Capital Cleanup 2012

Me and a gang of keeners from the office took a walk around Hampton Park with garbage bags and rubber gloves to do some spring tidying. I expected litter and found plenty, but I thought it was weird how much large-scale waste we found laying around. It doesn’t help that there’s a road construction site right nearby – but any thicket that made a suitable windbreak was heaped with jars and bottles and mats of plastic bags.

There’s definitely enough trash laying around in spring to gross you out. We found not one, but TWO mattresses blown off the Queensway. Dirty diapers. Lots and lots of Tim Hortons cups. And then you find a beautiful field of wild trilliums (Ahem: Trout lilies! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), and it reminds you why it’s worth making an effort.

Talent Show

I successfully defended my title as “World Champion of Font Recognition” by figuring out that this lovely font:

though similar to Calibri in a lot of ways, is a typeface called Colaborate by Ralph Olivier de Carrois. I really like the way he’s put descenders on traditionally straight figures, and he’s put little geometric wrinkles in everything to make it feel a bit more square. The kerning pairs are a bit chunky, but if you’re willing to tighten things up manually, it’s a nice display font. You can’t argue with the price! I think I’m going to use this one for a project!

I have to identify fonts all the time, because clients never pay attention to what their previous designers told them. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll pull away the veil and reveal all my secrets!

My usual strategy for identifying fonts is four steps:

1) Off the top of my head. (About 80% of stuff in the world is printed in the same set of 30 or fewer fonts, and I’ve examined them all under a microscope.)

2) Try identifont – a site that lets you specify details about the font’s unique traits (angular serifs, etc) and generates a list of known matches. Pretty handy, and sometimes a good resource for learning about nice new derivatives of fonts you like.

3) Try whatthefont – a site that lets you upload an image, and the OCR tries to figure it out (almost never successfully matches for me)

4) Scour the cheap/free fonts sites to see what’s popular. You can almost always find trendy fonts on the front pages. My favourite resources are google web fonts, dafont, fontsquirrel, and abduzeedo’s surprisingly popular Friday Fresh Free Font. Take a look at the first 20 fonts on any of those pages, and I guarantee you’ll see faces that made their way into tons of recent mobile apps, skateboarding magazines, and video games.

A Beautiful Day in the Galactic Neighbourhood

How cool was the Stellar Cartography room in Star Trek: Generations?

I’ve had a similar project sketched out in one of my idea books for a few months, and only got around to the graphical portion this weekend. This is a map ofย  nearby stars that I plotted out using data from the ESA Hipparcos satellite. Hipparcos did a nifty job back in 1989 (!!) doing parallax trigonometry to figure out the distance to our stellar neighbours. Really amazing data!

I just grabbed out a small slice of the data to plot here while I work out some of the details for how I’m presenting the information. I’d originally intended it to incorporate a bunch of shiny graphic embellishments, but I’m afraid there’s so much data that halos and things might have to take a back seat to readability. There’s a ton more stars left to plot, ~100,000 more in the Hipparcos set and a million or so in the Tycho 2 catalog. I’m also working on labels for high-magnitude stars, calling out stars known to have planets, and putting proper colours on each star based on their spectrum, but just tying things together in the database and calculating the XYZ data took some effort and I’m calling it a night.

I’m planning to generate a really enormous high res image someday to get a good look at our neighbours in our local arm of the milky way, but I might end up having to section it up – more than a million stars on a typical computer screen look like noise. ๐Ÿ™‚

Quick Movie Reviews

The Hunger Games (Awesome Yay!) : The film adaptation was pretty close to the book – I agreed very much with the editorial decisions to drop a lot of the introspective plot stuff in favour of the action, although it would have been nice to spend more time in District 12 and getting a feel for the world. Overall it was pretty fun! Jennifer Lawrence is great as Katniss and she hands out a proper amount of whuppins. (Most of the violence is handled off-camera, which I found sortof disappointing given how central the shocking gore was to the theme of the book)

The production design was hit and miss. I found the tech and costumes and sets lacked a cohesive vision and often felt cheap and mixed up. The camera was absurdly shaky, to the point where even I (who normally doesn’t mind) was getting uncomfortable. I get that the handheld shaky camera is supposed to lend a dynamic, action, ‘cinema veritรฉ’ look to the film, but it was awful. Directors: please stop asking for this!

