Notation Napkins


I love and hate these.


I don’t go to museums nearly as often as I used to, so it’s not as often that my mind goes through the “art review” tumble. You know, that feeling like you appreciate something, but you also hate it, but want to understand it, but think it’s terribly low, all at the same time.

So, I went to see the Tim Burton exhibit down at LA County Museum of Art (which was pretty sweet), and as I was finishing the exhibit, naturally I was poured into the gift shop. That’s where I found these beauties. In the wise words of someone who recently said them, “I lost 5 minutes of my life thinking about them.” They’re just another kitschy, fun, silly trinket, that someone who either “gets” you, or can’t find anything else under $5, would get you. And I totally adore the idea that you would take something as mundane as the ubiquitous napkin, notorious for being the medium for genius, and “bind” them into a completely useless conversation piece that will get you to laugh for a minute, but in the end, just blow your nose with it.

So why did I get so stuck on them? Why is it boggling my mind still? It’s as if there’s a struggle inside that wants to hate the pop-up commercialism that they completely embody, while simultaneously adoring the complete mockery of it; as if the existence of these keenly bound cocktail napkins are making fun of their own existence. It’s almost so genius, I wish I had thought of it myself, yet if I ever *actually* acted on the idea, I would hate myself eternally. I mean, who would have the gaul to actually bind 3 napkins together, package them like they’re useful, and make some kind of presumption that these napkins are special, maybe special enough to presume that whatever you scribe upon them will be genius?  Or to assume that this packet would be so worth carrying around with you, it could in fact replace paper in that moment of genius? But that’s it- they know you won’t be using it for its intended purpose. It is pure kitsch.

It’s one of the freshest pieces of art I’ve seen in a while; something that got me seriously riled up. The obvious lesson that I’m taking from this is that art is everywhere, not just on the walls in the museum.

Companies I like


I enjoy living in Silicon Valley for many reasons. Variety of places to eat is pretty high on the list, weather a close second, but both are quickly followed by the social climate of the area. You don’t have to look far to find an entrepreneur or tech geek. Even the business people are interested in the new companies that pop up (even if only for their IPO values). I love being in the know about what people are working on, and what is coming next. I love what technology can do, and while I keep a fair amount of skepticism in my pocket about how far is too far (sci-fi offers a lovely insight into some opinions on this matter) , I really revel in the potential that some tech offers to make this world “a better place.”

There are specifically 3 companies I’d like to call out for their efforts to make things “better,” which in my opinion, includes making things more accessible, which I feel these 3 have in common.


Inking creates rich, interactive textbooks for the iPad. Going above and beyond just digitizing standard printed books, these buckets of knowledge are filled with links, references, animations, videos, interactive diagrams, and so much more engaging material than any poor defenseless hardbound paper version could ever hope to offer. It’s so exciting that it makes me want to go back to school just to play around with their software (not that I can’t play around with it on my own, but there’s nothing quite so informative as having to use something in the context it is designed for). The benefits seem so outstanding to make so much material accessible, all in a neat 1.33 lb package (goodbye backpacks). Of course, one could argue that this kind of technology caters to and exacerbates information overload and encourages easily distracted minds (I heard a really cool interview about this topic on NPR last night that kind of dug into that topic). I am optimistic, though, that our brains can adapt to these new inputs and will be better off for having access and the opportunities to gather all the new info.


Square is a company that allows any one with a smart phone to accept credit cards. In this ever increasingly cashless community, it is a welcome opportunity for individuals and small businesses to accept payments. It is a free app, with a free accessory, that charges 2.75% on all transactions, but no additional per transaction fee. For a small business, this makes it incredibly accessible to take credit cards where otherwise the fees of renting credit card terminals and paying monthly maintenance fees were deterring, if not completely cost-ineffective. On top of that, they have rolled out a new service called Card Case  that is designed to be a virtual tab. At certain locations, once your account has been set up, all you need do is order your items and tell the cashier your name and you will be charged and sent an electronic receipt. While security is probably the first thing to jump to any critic’s tongue (and minding

that I’ve never been the victim of identity theft, I can not empathize with that frustration), I know that the company went to great lengths to dot i’s and cross t’s to set this system up securely. Like so many new technologies, they will certainly have hiccups, but will only get better the more people use them and work through issues. I for one am excited for this new cashless future they are enterprising. Also, having a small business that uses this service makes me all the more biased towards how useful it is.


