Sunday, December 15, 2013

Restoring Faith In Humanity, One Magical Piano at a Time.

 Sometimes I really hate the internet.

A grand piano in the middle of Chicago's Union Station that is rigged with a camera and operated remotely by an unseen pianist reacts and plays with it's environment therefore making it in effect, "magical". Sure, it's a little hokey, but it's unobtrusive and the novelty of it is rather sweet. It reacts to it's environment begging the environment to react to it. Some people dance, some people scream at it, and other people play along. The people that play along, get it. Regardless if there's a person present to tickle the ivories or not, the magic isn't that the piano isn't playing by itself, the magic lies in the simple joy of jamming with someone else.

And yet, regardless of any perceived spontaneity, the haters come out to play. "'s staged." 
"Muuhhh...I like to ruin things because my life is misrable.."
"Muuhhh...they messed up the Turkish March."
It's simple, human interaction; humanity at it's best and yet trolls come out and are compelled to take a dump all over this.

Serves me right for reading the comments on YouTube; Troll Central. I have a question to all the haters: Say that this video was completely staged and none of the people weren't paid performers, would this video be less interesting? Would you still watch? Furthermore, is it so hard to believe that people would spontaneously break out into a jam session when provoked? Especially if those people have instruments of their own and the ability to play? Is it so hard to believe that some people are actually moved by music? Because if you think that that's the case, then yours is a world that I'd rather not visit.

This world needs less trolls, and more magical pianos.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

13 Things....

Stumbling tonight. Had to take a big step back from a Photoshop project I'm working on because I suddenly realized that I can't draw to save my life. So instead of throwing my mouse through a window, I decided to wind down for the evening by participating in the digital equivalent of counting sheep...

...clicking through Stumbleupon.

And just because I want to brain off as quickly and as gently as possible, I get stuck on Buzzfeed. After clicking through a few lists, I find this video: 13 Things Everyone From New England Knows. As a budding graphic designer, I chuckled a little bit when I noticed the font for the title card is called "Lobster". But by the end of it, I wanted to stand up and cheer and I never do that for a YouTube video.

To everyone north of Rhode Island, this video will probably move you to an indifferent shrug, maybe an eye roll, maybe a, "Fahqinayrite! Dunkin' Donuts? Tell Timmy Horton's to go screw!" But to an expat who resides the furthest away from the Rock Bound Coasts while still within a stone's throw from I-95, it's a love letter. It's a simple affirmation of who I am and a reminder to never forget.

...We are proud of our ghosts...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What the...? I don't even...

Okay, so the President spoke about Syria tonight, about how he was planning on doing one thing but is probably going to end up doing something else. I was listening to BBC America this morning. One of their reporters interviewed some pin headed Teabagger about how Russia, after months of begging and pleading from the US, is finally intervening and being the bigger boy with the cooler head and take away the chemical weapons from Asad, which is something we kind of wanted them to do to begin with, about how "embarrassed" that Russia's being the good guy and we aren't. It's now 13 hours later and I still can't get her shrill voice out of my head.

Big news today. Important news today and now I'd like to decompress.

No introduction to this, I just think it's the funniest thing I've seen all day. And I needed a good laugh.

"I'm the gawddam Batman! How like them apples?"

Monday, September 9, 2013

New Header, Same Old Babble

So I finally took my first step into the Photoshop world. As I've pointed out at length in previous blogs (I mention this not only to express continuity with my other postings, but also to say that I blogged about it before it disappears for some strange reason), I decided that my classroom will be in the form of random tutorials that I find online. The benefits being that it's free, I can work on projects of my own choosing at my own pace and I have no one to answer to but myself. The drawbacks are that it's free, I can work on projects of my own choosing at my own pace and I have no one to answer to but myself. On one hand, not going to school for it and figuring out by myself counts as that ever-elusive "real world experience", right? On the other hand, there is a bit of a learning curve to this as with most things that one would encounter when first learning a new skill.

How steep? Let me try to explain. Anyone who's had years of experience under their belts, just zip it for a little bit, okay? While I welcome critiques I just wanted to write down how challenging this was for an old noob. Like you don't remember you're first time?

