Archive for the ‘Fun stuff’ Category

Welcome, welcome, for another edition of ‘Junk Mail Theater’!  You can’t imagine the unbridled joy I had when I looked at the pile of mail and saw this:




And had one of those ‘What the hell?’ moments.  Does anyone not get the image here?  Dogs pee on fire hydrants; we’ve all seen the cartoons.  Incidentally, I’ve been around dogs my entire life.  My friends, family, myself – we’ve all owned dogs.  Not once have I seen – or heard of – one peeing on a fire hydrant.  But I mean, that’s the same thing as a dog eating homework; it’s just an accepted cliche.

Regardless, the dog pees on a fire hydrant, and that’s something that can be considered ‘good together’?  Really?  I mean, on the one hand, it made me open the thing and see what the next bit would be, but they could’ve accomplished that with plunging cleavage leading toward the fold.  But on the other hand….it pees on the hydrant.  How is that a good thing?  Regardless, with the image of a dog next to a fire hydrant and the obvious comparison coming down the bend, I opened it up.  Seriously, where the hell are they going to take this?




Okay.  Is the implication here that Reality Savings pees on Reality Checking?  And in addition to that, it’s even better than the unbridled glee I feel when I imagine Fido with his leg propped relieving himself on a hydrant?   Is it supposed to be some vague irony?  But that’s just the idea, and even if it falls flat, it’s not entirely the job of the designer to make it work.  Even though you can make some even better comparisons; peanut butter and jelly – coffee and donuts – Laurel and Hardy – and on and on.  But I think my favorite part is using the comparison in the last line of the first block of copy – ‘Check out how you and *this bank* are great for each other’.  So it’s official.  The bank pees on you.  Fetishists, unite!  Bank in our golden showers of great rates and refundable ATM fees!  Free checks with furries in the background!

Anyway.  Back to the design; and I can tell this is the same guy who did the last one.  I kind of want to meet him, and break his hands so he can’t do this.  See, my problem with shit like this is not so much that it encroaches on my territory, it’s that it brings the average median of design down.  Because this exists, all of design is a little worse off for it.  We need to cull the herd, and for once, it seems the market isn’t fast enough.

For one, Helvetica.  I use it because I design primarily for news, and that’s what my client’s competition uses, so that must be what my clients have to use.  Nevermind that sometimes I’m the one who designed the competition’s package, but not much I can really do about that.  Helvetica is tired, it’s old, and it’s entirely overused.  Go with Futura or something.  A nice, clean, balanced san serif font; it’d be fun.  And yes, I realize that because Helvetica (and Helvetica Neue) have something on the order of 5,000 different styles in the family, it makes design incredibly easy.

As for the bullet points, it seems that this guy likes to define importance by adding more and more simple text effects to the copy.  Regular font – explaining the listed item.  Bold  and Bullet Point – item being listed.  Bold, Underline, and Colon – title grouping the items to be listed.  I’m surprised that the big font on the front isn’t bolded, underlined, italicized, drop shadowed, given a rainbow overlay, glowing, and has a strike-through.  Oh, and maybe an arrow with text that says “This is really important.”  But in a non-ironic way.  Photoshop has many filters and effects, and can do many, many things.  This does not mean you need to do all of them at once.

Dog’s back.  I have no idea why, I could assume it’s a speech bubble and the dog talks.  Or maybe the ‘switch kit’ comes with a terrier.  Or a coupon for the local Korean restaurant.

A few things: the ‘Do More with…’ and ‘Get More with’ can be punched up a bit more.  Those are two good lines to draw together and make the centralized anchor in the design.  And you can do that without adding 8,345 filters and effects to the text.  And once again we have drop shadow on a white background…..just….no.  It even makes the text harder to read.

The one thing I don’t get is this – ‘Do U R2’?  Is that the branding?  If that’s the case, why is it pushed to the bottom right and nearly forgotten?  How come that’s the first time we see it?  And why the lame serif font?  Why not dress it up a bit and make it more of a branding image?  Is that because it would then be good?  I mean, branding images with company and product mottos have obviously never really worked – ‘Have it your way’, ‘I’m lovin’ it’, ‘The ultimate driving machine’.  The guy is on the cutting edge of design 150 years ago.