Airbnb is a service that allows you to rent out your own home/room/space to travelers, and also allows you to stay in affordable or impossibly awesome locations all over the world. Putting hotels and hostels to shame, Airbnb is opening a whole new world of options to travelers to either meet and stay with cool locals, or just bask in the wonderful residential neighborhoods of cities that would otherwise go unnoticed. Or maybe you’d prefer to stay in a treehouse? Or on a boat? Options that you would otherwise have to know someone to have that opportunity. On the flip side, you can meet cool travelers coming to your city as you host them in your own place. Or just make some extra cash while you’re out of town anyway. You can rent out anything from an air mattress in the living room to your whole house. It is a wonderful online community of people who are eager to see new things and meet new people, and like most online services, there are ways to rate both renters and stayers so people can get a feel for what kind of person they are before accepting a reservation. Airbnb did have a snafu in July that caused the company to snap into action to step up their security measures: they doubled their support staff and are now offering insurance. I’m sure as they grow, they will continue to figure out new services and new ways to protect the community they’ve been growing since 2008.

Besides providing a form of accessibility to their customers, the other thing about these companies that stands out to me is how the few people I know who work at them are genuinely interested in the products they produce, are enthusiastic when talking about them, and really believe in what they are doing. There is little in life I find more compelling than hearing someone talk about something they are passionate about. It becomes easy to tell who is a salesman just pitching their product versus a person who is actually standing behind what they are creating. Above all else, whether a company succeeds or fails, I think having more people in the world truly interested in what they are doing is what’s making it a better place, regardless of what they’re creating.



Kathleen Kowal Self PortraitI have lots of things on my mind all the time. I enjoy tweeting once in a while to get them off my chest, but sometimes 140 characters doesn’t cut it.

I spend my days working as a graphic designer, and spend my evenings being one too, along with a few other hobbies. I realized I didn’t have a great venue to talk about my work and get feedback like I used to back in college, so figured a blog was a good place to get back in the habit.

My auxiliary excuse for starting this blog is to practice focusing. As a writer, I tend to get side-tracked easily, digressing aimlessly as my stream of conscious wanders. In many ways, this parallels my own life, as I have spent all 26 of the 27 years of it trying a little bit of everything, soaking up the wonders that “variety is the spice of life” can offer. And it’s been fun. I enjoy the fact I can draw and paint in a wide variety of mediums, bind a book, knit a scarf, race a triathlon, sew a dress, bake and decorate cupcakes, design a logo, make dinner for hordes of people, start a business, play the cello (ok, well, I’m stretching it to say that I can actually play it), and etc. But as I get older and wiser, I’m noticing the trade-off in this lifestyle is that my peers are settling down into their careers with an almost hyper-focussed intensity on being really good at the thing they do, while I’m still splitting my time and focus between my many interests.

The reality is, I’m not likely to give up all my interests, but I am trying to cut down. This year has been the year of web design and cupcakes. I started a baking business in 2009, and could probably have jumped off and really committed to it 100%, maybe even opening my own bakery, but the thought of not doing design any more didn’t appeal to me. I really enjoy designing logos, branding, websites, posters, you name it. I’m in love with visual design and can’t see myself dropping it, even for my love of cupcakes.

But, since I already have a blog dedicated to baking, I will refrain from committing too many characters to it here. Instead, I will happily entertain you with news, related posts, projects, and whatever else catches my fancy that I find worth sharing. Keep in mind, I’m practicing focussing, so if you see something pop up that seems completely out of place, just try and remember that it all makes sense to me, somehow, and I will do my best to explain it as I go.