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

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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February 12, 2017

 

What Time Is It?

I thought it would be nice to have a screensaver that told both the date and time, so I coded one using just a little HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Here is a CodePen of the static version of the clock, and here is a CodePen of the screensaver version where the date and time will move around randomly on your screen every 7 seconds. Cool!

I've also put the static version of the clock on my porfolio site here, and the screensaver version here.

Below is the screensaver version:

See the Pen Cool Clock Screensaver by Jonathan Huffman (@jonathan-codepen) on CodePen.

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February 11, 2017

 

I Just Discovered BrowserQuest

This is cool! I discovered BrowserQuest, a game that runs in your browser, developed for Mozilla by Little Workshop. It's a pretty fun little RPG style game with a few references to other video games and pop culture hidden within the game. It is built entirely with HTML5 and JavaScript. And by using WebSprokets technology it is able to be a massive multiplayer online game. Pretty impressive! The functionality is awesome. The graphics are fantastic. I really like everything about this game, but they took it another level and added a wonderful homage to Portal, my favorite video game!

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February 9, 2017

 

Coolest Charlotte Places

Having lived in Charlotte for over 10 years I've discovered a lot of really cool places to explore. Here's my list of the best places to hang out.

Abari – a video game arcade plus bar. They have a lot of classic arcade machines that are restored to their original glory. You can relive your childhood playing Ms Pacman, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and many others. They also have a great selection of pinball machines (my favorites include: Star Trek The Next Generation, Indiana Jones, and The Adams Family), as well as a bunch of console classics for the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis. If you like video games and beer, you've no excuse not to check out this really fun and geeky place to hang out. For the low price of one dollar you can buy a life-time membership. Visit their website.

The National Whitewater Center – home and official training site for the US Olympic kayaker and rafting teams. I actually stumbled on the USA and Canada teams training before the 2008 Olympics. If you like outdoor fun, you have access to tons of hiking running and mountain biking trails. They also have several whitewater courses for kayakers and rafters, as well as a climbing wall, ropes courses, and flat-water kayaking. In the summer they often feature free or inexpensive concerts. Visit their website.

The Common Market Deli – essentially a pilgrimage site for hipsters. This place feels like ground zero for the alternative crowd. They serve a great beer and wine selection, and some really great coffee. But the main reason to go is for the deli which makes some of the best sandwiches! It's always crowded, but it's a really cool crowd.

The Map Shop – If you're a map or flag enthusiast, you have to make a trip to the Map Shop. Some of the most interesting maps from around the world are available in their selection. Its a great place to find travel guides as well. And of course they have some great custom maps of Charlotte. Visit their website.

Exit Strategy – if you're looking for an unusual team building exercise, then consider Exit Strategy. The idea is your group is put into a room with a theme that requires using problem solving to escape in less than an hour. My company went there and we actually escaped the room with a Bank Heist theme just in the nick of time. Visit their website.

Breweries – in recent years breweries have popped up around Charlotte like mushrooms overnight. There are quite a few great choices when it comes to selection and atmosphere. My favorites are: Birdsong, Noda and Unknown.

BB&T Ballpark – When it comes to sports, Charlotte has a lot of options: from the Panthers (NFL), to the Hornets (NBA). There's also the Charlotte Checkers (minor league hockey), the Charlotte Independence (minor league soccer), the Charlotte Hounds (major league lacrosse), and the Charlotte Roller Girls (roller derby). And you can't forget that the city is home to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But a ticket to BB&T Ballpark, home of the minor league baseball Charlotte Knights (AAA minor league baseball team for the Whitesocks), is the best deal in the Queen City. I think it has the best view of any ballpark I've attended. I'm biased because I love baseball, but I really think it's the best sports arena in the city. Visit their website.

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February 8, 2017

 

L'eggo Our Eggo: Stranger Things Season 2 Trailer

Whether it was intentional or not, the relevance of Eggos in Stranger Things season 1 was a brilliant piece of product placement. I've had quite a few Eggos after watching season one (I tell myself it's out of solidarity with Eleven). Really they are the perfect food when your on the run in a parallel universe.

Netflix just released an awesome trailer for Stranger Things Season 2. And it's also pretty much an ad for Eggos.

