasped when my figure was caught as a silhouette against the sun.

And I lost many games while taking screen shots for this post (though I now see there are even better shots available on Snowman’s site. If this style of aesthetics in gaming is a trend, it’s one I approve of, for now. While Alto has many different types of goals to achieve, mine is to get as far as possible, just to see new things. (Now there’s an idea for a game! Someone call me.)

And Harry Nesbitt has posted a “making of” Alto’s Adventure on his site. Piles more information there!

Anyway, gotta go. I have some hills waiting for me.

Tips for entering design awards


Photo: Kristine Arth

1. Place your work in the right categories and try to stick to only one or two categories

I have seen this time and time again in awards shows where certain pieces show up multiple times throughout the judging process. It’s confusing for the judges, but worse than anything it results in voting fatigue and the project will almost definitely suffer when the judges see it too many times. Absolutely outstanding work will survive in one of the categories, though may be knocked off the top pole because the judges have become hostile to its presence; but projects that are merely excellent actually risk being shut out altogether. Given a choice between letting something in we’ve seen once, and something we’ve seen 10 times in different categories, we’ll choose the thing we’ve seen once if it’s of comparable quality. So choose: is your project best as a poster series, or is one poster the strong one that should just be entered on its own? Is it strongest as a series of posters, or a collection of design collateral, or a not-for-profit campaign, or or an advertising campaign? It may be all of the above, but find what it’s best at and enter it once.

(An exception to this rule is when the show is so large that there are different juries for different categories (e.g. D&AD.)

2. Be strategic

Note that some categories are usually stronger than others. Posters, for instance, usually have the strongest work, making it more difficult to win in. Point-of-purchase displays are usually weak. Book covers are strong, book interiors are weak. Award shows that have an advertising focus are always weak on typography. (I judged typography for D&AD one year, and the entries were so poor it was depressing. A strong typography entry would have walked away with an easy pencil.) So if your design is strong in an area that has typically weak entries, enter it there. Also, comprehensiveness helps. It’s much easier to get in on a full identity system than it is on a single logo, which are always underwhelming.

3. Ditch the small stuff

Winning on a set of business cards or a paper soap wrapper is extremely difficult. Similarly, two hats, however funny/nice, do not make a winning entry. If it’s a set of baseball-style cards, there had better be at least 10. If it’s a website, it has to have more than 2 pages. This may sound obvious, but every time there are many entries of things that beg the question “Where’s the rest?”


4. Find the best way to show your work

Although most competitions ask you to send a description, if the impact of your design relies on a description it is at a disadvantage. Judges tend to read descriptions when something appears to have merit but we can’t figure out what it is, but there is no way in the world there’s time to read them all. If your project is interactive in a way that can’t be shown, is part of a big, clever campaign that needs to be demonstrated, or has something else that needs explanation, if you have the option to submit it as a SHORT explanatory video, do so. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t still fill out the description. It’s very irritating to look for more information on a project and read, for example, “This is an identity project for X.” Similarly, don’t describe the piece—we can see that it’s a book with red type and a hole through the centre—Why does it have red type? Why the hole? (Although if I see one more thing with a hole through it I’m going to throw it out the window.)

Aside from the above, don’t send analog work in digital format. We want to see the size, feel the materials and inspect the details. Especially never submit multi-page documents (books, magazines, etc.) as digital content. Photos or videos of work that pops up, pops out, transforms, etc., will always lose to the pop-up-pop-out projects judges actually got their hands on.

5. Respect the judges’ intelligence

Most judges are extremely marketing savvy. This means we won’t fall for the stuff a general market might fall for. We are quick to call bullshit. This has surprised me time and again, where I thought I was the extreme cynic in a group, only to discover we’re all cynical. Judges are also usually very savvy to sexism, greenwashing and packaging waste.

If you’ve made an explanatory video cut the crap: we don’t need to hear the marketing schpiel or the rousing/pounding/sad music. Just show and explain the project as nicely, beautifully and succinctly as you can. Similarly, spare us the number of “impressions”, clicks, eyeballs and shares.

6. On packaging

Prepare your work to be handled and opened. Remove the shrink-wrap and undo the tape: judges will open it, and close it, and repeat. If your amazing thing is in a package we can’t get open, we’re not going to struggle with it. If opening it, looking through it, or handling it destroys it, it wasn’t a good design to begin with.

I’m please to say that most of the people I’ve judged with are very environmentally conscious. Over-the-top packaging doesn’t work any more. Giant plastic things are particularly disdained. Things with multiple parts and layers to unfold for no reason except to get at the thing inside are not appreciated. If the packaging looks worth more than whatever is inside, we’ll notice. If, by the time we get to the item through layers of packaging, and our ultimate thought is “WHY is there there so much stuff?” it will not win, even if it’s gorgeous and well crafted.

7. Funny v. Sad

Judges love funny things, and often want to keep them but seldom reward them with a prize, simply because just funny isn’t good enough. If funny is a bonus, that’s great. Like it’s interesting and well crafted and a great idea, plus it’s funny? Perfect.

Sad is another story. It’s not often that you can get judges to cry, but it has happened, and it’s a powerful response.

