Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shop the Photo

For the past two days, I've been going through Photoshop tutorials and trying to pick up some necessary basics. I have only used it before for lightly editing photos, even though I generally abstain from digitally altering film photos. (It just seems so unnatural and wrong.) It was high time for me to dig into this tool, as I drool over good design without giving it much thought about how it was even made. Sometimes I have an idea, but then I feel completely stumped when I do not have the learned skills to recreate it outside of my mind's eye. But we all know that is an excuse to be lazy, so here's to not being lazy. Hopefully I can pick up a few golden tips from Kronicred in a few weeks. And if the interest remains, I'm eyeballing the ACC Visual Communication program- 'cause at $42/ hour, it's a steal!

I am so inspired by ISO50's posts on classic, minimalist design and his own work. I really want to know how he achieves the vintage/grainy color and texture effects. Right now, I'm keeping it simple. You can do a lot with text and basic shapes. You can also make something very uninspiring and boring. I'm very afraid of the latter. I want to eventually feel good about what I create, knowing that it has that special artistic pop to it, where when you glance at something, you know that everything is in its right place (!!), and it couldn't be improved on. Dunno how to do that practically beyond using a grid and color theory, but I guess that is what design books are for. Sure hope that skill can be learned. And then there is complex, beautiful stuff that I would never dream of being able to create, because I am too impatient, and that is OK.

Note: I am quickly learning that copy is just as important as the graphics. Random phrases really won't cut it? Aw, man.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Work Doodles

I forgot to bring my magazine to work today, so I doodled instead. The decision was very much influenced by the quality drawings in this good book, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet.
1: I didn't get to sit next to KK today. That took a lot of fun out of it. Rahn's the creepy guy they had to draw up a company sexual harassment policy for. And the sentences at the bottom are samples of phrases we get to test.
2: Yesterday's purchase
3: Dynastat office quirks- I always get the urge to pull the glass door handle when it should be pushed, and vice versa...
We were treated to free Amy's ice cream during a break. I haven't been 2 weeks yet and I get to enjoy this yearly perk. Like! I got the apple ice and as I wasn't going to subject my digestive system to the supremely delicious, utterly creamy confection that is mexican vanilla. Odd fact: one of my next door neighbor college students works there as well. Very coincidental, as only 10 people in town are sound testers there.
1st time: Cooking dried beans! They are cheaper than canned beans, and cans have BPA. I got large bag of 'em from my new favorite and even closer grocery, Natural Grocers. Now that I am better friends with an employee there (the gf of a bike friend) she kindly applies her employee discount to my purchases on occasion. I soaked them overnight, tossed them in the crock pot, covered them with 2 inches of water, turned the knob to low. Worried about them having no flavor, I added in some sliced yellow onion 4 hours later. I didn't have a ham hock handy. Does the flavoring come in after they are done? Does cooking them with salt make them tough? I haven't done too much research, but I'm trying to incorporate beans into our diet, so we are able to eat less meat and get enough protein.
1st time: Bought a fresh jalapeno to use in cornbread. What do I do with it? Would it be too spicy to add chopped raw into the mixture? Over the past year, I have amassed a decent herb and spice collection, and I have found that fresh herbs and spices pack more punch, flavor and brightness than dried ones. One day I will keep plants alive (even my succulents are looking dry), and when that day comes, I will have a herb and pepper garden.

Edit: I cut and seeded the pepper without gloves, and then touched my face! Intense burning for about 45 minutes only, thankfully. Tried lemon juice, baking powder, rubbing alcohol, ice. Only time seemed to help. So that's why I don't buy fresh peppers!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Living Design

Following the theme of the previous post, have you ever thought about how you would customize your current home to make it more functional and livable? Too often we take for granted bad house design, lamenting poor decisions in our rented or owned homes made by "architects" and paying the price with unease and wasted space. B and I have applied a critical eye to our early 1900's duplex and taken to heart a list of changes we would make to improve it. I'm not a fan of all modern architecture, especially buildings that have blindingly white interiors, overly dark tones, or randomly placed windows. But I appreciate breaking the rules of the old architecture in the name of efficient storage, light and space. If you could build a custom house from the ground up, based on your experiences in the homes you've resided in, what are some of the characteristics it would have? RB and I had a ball playing around with ideas this morning as we hiked the Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. Here is my running list, which is heavily influenced by a number of online sources. For a lofted ~400 square foot dwelling:

- Reclaimed/ salvaged wood ceilings (knotted, preferably)
- A bedroom for sleeping only
- Toto (bidet) toilet or composting toilet
- Separate toilet and shower area
- Shallow, open kitchen shelving, or a dual drying rack and shelving unit above sink- why move the dishes twice?
- 2-burner stove- we never use the back ones
- Integrated countertop and dining table
- Lots of blue! Our orange cats look great against it
- Jumbo wide windows strategically placed next to foliage
- Office or lounge room that morphs into a guest bedroom somehow (bed folds into the wall?)
- Overhanging dresser units from the loft walkway, like in our friends' old abode, Avenue F Studio, photo 03
- Lots of shelving for books and craft materials (minimal amount of furniture that rests on the ground- makes cleaning easier)
- Toying with Japanese influence: raised floors- eliminates need for chairs, provides underneath storage, shoji screens instead of doors
- Built-in entertainment system storage, maybe
- Glass tile? I feel strangely drawn towards it, as more and more people are remodeling their kitchen and bathrooms with it
- Shared lot with a set or two of friends, shared garden, chicken coop/ fish pond, and yard

I'd much rather have a thoughtfully customized small house than a run-of-the-mill larger one, wouldn't you? It's your home, your sanctuary, and you should feel like yourself in it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shack Plans

Alright, the time has come to reveal what has been the source of my insomnia for a few days last week. The tentative plan to build and live in a tiny house in Austin! I've written about this topic before. At least this is how it plays out in my mind:

Build a tiny house on a trailer bed using this plan and these guidelines. Materials will cost less than $10,000. (Save up first.) Find some friends on the Eastside who would let us park the house in their large yard. Get rid of most of our stuff, except for some clothes, books, camping gear, and kitchen essentials. After everything is paid for, pay no rent!! And only like $20/ month in utilities. Feel good, clean less, and spend more time with other people outside.

