Filed under “Interview”

August 25, 2015

Inventor Portrait: Alan Adler (AeroPress; Aerobie)

It’s a new Inventor Portrait! Alan Adler, inventor of the Aerobie Flying Disc and the AeroPress coffee maker, tells the stories behind his famous inventions.

I confess I actually completed this a year ago, but hadn’t posted it for a variety of reason. It’s great to finally share it.

July 29, 2013

HeadBlade Inventor Todd Greene

I started losing my hair way back in college. I went through some years that were not very attractive as I tried to figure out what to do about it. But I never shaved my head. If the HeadBlade had been around at the time, I might have given it a try. Todd Greene invented the HeadBlade as a way to make head shaving easier, but has since built the brand into a whole line of head care products. His original HeadShave design is now part of MoMA’s permanent collection. Here’s a video portrait of Todd Greene talking about the origin of his product and the process of bringing it to market:

See more episodes of my PBS INVENTORS series here!

June 18, 2013

Julie Brown and Charlie Brown

Julie Brown (no, not that one or that one) is the latest inventor in my PBS Inventors series. But don’t watch this one for the invention, which is a simple little thing. Watch it for the inventor. She’s a former Navy electronics technician who later started a construction company where she worked until retirement; now she spends her golden years traveling in a motor home with her dog Charlie Brown (no, not that one). Take a look:

April 18, 2013

Cell Phone Inventor Marty Cooper

Cell phone inventor Marty Cooper has a lot of interesting thoughts about cell phones and related technologies. It was tough distilling our 40 minute conversation into such a short video, but I’m pleased with how it turned out. This month marks the 40th anniversary of the first ever cell phone call, which he describes in the video below. Enjoy!

See more episodes of my PBS INVENTORS series here!

March 21, 2013

An Inventor For Math And Magic Fans

This week’s episode of INVENTORS is about Mark Setteducati, a magician, artist, and one of the founders of the Gathering For Gardner (the biennial festival honoring mathematician and writer Martin Gardner). His clever toys and puzzles incorporate principles of math and magic.

In the video, he talks about hexaflexagons. If you’re at all a curious person, be sure to check out Vi Hart’s fantastic three part series about hexaflexagons on her YouTube channel.

February 7, 2013

Inventor Portrait: Esther Takeuchi

One issue I’m conscious of in my Inventor Portraits series is that it’s not very gender balanced. Of the forty-something inventors I’ve photographed and interviewed so far, only eight are women. There have been other women under consideration, but in an effort to keep the inventions varied, I’ve passed on some that were too similar. I can only have so many women who invent products for the closet, baby room, or kitchen before it begins to give the impression that women only come up with domestic inventions. Those kinds of inventions are certainly important and useful, but my project strives to be broader in its subject matter.

So when I reached out to Esther Takeuchi, a chemical engineer whose life-saving developments in batteries for implantable medical devices have saved millions of lives, I was delighted that she said yes. She’s a terrific role model for women in science, and yet she expresses her own frustrations with exclusion in her field.

Note: If you like these videos, it would mean a great deal if you subscribe to the YouTube channel and/or share them with other people who might find them interesting. Thanks so much.

March 6, 2012

Inventor Portrait: Ralph Baer, video game inventor, who turns 90 years old this week

[cross-posted from my photography blog]

Ralph Baer, the father of video games, turns 90 years old on Thursday. One of his early inventions, the Magnavox Odyssey, was the first home video game system. It turns 40 years old this year. I photographed and interviewed Ralph over the summer for my ongoing Inventor Portraits Project, and this seemed like a good time to share some of the video in which we discuss, among other things, why he’s still inventing at 90 years old.

At one point in our interview he expressed frustration that modern kids don’t read anymore because they’re too busy playing with their smartphones. So I asked him if he thinks kids play too many video games today. Did he accidentally unleash a monster with his invention? His answer:

Yeah. I did a bit. What I thought I unleashed was a family game. If you’ll stop to consider for a second, what’s the ping pong game? You can’t play ping pong with yourself. It was meant to be played by two people. And we had four-handed ping pong and hockey games early on, also. I always thought of it as a family game. And it just sort of degenerated into a one player type thing which was never in my mind.

I thought that was interesting. I think I see a pendulum swinging back in Baer’s direction with consoles like the Nintendo Wii, which put an emphasis on group play.

Anyway, Happy 90th Birthday, Ralph!

May 23, 2011

An interview in which all my secrets are revealed

Luke Burrage is an international juggler. He has a pretty good video montage of himself juggling in spectacular places around the globe to prove it (embedded below). He also writes, and has a podcast of science fiction book reviews. He’s creative in multiple disciplines.

