War Sign

For a while now, as I’ve been working on symbols and icons, I’ve been thinking of opposites. The on/off icon switches we see throughout our digital lives. Am I on mute? Can you see my screen? These little yes/no binary icon changes to alert us in minuscule ways to our state of being. Each state is paired with it’s opposing force and we learn to recognize each as we build a library of shared acceptance. A common understanding if you will.

The concept of dualism as expressed by the yin and yang in ancient Chinese philosophy would say that each needs a counterpart in order to be whole. But there are symbols in our lives that do not seem to have an opposite and perhaps without both sides, we cannot have understanding. We’re only seeing one half of the picture.

This absence has always bugged me in particular around one symbol — the peace symbol. Now my annoyance probably has more to do with my nihilism and personal experiences than anything else. But coupled with a tendency to be a videogame completionist and being a designer, every time I see a peace sign, I wonder, where’s the war sign? Where’s the sign for those of us who see the dark?

Learning more about the origins of the peace symbol — probably via 99 Percent Invisible — finally gave me the push to create an opposing icon, a war sign to provide balance. Using the same flag semaphore base as the original, I’ve created a war sign.

war sign

The original peace sign uses the semaphore “N” and “D” for “nuclear disarmament” while this war sign uses the “N” and “W” for “nuclear war.” A grim thought, I know.

The peace sign was designed to express an element of despair while this war sign definitely has a more aggressive stance, even with the same “N” shape in place. Instead of drawing the eye down, it moves to the right and conjures an explosive element. It almost reminds me of the safety and hazard symbols used in science and transportation.

With the world at war for the last 20 years (or even longer depending on your framework) and the U.S. government continuing to keep the AUMF on the books so that it can declare war (without declaring war) any time it wants, we live in a time of war. Sadly, we need a symbol, a war sign. Perhaps with a symbol for both sides, we can gain an understanding of the whole and how each works in concert with the other.

Note: I’m certainly not promoting war. Don’t be silly. Quite the opposite in fact. I just think that denying war or keeping it invisible doesn’t work. Finally, despite a bit of intellectual meandering above, I’m realistic. This symbol will probably get used more by metal bands than anyone else. And I’m okay with that too.

You can download the war sign here.

Empire

With The Expanse in between seasons, we’ve gone back to the Star Wars franchise to get our science fiction fix. And while we work our way through The Mandalorian series, we pulled up Rogue One the other afternoon just to take a break from all the cuteness of baby Yoda. Nothing like a tragic tale of death and sacrifice to clear out the sinuses. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, I came across this symbol and headed down the rabbit hole of Star Wars art and iconography.

Now, ever since the early days, the franchise has had great art direction and a good set of icons — from the circular Empire symbol to the Rebel Alliance logo. Simple, recognizable and emotive. As a side effect, they’re easy to reproduce which has led to a ton of mommy blog crafting posts with customized merchandise.

Given all this, I was surprised when I saw this logo in the movie — one I can’t remember seeing before. In the mission on Eadu scene, the Empire science officers who are developing the Death Star are all wearing white jumpsuits with this logo patch on their upper arms.

Star Wars Rogue One Empire Science Officer Logo

For me, it’s the perfect symbol for the Death Star. It communicates the basic shape along with the firing mechanism. So I had to draw it up quick and you can download the icon here.

 

Toothpicks

Everyone is in a lot of calls these days. Phone calls, video calls, teams calls, zoom calls. We used to have meetings and now we have calls. The traditional way to stay alert (or to kill time) during a meeting, is to doodle. And for years, this was my preferred way to go through a meeting. I’m a prolific note taker, so doodling in the margins (or the whole page) was just another “note” in my mind. Like many designers, I’ve got notebooks full of doodles, some of which have revealed great ideas, cute illustrations or other worthy gems.

But now, my notes have shifted to text files, so there’s no more doodling. A sad side effect of never leaving my laptop behind for a meeting. In the before times, I’ve always preferred a hard copy notebook over any electronic device. It was a nod of respect to whoever was leading the meeting — sort of like leaving your smartphone face down (or never taking it out). It announces that I won’t be actively doing something else while I should be paying attention to the meeting. Maybe it’s generational.

