About my blog
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a Studiolab production.
the wind I am enjoying
It is relatively easy. I am more than willing to follow graduation projects (that in normal English would be called final MSc projects or something like that) on topics related to food and interactive prototyping/sketching, and also other topics if they tickle my fancy.
The people in the picture above are all swimming in a sea of white balloons, inside a giant balloon, and they are happy. They were also, at that moment, my students. To make ours a happy six months+ relationship, there are just a few details to take into account, and I will set them down as convenient bullet lists.
- Your graduation project is the center of your life for six months. You eat, drink and breathe the project. You are 100% on it. On the other hand, you are one of n (for n ~= 6) graduation students I follow, in addition to doing various teaching and research activities. I am more or less 2% on your project. This means that you occasionally have to remind me of things.
- I want to be proud of your work, otherwise I would not be working with you
- If everything goes well, your graduation project is not the last thing we do together, but rather one of the first ones, and probably not the most important. Think long term, think networking.
- Some companies are very experienced at hosting graduation projects, others are very green. The experienced companies may become quite stiff in their attitude to students, the unexperienced companies may be clueless and waste your time. Be aware of the risks and remain master of your work.
- Use me for what I am good at.
- Read a lot. Cite properly. Use a reference manager like Endnote (we have a site license), and the scholarly part of your life will improve enormously. Endnote, though, is useful only if you use it from the beginning of your writing activities.
- A good trick for writing is to lay down first all the skeleton of your report: chapters, headings and subheadings. Then start adding flesh.
- Start writing early. Don’t say I will just do a four week Big Bang writing marathon at the end – those would be four miserable weeks. If you keep delaying writing, it will become a very painful process (this is advice I should follow myself).
- Set reasonable deadlines for yourself and for myself. For example, if you deliver a chapter for reading one week before a meeting, I will love reading it and you will get meaningful feedback. And finishing a chapter is a more manageable deadline than finishing the whole report.
- Keep a consistent tone. Make sure you know the meaning of the words you are using. Be afraid of words like to facilitate, to afford, to enable, to imply, to elicit and to inform. They are both fancy (not easily understood by everybody) and slippery words, and the writer should ask himself if he would not be better served e.g by to find out insted of to elicit. I don’t mean that those are "bad" words, only that they should be used when necessary, not out of habit.
- The verb to sport, despite the opinions of 16 million Netherlanders, does not mean to do sports, neither to train, nor to engage in physical activity. It means something else.
- In the same vein, the adjective cynical does not mean sarcastic, ironic or dry. If I tell you that your graduation report is the best report I have read today, I am being sarcastic. If I claim that your housemates are nice to you only because they want you to help them with Rhino, I am being cynical. If I tell you that your report is quite good, considering your obvious dyslexia and ADHD, I am being sarcastic; but if you actually have dyslexia and/or ADHD, that means I am being a cynical bastard – quite different.
- isn’t don’t shouldn’t won’t "a lot" "lots of" "kind of" are all informal English. Your graduation report is a formal text, and these contracted forms do not fit so well. (*)
- Be aware that healthy and unhealthy are not adverbs in English; they are adjectives. You cannot "
eat healthy", but you can "eat healthy food" or "eat in a healthy way" or -even if it sounds funny- "eat healthily". The source of confusion is the word gezond that, in Dutch, works both as an adjective ("een gezonde maaltijd" ) but also as an adverb ("Gezond leven is belangrijk" ).
- Perfect spelling is mandatory. Run a spell checker. Then run your eyeballs over your text, because the spell checker does not catch everything.
- Despite being an amazingly stupid piece of software, the grammar and style checker in Word has its occasional moments of usefulness.
- Make sure to avoid typical Dutch-into-English language errors like
- wrong plurals: video’s instead of videos (typical Dutch mistake: see Dunglish)
- wrong plurals of acronyms. The plural of CD is CDs, not
CD’s. Never. I do not care what others say or want, this is the way I like it. (*)
- joining words that should not be joined: it is "use cue" not
usecue. On the other hand, it is "headphones" not head phones.
