Tools of the trade.

This is one of those posts where it’s stuff that designers/architects/engineers already know all too well, but the general public doesn’t quite have a handle on it as well as (at least I) wish they would.

Though what we do is a creative job, at the heart of it, it is a technical job (see: differences between designers and decorators, part #5,781).

A lot of it comes down to margin of error. Though it is true that clients have been known to bitch mightily about a difference in color so slight as to require a spectrometer in order to detect it (I suggest smothering them with the offending throw pillow at that moment, thereby saving the rest of us from having to deal with these same people later), if the pillow is 1/4″ larger than you expected, it probably doesn’t matter.

For the rest of us, 1/4″ is an ocean.

To put this in terms the average person can easily understand, the margin for error when designing something like your kitchen is 1/16″.  Any more than that and you’re going to notice. Any more than that, and you have problems filling the gap. Any more than that, and you’re pretty much screwed.

No pressure, right?

But the other part of this being a technical job is having to keep up with all the technology that comes along with it. Yes, I still think the folks at AutoDesk are sadists, but I still am using AutoCAD 2008(thank goodness for the classic interface.)   There’s a whole bunch of people who still prefer to draw things by hand, because  that works for them.  They’re comfortable with hand drawing and they have something that resembles a natural ability to draw with something that approaches a reasonable degree of accurate perspective.

I am not one of those people. Faulty brain wiring has made that >< shy of impossible.

For the rest of us, thank goodness, there’s computers.  The downside is the endless array of complex software packages you’re expected to learn and master in order to keep up with the industry.  AutoCAD is industry standard, though not every office uses it. Some use other things like Microstation.  AutoCAD is like chess- there’s always some trick you never knew was there that you can learn, but the basics come with only a few commands.  It’s an incredibly complex program- but you really can learn how to slap it into submission pretty quickly and be able to put out perfectly usable documents.  It’s complicated enough that some people specialize in doing nothing more than creating CAD documents. I am not one of those people, but I am glad they exist.

But in the past ten years a whole boatload of very powerful graphics programs have become part of the designers tool kit.  Of course none of them work with the same set of commands,  look the same or are even very intuitive.  The struggle is always “how many of these tools can you learn to wield”, because you never know who is going to require you know how to use which one.  And if I said that learning all this stuff wasn’t tiring, I’d be lying.  Even a program that’s designed to be simple isn’t quite *that* simple when you’re first learning to use it.  I’ve known people to completely boggle at my abilities using photoshop, but how to do it didn’t just leap into my brain-cause learning that shit was a pain in the ass.

Today’s pain in the ass has been Sketchup, which I find so far to not be as simple as FormZ, but simpler than Photoshop.  I am sure that in two months time I will be very comfortable with it.  Today is not two months from now though, and I feel like my brain has been put through a blender after 12 hours of hacking away at it.

The good news, having nothing to do with the little model I have been trying to build all day, is that I finally have a workable design(you will note I said design, not sketchup model) for the island in that kitchen in Miami.   Which I will build in AutoCAD tomorrow just so I have something to send to the clients (in plan and elevation, of course) and then go back to learning to build it in Sketchup, trying frantically not to cave in to the desire to just build the damned thing in FormZ and be done with it.

Or 3ds Max.

Or any other of the five or six other programs I have kicking around here.

My brain is full.

It is dark. You are likely to be eaten by a guest blogger.

I was just interrupted by an IM window in the middle of getting some key dimensions into AutoCAD. Lousy timing usually, but today, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. It beats the hell out of mine, anyway.

I am up to my armpits in design work today, hopefully getting the bulk of the bones in for that residential project in Miami (build an island. All things follow…), so I didn’t know if I was going to get a post in today. Turns out, I’ve been saved by a writer(and believe me, I am not a writer.) on a mission.

