Oil Changes & Fashion Magazines

May 2022 Issue of Vogue Magazine

While waiting for the oil to be changed in my truck at Right Choice Automotive Repair in Fairbanks, Alaska, I decided to hang around their modest waiting area rather than leave the premises (since I had no other ride). Instead of turning to my phone, I noted a disorganized pile of magazines and pulled the first one off the top because it appeared to be the newest.

The May 2022 issue of Vogue would be my muse as I waited for the ordinary yet necessary service to my rig.

The first thing that came to mind as I started to browse through the pages was what I often tell my students, “Stay up to date with as much as you can, stay up with current trends and fashion, the news, culture, art, everything around you whether it interest you or not. It will make you a better graphic designer.” Following up on that, I thought yes, a subscription to Vogue magazine would be a step in the right direction when it came to such advice.

As those thoughts went through my head, I pondered the last time I had picked up a magazine of this genre myself. It had been awhile—long enough that I couldn’t recall when. Mind you, when I was in my mid-20s, I had a subscription to Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ) for at least two years. So, there’s that.

Unlike my mid-80s, young-adult outlook, I wasn’t looking through Vogue as a consumer now, I was looking at it as a graphic designer—taking note of all the techniques and treatments they employed in their advertising and editorial pages. With that keen eye dialed in on the pages, I didn’t find anything too cutting edge. In fact, many of the layouts were fairly pedestrian. I reckoned that this conservative design ensured that whatever typography and design was employed, it wouldn’t distract from the “high-end” photography whether it was on the editorial or advertising pages. And, isn’t that why people pick up magazines like Vogue… for the photography?

Omega watches model: she clearly doesn’t like wearing a watch.

Along with the above, here are a few not-so-graphic-design take-aways from my one-hour romp with Vogue in a Fairbanks, Alaska, car repair shop.

Regarding the skin care and make-up advertisements throughout the publication, I would like to challenge these advertisers to run disclaimers in their adverts akin to what the tobacco companies are required to post in their advertisements and products, but a little different… something along the lines of, “No Photoshop was used in the creation of this advertisement.” I mean, think about it, you’re advertising a skin care product that is said to make skin look smooth and youthful, but like most advertisers, (and most folk know this) you have post-production Photoshop work on the images to make sure the model’s skin in the advert is actually smooth and youthful. That’s hardly a convincing sale.

Speaking of smooth and youthful skin, where are the older adults? I never noticed their absence when I was going through GQ back in my youth, but it was glaring in this 2022 Vogue issue. I mean if you want to talk about how great your skin care product is, why not employ a model who is at least pushing 40 instead of 20? (Who cares if they do Photoshop work at that point?)

My recollection of 1980s GQ was that the models all appeared happier, or at least not miserable—even if they weren’t all smiling back then. Most of the posers in 2022 (assuming this issue of Vogue represents today’s average model facial expression) are simply expressionless, and come across as bored, even miserable as if they were some kind of indentured, rich punk. I have to wonder, was the photographer behind the camera saying things like, “C’mon, show me sexy, babe,” or were they saying, “Show me how excited you are about a weekend getaway with… (insert least favorite celebrity/politician here).”

Perhaps the exception in fashion magazines: an older model who is clearly happy for Dolce & Gabbana.

I know these kind of publications are known for their advertisements and that’s one of the top reasons people purchase them, but I counted 27 pages of advertisements before I reached part one of the table of contents. Following that, more ads and then part two of the table of contents. The first editorial piece was listed on page 49.

A few things that I noted that haven’t changed at all since the 80s is the advertisers. There is still an abundance of jewelry, clothing, make-up, skin care, and perfume ads (and their fragrant pages), but only one cigarette ad in the entire issue and it wasn’t even a cigarette one would associate with fashion—Lucky Strikes, the cigarette my father smoked when he was a young man.

I suppose my grumblings here are somewhat expected given my past 60-year-old status, but I did find one very nice and refreshing feature of this 2022 periodical—it’s cover featured a pregnant, Black woman named Rihanna. I hear she’s very talented and popular.

Mosquito Confessions

I’ve been struggling lately with the following: I love to kill mosquitos. Truly, the only good mosquito is a dead one… or at least one about to be eaten by a creature that feeds on them.

There I said it (i.e., “…forgive me Father for I have sinned”). It seems wrong to admit this. It seems wrong to say that I enjoy killing anything. But, there’s nothing like having a mosquito alight on your forearm only for it to be squashed rather than sucking your blood. It’s so satisfying. Or even if he does start to partake of your precious bodily fluid, to smash it before it can lift-off in time is pretty rewarding too—in a vengeful sort of way.