The trailer for Season 2 begins with an actual Eggos commercial from the 80s. Their twitter stream is certainly taking advantage of the publicity. It looks like we'll have to follow Eggo for clues about the next season.

This screenshot has some clues I noticed in the trailer:

But there might even be more clues in these tweets by Eggo:

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February 4, 2017

 

Coding Until 3AM

It's not that unusual to get focused on coding and lose all track of time experimenting with code into the late hours. You keep telling yourself that it'll just take "one more hour" to solve the problem, or finish the design, or complete the article. Then 3AM rolls around and you realize you have a meeting first thing in the morning. I think this happens to a lot of different creative types of professions, but it seems especially prone to coders.

This week I got the urge to redesign this blog, and it's a bit complicated since you're working around bloggers unique elements that dynamically pull in the blog post data. But it's fun to come up with a new design every once in a while. In fact, that set of buttons in my last post was an exercise because I was working on redesigning the buttons for this blog. It's the little details that make all the difference. And those details can becoming overwhelming at times. But if it's what you like to do, then it's worth the payoff of discovering something new.

Below is a screen shot comparing the old design with the new.

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February 1, 2017

 

Nine Button Styles

I thought it might be fun to design some button styles this evening. Then I thought it would be a good opportunity to post on CodePen.

See the Pen Nine Button Styles by Jonathan (@jonathan-codepen) on CodePen.

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January 30, 2017

 

Best Indie Films

A couple weeks ago I went with some friends to see the movie Paterson. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, usually a mark of a really good movie. For me what makes a movie really good is when it generates intersting ideas that you take with you, and that enrich your life. Paterson is that kind of film. It's almost a guide for thinking about what really matters in life. Perhapse that is just the style of director Jim Jaramuch. The only other of his films that I had seen was Broken Flowers, which was also good, but I didn't like it nearly as much as Paterson. Paterson is about poetry, and there certainly is a poetic beauty in the way the story unfolds, a deliberate and subtle unraveling of circumstance. Each scene is a like a pause to take notice of the commonalities and slight differences from day to day. And in those little differences we see significance. It's really up to the viewer to see what they want to see, but I found myself much more observant of my surroundings on my way to work over the next week, and of the conversations I had with coworkers and friends.

Anyways, after thinking about Paterson so much I decided to make a list of my favorite indie films. For this list I'm focusing on films that stuck with me and made me examine life. There are quite a few action films, and sci-fi films that would qualify as indie. The Terminator would qualify as an indie film, but that feels much more like a blockbuster. So here's the list:

  • Paterson (obviously)
  • Captain Fantastic
  • Lars and the Real Girl
  • The Station Agent
  • Lost in Translation
  • Bottle Rocket
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Silver Linings Playbook

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January 29, 2017

 

Digital Careers

There is no better time than now to consider a digital career. Depending on if you are more creative or technical, there are many kinds of digital careers to consider, and there are many ways to get into the business.

Types of Digital Careers (these are just some common types)

Front End Developer – someone who is often thought of as a web designer, or a webmaster, web developer, web designer/developer, and so on. This work involves working on the front end languages that comprise web design/development (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript). These anguages are the types of code that get delivered to your web browser.

Back End Developer – someone who works on the back end (server side) of a website, using languages that were designed to run on a server (such as Python or Ruby) as well as managing databases where information is stored.

Full Stack Developer – a Full stack developer is someone who works in both the front end as well as the back end of the web development process. This is someone who can take a project from concept to completion. They have an understanding of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, as well as layngagues like Ruby on Rails, and interaction with relational databases.

SEO Specialist – a Search Enginge Optinization (SEO) Specialist is someone who provides guidance to help web pages rank higher in search engines such as Google and Bing.

Web Copy Writing – a Web Copy Writer is someone who specialies in writing copy that is enhansed for web. They typically consider the useability of the copy, the SEO value, and the website audience when preparing copy.

Graphic Design – Graphic Design is a traditional discipline that can be learned at an art school

UX Design – UX Design (User eXperience Design) is often confused with UI Design (User Interface Design), they overlap however they are pretty different. This blog post does a good job explaining the differences.

There are a lot of great learning opportunities out there to get experience in a digital careers. Quite a few people have restarted their professional lives learning new things on the side, and launching a new digital career.

