Monday January 3, 2011

2010: The Year in Tweets

Nice. I still remember the password to my blog.

Jon Tan’s year’s-end retrospective was a fun read, as was that of my dotcomrade Travis Isaacs, so I figured I’d give it a shot as well. The problem with following in these two fine gents’ footsteps is that I suck at photography, both the “taking the picture” part and the “recognizing that this would be a good time to take a picture” part.

But one thing I apparently don’t suck at is blathering all over Twitter. A quick review of my tweets from 2010 confirmed that I predictably chirped about pretty much all the important (and sooo many unimportant) events of the year.

So, without further ado: my year in tweets, with commentary.

The year started out with a frantic race to the finish line with our You+Dallas project, the ongoing redesign of Blinksale and at least 2 other incubating projects. I shipped my best stuff in 2010, and it sure feels swell.

Heh. And here’s what I tweeted 3 months later:

Mmmm, tasty crow! My skepticism turned to curiosity as I started seeing some of the real-world applications of the device. Now, after getting an iPad for Christmas this year, it has already taken up near-permanent residence on my coffee table, serving as a stellar substitute for my laptop or iPhone for many activities. It’s a lot of fun, and holds a lot of possibilities. I can’t wait to see how it will evolve.

In late 2009, we tore out a massive, ugly (and massively ugly) 20×30-foot deck left in our backyard by previous owners to make way for something less… hillbilly-ish. This year, we succeeded in putting in a smaller but nicer stone patio, flower & gardening boxes, 4 trees and 6 bushes. These days, there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting outside on a warm day, enjoying the sights, smells and sounds. Time and money well spent.

Bright Corner is the little company that brought me to the Dallas area almost six years ago, and I credit my co-workers there for most of my subsequent successes. They are not only my friends, but my mentors. It was great to get most of the old crew back together to reflect on the past, discuss the present and get excited about the future.

Wait for it…

I’ve lived in Texas almost my entire life. We get the occasional dusting of snow. Sometimes it even sticks for a few hours. But this? This was pretty extraordinary, especially for March. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could live anywhere that it snows on a regular basis, because after a while I was kind of coming unhinged by the sight of snow. Not a fan, as it turns out.

By April, the design for the new Blinksale had been chosen and I was working my way through all the various pages. Having incredible respect for the Firewheel/Alamofire crew (who originally built the app), it was a bit unnerving to be putting my fingerprints all over Blinksale.

I’d been gaming from Windows via Boot Camp for years, but as great as Boot Camp is, it’s a real inconvenience to have to load up a different OS just for gaming. Though Steam for Mac has its issues (and a limited Mac games catalog), it is still so great to be able to play most of my games on OS X. Look me up. I’ll give you one guess as to what my Steam handle is.

I can’t tell you why I never tried a music subscription service before, but for 5 bucks a month, it’s tough to beat Rdio. 2010 was a fantastic year of music for me, and it has much to do with this great music service. I discovered a boatload of both new and old music in what was a sort of mid-year musical renaissance.

I don’t get out to many shows these days, so I choose wisely. You can’t really go wrong with Imogen Heap. Her charming stage banter is only surpassed by the great music. This show was especially great, as she had a full band along for the ride!

You+Dallas launches! It was a rough and tough road, but ultimately an incredibly rewarding experience. I learned so much about managing complexity, design patterns, working with developers, documentation and much, much more. EPIC PROJECT. What a relief it was to ship it.

Whew! A month after You+Dallas launches, Blinksale’s redesign rolls out! Clearly, I’ve been busy. Though this redesign was mostly a reskinning of the app, there was a bit of new visual design thrown in. And, a couple weeks later, Blinksale added brand new functionality the the workflow in the form of estimates.

Um, did I even sleep this summer? Between our You+Dallas client work, and work on Blinksale, our scrappy little studio had been developing a cool new way to buy & sell videos online. Monetizer, as it is called, was beta-launched at the end of July and has been enjoying a steady stream of signups and tire-kickers every since.

iPhone 4: best birthday present ever. It may be the finest piece of industrial and software design I’ve ever seen. Even now, I hold it and feel like I truly am living in the future.

Though there had been other apps with the same or similar functionality, Instagram was the first to craft an experience that felt natural and fun. I had just purchased Hipstamatic and was bemoaning its complexity and rigidity. Instagram was a breath of fresh air, and a great social experience to boot.

Though only released in private beta at this time, Blinksale gets a huge upgrade feature: Blinkpay. A $10 add-on to Blinksale, Blinkpay will initially allow clients to pay invoices with a credit card. The option to pay with electronic check + other related features are rolling out in the next few months.