Luke contacted me about a year ago asking if he could interview me for a new project he was planning: a podcast about other people who are creative in multiple disciplines. About eight months ago, he was in New York, and we did the interview. Now that Luke has about ten of these completed, he’s launched Season One of Luke’s Creative Podcast.

He’s just posted our interview as the second episode. Luke is a fan of my various projects, and he asks about things I didn’t realize people even remembered. It’s a pretty in-depth interview, and I tell all my secrets about how I work. It’s a bit long, at just over an hour, so it might be for superfans only. But I think it turned out pretty good.

We talk about inventors, creativity, photography, ideas, patents, creative theft, why I write a blog, how I work on Ironic Sans, etc.

You can hear the episode on Luke’s website or subscribe in iTunes.

Here is Luke’s international juggling video:

October 22, 2007

Interview: Art Binninger, the Ed Wood of 1970s stop-motion animated Star Trek parodies

(The sixth in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.)

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Art Binninger, the Star Trek fan whose mission to make stop-motion animated Star Trek parody films began in 1974, and ended shortly after a cease-and-desist letter from Paramount came in 1986. So let’s have him introduce himself:

Yes, that’s right. Art Binninger produced his films with help from his friends in the Air Force’s Audio Visual Squadron. That kind of makes your high school’s A/V Club seem wimpy, huh?

Between 1974 and 1975, Art and his friends produced three “Star Trix” short films (recently resurrected on YouTube). With each one, he refined his technique a little more. After Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out in 1979, Art began working on “Star Trix: The Flick,” which he finished in 1984 with even more amazing sets and special effects (it can also be seen on YouTube in five parts.

To me, the best thing about Art’s “Star Trix” project is that he actually documented the creation of all the films as he went, taking behind-the-scenes photos and footage. In an attempt to get the films shown on TV at the time, Art even made a “Making of” documentary so the total running time would better fit a TV schedule. The result is that today we have a detailed look at a particularly enthusiastic fan and his friends embracing the Do-It-Yourself spirit to create something wonderfully geeky in an era we now look back on with nostalgia.

Art recalls the entire period in a detailed website he put together recently. It’s full of photos and stories from behind the scenes, including the 1984 Cease-and-Desist letter he got from Paramount, and what he did about it. But I had a few more questions for Art, which he was nice enough to answer. With his permission, photos from his website appear throughout the interview:

Looking back at yourself when you were making those films, how do you see yourself? Were you more of an Ed Wood or a young Spielberg?

Very apt selection of names. I think I was Ed Wood trying to be Steven Spielberg. When the Ed Wood biopic came out years ago, a number of my friends who worked with me on those films saw a lot of humorous parallels and asked if I had any angora sweaters stashed away somewhere.

Were you trained in animation, or were you figuring it out as you went along?

There was so little material to learn from in the early 1970’s, especially in the vicinity of Vandenberg [Air Force Base], that I had to figure out a lot as I went along. I did have the advantage of the Mopic Documentary Photo section being near the barracks. I would wander over and haunt the place, asking questions and they were would show me what they were taught in the motion picture camera technical school… As for the clay animations, when I talked about a Star Trek animation, the guys got excited about this like it was something they could really sink their creative teeth in. Unfortunately, by the time we were almost ready to film, all my mentors (grand old men of 21 and 22 years of age) were either finished their enlistments or transferred. So I simplified things and carried on.

By using Air Force facilities for studio space, does that mean the Air Force indirectly funded these films?

Since I was in the Air Force at the time and getting paid twice a month, I guess they did indirectly fund them… When I arrived at Vandenberg AFB in California, I lived in my own room in a WWII-era barracks building. This arrangement had a sort of college dorm/apartment house vibe where you could at least close your door to the occasional rowdiness. It was here that the Star Trix shorts began their slow path to the screen.

I love the production photos, showing everyone working on the sets, etc. They make great documentary material. Why were those photos taken?

I had a Polaroid camera and my roommate Dennis Cargill had gotten hold of some out-of-date film that was going to be trashed. He gave it to me and I started using it for progress photos on the set construction. I’m glad I did that because as my memory gets a bit dodgy I can refer back to them. I’ve also noticed that after I scan them into the computer and bring them up onscreen, I can see details in them that I didn’t notice before.

Any plans for a “Star Trix: The Next Generation” movie?

Just as the series oversaturated the screen during the 1990’s, I noticed that there are countless parodies as well. One more by me would definitely be unneeded. I haven’t kept up with the technology either so it wouldn’t be very good.

What have you been doing since you made these films?