My good friend Adam P. Knave is doing a blog tour right now. He’s got a new book out(because he’s a real writer, unlike me), and like every author with a new book, he can’t pass up a good promotional opportunity(which when I think about it is also unlike me.). So he sent out word he’d be willing to babble about any topic in exchange for a place to plug his book. “Just give me a topic, and I’ll write about it!”. So I told him hey- “I write(if you can call it that) about design. You write about *writing* about design. Or about how to write about space. Or something. Just make sure it goes along with the rest of the damned blog. Whatever. You figure it out.”

As usual he laughed at me and told me he’d get back to me. Apparently, getting back to me was five minutes ago. So this morning’s post is written by APK (which you can tell isn’t me because the middle initial isn’t the same.)

Awesome. I can go back to work now.

Damned grues.

—————————————————————————-

You are in a room.

Back in the days of text based adventures that was often all you had
to go on. Sure you could use a look command and see that the room had
a chair. You could even dig deeper and see that the chair was a
wooden rocking chair. But that was as deep as you could ever go.
That was your sense of place.

When I’m writing you might think I would draw on the traditions of
literature: the grand gothic descriptions of room sets, the Victorian
place settings and china patterns, the careful and unique work that
was done in the Tale of Genji to describe every last ounce of
space.

You might think I do that. And sometimes I do, sure. But mostly? I think:

You are in a room.

Every setting you have in a story contributes to the tone and feel
that you, as a writer, create. If you have a room with a plant, how
does it make the space different based on what type of plant? The
owner of a fichus is different than the owner of a spider plant. Even
if you never define that difference, the reader will.

What color are the walls? Wallpaper? What type of furniture and how
is the space arranged? Etc, endlessly.

Of course you also say things by not describing things. That’s a fine
line to walk, what to mention and what to leave alone. The reader
will fill in details based on the characters and their own choices and
feelings about these things. So you can have a bunch of fun letting
them choose their own furniture adventures as well.

But then you get the bigger questions.

If I need a house, what does it look like? The inside, who planned
it? Do you just steal from a place you know (sometimes, yes) or do
you try to think about what a space should look like for your needs?

That last one is tempting but risky. Most spaces are not designed
toward plot. They’re designed for their own purpose and the plot has
to organically move within it. So if you have a bar, make sure it is
a functioning bar first and a useable plot space second.

Which means, also, that as a writer you might want to know a bit about
design. Not a degree’s worth, certainly, but something more than
nothing. How do doors open, inside a building, or outside? Which way
to they swing? There are rules about this stuff. It helps to know
some of them so you don’t look foolish. Light switches are generally
placed within arms reach of the entrance to a space, though not
always. they also tend to follow a height range. So you can’t play
too drastically with them unless you mean to specifically and have a
reason.

And so on.

Spaces are designed, not slapped up. And as writers we need to
respect that and play by the rules of the world instead of just
nodding at people and telling them:

You are in a room.

cltscover-small.jpg
Love. Death. Zombies. Demons. Teddy bears.
Figments of your imagination.

Those are just a few of the things waiting for you inside Adam P.
Knave’s CRAZY LITTLE THINGS. Horror collides with just about every
other genre within reach to help bring his twisted worlds to life.
These twelve tales of strangeness include three new stories exclusive
to this volume: “Pretty Little Dead Girls,” “Dead Side Story” and
“Causing Effect.” Also included are both legendary Mister Binkles
tales, as well as the critically acclaimed novella, Crazy Little
Thing.

“Adam P. Knave’s collection of short fiction is a grandiose romp
through a universe of vast scope and huge imagination – which was
startling, because I thought the operative word was ‘short'” – Dustin
Grovemiller, Managing Editor, the footnote

“This book could be my best friend when I’m in the bathroom. And I’m
not just saying that because I’m out of toilet paper, or a friend to
wipe for me.” – Shannon Wheeler, Too Much Coffee Man

“The stories in Crazy Little Things find author Adam P. Knave at his
best, offering readers a taste of literary cyanide served with a grin,
much in keeping with the spirit of the late, great Robert Bloch.” –
Daniel R. Robichaud, HorrorReader.com