For the past month, I've been collecting Photoshop tutorials like a tourist collects seashells. Like some fat guy at an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, I've been loading up on fonts and brushes and backgrounds and textures and anything else I can get my hands on. One of the first sites that I bookmarked was The Photoshop Lady. She has an always changing collection of tutorials and links to tutorials, one of which was this one:

This is probably familiar to some people. The project was authored a few years ago by a young graphic designer by the name of Jacques Van Heerden. This project was on a short list that I chose out of about a hundred or so. This one stood out because of it's obvious drama and attention grabbing effects. Also the "Block" in the title also helped in my choice. That it claimed to be at a "beginner" level with a 45 minute expected completion time didn't hurt either. In an ideal world, I should have been finished in a hour, two hours tops. That is, if I knew what I was doing. This is what actually happened.

Where do I find the Blending Mode? What is a Vector Mask? Why isn't the Color Dodge working? How do I convert the finished product to a PDF file? These are simple questions that could easily be answered by anyone who knows their way around a Photoshop workspace. But to someone who just jumps in and wants to start working, they could very easily spend more time trying to locate the tools they need than actually using them. I could go into a rant on how the author is presuming that everyone knows what they're doing when they turn on Photoshop, but I've seen this happen before.

I like to cook, but I have an issue with cook books. I have a tidy little library of recipes that I like to use every once in a while. But there are times when I want to try something new like a re-imagined taco or Steak au Poivre or accomplishing an allegedly "Beginner" project in Photoshop. When I try a new recipe, I will normally stick to instruction once. After that, I cannot help but tweak; a recipe can only show you the way. It is up to you as the cook to adjust as you see fit. The problem is, whenever most recipes get transcribed into print, things do get lost; a missing ingredient or an important step. I see it over and over again, and it's bothersome. Sometimes I think it was a publishing error, but other times I believe it's the doing of the author. In some cases, I think they leave out information to keep the integrity of trade secrets. On a less diabolical level, it might be is something as simple as the author going through the motions of a favorite recipe for so long that they unconsciously skip steps. Like someone explaining how to make a PB&J but forgetting to mention that you need bread. What I'm trying to say is that details, although they may be tedious to a seasoned pro, are very important to a noob.

Not to say anything bad about the tutorial, because there was nothing wrong with it. Although it does presume that you know what you're doing to begin with. For example,

"...In this case I used MyriadBold, at a size of 70pt and Filled White #FFFFFF. I centered the text on the canvas and then rasterized the layer. To Rasterize make sure your text layer is selected and then go to Layer>Rasterize>Type – this will turn your text layer into a flat layer, ready for editing..."
 It took me at least an hour to kinda sorta figure out how to kinda get my text centered on the document. Even then, it still wasn't right.

And that was still step one.

For the next couple of days, it was work on it while I can; find at least a few minutes before bedtime where I can at least stare at it. Truthfully, it wasn't like there was noses to grindstones. It felt more like "studying" for a big test. I got everything done on Labor Day, after about eight hours. I took some liberties, like using a
different font, texture and breakage pattern. I couldn't help it, I had to take it in my own direction. It's barely legible, it looks a little wonky and I kind of rushed it at the end. Yes, I spent more time online looking for specific instructions on how to do something (like how to use foreground color) than on the actual project, but it's a start. It may not be pretty, but it's mine, and I can only get better from here!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Where am I? Why am I in this tub?

Dear Google Blogger,

You know that Urban Myth where the guy gets seduced back to a motel room by a woman and he wakes up in the morning to find that he's in a tub of ice, his side has been cut open and a kidney is missing? That's kind of how I'm feeling right now.

Two weeks ago, I published a blog on how I beat smoking. The hits were modest but not ground breaking. Today, I check my blog only to find that that post has been reverted back to draft and half of the post is missing. This really sucks because I don't keep actual drafts of my blogs and I can't remember what I wrote. That was a lot of work down the tube if you are unable to retrieve what I published. I don't want to have to start over again somewhere else. Please help me.

Thank you,

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Cultural Imperative of Contributing to a Society...or Something Like That

I've been looking for a way to boost my income, my revenue, my self worth, my life for a while now. Even more so now because I have a child whom I need to look up to me. Also, one day soon, I'll turn around and I'll be 50. This boost is never going to happen because I've shackled myself to a dead end job out of some sort of perverse sense of loyalty. And it sure as hell ain't gonna happen while I sit around and spin my wheels trying to hatch a plan involving doing something that I don't know how to do just because I think that that's where the money is. This boost needs to kick in now.

