500 Words Per Day

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Twentieth Birthday

I'm reading a collection of short stories written by Harumi Murakami called, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. The second short was about a waitress celebrating her 20th birthday by working an evening shift at an esteemed Italian restaurant in Tokyo. A sudden emergency with an absentee floor manager brings her into contact with the restaurant's reclusive owner, an elderly gentleman who, upon discovering it is her birthday, grants her one special wish.

The story ends rather ambiguously. The reader is left to ponder what the girl wished for and the author vaguely ties in the clues to the identity of the mystery narrator. As one of the opening stories to the collection, I expected more 'oomph' but I have high hopes for the remaining tales. I rarely keep abreast of literary reviews and this is probably the first time I purchased a book based on a positive review in the papers.

The theme that really stuck with me was the important ascribed to turning twenty. I'm about 8 months away from turning 30, so my twentieth birthday is not a very vivid memory. I don't think it ever was.

I remember having dinner with my parents at Cloud 9, a revolving restaurant. There was a Benson & Hedges fireworks display that night, so after dinner I met up with an old friend from school (I think it was Bilbo, the Christian Cock) and we walked along Robson St. to watch the show over by English Bay. And that was that. I didn't meet a strange old man who offered to grant me a wish. If I did meet this magical man, I would have known what to wish for. It's the same thing I wish for everytime I am about to blow out a birthday candle, for as long as I can remember.

My wish has yet to come true. Some days it feels like even the aid of a genie would do no good in fulfilling this wish.

Do you remember your twentieth birthday? Who were you with? What did you do? What were you feeling?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My Life is a Shit Show

My life is a shit show.

Maybe it's the shit November weather finally getting to me. You know, the rainstorms, howling winds, the sediment and bacteria-filled tap water, the darkness... There are also, of course, personal events that have acted as precursors to my foul outlook on my own life.

And you know what, it really doesn't bear mentioning on this page. There are many things best left unsaid in a public forum like this. Why keep a blog anyway? Why do I feel compelled to broadcast my meaningless opinions to everyone. The strangers idlely killing time web surfing while work, old friends and relatives who already know a lot of what makes me tick... why? Who cares?

This day of gloom will pass but I wish I had the stones to go on an all out bitch fest while I'm still wallowing in the dirt.

Here's hoping for a cheerier post next time.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Born Again Designer

As the old saying goes: Necessity is the Mother of all Creation.

My music baby, Union Progressive.com went down for the count over 6 weeks ago and was facing indefinite limbo status until a friend across the pond hooked me up with his new server. Until that moment when his MSN message blipped onto my screen, I was probably wallowing in the lowest pits of career apathy.

Work was dull. The work load had really thinned out and worse yet, the work there was to do was hardly motivating. Inspiring myself to create work for myself (of which there are endless opportunities) was akin to asking me to shove glass beneath my fingernails.

I didn't even care too much when UP went offline, first for a couple days, then longer. After about a week it becamse clear something unpleasant and permanent had taken place. But I didn't even care that much. I was hardly doing any recording, let alone mixing and neither were any of my other DJ mates. Nothing needed to be updated, so why bother? And why shed a tear when barely a year after its launch, my first music website got wiped off the face of cyberspace?

Getting new hosting space was the call to arms that roused me from my creative slump. There was a lead up to it though. It all started when I came across Jeff Croft's website and blog. Jeff is a web designer based in Kansas who blogs about what it means to be a modern web designer. This isn't the usual hum-drum tutorial or white paper on accessibility issues or web standards (although he goes into great length about that as well). His writing is hardly pendantic, instead opting to put a more personal spin on our maddening and misunderstood profession. Recent posts on his blog include things like "Five things I’m doing to get better at web design" and "What does it mean to be a 'professional' web designer?". Well... what DOES it mean? For all the web design blogs and portals that are out there, I'm amazed that so very few writers have bothered to throw a simple question like that out into Internet-land for discussion.

Jeff's site attracts a lot of visitors and many of his blog posts have racked up a pile of user comments. And it's great, the discussions that I found myself reading. And as a result of checking out Jeff's stuff, I very quickly became very interested and passionate about my work again.

There was no going back. Jeff Croft.com was just a springboard to rediscovering the joys of the web design gallery. And more design blogs. And more galleries. And more blogs.