My steady employment during this time has been as an offset press operator. I’ve been with the Office of the Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, A-1 Lithographers in Lompoc and presently in the print shop of the Lompoc Unified School District again (I worked on STAR TRIX-THE FLICK during my first stay there in the early 1980’s). I found that each time I tried to leave printing behind for the film business, I eventually ended up broke and bitter. After a few times of that, you eventually see where your bread is buttered. So I keep the lights on with printing to allow me to pursue my interests, many of which have very limited commercial value but are fun nevertheless.

And what’s next for Art Binninger?

I’ve been doing more drawing in recent years and for a time in the 1990’s, I was pitching ideas for comics that weren’t particularly commercial either. When I started on the Internet in the 1999, I discovered that here was a place I could put this stuff that nobody would buy and at least get it seen. I like being able to cut out the middleman and go directly to the audience. I’m experimenting with animated gifs and trying to keep the file sizes small enough to download quickly. Since I’m still doing dial-up, if the gif loads quickly for me than it’ll be a breeze for all the high-speed users. I always have to remember, though, that I gotta keep getting ink on my fingers to get the green for all these projects.

Thanks, Art!

Update: Several of Art’s other early films are now available for viewing on YouTube. Check them out!

May 4, 2007

Interview: Morgan Taylor, creator of Gustafer Yellowgold

(The fifth in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.)

Gustafer YellowgoldMorgan Taylor is a singer-songwriter who just released a DVD and CD set full of sing-along songs about a mellow yellow character named Gustafer Yellowgold. While the DVD is supposedly for kids, the songs have a definite grown-up appeal, a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of bands like Wilco and the Polyphonic Spree, both of whom have had Morgan perform Gustafer’s songs as their opening act.

Morgan answered a few questions about Gustafer’s growing appeal, but before we get to those let’s take a look at one of the songs from the DVD:

Who is Gustafer Yellowgold?

Gustafer Yellowgold is a friendly creature who immigrated from the Sun to Earth and now lives in a cottage in a woods-y area of Minnesota with a pet eel and dragon.

The Gustafer Yellowgold DVD seems to be targeted towards kids, and you regularly perform the songs in live kids shows. But you’ve also taken Gustafer Yellowgold on tour opening for bands like Wilco and the Polyphonic Spree, performing to an older crowd. Who do you consider your target audience, and what do you think explains Gustafer’s crossover appeal?

My target audience is anybody who gets into it. There are many levels of humor in it and the music wasn’t written with any specific demographic in mind. I’ve always had a more whimsical side to some of my writing, so it seems that’s why it fits in with kid’s stuff quite naturally, but it isn’t kid-music-whacky, so the adults go for it too.

What was your creative and technical process for putting this together? Did you start with the songs? The characters? The art? What medium do you use for illustration, and what software was used in putting it all together?

For the music on the current DVD, it all started with the music. I had accumulated over the course of probably five years of writing since moving to New York City, about a dozen or so songs that were unusually “cartoony” compared to my other songs. It was those songs that I started to illustrate out into a picture book. We ended up crossing paths with an animator who used Adobe After Effects and we started making what would become our first DVD. To draw I use pencil on bleed-proof marker paper, then ink it with Sharpies and fine-tip black ink pens. Then most of the coloring is Prismacolor colored pencil, with some larger areas done in Crayola crayon. Then I scan into Photoshop and set up layered files for the animator with eyelids for blinking and small elements for movement. Ultimately we’re going for the “moving book” type feel. It’s what gives the work it’s mellowness.

Some of the songs on the Gustafer DVD already appeared on your earlier albums. When you wrote them originally, were you writing with Gustafer in mind as a future project? Or did you realize retrospectively that you had several good songs that would fit in Gustafer’s world?

Yeah, I had recorded some of this material with my old band a while back without any real foresight into using them for anything else later. It wasn’t until I started drawing stuff that I went back and pillaged my back-catalogue.

What is your background? Do you have formal training in music and/or art?

More like I ended up studying it because I had a natural knack for art and music. Nothing I ever learned in any class compares to just doing it. I constantly wrote, recorded and performed over the years, trial and error with various projects and bands. (mostly error unfortunately) I used to obsessively draw all the time when I was younger, making comics and taking life-drawing classes outside of school too. I took a break from serious drawing for a few years, and I this has been kind of a re-launching of my cartooning. So I’m really glad I found an application for it finally.

The New York Times called Gustafer Yellowgold “a cross between Yellow Submarine and Dr. Seuss.” Others have compared your music to the Beatles, and there’s definitely a surreal element to your style. So who are your musical and artistic influences?

I grew up listening to 70’s pop radio. I was the youngest of three kids, so there was a record collection waiting for me already when I was born. A lot of soft-rock. I’m a huge Beatles fan and I’m obsessed with KISS. I went through an 80’s cheese-metal phase until I discovered R.E.M. in 1985. I loved Marvel comics and still do collect a little bit. There are some great creators working in the comics field today that are really inspiring.

