Segregated Waste Bins

So you finished your lunch and are knocking back the last of whatever you drink from a can and you have the best of intentions. Planing your return to wherever, you eyeball the place where you will bus your tray. You see the segregated bins and you see the universal recycling symbol. You are about to save the planet single handedly. You swan up to the bins you tip your garbage into the garbage and then smugly drop that precious metal into the hole marked recycling. There! The world is a better place. Isn’t it?

I was at my local burrito place recently. The lunch rush was slowing. So, the staff were getting a chance to do chores instead of serving customers. I watched one of them as she changed out the full liner bags in the segregated bins for new, clean ones. The bags were identical. “So,” I said to her, “The bags are all the same and you can’t tell them apart. I guess the recycling just goes in with the rest of the trash.” She was a good minion at that point. She just gave me a guilty grin.

The reason that business pretends to recycle is simple. The appearance of recycling is good public relations. Therefore the segregated bins and green recycling logo. However actual recycling is costly. Therefore all the bags go indistinguishably into the same dumpster.

In truth I basically knew that this was an ubiquitous practice. I have almost never seen segregated bins where the contents were segregated. There is usually a slurry of waste and recycling in each compartment. If you are looking into such a bin you are probably looking into landfill.

There are considerable arguments about the cost benefit ratio of recycling. However I am not so much concerned about that debate here. What is concerning me is fraud. When a business implies that it recycles, it does so for profit. The pretense is there to encourage custom. “Look! We are a green business. Spend your money here not at those other earth-hating businesses.” The implied recycling is a business cost that customers are encouraged, by green M.C. Escher arrows, to pay for. If they do not get the recycling they buy into then I think that deceit is fraud.

The importance of environmental issues is right up there with the most basic human needs for air, water, food and shelter. And yet a very great deal of the response to this growing crisis is nothing but cynical opportunism and pantomime. In the case of businesses pretending to recycle when they do not, we need a piece of case law that sets a precedent that this is fraud. Otherwise all that segregated bin is doing is making a fool of you and your good intentions.

One Step Forward, More Than Two Thousand Steps Back

You are the proud owner of some potato peelings. Lucky you. Chuck them in your garden composter. You will get a better return on this investment than the ones at your bank.

Oh no! What the hell just happened? You put that garden compost in your green “organics” bin? Why? You have just turned a tiny but significant bit of beneficial compost into a public liability.

Consider this. No matter what you put in that compostable bag liner, it will never hold what would eventually amount to a penny’s worth of compost. Someday, bacteria willing, a whole bag of green-bin waste could amount to a few millilitres of compost of some unspecified quality. However you just wasted twenty cents’ worth of resources bagging it. That is a two thousand percent resource loss already, and more resources will be used to process waste you could have chucked in a box in your yard.

And this is not the only way you have just sucked. You have contaminated that good compostable material with other “organics” such as last week’s chicken carcass. Rule one in garden composting is, “no meat, no cooked food.” These waste products do not degrade using the same bacteria as vegetable matter. They cannot be mixed and result in good garden compost.

This practice gets worse however. Your green bin organics program isn’t just contaminating your good compost at a considerable loss. It is discouraging beneficial garden composting in your community by encouraging you and your neighbours to divert compostable material into the waste stream.

And why? Why is this happening? At a guess I would say that your municipality is spending large amounts of your tax money on this program for two reasons.

For one thing, compost collection can be dressed up as an environmental initiative. The bins are green in colour, if not in effect.

Secondly, the only private interest that benefits from you putting those peels in your own composter is you. The green bin program is there to divert public money into the bank accounts of a privatized waste industry.

So, given the importance of waste reduction in all the senses of the word, look at the composting policies in your community and ask questions about who they benefit. And if that benefit is not to you and your community then take action to get those policies changed.

Why those units?


These are picas:


and this is a foot , or at least a part of one.


The pica and the foot have something in common. They both divide into 12 useful parts. In the case of the foot, these are inches. Inches are the units used in North America to size paper. The pica is divided into 12 points. Points are the units that typography is measured in. For example, 10 on 12 is a type specification. Ten points is the size of the characters, and 12 points is the size of the leading or line spacing.

Why should this be so? Well, North American paper sheets are sized in inches because imperial units are what the industry started with. Originally, all the paper-handling machinery built for the North American market, whether for paper making or printing, was made to handle paper to be trimmed to whole-number or whole-number fraction dimensions in inches. To change this would require retooling or replacing most of the paper-handling machinery across this continent, a terrible waste of materials and effort.

Type is measured in points because early lead typesetters had their own system of measurement. They needed a whole-number measuring system with very small units so that they could cast and set type in easy-to-reference sizes. Since lead type is no longer common, keeping this system may seem somewhat arbitrary until you consider that these type sizes have a useful relationship to imperial paper sizes.

