Monthly Archives: December 2008

A piece I did for has been published, a profile of fontmeister Chank Diesel. Rereading it, my pedantic tendencies are striking. Hopefully readers will machete through to the better parts.

Even if you don’t give a flip about typography, Chank’s art-from-everyday philosophy is inspiring. Here’s an excerpt:

Putting the tools of type design into the hands of students and professionals is part of Chank’s M.O. He enlivens his regular speaking engagements with font-making workshops to engage his audience in a hands-on way. In a typical workshop, Chank assigns each participant a character, then they all gather source material from the immediate environment. This summer, Chank and the Las Vegas chapter of the AIGA created Atomic Vegas Seasnakes, a font made from twisting strands of glow-in-the-dark plastic jewelry. “Cheap Chinese imports like these flow into Las Vegas. And they look like neon.” At a summer workshop in Northern Minnesota, designers built letters from found bits of nature with inspired results. “People were using flowers, leaves, sticks. I didn’t know if it would turn out, but it ended up very Victorian—fancy and frilly.” For another Minnesota workshop, Chank had students sculpt an alphabet from the region’s most abundant resource: snow.

It’s 9:30 Christmas morning and we’ve already lapped the emotional track: elation, surprise, appreciation, mild embarassment, then weariness. We’re slowly building to enjoyment again: doing the puzzles, soaking up the books and music, pouring back that third cup of coffee. The blinds are open now and the smell of crepes is wafting from the kitchen.


Alongside Santa’s cookies, we left out a gargantuan carrot for the reindeer (nibbles offer proof of their visit). Johanna sports her flashy new Chinese windbreaker.


Ready to rip.


It’s been years since I got an ornament with my name on it (Thanks, Doris!).


Another winner from the dependably awesome Fairy Godmother Sheila, quite possibly our favorite human.


An embarassment of riches: Chinese silk scarves, Matchbox cars and red patent leather shoes.


With a small mountain left under the tree, Johanna has issued a firm “No” to opening additional gifts (give it an hour or two).

Our bit of holiday travel, now complete, consisted of a 40-hour visit to Des Moines to attend a baby shower, exchange a few gifts and spray paint a room full of shutters. It wan’t like our plane crashing at takeoff or anything, but the trip was harrowing this year. 250 miles of ground blizzard white out, with cars plopped down in ditches every which way to remind you of your peril.

On the up side (due west, actually), something about the atmospheric conditions produced a brilliant double-rainbow effect called a “sun dog,” which was a new one on me (Wikipedia has an example from almost the exact point where this was taken).


As my trip began, Austin was working on a follow-up story about the earthquake in Sichuan and Kirk was helping his American teachers get settled at their Chinese schools. His program places teachers in cities across China, from industrial shitholes like Shijiazhuang (Sister City of Des Moines) to the picturesque southern capitol of Kunming. After Kirk and Austin wrapped up their Beijing business (a day after Super Gambei) we grabbed a plane south.

Kunming’s topology of affectless skyscrapers is interrupted by nicely preserved (or faithfully reconstructed) traditional architecture like these gates. Iowans shown for scale.

Garish light shows were a constant in the places we visited. Kunming had some of the more tasteful displays.

Step off Paris, you’ve been outshined by the “City of Crazy Lights.”

Who writes these signs? And for whom?

Sketched over tea at a courtyard café. Kids played netless badminton nearby.

Austin and I checked out a fortress that was the site of battles during the Nationalist period. Inside the walls, we saw a woman walking backwards. Austin explained that this was a common form of exercise. I considered joining her until she tripped over a sign and fell hard.

Power-lines arrayed in big, low-slung bundles for safety.

We discovered less of Kunming’s cultural life than we hoped. This purported art studio enclave had nothing going but a game of volleyball.

Break time at the Kunming School of Reflexology. I want to believe this chart has some basis in empirical science.

Yunnan province is home to the Dai minority culture, related to the Thai. Our Thai meal in Kunming was one of the best of the trip, full of tart citrus, mint and intense spice.

Knotted beans.

At a park by the massive Dian Chi Lake outside of town.

The lack of sun at this park did not stop half a dozen wedding portrait sessions.

Confronted by a lake with no barrier fence, I felt fortunate to see this warning.

Chinese traffic has this invisible logic by which cars, mopeds, bicycles, buses and pedestrians can be precariously enmeshed without colliding.

We poked our heads into a few shops in search of funky gifts (or an insanely cute animal sweater) before catching the night train to Guiyang.