Careers: Interviews
Mac Lover and Graphics Expert Shares Her Views

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Kate Binder.

 

Kate is a longtime Mac lover and graphics expert who works from her home in New Hampshire. She has written articles on graphics, publishing, and photography for magazines including Publish, PEI, and Desktop Publishers Journal. Kate is also the author of several books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mac OS X and Easy Adobe Photoshop 6, and coauthor of books including Microsoft Office: Mac v.X Inside Out, SVG for Designers, and Get Creative: The Digital Photo Idea Book. To those interested in a successful career as a computer book writer, Kate recommends acquiring several retired racing greyhounds (find out more at www.adopt-a-greyhound.org) -- she finds her five greyhounds extraordinarily inspirational.

 

Amongst her latest book credits is “Easy Mac OS X, v10.3 Panther.”

 

Discussion:

 

Q: Kate, as a well-respected Mac and graphics authority, we are fortunate to have you with us to do this interview—thank you!

 

A: It’s a living—and it’s so much better when using Macs.

 

Q: Can you give us a history of how you got into this field?

 

A: It’s a long saga, but suffice it to say I saved my pennies and saved my dimes and bought a Mac IIsi in 1991. My father was a computer engineer, and he raised us kids to appreciate many of the early Apple models—including an Apple II+ he built himself. But the Mac, to me, was where the stars aligned. After witnessing what I thought was sheer beauty in the way early versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, QuarkXPress and laser printers worked together, I haven’t looked back.

 

Q: Can you describe your work with Publish, PEI, and Desktop Publishers Journal?

 

A: I try to bring a voice to these publications—and to my books—that readers can't always find. I do write a lot of articles and software books, but my prime source of income is layout and production of books, e-books, and magazines. I’m right there in the trenches with my readers using these tools to make a living, just like them. I’m not in an ivory tower, I don’t rewrite the manual—I just share my best advice from actually using the tools in the clearest, most concise way I can.

 

Q: What are your top five tips for digital photo work?

 

A: 1) Don’t try to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear—if someone gives you a junky image to start with, give it back!

2) Get organized and think about your system before you start, if it’s possible. If you can’t do it in advance of the project, take the time out needed to do it right.

3) Creative restraint typically turns out less gaudy work—unless you’re a true genius.

4) Never be constrained by software defaults—always experiment with settings until you find what works for your image.

5) Either use a color management system, or accept that what you see onscreen is not the same as what you'll get when you print or what others will see on their screens—and learn to work within that limitation.

 

Q: What three Adobe secrets can you share that only you know?

 

A: Well, I doubt there truly are any Adobe secrets that only I know—but I do have a few things to say about the company's products.
1) If you're having trouble getting an Illustrator graphic to print or PostScript correctly, backsave it to an earlier version.

2) FrameMaker rules—and more people need to know that! I can't put into words how much I love FrameMaker for its power, even though its interface is awful.

3) Finally, although I would never violate an NDA, I can say that Adobe's beta software invariably has splash screen graphics that are way cooler than the final "real" artwork.

 

Q: Can you detail your current work and favorite projects?

 

A: Quilting Arts is a magazine for lovers of embellished quilting—that's crazy quilting for us lesser mortals. I don't quilt, but I do the electronic production of each quarterly issue. Working with the magazine's stunning photography, showing the exquisite work of the various artisans, really inspires me in my own work. At the moment, I'm also doing a technical edit of a book on—yes, you guessed it—an Adobe product, as well as page composition of books on networking and human resource education. Some of my favorite projects are the work I do for Houghton Mifflin creating ebooks of titles on their nonfiction trade list, because I get to keep the printed books.

 

Q: What five tips can you provide from your Max OS X book?

 

A: 1) Use Sherlock! It's a great way to search for a lot of things in a little space. You don't have to know what Web sites list phone numbers or offer image searches—Sherlock knows and lets you just take care of business.

2) Check out the extra functions you can access in Address Book by clicking the "home" or "work" label next to each address or other information snippet. For example, you can get the URL of a map showing the selected address, How cool is that?

3) Don't forget your Mac's password—you can reset it using the system software CDs that came with the Mac if you have to, but best not to.

4) If you think something you do on your Mac could be easier if the system worked differently, you're probably right. Go to http://www.versiontracker.com and do a quick search, and odds are you'll find just the third-party utility you need. And add-on software is much less likely to cause conflicts and crashes in Mac OS X than in earlier versions of the Mac OS.

5) Back up your files. And then back them up again. Oh, and did I mention—run a backup!