But, I want to leave with my favorite part.  In the first block of copy, there’s a line that goes, “These two accounts separately are awesome, and combined create the most powerful combination in personal banking.”  Okay, that’s a bit much.  Granted, after seeing the info on the checking account’s overdraft policy I was nursing a semi, but it’s nothing to dry hump my ledger about.  As I’m reading that, I’m picturing the commercial with re-edited clips of Captain Planet combining the powers of Checking, Savings, CD’s, Equity Loans, and Heart to save the world in the most douche-bag hippy way.

That line does give the image that the tellers at this bank probably would beat up the tellers at my bank, but that’s probably because my bank is filled with really fat old women in their 50’s who probably have dentists for husbands and took the job to get out of the house.  Because you can only spend so much time staring at the dust gathering on the exercise furniture you bought off of the television before you need to find something else to do.  And that something else is obviously sitting 8 hours a day and making me wait 25 minutes while you add.


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So when I get junk mail, I don’t like to throw it away.  Every pamphlet, letter, brochure, etc – I like to take apart and look at.  I couldn’t care less about the message, but some designer made this, and it bears even a small moment of my day to at least look and appreciate it.

I’m not alone in this.  My Uncle is an old-school graphic designer (can even make fonts by hand – how novel!) and he shares this quirk with me.  One thing we are always going on about is package design.  And I mean – we are going on about it.  I bought Wall-E, and when I was amazed at the ingenious design and assembly of it’s case, I brought it over and promptly showed him.  We both marvel over Apple’s product design team, and Adobe’s (the new stuff? fantastic).

Needless to say, when you aquire a….taste? of what ‘good’ can be, and you are in the profession of doing it yourself – well, it’s a rare treat when something comes along that is abysmal.  It’s like the sharpness of a good Scottish Whiskey, or the gentle bite of a great Jambalaya.  It’s the sting that makes everything else so much better.

So without further ado, I bring you the first in, what I sincerely hope is many, Junk Mail Theater!


This one comes from a local bank offering ‘Reality Checking’.  Here’s the front page:


And here’s the back:



So, first off, I love that the front page of this thing has all the subtly of a sledgehammer.  It reminds me of icanhascheezburger – where the internet is serious business.  And let’s examine the chroma-yellow.  I really wish the scanner nailed what will probably cause epilepsy in certain people, but alas, it managed to de-saturate that somewhat.  Yes, what you are seeing is it toned down.  It’s like hearing that Richard Simmons has been on downers all this time.

And the general concept?  I don’t get it.  Is it supposed to be a comic book?  And how does the product they are selling; ‘Reality Checking’ relate to animals?  And whoever wrote this copy is a genius, because they followed up ‘Stop chasing your tail’ with ‘Finally get tired of chasing your tail’?  Meanwhile, that cat is going to murder that dog.

Another thing, I would like every crap designer out there to realize something; just because you have a CD full of fonts, does not mean you need to use every single one.  You’d assume the guy thought each one he used would make his dick bigger.  I mean, we have Helvetica (the most overused of all fonts) – and not just one in the family, but I count 3 different weights, and the creme-de-la-creme of shit design; Comic Sans.  But it gets even better, he manages to switch font families mid-paragraph!  Mid-paragraph!  That is just dedication to avoiding the easy route; zeroxing a small pile of dog shit and mailing it out to me.

I want to explain something to you.  If there is a god, and I like to think there isn’t – but assuming there is, the only way I would define that god as a just god in this world of torment, hate, violence, natural disasters, and death is this: The only way for god to be a good and just one is to take out the eyes of every designer that uses Comic Sans with a rusty screwdriver.  They deserve it.  Using Comic Sans is design abortion.

And rock star, I would like to remind you with that brilliant choice of Blazing Suns Yellow, you don’t need a drop shadow to make it stand out against white.  If you need a drop shadow to make your font color stand out against white, you need to pick a different fucking color.

I love the stock bullet points, by the way.  There are a million ways to dress it up, and he goes with bullet points – that aren’t even really needed.  You have a bold compressed font marking each bullet, you could have indented that second extended light font and saved my eyes the visual rape that they were hit with.

