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September 12, 2016

 

Strangely Awesome

The real surprise hit this summer was the show Stranger Things on Netflix. From the moment the first trailer was released, I knew this was going to be an awesome adventure. I've watched the trailer several times, and even after watching the show from beginning to end, the trailer is still captivating to me. I guess that's the mark of a good trailer.

There are too many reasons to fully explain why Stranger Things was a huge success (just read this blog about the opening credits), but here are a handful of reasons I found it wonderful. For starters, it is a perfect depiction of childhood in the 1980s. From the locations, the clothing, the vehicles, it all felt meticulously honed in on the details of that time, making it seem exactly like it did to be a kid in the 80s, a pretty awesome achievement on it's own.

Maybe the most important aspect of Stranger Things that makes it such a hit, is that it follows three separate and equally interesting storylines, providing three distinct points of view of the same events. These points are view are unique by their age group (elementary age kids, teenagers, and adults) with each group experiencing other drama appropriate for their place in life. This is helped a lot by the fact that the show has an amazing cast. I was particularly impressed with the performance of David Harbour as the sheriff, but everyone is really solid.

Another strong reason the show is great, is the spooky synth-laiden soundtrack, which can go from mixing ethereal and ominous tones to dancing around whimsy or melancholy innocence. As I get older I increasingly notice the role a soundtrack plays in the experience of a movie or show, and here is a great example. Trivia: the OST comes from a LA-based group that goes by name SURVIVE, here is their Bandcamp page where they have a lot of other interesting music available for purchase. Read more about the group here.

If I have one lament about the show, it's that I wish there were two to four more episodes. They kind of wrapped up everything really abruptly at the end. And there were some loose ends not perfectly explained. Maybe that's on purpose. After all, season 2 was recently announced and they need something to bridge the story from the first season. Here is a very exciting trailer for season 2, which cleverly reuses the opening theme style of season one with the episode titles for the upcoming season. Just seeing the first episode title “Mad Max” lets is know that the creators are well on their way in the creation of season 2, and that is likely a lot more 1980s nostalgia to explore. We also know that the show will take place roughly one year following season one's events. I can't wait.

The Stranger Things-styled banner above generated here.

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August 30, 2016

 

The Whole World In Your Hands

I stumbled upon this on Twitter earlier this week and it has really captured my attention. This photo by Astronaut Jeff Williams (who is currently residing in the International Space Station) is astonishing. It displays the entire west coast of the United States, from Washington State all the way down to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.

I thought it might be a good idea to label some of the more distinguishable landmarks visible in the photo, see below...

Here is the high-resolution version of the photo with labels. You can also download the original photo from NASA's website.

It's cool that you can see so much of our country in such detail in one image.

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August 24, 2016

 

From Sea to Shining Sea, and Screen to Shining Screen

July was an interesting month for me because I got to stick my toes in both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. The month started for me with a trip to San Francisco, and ended with a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was also my first time to fly across the country, check out the map I made of the trip here. It's amazing to realize that you're crossing so much terrain in just a few hours.

While I was at the beach I got to see three films: Star Trek Beyond, Ghostbusters, and Jason Bourne. Here are my reviews of each:

Star Trek Beyond (A)

I'm biased because I'm a Trekkie, but this really was a great Trek film. I've gone to see many of the Star Trek movies at the theaters in my life; the Search For Spock was the first, and it gave me nightmares after I saw the scene where brain eating bugs in forcably incerted into the ears of the crew.

I generally like all of the Star Trek movies, even the not so great ones (Generations, Final Frontier, ), but I was nervous that without Abrams directing Beyond that it might not live up to the first 2 new rebooted films; however, it really was a great Trek film. Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty, and Shawn in Shawn of the Dead) wrote a fantastic script.

It's a contained story, in that it doesn't add or take away from the bigger Trek universe. It stands on it's own as a very entertaining entry to the series. I really hope we get at least a few more films with this cast.

Ghostbusters (B-)

I wanted very much to like this movie! The original film is one of my favorites. On paper this film should have been great. It had the director from Bridesmaids, and some of that amazing cast. It had an interesting idea of fliping the genders of the characters from the original. It had so much oportunity, but when it was all said and done, it was just a pretty ok remake.