I was back in the game. Or rather, I was ready to back get into it. I was realizing just how much I'd silpped behind in the last 12 to 18 months. The CSS galleries (you can't swing a dead cat without smacking one) have been especially intriguing. The more things change, the more they stay the same! Yes, web design is still largely a congo line of people copying each other's designs. These galleries still read a bit like a photo album to a large family that's inbred for generations. Yet the sheer volume and quality of work has increased dramatically since I first started. It seems like there are more web and graphic designers than ever before. And many of them, sometimes even the students and new graduates, are cranking out amazing work... stuff that frankly, I would be hard-pressed to match. Gone are the days when every designer and his ass was riffing on Praystation or Hillman Curtis. In 2006, everyone's got mad Photoshop and CSS skills and every second person's publishing tutorials or waxing poetic about web standards or DOM scripting or whatever is hot news at the moment. Remember when it was just a handful of pasty, pauncy gurus, like Jakob Nielsen or Jeffrey Zeldman?

Anyway, I blab. But I blab because I'm excited about my career again. I'm excited for my profession. Although I feel a bit discouraged that I have so much catching up and refreshing to do, I'm eager to get back up to speed and to actually excel at my work. I'm jazzed about giving Union Progressive a fresh coat of paint and I've been agonizing over the last week tweaking my design comp just so. It'll probably be another week before I begin to consider writing a single line of markup, but that's OK. I'm enjoying the process immensely.

So, to take a cue from Jeff, I thought I'd post up my own list of the 5 things I'm doing to get better at web design:

1.) Read More - I'm notorious for dropping $50 on a web development or graphic design book and letting it collect dust on my bookshelf. Back when I got that gig in Yaletown working at the Template Factory(tm), I picked up More Eric Meyer on CSS and I have yet to complete one chapter. It's sitting on my desk now, staring me in the face, waiting to be used. Well, I do plan on perusing it more as I strive to improve my CSS coding. I've also recently picked up a nice little textbook on the historical trends to problem solving in advertising and graphic design. The point is, if I'm not going to spend $500 on a night course to upgrade my knowledge, I best be taking advantage of the wealth of information available to me at the bookstore. And that's exactly what I intend to do.

2.) On the Side Action - I've been shying away from freelance work for the longest time. It's been so bad that many small projects intended for friends have sat neglected and unfinished. When I realized that, I've been turning down offers for freelance work as a matter of course, because I haven't been able to trust myself to deliver and stay motivated. I'm feeling different about that right now. At the moment I have my music site dominating all my thoughts. Once I get that launched early next month, I'll probably start work on the new iteration of my 2004 portfolio site in time to launch early in the new year. So after cranking that puppy out, I really want to start designing sites on the side and seek out really ambitious, creative projects. Not only will this keep me fresh, it will be small building blocks to learning more about business and learning the ropes for perhaps working for myself somewhere down the line.

3.) Fill in the Gaps - My design and graphics skills still need a lot of flexing and sharpening, but my programming skills have always been the weakest. One trend I've seen develop over the last 2 years is the comeback of Javascript and "DHTML" in the form of DOM scripting. That, along with CSS and AJAX have really helped to push along the current Web 2.0 movement. Trying to learn database and backend programming still seems a bit of a stretch. But client-side scripting? With the number of projects I've done that actually use extensive JS, you'd think I'd be an old hand at it now, but I'm still as clueless as ever. So... this really ties in hand in hand with #1 above: read more and learn more and finally get to grips with DOM coding, which is rapidly becoming a de facto skill requirement for web designers.

4.) Improve My Writing - For someone who enjoys blogging and writing in general, my overall web page copywriting skills could use some polishing up. I first came face to face with this realization when I was confronted about the overblown, pretentious copy I wrote for Union Progressive. It's hard for me to write honestly since I am susceptible to speaking behind a marketing or promotional facade like a lot of people are. I've also been hampered by my tendency to always treat writing and design as two separate entities when they are in fact very complimentary disciplines.

5.) Take Better Care of Myself - Wow, a common sense thing like good health made it into my list about web design? Well... if you've been living like I have, then I wonder if I should have made this my #1 instead of #5. Getting enough sleep each night, excercising and being relaxed and well rested are all things I have been doing very, very poorly these last few months. I got a big slap in the face a few weeks ago when I hopped onto the scale at my friend's house and watched the gauge jump up almost 10 extra pounds. Look, I'm no calorie counter, but when I effortlessly pack on 10 lbs. (it's not even Xmas yet, man) and start leaving all my belts in storage, something is up... and it ain't pretty.