Inside Design Awards


What is judging an awards show like?

Depending on the show, it is usually exhausting. Most national and international shows have a lot of entries; some of them have a mind-boggling number of entries, so it is a lot of work, usually spent on your feet. But it is also usually fun, especially if you get a group of judges that clicks, and educational.

There’s always an organizational team that catalogues, sets up, and keeps track of all the entries. The amount of work they do is crazy. Imagine having to lay out and pack up thousands of pieces of work, many of them with multiple parts, and cataloguing their scores at the same time? Ridiculous! But by the time the judges arrive, it is already laid out for us to see. A common method is to go room to room, so they’ll have several rooms for us to go through, and after we’ve voted on everything in the room and left it, the team comes in and bundles it all up, sorting it by the collective vote (in or out), and lays out more work. Another common method is the “lasagne” method, where posters and other flat objects are laid out on tables, with rolls of paper between them. We judge the top layer, and when we’re done, and moving on to another table, the team rolls up the top layer, counting scores, to reveal the next layer.


The lasagne method: layers of posters separated by rolls of paper. Photo: Kristine Arth

How is the work scored?

Scoring is always done with the name of the designer/agency hidden, so we’re not influenced by who did it. Additionally, at least for the first round, our scores are hidden from each other, so we can’t see what other judges have voted. A common method is to have 2 upside-down cups with slots in the top, labelled IN and OUT. Judges put a chip in one or the other for their vote. Sometimes there’s only one cup, and judges have colour-coded beans or something, and they put 1–3 beans in the cup, for no/maybe/yes. Some of the larger shows have electronic systems for voting.

After this there is usually a second round. Depending on the size of the show, this round is either done the same way as the first, or may bring the pieces open to discussion: a chance for judges to look at what’s been voted in, and to query some (maybe even vote it out), and ask about pieces they loved but that didn’t make it in (maybe even vote it in). If there are two tiers, e.g. “Merit” vs. “Award” there will be some shuffling between these two, moving some up and some down.

And finally there is almost always a discussion about which pieces will be given special awards, like Bronze, Silver, Gold, Best in Show, and Judges’ Choice. Any time there is discussion amongst judges is by far the most interesting time in the process. Personal taste, bias and knowledge come out here. Sometimes there are long, sometimes-heated arguments. I love this part, and am always disappointed if there is no opportunity for it. Some shows place things strictly by the numbers, which I find odd, but discussions are extremely time consuming, and I can understand why they do it.



Is it difficult?

Depending on the size of the show, the judging usually takes all day (sometimes 9am to 7pm) for several days. Small ones are only one day. The longest one for me is four days; two to three is most common. You’re on your feet for a lot of it: standing and moving slowly, like in a gallery where you’re really contemplating each work you see. Parts are often in dark rooms watching video of motion work, interactive, and environments.

No judge is ever paid. The organizations are usually good to us: they fly us to the location and put us up in a hotel and feed us. But it’s time away from work, and many of the judges are trying to juggle their business at the same time: answering emails and making phone calls in breaks, and staying up late to get things done.

Trying to judge consistently is very difficult. Some judge hard at the beginning and easier later on; others the other way around. At the end of the day, judges are tired and may overlook things. When they’re hungry they may rush. Sometimes they get sick. Many times, during a second cut of work, I see things I don;t remember from the first round. Where were they? What else did I miss? It happens. But all these inconsistencies between the judges balance out in the end.



What is the work like?

The vast majority of the work entered into design awards shows is very good. Work that has absolutely nothing wrong with it. But very good is not good enough: award-winning work has something extra: something surprising, or very smart, or utterly compelling to make it excellent. It should be enviable to the judges to get in. And to get a top prize like a gold award or best in show, it has to blow the judges away (or most of them): to make them sick with envy. This work is rare.

Judging is a democratic process and even work that one or two judges think is outstanding may still be outvoted (with bitter recriminations) by the others. Juries are little microcosms with many different skills, tastes, biases and personality types. If your excellent piece didn’t get in it may be because it was the loser in a battle between judges, or maybe it wan’t actually excellent. Sadly, you will probably never know.

Is it just a beauty pageant?

Absolutely not. Effectiveness, wit, craft, strategy, surprise, appropriateness, beauty and other considerations are taken into account by varying degrees, depending on the judge. Awards organizations try to get a mix of judges from different backgrounds and disciplines so that many different aspects will be taken into account.

On environmentalism:

Most of the people I have judged with are very smart and very critical. Remember, they have years of experience in this business, and they can see through all the tricks. They are also very attuned to what’s been done before. And I’m pleased to say that there is a growing awareness of material waste. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily respond to everything wrapped in brown recycled paper, but your plastic packaging towers, and unbelievably complex boxes with moving parts are not impressive, no sirree. Similarly, pretty labels on plastic containers for dry goods are going to get knocked out. If only the whole packaging industry were as savvy as the designers I’ve judged with.

The other thing about smart designers is that they are knowledgeable of — and suspicious of — corporate practices. Work for large companies with bad business practices are going to meet a great deal of scepticism. Greenwashing? We’ll probably figure it out.