Gustafer YellowgoldTake a look at this image. On the left, we see Gustafer engaged in one of his favorite hobbies, jumping on cake. On the right, we see a tile mosaic from a New York City subway station. Every time I see the mosaic, it reminds me of Gustafer. Coincidence?

Yes! That is an amazing coincidence! That kinda freaks me out a little actually.

What’s next for Gustafer? Is a sequel in the works? A series? Feature film? Toys? And what’s next for Morgan? Any non-Gustafer projects coming up?

The 2nd DVD/CD set is near completion, and hopefully will see a release later this year. And we just received our first shipment of our Gustafer Yellowgold plush-toys. I’m sitting here among all the crates right now. We may have to get rid of some of our furniture to make room. All this time, as I’ve said “we”, I’m talking about me and my wife Rachel Loshak. She’s my partner in this and if it weren’t for her, Gustafer would still be a stack of drawings on our kitchen table. She’s the reason we’ve made it this far already, so I’d be remiss to not tip my hat to her in all this too.

Thanks, Morgan!

Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild World is available as a DVD/CD set exclusively through Barnes and Noble. To get more of a glimpse into Gustafer’s world, check out Gustafer’s website where you can tour his home, meet his friends, play some games, and see more of the videos from the DVD.

November 13, 2006

Interview: Louis Klein, audience member of nearly every episode of Saturday Night Live

(The fourth in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.)

Fifteen years ago, I spent a Friday night camped out on the mezzanine level of 30 Rockefeller Center, hoping to get one of the standby tickets to Saturday Night Live that are handed out on Saturday mornings. The line forms at around 8:00 Friday night. That’s when I met Louis Klein, the SNL fan who had seen almost every episode of Saturday Night Live in person, going back to the very first episode.

Last Friday, I decided to go back to the SNL Standby Line and see if Louis was still waiting in line to get his ticket. In the years since I camped out there, the line had moved from the warmth of the indoor mezzanine to the chill of 49th street, but Louis was still there, right behind a group of teenagers who beat him to the first spot (one of the teens asked about my website, “Ironic Sans? Does it have anything to do with Horatio Sanz?”). When Louis stands in line these days, he is accompanied by his wife Jamie, whom he met on-line around six years ago. And by “on-line” I mean on the internet, not the standby line.

I spoke with Louis about his SNL Standby hobby.

When Saturday Night Live started, nobody knew it was going to be a big hit. Why did you go to the first episode of a new show that nobody really knew?

Louis Klein
Louis Klein with his wife Jamie
Prior to SNL, I was going to a lot of game shows. Like, I watched the game show called Jackpot, which was done in Studio 8H prior to SNL. It ended its run in the summer of ‘75, hosted by Geoff Edwards. I was also going to the Pyramid — any one of them, whether it was 10, 20, 25, 100 thousand, 2 cents, you know, whatever it was. I went to all of them over at TV-15 which doesn’t exist anymore. Any game shows that were done here, if any, I went to them also. So I was notorious as far as NBC was concerned. They knew who I was because I went to all the shows.

Then in April of ‘75 I found out that the show SNL was coming up, so I went to the Guest Relations department and said I hear you’re doing this show. They said, Well, they want 500 people in 8H. They want to do a show that’s going to be a run through for sound purposes. We’re going to have an audience for that, and you can float around the building and find somebody who’s going to give out standby tickets. So I come over here right after work, and I found the standby ticket and I got it and I went inside and I stood in line.

I got upstairs. I saw a full fledged comedy routine by George Carlin. I saw a full fledged comedy routine by Billy Crystal. I saw performances by Janis Ian and Billy Preston. I saw comedy by the Not Ready for Prime Time Players including Jon Belushi and Gilda Radner among others. Now that’s three and a quarter hours of pure entertainment for free. And I could come back tomorrow night. And I did. And I got in a second time. I came back the following week and I didn’t get into the second show but I wasn’t going to give up at this point. This is a great thing to do on a Saturday night. I went to the third show, I got in, and in the first 5 years I’ve seen 59 out of 106 [episodes].

At what point did you realize it was turning into something you were making a regular routine?

I never really thought of it that way at that particular time. It was just something to do on a Saturday night. I just came over. If I got in, I got in. If I didn’t, I went home.

My memory from meeting you 15 years ago was that you had seen every episode live except for a few. But I guess you’ve missed more than that.

In the first 5 years I’d seen 59 out of 106. So I missed 47 shows then. To date I’ve missed I think 83. That means in the last 27 years I’ve missed 36 shows.

How many have you seen?

This is my 528th show.

