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Thank you and Happy Trails

2022 June 17
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by Matt

Modern Alchemy is closing, for personal reasons related elsewhere.

Thank you so much for supporting this adventure for 16 years. Over and out.


Pride in the CLE 2022

2022 June 5
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by Matt

I am very grateful to the organizers of Cleveland’s first full-fledged LGBTQ pride festival since the COVID-19 pandemic, for employing me to design so much graphic art for this year’s event.

From the program book to massive stage banners, to maps and signs, seeing my work so many places made this already amazing event even more special.

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A dozen years with WordPress

2022 March 7
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by Matt

I presume that Modern Ideas was my first use of WordPress. It was more than a dozen years ago so it’s a little hazy.

Lately I have been thinking how much has changed.

Back in 2009, I installed WordPress to add a blog to my studio web site. The main site was still html and css files which I made using a text editor; I integrated WordPress using the rss feed and a snippet of code I found on the internet. WordPress was I think still mostly known as blogging software, and relatively new at all events; several months into Modern Ideas I upgraded WordPress to version 3. WordPress is now on version 5.9.1.

Things have really changed, repeatedly.

Perhaps the promo web site for my first book, Brilliant Deduction, was my second foray into WordPress and the first time I used it to build a whole web site. At that point, WordPress themes still seemed more like site designs, and I felt faintly clever for editing whatever theme I used into a substantially different look.

Over the years which followed, I found that becoming less and less possible for me as theme structures became more and more complicated. I made a child theme for my personal site. The promo sites for my second and third books are custom page templates of the main site.

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Drawing legislative district maps

2021 September 5
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Encouraged by the Fair Districts Competition, I have attempted to draw legislative districts for the state of Ohio. I have drawn a state senate districts map, and a Congressional districts map; below are notes about the maps, followed by some general notes about getting hands-on with redistricting.

A potential map of Ohio state Senate districts, drawn by me
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Pride in the CLE

2021 June 7
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by Matt

This weekend was Pride in the CLE, and it was an honor for me and my work to be included.

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Fifteen years

2021 May 14
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by Matt

I have been doing this—my formally incorporated freelance practice—for just over 15 years now.

A lot of my ten-year post still applies today. Five years ago I wrote that “the current recently passed six years old […] I should freshen things up anyway, one of these days.” Made it with a few months to spare.

I’m posting some more personal reflections on this milestone at

Web site update musings

2021 March 6
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by Matt

My freelance practice web site,, is now on its third incarnation. This one is new in a few fundamental ways. It’s an acknowledgement that clients hire me, not the LLC I registered 15 years ago. It brings back an image-forward concept which I used in version 1.0, while for the first time adding a section on writing.

This low-key relaunch also, very likely, concludes my personal “positively final appearance” for web sites made by composing html documents and style sheets from scratch. I have not created a new web site by this means for many years, at this point. But 2.0 was my last holdover from the olden days. It was really long outdated, and its lingering this long only excusable because it really hasn’t been that important, either. This winter I finally got on with clearing out the World Wide Web equivalent of wind-up gearing and springs, replacing it with yet another WordPress installation.

This, too, is probably not of great import, so much as a kind of years-deferred “Spring Cleaning” which needed to be done. As such purges can, it has stirred reminiscence.

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The Amazing Ballot Race

2020 December 28
by Matt

In 2020 I had something of a minor hit on my hands, with The Amazing Ballot Race.

This was essentially a grassroots campaign to promote voting by mail; its precise definition and boundaries are somewhat vague, and expanded as it went along. By the conclusion of the campaign, I think around half of Cleveland’s Democratic ward clubs participated in some form.

The Amazing Ballot Race was also the first time my work got a recognition shout-out from Sherrod Brown (or any U.S. senator).

Making The Amazing Ballot Race happen was the work of many people, from volunteers to donors to the organizers. Nora Kelley of Cleveland Ward 17 deserves first position on any list. But I assisted with the concept and plans, and I wrote and designed the door-to-door literature which was the project’s tangible core—and which I think played an important part in drawing the subsequent take-up by groups in more and more areas.

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A map for Christmas

2020 December 26
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by Matt

Despite everything, my wheels mostly kept turning in 2020, including professionally. A diverse mix of projects and clients included the newspaper, aspiring and current officeholders, local government, grassroots activists, the solar industry…

It’s a delight above and beyond this that one of my final paid commissions for the year was a true one-of-a-kind Xmas gift. One little boy in Cleveland Heights was persistent and consistent in declaring “a map of the backyard” his top priority request.

Well why not. Yesterday I was gratified to receive the report that “He wants to hang it in the dining room.”

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ebook production 2020 update

2020 July 27
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by Matt

I have not published any more ebooks of my own since Hancher vs. Hilton, nearly four years ago. But in the past year or so I have continued to land the occasional freelance ebook project, so I have a little sense of what’s going on with this format today.

Fixed-layout ebooks seem to be the trend, at least for people relatively doing their own thing (aside from wanting some freelance technical help). This doesn’t surprise me. The World Wide Web started out intended as thoroughly “reflowable,” and has ended up back there to a great extent, but the demand for rich formatting and layout control has generally prevailed nonetheless. In the world of ebooks in 2020, I’m sure a lot of people come along and see tables and color and complex diagrams as beyond question, and at any rate attach more value to them than to the ability of their book to adapt neatly to a mobile phone screen. I still think the result of the “fixed layout ebook” seems basically like reinventing the PDF, but whatever.

I’m still using InDesign to produce ebooks; this seems mostly to work well, but also some opening up and poking around the epub file’s contents seems to remain necessary. For all that I dislike cluttering up my Mac with applications, the eCanCrusher app’s quick and easy reassembly of split-open epub files is worth downloading it.

One other interesting note, about the .mobi file format. This seems like it is largely obsolete except for internal use by Amazon (which is apparently referring to the format as AZW3). In checking up, today, I read this advisory that “when you publish on KDP, Amazon will convert the file for you. Only [bother creating a .mobi file] if you plan to send the file directly to a Kindle user.”

If you do for some reason wish to create a .mobi file, apparently the best way is to bring an epub file into the Kindle Previewer application, then export it. This impressively modernized application is also, perhaps more practically, a way to check how your epub will be converted if you choose to publish it through Amazon.