Colour picker magic

There’s no wayward opinion in this post, just something I had to share. It’s the colour picker in Adobe photoshop made real! A pen with an RGB sensor at one end can be used to scan real life objects and a cartridge creates the colour ink at the other.

Go see

Cracks in the argument

One interesting conversation I had at last week’s Apex open house was with a Morgana rep looking over the AutoFold and AutoCreaser machines. A veteran of the paper industry he claimed the problem with ‘cracking’ is far more to do with the declining quality of China clay used in paper production than anything to do with toner, or any other digital printing process.

Proof was a simple task. He simply grabbed a sheet and manually folded it, causing the structure to crack along the lines of the fold. Except there was no toner in the folded area. The problem was with the substrate itself.

So, it appears that what many describe as a ‘digital problem’ (in fact there’s even a Morgana Digifold machine) is a misnomer.

Even more surprising to my mind is that none of the digital vendors to my knowledge have ever challenged this myth.

Royal fail

This one might amuse you. We were mulling over contenders for the PrintWeek Awards, a week or so back, and one company had lots of testimonials about how upbeat and polite every contact with that company had been, the delivery drivers were marked out for special praise.

It was not Royal Mail, whose delivery van driver was so riled at having to refrain from running me over this morning as I crossed a raised section of the road, ie raised to show precedence for pedestrians, that he swung round the corner after me and deliberately drove against the edge of the curb so as to cause a cascade of rain water to, well, rain down.

Hilarious. I draw solace from the fact that while I was briefly very angry and damp, I’ve since calmed down and dried out, as opposed to the idiot in the van who is still an idiot (you’ll have to take into account that the phrase ‘idiot’ replaces a far more pejorative expletive that probably has no place on PrintWeek)

But really I should concentrate on the take-away of this incident. What can we learn? Well, put simply that good customer service is a hard won, fragile and easily lost accolade. For all the millions of pounds spent by Royal Mail on highlighting the great work of the postie, my personal view of the company is now severely dampened.

Patent games

I have to say I was surprised to see RR Donnelley throwing down the legal gauntlet to HP over its variable printing patents. It’s beyond me why a manufacturing company would take on a technology and intellectual property company on patents.

Most of the big giants in the IT world collect patents like stamps. And they do so as a means of defence against just such cases as these. In the time it took RR Donnelley to file its suit (they haven’t served HP with it yet) HP patent attorneys will have reached around the back of their intellectual property sofa and grabbed a dozen to fling back at RR Donnelley. HP owns more than 33,000 patents. It has 4,000 for sale, probably more than RR Donnelley owns.

Aside from what this may or may not mean for the “technology alliance” between the two companies, I can’t imagine taking on a company with the IP for Indigo is good news when you’re building digital presses yourself – to wit, RR Donnelley’s Proteusjet hybrid digital web press.

What’s more, if this ever goes to court, there’s a risk not only of losing the case, but also of having your patents invalidated in the process.

It feels a very high risk strategy. The suit was filed as far as I can tell at the beginning of this year, a couple of months after the companies announced their alliance, so one wonders what prompted the printer to file at a time the companies should have been enjoying the bonhomie of partnership.

Augmented reality

The privatisation of Royal Mail now looks inevitable. We have a report now you see to prove it’s for the best. The CWU claims this is ‘politically motivated’; they’re probably right. That’s not to say that selling it off isn’t a logical move, probably contingent on scrapping uncompetitive regulation or at least levelling the playing field, and I do remember a number of articles suggesting that if you’re going to burden the tax payer with its £10bn pension black hole, the time to do is when the tax payer is managing a trillion dollar deficit.

What got me onto the augmented reality connection was the news that Royal Mail is to issue augmented reality stamps. Viewed on a mobile phone they will trigger a multimedia event – a video for example. Brilliant added value. But nothing likely to change the company’s fate.

Our current austerity augmented reality throws us into a ready acceptance of swingeing cutbacks, decisions that would stimulate robust debate were it not for the current zeitgeist. A couple of years back Royal Mail strikes seemed an almost weekly occurrence, but I wonder if the actual sale will trigger the same level of industrial action in the current climate.

It’s not dissimilar to what’s going on in the prison service. An MP’s report claims there are too many prisoners and we could really use the money for something else. But crime has gone down. Nothing to do with criminals being safely behind bars, say the MPs, it’s all down to improved standards of living.

I suspect though that they’re not that confident. The government has set up the first ever body tasked with increasing public confidence in the prison system – the Sentencing Council – and hired its first ever comms chief. I imagine there might be a lot of damage control and explaining to do if they stop locking up criminals. So money well spent.

I’m fairly certain that the tax payers’ government’s PR machine is well oiled enough to dupe us into glibly accepting whatever its reports recommend: selling off Royal Mail, closing down prisons.

Which is why as an industry we need to keep our wits about us where those reports might impact us, and we need organisations such as Two Sides working night and day against handy clichés like print is bad for the environment.

Welcome return

I wonder how the return of Roy Kingston will go down with staff at Wyndeham Group with his return as COO?

After all since his departure three years ago he’s been very busy running a consultancy offering restructuring services to various struggling sectors such as construction. He came back for a short spell of restructuring at Wyndeham when he ‘assisted’ HR in efforts to cull 163 roles at Wyndeham Heron.

This came as Wyndeham Press Group (WPG) was sold to Walstead Investments at the back end of 2008, led by investor and restructuring specialist Mark Scanlon who gave Kingston’s long-time colleague Paul Utting “a mandate to improve the performance of the group and in particular Heron“.

Since then there’s been management unification and further redundancies at Grange. One wonders what restructuring there is left to do.

The digital divide

Brown’s mission to provide a bunch of government services over the next four years sounds ambitious. In fact it’s probably unachievable.