I apologize if my words seem a little clipped this time around. I just spent the better part of a week on this draft trying to adequately express how I'm going to do what I'm going to do. Again...spinning wheels...

The idea that I took the long way around in trying to explain before I got tired of the sound of my own voice is that I now have a new plan. Now, here's the part where I explain that I'm currently at point A and how, through sheer will, or some arcane mysticism, I will end up at point D. Here's the part where I prattle on and on about "The Goal" while at the same time failing to explain "The Process". Here is the part where I deliver my treatise on The Cultural Imperative of Contributing to a Society. Here is the part where I tell you all of that, followed by a loud but gracious thud a few months later when I figure out I have no idea what I'm doing published in the form of radio silence. It's a pattern I follow. Over and over again; wanting or needing to start something that I believe that will make me a better person, starting on that thing, fall flat on my face and by the time I get back up the initiative, the drive, the will has left me and I abandon the quest until I find another one to go after and again and again it's exhausting. I tried to look up the name of this psychosis but I can't find it.

Serial Questing...yeah...let's call it that.

In any case, I shall endeavor to not do this again, although I can't make any promises. When I graduated college, my goal was to be an actor. Nothing big, just a working actor. Years later, it was constructing and repairing computers. After that, it was artisan bread, then a pizzeria. None of these ideas saw the light of day because they were unrealistic. As with most things, I get lost in the shuffle. I have to remind myself from time to time that I'm not the only one who thinks this way. These ideas lacked planning. They lacked capital.What they did have in common, however, is a need to create something and the desire to be my own boss. I make pizza from scratch every Saturday night and the family raves about it. For Holidays and special occasions, I have several requests for one of my scratch made cakes, sometimes giving them as gifts. If it brings them joy, then it brings me joy. If it brings me joy, then why wouldn't I make a life out of that? Do what you love and the money will follow. Right? Despite what all the haters say, I believe in it. That's all that counts. It took me a while to get to this conclusion, but after much consideration, my contribution to society would be better delivered by me if I weren't chained to a cubicle.

From "The Far Left Side" by Mike Stanfill
(Open Letter to Forbes Magazine: Thank you so much for pointing out the possibility that doing what you love may not make you rich. I'm not sure if your article was intended to keep entrepreneurs under the yoke of corporations or to crush the spirit of every American who dares to set out on their own. If your intention was either of these, then please forgive the majority of us unwashed and unclean barbarians who just want to wake up in the morning and make that day the day that they get their head above water, rather than work themselves up into a lather about how many additions they should add to their palatial summer home. 

Listen, I'm sure you mean well. I mean, you're basically the Reader's Digest for the 1% anyway. But, if you can just peel yourself away from your Tesla Motors brochure for just one second, please take a moment and recognize that in this economy right now, at this very moment, just being satisfied by working two part time jobs with no benefits and still hovering around the poverty level; to spend four years or longer and hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education just for the privilege to work as a night-shift janitor; to work the most unfulfilling job for barely a living wage and be satisfied with it is, for lack of a better term, unacceptable. If all things are equal, doing what you love and leading a more fulfilling life by doing so is just as much of a pipe dream as being a private country club card carrying member of the American Elite. Ergo, since all things are equal, if it came down being submissive to the will of Corporate America just because its easier to give up become a liability or an expenditure because maybe...MAYBE I might just catch that lucky break on the way up the corporate ladder, or going ahead and taking that leap and joining the legions of dreamers who can actually sleep soundly at night because the fortune they seek isn't gold or possessions but something intangible and more valuable, then I'll cast my lot with the dreamers every single day of the week. In closing, I beg your pardon Mr. I-just-traded-my-Lexus-for-a-Bentley, but if my way of living doesn't coincide with your Vulture Capitalist mentality, then I honestly don't give a shit.  I'd rather be a captain of a ship of my own construction than a Captain of Industry. 
Sincerely, "2Cents"-Resident of the Bottom Half of the 99%. xoxo)

Now, this is the part where I either go on at length about something that may or may not have happened in my past in order to make a point forgetting what I was talking about three paragraphs in, or ramble on about something seemingly unrelated but just filling the page up with words just because the words I'm using might turn up in an a search or something. Got to think in terms of generating web traffic and ad revenue. Pancakes. But, right now I'm boring the hell out of me and whatever I didn't mention this time around will probably show up in another posting anyway. Moving on...