The original producer, Lorne Michaels, is still with SNL. But he left the show for a few years in the middle. So is there anyone who outnumbers you in the number of shows attended?

Don Pardo. He only missed one year. It was the ‘81 season.

How come after all this time you still have to wait in the Standby Line? Why don’t they just give you season tickets?

They do. I’ve had season tickets since 1990.

But you just enjoy the Standby?

When they gave that to me, they asked me to do Standby anyway, just in case the tickets didn’t come through. So I have the standby tickets to back it up. However I never needed them, and now I just walk in. But I still do standby because I’m helping NBC out watching this, make sure people don’t jump and things like that. It helps them out. If something goes wrong they know that I’ll take care of it. And then I give the details to them later in the evening. If they have to do something about it they’ll do something.

What’s the worst thing you’ve seen go wrong while on standby?

Jumping the line, and having people join the line. That’s a no-no, because basically the people who are joining are jumping the line. Once somebody tried to get me off the line. This was for the Soundgarden and Jim Carrey episode. We were all standing inside because there was nobody out here, and then all of a sudden somebody let me know that somebody was out here and so I came out, and he was standing over by the pole over here, two guys, and I said all the standbys are inside. He said, Oh, I’m sorry. This is where the line is and I’m going to be number one and two. Well I said, No, I’m number one. He says no, we’re going to be number one. And he argued with me all night at this pole. And I was a little perturbed about it because they weren’t really nice about the whole thing. Well when they didn’t take any standbys for the dress rehearsal, these two guys nearly blew their top to NBC. They said, A standby got upstairs! So NBC checked to see if any standby tickets were upstairs, but I went up on my regular ticket. Little did they realize, I went to the party that night!

Do you get to go the after-party often?

Only the season finale, if they ask. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

When I was here 15 years ago, the line was inside. When did they move it outside?

‘93. Letterman was still here at the time, and according to what I’ve heard, somebody did damage to the building inside in the mezzanine. So Rockefeller Center said no you can’t be up here anymore, because they have to protect their tenants. And as a result all the lines were put outside. The line started at that time on this side of the building. And then NBC put it on the 50th street side because the Rainbow Room was complaining that we look like homeless people. Now we’re back on this side. We’d love to be inside the building again. They’ve got plenty of room on hand. But that’s not going to happen.

I seem to remember that 15 years ago you told me Tim Kazurinsky mentioned your name during a Weekend Update segment.

No, no. Not Weekend Update. It was in a sketch that he did. The Guru sketch. His name was Havnagootiim Vishnuuerheer [pronounced “havin’-a-good-time wish-you-were-here”]. What he was doing was he was answering Unanswered Questions of the universe. So he invited everybody in the country to write in unanswered questions that they had, and he picked one of mine, and all of a sudden I’m at dress rehearsal and he says, “Louis Klein from Ridgewood New York wants to know, does God wear Pajamas when he sleeps?”

And what was the answer?

The Guru says, “No he doesn’t. All he wears is a t-shirt. and on the t-shirt it says I created the universe and all I got out of it was this lousy t-shirt.” That was a Flip Wilson show in December ‘83.

Did they mention your name on any other episodes?

Yes, they did. And Jamie too. This was in April of 2004. Will Ferrel was the host. And he was doing the Pepper Sketch, where Will was putting pepper on Will Forte’s salad. And the character’s name was Dr. Louis something, and his wife Jamie. In honor of my 500th show.

Who was the writer that wrote you into the script?

Will Forte.

Have you seen “Studio 60” and Tina Fey’s new show “30 Rock”?

I have.

What do you think?

They’re both great.

Which do you like better?

Oh I don’t know. I love Tina. I love Tracy [Morgan], too. And I relate more to 30 Rock than I do Studio 60 because of that. But I definitely like both shows.

Do you get to know the SNL cast members?

They all know me. They all come and say Hi. I’ve met most everybody. I was invited to the 25th anniversary show, and I went to that. I had to ask for a ticket, and they said that they already have a ticket for me. I was fairly shocked.

Do you have a favorite season of SNL? Or a least favorite season?

That’s a hard question. A favorite season? You know, I don’t remember what all the hosts and musical guests are, and it’s hard. I love them all. I mean, yes, you’re going to have somebody that doesn’t do too well, especially sports figures. I mean, if you want a show that I thought the host was terrible, okay, um… uh… there was… uh… I can’t even say that. I mean, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

Thanks, Louis! As I packed up my notes and my recorder, Louis pointed out that he would be there for several more hours if I had any further questions. And if you have any questions, I’m sure you can find Louis exactly where I did, near the front of the Standby Line outside Rockefeller Center on Friday nights.