Online Education

One route you can take is to educate yourself in your spare time. If you're interested in learning to code, then its a good idea to try an online service such as CodeCademy, CodeSchool, Udacity, Udemy and Corsera. I highly recommend CodeCademy because there are a lot of learning resources available for free! Udacity offers what they term “nanodegrees” specifically for Front End Development and Full Stack Development, and many others. If coding and programming is of interest to you, it's a good idea to check out the free CS50 Harvard course available on edX.

Traditional Education

If you're looking to get a degree, you have some options. Your best bet is to find a good program in either computer science, communications, marketing or graphic design at a public institution (I would highly suggestthe SMAD program at JMU).

When it comes to coding, it is traditionally a computer science focused discipline, however people who work in web development often have all different sorts of backgrounds. Graphic design, UI, UX have a lot of artistic elements that can benefit from a fine arts education. I would suggest the free CS50 class provided by edX to get a taste for computer science. I'm hesitant to recommend any for-profit education system, however there are some non-traditional schools that specialize in digital: Full Sail, SCAD, RISDI, Cal Arts. You can get a bachelors degree from Full Sail that is specifically geared towards web development, but it's worth cautioning to keep in mind that there are intangible benefits of getting a well-rounded degree from an accredited higher institution. You may not always want to be a web developer but if your degree is specifically in that career path it could become more of a challenge to change later. And keep in mind that many web developers come a broad range of backgrounds and academic disciplines.

Where you might go is up to you. Whatever your path, perusing a digital career can be exciting and rewarding.

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January 28, 2017

 

5 Video Games That Need to be Adapted Into Movies

The video-game-to-movie cross-over has been a popular trend over the years, with some of the biggest names making the transition. However, there are some surprising omissions from that list...

Metroid

I think Metroid and it's sequels are some of the most interesting games Nintendo has ever produced.

Metroid is a Nintendo classic that is a unique and Althogugh a minor player when compared with Mario and Zelda fanchises, the Zelda series has enjoyed a lot of success and popularity over the years.

Metroid was fairly innovative to make the protagonist female in an era where the protagonists in video games were almost always male, and currently they are still mostly male, so this was pretty groundbreaking back in the mid-1980s. The eerie science fiction and alien battle scenes would fit right in with films like Alien and Starship Troopers

The Legend of Zelda

The video game itself is classic fantasy – a young hero is tasked with rescuing a princess and saving a kingdom. It is said that the concept for Legend of Zelda was inspired by the film Legend by Ridley Scott. Its one of the most loved series of games in video game history, spanning decades.

Halo

Attempts to bring this story to cinema in the past gave us the amazing District 9. The mythology of Halo is daunting in the same way that the mythology of Lord of the Rings is daunting. And the storytelling is fantastic. The popularity of its multiplayer gameplay may be second to none. I only really ever got into the story of Halo 2, the first of the series I had access to. But even just playing the campaign in that one title I was able to appreciate the grande scale of the game.

Attempts have been made before to bring the game to cinema, with Peter Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp working together. Ultimately that effort fell through the cracks, but the efforts let to the creation of District 9, for which we can be ever grateful.

The Last of Us

Full disclosure: I've never played this game because it's only available for play on the PlayStation 3 or 4, but I've heard from those who have tried it that is has one of the best post apocalyptic stories ever created, or that its better than any movie they had seen.

Portal and/or Half Life

Portal and Portal 2 are possibly the best video games I've ever played. They achieved the perfect balance of intrigue, fun, and humor. And they share the same universe as the Half Life series of games, another of my favorite series of games. With games this good, you wonder why even bother bringing them to cinematic format, but then again, if there is any way to enhance or elaborate on the story that the film environment can provide its worth the effort. JJ Abrams and Gabe Newell have flirted at the idea.

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January 24, 2017

 

Web Development: Who to Follow

One of the things I've wanted this site to be is sort of a collection of useful links for categories I find interesting. When it comes to web design/development I've come to realize it's less about the links than it is about the people who are shaping the industry. Here are some folks who are most certainly worth following:

Chris Coyier (personal website)(twitter) – Chris works on CSS-Tricks.com which provides tons a great resources for coders.

David Walsh (personal website)(twitter) – David's personal site features some of the coolest demos I've seen. And he has written some very intersting human interest pieces about what it's like to be a developer. I found his post about having 'imposter syndrome' very enlightening.