"Don't look at me, I'm irrelevant."
The Goal: Well, honestly, the ultimate goal is to make sure my family is set. But, how to be sure? Well, you can never be sure. But like Chuck Noland said a long time ago, " I would rather take my chance out there on the ocean than to stay here and die on this shithole island, spending the rest of my life talking TO A
GODDAMN VOLLEYBALL!" There comes a point in someone's life where you just have to take that chance because your life just might depend on it. Does it mean that you know what you're doing? Not necessarily. But it's worth a shot.

This! This is what I want to be doing. I have decided that doing this will afford me a better life for me and my family. I realized this after a few hours of zombie lurking on Stumbleupon one night. I came across this site. Usually when I Stumble late at night, I would blow right passed sites like this, but this time...this time I could not. Stop. Clicking. I became fascinated with every method. I became fascinated with every code and how everything related to each other. Andrew Kramer, the author of this site, was speaking in a language that I almost forgot about. It was like hearing a phrase in my native tongue that I haven't heard since I was a child.

It wasn't too long ago where I constructed my own video using Windows Movie Maker and I thought it was an okay tool...for someone who wasn't interested in making anything resembling a movie. After making the video and submitting it to YouTube knowing full well that there are literally thousands of videos made by weekend hobbyists that are near cinema quality, I thought, "Meh...could be better." (I know..."Artists", right?) While I was making it though, I was having a blast. Sure I was hobbling together photographs with some random footage I shot and it was painfully amateurish. But I didn't care. I recognized the germ of what it takes to do this kind of thing and I was hooked. This is what I want to be doing.

Hold up there, Spielberg. Have you checked the price of the software?

*Sigh* Yes. Hey everyone, it's my killjoy inner voice again.

Hello, gorgeous. Come here often?
Nice to be remembered. While we're on the subject of killing joy, if you get this software, you're going to need a system that's strong enough to hold it. I don't think you're going to get the same results on your tiny HP home edition. OH! And the CAMERA TOO!! Do NOT forget that!!

Yes, I realize that too.

Do you know how much that's going to set you back?

Conservatively, about $2500. Three grand, just to be on the safe side.

Okay, just to sum up. You're working a jWHY AM I NOT SPEAKING IN COMIC SANS ANYMORE?!

There was an update since the last time you were here, Sir Distractsalot.

Hunh.'re working a job that barely pays a living wage, you have a family to support, you don't own your house, you have a crappy car and you think that you'll be able to plunk down half of a half of a hundred grand on a set up that you don't have and will probably lose interest in because you don't know how to use it.

Encouraging, but yes.

Okay, this is the part where you actually stop and think about it. "It's too am I going to get that much cash...?" Followed by the inevitable feeling of, "oh well, I tried. Guess I'll go back to wasting time on the internet." Right? Just like the last time and the time before that and the time before that?

Usually, but not this time.


Like I said, I have a plan.

Do what you love and the money will follow. That shouldn't necessarily apply to just the destination, it should also apply to the trip. Yes, it is true that when I see how big the mountain is in front of me that I just want to turn around and go home. But just to prove to myself and my stupid inner voice how serious I am about this, I already made that first step up the trail.

1.) Stop Smoking. Done and done.

2.) Don't Quit Your Day Job. As much as I'd like to exit this place so fast that I leave skid marks, it's still a necessary evil and I still need an income. It's not much, but it's something, and it's a lot better than nothing.

If it's that valuable to you, then to me it's worth more
3.) Consider Selling My Plasma. Nothing against donating blood, I think it's wonderful how they guilt people into donating something that they've spent their whole life creating only to be given a cookie and some juice at the end of it. While at the same time, turn around and charge up the wazoo for every pint they administer to every patient that needs it. Let me repeat that: They guilt you into giving something up for free while they make a considerable profit off of it. That's not participating in a good deed, that's being a willing victim in a carjack. Blood Centers make a lot of money, they can spare a few bucks to buy your blood. I give you a pint, you give me some cash. That way I can get my own damn cookies.

4.) Become a Microworker. Now, this isn't the best way to get rich quick. Believe me! And even though it's borderline waste of time and not ranking very high on my list, I put it on here because Amazon offers this service. You sign up with them and in a matter of days, they'll give you an ID and an account. At that point you can take surveys, submit reviews and view websites. The money you make is minimal, but they have the option of putting the money you do make into an account so you can use the funds to buy things from them, which makes the most sense to me. Sure, it's basically panhandling online but like I said, even though this will not make you rich, it is money coming in.