Yeah, yeah?? I ran the idea past B and he barely batted an eye. (His remained glued to his iPhone.) It's hard to let go of private space. I even pointed out that he only truly uses like 100 square feet in our duplex: the couch, his computer chair, the area in front of the stove, the bathroom, and the bed. I also have no idea how the two cats would fare in a dramatically reduced space. Anyway, I wanted to put that out there, as an alternative to buying a house or renting regular (poorly designed) properties, because just think about how much money you could end up saving. And an exercise in minimalism could really help our engorged appetite for material stuffs.

I was chatting up C today at work about housing. Usually it's just the two of us in a small office suite, and we let loose on whatever is going on in our heads. I am generally not great at opening up to coworkers, especially ones who are older (her kid's in college), but the work is so dull that I can't help myself. C lives in a suburb of Austin and commutes 30-40 minutes to work each day. I was relaying the benefits of small communities and small houses, and I got to see the wheels start turning in her head. She agreed with me that living in a 3000+ square foot house was a waste of energy, and having a car per person in the family was also supremely wasteful. "So much of our political issues are tied to oil, we use so much gas and I'm not sure I want my money to go there." As a consultant, C used to travel extensively for her work, and thus lived in hotels most of the time. The idea of tiny houses resonated with her because she knew that she could live with a few number of possessions and still be happy. It's heartening to see someone so mired in living out the American Dream rethink their priorities and needs. I know there are more people like that who live in Austin... it's just that so much has to change here for it to reach the standards of green, minimal, community-oriented living. I am definitely not willing to wait a lifetime for this to happen. In the back of my head, there is an Austin exit strategy waiting to emerge once conditions get fairer.

Monday, August 09, 2010

August is Here! Yowz.

Above is a video by Little Dragon, fronted by a shockingly soulful Swedish-Japanese singer. I freely admit that I poo-pooed their music the few times it came up on B's ipod, but after watching their live videos, I became very impressed. I spent about an hour savoring a handful of songs; you could say I was in a state of flow. What is flow? Read the article. Coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it is a state of concentration and action, where you possess the skills to surmount a challenge. You lose track of time and are immersed in a state of active pleasure. To me, this is the holy grail of your life's actions. To achieve flow in both the workplace and in leisure is supremely rewarding. I never once encountered it when I was working, and that was partly due to my stubborn unwillingness to seek it out. I have experienced it when hearing a catchy, moving song for the first few times, and also when digging into a newfound hobby. Both occasions are short-lived, for the simple fact that novelty fades. The song becomes too predictable, and the skill or art presents challenges that seem too high to surmount. And I suspect there lies my problem in motivation. I would not go so far to call myself a Jill-of-all-Trades (except that I have in cover letters), but I do possess a shallow to moderate knowledge of most subjects that aren't overly technical or dry. It's easier to move on to something else when things start getting complicated, yeah? The only times in my childhood I have been instructed to dig deeper was in school and in orchestra. If it wasn't for the structure of schooling, I would have never been exposed to biology, music theory, grammar rules, social theory, etc. Wherein there lies the problem; it was all forced/ expected. I stopped thinking when I fulfilled the minimum requirements. Now that I have exited the system with a semi-valuable piece of paper, I find that I have no inner motivation outside of wanting to satisfy my basic needs. My most common response is to want to curl up and disappear, but this is clearly illogical and life is only getting shorter. I feel so ill-equipped for success, even for personal satisfaction. I see others pursuing their passions, taking risks, learning from failures, creating change, and talking openly about it. That's the definition of living, huh? I have always seen them from beyond a thick-paned sheet of glass, and I almost lionize them. I find that the more I think about these things, the less I act, and the more unhappy I feel. There is an infinite amount of distraction available on the internet that I've been numbing myself with (facebook, twitter, online shopping). And I'm getting tired of it. I'm lazy, freaked out, confused, scared of failure, and a neurotic perfectionist. They say it's the journey that is valuable, not the end product/ solution. If I can accept that, and also quit elevating others above me, then I have hope. Countless others have come into their own while going through a variety of challenges that are not present in my life. It seems stupid to write about this, and I apologize for the loads of self-help thoughts you readers have to slosh through. I'll be honest: I have no idea what I'm doing and approaching that realization causes me great anxiety. I hate that it does, and am trying to manage it the best that I can. I feel light years behind other people, yet I know I will be forever behind if I continue to choose inaction.

However, in a year chock full of employment possibilities and ensuing disappointments, I have a positive report! I got a part-time job working with my friend Kristi testing the quality of sound clips. Very random, I know, but I somehow managed to pass the very difficult test after two tries. At a rate of 1 word per 2 seconds, you listen to a series of spoken words (masked with varying distortion) and choose which one you hear out of two very similar-sounding terms. Ex. chad/ shad, bat/ gat, choose/ shoes. It's sleep-inducing after about 30 minutes, but having a solid part-time job will keep me busy and with maximum unemployment benefits through the year. I'm brainstorming ways in which to encourage flow in this situation, and the best I can come up with is to attempt deep thoughts in tandem.

Change happens when the desire for gain is greater than the fear of loss.