I suspect I’m far from being alone in this frame of mind.

This started me thinking about why it is so many of us truly love to kill them and, why—in my case—I don’t like to kill anything else.

Perhaps it is their small size. The smaller something is, and the simpler it is as an organism, and thus the better it feels to kill it. Yet, I don’t go out of my way to step on ants or squish a spider, but I don’t have much guilt when I consider all of the various splattered insects on the grill of my car or truck after a long road trip in the summer. If I hit a bird or run over a small animal, that will bother me—sometimes for days.

Each of us should probably ask ourselves, how big does an organism have to be before we end up feeling guilty about ending its life.

To enjoy the killing of mosquitos might also have something to do with how one can’t reason with a mosquito. You can’t just say “NO!” to them like a dog or some other threatening animal. You can’t shoo them away either. They don’t listen, they just relentless keep on coming after you, and the only way to stop them is to kill them. Even the slightest physical force is likely to kill them given their tiny and delicate anatomy, so might as well be certain in their killing.

Oh, I suppose if you are a committed humanitarian, you can repel them with my favorite Alaska aftershave, Off! (the Deep Woods variety), but who wants to spray poison all over their skin everyday—even when indoors—just to repel a pest with a single-minded objective of drinking your blood.

The idea of being attacked must have something to do with enjoying the killing of a mosquito. No one likes to be attacked. Come to think of it, I like killing deer flies and horseflies too. Why? Because I’m being attacked in the same way. Something wants to bite me, I will likely want to kill it, and in the case of mosquitos, enjoy doing it. There’s no turning the other cheek to mosquitos or other biting insects in my world.

So perhaps that is it… the simple fact that we are being relentless attacked by a species that clearly outnumbers us, and along with all of that, carries a number of deadly diseases in their assaults on us.

Here in Alaska (for the summer of 2022) where there are so many mosquitos, they take the killing of them to another level. Introducing the electrically charged mosquito racquet. At first glance, it looks like a racquetball racquet, but with two AA batteries (or USB charging) and the push of a button, any flying insect in its way, gets zapped. If they get trapped in the metal mesh of the racquet and the operator keeps the button engaged, they are simply cremated. Again, it’s a bit disconcerting to say this, but this mosquito racquet is pretty cool as the blood-suckers are practically vaporized before your very eyes. 

I overheard on the radio yesterday that during the Stone Ages, it is estimated that half of the population back then died from malaria-carrying mosquitos. So, consider the killing of these pests as payback for the death of so many of our ancestors.

On the brighter side regarding mosquitos, the gene-editing technology CRISPR is to be used to produce a gene-altered mosquito that would be released into the wild carrying an anti-malarial protein that would be passed on to offspring when mating with other mosquitos. Ideally, malaria could be wiped out or drastically reduced in the near future. For now it appears that this treatment is probably at least a decade out before full implementation. If that’s the case, you might want to invest in some good, old-fashioned mosquito protection (see above).

The Permafrost Highway

Looking down on a section of the Permafrost Highway

Somewhere north of Haines Junction, Yukon Territory and say, 30 miles south of Tok, Alaska is a stretch of the Alaska Highway (AlCan Highway) that really test one’s resolution and will  to “go north.” This 250-300 mile stretch of highway appears to suffer from the freezing and thawing related to the permafrost, and nothing suffers more than the road itself—in particular the asphalt.

Sometime after passing through Haines Junction, one gets the feeling that Canada—or at least the Yukon Territory doesn’t want the traveler to leave as the road seems to deteriorate the farther up the road you travel. I was reminded of that line from the song Hotel California, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…”

After 75 or so miles of dodging potholes and uneven folds of asphalt, I found a campground about 50 miles before the Alaska border. I fell asleep in the back of my truck wondering if the Americans had an answer for permafrost’s unrelenting war on asphalt.

The next morning, my hope in Yankee engineering and road crews wilted—before I was even five miles past the border. As it turns out the Americans have lost the battle to permafrost as well.

It’s comical to observe the various methods (dare I say, “patchworks”) employed in attempting to alleviate the effects of permafrost—from new asphalt to chip-seal patches that probably last no longer than a week after a few heavy trucks have roll over them. Adding to the comedy are the occasional signs that warn, “ROUGH ROAD,” as if all the other road mines along the way were somehow insignificant.