[The preceding transcript has been edited for space and clarity].

November 8, 2006

Interview: Andrew Brody of the Princeton Review LSAT Podcast

(The third in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.)

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t the LSAT a test of some sort? Why should I care about a test, and why on Earth is there a podcast about it? And why would a podcast about a test be worth listening to? I’ll tell you why. The LSAT is the Law School Admissions Test, focusing on logical and analytical reasoning. Finding logical flaws in arguments is an essential skill for a lawyer, so LSAT scores are a major factor in law school applications. But logic and analytical reasoning are important in everyday life, too. The same skills that lawyers use to recognize or pick apart bad arguments in court can be used by all of us to recognize flawed logic in the media, around the office, in advertisements, and among our acquaintances.

Princeton ReviewThat’s where the podcast LSAT Logic in Everyday Life comes in, hosted by Andrew Brody of the Princeton Review, a leading test preparation company. Each week, Andrew picks a topic that’s been hot in the media and analyzes the arguments involved from a strictly logical viewpoint. He emphasizes that it’s important to put aside preconceived notions and biases, and look strictly at the argument itself to determine its validity, whether we agree with it or not. Each podcast, at just about 8 or 9 minutes long, is engaging and entertaining, and teaches you to retrain your brain to recognize flawed logic.

Andrew was nice enough to answer a few questions for Ironic Sans.

I find the podcast applicable to everyday life, even though I don’t plan on taking the LSAT. Is it intended for a wide audience? Or is it intended specifically for LSAT test takers?

The podcast is intended for anyone who is interested in critical thinking. It was designed to gently help students studying for the LSAT start to see the world around them like one big LSAT question, but, as it turns out, the large majority of listeners are not currently studying for the LSAT. I think it is appealing to people who are skeptical and who believe that issues are much more complex than politicians, pundits, journalists, and advertisers would have us believe.

How do you decide on topics for the LSAT podcast? Who writes them?

I write and produce the podcasts. I try to choose topics that are the ‘hot topics’ of discussion for that week, the types of topics that people can’t help but overhear discussion about. Every now and then I’ll choose a more esoteric topic because I think it’s a good example of flawed logic.

Even the most logically-minded person must, from time to time, find him or her self lapsing in logical reasoning. Do you have an example of a time you realized you weren’t being logical in your daily life?

Where should I begin? Unlike, say, the laws of physics, the laws of logic can be broken at will. I say on the podcast that the first rule of LSAT logic is to not get emotionally involved in the subject matter. Usually, logical lapses come when there is an emotional interest at stake.

When you’re having a discussion with someone in your daily life, and they aren’t being logical, what’s the best way to point that out in plain terms to someone who might not know what “ad hominem” means, without coming across as a pompous know-it-all?

Good question. I think that many ‘arguments’ in daily life arise over different opinions of what constitutes good evidence. In other words, you’ve read your book and I’ve read mine, and we’re both going to believe what we believe because the book we read backs it up. This doesn’t usually make for a good discussion. An interesting discussion comes when people are looking at the same book and drawing different conclusions. I think the least pompous way to confront another person’s logical lapse is to call attention to assumptions that people make in their arguments that they usually don’t even realize they’ve taken for granted, instead of referencing high-falutin names of logical flaws.

Do you have a favorite text on logic that you recommend as a good introduction?

Yes. Crimes Against Logic, by Jaymie Whyte, is an excellent, easy-to-read introduction to logic, especially with a focus on logic in the media. My favorite part is the discussion on the logic of “well, i’m entitled to my opinion.”

I think it’s never too early to teach logic. Do you recommend any resources for teaching logic to kids?

Children can learn to think critically and logically from their parents. Giving honest answers to the endless “why’s” is a good start. Answering, “because I say so” seems to me to be a very harmful thing to say to a child in terms of their intellectual development.

Are there situations where logic doesn’t apply?

Logic and religion have a pretty contentious relationship. Religion is all about taking certain truths for granted, on faith.

Are there situations where you see logic not being applied, and wish it would be?

Yes. That’s what the podcasts are for.

What is your background?

I graduated magna cum laude from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University with a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service, and I was a “Culture and Politics” major. I have taught and tutored the LSAT since I graduated, and I currently work for the Research and Development department at The Princeton Review. I never attended law school, although I was accepted at NYU Law School. I chose to defer and then dropped enrollment.

And finally, what did you score when you took the LSAT?

The last time I took the test was in December of last year. I scored a 180. It may seem immodest to reveal a perfect score, but I am a teacher, and I took the test exactly as I teach it, so it’s obviously important for me to score well.

Thanks, Andrew! All episodes of the podcast can be heard at the Princeton Review’s website and you can follow that link to learn how to subscribe via iTunes.