This doesn't even touch on the countless days when I feel so damn tired, even if I was feeling motivated or creative enough to do something constructive and meaningful, I run out of gas within the hour. It's all about covering the basics, living well and leading a healthy life.

I was going to find a decent way to end this post but my time is up here in the office and I am itching to get home for my nap. (yes, another late night working on my baby)


There hasn't been as much time for idle web surfing in the office this past week but I just finished watching, jaw agape, the trailer for 300, the latest "swords and sandals" epic set to hit the big screen.

O my lord, this movie looks like a work of art. Just enjoy the trailer. It will be in theaters soon enough.

300 trailer

Monday, November 06, 2006

Do What You Say

Integrity. Integrity as a promise fulfilled and as a committment of action, has been short supply these past ten days.

In a cheerier light I might have called this a comedy of errors but it's been so endemic to my life lately that I find it increasingly difficult to joke about.

This is the integrity without the moral, ethical component. This is integrity in its basest form, the practice of doing what you say, otherwise known as honouring your word. The past week has been a carnival of broken appointments, unreturned calls, and empty promises. And that's just what has happened recently. These fiascos have been compounded with the seeming inability of most of my friends to promptly redress debts owing or even simply having the consideration to keep track of bills and balances. I'm the one keeping tabs on this stuff. I'm the one chasing down the money.

If you don't already know, money issues fuck with everything, even close friendships. Okay, so money has not (yet) created massive rifts between myself and my friends. No one has run off with bundles of my money. I've just been feeling a mounting frustration with everyone. Why do I need to remind you? Why do I need to chase you down for this? How could you sleep in and stand me up after making plans 7 hours prior? Does it hurt to set a timer on your clock or use the cell phone to cancel plans? Does your sister's smallest whim take precedence over plans you've already made with someone? Why did you not honour your word?

Before you think I am some kind of grinch that acts like a bean counter around my friends, I will say this. I do favours for my friends. I treat them to meals and don't expect one in-kind. I spot them cash when they need it. Hey, I've had them help me out more than a few times as well. I always make sure to repay them. Sometimes they wont' even ask that I repay them. But if I tell them I'll repay them, I'll be damned sure to do it. Likewise, if you say you will repay me something, I don't care who you are, I expect you to follow through.

Why is this so hard?

From top to bottom, whether it's my closest friends from highschool, random peeps or people I've been dating, there is a epidemic of unreliability and non-integrity.

How hard is it to honour your word, to keep a promise? When you cut through all the b.s. and excuses of being busy or forgetting or whatever, it's all the same. You did not do what you said you would do. You were not your word.

Remember, no moralistic judgements here. But clearly, a lack of integrity is annoying, disappointing, counter-productive and a myriad of other things. Life and relationships just don't work without a sufficient level of integrity. I used to take it for granted but now, getting the short end of so many different sticks, I realize it is almost like a critical life skill, to practice integrity.

And now the fallout from this is I've got to be the heavy. I've got to be the one that broaches the subject. I have to be the one that brings in the awkwardness. I've got to be the one that looks rigid and miserly. I'm the one who looks like I'm asking for a favour, when in fact I'm merely reminding someone of the committments they've made. I've got to be the one who holds people's feet to the fire and who reminds them.

Fine. Maybe that's what it takes. Maybe we've entered a new Era of Flakiness and it's up to each one of us to be a bulwark for integrity. Hell, let's ratify a new public holiday to spread awareness. Call it, Integrity Week or Keep Your Promises Day.

Until that day happens, I have a new set of committments and/or promises made to me. Please note, these are things that were VOLUNTEERED to me. I reallly have to stress that I am not going around tapping out all my friends for favours and acting like a charity case. People are coming to ME and putting their word on the line. And I can guarrantee you I will be waiting for them to make good on their word.

Will they? I'll keep you posted.

Night of the Living Ho

Hi kids. This is a funny little something I caught on the podcast vine last week. The following was transcribed from a recent installment of the Onion Radio News:

Sexy Nurse Having Trouble Finding Halloween Costume. Doyle Redland reporting.

Curvaceous nurse, Veronica Burson has found herself at wit's end trying to find a good Halloween costume this year. Although Burson admits her fallback idea is quote, "lame", she doesn't see any other choice than to wear her work uniform to this year's party.

"The top 3 buttons are missing, so... it really shows off a lot of cleavage."

Many of Burson's closest girlfriends, including a belly dancer, a female cop and a mascot for a devil-themed liquor company say they're faced with the same problem.

Doyle Redland for the Onion Radio News.