So while I’m now no longer drawing in the margins, I’ve found myself — quite by accident — creating little mini sculptures during my meetings calls. After snacking on something at my desk, I end up chewing on a toothpick which acts as a kind of fidget spinner to distract part of my brain while I focus on design, coding or whatever is being said on the call. At some point, the toothpick will break and I’ll put the pieces down on the desk and start arranging them.

It all started innocently and unconsciously enough, but soon I was actively in the creative process and rearranging little pieces of wood again and again. It was really just an exploration of shapes and color in a sort of 2D/3D mix. I think the project has run it’s course and I’m done with these, but we’ll see how it goes. Maybe I should redraw the set? Here’s a video showing a bunch of the individual sculptures.

 

Note: No flies were hurt during the making of this film. The fly was not alive when I took the photo. I think it died of old age. I just found it’s corpse the integrated it into the sculpture.

Finally, I love toothpicks and could write an entire post about them, but let’s just leave it as: my favorite toothpicks are party picks.

Unsmilely

Unsmilely Icon Set

There’s a natural ebb and flow to projects. An initial burst of inspiration creating momentum that slowly fades as the hard work and all too often, the insecurity sets in. This is one of those projects.

Originally drawn in 2017, it’s hard to recall the exact source of inspiration, but in hindsight, they seem a reaction to both the political landscape at the time as well as the sugar saturation of skeuomorphism in the standard emoji world. Like in my symbology project, these are a study in the reduction of the extraneous to reveal the core.

I think the other goal, given their simplicity, was always to animate them. The only question, and this is where the project ebb started, was how to best create the animation. And so, what started out as an excuse to learn new software applications — a tedious task which sucked any joy out of the project via frustration — led to stagnation. It was only recently when my web work sparked the idea of animating these via CSS. Now, there was still a ton of learning to do with this CSS only approach, but at least I had a stronger foundation having done it before with small things and these icons are in essence, a gr0up of small things.

Here’s a quick video demo of the animation.

 

And for those more inclined, here’s a Codepen with all the HTML/CSS.

See the Pen
Unsmilely Icon #1
by strongest (@strongest)
on CodePen.

The full collection on Codepen is available here: https://codepen.io/collection/XjoBzV

Or download the complete set to get the images.

2020: Year in Review

A photo of the NYC skyline in the early morning of January 2020

Well, well, well. Here I was hoping for a deep cleansing breath to calm and reset as I looked back through 2020 to write up this review. Not that I had any illusions about an arbitrary date on the calendar to change the direction of world events or people’s behaviors, but like many of us, I found it impossible to eliminate all sense of hope for a change, some change, any change from last year. And so here in early January, I find myself writing this post with a much different perspective, colored not only by the events of 2020, but also by the chaos of the start of 2021.

Writing this review was never in doubt — I love reading them on other blogs and while it’s a bit tedious to dig up all the data, I do find it valuable to look back. This is only the second time I’ve done an annual review, but I definitely plan to continue onward. You can read 2019’s review here if you’re curious.

Analytics

One of my goals was to get off of Google Analytics for a self-hosted solution, but this never happened. I started with attempts to install Matomo, but failed completely. This seemed to derail any further research or attempts as my frontend dev brain got flummoxed in the backend of server issues. The good news for 2021 is that there seems to be a ton of new free, privacy focused alternatives that while not self-hosted, do look appealing. So this 2020 goal is rolling over to 2021, but with different solution options.

Blog

Post volume was way down in 2020 as the pandemic kept me off the streets. No walking around with a cigar and a camera and you can almost see the lockdown times trend in the month-by-month post volume. So I didn’t reach my goal for post volume, so that goal gets rolled over to 2021. The other blog goal was to write longer posts and I did manage to write up a couple of longer form posts notably the case study for the symbology project and a personal history of my first computer including a new retro page on the main site. Not great in terms of volume, but I’m realizing I’m a methodical writer. I end up needing extra time to marinate on initial drafts and revisit them to edit and tweak. Inevitably as I write these longer posts, I discover all kinds of typographic style tweaks that I need to address. For example, I never thought I’d need an heading level four style <h4> but sure enough, I finally found myself using the tag and not happy with the style. All of which means they take longer to get online.