I'm not sure I understand the decision to make this a remake, instead of a sequel. It seems like there was plenty of opportunity to keep the movie in that original film universe, rather than rebooting the whole series. And had that been the direction, there would not have been such a need to rank it against the fantastic original film.

Those gripes aside, it was a pretty funny movie, with some decent jokes are spread throughout the film. The best joke in the whole film in my opinion was related to the mayor's detest for being compared to the mayor from Jaws.

Overall, its a not terrible remake, but it could have offered a lot more.

Jason Bourne (C+)

Jason Bourne was sadly just not very good. I had to make a trip to see this with my Dad because we have seen all but the original Bourne film in theatres together (and we saw the last one at the beach as well coincidentally). This Bourne movie is really more of the same, there was nothing that really sets it apart. I think it missed two big opportunities to make it a better movie (which are still opportunities for future Bourne films!).

First, they didn't take advantage of any of the plotlines set up in the previous Bourne film (Legacy). I think people don't give Legacy enough credit, even though it was a very odd choice not to have Bourne as a character, they introduced some really interesting new scenarios/secret programs to investigate. The story was a lot more intersting than what we got in this last Bourne film.

Second, the intrigue of the original movies (and Legacy) was the plight of the main character figuring out their past. This is no longer the case for Jason Bourne, who knows he's actually David Webb. They did have some interesting backstory about his father. What would have made this film a lot more instesting is if now Bourne was a free agent, doing what he deemed prudent and in the best interest of the country he swore to protect. That would end up with a character a little more like Robert McCall, but it just seems like the natural progression for a guy like Bourne.

Allow me to pick a nit for a moment … “Jason Bourne” is a terrible name for this movie! It's an ill-conceived departure from the naming strategy of all the previous Bourne films (including the most recent Bourne film which didn't even have Bourne as a Character). Really anything would have been better: The Bourne The Bourne Colonoscopy, The Bourne

I have to wonder why the studio thought they should give the film the name “Jason Bourne”. Were they trying to follow other action series of late such as Rocky and Rambo, or Fast and Furious? Do they subscribe to the advice of some beguilingly idiotic think tank which generates these terrible name ideas? Hollywood, stop giving your movies dumb names!

When I first heard the name “Jason Bourne” a tiny seed of doubt was sowed in my mind. I have a theory which is so far proven accurate, which is: if a movie has a bad name it's more likely that the movie will be a bad movie. This isn' always true, just think of the following phrases to get my point: “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” “Batman Vs. Superman”.

There was nothing innovative or exciting about this movie, and that's unfortunate considering how excellent the series has been so far. Lets hope that the studio dosen't give up on Bourne and persues some more interesting story lines in future films.

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July 31, 2016

 

Beach Trip 2016

I just got home from a beach trip with my family. As always, it was a really great time with a little stress/chaos mixed in. Here is a gallery of photos from our 2016 trip.

Before we got to the beach, my oldest niece Hannah and her boyfriend Brian flew into Charlotte to spend the day with me before we went to the beach. It was a lot of fun showing them around the city, checking out uptown, a local brewery, and getting some BBQ.

We've been going to the beach for decades as a family. (Here are some photos from previous trips: 2007, and 2012.) It all started in the 80s when we rented a little house named 'Camelot'. Camelotwas just a one-story little house on stilts with a short walk via a sandy trail to the beach: it was great! My niece Hannah and I found that old house. I was very happy to discover it's still around for rent.

In recent years there have been a lot more of us, which requires a much bigger house for everyone to fit. All together there were 22 of us this year (Mom, dad, my brother and his wife, my sister and her husband, my brother's 3 kids, 2 of my sister's kids, my sister-in-law's 4 kids, my brother-in-law's 3 kids, my two oldest niece's serious boyfriends, and me).

The water was surprisingly cold the first few days: in the 50s. Because of the cold water there were butterfly fish were swarming in the water. The air temperature however was very high, with high humidity, creating quite the contrast between the air and the water. I can't remember the water being so cold at the Outer Banks in July, when the sand was so hot. Thankfully by the end of the week the water temperature had increased to the mid 70s, and the air humidity decreased making in a lot more pleasant.

Lighthouses

This year, as we usually do, we went to see a couple lighthouses: Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras. Lighthouses have always been an of interest of mine. I've been to the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and Currituck Lighthouse). This year, due to the heat, Bodie was not open for climbing to the top. But we did climb the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, which is the tallest lighthouse in the USA with 248 steps. It was quite hot inside. The outside temp was 95 degrees, and the inside temp was 104 degrees. The humidity made the inside temp feel like 117 degrees according to the weather report. It was a challenging hike up to the top. But the view made it all worth it!