Lea Verou (personal website)(twitter) – Lea's personal site has lots of useful resources (such as this CSS pattern library). Her CSS book should be required reading for any designer.

Luke W (personal website)(twitter) – Luke W popularized the concept of building website from a mobile first perspective, with this blog post. His blog is worth keeping up with.

Brad Frost (personal website)(twitter) – Brad developed the concept of Atomic Design which is used more and more by companies as they build style guides for their web.

Rachel Nabors (personal website) (twitter) – I went to one of Rachel's CSS animation tutorials and was blown away by her immense knowledge. She has a really great weekly newsletter filled with awesome CSS tips and trends.

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January 15, 2017

 

New Retro

In recent years there has been a trend towards retro 80s/early-90s style media. Stylistically and thematically it resembles the style of that time, tapping into a nostalgia for those who grew up in that time, while also adding a modern spin, so it becomes popular across generations.

In TV/Films

Netflix's huge hit Stranger Things is a great example of the popularity of retro-80s-themed entertainment. Other recent mainstream films such as Drive, It Follows and The Guest feature movie references, soundtracks and elements that you would expect in films from that earlier time period. All of those classic genre's (horror, sci-fi, action) are available to be exploited for nostalgia's sake. Some examples are a little on the campy/satirical side such as Kung Fury and Turbo Kid but are entertaining in their own right. The authenticity of these films is aided by their retro soundtracks.

In Music

Speaking of music … It's amazing and awesome how much retro music is out there from aspiring artists. It's really overwhelming the amount of new content available. Technology now makes it a lot easier for creators to generate and share their work. In music this genre is sometimes refered to New Retro, or New Retro Wave, Synthwave, Retrowave, or Chiptune.

Using services such as Bandcamp, indie musicians can distribute their own work online. Bandcamp is a great place to find new artists. Here are some of the retro artists/production groups I've discovered:

Note: the band SURVIVE created the soundtrack for Stranger Things.

In Video Games

The appeal of retro can be found in video games as well. The New Super Mario Brothers, and Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds are great examples from Nintendo of going back to their roots. It's hard to argue that video games weren't a big part of the nostalgia from the 80s and 90s.

Indie developers have also produced quite a lot of great retro-style video games in recent years. Titles such as Cave Story (check out their devloper's awesome site), Downwell and Pixel People feature a visual style that feels right at home plugged into an Atari in your best friend's basement in the 80s. This commercial for Fruit Loops even takes advantage of the nostalgic appeal of video games.

Elsewhere

With technologies like Glitch, there are opportunities to develop retro styled web designs. This cool site tests your retro knowledge. This web design conference features a very retro look.

BTW, the book Ready Player One dives deeply into all of these forms of retro nostaligia, with a futuristic spin. It's a perfect example of literary New Retro. I'm looking forward to Spielberg's version hitting the big screen next year.

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January 1, 2017

 

Photos: Fall and Winter 2016

I've put up a gallery with photos from starting in late Summer and running through this Fall and Winter. The first photo is of my friends surprise taking me out for dinner and to a movie. We saw Captain Fantastic, which really was fantastic!

There are also photos from a trip taking my parents to Baltimore to see the Yankees play the Orioles, some of Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family. I got to see my brothers new property in West Virginia. And my parents and I went to the Newseum in DC.

View the gallery

The Newseum has some really amazing artificts on display, all shown through a news lens. It's very fascinating, and the museum itself is a work of art.

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Looking Back At 2016

Some might say 2016 was arguably one weird year.

For me, it was a year of milestones:

Here's hoping that 2017 is an even better year!

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December 31, 2016

 

Best Movies of 2016

Looking back at the movies in 2016. There were a few diamonds in the rough.

2016 was a worse that usual year for super hero films. The two from DC Comics and Warner brothers are miserable. The two from Marvel/Disney were about average. Fox, who opened the door to this genre with the original X–Men film, brought us one better than average and one excellent super hero film.