It’s set out as an enabler and money-saving exercise.

The government has form in hashing IT schemes up for a start, but there are so many other hurdles to cross.

For one, my granny can’t type. You can provide her with a service that let’s her book a doctor’s appointment, or a home visit, choose a time, a doctor, etc but she cannot type, cannot use a mouse. Those with the most need of government services are the least able to to use technology. You can set up a blistering fast 18meg fibre-optic Internet connection. But arthritis gets in the way.

So until you eradicate old age and its incumbent problems and the last generation of pre-Internet users dies off, you’re going to find it tough to push everyone into digital, so good luck with that.

What else is there to love about this? Well that ID card scheme went down well if I remember. Yet the plan here is to have a single portal for government services for every citizen. Think there won’t be a few eyebrows raised at the idea that you’ll only need one set of credentials to log on and access NI numbers, passport details, driving licence, medical records?

And you’re going to have to pay a 50p tax to enable this to happen.

If they manage to sort all that out by 2016 I will gladly go paperless. That’s a promise I’m confident I won’t have to keep.

iPad – fad or future

OK – time to weigh in on the iPad launch. Sure, I could join the debate over on the forums, but at least here I get to state my case without argument – that means a lot to someone as precious as me!

First thing to say, is that it’s cheap. Over here it will probably cost a little under £400 when it launches, but that’s a pretty small markup on an iPhone for a lot more hardware. Plus the data tariffs announced in the US are equally cheap, making this, in my opinion, the first ever Apple device launched to a mass market, rather than to early adopters at the premium price.

The answer to this might be that it’s not really a new device. Just a bigger iPod/iPhone. After all there’s not even a separate SDK for developers – they just use the iphone one with a few tweaks and enhancements.

That’s good for what has made the iphone stand out among all those other smart consumer phones: 140,000 apps. And they should work fine on an iPad too. Indeed Jobs said at the launch that the iPad will represent a ‘gold rush’ for developers (of course, Apple probably makes a revenue trickle not just from app sales, but also from the development environment for which Apple charges $99)

So it’ s not too expensive, it’s got the magic of the Apple brand, along with the miracle of the iPod – a device tied to a content service that has resulted in people paying, yes paying, for online content, that they could easily get for free on any number of file-sharing sites)

That can only mean two things: it’s probably going to be reasonably successful even if it finds itself sat between the laptop and phone markets, rather than having created one all of its own.

Second, publishers the world over will be rushing to sign up to get their content on the iPad, the place where people are used to paying for content.

The New York Times has already developed an app, and part of the iPad software include iBooks – the book equivalent of iTunes.

The arguments of the it being a Kindle killer are probably moot – the iPad is more attractive, and it has a touch-sensitive screen, and it’s Apple, regardless of the benefits of the Kindle’s E-Ink screen (which is fabulous to look at). It’s whether or not it will be a book killer.

It’s still probably a bit expensive to take to the beach, but one of the technologies that has given the iPad a good shot at success is the vast number of households that now have wireless. So whether it’s the kitchen or living room or bedroom, you should look at the print content consumed in those spaces to see where the threat is.

So, coffee table, large-ish format, colour – we’re probably looking at the iPad making a success of delivering magazine content well, in the right location, in the right context, and offering more than print versions can.

The kitchen – recipe books, perhaps. Newspapers, possibly. The bedroom. Books? I’m still unsure on the benefit of having an iPad. It’s still bigger than a book. I can only read one book at a time, so having a library on a device has a limited appeal.

Don’t agree? Comment below (I might still edit you out – as I said, I’m a bit precious like that!)

Good News

No, I don’t want to come in and find out whether you’re worried about war and famine and whether or not there is a god.

But I can’t help feeling that there might be something to thank the lord for.

Covering my print buying beat, it seems that there is some forward movement in the magazine market (I pause dramatically here, waiting for those that know better to shoot me down with hard facts – and they sting).

OK, I know there has been bad news – BSkyB shuffling its magazines around and cutting Movies and Sports to bigger, but bi-monthly, titles.

But we’ve also had Dennis buying Health & Fitness (this is a real departure for Dennis – its first women’s magazine for years), and Land Rover Monthly, and the UK licence for Men’s Fitness in the space of a few months (again, I know it’s small fry compared to the massive print runs of Sky mags). But we’ve even had proper launches – new magazines – IPC has launched goodtoknow Recipes, and we’ve had two glossy quarterly magazines from Future (Classic Rock Presents: Prog and Comic Heroes).

Clearly consumer publishers are finding niche opportunities they think worth the investment and they’re not immediately thinking whether they can get away with just producing a website. Which is a good thing


What a bore it is reading about all these ereaders. We have the super size Kindle; Apple is bringing out its Slate thing. Microsoft has done what it has historically done and stolen a march, announcing its HP slate device ahead of any Apple announcement. But really, is this it? Some kind of lidless laptop is where the past decade of computing innovation has been pointing?

It can only mean that in 2020 we’ll all be getting excited about the lidded Slate with hard-keyed keyboard, and the mobi-Slate which has the battery life of a blue whale, but is still too big and ugly to use as a phone.

What a revelation it was to be able to have a phone or a computer to carry with you. The Slate/Reader isn’t. It’s not a revelation to have a portable newspaper or magazine for a start.

I’ve spent enough money on gadgetry and whizzo stuff from the likes of Apple, Microsoft and HP to feel that when they tell me to start getting excited about their new life-changing products, they should have a bit more imagination than just pointing out two successful products and then doing something in the middle. It’s the equivalent of promising the world they can do away knives and forks, as now you only need the kn-fork.

And so I turn, in my frustration, to cursory trawls of the Interweb, and stumbled across this fabulous collection of images on the history of books. Apropos of nothing, I simply offer it up in lieu of me banging on about technology any further.