Movies

I usually try to take in a movie or two while I'm at the beach. This year I was able to see three films. Jenah's boyfriend Joe went with me to see the new Star Trek. My sister Dana and her husband John went with me to see the new Ghostbusters remake. And Jenah, Joe, and my dad went with me to see the new Jason Bourne movie.

I hope our family continues to make these trips together!

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July 17, 2016

 

San Francisco

Galleries: Flight to San Francisco | Exploring San Francisco and Surrounding Areas

A couple weeks ago I made a trip to the San Francisco/San Jose area to attend a wedding of some of my best friends.

This trip marked a lot of firsts for me: it was my first time to visit the west coast, first time to fly across the country, first time to use the Uber app for transportation, first time to try the famous In-and-Out Burger, first time to see and stand in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, etc...

Prior to this trip, the furthest west I'd been was Fort Worth Texas. Flying over all the country for the first time is an experience that is hard to put into words. And doing it all in about 5 hours from 30,000 feet is a bit of a shock. Once you cross the Rockies the landscape changes dramatically, both in color and grandeur. The scenery becomes surprisingly brown/beige, and the landscape becomes surprisingly massive.

I couldn't help but notice that up until you cross over Nebraska, it's clear that nature is almost entirely crafted by humans. Flying over Nebraska it was impressive how square everything was. Everything was broken down into perfect squares of agriculture, the roads making a perfect grid for as far as the eye could see. But once our flight passed over southern Wyoming it was surprisingly baron. Here everything seemed barely touched by people. And as our flight passed from Nevada into Calafornia, I was amazed to see at the edge of the horizon a snow covered peak, which I later discovered was a volcanic mountain (Mt Shasta) that was over 150 miles from the location of my plane.

I was lucky enough to have a window seat so I took a lot of photos. And later using Google maps I was able to pinpoint the location of the photos I took. I made a map of the trip, and created a gallery of the photos from the flight.

Map of flight to San Francisco

San Francisco is such a beautiful city. The architecture was gorgeous in every direction. The temperature/climate was fantastic. I walked quite a bit Saturday morning until I spotted several iconic landmarks, such as the Transamerica Pyramid building with the Bay Bridge in the background, Coit Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Other highlights included: Hiking in the John Muir Woods National Monument and stopping by Google's Headquarters on the way back from the wedding rehersal dinner. It was a bit weird/surreal to use Google Maps to locate and visit the actual Google headquarters. We were also able to take in a Giant's game on July 4th. And afterwards I used the MUNI transit system to take a ride across town to see the Pacific Ocean.

Here is a gallery of photos from the trip to San Francisco, Google, the John Muir Woods, and the Pacific Ocean.

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June 27, 2016

 

10 Years In Charlotte

I've lived in Charlotte for a decade. It's pretty hard for me to believe that it's been that long. And that means this website and blog are now a decade old too. I made this site when I moved to Charlotte as a hobby, and as a way to record my time in Charlotte. Here is the first version of this site that I made. There have been a few revisions. I really didn't know much about web design back then, but I loved the challenge of trying new things. Here is my first ever blog post.

It truly is hard to believe that I've lived here for 10 years! It seems like just yesterday I was packing up a Uhaul with everything I owned and my Dad and I made the trip here.

In the ten years I've lived here I've met a lot of great friends, had some great adventures, and seen a lot of change in the city. Charlotte really is a great city, and it's grown a lot since I've lived here. The skyline of uptown has changed tremendously. There have been ups and downs … the recession in 2008 was a huge surprise and a setback; the banks did some restructuring but are still a big part of the economy; the opening of the Whitewater Center; the construction of several large skyscrapers down town as well as the BB&T Ballpark; Interstate 485 was finally completed; the first line on the light rail was completed (I've ridden on it, it's nice); The Democratic National convention 4 years ago; just to name a few.

