A thank you letter

This is in response to receiving a new filter kit for our Falsken Water System that removes hard water deposits from the water before it enters our on-demand hot water heater. The text below was emailed to them. I’m placing it here because I thought it deserved more exposure.


To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to you after receiving your tHT-20RF replacement filter for our Heater Treater 20. This is the third replacement cartridge we’ve purchased from your company. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the packaging. Previous replacement filters came pretty bare-bones, but this one was obviously a well-thought replacement kit. It included instructions, a new o-ring, and even a little silicon lubricant packet. Opening the box (which is also new packaging) was a wonderful surprise. A bit like expecting a Chevy and finding instead a Cadillac. So good job.

But here is the reason why I am writing. Upgrading a product like this is nice, but not always necessary. As your marketing director will no doubt tell you, I am considered a “captive customer,” that is I have already purchased your product (a heater treater, demanded by our plumber as a condition of installation for on-demand heater), and I’m not likely to purchase another. Short of buying a new home we’re pretty much heater treatered up. Sales of incidentals, like replacement filter cartridges, are probably not a big profit center for you, and they certainly don’t generate more profit by adding “goodies” in with the filter.

What this tells me is that someone in your company decided to upgrade your replacement filters, and did so against most of the advice they give you in business school. Even now I bet you have a bean-counter somewhere in your company telling you this was a bad business decision. Well I’m writing to you to tell you different. This was a brilliant move, one I hope more companies will emulate. Whomever made this decision should be congratulated. I used to be a captive customer, now I am a loyal one. This is an important difference, and well worth the extra money you spent on me. Dollar for dollar, this is damn good marketing.

Signed, a very thankful customer,

Eric Tolladay

You need to read this book.

Really. You need to read this book. I’m not kidding. Just buy a copy and read it, okay?

If you don’t want to buy it from Amazon, you can find it in almost every used bookstore.

A while ago I wrote this review on Goodreads. Since I’ve been re-reading BOB again, all I can say is its still true.

This is one of those books that almost anyone can read and enjoy. The kind of book that usually gets around only by word of mouth. In my case my sister simply handed me a copy, and said, “Here, brat. Read this.” It is a fantasy, a mystery, and something else. It is deeply funny, and at the same time wonderfully touching. It is a quirky novel, often associated with “The Princess Bride.” Barry Hughart happily twists the ordinary into the profound, and the profound into ordinary. In most mysteries, the plot has the main characters slowly, piece by piece, uncovering the truth, in this book they are also uncovering China. Each clue tells the reader more about China; more depth, more interest, and more supernatural, until at the very end the reader suddenly finds themselves knee deep in something that can only be fable, and cheek-to-jowl with the gods. Its like starting with Sam Spade in gritty urban Los Angeles, and somehow ending up in Valhalla. I’ve read it several times, and Hughart always surprises me with his transition from a sleepy Chinese village, to a piece on the great chess board of heaven. 

Some quotes:
“Take a large bowl,” I said. “Fill it with equal measures of fact, fantasy, history, myhtology, science, superstition, logic, and lunacy. Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilization, bellow kan pei – which means “dry cup” – and drink to the dregs.”
Procopius stared at me. “And I will be wise?” he asked. 
“Better,” I said. “You will be Chinese.” 

“Error can point the way to truth, while empty-headedness can only lead to more empty-headedness or to a career in politics.” 

“My surname is Li and my personal name is Kao, and there is a slight flaw in my character.”

Seriously, why haven’t you read this yet. Go. Now.

The Thing About Flying

This is what you have taped
to your mirror:

There are only two things
to flying:
Sticking out your wings
and leaping.

And when you look at yourself in the mirror,
you see your strong wings,
such excellent feathers,
pinions, hanging low,
soft fluffy down underneath.

And you know you were made
for flying.

This is what you tell yourself,
what everyone tells you,
and so it must be true.

So you climb your hill,
be it a long desired dream
or perhaps a new career.

