Monthly Archives: June 2011

sarahb: This is important


This is important

Before – Hand-Cancelling Wedding Invitations

We had the idea to “hand-cancel” our wedding invitations. I can’t remember where the idea came from – when you read the magazines and forums, you get bombarded with cute ideas, many of which seem good at the time.

Cancelling” is when the postal service prints something over the stamps to prevent them being peeled off and used again. Normally this is done by a machine printing a dot-matrix design with the date, district, and perhaps a seasonal message. However, when you’re putting together your beautiful invitations, with every little detail just right, you may not want a big ugly design printed over your envelope. Hand-cancelling is an option for you, and it consists of manually stamping over the stamps with a red-inked round rubber stamp, which looks cute and old-timey. Stamp, stamp, stamp.

To do this, you go to the post office with your stack of invitations, wait in line, and then say to the person that you would like to hand cancel. The first couple of USPS branches we tried told us it wasn’t possible. Finally we convinced a very nice lady in a smaller branch that we could do it, and it wouldn’t be a problem. So we stood at the counter and got to work.

The stamp used is the same one that is used when the staff stamp a form or parcel, so they kept asking for it back. It kept running out of ink as well, causing us to interrupt the clerk and get her to re-ink it. The glossy finish of our custom photo stamps didn’t take the ink very well. It became very embarrassing and annoying, so we gave up two-thirds of the way through and just stuck the rest in the mail to be cancelled by machine as normal.

Overall, it wasn’t worth it. It may be possible on a quiet day in a quiet local post office, but it’s not really possible in a city in the morning, when you have to go to work.  The stamp doesn’t look that great, especially when it’s too faded to see, or if the ink is smeared over a glossy stamp – and I have to ask who would really notice what the outside of the envelope looks like? It may have been better if our custom stamps had taken the ink better, but I preferred having cool stamps.

Verdict – don’t bother.

Before – Photo Postage Stamps

Zazzle Custom Stamps

Zazzle Custom Stamps featuring Gordon

When we were getting our invitations, we had the idea (probably from a forum or somewhere) to get special custom photo postage stamps from Zazzle, an online printing company. They do a range of stamps in various denominations, and allow you to upload your own photo or artwork to be included on the stamp.

We chose our dog Gordon as our subject for the photos, because he couldn’t come to the wedding – he was on a business trip to Denver. That was a joke, the real reason he couldn’t come is that he is a dog, and the wedding was in Nevada. Anyway, we wanted him to be included somehow, and this was a perfect opportunity.

We got a load of 44c stamps for the invitations and 28c ones for the pre-stamped RSVP postcards. The ordering process was very straightforward on the website, and allowed you to upload a photo, move it around and crop it before submitting your order.

They arrived promptly and were (actually are – we still have some left) very nice indeed. The image was very clear (the photo above is a bit fuzzy), and the logo was not too intrusive. The stamps are quite large, and you should take that into account with envelopes or cards, especially when adding extra postage for sending things abroad. They came on self-adhesive sheets, and had a glossy finish, which would prove to be a problem only when we tried another little trick (see our post on “hand-cancelling” for details of that), but in the end they were great.

Verdict – Recommended. The photo stamps were a nice extra touch, not too expensive compared to regular stamps, and people mentioned them when they replied, saying how cute Gordon is. We know.

Before – Invitations

Proof copy of the invitations

Proof copy of the invitations

A lot of people put a lot of effort into their wedding invitations. We didn’t go as crazy as some people do, and sadly we aren’t able to come up with something as amazingly brilliant as this “album cover” concept, but we did want something nice to send to people.

It was clear that for this part at least, my graphic design “skills” would not be required.

We shopped around, found a local printer and design house called Hello Lucky, and went in for a consultation with the very nice Stewey. They had various styles of art, and methods of printing, but we settled straightaway on regular digital printing rather than letterpress. Hello Lucky has some wonderful-looking old letterpress* machines in use, but they do add significantly to the price.

Letterpress printing seems to be quite the thing at the moment, with old machines being renovated, new ones being bought in large numbers, and small businesses being set up.There is a bit of an argument about what true letterpress should look like. Some enjoy the indented effect on thick soft cardstock, whereas others say that the type should only “kiss” the paper and leave the ink behind without indenting.The effect has become so popular that it is recreated on many websites, by having the text look like it was indented slightly. It’s possible to do this in CSS3, with no extra graphics necessary. Here’s a tutorial

As for the design, we were less certain. They had lots of lovely designs to choose from, but we didn’t really know what direction to take. We thought we could emphasize the US/UK angle, or ignore that and just go for a cool design. Cassie and I differed on the definition of cool, of course. In the end we decided on a design that showed it was going to be a destination wedding for most people – a stylized Las Vegas skyline.

