04 October, 2011

An Epic Journey West, and Back Again

A week ago I returned from a month-long road trip, whose primary purpose was to bring my friend Rachman and I to the Burning Man festival in Nevada, but whose secondary purpose was to see as much of the country and friends as possible along the way. Therefore, we chose a Northern route outbound, and a Southern route inbound, not necessarily the most efficient but certainly the most interesting. I had only been "Out West" once with my family when I was much younger, in an RV we affectionately called by its brand name Lindy. Seeing some of these sights for the second time with adult eyes was very rewarding, and seeing plenty of new ones as well. We toted our laptops, an mp3 player loaded with audiobooks and hour-long mixes from our favorite artists, a very handy GPS, and one printed guidebook. Our unplanned stops involved coffee, WiFi, restroom breaks, and tips from the local business owners. Our planned stops are mapped out below!

The route out...

View The Road to Burning Man in a larger map

The route home...

View Roadtrip Back to New Jersey in a larger map

In total, we drove about 7,156 mi, or about 5 days 2 hours (over a 4-week period). Our longest nonstop leg was roughly 18 hours, when we *ahem - Rachman* decided to forego Salt Lake City, UT and get right to Reno, NV where friends were waiting. He took the wheel overnight and we got to Reno at about 10 am on Thursday before Burning Man, leaving us plenty of time to explore Lake Tahoe, "float the river," and purchase camping supplies from the local Walmart. It was certainly the experience of a lifetime but, with any luck, I'll have another one soon!

17 August, 2011

Guest Post by Jaycie Leishman: Summer

Deviating from my normal routine, this is the first-ever guest post by a fellow 20-something blogger (20SB) friend, Jaycie Leishman from Wellsville, Utah. She has a beautifully simple blog layout with hand-drawn illustrations scattered throughout, which I love, and I was instantly drawn to her writing style. Now, we are swapping blogs for the day! You should go visit her blog for even more of her witty musings, and to see what damage I've done to her blog in my guest post today... ;-)

to some, summer is the greatest part of the year.
snow cones, tanning, swimming, camping. the works!

to a small few [like me] it's the WORST part of the year.
sunburn. sweat. working. allergies. razor burn.

it's not necessarily something i enjoy arguing over, so i thought for my guest post i'd write about something we can all agree on. not to mention, i am my own person, and i don't like to stick to the rules. so we're talking about...(drum roll, please)...

ice cream.

i scream. you scream. we all scream for ice cream. it's the perfect treat no matter the season, and especially in the summer time. i'll be honest, i have fallen head over heels in love with ice cream. it's not only my favorite food group, but it's an art, a passion, sometimes a poison.

you could say that i'm somewhat of an ice cream prodigy. let me explain.

when i started working at Cold Stone in the mid 21st century (aka four and a half years ago), i decided i'd work harder than everyone else until i knew absolutely everything about ice cream. it didn't take long. let's be honest, it's not exactly rocket science.

i know it's terrible quality. that's what i get for using my phone...i'm the smokin' hot one on the right! ;)

i'd spend hours thinking up creations that would knock the socks off people. when normal people slept, i dreamed of ice cream. when normal people ate cereal for breakfast, i stumbled out the door in sub-zero temps with an ice cream treat in one hand, hot chocolate in the other.

my first custom creation: Mint Heaven. (please keep in mind i didn't say i was a writer of witty titles...)
mint and cheesecake ice cream mixed half and half. mixed with oreos and white chocolate chips.
super simple, super amazing. it doesn't sound like much, but try it. you'll see.

after that it became a game. people came in daily without any idea what they want. soon, i could narrow it down by asking four simple questions.

  1. what is your favorite kind of pie? - this is important because it gives me a feel for what kind of sweets they like. my favorite response is, "I don't really like pie."
  2. what are your favorite kind of chips? - this gives me an idea of how their taste palate compares to mine.
  3. chocolate, peanut butter, or fruit? - this helps me determine the sweet things they like.
  4. any allergies or dislikes i should know about? - after all, i'm not going to try to kill my customers.

based on these four questions, i can create a custom creation for any human on the planet, no matter how savage i think they are.
i just have a knack for putting together flavors that just knock the pants off people.
the guarantee: "if you don't like it, i'll make you a new one, free of charge."
let's just say i've never had to recreate an ice cream. and i only give them out free to hot guys who ask for my number, but that has nothing to do with my mixing skills. just my shameless, flirting skills...

