Editor’s Blog: Digital daydreams

derek lfr ed

It’s been an interesting year, says Derek Pearson

This time last year I wasn’t thinking about sophisticated simplicity quite so much as I am these days, but I’ll come back to that. Other things need examining first. First and foremost, joining up with the gentle folk of the Format Media Group has allowed me to spend much more time with Sue, the long-suffering Mrs Pearson, which is a great thing.

Mind you, she has got to put up with having me around the place a lot more and as a result her daily routine is in tatters. But at least she drinks a lot more tea.

And now the frankincense-flavoured fun of Christmas is just around the corner. We have the special episodes of Dr Who and Sherlock to look forward to and the company of family and friends to endure. Anything we fancy doing between now and the day itself will be like diving into a frenzied pool of hungry octopi and Sue even has to make an advanced table booking to have coffee with a mate at the local garden centre.

Another thing if somebody rattles just one more collection box in my face they’ll need a proctologist’s help to get their loose change back. Ho ho ho!

For the next few weeks the world will steadily lose its senses and launch itself into a celebration of food, drink and last-minute seasonal special offers for things you never even knew you wanted but you buy it anyway because the price is right. A few sad months later the thing sits forlornly on a trestle-table during a drizzle washed car boot sale at one quarter the price. And nobody buys it. Or is that just us?

Simplicity will never make a slave of imagination

It’s not all manic festive preparations though, work must go on a bit longer, and just now, I’m loving the material we’re getting in for Large Format Review. The range of applications in the signage and graphics markets is growing exponentially and the reasons behind all this is because of two things CAD and CAM.

I’m reminded of the film The Blues Brothers when the eponymous group turned up at a gig and stole the show. John Belushi asked the owner’s wife, “So what kind of music do you have here?” And she answered, “We have both kinds, Country and Western.” The perfect answer from a limited mind.

The world of CAD/CAM is more akin to something said to me by a friend of mine at college years ago and never forgotten, “There’s a whole universe of music out there and I have but one life during which to listen to it all.”

In the same way there is a whole universe of potential in the CAD/CAM arena, one that has already been explored by hardy pioneer types for decades now, but one that is becoming simpler, faster and more precise year by year. Will this lead to the dumbing down of production? Not according to the experts. Simplicity will never make a slave of imagination. Time for an analogy.


Draughts, or if you’re reading this in Iowa, checkers. Take a checkered board with 64 squares and add 12 white discs for one player plus 12 black discs for another. The plan during the game is for one player to take all their opponent’s pieces. Nothing could be simpler. Children play it and old masters of 90 will happily ponder the possibilities for hours. It has been called both an art-form and a science and for some it is more than a game.

And then Chinook came along. Devised by Professor Jonathan Shaeffer, a Professor of computer science at the University of Alberta, Chinook learned how to always win at draughts against the best human minds in the game. It was a software program and it took until the 1990s to create it. Why? Because there are something like 500 billion billion possible game plans across that 64 square field, and that isn’t a typo, 500 billion billion.

That’s more than Apple makes in a year, in old Italian lire. It’s enough Smarties to rot the teeth of every child on the planet several times over. It’s nearly as big a number as the total amount of Lego Star Wars figures that will be sold after 17th December. It’s that huge.

So what? A big what, that’s what. Because CAD/CAM simplifies the production process it also opens out the possibilities for creativity. When you don’t have to spend so much brain sweat working out how you’re doing something you can focus more on the potential end result. I couldn’t do this job without a word processor, fact, and I write science fiction novels in my spare time.

There’s very little sophistication in a brush and some paint, but take a look at the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci or just about anything by Rembrandt and be amazed. That is what the increasingly sophisticated technology available to graphics professionals has done. It is like handing the simple brush to Rembrandt. Back then the rest was up to him, now it’s up to you.

And finally we watch 3D printing come onto the radar after decades of development and ever increasing precision. Modelling and prototyping of complex shapes at the touch of a button has just become affordable. Where shall it all lead? I can’t wait to find out.

Merry Christmas to you all!