Once in Alaska the speed limit increases to 65 mph compared to 80-90 kph in Canada. I want to see someone drive that part of this road at 65 with their cruise control on. In such a case, we would be talking about someone with a death wish, or at least someone who has fallen out of love with their vehicle. Very few stretches occurred where I was able to travel over 50 mph due to my truck’s stiff suspension.

Speaking of stretches, there are those places where the highway as been repaved (my guess within the last year) and like a mirage, seems like a normal two-lane highway suddenly, but in another half-mile to a mile, potholes and massive heaves reappear in the asphalt, preventing you from anything that resembles a relaxing drive—just as you start to think that maybe they’ve finally got it figured out. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a shooting arcade (or “Whac-a-Mole”) as you’re driving through a gallery of mixed asphalt obstacles that are continually popping up with little time to react.

Permafrost pothole detail

Given the shortened season for road construction up here, it seems like maintaining this highway is a lost cause. It will likely never be smoothed out completely—at least not in this particular stretch. After all, why would Alaska want to fix the remaining miles of their highway that simply and only allows people to exit to the Yukon Territory (Canada)—and the same goes with the Yukon and the remaining miles in their road leading to Alaska (U.S.)?

One has to wonder if there is any discussion about returning these roads back to dirt/gravel. In the case of permafrost, road graders would simply blade, thus re-leveling the road each spring in time for a new crop of tourists. Surely this topic gets thrown around from from time to time, but when do asphalt roads ever experience a downgrade?

In all of this grim reporting of road conditions, there is some comfort in knowing that not too far from Tok, Alaska, the permafrost is somehow subdued and the road stays smooth sailing all the way to Fairbanks (and Anchorage I’m assuming)—60 mph easy.

However, there is the return trip to keep in mind if one wishes to return to those places where home is somewhere in the latitudes of Calgary or below. For now, I have almost two months of preparation; that is, psyching myself up for the return trip down the Permafrost Highway .

I choose Quark

Most people in the graphic arts profession know of the page layout war between Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress. In fact, most of us know the basic history of the page layout wars: In the beginning there was only Aldus Pagemaker. Then along came QuarkXPress as a competitor. A mass exodus to Quark followed its 3.0 version and Pagemaker never really recovered—not even after Adobe purchased it from Aldus and attempted to revamp it.

Well, to say that it “never really recovered” might be a bit misleading in that there were more licensed copies of Pagemaker than any other desktop publishing software. Even in Quark’s zenith of success, they never matched the sales of Pagemaker. While most of the high-end operations were based in Quark, the small businesses, printers and publishers were content with Pagemaker—who were the lion’s share of page layout users.

Nevertheless, in the end, not even mighty Adobe believed it could reconfigure the old codes of Pagemaker. So, they did the unthinkable—they built a completely new page layout “factory” from the ground up—enter InDesign.

And a better program InDesign was—even in the early stages. Now that it’s in its third major edition, ask anyone in the “biz” today whether they prefer QuarkXPress or InDesign, and there’s a good chance they’ll answer, “InDesign. Quark is old school.”

The tables have turned indeed. Like Pagemaker’s early reign of desktop publishing, Quark is no longer king of the hill. Having been accused of customer service neglect and resting on its laurels, Quark is now in the battle of its life. A new upgrade is due out any day now that will better rival InDesign. Some say it’s too little and too late. Perhaps.

War no more
Up until recently, another heated software war was constantly brewing in the industry, only this one had to do with the illustration/drawing programs of Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia FreeHand. Like the page layout wars, this one was another one of those great “Ford vs. Chevy” conflicts. Each side was adamant about the superiority of their illustration program over the other offering. And thanks to the heated status, both software products drove the other to greater performance levels.

But, this war took an odd turn when Adobe bought out Macromedia and its entire line of print and web-based publishing software which included FreeHand. And Adobe’s response to the illustration prisoner of war? Kill it.

What an odd response to let an established program die on the vine (PageMaker) or to outright discontinue its offering after purchasing the rights to it (FreeHand). It’s nothing new to hear of a particular desktop publishing application to be sold and revised under another company’s name—that’s what initially happened to Pagemaker when Adobe scooped it up from Aldus. And FreeHand was an Aldus product before it was purchased by Macromedia years ago.

But how is one gigantic software company suppose to behave if they already own one of the major illustration programs, and then acquire its major competition? What would happen if Coke acquired Pepsi? I’d like to believe that Coke would continue to produce Pepsi for all the faithful Pepsi drinkers. I’d be more than a bit pissed off if I was a Pepsi drinker and Coke announced to the world that they were discontinuing Pepsi simply because they owned it.