- words that the spell checker will not catch, like cleaver and expatiation for cleverand expectation.
- internet for Internet (if you really mean "the" Internet and not some piddly internet you built in your spare time). (*)
- if is different from when in English. "If you graduate in ID…" doubts that you will eventually do, "When you graduate in ID…" expresses faith that you will indeed graduate.
- very long and complex passive constructions that make comprehension of your cherished premises, brilliant conclusions and cogent logic should be avoided, no matter how much you love them in your native tongue, shouldn’t they?
- But: choppy sequences are not good. They are bad. Bad means unreadable. Unreadable is a consequence of choppyness. Which is bad. Have I already said that? Yes, I have. This sentence is like sucking gravel through a straw. It is bad.
- beamer, despite all you have heard, is not an English word. It is German and Dutch, but English it ain’t. In English that thing is called a video projector.
- Cite only when necessary, and cite relevant material. Don’t use a marketing studies source to justify your views on visual perception. And don’t cite Tony Buzan to convince me that mindmaps are good. Of course he thinks they are good, as his income depends critically on them.
- Be aware that sources have different levels of authority. Random websites don’t have any.
- Wikipedia is a very good jumping off point for background research, but it is not a scholarly source. Quote it only when you have no other source. Hint: some Wikipedia articles do quote their sources of information: what about following those references?
- When quoting any website (not just Wikipedia) make sure to specify the time and date: web pages change all the time. Quote URLs in full: http is all the rage today, who knows about tomorrow? Be nice to the people and the machines that will read you work.
- Don’t cut and paste unattributed chunks of text from the WWW or other sources. I will notice and say nasty things. If I don’t notice, someone else may, and your embarassment will know no bounds.
- Design your report: you are a designer! If you are unable to, imitate somebody else’s layout. I have some fine examples in my archive.
- If you are not a good graphic designer, keep it simple. Visually boring is better than visually painful. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to someone.
- Margins are good. Space between the lines is also good. Screaming masses of clustered text tightly packed with graphics are not good.
- You have to choose fonts properly. Read the nice guides at the FontShop.
- Earnest, non-ironic use of the following fonts will not be tolerated (examples follow):
- Comic Sans
- Cooper Black
- Copperplate Gothic (Bold)
- any other font that I don’t like
- Fonts that I like: boring fonts with high readability. Helvetica, Caslon, Gill Sans, Akzidenz Grotesk (love it). You may use Bodoni, but only because I am from Parma, and because once Franco Maria Ricci used it to set a whole collection of wonderful little books (chosen by J.L. Borges, no less).
- You are lost and you don’t understand anything at all about typography, fonts, characters, glyphs, kerning… read The Elements of Typographic Style. It is a beautiful and useful book.
- Don’t get confused between your subject domain and the design of your report. Your target users may e.g. be children, but your report does not need to look like a children’s book, because children are not going to read it. On the other hand, I am going to read it…
- Even if you speak English as a first language, try to have your text checked by a native and highly literate speaker of English.
- Do this even if you think that your report is perfect. Really, give it a shot.
- For typical Dutch students: remember that you have learnt your English from TV and films, while I have learnt (or learned, both forms are correct) it from books. This means that I write better than I speak, while you typically speak better than you write.
- the semicolon and the colon: two different punctuation marks. Perhaps they also mean two different things! (this is sarcasm, not cynicism)
- I am unable to ignore poor writing in reports. This means that I am practically unable to give you useful higher level feedback on your ideas until your report is at least OK language-wise. Unfortunate, isn’t it?
- It is sometimes advised to say everything three times: first warn the audience that you are going to say "A", then say "A", then remind the audience you have just said "A" and explore the implications. I don’t agree with this advice, because it tends to produce deadly, boring presentations.