my name tag, of course, introduces me as Lord Voldemort.
i was dubbed a wizard by a co-worker, and boy did it stick!
one day i asked him, "why Voldemort?"
his reply, <thoughtfully> "well, Dumbledore and Voldemort are the two greatest wizards, right?"
me, "right."
him, "Well, I figure you'd be more likely to use your powers for evil."

of course Amy and i haven't met. i know pretty much nothing about the girl, other than that she's got some mad skills in the art department, and i haven't asked her the four questions yet. i do, however, have a pretty good idea for an Amy creation.

it would be called The Decadent Amy Dessert.
picture this:
oatmeal cookie batter ice cream.
graham cracker pie crust.
yellow cake pieces.
a spoonful of cherry pie filling. also, a spoonful of apple pie filling, both chopped up a little bit.
a dash of cinnamon.
wrapped up in a warm drizzle of caramel.

(think apple crisp/cobbler, what have you. then times the pleasure factor of that by a million.)

voila! i am a super genius. and for more of my magic, you can find me at jayciepenny.blogspot.com.


Thanks, Jaycie, now I have a craving for Cold Stone... either The Decadent Amy Dessert or a Mint Heaven would really hit the spot right now...

Till next time,

28 June, 2011

My Very Own Window Display

Learning about real photography and playing with a borrowed Canon EOS 400D and Camera RAW format in my newly-found free time! I put this in the category of "continuing education." Maybe it will help with a client project one day, hehe. The real story is that I had my carpets cleaned last week so I put my shoes up on my window sill and I thought they looked just lovely up there so I had to snap a few shots before taking them down. If I decide to take them down at all...

Shoes on Display

15 June, 2011

The Making of "Mr. Nouveau"

This time-lapse video compresses more then 4 hours of drawing into about 5 minutes. If only I could draw this quickly! I actually had a more aggressive vision in the beginning, as you can see I already sketched and began coloring two lion-looking figures (would be a leopard and her cub if I added the spots). I suppose as the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day, and I certainly couldn't spend more than that on these drawings. Adding it to the bucket of unfinished projects, for a rainy day...

In the meantime, I envision this graphic being printed on the back of a set of playing cards. Any takers?

08 June, 2011

My Contribution to Drawing Day 2011

This year's Drawing Day occurred on Saturday, June 4, and I was determined to participate. I called off social engagements, locked myself in my room, and stayed off facebook for an entire weekend. Well, for a few hours at least. As a result of this, I am pleased to introduce to you Mr. Nouveau, a very friendly peacock I drew over the course of a few days, first on plain paper, then on my graphics tablet. I don't get to use that thing nearly enough.

My photo reference was taken at my sister's graduation party a few weeks ago at Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton, NJ. I will post some of the pictures from that day soon as well.

About Drawing Day: One day a year, the world stops to remember that joy we had when we first picked up a pencil and created our first piece of art - that's what Drawing Day is all about. The goal for Drawing Day is simple - to create enough drawings to make some noise worldwide for the sake of art.
- http://drawingday.org/

08 May, 2011

On Top of the World Photo Shoot with LGO Productions

My friend Sylwia is starting her own photography business. I volunteered to be her model one cold evening in April. She had just moved into a new building next to Rittenhouse Square and mentioned that there was a roof deck that she hadn't yet been to. "Let's go!" I exclaimed, up for an adventure. So we wandered around her building trying to find the correct set of stairways to lead us to the top floor with roof access, and made our way into the cold. It was just before sunset and the lighting was perfect, as was the view. Here are a few of the photos she edited in her own colorful style:

Photos courtesy of Life Goes on Productions, April 2, 2011. Thanks Sylwia, I'll be your model any time :-)

02 May, 2011

Beautiful Weekend to Live in Philadelphia

This weekend, I spent every last minute enjoying the abundance of cultural, and even some non-cultural sights and sounds my newly official city of residence has to offer (yes, it's official, I have the driver's license to prove it - ahh).

Friday evening went downtown heading for Rittenhouse square, stopped at Alfa, and ended up in Old City at Brasil's a bit later for some dancing and bottle-service-for-no-real-reason with good friends.

Saturday afternoon wandered down to the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) with one of my former and one of my current roommates - Brittany and Ashley. We walked around enjoying the cool but sunny weather, and eventually ended up on a lawn transplanted to the middle of Broad Street, which had been partially closed off from Chestnut Street (City Hall) to Lombard Street.