For eight of the ten years I've lived here I worked for Habitat for Humanity Charlotte. The first couple years it was through the AmeriCorps program (a national service program similar to the Peace Corps; in fact, both were the idea of Sargent Shriver). I stayed with Habitat Charlotte working in a lot of different ways: as a Construction Crew leader on New Construction homes, and foreclosed homes after the recession hit, and doing some more unusual things such as selling Christmas Trees as a fundraiser, or driving the largest commercial truck you can drive without a CDL across the state to pick up a load of water heaters from Camp LeJune, or disassembling used cabinets from housing in Fort Bragg, all of which became a source of revenue for Habitat. Ultimately my hobby of website making opening a door to do that work professionally for Habitat. Several years ago I redesigned Habitat's main website and many of their supporting websites. You can see some examples on my portfolio site. It was Habitat that enabled me to explore web design as a career. I'll always be grateful for the experience I gained from Habitat, all of it, even the more unusual stuff.

These ten years have come and gone so quickly. It reminds me once again that life is a precious gift. You really have to make time to appreciate it, and appreciate the people in your life who make it precious.

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June 26, 2016

 

Spring 2016 Photos

I've added a new gallery to my Photos section (Photos from Spring 2016).

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June 15, 2016

 

Open Source is Awesome

Why do I love open source software so much? Because it enables creativity. You don't have to have access to expensive software licenses to unleash your inner creative potential. I've been a big fan of Open Source Software ever since I first discovered the original Open Office software in the early 2000s. Open Office was capable of nearly everything I needed from an office/productivity suite of tools, and was compatible with Microsoft formats.

I also feel that the more tools you know how to use, the more overall capability you have, thus encouraging intellectual curiosity, a trait that is sought after in the technology world. Just like a master carpenter tends to have many tools that they may use for a specific purpose, the more design tools you have experience with, the more well-rounded of a designer you will be.

you can do nearly anything with Open Source software! Working in the creative world, its truly difficult to get by without access to a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud (which until not too long ago was the Creative Suite) since it's the industry standard, and there are a lot of great features that make Adobe a logical choice. But if you're just interested in exploring your creativity, you can find an open source program that matches nearly every component of the Adobe Creative Cloud.

Office Software – don't waste you money buying MS Office. You can do just fine with Open Office software. Right now there are two prominent choices: Apache Open Office, and Libre Office (I prefer the latter). This is because the original Open Office software (which I have been using for over 10 years) which was developed by Sun Microsystems, was forked into two separate products when Oracle acquired Sun. The Document Foundation has been more actively developing Libre Office.

Web Design/Development – Coding – Now there are an abundance of execellent text editors to code with, as I have mentioned in a previous blog post. I recommend Notepad++ and Brackets for raw text editing greatness. If you need a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get editor, try out Kompozer or N/Vu (which is what I learned with).

Blender – 3D modeling, video editing—I was recently working on updating my portfolio site JhuffmanDesign.com and thought it might be cool to add a video background on the homepage. I needed a way to splice some video I made. I did a LOT of research, and it turns out Blender is the best open-source video editor out there. I also used the open-source VLC Player to edit the video format and save for web. VLC Player plays pretty much every video format imaginable. Blender is the best open-source video editor available, and VLC Player is the best open-source video player available.

IllustrationInkscape is one of my favorite tools. It's perfect for logo design, map making, wire-framing, or really any soft of vector-based graphic design. It's very similar to Adobe Illustrator although it does not come with any of Illustrators frills such as the many brushes. But if you're savvy, you can recreate those features using Inkscape. Try it out.

Photo EditingGIMP (or GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a great raster image editor. It's perfect for doing the kinds of things you would normally use PhotoShop. The tools have different names, and the UI is not as pretty as PhotoShop, but it gets the job done. GIMP can even do some things that PhotoShop cannot do, such as save nativity as multi-layered ICO files.

Desktop Publishing – if you've worked in desktop publishing then chances are you have used InDesign. It's great for putting together larger documents with different page layouts, importing images files, etc. Scribus is the open-source equivalent of InDesign, it's what you use to pull it all together.

You don't have to spend a dime to have all the tools you need to explore your creativity! Read about more Open Source Software tools here.

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June 1, 2016

 

My Favorite This American Life Stories

I've been listening to This American Life for well over a decade. I feel that many of the stories I've heard over the years have enriched my life.

Here is a collection of some of my favorite TAL stories from over the years.

