January 1, 2018


Looking Back at 2017

2017 was a very strange, interesting and amazing year.  

So much happened this year, it’s hard to even sum it all up.  I feel like I have been kind of shell-shock from the strain of the changing times.  

I’m now a news/twitter junkie. There is so much happening in the world, and it’s become so easy to stay connected to it all.  It can feel overwhelming, as if it’s constantly spinning faster and faster.

From the beginning of the #resistance movement to the #MeToo movement and every #movement in-between, this certainly is an interesting time to be alive.  It was such an unusual year.  2017 was literally a year where when the government actually handed over credible evidence of UFOs to respectable news outlets it was not enough to get more than a “meh” from society.  It was that kind of a crazy year.  But despite the struggles (and regressions) we have faced, I’m feeling more optimistic about our future.  People are more engaged now, and I believe that will lead to progressive change, even as we stumble along the way.

On a personal note, my oldest niece got married and I performed the officiation of the ceremony.  She requested that I do this, and it was truly the honor of my life to have that job.  That was certainly the highlight of my year by a long shot.  It was also a little stressful (to put it mildly) getting ready for it, having never done anything like that before, and with everything going on at work, and on top of that trying to get ready for a vacation with my parents to see national parks immediately following the wedding.  The location of the wedding was gorgeous, along the shores of the Colorado River just south of Rocky Mountain National Park.  It somehow thankfully and possibly miraculously all turned out pretty great.  It went off without a hitch, and if there were hitches they seemed to be meant to be.  It was a lovely event, and I think transformative for many of our family members gathered.  Sheesh, I guess I can add wedding officiant to my list of professions :)

I’ve written a little about the national parks trip here.  This trip was my first time to really experience the American West.  After experiencing it, I am in love.  Our country is blessed with majestic natural wonders, and every citizen should get a chance to experience them.  The National Parks are special indeed.  There is a feeling when you are there that is difficult to put into words, its a kind of reverence that fills your heart, maybe similar to the way a religious person would feel upon visiting a holy land for the first time that they had heard about often.  I noticed that each place we visited had it’s own unique charms, unique smells, unique feeling.  Bryce Canyon was my favorite of the parks.  The pines that grow there have a unique rich smell.  It was raining which didn’t bother me and gave me some privacy while I walked around the edge of the Bryce Amphitheater.  Looking at the rocks I felt like I could see faces from the past.  (Later I read that the inderiounous people of the area often saw the faces of their ancestors in those rocks).  I tried to take photos of the faces, but all I ended up with were photos of splotches of rain on the rocks.  

The total solar eclipse came through South Carolina and I was fortunate enough to have friends who convinced me to go with them to see it (in the “path of totality”, the only place where it’s meant to be seen).  It truly was a life-changing spectacle.  I’m so glad I saw it and grateful to my friends who planned the trip.  When I try to describe how amazing it was just nothing I say does it any justice.  Imagine being outside with a bright glowing sun overhead on a hot summer day, and then gradually it begins to get ever so dimmer, with stars beginning to shine, and street lights turning on.  The animals know something is up.  Then after a little while the light rapidly goes out, and in the sky where before it was filled with an intense fiery sun, it is now stark darkness with a brilliant glowing ring in a night sky.  (That sounds cool, but believe me, you just can’t get how cool it really was). You can’t take a decent photo of it with your iPhone because Steve Jobs didn’t plan for this specific scenario.  You go online and see some decent photos of the eclipse taking by decent photographers with decent camera lenses, but you think this just isn’t as cool as seeing it with your own eyes, in the same kind of way that a photo of the Grand Canyon doesn’t do it justice.  It’s just not the same.  If you didn’t see it, you have my sympathies.  There will be another one in 2024. 

Anyway, happy new year.



My Favorite Movies and TV of 2017 (and What I’m Looking Forward to in 2018)

Best Films

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The eighth episode in the Star Wars main cannon of films got mixed reviews with critics liking it more than fans, and fans being very split.  Judging by reactions of fans on twitter, it was very passionate in either loving or hating the film.  I would fall into the former group. It thought it was almost as good as The Force Awakens, and the story was more interesting overall.  The aesthetics of The Force Awakens are what give it a slight edge in my opinion.  Where TFA reintroduces us to Han and Leia, TLJ brings in Luke who is the main star of the movie.  I feel certain that the director Rian Johnson must have been a huge fan as a kid.  I can imagine him playing with a model of the Millennium Falcon containing all of his favorite characters escaping off into the galaxy from the imperial forces. 

(As mentioned last year I also really enjoyed Rogue One, which is outside of the main cannon of films, but part of Disney’s expanded universe of Star Wars films. Rogue One surprised me because I found it to be better than most Star Wars films. It’s gritty, it’s dark and it takes you to places you’ve only heard about in the franchise.)  

The Disaster Artist: James Franco and created a masterpiece in the telling of the creation of one of the worst movies ever filmed.  Franco directs and stars in the film about The Room, a notorious indie film.  Ironically The Disaster Artist gives

Logan: the last film to feature Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is also the very best film in the X-men series.  It’s much darker, and more violent.  Logan brings the director of the also excellent The Wolverine (the previous solo Wolverine film) back but this time with a license to make an R-rated film that reflects the true nature of the character.  The story is one that is stripped down and raw, and much more emotional than anything else in the X-men franchise. 

Get Out: Get Out is one of the most interesting horror films I’ve ever seen.  Using horror as a story-telling mechanism, it examines modern race relations. It blends comedy with the horror that 

Logan Lucky: imagine a country-version of Oceans Eleven — that would be Logan Lucky, which tells the hilarious story of two West Virginia brothers who make an attempt to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway with the help of some friends.