September 27, 2006

Interview: Seetharaman Narayanan

This is the second in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.

Seetharaman NarayananBy now, you either recognize the name, or you’re wondering who Seetharaman Narayanan is, and the difference probably depends on what you do for a living. If, like me, you have a job where you launch Photoshop on a daily basis, then maybe, like me, you can’t stop staring at this guy’s name on the Splash Screen every time it launches. Seetharaman Narayanan. It’s hard to look away. Sure, other people worked on Photoshop. But nobody else has a name like Seetharaman Narayanan.

If you too have been unable to look away from his name as you open Photoshop, you may be thinking, “I thought I was the only one!” Take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Back in 2004, a simple comment was posted on the forum. It said, “Every time I open up photoshop I am mezmorized by this guy’s name. It’s all I can look at. Don’t know why…” Six pages of “Me, too!” responses followed.

He has gone on to inspire a Seetharaman Narayanan fan club group on Flickr, and being unable to get his name out of your head has been recognized as a sign of Photoshop addiction.

So I decided to find out just who this mysterious Seetharaman Narayanan is. What does he do? What does he think of his notoriety? And what’s interesting about him other than his name? Mr. Narayanan, who goes by the much shorter name “Seetha,” was nice enough to answer these questions and more.

When did you become aware of the fascination with your name among Photoshop users?

Jeff Schewe [Photographer] sent me an e-mail sometime in the fall of 2005 about the existence of Seetha’s fanclub thread from

What do you think about it?

I thought it was funny and was amazed at the amount of free time people had at their disposal. I always thought that I was fortunate in getting hired by Adobe at the right time since any Tom, Dick or Harry would have done the same thing I did and perhaps better than what I did. They may not have become famous unless they had some weird last name that is almost un-pronouncable.

How long have you been at Adobe?

I have been with Adobe for 15 years to date. I joined Adobe as a peon on Photoshop 2.5 on September 23, 1991. Peter Merrill (who now works on Acrobat and is still with Adobe) was the lead engineer on the task of making Photoshop run on Windows 3.1 and I was his deputy in the early days. Peter is one of the brightest engineers I have ever worked with in my 20 year career (he may just be the smartest of all!). I still remember the interview I had with Peter before I got hired at Adobe. Peter had this toy application (that later became Photoshop) with ugly Icons and Cursors he showed me and mentioned to me that he had that code ported over from the Mac and he could even open an image (Flower.psd which by the way, shipped as a sample file with Photoshop 2.5) on Windows. I had previously worked at CrystalGraphics and we had just ported over Crystal’s TOPAS over to the Mac platform just weeks prior to my interview with Adobe and I was totally under whelmed by Peter’s demo of Photoshop on Windows. In spite of my lack of enthusiasm, Peter hired me anyway and the rest is history.

What are you responsible for in Photoshop?

Lots of things. I joined Adobe as an engineer responsible for making the Windows port happen. After laying the foundation for the Windows effort, one of the first things I did for the product was to make it multi-threadable. Those days, Mac did not support multi-threading but Windows NT did. In my spare time, I wrote the multi-threading plug-in that took advantage of multiple processor in Photoshop. Peter was of immense help here. When I was re-writing the image processing algorithms in the plug-ins, he pointed to me that there was no need to do any image processing in the plug-in since the plug-in need not know about algorithms and it would be sufficient to just split the tasks and call the functions that knew how to do image processing. It just shows how stupid I was and how much of a genius that Peter was in pointing me to that simplicity. After we shipped 3.0, the Mac and Windows teams got merged and I worked on several things in the core product. Since the team always viewed me as the Windows guy, it would be interesting to note that I was one of the key persons responsible for the Photoshop port to Mac OS/X.

What is your professional background?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Regional Engineering College, Tiruchirapalli, India. I came to the U.S to pursue my Masters in Engineering at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Since that place was so much fun (Playboy’s number one Party School in 1987), I decided to get another Masters from there in Computer Science. I joined CrystalGraphics (I think they are still around) as an engineer on Crystal TOPAS and after a few years at Crystal, I joined Adobe.

Do people express fascination with your name in the real world? Or is this just an on-line phenomenon?

Not really. I had to spell my name a few times before they get it. I got used to it now.

Are there other names on the Splash Screen that you think deserve more credit and get overlooked because people can’t stop staring at your name?

Every one of the engineers and QE deserves as much credit as I do. But I took the cake because of my long name. Too bad Joe Ault, Chris Cox and Scott Byer don’t have the long names as I do.

Are you working on any new projects we can look forward to seeing your name on in the future?