Wrath of the Titans (Fun Spectacle!): Movies like this are why I still go to movie theatres. Sam Worthington runs around fighting stuff in this very linear video-gamey movie about the last dying breaths of the Greek Gods. There’s not a lot to it, truth be told, beyond the swordfighting and monsters (and an unlikely romance), but it makes a pretty great spectacle film! The effects are terrific, and I thought they made really effective use of the 3D cameras. The scene where Cronus erupts out of Tartarus as a giant lava-covered demon was particularly gorgeous – kudos to the effects team that made this movie look incredible.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Sooooo boring) : This one’s been on my renter list for ages, so I finally got around to watching it and was bored to tears. I fast-fowarded a chunk of the film looking for anything to shake up the pace, but no – it drones on for the full 119 minutes. This is my second Wes Anderson disappointment (I hated the Darjeeling Express) and I’m wondering if he and I are just on different levels or something. I enjoy cerebral films – and there’s a lot to like about his work. I love his shot compositions, and I think he has a real talent for evoking emotional, honest performances. It’s too bad nothing ever happens in his movies. Magnificently dull. I want my hour and a half back.

Review: Ready Player One

I read the first few chapters of Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” the day before I had to return it to the library, which was a big mistake because I got completely hooked and then realized my next turn in the booklending queue wasn’t going to come around for more than a month. It was agony! Luckily my friend Jen stepped in and lent me her copy before I wore the mouse button down clicking refresh on the library website.

Multi-billionaire creator of the VR Oasis, James Halliday, has passed away and left his enormous fortune to anyone who can solve the mysterious 80’s-themed puzzles he’s left behind. An subculture of obsessive clue-hunters forms, and teenaged Wade Watts, who’s been steeped in 80’s ephemera through his childhood, is single-mindedly devoted to solving Halliday’s labyrinthian mystery.

I want to give this one a glowing recommendation, but I think the audience who will take as much from it as I did are a really thin slice of the population. If you dig 80’s nostalgia, retro video games, and science fiction, this is a brilliant narrative that draws from all kinds of amazing reference material that tingles all the right nerve centers. But it’s a love it or hate it thing – I could see this book becoming an unbearable slog to someone who didn’t get the references, particularly if they were born too late to have lived any of it. I think the title is pretty clever – I suspect you can know from the outset if it’s for you. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The action scenes, mostly set in the VR world, are epic and hilarious. Despite the nerdy tone of the book, there’s quite a lot of good character development and a few twists to keep things interesting, including an ongoing virtual romance that Wade worries may not be what it appears.

A few beefs with the book – the characters have an implausible recollection of the most obscure 80’s details – having actually lived that decade firsthand I could scarcely remember most of the references and a bunch of it went way over my head. It hardly matters though – the clues are so vague and specific to situations in the book, that they’re impossible to solve until the characters work out their significance. I would have liked to play along!

Secondly, during a plot twist in the latter half of the book, Wade gets into some serious trouble, but suddenly starts magically exhibiting superhuman hacking skills that, while convenient for driving the story forward, seemed incredibly unlikely given everything we knew about him to that point. That bit of the story is entertaining, but I kept wondering what other magical skills he was going to manifest next time he was in trouble.

Overall a terrific read – it’s an early lead for my book of the year!

One of Those Mornings

I was running a bit behind this morning (after getting up a bit early – still not sure how that happens) and couldn’t find anything. So frustrating. I probably carry too much stuff around with me, but I did a bit of a spring cleaning when I switched to my bike bags this week, and somehow everything’s gotten away from me. This morning it seemed like I’d find something, and then a few seconds later elves would run off with it.

The worst thing is that our house is pretty clean – if I left it laying around I’d see it. No, everything’s tucked away in drawers, bags and closets, meaning I get to turn the house upside down looking for stuff. I never did end up finding my bag of markers. So frustrating.

[Edit: I found my markers, they’re were in the car after recently taking them for a drive.]