Alien: Covenant: After Prometheus came out there were still a lot of unanswered questions about the origins of the Zenomorphs from the Alien film series.  Although a lot of folks didn’t particularly love Prometheus I really enjoyed the film. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: One of the movies I was most looking forward to was the follow up to Guardians of the Galaxy (one of my favorite sci-fi films ever).  The sequel just was underwhelming.  It felt like the producers were really trying to play it safe, which is exactly the opposite of what made the original so great.  Still I’m excited that we’re moving closer to a merging of the Guardians with the Avengers next year with Infinity War.

Blade Runner 2049: From the director of last year’s amazing Arrival, comes the sequel to Blade Runner which has to be my favorite film of the year, and maybe the decade.  I just loved it.  It’s vibrant and beautiful, and contains a deeply moving story, much more so that even the original.  (I blogged about it here.)  It bombed in the box office but maybe that’s just an indicator that it’s a film that appeals to the more thoughtful in our society.

Best TV

Stranger Things 2: the sequel season to Stranger Things (which was very intentionally created as a sequel to the first season) is pretty great if not quite as awesome as the original.  Still very worth watching.  I love it for the 80s nostalgia.  

Mr Robot: I’ve only recently gotten into Mr Robot so I’m pretty behind.  But I can say without question it’s one of the best shows on TV.  

Comrade Detective:  I’ve tried to tell everyone I know to watch Comrade Detective.  Its one of the funniest hidden gems to emerge on Amazon.  The concept is a cold ware era buddy cop show set in Romania.  Filmed with Romanian actors in Bucharest, the show dubs the voices with fairly well known American actors. 

Castlevania: Netflix released a short anime version of the classic video game Castelevania, which is brilliant.  It focuses mostly on the story of Castevania 3 (my favorite game of the series) which was an original NES classic.

Glow: Glow tells the story of aspiring actresses in the mid-80s trying to make it in show business by performing in an all-women wrestling program. Its pretty hilarious, and just like Stranger Things, it brings you back to a version of the 80s.  

The Good Place: one of the creators behind the American version of The Office and Parks and Rec came out with a new show about the afterlife.  It is brilliant and has plenty of hilarious twists and turns that are bit unusual for broadcast comedies.  It’s also a show that has fairly universal appeal.  

What to look forward to in 2018

Here are some of the shows and movies coming out in 2018 that I am excited to see…

A Wrinkle In Time: one my all time favorite kids books is being turned into a film, with a pretty substantial budget and cast behind it.  I read most of the books by L’Engle when I was young.  

Ready Player One: a book that I immensely enjoyed recently is being turned into a movie, and by Spielberg.  The story is a bit of Charley and the Chocolate Factory meets Mortal Kombat.  I have some concerns because it really is the kind of story that is nearly impossible to bring to the big screen.  Legally speaking there are so many intellectual properties in the story I just can see how it would be possible to license all of those properties.  If too many of them are sacrificed the nostalgia factor is lost.  It will be a tough one to pull off right, but since Spielberg is direction, it has a decent chance.  

Altered Carbon: a friend at work recommend this book series to me and I’ve only just started.  But I can say it’s one of the more interesting cyberpunk stories I’ve experienced.  Netflix is turning it into a series and they have been on a roll.  I feel pretty confident this will do well.  

Westworld (season 2): Season 1 of Westwold was outstanding.  There were so many intricate clues placed throughout the series.  Who knows what will happen in season 2.  I’m hoping they expand into other worlds suggested in the original film, and sequel Futureworld, which was somewhat hinted at in the season 1 finale.  

Cloverfield 3: apparently there will be a third Cloverfield film.  But there has been no viral marketing scheme thus far (which is my favorite part of the franchise).  

The Predator: Shane Black who played a roll in the original Predator has written and is directing a fourth predator film (not including the Aliens vs Predator films) that is set to take place after Predator 2 in the series.  Interestingly Jake Busey will have a roll that appears to be the son of the character his father played in the sequel.  This movie has the chance of being pretty great.  I really hope we get a Schwarzenegger and/or Glover cameo.  

Infinity War: the big collision of all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films is set to occur in Infinity War.  Here we will witness the Guardians interacting with the Avengers.  Interestingly Disney has since acquired the rights to the Marvel characters that were owned by Fox which means at some point the X-Men could get interwoven into the MCU.  As awesome as that would be, I am sad that Hugh Jackman has retired from his role as Wolverine.  

Mission Impossible: 6: a sixth Mission Impossible is coming out.  They are always pretty good.

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December 23, 2017


Comparing Keyboards

I’ve recently gotten into mechanical keyboards because being a web designer/developer I spend a lot of time writing and having a decent keyboard makes a big difference.  

It can be difficult to find the perfect keyboard because there are so many options. I’ve seen the Das Keyboard 4 in person at a tech meet up I attended, and I thought that it looked pretty formidable, and the reviews online were very positive.  After doing some research I decided to try something a little less expensive. 

First I tried the Logitech G610 which is a really great mechanical keyboard, and a little more affordable than some of the other premium mechanical keyboards.  It feels solid, weighing just under 3 pounds.  The keys mimic the Cherry MX style switches. The design is nice with rounded corners, and made from what feels like quality plastic. However, there are a couple little annoying things about it.  First, to take control of the different lighting settings you have to download and install some software from Logitech.  I find this particularly annoying because I am adverse to installing any programs that are not essential.  If you do not install the software you can switch between brightness levels but have no ability to stop the constantly rise and fall of brightness that goes from left to right across the keys.  This is super annoying so I am left with just turning the lighting all the way of, or installing the software from Logitech.  The G610 does have a nice wheel in the top right that lets me adjust the volume easily - it’s surprising now nice of a feature this is to have.  Overall the G610 is a really good keyboard for the price. 