You stretch out your wings,
and you jump.

Only, the wind shifts or
the air turns cold.
Because in very short time
you come crashing down.

You get up.
You dust yourself off,
and you climb that mountain,
And you jump off it.

With each crash you get up,
each disappointment
a new scar,
a new lesson,
a new path to try.

And before long,
you’ve worn a path
up that hill.
And your beautiful feathers
have gotten dirty and torn.

And on the day,
you reach the top.
And you stand poised,
ready to leap,
but are too afraid to try.

I will tell you,
on that day,

You looked to your wings,
and said you were made
for flying,
But I also noticed your
and your excellent legs,
and while everyone else said
you were made for flying,
I said,
you were made
for climbing mountains.

Just look at those feet.
Just look.



Independent vs collaborative creative processes.

I know a song-writer who divides his creative process in two parts. 1) Creating, which he does alone, and 2) Editing, which he does with others, and in a separate room from the one he creates in. I used to think this a bit weird, but more and more I think its a great idea.

I bring this up because all to often I see writers talk about their craft as if they are doing it all alone. Yet every other art form I’ve done (both professionally and as a hobby) has used both an independent creative process and a collaborative creative process. Usually, like my song-writer acquaintance above, the initial creative process is done independently, while the editing is done collaboratively. But even the independent part of the creative process, (Bog, is there a better word than “independent” to describe working alone?) is not really working alone, at least for me. When I write my ideas come from all around me. Something said to me earlier that day might make its way into the story, or a joke I overheard, or something I witnessed on the bus. And that’s not counting the hundreds of novels and stories I’ve read over the years. Surely some of that works its way into everything I write.

And once you get to editing a novel (and I’m not just talking copy-editing here) then the story goes from independent to collaborative. An author writes, but where would their novel be if there weren’t promoters, and printers, book-jacket designers and art directors, publishers and even readers? All of these people make up a successful novel, not just the author. I think its time we authors start admitting this. Our stories are more than just the sum of their parts.


Forget the toast, which side falls up when you drop a cube of butter.

We at Chez Tolladay are civilized enough to keep the butter dish in the cupboard, not the refrigerator. This morning we discovered that if said butter is dropped from waist height it makes the most interesting pattern on the floor. A nice round circle, with the remainder of the cube stuck in the middle. It looked, for all the world, as if it were a high speed photograph, freezing the action half-way through the splash. Fortunately the floor was cold enough for me to scrape most of it up before it spread further.

Alas, I didn’t think about taking a picture until after I cleaned it up. 🙁

Skin Texture tutorial

I’ve been using a technique to retouch skin for a while, and thought I would share it. It is fast, and if done well, fairly seamless. It is not perfect, but it is faster than perfection.

The basic premise is that when you do major changes to a person’s skin, you have to leave the texture behind in order to rebuild the features smoothly. This is especially true when retouching the neck and jaw line, but this technique can also be used on the cheeks, forehead, chin, and other places where the underling skin, absent of it’s texture, is nothing but a smooth complex gradation. This technique allows you to build the gradation, and then go back and put in the skin texture.

1. The first image shows how I like to set up my work. As you can see by the contents of the Layers Palette, the initial image layer is named by the file name (that way I can find the darn thing later).

2. Here is where I do my retouching. I make a duplicate of the initial image (so I can always refer back to it if necessary), and I name the duplicate RET. In this example I went ahead and retouched the neck, especially where the skin was clumpy, and got rid of a some bulges as well. All work was done loosely with the Clone Tool. If you look closely you can see some soft spots where the retouched skin has no texture. Normally this is a problem, but not if we replace the texture.

3. This is my next step, adding a blur layer. To get this layer, I duplicate the RET layer, after I’ve cloned out the major flaws. The blur should be large enough that it covers the smaller flaws and imperfections, smoothing out the potholes and such. In this case I did a Gausian Blur of 5.1, but half the time I end up doing a Median instead as it keeps the gross features, while blurring the fine ones. The number isn’t important, as it is based on the pixel size which will vary depending upon resolution, and the size of your image. The trick is to blur it enough.