So, despite the volumes of FreeHand users throughout the world, Adobe chose to thumb their nose, and simply say, “It’s Illustrator or nothing at all.” (Ummm, that’s if one doesn’t consider Corel Draw a major player). I’m sure I know of at least one group of disgruntled FreeHand users in the world; the good folks of Christchurch, New Zealand. When I was there in 2001, FreeHand was everywhere and they used it for everything—page layout and imposition.

Then there is of course the swelling popularity of InDesign. Once again Adobe didn’t do the page layout community any favors by eliminating PageMaker. One has to wonder how popular InDesign would be today if Adobe hadn’t let Pagemaker die on the vine. Nevertheless, it was another one of those, “It’s this or nothing at all” scenarios. In this case they said, “Well, it’s InDesign or QuarkXPress, but we’ll give you a sweet deal if you choose our product.” At the same time, Quark’s shelf price remained considerably higher. Quark’s major blunder may have been that they didn’t match Adobe’s offer as everyone was abandoning the Pagemaker ship when they realized no upgrades would follow. Who can blame a page layout community if they are forced to move to another program—pick the one that’s the cheapest because there will undoubtedly be some pain in any kind of transition.

At one time I had hoped that Pagemaker would resurface under another company’s banner—Adobe would sell Pagemaker to someone like Corel or Macromedia after they felt everyone that could be lured to InDesign was hooked. Not so. Instead, they simply bought Macromedia. My crystal ball has grown dark.

Yet (and this is undoubtedly a stretch on my part), I still wonder if many of those Quark users who have now migrated to InDesign were simply moving back to Pagemaker (a.k.a. “Pagemaker on Steroids”) because years ago they were forced to move, or felt compelled to move to Quark when they would have preferred to stay with the Pagemaker environment. Perhaps they’ve been waiting to jump off the Quark ship for a long time now, they were simply waiting for Adobe to build a decent rescue ship.

Adobe… the new Microsoft
I’m starting to think that the folks at Adobe are no different than any other money-hungry corporation. They’re not too keen on competition especially if the competition is ahead of them or keeping up with them. If they have it their way, they’d just assume snuff out any formidable competitors (i.e., FreeHand) regardless of any ethical business considerations (i.e., the elimination of Pagemaker; desktop publishing’s charter software).

However, things aren’t as bad as I over-dramatize here. Thankfully, Adobe has a pretty decent record when it comes to the business of running a monopoly—consider Photoshop. Nothing comes close to this powerful image-editing software… not in donkey’s years. And the application gets better with each revision. Let’s just hope they do the same when it comes to Illustator—Adobe’s newest monopoly.

By the way, let’s not forget Adobe’s other unchallenged powers. Most notable is Postscript itself. Every software company has an umbilical cord leading back to Adobe—yes, even Microsoft. You want to use Postscript in your application, you need to have a little chat with desktop publishing’s godfather first. And don’t forget, Acrobat is the king when it comes to anything to do with PDF (portable document format).

Be careful for what you wish, you might just get it.

I choose Quark
Some say the writing is on the wall. Quark is a very, very small company based in Denver, Colorado. They’re no match for Adobe on Wall Street. It’s only a matter of time before they buy out Quark as well. So some say.

If the unthinkable does unfold, the Adobe noose tightens a bit more as our options in desktop publishing software dwindle. In turn, Quark users will find plenty of comfort in the multitudes of former FreeHand users as they are forced to move into the trenches of InDesign.

In the meantime, I’m staying with Quark. I don’t doubt that InDesign is a better program at this point in time. Yet, that’s not enough to make me rule out Quark. Years ago when Quark had clearly beaten Pagemaker, some people still chose to stay with Pagemaker. Maybe they were lazy or maybe they truly liked the environment better. I never looked down on them for their decision regardless of their rationale. If Pagemaker melted their butter, who was I to say that they could be happier with something else. Besides, how fickle is that to jump to another program just because it has taken the lead. Talk about fair-weather fans. And mind you, I’m an active supporter of Adobe in so many other departments—Photoshop, Acrobat, Postscript (and now Illustrator I guess). They need nothing else from me.

As I see it, the decline of Quark’s popularity will either lead to its demise or the company will become hungry again and meet InDesign’s appeal. Hopefully it will be the latter scenario. Besides, with Quark still hanging around as that proverbial thorn in Adobe’s side, we are all guaranteed two quality programs for years to come—and there’s plenty of users out there to go around.