Finally after doing some more research I stumbled onto the Code keyboard by WASD.  I have tried it for a bit and I can say without any question it should be the defacto keyboard for programming.  It’s super minimalist in design, with no logos, unnecessary wording or anything extra. Everything just works perfectly.  The Cherry switches are excellent as always. You can easily adjust settings by adjusting the dip switches found on the bottom of the keyboard - no software required.  I’ve tried it with both my windows and Mac machines and it works great.  So if you’re looking for a decent keyboard for coding I’d suggest the Code by WASD. 

Next I’ll need to find the perfect mouse.

November 22, 2017


Here is a gallery from late Summer and Fall with pics of hiking at Crowders Mountain, watching the eclipse in Eastover SC, and a recent road trip home to VA and with my parents up on the Skyline Drive in Shanandoah National Park.

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November 20, 2017


Stranger Things Interview

Today I listened to this interview on Fresh Air with the Duffer brothers about the inspirations for Stranger Things 2.  It's worth a listen if you like the show ...

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November 19, 2017


Blade Runner 2049: Review

I went to see Blade Runner 2049 on opening day, and watched it again a couple weeks later, and I can declare it certainly lived up to the hype. It is a cinematic masterpiece that honors the original and adds a deeply emotional layer to the world created by Phillip K Dick and Ridley Scott. Fans of the original can all thank Denis Villeneuve for this wonderful sequel. Obviously this blog post will be nothing but spoilers so if you haven’t seen the new Blade Runner stop reading!

This sequel is a gorgeous film. It honors the original’s visuals and expands with more impressive landscapes. I noticed the pipes spewing plums of fire into a darkened sky are replaced by streets covered snow or dust or rubble. The endless rain in Los Angles is still a fixture. This makes sense because at this point those unfortunate to still live on Earth are those who do not to have a means to leave to an off-world colony. Life is now nearly unbearable on this planet, which creates a surreal beauty that is unsettling. Perhaps humanity’s march towards progress has eased now that the world is nearly dead. The farmlands of central valley of California are shown as saturated to the point that all color is removed. San Diego is literally a mountain range of discarded rubble and trash. The lands surrounding Las Vegas are permeated by brilliant orange-hued storm of dust left over from a distant war that annihilated that region of the country. This movie is the most gorgeous film I’ve seen in many years. Roger Deakens should be a shoe-in for winning best cinematography for this film.

The musical score was an essential element to the feeling of the original Blade Runner. In the new film, the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Walfisch sounds deeply influenced by the original by Vangelis, but distinct in a more menacing way. Where once was the occasional soft saxophone riff, that is now replaced with what I would describe as a aggressive distant mechanical grinding, almost like a like a large unseen machines are revving engines. To me it sounds like the death-gasp of industrialization. It powerful and unrelenting, and would let you know that 30 years after the original the world has fallen into a more sinister place. Hope is nearly gone. This greatly adds to the tension of the story.

This movie like the original centers around the relationship between humans and their genetically engineered ‘replicant’ slave labor force. On Earth, out of date replicants are eligible for ‘retirement’ i.e. execution. The plot of 2049 mostly centers around Officer K (played by Ryan Gosling), who is himself a replicant who’s job it is to hunt down an “retire” rogue replicants. As most replicants have above human levels of strength this is a difficult job, which is given the inexplicable name ‘Blade Runner’. K’s human boss at the Los Angeles Police Department is played by Robin Wright who shows the only bit of sympathy towards K while the rest of the world responds generally very hostile towards his existence.

K takes a small measure of enjoyment in life by having a relationship with an artificial intelligence who displays what feels very convincingly as genuine love for him. The movie is almost a Turing test for the AI companion to K, and really a test for K’s own since of authentic existence. The authenticity of that love becomes unclear, just like many of the big ideas in Phillip K Dick’s stories, which is why they are such interesting stories.

In the original Blade Runner the crisis of the story is that the replicants (Nexus 6 models) are searching for a way to extend their pre-determined shorter life spans. The sequel introduces an even more compelling dilemma. Replicants, specifically Rachel and Deckard from the first film, have broken down one of the most important barriers separating humans from replicants: they have had a child. It becomes officer K’s mission to locate that child which other parties are also very motivated to discover. I won’t say how the story resolves but I will say that it was unexpected, and deeply moving.

Where the original Blade Runner examined some pretty cerebral ideas about existence, the sequel sticks with that but ups the ante by adding a couple plot twists that add significant emotional gravity. There is one particular scene where K, visiting an orphanage, discovers an artifact that confirms his suspicions about his own unique existence that still gives me chills when I think about it. I won’t ruin that moment by describing in detail here, but it is a powerful moment that sticks.

Overall the movie is nearly perfect in all ways. There were no memorable pieces of dialogue like those in the original. There were no “if you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes” pronouncements or “like tears in the rain” syllogisms, or “too bad she won't live, but then who does?” philosophical moments. But that’s not a big deal. This film is about the emotional gravity set up by the mind-bending reality of the original. Overall Blade Runner 2049 is an astonishing accomplishment as a sequel.

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October 27, 2017


Halloween Playlist 2017

Two years ago I made a list of some of my favorite movies set in our around Halloween. There are plenty of great Halloween-themed movies and shows you can stream. Some that I would highly recommend include Stranger Things (season 2 comes out in just a few hours!), Castlevania, It Follows, The Guest, and so on.

This year I thought I'd make a playlist of the best Halloween-themed episodes of comedy shows you can stream. It's good to take a break from the scary stuff every now and then.