Conveniently, point and pica measures correspond to imperial measures, so that 6 picas equal 1 inch. Because of this, picas, points and inches are easy to use together. A half-inch is 3p. A quarter-inch is 18 points or 1-1/2 picas or 1p6. An 8th of an inch is 9 points. (Picas and points are expressed <pica>p<points>, so 4p9 is 4 picas and 9 points or 4-3/4 picas.) These kinds of relationships make design and layout easier, because they help to keep measures simple and easily expressed in whole numbers and whole-number fractions.

Whole numbers

PageWhole numbers are the ones you use most commonly. They are 0, 1, 2, 3 and so on. Anything that simplifies math is welcome, and whole numbers and whole-number fractions like 1/2 are the easiest measures to work with because they simplify math. If you have a document that is 8-1/2 inches wide, the outside margin is 4p, and the inside margin is 5p6 with an 11p narrow column and a 18 pt gutter, it is easy to figure that the remaining text column is 29p6. This sort of grid is relatively easy to set up, and if any changes are made, they will be easy to implement.

The same thing applies with type measures. Ten-on-twelve-point type is easier to work with than 0.1389 inch on 0.1667 inch or 3.528 mm on 4.233 mm type. You can easily see that 14 lines of 12 pt leading are 14 picas deep. It is not so easy to figure 14 times 0.1667. The same thing applies to all type parameters. The font is sized in points, so the job is easier to work with if the leading, indents and spacing, tabs and so on are in the same units.


I once worked on an annual report that was specced as A4, which is a European size, 210 mm by 297 mm. In imperial units, this is a very awkward 8.2677 inches by 11.6929 inches. Since paper sheets here are sized so that signatures can be cut down to imperial sizes, very commonly 8-1/2 by 11 inches, this design decision required that larger paper be purchased and cut down, increasing waste and cost, just to produce a booklet in an unusual size. Then, as the job neared completion, the designer insisted that it was the wrong size. It turned out that she believed that A4 was an imperial size 8-1/4 inches by 11-1/2 inches, not a metric size at all. This required considerable extra expense to change. Unless you are ordering European-sized paper and your printer is set up to print and trim to metric specifications, millimetres have no place in design and are just going introduce the possibility of expensive problems.

The point

The point of all this is that while paper is made and handled in imperial sizes, in design, it should be specced in simple inch measures. Type and typography, including specifications for such things as margins and gutters, as well as type-style specifications, should be handled in points and picas. And in all cases, where possible, measures should be in whole numbers and simple whole-number fractions like 1/2, 3/4 or 7/8 for inches or 36pt, 4p6 or 5p3 for the corresponding pica measures. Don’t be the person who creates documents with arbitrary, awkward dimensions that are difficult to work with and that drive people like me mmm-mmmm-mmm-m mad.

CAPIC: Double Vision

Double Vision: the faces of CAPIC, the Toronto Chapter’s premier show and Yuletide celebration, will be celebrating its fifth year at Toronto Image Works on Friday, December 11th, 2009, with a festive spread and the room chock-full of attendees, who will choose the winning pairs of portraits by popular vote.

Dave needs a posse Dec 11 19:00:00. Anyone feelin artsy-fartsy? It is the CAPIC Double Vision show. It will be won by whoever has the biggest posse. The art is irrelavant.

Portrait: John Narvali by Dave McKay
Portrait: John Narvali by Dave McKay


Wikipedia says, “A paragraph is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea. This includes at least three sentences. The start of a paragraph is indicated by beginning on a new line. Sometimes the first line is indented. At various times, the beginning of a paragraph has been indicated by the pilcrow: ¶.”

In applications like InDesign, a paragraph is any discrete block of text that needs to be separated from those around it. Paragraphs as defined are an example. So are all heads of various levels, and list entries. Publishing software is set up with the assumption that these will end with a pilcrow, the paragraph return, and that paragraph returns will appear nowhere else. Otherwise, basic functionality such as style sheets cannot work correctly.

There are three common ways in which you might find paragraph returns misused:

  1. To position text.
  2. To create paragraph space, or
  3. To break lines within a paragraph.
Returns used to position a head
Returns used to position a head

All three of these usages present more or less the same problems. Because returns are not uniform in size, using them to position text or create relationships between blocks of text or other elements is imprecise and difficult to duplicate. Working this way, elements that appear throughout a document will be inconsistent because every instance is a kludge. Space above and below paragraphs must be created within the style sheet using the space above and space below properties. The position of a block of text should be achieved using the text-box alignment properties or by appropriately sizing and positioning the text box.

Returns used for line breaks
Returns used for line breaks

Creating line breaks with returns is an even more problematic misuse of paragraph returns. Inserting a paragraph-ending return within a paragraph creates two paragraphs. So, the second paragraph must have its style changed to make it appear to be part of the paragraph above. There is a forced line break character intended for this purpose. However, if you are manually breaking hundreds of lines in a document instead of, for example, unchecking the Hyphenate box in the style sheet once, what are you doing?