Awards: Why I judge and Why I don’t enter design awards


Photo: Kristine Arth


I’ll answer the second question first:

There are a few reasons why I don’t enter design awards. One is that it’s too hard. There are too many forms and checkboxes and labels and paperwork, not to mention getting together samples and putting it in envelopes with stamp to go in the mail by a specific date. Even writing these words fills me with dread, as these are all the kinds of things I hate doing so much it makes me hide under a blanket in despair. Plus there’s different awards with different rules at different times. It’s beyond overwhelming.

Another reason is that I hate to lose. Those who play board games with me know that I am a sore loser (and gloating winner). I would rather live in a bubble of my own imaginary praise than wait and wait for a verdict, only to find myself not among the winners when the time comes. That is another form of torture.

So does that make it hypocritical for me to judge awards, when I don’t enter? No, because my reasons are practical, not an ideological protest. I think awards shows are important for the industry, to add to the historical record by showing not just excellence, but trends and, over time, movements. And I think they’re a very good vehicle for designers starting out or building their reputation in the design industry. I’m sure it helps people get jobs in the industry as well (though client benefit has always been debatable).



Why I judge

I love judging design awards, mostly for the interaction with the other judges. Of course this is not always pleasant (and I can think of one time in particular when it was hell), but most of the time I really enjoy the different perspectives of the other judges. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I’ve always found that most designers are really nice, bright people.

I’ve made some good pals on design juries, and when you get a good group, sitting around talking about what you’ve seen is piles of fun. I also think it’s necessary for a good awards show to have at least one round of discussion (not on everything, that would be impossible and tedious). Some awards shows don’t allow the judges to talk to each other, which is ridiculous.

Also I’m not a troller of design magazines, so judging helps me keep up with what other people are doing.


Oh no! Not a blog!

Yes. A blog. I really had to think long and hard about this. On the one hand, the blog is dead. Dead dead dead. But I like doing things that no one else is doing anymore. That’s why I draw with a pencil, and that’s why I write things longer than 140 characters.

Way back in 1996 I had a website that I built myself, coded in html in a text editor. And on it, I had pages with long opinionated articles. It was a proto-blog. Amazingly, people found it and read it and wrote emails to me about the things I wrote. Correspondences and friendships happened. Then I got busy, and I began to wonder “Who really gives a shit about what I think or have to say?” And then I stopped.

Then, in the beginning of blogdom, I had a blog that I built in TextPattern (remember that?) And it was followed mostly by my friends and family and one or two strangers and a bunch of spam. Then I thought, “Who really gives a shit about what I think or have to say?” and I stopped writing.

Then I got involved in Armin Vit’s Speak Up: one of the first design blogs on the internet. It was active and lively, and I spent thousands of hours on it. It was a community! And I wrote for it and commented on it and engaged in long discussions and battles and jokes, and made a number of very good friends who are still friends today … but it outgrew itself, and other design blogs proliferated and the smart people moved out and the dumb people moved in and I thought “I don’t really give a shit about what these people think or say.” and I stopped writing.

That was around 8 years ago, I think, and ever since I’ve been collecting bits of this and that for … for a maybe blog. I’m on Twitter, but I hate Twitter. In that context I really can’t imagine what I could say that would be worth giving a shit about. But I have over 10,000 followers! And I don’t tweet and I don’t read it! But I keep thinking of things to say, and I don’t know if anyone really gives a shit what I have to say, but I feel compelled to write, and maybe some of it will be worthwhile.

These endeavors are ultimately narcissistic, and that’s what bothers me about it, but I will try to keep it as varied and interesting as possible. Expect some explorations of image-making and designers, some screeds about the state of the world (and design), some updates on myself, some rambles through my image archives, some fiction!, and whatever else pops into my head that seems worthwhile.

I won’t be including comments—I don’t have time—so I won’t even know, really, if anyone is reading it but me. But that’s fine, until such a time as I decide “Who really gives a shit about what I think or have to say?” and quit.

Why, Marian, Why?



Why have I abandoned my former, quirky website for a standard generic one?

Because the web is not my medium I don’t actually care about websites, provided they do the job. My former website did the job, though I was starting to get complaints about “scalability”. The truth is, I really like these gridded sites. I like that you can look at a grid of squares and immediately get a sense of my work. It’s easy to find your way around, and honestly, I really don’t care if it’s like millions of other peoples’ sites. My work is what makes it mine. With the help of my ever-wonderful web guy, Jake Camara, we’ve made it fit my needs, and added a bit of quirk with the use of Martin Majoor’s typeface Seria. Here on the blog side, I’m using Seria Sans, and a different template, this one using the Basic Maths theme by Khoi Vinh and Allan Cole. Because I like it.

Where is that project from the old site?

Sadly, the transfer from old to new required a complete rebuild, so all of the links have changed. And I culled a lot of work out—probably 50% or more, and left only the best and most recent work. So some of it is gone, and some of it is reorganized. Try searching for the project, or scan the thumbnails to find it. Apologies.



Why no comments on this site?

Because the amount of intelligence exhibited by people who comment on things is so close to zero it is not worth my while to manage such a feature.