Parks and Rec (available on Netflix and Hulu)

  • Season 2, ep 7 – “Greg Pikitis” – Leslie tried to prevent a clever teenager from pranking the parks dept
  • Season 4, ep 5 – “Meet and Greet “– Andy and April have a surprise Halloween party without telling their roomate Ben
  • Season 5, ep 5 – “Halloween Surprise” – Ron and Andy take Diane's daughters trick or treating
  • Season 6, ep 7 – “Recall Vote”

Brooklyn Nine Nine (available on Hulu) – each season of Brooklyn Nine Nine contains an episode featuring an ongoing battle between Detective Peralta and Captain Holt to one-up each other with Holiday Pranks.

  • Season 1, ep 6 – “Halloween”
  • Season 2, ep 4 – “Halloween II”
  • Season 3, ep 5 – “Halloween III”
  • Season 4, ep 5 – “Halloween IV”

Community (available on Hulu)

  • Season 1, ep 7 – “Introduction to Statistics”
  • Season 2, ep 6 – “Epidemiology”

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September 30, 2017


Getting Ready For Blade Runner 2049

It’s less than a week until the sequel to Blade Runner comes to theaters. And I’m happy to report, many of the film nerds I follow on twitter who’ve had the privilege of seeing an advance screening are all giving it a lot of praise. That shouldn’t come as such as surprise considering the director is Dennis Villeneuve who really killed it with last year’s Arrival. And he’s working with cinematographer Roger Deakins who’s past work includes many of the Coen Brothers films as well as the work of Sam Mendes. This is crucial because the shots and the atmosphere are such a critically important element of the original.

Blade Runner may be my favorite film of all time. There is no question it’s my favorite science fiction film, not to mention my favorite film by Ridley Scott and my favorite adaptation of a Philip K Dick story.

I am looking forward to this sequel so much I thought it would make sense to put together a guide for getting ready:

First, and most obvious, you need to re-watch Blade Runner, preferably the Final Cut. And if you’re lucky enough to have a collection with multiple versions I suggest also watching at least the original theatrical cut, and possibly the Director’s Cut. In the theatrical cut, the narration by Ford gives it a distinctly different experience. It’s pretty much universally accepted that it’s much better without the narration (and apparently Ford was so against doing it that he intentionally made it as campy sounding as possible), but the narration does give some insights to the world of Blade Runner and the characters that make watching it very worthwhile. The theatrical version was the first I ever saw, when I rented it on VHS as a teenager. Now when I watch the high definition final cut It’s astonishing to me how much visual clarity is added.

Next you should watch the three teaser short films that bridge the gap between the original and 2049. Much like the teaser films leading up to Scott’s Alien prequel earlier this year, these short films give context to the characters we can expect to see in the sequel.

Just as important as the visuals are the sounds. This YouTube video does a great job explaining the history of the soundtrack of blade runner, and just how much of an impact it makes on the film.

If you really want to prepare yourself you might consider doing a marathon of movies based on Philip K Dick (PKD) stories. Many of them share the most intriguing sci-fi themes: altered states of reality, personal crises of identity, artificial intelligence and whether it is any less valid human consciousness, corruption in politics and corporations, and the ethics of scientific advances.

Many of the most mind-bending science fiction films are based on the work of PKD. Examples include: Minority Report, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau … and some lesser known gems like Imposter, and the Total Recall 2020 TV series which actually bears a closer resemblance to the world Blade Runner than Total Recall. Although not really sci-fi, A Scanner Darkly and The Man in the High Castle are equally mind-bending.

If you really really want to be ready for the sequel, you could also watch the 1998 movie Solider staring Kurt Russel. David Peoples (one of the writers who converted Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep into Blade Runner) has stated that the film Soldier, which he also wrote, shares the same cinematic universe as Blade Runner, and since Peoples contributed to pretty significantly it’s only fair that he be given some credibility.

Philip K Dick certainly left behind a legacy in sci-fi. I’ve read on twitter that the director Villeneuve had a lot of creative freedom with the sequel, which is great by me. He has proven his abilities with sci-fi, and its very exciting to hear from many institutions that the sequel may even exceed the original.

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August 22, 2017


Total Eclipse Of My Heart

The total eclipse was without a doubt one of the coolest experiences I have ever had. I feel a conflict of emotions when describing just how awesome the experience was to folks who watched from outside the zone of totality. One one hand: I want them to know how cool it was to experience it in person. On the other hand: I don't want to make them feel sad for being so close to seeing a total eclipse and just barely missing out on the experience. It truly was a surreal, and magical and extraordinary experience that no photo or second hand account can explain.

I tagged along with some friends down to Eastover SC, and fortunately they were able to acquire some official eclipse viewing glasses. We also used a colander and a piece of cardboard with a pinhole to create a visualization of the eclipse.

Unless you're a professional photographer you just can't take a decent photo of the moon or sun, and especially when they are combined in a glorious ring of fire in the night sky. Leave that to the pros. I did take this kinda neat panoramic photo of the area where we were standing under the eclipse.

The Washington Post has a really great interactive map experience that allows you to use your scroll wheel to follow the path of the eclipse across the country. As as web designer/developer, and a map enthusiast, I have to say this takes the cake as one of the coolest web experiences I've ever had!

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August 20, 2017


Eclipse Playlist

Tomorrow is the must awaited total solar eclipse that will pass close by over South Carolina. Sadly I am one of those who were duped by bogus eclipse glasses on Amazon, so I will be resorting to the old-fashioned pin-hole-in-a-thin-piece-of-cardboard-and-projecting-on-a-second-piece-of-cardboard-technique.

If you are planning to watch, please make absolutly sure you are using the proper eye projection!