Next came the colors; this took even longer. We weren’t going for a wedding with a theme or a particular palette of colors. This is apparently unusual – many people start with a palette and everything stems from there. For us,  Stewey brought out the swatch books. Luckily, they had a limited (carefully chosen) set of colors to choose from, so it wasn’t so bad.

We were sent a couple of examples of the design in PDF format, and this is where Inkscape came in very useful. I was able to open the PDF files, break the designs up into their component objects (PDFs are a vector graphics format, after all), and change the colors to try out out other combinations without needing the designer to send more proofs.

This would go on to be very useful when we needed graphical motifs and highlights for other items. I could borrow parts of the invitation proof on their own, such as a flower or cactus, or the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign, which became a key part of the program design.

As for colors, we settled on “Wine”, “Burgundy” and “Icee” (a pale blue). These colors went well together, we thought, and they ended up being using in many of the other bits and pieces.

Hello Lucky printed the invitations, envelope labels (with addresses from our guest list), double-sided RSVP postcards, and a card with extra information for the guests. Because the shop is on our way home on Howard Street, we were able to drop in and collect them. They all looked great, and it was then a simple case stuffing the envelopes and applying stamps and address labels, before mailing them to our guests.

We started receiving RSVPs quite quickly, and we found that several got a bit scuffed in the mail, due to the soft thick cardstock we chose. It would have been better to use a smoother stock, but they did look great. We’ll be keeping many of the RSVPs because people wrote nice messages on them.

Verdict – Invitations are a very personal thing, so do what you like. I recommend Hello Lucky, but for us at least, letterpress was too expensive.

This Garlic Press Is My Mortal Enemy

We registered for and received this Garlic Press/Slicer from Bed Bath & Beyond, and I would like to say that it is a colossal pain in my arse. Cassie does the cooking generally, and I do the cleaning. The thing is terrible to clean, and I from what I’ve seen it doesn’t do a very good job anyway.

Firstly, you can supposedly put an unpeeled clove of garlic in the press, and it will squeeze out minced garlic, leaving the skin behind. What actually happens is that half a clove of minced garlic comes out, leaving the other half trapped in the skin, which then has to be prized out. You can also put a peeled clove in the special slicing compartment, and it should dispense even slices. In fact it leaves bits between the blades, and you have to peel the garlic anyway.

As if to highlight the awkward design, it comes with a little plastic gizmo attached to the handle to help you clean out the holes and blades. This kind of works, but you still need to use another implement (such as a knife) to poke the rest of the bits out.

It’s apparently dishwasher safe. We don’t have a dishwasher, but I seriously doubt this thing would come out clean anyway – too many nooks and crannies. Plus everything else in the dishwasher would smell of hot garlic and soap as well. You could clean out the press first, before putting it in the expensive power- and water-hungry machine you bought specifically to clean things for you, but that would be insane. “You don’t buy a dog and bark yourself” as a friend’s Mum used to say.

Once you’ve cleaned out all the bits, washed the press and dried it, you can put it away. But be sure to reattach the cleaning gadget to the handle or you’ll lose it. And be sure that the moving pressers are correctly aligned with their holes, or the thing won’t fold up. As well as the press, you will have to clean the implement you peeled the cloves with, and the knife you poked the extra bits out of.

Verdict – Messy, ineffective, a nightmare to clean. Just use a knife and a chopping board, which you probably already have, or you can get (a cheap one) for the same price as this gadget. There are many video tutorials showing how to mince garlic, or you can follow these easy steps.

Side Note. I see that this particular garlic press is sold under the Jamie Oliver brand in the UK. I thought the idea was that Jamie was trying  to get people into cooking and healthy eating. This item doesn’t encourage learning the basic skills of cooking, and could actually put people off. It’s almost as if he just wanted to sell branded items and make money, rather than save the health of the world.

Before – Wedding Websites

We signed up for an account at The Knot, which is a wedding organizing website. Sister sites The Nest and The Bump are devoted to termite infestations and skin diseases, I guess. Or perhaps the Druidess character from Sláine and the 1975 “hit” by glam-rock never-were’s Kenny.

But again, I was struck by an urge to avoid using a template, and given the limited choices on offer, and because I know a little bit about setting these things up, I decided to set up a new website. We wanted, but that was already taken by a couple who had used NearlyWeds to set up their site. So it was.

I went with WordPress as usual to allow us post news, have static pages, and support comments. It’s also pretty easy to apply various designs and themes. There are various free wedding-style themes available in the various repositories, but none of them were really any good (and some were downright ugly). So, I got my niece Kat of MieowThemes to design the theme for it, based on the design of the Save The Date magnets, and it went through several changes until we got our invitations printed.