- In presentations, please avoid the Dutch wet blanket. This is a common presentation trick in Delft, and consists of closing a presentation with the words "…and this was my presentation" or "…and this was my project", in a falling tone and with a distinctive lack of enthusiasm, usually followed by looking at the audience with a confused expression. This kills the presentation and turns anything you showed or said before into nothingness. If you are doing a presentation, you are doing a show. No showman says "…and this was my show" at the end of whatever show he is doing. Not unless he is trying for a pathetic tone. Are you?
- Since you are a designer, don’t use horrible graphics in your slides. No stock photography with visible watermarks, either.
- Obvious, but rarely practiced: do a dry run of your presentation, preferably the day before.
- Make sure that everything you need works. This includes the video projector, whatever way you choose to play audio and hardware and software that you want to demonstrate.
- This is the most important advice about presentations, so it is in red: if something does not work, SHUT UP. There is nothing worse than someone saying "Oooh, here there would be a really lovely video, but it does not play, strange how it always happens". Did someone ask you for the video? No. Does someone know that you are going to play it? No. So, just SHUT UP and go on with the next thing you have ready. There is a good chance nobody will notice anything.
- If I tell you that an idea is bad, you don’t need to pursue it any more. If you can smell that a parrot is dead and rotting, you don’t need to take its pulse and check its pressure: it is a dead parrot. Find another one to play with.
- We are what we eat, even intellectually. What have you been reading recently?
- Contextmapping is a set of techniques plus an attitude that aim at fostering your understanding of the user and of its context. It is not an Arts and Crafts revival event, centering on making A5 booklets with timelines and stickers. contextmapping is always written as a single word, because Froukje Sleeswijkvisser writes it like that.
- Process is important, but it is not a guarantee. If your ideas are bad, VIP will not save you. SWOT analysis will not save you. N. Roozenburg and J. Eekels will not save you, either. You need better ideas.
- I am not your manager, you are. I am, in part, your consultant. This means that I will not pester you about deadlines and signed documents – not because these things are not important, but because they are your (managerial) problem more than mine. Also, I suck at deadlines and documents.
- If I am your chair, I guarantee, in front of the faculty, that your graduation project fits the faculty’s standards. This is a responsability I take seriously.
- Ask me before you sign contracts with the company you are working with. A poorly written contract can limit what future work you can do. Remember that you (or I) cannot commit the TU to anything – you need the Dean to do that.
- When you have a meeting, you should come with an agenda and an idea of what you want to have at the end of the meeting.
- Greenlight meetings are held when:
- your graduation report is 80% complete (which includes layout)
- DFI: you have a final design, not just a final concept
- DFI: you have a plan for a final user test or something similar
- SPD: you have one or more finely crafted and very clear design briefs
- I am convinced that you can wrap it all up in six weeks
Thanks to PJ Stappers, P Desmet and A Peeters for tips. Purdue University has an extensive and very friendly online guide to writing. It covers everything, from adjectives to plagiarism.
Here are the reasons why you should not use certain fonts
Overused, falsely friendly, just say no. Not even for lettering in comics. Yes, it is that bad.
Very loud and tiresome. Overused in the attempt to be hip and friendly and wide-eyed and wonderful.
It combines corporate boredom and lack of professionalism, like a box of new, dried up blue Bic Crystal pens. Particularly devastating in bold. There is a whole site about it.
Very good if you are designing a church flyer and you have the secret purpose of encouraging atheism. Also good for high school reports on Egypt and menus of vegetarian restaurants. Avoid in all other cases, othewise you will end up in the Papyrus watch blog.
Here is an obsolete picture of my high tech graduation student multimedia management system. More recent students benefit from the presence of a DYMO label printer and an occasional streak of obsessive neatness. Here is a fragment of a poem from one of greatest poets in the English language:
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
(*) opinions on this point differ, and I will freely admit that what I am writing down here is just the way I like it.