Anyways, I figued such an important event deserved it's own special playlist, see below...

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August 16, 2017


Huffmans Out West

I've recently returned from a pretty epic trip out west seeing some of the amazing beauty in that part of the country. View the gallery.

This year instead of the typical family beach vacation, since my neice was getting married we decided to turn that trip into our vacation. My niece Hannah asked me to perform her wedding ceremony. It was the honor of a lifetime, and I was more than a little nervous about doing a good job. It turned out pretty wonderful, with the help of everyone. I would say it was the must fun and beautiful wedding that I've ever attended, and I think I did a pretty good job with the ceremony :)

The wedding was held at the AA Barn, which is on property that meets up against the Colorado River. It was a beautiful place to have a wedding, and the weather worked out perfectly.

I decided to make the most out of this trip and extend the vacation with a trip out west to see some of the awesome National Parks in our country. This was largely inspired by my trip last summer to San Francisco and experiencing the John Muir Woods National Monument.

My mom and dad were up for going with me on this journey. I tried to fit in as much as possible in the somewhat narrow window of time we had after the wedding. They did a great job hanging in there for this whirlwind National Parks experience.

We were already right next to Rocky Mountain National Park, so that's where our National Park trip began. From there we headed west on I-70 into Utah, heading for Bryce Canyon and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and then heading north on I-15 up to Yellowstone and the Tetons. It was pretty amazing.

All of the parks were amazing but if I had to pick a best one, then it would have to be Bryce Canyon. Bryce is gorgeous, and the lodge accommodations were really amazing, and perfectly situated next to the famous Bryce Amplitheater. Next time I'll definitely try to see less places and spend more time in one particular place, hiking and camping around.

Here's a gallery of some of the more interesting photos I was able to capture from the wedding and the trip to the parks.

And here's a map of our trip. I have to say, it was a pretty intense amount of driving. In a weeks time we drove over 2,000 miles. It was really impressive seeing the landscape transform as we journeyed from state to state.

I plan to pen a more detailed post about my impression of the parks later. I really can't wait to get back out there and see some more of what the parks system has to offer; they truly are some of our most precious gifts.

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August 15, 2017


Spring 2017 Photos

Here's some photos from the first part of this year.

Highlights include: Dana's 50th birthday, Jeff visits, Mom and Dad visit for Easter, Dad visits for father's day, Baseball game in Baltimore with Dad and the Sanders family, visiting the air and space extension.

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June 5, 2017


Comparing Creative Software

I am not a professional graphic designer, but I do use photo and design programs quite a bit for every day tasks like photo retouching and vector image creation. I've been and will continue to be a supporter of open-source software alternatives. But I'm also interested in more cost-friendly commercial alternatives. I'm always curious about new software, especially design related, which is why I was really intrigued to learn about the fairly recent Affinity apps. It's been a long time since Adobe has had a serious commercial competitor (RPI Macromedia). But that day may have come with the arrival of the Affinity set of creative applications. I've been trying them out, and so far I've really impressed. So, I compared both Affinity apps with their Adobe and open-source counterparts.

Note: Affinity is a line of design software from Serif, a software company based in Britain that has been producing Windows-based software for quite awhile. It seems they're going through a serious re-branding with the Affinity brand, focusing equally on Mac and Windows and trying to be a real challenger to Adobe. Technically they are, but practically they aren't.

Illustration/Vector Editing

To compare the features of the illustration applications I used each to create a really simple image of a candy bar with the wrapper partially missing, and a bite taking out of the chocolate, as well as a little bit of drop shadow to give it a slight 3D effect. I did this to demonstrate the similarities of the three applications in what they are capable of creating.

If you were to ask me what are the two most important features of Illustrator, I would say they are the pathfinder and the pen tool. Also the transform and alignment functions are critical. Each of the three applications have these tools, although they have slightly different names. Googling solves most confusions where feature names are different from one application to the next.

I intentionally tried not to make them look exactly the same to demonstrate that each is unique, but I used the same processes all three times. I could just as easily made the exact save version with each app. The tools I relied on most are the pen tool, the pathfinder feature, the node selector, and the linked offset feature.

One major advantage both Inkscape and Affinity Designer have over Illustrator is file size. It's quite shocking how much larger Adobe files are, even when saved as svg without Illustrator editing capabilities preserved (brings it down to around 800 KB).

Retouching/Raster Editing

There are some things that GIMP does out-of-the-box that PhotoShop cannot even do without a plug-in, such as creating and editing ICO files (favicons). The more recent editions of GIMP offer a single-window UI which is much closer to Photoshop. Although the names of things are a bit different in GIMP from Photoshop, a little playing and/or Googleing can help you quickly identify how to do all of the same tasks

After spending a week testing out Affinity Photo I'm pretty impressed with how close it resembles Photoshop. I really like that the keyboard shortcuts are the same. For example, I can't tell you how often I use Cmd/Ctrl+Alt+I to open the dialog to scale an image. Or Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+C to crop an image. This works the same in Affinity. Just an example of how easy it is to transition from one program to the other.

Importance of Workflow

Aside from the abundance of features that Adobe offers with it's creative cloud, it's iron-clad grip on the creative industry is really it's most important attribute, by which I mean your ability to collaborate with other designers, almost all of whom use Adobe products

Most professional designers I work with would not take anything other than Adobe seriously. From their logical point of view: why would they bother learning a new set of tools when they can stick with what they know, and what is the industry standard. Of course, most of them don't have to worry about affording the software as their employer typically foots that bill

I've read or heard a lot of reviews for Affinity that rave about it's capabilities and price, but relay that what matters most is really the software skills someone has when working with a team. So if you can't blend into a team that uses Adobe products, you skills no matter how amazing are irrelevant. Others argue that its really your ideas that matter, and as long as you can use whatever tools are provided to accomplish the same thing, it makes no difference. The key is, even if you make use of Affinity software, if you want to collaborate in the design world, you need to know how to get things done using Adobe products.