2020 Total

  • 22 posts

By month:

  • January: 4
  • February: 5
  • March: 4
  • April: 1
  • May: 0
  • June: 0
  • July: 1
  • August: 3
  • September: 4
  • October: 1
  • November: 0
  • December: 0

Top Three Posts (by page views)

Only two 2o20 posts made the top 10 page list

Top Pages (excluding the home page)

Key Dates

Visits to the blog were predictably on the low side, but there was one weekend of popularity! I didn’t post anything then, so while I’m hoping the symbology project post from April got picked up somewhere, it’s more likely that it was bot traffic.

Users

  • Saturday, May 30: 13 users
  • Sunday, May 31: 82 users
  • Monday, June 1st: 82 users
  • Tuesday, June 2nd: 78 users
  • Wednesday, June 3rd: 48 users

Page Views

  • Saturday, May 30: 26 page views
  • Sunday, May 31: 163 page views
  • Monday, June 1st: 164 page views
  • Tuesday, June 2nd: 165 page views
  • Wednesday, June 3rd: 95 page views

Website

The main site doesn’t get many updates throughout the year although I did manage to add in some more art to the Play page in October. It’s a bit harder to pull insights from the analytics as it doesn’t have the same structure as the blog, but I did pull some general numbers.

  • Pageviews: 1,303
  • Users: 859
  • 94% are new sessions

Key Dates

  • Thursday, January 30th: 15 sessions
  • Tuesday, March 10th: 25 sessions

Technology

Surprisingly, there were a ton of sessions from visitors using Internet Explorer 8 which is totally bizarre given how old it is. I initially thought it was bot traffic, but it may just be traffic from countries where IE8 is still in use. The geography data show many more country sessions including four from Iran and three from Syria. I’ll need to do more research, but I think the query string is generated and appended by Facebook when someone shares a URL. The social data also shows a bump in Facebook referrals, so somebody must have shared the URL there as I deleted my account way back.

Social

My primary social channel is Twitter but in 2020, I found myself direct tweeting less and when I did, it was usually to promote a blog post. I did tweet via Instagram to promote photos posted there. I find the Twitter analytics a bit confusing and Instagram lacking, so there may not be a lot of insights there. I was fairly consistent in posting on Mastodon to announce blog posts, but I barely use it otherwise and have no idea what’s going on over there.

  • Twitter: 80 tweets, 166 followers
  • Instagram: 33 posts, 94 followers
  • Mastodon: 1 follower

I do find Twitter incredibly valuable for design and development to keep up to date and to keep learning. I think it’s probably just a matter of curating your feed as you would curate your inbox. In 2020 though, I’m pretty sure my only purpose on Twitter was to DM cute animals and humor to my wife which is well worth it.

Other Sites

One of the reasons, the main site and this blog don’t get enough attention is that I’m also working on other sites. In this year’s review, I thought it would be valuable to at least acknowledge that I’m also off messing around on other websites.

Band

With the pandemic keeping bars and clubs closed — and with our own social responsibility to not spread the infection — the band has been on hiatus for the most part and that means the band website didn’t have many updates. I swapped out a few minor things, but mostly prepped our other outlets for our upcoming (albeit pandemic delayed) album release. I was a little better with the band’s Instagram channel but without any practices or shows, there wasn’t much activity. And likewise, the band’s Twitter channel got even less love in 2020. I mostly just go on to like and promote posts by people and bands we admire.

Eagles Roundtable

Another fun side project where I’m updating the posts every week during the NFL season to add a relevant featured image, editing and formatting the copy and ensuring everything in the WordPress site is up to date and running properly. The pandemic didn’t stop the NFL, so it didn’t stop this blog.