Customer Service Crisis

For me it all started when I was listening to a story on my way home and the story was so captivating that I found myself sitting in my car waiting for it to end – I was having what you'll often hear NPR anchors playfully refer to as a “driveway moment” in their pledge weeks. The story that caught my attention was one an a producer of the show experienced, the dilemma of trying to resolve an inaccurate charge on her phone bill. If you've ever had a frustrating experience with customer support with any company you'll enjoy this story.

Time Travel

A man spends a lifetime pursuing time travel. This story tugs at my heart. It's the story of a boy inspired by the Orson Wells The Time Machine who loved his father so much, he spent his entire life perusing Time Travel; becoming an established physicist.

Unexpected Adventures

This is probably one of the stories I found the most entertaining, simply because of the absurdity of the story. It follows the unplanned adventures of a young American business man who accidently finds himself in a foreign prison, where he finds himself MCing a talent night put on by the other inmates, and winning a poetry contest.

Loosing Faith and Finding it Again

This is the story of an evangelical preacher, who at the height of his success had a crisis of faith and after huge setbacks, re-found his faith and started a new community.

Shipwrecked in the Middle of a Major Metropolis

A teenage Russian immigrant to Brooklyn finds himself alone stranded on an island in the middle of New York City, and makes the most of it.

What Happens When Teachers Go To Detention

In NYC, if you're a teacher you could spend a year in detention if you're not careful. This story is about the infamous “rubber room” of the NYC School System.

If you appreciate This American Life as much as I do, you should consider making a donation!

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May 18, 2016

 

Cutting the Cord

Cable subscriptions are becoming somewhat like video rental store memberships—a relic of the past. (RIP Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and Video World)

I've finally taken the plunge and cut my cable subscription. I was a cable subscriber, but after persistent price jumps it just didn't seem like a value.

I was a little apprehensive to give up cable, but with devices like Roku and Apple TV, and online options like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, and Sling TV, it's a lot easier to cut the cord. All you need is a decent internet connection. TV is now more accessible than ever, leaving cable boxes and subscriptions in the dust. The key is getting the right set of apps to suit your needs.

For me, Netflix is the best entertainment app, having overall the best selection of shows. And there are no commercials. Netflix also offers a great selection of originals, with shows like Orange is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe television shows such as Jessica Jones and Daredevil. They keep coming out with new shows that look great, and they are not afraid to take risks on par with HBO. I'm really looking forward to the re-imagined Voltron, and the 80s supernatural mystery Stranger Things.

Speaking of HBO, the HBO Now service makes it much easier to give up the relationship with your high-maintenance cable provider.

Hulu seems to have the best selection of shows you'd find from networks, and also a decent library of films. Hulu also now offers a commercial free option similar to Netflix, but it is somewhat more expensive.

Sling TV offers live television for only $20 a month that includes some of the best channels you'd find on cable (TBS, AMC, Comedy Central, TNT, CNN, ESPN, etc). For me, this was what really made cutting my cable subscription seem like a no-brainer. Sling allows you to add on some extra channels a-la-carte style if you're intersted.

Comparing costs. At first cable will try to sweet talk you with a cheap monthly cost. But after a time they often raise their rates, and may not make it clear what the price will be after the promotional period. A full cable subscription can cost well over $100. Whereas with streaming apps (and a cheap antenna for local over-the-air broadcasts) you can spend a lot less, even cut your costs by half.

Typical cable subscription: $120ish/month (typical price after promo period)

Cutting the cord: Hulu $12 (no commercial plan) + Netflix $10 + HBO Now $15 + Sling $20 = $57/month

And since you're using technology like your smartphone, you can access your content pretty much anywhere. The best thing about these services is that you can turn them on and off whenever you want, so no need for uncertain contracts, or glitchy cable boxes.

I'm really excited that Google Fiber is coming to Charlotte, and for the competition this forces upon the internet providers. I've already noticed that local internet providers are offering big upgrades in internet speed for free. Competition is always a good thing.


There are a lot of cross overs between Hulu and Netflix, such as: every Star Trek series, Firefly, Parks and Rec, etc. But the excellent original content on Netflix, plus the amount of shows that are exclusive to Hulu make it easy to consider having both.

Amazon Prime exclusive shows: Catastrophe, The Man in the High Castle, Orphan Black, Mr Robot, older HBO shows, Downton Abbey

Hulu exclusive shows: Brooklyn Nine Nine, Seinfield, Party Down,

Netflix exclusive shows: Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Orange is the New Black, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Stranger Things

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