The Final Verdict

Definitely give Affinity software a try! The combination of capabilities and cost make it a no-brainier. You can do the same work with any of these tools. Affinity has all of the most important capabilities. It's backed by a small but dedicated company with a lot of experience, so you'll get a lot of benefit from that support. When ever I had a question on how to do something, I can usually find a post of the Affinity forum that provides an answer

If you're a pro graphic designer you'll probably not be swayed or able to switch away from Adobe. If you're a web designer/developer who doesn’t necessarily always need access to Adobe they you could really find Affinity to be a great and much-less expensive alternative

Here's a few things that I think could help Affinity:

  1. Extend your free Trial. 10 days is kind of a short evaluation time. Even Adobe gives you a month.
  2. Make a license user based, and OS-agnostic. With Adobe a user can download and install on multiple OSes. I shouldn't have to pay for both a Windows and Mac version of the same program.

I will always continue to recommend the open-source options. With GIMP and Inkscape you have all of the most important functionality that Photoshop and Illustrator offer, as do Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo, but with open-source it's 100% free, and supported by a big community of open-source enthusiasts! Affinity's advantages are getting support from the company, and having a more polished-looking UI, and being a great low cost but familiar and functional alternative to Adobe.

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May 18, 2017


Getting Ready for Alien Covenant

Alien Covenant is finally here! So now’s a good time to catch up on all the related films in both the Alien and Predator franchises...

Movie title/year the film was released/time when majority of film takes place

  • Predator/1987/1987
  • Predator 2/1990/1997 (Bill Paxton is killed by a Predator)
  • The Predator/2018/sometime between 1997 and 2010
  • Alien vs Predator/2004/2004
  • Aliens vs Predator Requiem/2004/2004
  • Predators/2010/2010
  • Prometheus/2012/2093
  • Alien Covenant/2017/2104
  • Alien/1979/2122
  • Aliens/1986/2179 (Bill Paxton is killed by an Alien)
  • Alien3/1992/2179
  • Alien Resurrection/1997/2381

Next year we get to experience a new stand-alone Predator movie. This one, The Predator, is written and directed by Shane Black, who knows a thing or two about film making and Predators seeing as he portrayed one of the characters in the original film, and he's written/directed quite a few quality flicks including the first two Lethal Weapon films, The Nice Guys and Iron Man 3. Interestingly though, if it's true that this film will be set after Predator 2 and before Predators, then this will be the first Predator movie not set in either the current time or the future.

You should certainly check out the teaser Fox put our that bridges the events in Prometheus and Alien Covenant:

And this teaser that shows the crew of the Covenant enjoying a meal together...

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May 14, 2017


Guardians of the Franchise

Well I did end up seeing Guardian's Vol 2, and while it was by no means a bad entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was no where near as amazing as the original. It might not be fair to even make the comparison. After all, Guardian's Vol. 1 is in my view one of the best sci-fi films ever. It vastly transcends the MCU's other films in just being a solidly great film, perfectly balancing humor with adventure and nostalgia. It's a tall order to try to match that. So I wasn't too surprised that Vol. 2 didn't quite live up to the original, but it does seem to me that once a really cool unique film finds success that movie execs suddenly become risk-adverse. It's a shame. I wish they would just let the story continue taking us to really cool and unexpected narratives. But I guess they would rather stick to the script, to scrape in as much cash as possible using the techniques that are proven sucessful and ultimately boring.

The acting was great, the effects par for the course; it's just the story that was really flat. I also think there was a massive missed opportunity here [spoiler alert] in not connecting the story with other characters in the overall MCU, especially considering the several scenes depicting Earth. They could have easily shown Spidey or Nick Fury watching on TV as the strange phenomenon was occurring on Earth.

So overall, not bad but not even close to as awesome as Vol. 1. ... In other movie-related news, there is a new trailer for the Blade Runner sequel!

This is the only movie that really matters to me this year. Blade Runner is such an important film. It still has some of the most gorgeous imagery, the rain-drenched neon-lit dystopia. It has aged beautifully when compared to other films based on PKD's works. The story is deeply intriguing. The characters incredibly fascinating.

The sequel looks like it has everything going for it. A great cast featuring Ryan Gosling, and most importantly including Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos reprising their roles. The cinematography from the trailers looks great. One of the writers (Micheal Green) contributed to Logan which was fantastic. The director (Denis Villeneuve) previously directed The Arrival which was also fantastic (he is also set to direct a new adaptation of Dune).

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May 4, 2017


May The Forth And Movie News

Since it's officially Star Wars Day I'm going to just say it: I think Rogue One is maybe the best Star Wars film! The characters are amazing! It's the only prequel to the original that we really need, and it's just a lot of fun. It certainly holds it's own with Empire, and Force Awakens. I am really excited to see The Last Jedi later this year!

In other news, this new trailer for Thor looks really great! I'm happy that it's directed by Taika Waititi who had a demonstrated talent with comedy (Eagle Vs Shark, Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in Shadows).

There is also a new Alien Covenant scene that connects the events of Prometheus with the next movie. This scene looks very intriguing to say the least. I hope Covenant expands on the world of the engineers.

What I'm most excited for really is Guardian's of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which opens tomorrow! I've been looking forward to this ever since I walked out of the theater after seeing Vol. 1.