This has been a huge undertaking. The feature itself touches many parts of Blinksale, and had to be carefully integrated. Working with payment processors was also a huge challenge. The feature seems fairly simple, but you would not believe the plethora of paperwork and minutiae required to make it work. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

Though Viewzi was no longer being developed and had been essentially left to drift on the internet seas almost 2 years ago, the site was still available to those who liked using it. But the time came when it no longer made sense to continue supporting the non-trivial costs of keeping the service online, and we pulled the plug. Viewzi was a great idea, and I’ll always remember the time I worked on it fondly.

And so ended my last day of full-time employment at Doublewide Labs/Blinksale. It was a fantastic run, and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of such great opportunities. I will still be involved with design and product development to some extent, but not as my full-time gig. Thusly, I am currently looking for work in the Dallas area (or via telecommute). I’m excited for the possibilities!


Thursday September 24, 2009

Loving: Metric, Imogen Heap, Lovelikefire, The Big Pink and good grief man this is ridiculous you need to blog more often.

I haven’t blogged for a while. That’s because I’ve been field-testing the following jams for listenability. For you. Because I got your back like that. I’m like the USDA, but for music. Or something.

Metric – Fantasies

I’m not crazy about the album title (it makes me think of Mariah Carey for some reason, and friends: that’s not right), but holy woah do Metric bring the rock on this, their 4th album. These kids know how to write the hooks, you know? “Sick Muse” may be my favorite Metric song evar, and the video for said song is pretty great, too. It’s amazing to me that much of this album was written during a time when singer Emily Haines was wondering if she wanted to keep making music. Geez, she even sounds awesome when she feels like quitting.

Imogen Heap – Ellipse

Genius. No, really. This album is fantastic, but you might have to work for it.

I would describe Ellipse as more vulnerable and cinematic than Speak For Yourself, Imogen’s last album. That record seemed to have one foot in Frou Frou (Heap’s collaborative effort with Guy Sigworth) and one foot in Imogen’s own eccentric, experimental compositions. Ellipse, by my ear, has now stepped almost completely away from the sweeter pop sensibilities of Frou Frou and planted both feet in a soundscape that I suspect is the closest we’ve come to hearing what goes on in her uninfluenced musical mind. This album is full of homemade samples, delicate melodies and sweeping strings, all tempered by Heap’s commanding precision. Totally delightful.

Lovelikefire – Tear Ourselves Away

Lovelikefire ain’t no slouches. I know this because of the 11 tracks on their debut album only one is a re-recorded version of a song released on one of their two (also excellent) EPs. That’s 10 new songs, kids. They could have phoned it in with, like, 3 to 5 re-recorded songs, and it still would have been an excellent album. But no. LLF aren’t like that. And there ain’t no filler here. These are great songs powered by fantastic vocals and a tight tight band. These are hard-working rockers, and super-nice human beings to boot. Check out the video for “Stand In Your Shoes”:

The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love

This album is a serious time-warp. Maybe it’s just the classic Vaughn Oliver design-fu, but this band makes me feel like I’m in the mid-90s again with their wall of sound guitars and knob-twiddling tendencies. So tasty. And I’m nuts about this “Dominos” song. I may need to join a support group.


Sunday September 20, 2009

Free Them.

I don’t think there’s a better reason to break over eight months of blog silence than this.

Miriam and Marzieh are two Iranian women arrested in March and held for the last six months of their lives in Iran’s Evin Prison. Their crime? Apostasy. Meaning, they practice Christianity.

If you feel so inclined, it would be great if you could head over to Freethemm.com and see if there’s anything you can do. At the very least, it would help to get the website linked up on Facebook and Twitter as much as possible. The more people know about Miriam & Marzieh, the less likely they are to “disappear”, and the more pressure there is on the Iranian government to begin granting basic human & religious freedom to its citizens.

Thanks.


Thursday January 29, 2009

How I Learned to Stop Paying For TV Shows Twice and Love the Internet. More.

A couple weeks ago I was surfing around Hulu and had a much-delayed epiphany: Dude, almost everything I watch on my satellite TV service is online. Of course, I’ve long been aware of options like Apple TV, Boxee, Mac mini hacks and torrent sites, but honestly those options involve purchasing hardware or fiddling with alpha (or questionably legal) software. I just don’t have any desire to mess with all of that right now. I have a TV. I have a computer. And I have shows streaming from Hulu, Fancast, NBC, CBS, ABC and on and on. Certainly, I thought, there’s a relatively easy way for my wife and I to watch online content together on the TV with a minimal amount of fussing.

The Setup.

Caveat lector: My setup is terribly simple. I am no electronics wiz. I will probably be of no help to you if you ask for my advice.

My goal was to:

  • Continue to be able to connect my iTunes library to my stereo via Airport Express.
  • Use my stereo for audio. I accidentally discovered that the audio from Hulu’s 480p videos actually sounds quite awesome through my little shelf unit.
  • Avoid any cable switcheroos when I was ready to watch TV. Plug video & audio into the laptop and watch something quickly.