YWMD

This a project that’s still in stealth mode, but I’m working on a case study to show off the design and development work. It’s gone from an email to a few friends, to a newsletter, to a full interactive website. It took a ton of work over the last year and I learned a lot. I’ll continue to tweak things in 2021 and maybe even figure out how to release it publicly.

Miscellaneous

I’ve also got a few other sites on my radar — mostly for family and friends. I’ve been trying to get my wife to blog, so I’ve got a site for her and I tweak things every once in a while. The same is true for my father-in-law, but as they’re in charge of the content, any design or development progress I’d like to make is really dependent on them. I did help one friend transfer his web hosting, set up some email redirects and get a new static home page up and running. This was a fun little chance to use some stock background video and a bit of CSS animation. Of course, like any designer, I’ve got a bunch of other domains for projects that are in various states of…hibernation.

Offline

One of the biggest impacts of the pandemic on my little world was that I suddenly had more time as I wasn’t commuting three hours a day. Transitioning to working from home was smooth for me as early in my career, I spent over a decade as a freelancer doing exactly that — working from home. The discipline and routine (and fashion) were easy pick up again. With the extra time though, came all the extra anxiety and the best way I found to channel it was to get outside and work on projects for the yard and house. Spending that extra time on digital projects just wouldn’t have helped me handle the fear, anger and dread we’ve all been experiencing. Getting dirty and working up a sweat were a much better panacea than doomscrolling (again). Here’s a few of the highlights.

Garden

This was a huge (and very successful) project in 2020. We completely ripped down the existing tangled dilapidated mess of chicken wire and weeds, dug up the turf and doubled the size of our victory garden. I built four new raised beds including a trellis for one bed, a new door frame and gate and then surrounded it with a new critter proof fence. Paired with all this was sifting soil to prep it for planting (which was quite meditative) along with building a large, two stage compost area using scrap wood I found around the house. It’s success was in full bloom (pun!) for the rest of the year as we had fresh tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, beans and more overflowing in our kitchen.

Landscaping

This was the first year we really began to shape the property into our vision versus just maintaining it. I completed the demolition of the old broken gazebo and removed the poorly constructed cement benches and slab. The soil was then prepped to turn this area into a fire pit. I also recovered a large amount of the original stones for repurposing around the property

Next up on the list was to start building a large berm around two sides of the property for water retention and to prep for additional planting. This is a huge area and it was a seemingly endless parade of wheelbarrow runs, shoveling and raking, but it’s now ready for top soil.

Part of all this berm building was moving a ton of wood chips which we also used in all the flower beds to block weed growth. Along with the wood chips came an entire maple tree which I cut up into firewood to give to friends and into blocks for a future creative/learning project.

Another project was to continue to remove invasive and non-native plants from the property. This is almost complete, but the dang things tend to keep popping up, so while we’ve made great progress, I’ll need to stay vigilant.

Beyond our own property, I volunteered to pick up trash in the nearby nature preserve. It was relaxing on the one hand as you get to walk through the quiet woods, but dismaying on the other as you’re faced with a mountain of careless actions in the trash you pick up. I must have picked up 30 five gallon buckets of trash along with lots of other large pieces of debris. There were also some surprising finds which made for good fodder on my Instagram account.

Goals

I think it’s good to have some goals even if I consider them more of a project list and don’t hold myself very accountable to them. That’s the nice thing about setting them yourself — you’re the boss.

Digital

  • Switch analytic solutions (a rollover from 2020)
  • Get an SSL certificate (my 2020 efforts on this front were a failure)
  • Finish the dark mode work I started recently over the holiday
  • Build a new WordPress theme for the blog
  • Try to reach 48 blog posts for the year
  • Longer, written posts versus just the short art/photo related ones
  • Case study for the YWMD project
  • Create a new science fiction UI kit and corresponding web page

Offline

  • Double the garden yield by building three new raised beds along with a new work table for planting
  • Relocate flowers and bushes to better growth areas
  • Continued work to remove invasive and non-native plants from the property
  • Finish fire pit area
  • Improve drainage and grading on the driveway
  • Plant new trees
  • Learn how to carve wood
  • Finish my stone henge project

In conclusion…

This post obviously turned out super long and while I didn’t add in fancy charts as I had planned last year, I think it’s worth it to try to acknowledge both the digital and offline projects. So if you made it this far, a big thank you for reading. I’ll always be my harshest critic, so on the evergreen goal to be a better husband, son, brother, uncle and friend — I think I came up short. Ultimately, it’s in the hearts and hands of others to make that decision though.