4. Here I am adding a new layer which will by my texture layer. Essentially it is a layer set to Overlay, with a 50% grey fill. Nothing fancy here, if your used to working noise in on a separate Overlay layer.

5. This is where the texture it added to our layer. I’m using Grain, and in this case the Grain is the Enlarged setting. The grain from the Grain filter is larger than a Gausian Noise (which is why I use it). The trick here is to try the different settings until you get something close to the native skin texture. This may take a while to get. At first it will appear WAY too sharp (which is okay, and we can turn that down with the layer’s opacity) and the colors will be way off. Do not worry. Complete the steps, and then go back an undo if you don’t like it. I usually test in a small patch, and then apply Grain to the whole layer once I found something close. I also will scale the grain sometimes up or down to get a more precise match. You should not have to go up or down more than 50%. If you do, then you chose the wrong settings for the Grain, and should go back and try another set.

6. Once we have the Grain the right size, we then have to fix a few flaws that the filter does to the Grain. The first one I do it remove all saturation, so the final Grain is completely greyscale. You might wish to leave a dash of color in, but usually it just gets in the way.

7. Now we need to balance the color as the Grain filter tends to leave it too dark or too light. To do this I use Levels on the layer, and pull either of the top ends (darks or lights) until the middle point lines up with the darkest part on the Histogram. In this case, Enlarged tends to go dark, so I drag the dark side up (8-9 usually, but sometimes as high as 14-15). Some of the other Grain settings go lighter, so make sure you don’t skip this step. It is essential that the grain ends up neutral, so it will add a texture to the image without darkening or lightening it. At this point, I usually turn down the Opacity of the Texture to 50% or 40%. Rarely do I need more than this.

8. The final step it to add a layer mask to both the Blur layer, and the Texture layer. I usually fill the mask of the blur layer 100% black, and then working only in the mask I airbrush in its smooth gradation in just the spots I want. I use a light brush doing multiple strokes, rather then try and get it right with just one stroke. Once I have this mask, I apply it to the texture layer. This is a good starting point for the texture as you are only putting it where you covered it with blur to begin with, but I find I need to add a bit more texture to help blend some of the transitions.

9. This last image shows a before and after so you can see the changes to the skin. I don’t usually use this on such a small area, but rather I fix the all of the areas on the skin that need it.

On how it sucks to be an artist

A buddy of mine posted this nice article from Salon called “The Creative Class is a Lie“. Below is my response.

In the creative class a lie? I disagree. Perhaps a better statement would be to say it was oversold. But it has always been this way.

When I moved to LA back in 88, there was a whole group of us young turks out to change the world. We were going to be musicians, actors, screenwriters, directors, artists, etc. By the time we hit our mid 30s, most of us had quit the dream, and taken day jobs. Many moved back home, wherever home was. This is the cycle of the “creative class”. There are always more dreamers than jobs, especially for jobs like “movie star” or “rock star”. There is only going to be a few influential rich in any given field, that is how art has always been.

Has the effects of the Great Recession made things more difficult for these dreamers? Possibly, but I would argue that it also has done a better job of separating the wheat from the chaff. 15 years from now, most of those dreamers will be happy and healthy because they will have found something better for their lives. In contrast, right now they are bitter because their dreams got crushed in the cruel, cruel “real world” of having to pay the rent, and buy food. Time will fix this as it does most things. One only has to look a few years backwards to see.
Perhaps the biggest disservice ever given to young bright-eyed creatives is that no one ever tells them their dreams will happily crush their bones to make its bread. The real world is the crucible. It is harsh, cruel, and has no care for your needs. Many will go in, but only a paltry few will remain. And it is at that point–when you have sold everything for the dream and wake up one day, beaten, tired, and lying at the side of the road–that the real art begins; living your life, not the dream.