 

Q: Regarding your latest book, what makes it different from the others?

 

A: It's part of the Easy series, which I just love. My previous Easy book was Easy Adobe Photoshop, and writing that one was a lot of fun, too. Easy books work great for both complete novices and busy experts who just need a quick refresher on a single task. You can see exactly what to do, and what will happen in response, by just glancing at the screen shots.

 

Q: Do you have any humorous stories to share?

 

A: No, but I do have a tip: If you have a dog that chews, keep him out of your office on deadline days—the possibilities are endless. Picture pulverized color proofs, software CDs, serial numbers, even your phone. Do I speak from experience? That will have to stay between me and my greyhound Rufus.

 

Q: What are your top recommended resources?

 

A: 1) My books, naturally.

2) Newsgroups, discussion boards, and mailing lists—the Internet is just packed with people who are ready to answer your questions within hours and offer you everything from pithy debates to hand-holding advice. Be sure to search the archives before you post, though, so you don't waste people's time with questions that have been answered a zillion times before.

3) For Mac users, Macintouch (http://www.macintouch.com) is the single most useful Web site I can think of. It's the first place I go when I want to know the latest Mac news, find out the real scoop on a new system update, or learn about others' experiences with a program or peripheral I'm thinking of buying.

4) Other great Mac resources are MacFixit (www.macfixit.com), TidBITS (www.tidbits.com), and EveryMac (www.everymac.com).

5) Finally, when in doubt, Google it (www.google.com).

 

Q: Can you tell us more about the greyhounds?

 

A: Well, the most common question people ask me and my freelance-writing husband Don about the greyhounds is “How on earth did you end up with five of them?” The short answer is "They're addictive."

 

First, we adopted Chance, a large brindle male, because Don wanted a dog and I wouldn’t let him get the miniature Schnauzer that he had in mind. Chance fit into our house so well that we went back six weeks later and brought home an elegant black female whom we named Vanity. When two dogs proved to be not much more work than one, we decided to explore the world of special needs greyhounds and adopted Rufus, an even blacker male, who was incredibly shy and "spooky." He outgrew that with our help and with that of Freddie, a puppyish little blonde waif who is the jester of the pack.

 

Finally, we brought home Ichiro, an old lady who went back to the farm as breeding stock after her racing career. When she finally came up for adoption at the age of 10, her options were pretty limited, so we figured we'd take her and just enjoy the time she had left. More than three years later, she's still hale and hearty—and we've realized that she's doing us a favor by being our dog.

 

Greyhounds make fabulous pets—they're easy, low-maintenance dogs with calm, mellow temperaments. And they need homes after they're done with the racing world. Of course, most people don't adopt five of them, as we've done, but even one or two can really enhance your quality of life. Anyone who wants to learn more can check out www.adopt-a-greyhound.org—or, in northern New England, http://www.gpstopdog.org (our local adoption group).

 

Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?

 

A: I use a Power Mac G4 tower and a dual-USB iBook. I also have a low-end Dell, just for those times when I need to test something in Windows—but I do all my real work on one of my Macs. My home has a combination wired/wireless network that enables us to share Internet and local network access among my computers, my husband's computers, our TiVo, and our backup server. I have to say, going wireless was one of the best upgrades I've made to our setup. As for peripherals, I have an Epson USB scanner and an Epson photo inkjet. But less and less of my work involves paper these days—so Internet access is more and more important.

 

Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

 

Q1: If you had time to write a novel about your writerly vocation, what would it be?

A:1) A screwball comedy a la Hotel New Hampshire, about an old New England house populated with two freelancers, five dogs, two cats, an infant—and a flaky electrical system powering a furnace that works most of the time.

 

Q2: You’re a writer and a technophile, and use the Internet intensively in your work and play. I’ve heard you have strong feelings on the MP3 issue—do you come in on the “everything should be free” side or the “industry is right” side and why?

A2) I think stealing is wrong, even if you think the people you're stealing from deserve to be victimized. And I think that intellectual property deserves to be treated like any other property—which means if you want it, you should pay for it. Some artists, writers, musicians, and the like can afford to give their work away—and that's their right. If they need to pay the bills, though, they also have a right to ask a fair price for what they produce.

 

Q3: What does the software-hardware industry need to give graphic designers and production people to make their lives easier and work more efficient?

A3) A QuarkXTension that automatically FedExes your work to your clients, for starters.

 

Q: Kate, we appreciate the time you spent in doing this interview—thank you!

 

A: My pleasure—thanks for asking.

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