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April 21, 2017


Talking About the Weather

Weather is usually something pretty boring to talk about. Something reserved for last resorts to fill some awkward silence. Why is that? Is it because of how universally affected people are by the weather. It has a significant impact on every human's life. So on the most basic level, we all can think of something to say about it.

In my family weather is usually considered with a pretty high degree of curiosity. Maybe it's because my dad was a Navy man, or my brother's time working as part of the search and rescue helicopter crew in the Coast Guard. Whenever hurricane season starts I start scanning radar maps for potential storms far out in the Atlantic. And when the family vacation starts to approach, my dad and brother get excited checking the forecasts.

This got me thinking: What are the best weather apps? This seems to be a surprisingly elusive question, maybe due to how many there are, each with pretty much the same sort of pros and cons that really just boils down to personal tastes.

I've tried quite a few, and have some recommendations. First let me say that I am a bit picky about which apps I download. I tend to do a lot of research beforehand. Another caveat, I really don't like ads in my apps. In my research, Yahoo's weather app, the redesigned Weather Channel app, the Weather Underground app, and Dark Skies all were commonly referenced as great weather apps. I've also asked co-workers which apps they often rely on. Here is my review...

Native iOS weather app – If you use the iPhone and need a no frills app the one that's built into iOS will do. You can easily keep track of multiple locations and know what’s in store for the next seven days. Lacks advanced features, but hey its free and no ads!

The Weather Channel – I had assumed that the Weather Channel's official app would be the stand-out winner, but to be honest I was never very impressed with the experience using the app. I understand that it went through a pretty extensive redesign a few years back but still I find it to be pretty average. It does offer all the bells and whistles such as a radar map, an extended forecast, but it also features annoying ads, and was pretty sluggish especially if you're working on an older phone.

Solar – the first weather app that really impressed me visually was Solar. Solar has an extremely minimal and delightful interface. Colorful animated backgrounds with warmer colors indicate warmer weather, and cooler colors (blues) indicate cooler temps. Solar is the exact opposite of a feature rich app, instead it's focused on the aesthetic. It's just an ultra simple and elegant presentation of the weather. And although free, it never featured ads while I was using it. Solar is in my view the best looking weather app to date. However it has not been updated since 2013 so I am hesitant to suggesting using it.

Yahoo Weather – Yahoo tends to get a terrible rap when it comes to most of it's endevors, but Yahoo's weather app has been pretty amazing. It was for a while my main weather app because of it's very nice interface and greater degree of weather data. The app is free, but it does have some annoying ads that are not possible to remove. The nicest and most unique part of the app is the simple UI that features background images taken from local photographers' Flickr accounts (Flickr is a photo sharing service also owned by Yahoo). I've noticed that the backgrounds will update depending on where I am in the city, showing sculptures or areal shots when I'm near my office, or shots of the skyline when I'm closer to home. So it really takes advantage of location data to serve up interesting background images. This alone is reason to check it out. The UI also features minimalistic animations to depict when sever weather is happening, such as flashes to indicate lightning, or rain washing down the screen. The app has quite a lot of useful features including extended forecasts and a radar map. I really like the Yahoo weather app, but the fate of Yahoo after it's recent acquisition by Verizon has me questioning how much effort will continue to be put into keeping up with the app. Also the fact that I can't get rid of the ads is irksome.

Dark Sky Weather – A lot of my research favored the Dark Skies app for having a really nice design, and very accurate weather predictions, some suggesting to the minute accuracy.  It's not free however. It's a little on the expensive side as apps go, at $4, but at least it will never feature ads. The UI is very minimal and pleasing. I've not found the weather predictions to particularly more accurate than any other weather app but the presentation of the information is pretty appealing. And it does have a nicely designed radar map.

Weather Underground – By far the stand-out winner in my view is the Weather Underground app. The amount of information available is fantastic. With graphs charting the changing temperature overlaying chance of precipitation, detailed radar and other maps, and lots of other data available, you really get an advanced view of what the weather is shaping into. (The Weather Underground website also provides all the same detailed information, and has replaced weather.com as my go-to weather website.) The app comes with ads, but for a couple bucks you can pay to turn those off for a year. I wish Yahoo offered that feature. To me, the Weather Underground app has perfected having a lot of information available, with an understandable user interface.

It's worth noting that the Weather Channel cable channel and the weather.com website/app are no longer connected. In 2012 they were sold to a consortium and were brought under a new parent company renamed The Weather Company. In 2016 all the digital properties which include the website and the app became a property of IBM. The Weather Company is also the parent company of Weather Underground. So in a way, the Weather Channel app and the Weather Underground app are now sister apps.

if you're looking for an attractive minimal design with (apparently) ultra precise weather predictions, and don't mind paying a little, you might want to try the Dark Skies app. But the fact that you can turn off ads in Weather Underground, and the sheer amount of features it offers makes it a clear winner in my mind.

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April 13, 2017


Atom has become my go-to text editor

A little over a year ago I wrote a post comparing text editors, so I thought I'd take some time to reflect back on those, as well as a new ones I've started using. Atom is becoming my favorite text editor and I'm relying on it for almost everything lately.

I spend a lot of time using text editors. I like to try out new ones every so often. I feel like if you work in code it's good to try out new tools. For a long time, Notepad ++ was my go to editor. When others argued the benefits of using Dreamweaver as an IDE, I found myself more drawn to the independence of open-source Notepad ++ (plus any old FTP client). Then I discovered that there had been an emergence in a lot of new text editor options. I still love Notepad++ and give it credit for providing a great tool that inspired others. I have found a few new tools that I think are pretty great.