The invitations (link coming) were a completely different design, so I then just went back to a simple white background with graphical elements taken from the invitations, then assembled in Inkscape and exported. I used a basic theme layout created in the excellent, simple WordPress Theme Generator (which I’ve used several times before) and tweaked a little.

As well as regular blog-post news updates, there were various static pages of information including:

  • Hotel Accommodations – information about the blocks of hotel rooms we had arranged for our guests.
  • About Us – a little background to how we got together.
  • Childcare – some of our guests were bringing children, so we had organized childcare at the reception.
  • Registries – links to our online gift registries.
  • Weather – people were coming from miles around to Las Vegas, so we provided links to weather information so they could pack accordingly.
  • Guest Book – this was the only page with comments switched on, to allow visitors to leave a message.
  • Contact Us – contact details and a secure email form.

The website was successful for the most part, but I don’t think many guests checked it more than once, and quite a few had to be told to visit it, despite it being printed on the Save the Date magnets and on the invitations. I posted information about how to subscribe to the RSS newsfeed, and included a link to the excellent, simple and informative website What Is RSS?, but I don’t think anyone did that either.

Now the wedding is over, we still have the site, but we’re not sure whether to keep it, turn it into a shrine, or let it disappear. Cassie and I both have our own sites, so in the end and in the long run it may have been easier to just use The Knot’s built-in templates, because we were registered anyway.

Verdict – tricky. Up to you. If you just want a page with information that will disappear after the wedding,  go with The Knot or NearlyWeds.

Wobbingpool Police Incident Report

Wobbingpool Police Incident Report, via Something Awful, the American humor website (if you couldn’t guess)

In related news, not content with trying to destroy the Linden Dollar, they’re now tangled up with the web’s latest virtual currency, Bitcoins.

My Linux Rig: iCloud Doesn’t Just Work

My Linux Rig: iCloud Doesn’t Just Work:


I really don’t have anything against Apple. I choose to use Linux full-time, which is a choice not to use Apple, but it’s nothing personal. I don’t like Apple’s business model but it’s the same kind of innocuous dislike I have for raw onions and Justin Bieber.

I do appreciate the things Apple…

sarahb: absquatulate: Birchbox! (by absquatulate) Thank you…



Birchbox! (by absquatulate)

Thank you Sarah H. for suggesting this. So far this is a box full of win!

I don’t shill, and rarely recommend stuff like this, but if you like things that smell nice or make you feel pretty, Birchbox is an awesome deal. For $10, you a get a package full of fancy sample products tailored to your taste/style/skin and hair type and sent to your door. I gave it a try in May and expected to like one thing and toss the rest, but every single thing was a home run, and the same for June! I got that fancy Laura Geller compact above (which is full size) and also a bottle of Kérastase shampoo that I would never even consider laying down the money for in a million years but is wonderful. It’s like someone went to a really schmancy hotel and sent all the bathroom stuff straight to you.

If you do join, I think if you enter my email address as someone who’s referred you we both get points (to buy the full size versions of anything you’ve sampled), but haven’t tried it yet so not sure.

Fancy! And yet as a certain kind of man, the first thing that sprung to mind was, “Does it actually come in a nice birch box that you can keep your pipe tobacco in?”

Before – Save The Date Fridge Magnets

When you get engaged, people like to know about it, but not all engaged couples immediately go on to get married. The idea of a ‘Save The Date’ is to tell people that already know you’re engaged that you are planning a wedding. Or, it tells people that you just got engaged and there’s no time to waste.

Either way, the idea is that people receive the notice, and then put the date in their calendar.

Often these notices take the form of a nice card invitation, but we thought we would send out fridge magnets – those business card-sized ones that you get with insurance offers and Chinese takeaways. That way, people will be reminded of the happy date every day they reach for a beer, or some cheese.

Save The Date design

Save The Date design

We searched around online, and found a place that would do them for a good price. They had lots of templates to choose from, but I have this resistance to using templates, so I found a template I liked from another site, nicked it, then recreated it in Inkscape, my vector graphics editor of choice. I exported a PDF, and submitted that as the artwork for the magnets.

They arrived a few days later, and we mailed them out. We got some messages back quickly from people telling us they would definitely be coming, several who couldn’t come, and several from people asking what this thing meant.

The idea was that we would launch our wedding website in time to allow people to follow the link on the magnet (not by clicking on it, obv.) and that would be the center for all the details. Lots of people did that, but there were many who needed a more personal service.

The magnets were nice – thin, not too strong. Cassie was worried that people might try to use them to hold things to the fridge with them, but they weren’t designed for that. One person pointed out that some people have fancy fridges hidden behind wooden doors, but they are in the minority, so sod them.

Overall, this was a nice idea. Recommended.