I do know that I couldn’t have made it through the year without the wonderful woman I’m married to. She put all her smarts into keeping this ship running smoothly with phenomenal results. She became a mad scientist chef to make us healthier than ever, tackled her own impressive list of home improvement projects and is our chief procurement officer. Every time you see the pronoun “I” — it’s really a “we” as nothing “I” did was accomplished without her love and support.

One note on the featured photo for this recap: it’s pulled from a post I made on Instagram in January with the apocryphal text of “your new dystopia“. It was taken from my (work) office and at the time I was just struck by the morning sun clouds over the city (and probably too much science fiction).  It would be one of the last times I was in the office and little did I realize how scary (and prescient) that phrase looks now.

Finally, if you’ve made it this far and all of the above is making you feel anxious about your own year, your own productivity or your own projects — just stop! Do not judge yourself based on what others do. What works for me doesn’t work for everyone. This past year was absolutely exhausting and stressful on so many levels. Rest assured, I spent tons of time doing absolutely nothing. Binging Netflix on the couch with my wife, listening to audio books, sitting on the porch watching the grass grow, standing in the yard for hours staring up at the clouds — all of it when I was too tired, fearful, heartbroken or sad to handle anything productive at all. It’s these down times, these recovery periods that allow us to process and handle all we encounter. We each need to take time to heal, so do not lament your own efforts (or lack thereof). It’s a global pandemic coupled with injustice and upheaval in all areas of society. If you survived, then you have succeeded in the only goal that matters. We cannot change the world tomorrow if we do not survive today.

Stingray

Stingray logo

This post is a little diversion into a bit of recent inspiration (and fandom) that my wife brought to my attention — the amazing world of Stingray!

Now for those of you like me, who have never heard of Stingray, it’s a British science fiction children’s TV show from the 1960’s. Not only was it her favorite TV show as a child, which was reason enough to start my investigation, but the fact that I had never even heard of it was confounding and as I started looking, a whole new world opened up. The world of Supermarionation.

This series has tweaked all my kid/adult hot buttons — aliens, typography, a retro vibe, pseudo-futuristic gadgets like “hydrophones”, a pulse pounding soundtrack and some truly creative production tricks. Let’s take a look at a few of these and you’ll see why I’m obsessed.

In terms of design, the logo screams vintage 1960s cool. So much so, that I whipped up a quick redraw of it (above) just for fun. It’s cartoony, fun and has that swing so prevalent during that decade. Even before watching the show, I saw this logo and was immediately hooked.

Musically, it’s all about excitement. Drums in the lead, with big horns, the soundtrack (and corresponding in-episode tracks) are a character unto themselves, often times taking the place of dialog to communicate the story. It’s the kind of theme song that serves as a siren for seven year olds (like me). You hear it and you come running because “anything can happen in the next half hour”.

Digging behind the scenes, I found the production of the show is super creative and quirky. They film the puppets in between an aquarium and painted backgrounds to give the underwater shots more realism. The puppets and models stay dry, but little fish still swim around. Same with things like special effects like explosions. There’s a bunch of little things you’ll notice, like adding sweat to the puppets faces for dramatic effect and when they need a closeup of hands — they’ll switch to a shot of actual human hands.

Luckily, you can now watch the series on Amazon Prime and I’m working my way through all 40 episodes.

But wait! There’s more!

I went ahead and created a couple of iOS ringtones for those of you (like me) who appreciate a little excitement in your iPhone.

And I’m not the only Stingray fan out here. If you want to add more cool to your font library, you can download the Anderson Stingray font.

“Stand by for action!”