Monday, July 16, 2018

Zero 7, Sketch Plugins & Torture Art

Weekly Update 2018-28: Good vibes from the music of Zero 7, giving thanks for sketch plugins and looking at how modern art can be weaponized as a torture device.

Music: Zero 7
Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker are the English duo that make up Zero 7. I have been on an instrumental music kick lately, and recalled that their earlier work contained a lot of really good lyric-free tunes. Since then, they've grown into their own sound with guest vocals from all sorts of talented musicians like Sia, Sophie Barker and Eska. It's just good vibes music all around, and great for concentration.

I have a soft spot in my heart for 2006 album The Garden, so why not start with that?

This past weekend was another estate sale run by my father for his little side hobby. While the family themselves didn't have much of anything that I found particularly interesting (my favourite thing to do while I help to organize and run the sales), it was still really nice to meet all the people who came into the sale. There really are so many things to enjoy about this hobby of my father's, especially the way we've begun to help him and do this as a family. I'm not too dumb to realize what a lucky opportunity I have to spend with my family these days and how we've started to get along a little better.

I've been trucking along with adding the real estate redesign project to my website. I've got all of the case study writing finished, as well as about half of the design changes and assets I need to make for the visual part. I'm actually getting pretty excited about posting the project next week. It took about ten months from start to finish so it was a pretty big project.

I also managed to be a good patient through a restructuring of some old cavities at the dentist a few days ago. Having cavities re-done is so much worse than having them done in the first place - what with the extra drilling and scraping of having the filling removed. Glad that one's over.

Finally, I took the plunge and had my iPhone battery replaced at the Apple Store. I was lucky enough to get it back only three hours later (I always prepare for the worst with the Apple Store - it could have been a week!). It was really weird to be without a phone for three hours, especially since I had to go and meet someone in the intervening time. It was the first time in a long time that I felt regret for not wearing a watch.

While I was without a watch this week, I actually quite enjoyed not having my phone with me. While I realize it is a slight security risk not to keep one's phone on them, it felt really freeing not to have it. So I brought an old-school charger downtown and decided that I'll charge up my old iPod (watch AND music) this week for a bit of nostalgia and phone-free time.

Plus, let's be honest, my iPod Nano 3rd Gen still looks hella fly (circa 2007).

I've got some work ahead of me this week, hoping to finish posting the new project to my website and send a quote to a potential new freelance client. My main goal is to be in a good place to focus on the freelance project by next week, if it goes through. If not, I can figure out what personal project to pick back up and do some file organization.

Random Thought: Sketch Plugins
Using Sketch more and more over Adobe products these days, one of the things I find most attractive about Sketch is the open-source nature of it all. The product isn't perfect and everyone has their own missing featureset to gripe about, but that's where they allow third-party developers to create their own custom features in the form of downloadable and (generally) free plugins. So if you're missing something from your experience in Sketch, and you can't live without it, you can make it. As far as I know, Adobe has no plans to implement anything remotely close to this type of thing.

An incomplete list of plugins I can't do without:
  • Sketch Runner - The omniscient plugin that's a workhorse - download plugins directly inside Sketch (no, Sketch can't do this out-of-the-box!), insert symbols in seconds using their names instead of the clumsy dropdown list stacks, quickly jump to pages or artboards, and so much more. It's like Mac Spotlight for Sketch, but it doesn't suck. In fact, much the opposite.
  • Paddy by David Williames - Auto-magically aligns all your layers as you specify, simply by adding specific characters to the end of your filenames. Also allows you to create symbols that expand and shrink depending on dynamic type. This should be built into Sketch, but it isn't. Thanks David!
  • Stark bCat NooneMichael Fouquet, and Benedikt Lehnert - Provides lots of colour-related accessibility checkers right inside Sketch (it's really never too early to test colour pairings for accessibility). 
It's amazing that we live in a time when we as users have the power and tools to shape our software the way we want it. To find a tool that does the job is good (and necessary) but to be able to shape or even create the tool to custom-fit the job is wondrous.

Inspiration: Torture Art
Art is so subjective, and that's one of the things I really love about it. Two people can look at the same painting and feel completely different emotions depending on their experiences and personal tastes. Optical Illusionist Art, or Op Art, seems to be one of those especially polarizing movements, causing ceaseless intrigue for some and discomfort to the point of nausea for others. Trigger warning, Op Art below.

As is the theme of humanity, if we discover something that makes us uncomfortable, we use it to torture others. I'm not condoning this type of behaviour of course, but I do find its weaponization unprecedented and interesting at the very least.

As was such with the Spanish Civil War.  "A Spanish art historian has found evidence that suggests some Civil War jail cells were built like 3-D modern art paintings in order to torture prisoners," reports BBC News. "The cells were built in 1938 for the republican forces fighting General Franco's Fascist Nationalist army, who eventually won power."