As we found it increasingly difficult to navigate the crowds, we took a 2-hour break for sushi at Makiman. By the time we finished that, people were beginning to gather along Broad Street in preparation for whatever the night's event, the finale of the 25-day-long festival, was going to be. At this point we had no clue what that was, and neither did most of the people around us. For this spectacle, I will provide you with some visual and auditory descriptions because word just won't do!

The evening was topped off by a visit from a friend from New Jersey who I of course had to take to Cavanaugh's, and then my favorite secret swanky spot, hidden on a small side street and lacking a sign to announce its presence to the rest of the world. I'll only give one hint because I am selfish and want it all to myself: RR.

On Sunday, I stopped at my favorite cafe in Mount Airy, called High Point Cafe, for my typical Sunday morning fix of cappuccino and crepes before heading to the Chestnut Hill Home & Garden Festival.

This street fair also featured a length of pedestrian-only traffic along Germantown Avenue, another popular street. There were plenty of vendors and right when I walked up, I spotted an awesome coffee table that I immediately snagged. Well, I put the cash-only deposit down as fast as I could, and returned later to take it home with me. It matches perfectly with our Victorian-style couches in our living room. I also picked up an old Chinese lamp, a glass doorknob, some business cards, and some delicious Sangria. When I got home, I grabbed my beach towel and laid in the backyard for a bit, something I've been wanting to do for a while now. The weather was even better than the day before, and I actually noticed that I got a bit of color while wearing my sundress... time to break out the sunscreen for the season!

So happy that Spring is finally here. Till the next time ;-)

01 April, 2011

True Innovation: Spotlight on Google

Today, April 1, 2011, Google is experimenting with some new typefaces for its search results pages (typophiles delight, the Comic Sans font is just lovely!!!) and announced a new program which allows you to navigate your Gmail account using body motion instead of typing with your fingertips.
"Someday, people will be moving their bodies and creating a whole world of things bending to our will, rather than our bodies bending to the will of technology."
- Dr. Klayman, Gmail Motion Scientific Advisor

Important update: April Fools! My cousin sent me one of these, and I found the other through further research as well as a host of others. For more tech-related jokes that big names played on their poor and unsuspecting audiences this year, check out this great list by TechCrunch. Sorry, and you're welcome ;-)

06 March, 2011

The Evil Twitter Twins

Back in September, Twitter began rolling out a sparkly new layout and a few new features to some of its users, and officially completed it in October. Users are still given the option whether to use "old" or "new" Twitter, and I'd personally kept to the old one for a while for a variety of reasons, including my typical resistance to anything my favorite services try to change for the sake of changing (if it ain't broke...) but also because of the "new" version's wider layout, which fills most of the screen horizontally.

Old Twitter

Old Twitter Width

New Twitter

New Twitter Width

The implication is that less of the user's background image will be showing. A little *ahem* background... on Twitter's backgrounds. You basically get three options when designing your Twitter profile's background appearance:

  • solid color (don't use a background image)
  • background image that tiles (repeats vertically and horizontally)
  • background image that doesn't tile and is stuck in the top-left corner of the screen
Twitter Profile Settings Screen

This is a bit different from normal Web pages, which allow you to set a variety of options in HTML and CSS such as whether the image will be centered or stuck to a different side of the screen, whether it will be fixed or scroll with the content, and more. To be fair, most social networks do limit customization in order to maintain some kind of consistency for the user experience. Twitter in particular has always had a very streamlined interface and sometimes an overly-simplified approach to its service. The great thing about getting millions of minds together online though, is that often people will come up with extremely cool ways to work within the provided framework and still show off their creativity.

In the case of Twitter, one of these ways was to create custom background graphics which either reinforced a brand image, pointed to other social networks (Twitter limits you to one hyperlink in your actual profile), or just looked darn cool. There are plenty of nifty "Twitter background" roundups and tutorials floating out there which highlight this trend, but they generally display the narrower layout which provided more real estate for these creative backgrounds.

Now, I had not taken the time to design myself a cool background before this point, and in a way I'm glad I didn't because it's a shame for all the people who did, only to have them hidden today. However, in light of the imminent "You’re using an older version of Twitter that won’t be around for much longer" message posted along the top of every page, I decided that there must be a way to have a cool-looking graphic that fits in the new space provided.

And so, in honor of Spring cleaning, my new MacBook Air, and the design community at large, I put myself up to the challenge.