Below is a schematic of how all my components are connected:

Schematic drawing

And here is a photo of the whole setup in action:

Photo of my media center

It’s Not All Rivers of Chocolate and Lollipop Forests.

There are plenty of downsides, but I’m willing to live with them:

  • The laptop is not always left connected to the TV, so that has to be connected to video & audio first.
  • The stereo has to be turned on to AUX.
  • The TV acts as the primary display, and it’s kind of hard to see what’s on screen because of the scan lines (yes, I have a lame TV). I usually have to navigate to the video I want to watch on the laptop display and then drag the browser window to the TV and fullscreen it. The reason I don’t have my laptop set up as the primary display is that some video services (ABC’s is one, I believe) will only go fullscreen on the primary display (nice job there). Most sites will allow fullscreen viewing on whichever display the browser is on.
  • Yeah, you have to go find the video online. Though by using Hulu’s RSS feeds I can use Google Reader as my video dashboard and quickly get to new shows.
  • New shows aren’t online till the next day.
  • Videos aren’t up forever, so you have a window of time in which to watch an episode — or lose it.
  • No remote control.
  • No audio from the TV’s built-in speakers, though I suspect that I could connect a composite audio cable from the DVI adapter to the TV and remedy that. Not that I miss my janky TV speakers…
  • No live TV, though I am considering the purchase of an HD antenna to pick up local channels.
  • The biggest headache with this setup is that I have not yet found a way to keep my stereo connected to the Airport Express and the laptop at the same time. I tried running both the laptop audio cable and the Airport Express audio cable to the stereo by using a 2 Male-to-1 Female 3.5mm Y-adapter, but with both male jacks plugged in the sound is horrible. I’m not sure exactly why it’s so bad. So, for now, I have to unplug audio from Airport Express and plug it into the laptop when I want to watch a show.

Not True Love, But Close Enough For Now.

So that’s basically it. Not all roses, but not bad as a new feature of a service I was already paying for. And though I no longer have the equipment by which to compare the two, I swear that (at least) Hulu’s 480p video quality is better than what I was getting with satellite. And now that I am using my stereo for sound, the audio is better, too. Despite an expected number of downsides, this switch to internet-only TV is turning out to be a major win—not the least of which is that I don’t burn away hours in front of the TV watching stuff because it’s there. The act of watching TV is now so deliberate (and slightly annoying) that I spend more time doing things like writing nerdy blog posts about TV instead of watching TV. Um, win?

Oh, and Hulu: I love you.


Tuesday January 27, 2009

Rock The Dock (with Sifter).

A couple months ago, Garrett came to me and said, “I’m using Fluid to keep Sifter in my Dock, and the logo we did isn’t working out in that context.” He sent me a screenshot, and sure enough—ouch. Not a pleasant sight, that small diamond shape amidst other icons specifically designed for use in the operating system.

So we kicked around a number of ideas, including one that would involve redrawing the sifter in an entirely different perspective, but came back to the simpler idea of somehow altering or enhancing the existing logo. It’s not that there was a compelling brand reason for this, it’s just that the object definition, idea & physics of the logo are all there already.

Question: Do you like sketches with embarrassingly bad handwriting? Then peep this, my interweb friend:

Sketches of the Sifter Fluid icon

A number of different ideas came from sketching, but Garrett and I ultimately circled back around to the cleanest, simplest idea (and, go figure, it was the option we liked best before sketching even began): that of the sifter sitting atop a clear bin. Hey, it could happen IRL. As you can see below, the idea went through a series of permutations, some very pronounced and some very subtle. I believe there were about 30 “stages” from start to finish, though you only see the most differentiated changes here:

A few stages of the process of creating the Sifter Fluid icon

Parts of the original logo had to be changed to work as an icon; most obvious is the thickening up of the wooden frame. The original frame was simply too thin and appeared disproportionally small compared to the bin. The mesh at the bottom of the sifter has been simplified significantly to remove unnecessary visual clutter that was obscuring the pile of material in the center of the sifter.

The new bin & sifted material was its own challenge. It had to have some visual interest, but there’s not much that’s interesting about a plastic cube. The material inside the cube, logically, had to be mostly finely-sifted material; the pebbles giving interest to the material sitting in the sifter up top didn’t belong in the bin (and you can see I tried to slip them in at one point, unsuccessfully :). I had to rely on fine-tuned gradients and contrast to give the material shape, volume and interest. I think there’s enough there to satisfy viewers at both very small and very large sizes.

So there you have it. If you’re using Sifter with Fluid, you can download the new icon at NextUpdate.com. Enjoy!

The final Sifter Fluid icon


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I never sleep on planes. I don't want to be Incepted.