I worked on Bridge 1.0 (I had the opportunity to work on that since I championed the cause for the FileBrowser in Photoshop 7.0 and CS) and am currently working on getting Adobe Lightroom ported to Windows. But Photoshop is always my home.

Everyone knows about your interesting name. What’s one interesting thing about you that people don’t know?

I bike to work every day, rain or shine. My bike route is 20 miles round-trip and I have been riding to work for the past 10 years. I even influenced my mentor Peter Merrill into biking to work. Since Peter is a maniac, he is now doing double-centuries on weekends.

Thanks, Seetha!

Previously: Interview with illustrator and author Adam Rex

September 5, 2006

Interview with Adam Rex, illustrator and author of “Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich”

Adam RexI’m beginning a new series here at Ironic Sans: occasional interviews with interesting individuals, or people working on interesting projects. I’m kicking it off by interviewing Adam Rex, illustrator and author and friend of Ironic Sans, whose new book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich has just been published by Harcourt.

The beautifully illustrated and quite hilarious book includes poems like “The Mummy Won’t Go To His Eternal Rest Without a Story and Some Cookies,” “Godzilla Pooped on My Honda,” and “Count Dracula Doesn’t Know He’s Been Walking Around All Night With Spinach In His Teeth.” Blending Norman Rockwell-like talent, Shel Silverstein-esque poetry, and starring a few Universal Horror monsters, Adam has created a book perfect for children and adults that makes a great Halloween gift.

How would you describe “Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich” to someone unfamiliar with your work?

Frankenstein Makes a SandwichJust because you might be a monster, that doesn’t mean life is going to be all terrified villagers and biting. There’s a down side—monsters have problems, too. Bigfoot and the Yeti are always being mistaken for one another. Frankenstein has trouble meeting new people. Witches, on the other hand, are constantly being scrutinized by hag enthusiasts. They have clubs for that sort of thing.

What medium do you work in?

Mostly oils, but I used a lot of things for this book—gouache, brush and ink, scratchboard, modeling clay, and a little digital as well.

What kind of training do you have?

I have a BFA from the University of Arizona—I was lucky to study under David Christiana. I also have an Associate’s Degree from the School of Life. It’s a vocational school.

What was the last sandwich you made for yourself?

Is a burrito a sandwich? I made a breakfast burrito in a flour tortilla with eggs, fake bacon, cheese, and homemade tomatillo salsa. If a burrito isn’t a sandwich, then peanut butter.

How long did you work on “Frankenstein…”?

Off and on for five years. I first started writing poems in 2000, mostly to occupy my mind while driving. In 2005 I put what I had together and sold it to Harcourt. After that the art probably took three or four months.

What piece of advice did someone give you that you would pass along to aspiring illustrators?

If you find you’re spending a lot of time defending your draftsmanship or the choices you made in illustrations because that’s your “style”, then you probably have a problem to address. There’s nothing wrong with exaggeration, distortion, intentionally drawing “incorrectly”, and so forth, as long as you do it boldly and with a solid foundation of drawing skills to back you up. But good style never gets mistaken for bad drawing.

What advice would you pass along that you only wish someone had given you?

Save your receipts. Marry someone with health insurance. And don’t move to a city that charges you a business privilege tax just because you’re self-employed.

Do you have a favorite poem from “Frankenstein…”? A particular illustration of which you’re most proud? And why?

I don’t think it’ll be the one others cite, but I’m especially proud of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Henderson.” It’s the longest, I think, and the story just came together exactly like I wanted it to, despite an obstacle course of internal rhyme that I laid out for myself. I guess I’d say it’s the biggest achievement—the one I can’t believe I actually finished. I also happen to think it’s funny.

My favorite illustrations come from “The Dentist”—the characters are an homage to Charles Schulz and Peanuts. But I’m pretty proud of the ink work on “Zombie Zombie” and the aforementioned Jekyll poem, just because it’s a medium with which I’m not totally comfortable yet. The Jekyll illustrations were inspired by the early twentieth century work of Charles Dana Gibson—mine fall far short of that ideal, but it was fun to try.

What do you tell people who point out that Frankenstein was the scientist, not the monster?

After another little piece of me dies inside, I assure them that I know this already. I tell them that the tomato is a fruit, that it’s a berry, even, but that doesn’t stop anyone from calling it a vegetable. I may tell them that Pluto is still a planet if they want it to be. And, while I would never think of calling Mary Shelley’s monster Frankenstein, I would tell them that a big dumb green guy with ill-fitting clothes and a flattop is Frankenstein. They’re totally different things.

Oh. And I would thank them for their interest and ask them to please buy my book.

RELATED: I took the above photo of Adam Rex at an event in New York last April where I photographed several artists’ paint palettes and published them in an entry called Boris Vallejo’s Palette.