The Best:

  • Rogue One – some of the reviews for this film were surprisingly lukewarm or critical of the film. This seems pretty surprisingly unfair considering it really is a stellar entry into the Star Wars franchise.
  • Midnight Special – this one is tied for first place. This was a very interesting story that contained a lot of elements of the supernatural movies I loved as a kid.
  • Captain Fantastic – this might be the best movie I watched this year. Matt Ross, the actor who plays Gavin Belson in Silicon Valley, has written and directed a hilarious story about a family integrating with society after living in isolation. It's a beautifully filmed story of interesting people, with a powerful message about what really matters in life.
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane – I was a fan of the original Cloverfield so I was pretty shocked to hear that a sequel was in the works. This turned out to be even better than the first film, and far more frighting and intriguing.
  • Deadpool – I was completely shocked by how great was Deadpool. I went to see it with low expectations and what I watched was much better than I would have expected. Deadpool takes a lot of chances and it payed off very well. First of all, the movie is rated R, which is a big deal for a genre of films usually targeted to kids. Deadpool is most certainly not. It's very adult themed although filled with pretty juvenile humor. It works really well. You don't have to take anything too seriously because the main character and the movie itself takes nothing seriously.

Just OK:

  • Ghostbusters – the newest Ghostbusters film was pretty good but not great. But even accomplishing that is a pretty awesome achievement especially considering the huge expectations that were placed on this film. I think it could have worked a lot better as a sequel to the original films rather than a stand–alone reboot of the franchise. Really, a few tweaks of the script and it could have followed the events established in the original.
  • MCU films – Marvel/Disney brought us two pretty average entries to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Captain America Cival War, and Dr. Strange. These films were alright, but it seems that Marvel/Disney are playing it safe. The ending to Dr Strange was pretty great though. It will be intersting to see how that character interacts with the greater MCU.

Biggest Disappointments:

  • Passengers – Passengers felt like an episode of Sex in the City set in a space mall. On paper the film looked perfect: a great cast and an interesting idea. And the cast was great with perfect chemistry, it's just he story had no plot. It was almost so bad it crossed into the so–bad–its–good territory. It almost felt like it was a joke. I kept thinking: They couldn’t possibly expect us to take this seriously right? The occasional falling roomba helped to lend credibility to the idea that the movie was a prank.
  • Batman vs. Superman – everyone should have known this would be a bad movie. And it lived up to those terrible expectations. It was even worse than expected. I didn't bother to see Seaside Squad after the reviews came in, and knowing it was following the footsteps of this behemoth disaster.

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December 25, 2016

 

Sci-Fi Films in 2017

2017 should be a fantastic year for sci-fi films! It's almost amazing to think about what's in store! We have 3 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, the final Wolverine film staring Hugh Jackman, a live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell, Star Wars Episode 8, Alien Covenant (another prequel to Alien/sequel to Prometheus), the story that inspired The Fifth Element, an adaptation of The Dark Tower … and most importantly … the long-awaited sequel to Blade Runner!!

As for Sci-fi shows there some strong ones there as well: the book Altered Carbon is coming to Netflix, which will also bring us three updates to the MCU (with: Iron Fist, The Defenders and The Punisher – a spin-off of Daredevil season 2).

Here are some trailers:

Blade Runner 2049

To say this is the film I'm most looking forward to would be an understatement. The original Blade Runner is my all time favorite sci-fi film. It is a masterpiece of cinema, and although it's getting some age on it, it visually still holds up with today's cinema, even as films made much later are looking far more dated by contrast. The original Blade Runner is a visual splendor. From the trailer it looks like this sequel will carry on that tradition. I have confidence that with Scott producing and Denis Villeneuve directing (who also directed this year's Arrival) this will be a great film.

Alien Covenant

The sequel to Prometheus prequel to Alien should hopefully answer some questions as to how the events in Prometheus lead to the events in Alien.

Valérian and the City of 1000 Planets

This might be the best science fiction film of the year. It's from Luc Besson and it's based on the French comic-book story that inspired elements of his The Fifth Element (such as the flying taxi-cabs and so on).

The Dark Tower – if you're a fan of Stephen King's work and you've read the Dark Tower series then you know that all of his creations are tied to this story. It has been hinted at in the past that there could someday be a cinematic adaptation. For instance, in the opening scenes of The Myst, the protagonist is painting a movie poster that is clearly inspired by Roland of the Gunslinger. A trailer hopefully coming soon...