It's better with the feather...
5.) Practice in the Meantime.  Adobe After Effects is something you don't just pick up and start working with right away. There are many levels of techniques and nuances that you need to be acquainted with or else it will destroy you. I have no fear of learning this, I just simply cannot afford it yet. Until that time I am going to practice with some Photoshop just to get a feel for it. Earlier this year, Adobe made Photoshop CS2 and Illustrator a free download. Not a trial version of one or two things, the entire freakin' package! W00T!! Yes, it's out of date and hardly anyone uses it anymore since CS3 seems to be the gold standard these days. But it's something, the core technology hasn't changed that much, and it's well within my price range. In the future, I'm going to use this blog to show off stuff that I did.

Granted, these five examples are not going to get me to my goal in a few weeks. I'm well aware that I'm going to need more than just selling my blood and socking money away that used to go to smokes. Nope, this is going to require a wee bit more strategy.

And that is a subject for a future time. For now, cue the Eighties Montage Soundtrack!!!

EDITOR'S NOTE: for the record, borrowing any version of Photoshop is just simply a bad thing. I do not condone downloading the version of Photoshop that Adobe has essentially just thrown away. So remember kids, pay for your own software!

Monday, August 19, 2013

What Would Horatio Alger Do?: A Forward

For the past few years, my horoscope app on my phone has been telling me to "Hang in there, baby! Something better is coming if you stay the course your on." Or some derivation thereof.
Well, you got yourself here. YOU figure it out!

Years it's been saying this. Years.

Don't get me wrong, it's a neat little app. As horoscopes go, it's certainly better written than most. But when it starts repeating more or less the same message, I tend to think that the app is broken, or it's Groundhog Day, or that there's really nothing in the stars for me, or maybe, just maybe, something's happening around me and I have absolutely no idea what's going on which is understandable because I work from home completely detached from any human interaction not that I'm complaining because I'm preferring being a shut in anyway because human interaction has become so repellent to me that it makes me queazy to even send a Tweet but that's okay because I'm mostly following celebrities who can't spare two minutes to RT something that I thought was rather clever but not that I'm complaining because the two or three regular people who aren't spammers who follow me do actually take the time to point out how wrong I am about something that's happening somewhere and I'm fine with that because at the end of the day I can handle being ignored and misunderstood on Twitter...on Facebook it was devastating...but that's okay because going on a social network (any social network) and trying to participate when you know damn well that you're anti-social is rather foolish actually but on the other hand fuck 'em who needs 'em when you have a house full of cats and news radio, right?....RIGHT??!

...but mostly I think the app is broken...

For the past few years, I've been traveling on the same squeaky hamster wheel I always do after an existential crisis: still stuck in the same place with very little incentive or means to move forward, which is nothing out of the ordinary. However, this time, I grew conscious of the pattern where I get stuck, try and figure a way out, set a goal and then get crushed a week or so later because the goal I set is, albeit noble, rather unrealistic. I had to go through this pattern a few more times before I just stopped, turned into a lump and gave up. What's the point? Just give up and join the ranks of the walking dead. Get used to living at Wal Mart where "close enough" is a way of life. I could go back to school...again...but why bother? I'll go to school to get a better paying job where ten thousand other people are all looking for the same position, only to find out when I get out that the thing I was going to school for is no longer considered I wise career move because the technology evolved or ten thousand other people are already filling that position, or I have the knowledge but not the real world experience, or I'm over-qualified, or whatever. In any case at the end of four years of trying to better myself, I still don't have a job with a higher salary and, in fact, beginning to sink into debt faster than ever. This is the reasoning spiral I deal with on a daily basis. This is the sound of the hamster wheel. This is the past few years.

This is me.

Recently though, lightning has struck. Well...not me...more like struck the middle of a field...where no one else was around...but I saw it, so that counts, right? I have a new plan. And instead of flooring it the goal that I have in mind, I have decided to take the keys out of the ignition, get out of the vehicle, sit on the hood and survey the road in front of me, because this time visibility is great, the road is familiar and it is after all, a nice day outside. Details to come, and I mean it this time.