For a while I was using Brackets, an open-source Adobe product. Brackets really is a great editor that has some awesome features designed specifically for web designers/developers. I really like Brackets and I'll probably keep using it for some time. There are some really great features in Brackets. I like that it offers some features that were nice about Dreamweaver, such as auto tag closing, and the image preview when you hover over an image file path. It also provides a live preview of your edits via Google Chrome. But even on my pretty fast work computer Brackets can be a little slow to load, but overall much faster than Dreamweaver or any other Adobe product, just nowhere near as quick as Notepad++, Sublime or VS Code.

My current editor preference is the Atom editor, from the GitHub community. Like Brackets, it's also free and open-source, and it's also cross platform. I find it to have a great set of options and is pretty easy to customize to your needs. This video has some great tips for setting up Atom.

Here are some of the reasons I have grown to love Atom:

  1. At first I was really missing the self-closing tag feature of Brackets, but I've found the Atom alternative of using the shift key to pull up a dialoge box when beginning a tag to be more than equal as an alternative. You can also quickly close any tag by keying 'Ctrl+Alt+.'
  2. The customization of Atom is so easy, and so thoughtful. I really like the line that designates where code will end, and the lines you can have to designate tabs, and the ability to let the page scroll below the last line. Little features like these make the editor very comfortable to use.
  3. Search and replace works great: the 'Ctrl+F' function of Notepad++ allows me to easy find and replace multi-lines of text and for a while I thought that function was absent in Atom. It is in fact built into Atom, however the command is 'Ctrl+E.' 'Ctrl+F' still works, however it is single line find and replace only. No problem, but because 'Ctrl+E' works perfectly.

Recently I discovered another option for text editors, Miscrosoft's Visual Studio Code. VS Code is also open source, and out of the box has a lot of nice features. I also find it to be pretty fast to load compared to other editors, because of this VS Code has become my go-to editor for quick code edits, and I really rely on Atom for most projects where I'm spending any length of time. With Atom, if you take advantage of the available extensions (like the minimap, and the pigments color previewer) and customization options, you have one excellent editor.

Quite a few, probably most, front end web developers swear by Sublime Text. Sublime may not be free, but it is very affordable at just $70 for a lifetime license. A lifetime license will let you use the app on unlimited machines and operating systems. I've tried it, and I like it, but my attraction for open-source products keeps me going back to Atom, Brackets, and VS Code. I suggest that designers/developers try out all the editors they can. It's nice to have options!

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April 12, 2017


Movies I've Recently Watched: Logan and Ghost in the Shell

I've seen some pretty excellent movies recently ...


Logan is without doubt the best film in the X-Men series. It stands alone as a beautiful film that can be enjoyed by fans of the franchise, and non-fans alike. It's just a really great story. You get the best performance yet from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. The premise is simple (spoilers ahead): an aging Wolverine, somehow dying as his healing abilities are fleeting, is caring for an elderly Professor X who is suffering from dementia. It certainly helps if you know the backgrounds of these characters, but you never need to have read a comic or seen a previous film to appreciate the humanity depicted here. In this alternate time-line mutants are more or less wiped out of existence, living on the fringe, which is where Wolverine takes care of Charles. While this is going on, a new person enters their lives and provides purpose again for the old heroes.

Logan is R-rated for extreme violence. Wolverine finally lets his claws out in the way that he has in the comics. It's almost like this film makes up for the lack of blood in previous films in the series. This is the real Wolverine we've waited for a long time to see. A perfect ending for Jackman and Stewart in the series.

Ghost in the Shell

First I'll say that I'm a big anime fan in general, and in particular of the original Ghost in the Shell, although I hadn't seen any of the sequels or supporting series. Back in the early 2000s I became interested in anime. And after reading that a lot of the Matrix, and in particular the character of Trinity, was inspired by GitS, I had to check it out. It's maybe one of the most original and mind tripping cyberpunk sci-fi films I'd ever seen. I loved it, but it took me years to fully appreciate it.

As for the new live action Ghost in the Shell: in some ways I think it's amazing, in others just about average.

Before watching the new Ghost in the Shell I re-watched the original. The new GitS got a lot of flack for the “whitewashing” of the main protagonist from Japanese to Caucasian. The character of Major is a treasure of Japanese culture. To make her character white is egregious. And this comes on the heels of the controversy of the whitewashing of the character of the Ancient One in Dr Strange. It does feature prominent Japanese actor Beat Takeshi (who stared in, wrote and directed one of the weirdest and most interesting movies I've ever seen: Kikujiro no Natsu) as a fantastic chief of Section 9, but that could never make up for the changes to Major. That said, I think Scarlet Johanson pulled off her version of the character just fine. The cast is all around pretty great. The best part of the new GitS is how it visually brings the original to life. The world of GitS is gorgeous in live action. It takes a lot of care to recreate scenes from the original in beautiful detail. That alone is worth seeing it in the theater. Where it breaks down, apart from the changes to Major, is the dumbed-down dialogue. All the interesting aspects of the world of GitS have to be explained by the characters as we progress through the story, as if these characters weren’t fully aware of what a 'Ghost' or a 'Shell' were. This assumes the audience is too lazy to think critically during the movie about the ideas being addressed. (I think about the movie Dune which I didn't have the fortune of seeing in the theater but have read that it came with a glossary of terms for moviegoers – David Lynch expected his audience to do a little research, not force a script on them that explained every little detail). That's my biggest complaint. I think you could edit out 5 to 10 minutes of that explanatory dialogue and have a much tighter and more interesting movie. This new GitS really makes me cherish the subtly of the original.

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March 14, 2017


Ways to Celebrate Pi Day

I like to celebrate unusual holidays such as Star Wars Day (5/4), and Groundhog Day (2/2). Today happens to be Pi Day (3/14) so I thought I'd compile a list of fun ways to celebrate Pi Day.

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