Beds were set at a 20 degree angle so that it was nearly impossible to sleep.

These cells also contained flashing lights to heighten the experience. The creator of the concept, Alphonse Laurencic, admitted in his 1939 Francoist military court trial that he was inspired by modern artists, such as surrealist Salvador Dali and Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky.

Can something be both horrific and beautiful at the same time? I'd mark this one under that category.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

José González, Nutrition Facts & Beast

Weekly Update 2018-27: José González's guitar strums provide a calming atmosphere amongst the secrets hidden in nutrition facts and Michael Pearce's debut feature film Beast.

Music: José González
Regrettably, I didn't have time to make a fishing-themed playlist for my trip last week. In any case, internet signals up in Georgian Bay are spotty at best, so Spotify probably wouldn't have worked. Which means that I fell back to whatever music I still have on my phone. And so I rediscovered a musical gem in the form of José González. Of Swedish/Argentinian origin, the folk singer/songwriter's soothing voice and delightful acoustic guitar pickings always make me feel calmer.

I especially adore his 2007 album In Our Nature.

I had my bike stolen early this morning. Someone cut through a very thick metal chain, breaking a link clear in half in the process, and took it from the sidewalk outside my apartment. Of course this isn't the accomplishment, but I did want to make a note of how I felt about it.

I received this bike about a month ago, and it was a much-needed replacement for the bike I had been using before. I was very careful to keep this bike inside when I would be away for a while, and to lock it up with the heavy lock through the wheels and such. I took care of it. I couldn't have avoided the malicious intent obviously on display here. While it was definitely an improvement to my life in many ways, it had its own issues and I might find a bike that's an even better fit for me. I received the bike for free, which was really lovely gesture that perhaps I can pay forward into the world, hoping that the person who stole it really needs it.

I have the means to find another bike for myself, so it's not the end of the world. I'm happy to note that it didn't take me a really long time to arrive at this line of thinking, so that's some personal growth right there. Bikes are relatively inexpensive and I'm sure I'll be able to solve my problem soon.

On a happier note, I had a wonderful and well-deserved week fishing with my family. We caught a bunch of fish, some of which we cooked and ate in the same day as catching (which is the best taste), and got to spend some quality time all together. We even tried a new recipe for the fish, which I'll discuss below.

This week I will be pretty busy, helping my dad with his upcoming estate sale and finally getting that big project I completed up on my website. I'd like to set a goal of this weekend for that, really focusing on getting it to completion within a set timeframe. I'll be creating a schedule for all the tasks and costing them, which should hopefully allow me to spread out the work and stay goal-oriented.

Random Thought: Nutrition Facts
I am really proud of my dad for his recent attempts to eat more healthily. I got to see some of this firsthand on the trip. While it's easy to love my dad's fish fry (everything tastes good when it's fried), I wanted to try a healthier grilled recipe with fresh dill. Not only was it a hit, but I think I got my dad addicted to dill. I convinced him to add dill to almost every meal we ate, from salads to sandwiches to hummus dip, to potato chips. And it tasted really good on everything.

Maybe it doesn't look like much but it was super delicious.

My dad also mentioned that he has started to read the nutrition facts label on all the packaged food he eats. I think this is a really important thing to do - one should know what they are putting in their body. Whether or not the ingredients are good for you is another discussion, but at least understand and know what choice you are making. For example, I was reading the ingredients of a "healthier" sweet potato-based tortilla chip, only to find that the first ingredient is still corn, and that added sugar and honey are the actual sweetness-inducing flavours. Much better to make your own oven-baked chips from real sweet potatoes.

They still taste great, but they're not healthier.

Inspiration: Beast
I was lucky enough to acquire a voucher for the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Bunz and treated myself to a showing of Michael Pearce's new psychological thriller movie Beast last week. Starring Johnny Flynn of Netflix's Lovesick, the movie centers around a young woman named Moll (Jessie Buckley) who falls in love with Pascal (Flynn) who may or may not be responsible for the serial murders of four young women in the neighbourhood. Certainly outside of the comfort zone I usually live in regarding movies, but definitely worth the watch (in a nice, air conditioned movie theater to boot).

The movie is also stunning visually.

Set in British suburbia on the island of Jersey, the film boasts a handful of lovely shots of cliffs and beaches, jewel blue sea tones contrast against yellow sand and green grass. Plus, Flynn is not hard on the eyes either. It's lovely to see him in a role so contrasted against his lackadaisical tone in Lovesick. While he carries his facial scars (who doesn't like an interesting facial scar) in both productions, his character is completely different between the two. I'd love to see him in more television in the future.

Check out Beast at the Lightbox every day until Thursday.