Ghost in the Shell

It seems a bit odd to cast a character who is a Japanese android as a caucasian, but other than that it looks like a nearly shot for shot recreation of the original Anime. BTW, the protagonist of the original Ghost in the Shell is considered to be the inspiration of the character Trinity in the Matrix trilogy.

Logan – The trailer begins with the Johnny Cash song Hurt. I think that speaks a lot to what sort of movie this will me. The final performance of Hugh Jackman as Wolverion/Logan should be a real trip. Watch the trailer.

Six new entries into the MCU:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Watch the trailer.

Spiderman: HomecomingWatch the trailer.

Thor Ragnarok – We don't yet have an actual trailer for Thor Ragnarok, but we do have this.

Iron FistWatch the trailer.

The DefendersWatch the trailer.

The Punisher – No trailer yet, but you can re-watch a trailer for Daredevil season 2 for the origins of this character in the MCU.

Star Wars Episode 8.

We don't know the subtitle yet for the next, so a trailer might be a while off.

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December 15, 2016

 

2016 In Science Fiction

It's been a pretty good year for science fiction. There were several great new tv shows and movies. And I read a couple of great books that all though were written before this year, were new to me this year and as such I'm mentioning them here.

Tomorrow might be the most anticipated day of the year for science fiction fans with the release of the next Star Wars film, Rogue One – the first in the Anthology spin-off series of Star Wars films. I would probably see it even if there were no connection to the Star Wars universe. But it has an interesting connection: it's the story of how the rebel forces acquired the plans of the Death Star, the events that led up to the original Star Wars film, A New Hope. There is more freedom with these Anthology Star Wars films than the main series. So filmmakers have more room explore other interesting possibilities. The next Anthology film will focus on how Han Solo and Chewbacca met, and has

2016 Movies

Arrival: It's nice to see a science fiction film with a strong female lead. The films takes a familiar sci-fi trope of aliens invading our world, to introduce an interesting idea about the way humans communicate and how that affects our experience of our world. It's also been a good year for Forest Witaker in science fictions films, having supporting roles in Arrival and Rogue One.

Midnight Special: Midnight Special features some great acting and an unusual and intriguing story – it reminded me of classics from my childhood such as Firestarter, DARYL and Cloak and Dagger: all stories where a kid with special powers is sought after by the government and/or other groups with malicious agendas. The storytelling/cinematography is great, right from the opening scene with the father and son, and the father's loyal friend fleeing into the night. Midnight Special was the most interesting of the science fiction films I saw this year.

10 Cloverfield Lane: This was a really surprise for fans of the original who probably wrote off the idea of a Cloverfield sequel ever coming to life. Although to be fair this is not truly a sequel, but rather another story set in that same world. The Cloverfield brand is meant to be an anthology series. That said, I think this was actually a much more interesting story than the original Cloverfield, and a lot more scary, in a psychological sense.

Ex Machina is another great film that I saw this year. It came out last year but I missed it in theaters so I had to wait until it made it's way to streaming on Amazon Prime. If you're coming down from Westworld and in need of another instersting story about AI, then definitly give Ex Machina a chance.

2016 TV Shows

Westworld: I would recommend Westworld to anyone who likes sci-fi, especially if you enjoy the sub-genres of western-science-fiction or weird-west, and especially if you like the complex riddles often found in the projects of JJ Abrams (ie LOST).

Stranger Things: Of all the shows and films I watched this year, Stranger Things was my favorite, and really special. It tapped into the same sort of magic that Super 8 was going for (another great creation) and it really felt like being transported to the world of my childhood, with all that same excitement and adventure. I truly loved the show and can't wait for season 2.

Books

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

If you're a sci-fi fan then you have likely heard of Ready Player One. It's very enjoyable especially if you have nostalgia for the great works of science fiction from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. It has references from everything War Games to Voltron to Blade Runner. And not just references; virtual reality plays a central role in the events of the story, and as such those classic sci-fi works before integral elements of the story. It's almost a remake of every great sci-fi all crammed into one story. with this book and the reading by Will Wheaton is perfect. Stephen Spielberg is working on bringing this to the big screen. I hope he takes advantage of the emerging world of Virtual Reality since that is such an important part of the story.

Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey

Leviathan Wakes is your classic hard boiled film noire combined with an epic space opera. It's very well written and the narrative style bouncing back and forth between the two primary characters makes it hard to put the story down.

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