Thought process:

  • I am not including mobile users, as they would be using mobile Twitter or a third-party application, so they wouldn't see any change in "layout" from old to new or any user's backgrounds at all.
  • For some users, 1024px is the highest resolution their screens will allow. Browsing new Twitter with a 1024px wide window on a normal device, though, means that you have 40px of background real estate on the left, and 40px on the right. Unless you're going to write something at 4pt font size or place your favicon there, I don't see this as being useful. It is practically the smallest resolution you can use in the new Twitter before getting horizontal scrollbars (ick), so I think it's safe to say this resolution will not be our target.
  • Moving on to the next big class of users: 1280px wide screens. Realizing that someone could resize their window a bit smaller even when their maximum resolution was 1280px meant that I wanted a design which could hold up to somewhere between 1024 and 1280, but generally 1280 would become the new standard. This gave me 120px to play with on each side of the screen.
  • The right sidebar in the new Twitter is now slightly transparent. I could do something cool behind there...

Time to sit down and design. Approximately three hours, one drunken roommate, some Pad Thai, and a few bathroom breaks later, I was finally satisfied enough to test my design...

Eureka! The Twitter Twins are Born

Eureka! It worked! My design didn't call for any specific top padding, and I eventually trimmed it down a bit, but I was very happy with how this looked online, how it scaled with the window, and of course, how very "Amy," my new Twitter background was.

Now off to write a how-to reference for the design community on http://color-and-code.com

14 February, 2011

Happy ValenTIN's Day

The tin man and Dorothy celebrate Valentin's Day on February 14th.

Really though, I just wanted to share this lovely piece of art by Franz Steiner. He photographs the real-life female models and composites them with computer-generated robots, backgrounds, and other sci-fi/fantasy objects of the not-so-far-off future which he creates in 3DS Max. The result is incredibly believable and provocative, which I thought was fitting for today's post.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone, whether flesh or bot.

30 January, 2011

Punta Cana: A Trip to Paradise, Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

Day 4

On Saturday morning, Kristin and I stopped by the Club House / “Centro de Animación” where Kristin claimed her prize from the dance contest the night before – a lovely certificate and another bottle of our favorite local rum!

Kristin receiving her awardRon Barceló aged rum

Then we all headed to the beach restaurant “Mare Nostrum” and enjoyed a delicious brunch buffet and mimosas.

Brunch at Mare Nostrum

For dessert, Trish volunteered to be the test subject for this weird pink rubbery thing but the experience was not a positive one so we didn’t follow suit.

Trish eats the pink pudding thing

After brunch, we ventured to the front lobby where we awaited our ride to go zip lining. This is what showed up:

Ready fro a trek up the mountain It's gonna be a bumpy ride

Note the slightly scared look on our faces. It was quite a bumpy ride - strap in!

The ride there was so picturesque as we traveled through the local villages up to the mountain. I snapped about a hundred pictures for my own memories but most came out blurry since we were going about 60 mph on these little dirt roads.

Blue skiesCute home

Most of the houses had this intricate ironwork. Looks a lot more attractive than the bars on the windows you see in North Philadelphia, where I used to live ;-)

Local road Verdant green

In this picture, you get a sense of how quickly we were traveling up to the mountain.

Palm trees and blue skies in every direction.

Houses on the hills Amazing Cards, anyone?

Just a normal mid-afternoon in DR?

Mountains in the background Gateway to paradise Political posters

There were campaign signs posted from the recent congressional election.

Stopped for a minute for a photoshoot More scenery Yours truly on the way up Horses grazing in the jungle

There were only a few others on the excursion with us that day, which the workers said was unusual but made it more enjoyable for us since we didn’t have to wait for a lot of people as we went from one zip line to another, and we got more individual attention.

This young man from Illinois was by himself because his traveling companion had not come back to their hotel room the night before. We’re not sure if they found each other later that day, but we felt bad he was alone and quickly adopted him into our trio.

The crew all harnessed up

Our first glimpse at what a zip line actually looks like. “That’s the BEGINNER one??” we all gasped. Yes, this was the shortest one, and they got longer and higher as the day progressed.

One of the zip lines Trish giving the thumbs up

Just a little nervous.

Me in the middle of the zip line Us three girls with our new friends

Doing good so far.

Up up up Kristin just hangin' out

Trish really wanted a picture with a lizard. I guess we forgot the scavenger hunt only had “Take a picture with a statue of an amphibian” (note: not a live one) because after this shot we all tried to get a picture with a lizard, but this was the closest anyone got.

