Bob SteinAbout VisiBone

VisiBone is about visualization, rendering apparent what was obscure. Building tools to relieve memory, seed insight and enflame intuition.

Mission: The most useful paper for web designers in the world.

The start was web color: color lab, swatches, charts, mousepads, cards, and a color tableHTML and CSS were next, then JavaScript and DOM, then web fonts, then MySQL.  Next may be PHP or Photoshop.


VisiBone is a small company, about as small as you can imagine.  I'm Bob Stein, programmer and writer by trade.  Making useful things is boundlessly rewarding to me.  Things actual people actually use.  I stumbled on this quite unintentionally.

I want to spend more time with customers and collaborators as less time in all other working relationships.  Scott Adams' second most important contribution to civilization I suggest (after Dilbert) is the concept of one-off.  The gist: direct is better than indirect.  Helping a living, breathing customer is better than writing a memo about helping customers.

Extending the concept to relationships, I've had the biggest gas with customers.  I call these relationships zero-off.  They're my well of purpose and inspiration, and now sustenance.

It's fun working with the printers and suppliers.  These people get their hands on product.  Those relationships are one-off.  No comparison to customers but still very important and enjoyable.  I often say "we" thinking of these good people.

It's been another kind of experience working with the infrastructure, the ISP's and purveyors of various technologies and services.  These relationships are crucial, but of a different order.  Then there are the three-off's and four-off's, the banks and the governments.  God bless 'em, I love them all.  Couldn't live without them.  But the spectrum of relationships is very wide.  Ocean, raindrop, water molecule.  I'm oh so gradually working my way back to the source, down to zero-off:  working with trusted friends, making useful things.

I interact with some individuals on many levels.  The relationship is what I mean to emphasize.  I have the most fun when we're talking about something useful.

In the history of man it seems possible to maximize zero-off relations to a greater degree now than ever before.  I'd not have been able to go this far as a one-man-band even five years ago.  Perhaps what you're up to now, you couldn't have pulled off five years ago either.  The internet is not what's happening — the earth is what's happening.  People are what's happening.

I've yet to collaborate technically to much of a degree, but my meta-mission is the seeking out of such possibilities.  I've been a lone mercenary practically my entire career, but Jim McCarthy's Dynamics of Software Development has given me a dream I can't shake.

I call collaboration a zero-off relationship.   Employees and bosses are one-off.  An artificial way to plug into society.   Imagine a virtual company composed only of collaborators?  It's almost possible.  Maybe only a generation away.


I needed a domain name and to stake a claim.  The Visi part is for visualization, describing several of the contributions I dream of making.  The Bone part just kind of happened.  I like the connotations of sturdy and lean.  Most important the combination is unique and can be remembered.  Today's procedure for registering trademarks was innovative and visionary two hundred years ago.  Thanks, I'll pass.  If I can submit a made-up name to three major search engines who all turn up their hands, I figure it's mine for the taking.


I decided in the summer of 1998 to start something.  I was thinking I'd either write a book or make some software.  I still dream of both, but what I ended up doing first was exploring the mathematical patterns in the 216 web-safe colors.  I realized much later that this diversion occurred very soon after attending a stimulating seminar in Miami given by Edward R. Tufte, author of the singular trilogy Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information, and Visual Explanations.  Although I wouldn't say Professor Tufte's work seeded my desire to make visualization tools, it has certainly watered, fertilized and weeded it.

The idea for a poster came first.  In September 1998 the color lab went on the air, with a color picker derived from the poster layout.  The swatches came soon after.  In February 1999 the posters became available.   In December 1999 the second edition began shipping.


Two perennial things: clarion call to adventures promising a great deal of money, and stories of someone who has made a lot of money, told in reverence and envy.  I've thought a lot about why they don't interest me.  Maybe the first dozen did.  The next hundred haven't.

I hear very little about the core: yearn sprouting to action, ripening to achievement, maturing to reward.  To me that's the point and it has me spellbound.

Speaking of innovations from century's past, I think stock markets and public offerings are quaint relics.  I no more want to go public than to buy a cow and churn butter.  Something else wants to happen in our time.

Maybe it's because I've heard of too many efforts fueled exclusively by the prospect of dollars.  Maybe it's because so few in my sphere ever succeeded.  Maybe it's because my own big long leap for the golden ring last century fell flat.  Yes, all of those, but I've thought of something else.  I revere and emulate the wealthy because I want wealth.  But there's something deeper.

Peer regard, the gratitude of friends and neighbors.  I yearn to hoard these too.  A craft my hands love, combined with heartfelt appreciation from complete strangers: this awakens and fills an intensely selfish longing.  The acme of greed is to get rich thereby.