If you use returns in any of these ways, you create a document that is much harder to work with. Design changes that apply to elements spaced or positioned with returns require that you revisit and redo every instance instead of making one change to a style sheet. Text edits that cause kludged paragraphs to reflow can produce typographic messes that add hours to production time.

There is another drawback to using empty returns in a document. Every one of those returns has paragraph attributes of its own, including style, size and font. While these varying attributes make the returns problematic as formatting elements, they also introduce fonts and styles that may not appear anywhere else in the job, confusing the document’s design and output. Jobs or portions of them routinely get picked up from other jobs. If the picked-up content is not reconciled with the current design, you will soon end up with a job full of extra fonts and styles. Empty returns are a place for such problems to hide.

Returns used to position a block of text on a page
Returns used to position a block of text on a page

Snow Leopard, Adobe PDF Printer, HP Printer Support

I am quite pissed with Snow Leopard. For one thing it has lost significant PDF support. In particular Apple has suspended support for the blessedly useful Adobe PDF printers. No one knew this was coming because of an actual conspiracy between Apple and Adobe. They had a non-disclosure agreement to prevent anyone finding out before the release. While Snow Leopard does not actually remove the PDF printers, they will not work after the install. Unfortunately one of the first Acrobat 9 updates removes the CS4 Adobe PDF printer. Thankfully it leaves the Adobe PDF printer from Acrobat 8 (CS3) in place. Whatever you read, even though it does not work under Snow Leopard, do not delete this printer from your printer list. You are going to need it for the work-around.

Adobe has replaced its PDF printers with a Save as Adobe PDF option under the PDF button in the print dialogue of most applications. However, this does not work in their own products because they have specialized print dialogues. You have alternatives. In InDesign you can still use the Adobe PDF Presets to output pages to PDF. However this output and the PDF option under Save As in Illustrator and Photoshop lack most of the functionality the Adobe PDF printers allowed. For sending proofs of illustrations to clients, I rely on that functionality.

The only solution I have found so far is to return to the 90’s, to “print” (save) a .ps file then run it through Distiller to get a PDF. If you want to control your PDF output using the print dialogue in Illustrator or Photoshop set up to print as you would have under the Adobe PDF printer. Keep the PPD set to Adobe PDF 8.0 but change the Printer to Adobe Postscript® File and save. You will get a .ps file you can drag onto Distiller to get a PDF, but you must use the Adobe PDF PPD to get the results you would have under the Adobe PDF printer. This is why you must leave the Adobe PDF 8.0 printer in your Printer list under the Print & Fax preference pane.

For the life of me I cannot figure out how Apple and Adobe made this choice. What could possibly have motivated it? I am leaning toward the idea that they were stupid rather than greedy. Now HP is greedy.

HP has also conspired with Apple. In this case, they wish to boost sales of new printers by suspending support for many as of Snow Leopard. While I can still print to my DeskJet 1220C using the third-party Foomatic hpijs and usbtb drivers ( the Snow Leopard install actually removed the HP printer support, utilities and such, from my drive without telling me. I am reluctant to try reinstalling them for fear that they will mess up Snow Leopard in some way. Fortunately my G4 Laptop is still on Tiger so I can use the DeskJet printer utilities by connecting it to the USB printer. With environmental concerns as they are, surely such an obvious indulgence in corporate greed, filling landfills with perfectly good equipment to fill HP’s pockets with money from replacement sales, ought to attract a government smack down?


I really love working on materials aimed at kindergarten to grade nine students. These are the years of wonder when all the coolest things you will ever learn about are new to you. Dinosaurs, planets, weather and volcanoes are insuperable discoveries inspiring awe that you are unlikely to feel later when learning about the third-person singular present subjunctive or tax reductions on depreciable property. What can ever measure up to the discovery that there were tyrannosaurs?

Working on school materials gives me a feeling like I had long years ago when “How Clouds Work” was a world-expanding idea to me.

The Solar System

Solar System Grade Nine
Solar System Grade Nine
Solar System Grade Seven
Solar System Grade Seven

These two solar systems were drawn for the same client, Nelson Canada, for two different grade levels. The top figure is for a grade nine text. The bottom figure is for a grade seven text. As you can see the amount of information and the complexity is increased greatly over two grade levels. In particular the grade 9 illustration shows the orbits of the bodies with far greater accuracy.

How to show the planet’s orbits when rendering the solar system is always a problem. If the entire disc of the solar system is shown in proportion (below right), then not only do all the bodies, including the sun, appear as tiny dots, the entire set of inner-planet orbits appears too small to show any detail. The diagram below on the left shows the inner-planet orbits in relation to that of Jupiter. Below and on the right, the orbits of all the planets are shown with the inner planet orbits tiny in proportion.

Inner and Outer Planetary Orbits Showing Proportions
Inner and Outer Planetary Orbits Showing Proportions

Therefore all solar system diagrams involve a compromise between accuracy and readability that can be determined by looking at the content the figure is intended to illustrate.