Lizard spotting

Moving on. Yeah, this is what we had to climb…

This is reassuringDon't look down...Ahhh!

As the lines got increasingly more difficult, correct form and technique was imperative to make it to the other side. If you pulled down on the line too much, you would slow yourself down, which is what happened to each of us one time.

The first was Trish, who had to get rescued by the guy actually going to the middle of the line where she was stuck, and pulling her back in. We had been instructed on what to do if you got stuck (turn yourself around and use a hand-over-hand motion to pull yourself along), but in the moment I guess she forgot.

Trish getting rescued

I got stuck next, but was close enough to the end of the line where the guy just walked out to grab me and pull me in.

Me getting rescued Me on the line Checking out the view

Kristin got stuck on the last line and, using proper technique, was able to pull herself to the end.

Kristin rescuing herself

What an adventure! After some refreshments and a bathroom break, it was back onto the van for a bumpy ride back to the resort.

Our bright room

We had dinner at the Rodizzio Restaurant, a Brazilian restaurant on the other resort, just a short walk along the beach away.

The three of us at the restaurant

During dinner, we spotted this stray doggie waiting for some leftover scraps. The waitress told us his name is Kenya, and he followed us almost back to our resort that evening, but stopped where our resort started. I guess the adult-only resort staff was not as friendly to him as the family side.

Kenya the dogAlso on the walk back, someone had arranged some greenery and candles to make a large heart in sand. My pictures didn’t come out because it was too dark and the flash ruined the effect, but we later saw one of these being used in a wedding ceremony. Aww.

When we arrived in the lobby, we visited our favorite bartender and I asked him to teach me how to make a caipirinha.

  • “Have the bartender teach you how to make a drink from behind the bar.”

Me making some caipirinha

+ 1 for me.

Since Trish didn’t make it out the night before, Kristin and I promised we’d take her to the club in the cave that night. We got a nice couple to snap this shot of us at the entrance.

All of us outside Imagine

I spotted this woman who, despite not being Asian, was wearing what could technically pass as a kimono. She didn’t seem to speak English but I told her with gestures that I loved her dress and asked for a photo.

  • “Take a picture with an Asian lady with a parasol (x2 if she’s wearing a kimono or dressed in all red).”

Posing with the lady in a kimono and some random dude

Kristin and Trish agreed I could have one point for creativity and since none of us were probably going to find anything closer than this. The guy jumped in at the last minute, I’m not sure if he even knew the woman on my left.

Inside the club, we danced our butts off and met an array of travelers from Boston, Massachusetts to Hamburg, Germany.

On the hot pink sofa at Imagine discoHaving fun on the dance floor, which lit up in true disco style At the Imagine disco

Notable moment: Miguel introduced us to the song “Wiki Wiki”  and none of us have been the same since.

Day 5

On our last full day in the DR, we decided to lay low, enjoy the weather, and hang out with all of our new friends from the week including twin sisters from Montreal, pictured below.

Dancing on the beach

Starting off with some dance lessons on the beach given by our favorite Animación staff members seemed like a good idea.

Then a dip in the turquoise water and an impromptu photo shoot.

Bathing beauties Oceanside cabanas

These are the VIP cabanas we lounged on all day.

Hotties on the beach

Next up…

  • “Take a picture of you climbing a palm tree.”

Climbing a palm tree


Kristin loving lifeTrish loving lifeAmy loving lifeLoving life x2 Loving life x2

There were only scattered showers throughout the day, in which case we simply got out of the water and waited it out in one of the beach bars or in the lobby. Not bad for hurricane season.

That evening, after we had each accumulated enough of a tan to make our friends at home jealous, we ate at the Dominican restaurant called El Pilón.

Sunburnt bathing beauties

Then we headed to the Arieto Disco and Mangu, where we learned how to do the Bachata and watched some break dancing that looked straight from the Jersey Shore.

The three of us ready to disco on our last night in Punta Cana

We stayed out late and woke up early, not yet ready to leave such a gorgeous place as this.

Pool at DawnPalms at Dawn

Alas, arriving at the outdoor airport in 90+ degree heat, it was time to say goodbye.

Ready for takeoff

Bottom line is, I LOVE this place and would go back in a heartbeat. Especially in the off-season, which proved to be the best value for the buck and probably a lot more fun.

Vintage beauties

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