But the thing that gets me the most – and I mean aside from the color, concept, font, layout, lack of creativity, and just general overall design – the one thing that I don’t get?  Second page, bottom right.  Why is there a mouse on it?  First, you’re talking about dogs, then you’ve connected them to checking with that great segway (Top dog. How clever.), but now you have a small mouse giving the legal.  I kinda see the purpose; small mouse, small voice, small type….but why is he in black and white?  10 seconds on istockphoto.com will give you a whole slew of mice.  In fantastic color!

So that’s today.  I honestly hope it isn’t the last.

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There’s a point in your day, fleeting as it may be, when you realize that you are separate from the world proper.  The characteristics that you took for granted before – the ones that bring you into the fold of what we deem ‘society’ – are jumbled or lost, and you are thusly left behind.  The world is a train, and it only heads one way.  Get on or watch it pass you by.


Staring at the flickering candlelight burning before you, providing the only illumination you have, you realize a few things.  Thinking of your grandparent’s parents, you realize that the current conditions you are experiencing are identical to theirs.  Around a century ago, they maybe didn’t have electricity either.  They experienced the cold loneliness of a darkened house much the same way you are.  And in much the same way, you begin to understand 2 things.


1.  That every memory they told you, and every photograph they have is of the family being outside.


2.  Why they had so many brothers and sisters.


Both of these are very closely related.  A darkened house with a soft, flickering light really only leads to one activity.  And with the absence of prophylactics back then, the results of that ‘entertainment’ become….. populous.


Sunday (day one) it was annoying.  We had rented movies and ordered take-out to treat ourselves to 4 hours of entertainment without having to do the dishes afterwards.  Instead we ate our meal as the winds outside sought to destroy humanity.


Monday (day two) it was confusing.  Normally, power-outages only last an hour or two – tops.  A downed wire, a blown transformer; it’s the job of the electric company to be able to anticipate and solve these little problems.


Tuesday (day three) it was romantic.  Candlelight inside, night outside, and a chill in the air that could only be warded off by blankets leads down a familiar and exciting road.


Wednesday (day four) it was depressing.  We didn’t know what was going on, only rumors that ‘sometime Friday’ may be the finish line.  We were noticeably upset.


Thursday (day five) we were exuberant.  Electricity was restored.  We were mildly pleased to say the least, but buoyed by the fact that there are people in other areas of the country who still see darkened houses when they head home.


Although, nature left us a present in our backyard:



She reminded us that she still calls the shots.

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Heading north on I-95 through South Carolina, Emily and I started spotting these strange advertisements.  They were for a place called ‘South of the Border’ and had an interesting mascot plastered on the front.  Each one was basically different, and there was a billboard about every 2-3 miles.  The first advertisement we saw was about 40 miles from the shared Carolina border.  40 miles of advertisements.  Each one different.  Each one strange.


So I started a collection.


This one was definitely one of the weirdest, so I decided to lead off with that.  Obviously my implication is that there will be more.


Oh yes.  There will be more.

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I don’t know when I’ll be back again….


Actually, that’s not true.  I’ll be back Monday.  My cousin is having a wedding on saturday, and has enlisted me to be the photographer for some very good reasons:

  • I’m available
  • I’m really good
  • Like, really good
  • I’m free
So obviously I’ll be going.  The trick will be to shoot an indoor situation with a lens that only stops down to 3.5.  I could lug around my tripod, but that’s rather tacky.  So Em and I will pack up the car, mosey on down to Jacksonville Florida (where the beer flows like wine), and watch my cousin marry some guy I’ve never seen before.
I’m looking forward to 100 degree heat, 120% humidity, and wearing a full suit.  I hate Florida.  I think the hot air acts like a preservative.
In other news, I bought Emily an iPod.  It’s only fair, she dropped serious coin on my camera, it seems right that I spend a fraction of that and get her something she’ll sparingly use.  Or so she tells me.  Emily rolls her eyes when I tell her about some new thing I want to get because I know the value of it.  She folds her arms and says, “whatever cutie”.  But I don’t falter, I don’t fail.  She’ll use this iPod for 10 minutes and realize it’s the greatest thing she’s ever had.  Hell, she took it out of the box and wouldn’t let me plug it in – she kept looking at it and saying how cool it feels.
So if you remove every feature from the item, I still succeed in getting her a great gift.  I am fucking good.
In case you are wondering, that shot above is one you see in National Geographic all the time.  You take a picture of running water with the aperture as closed as possible on an ISO as low as possible.  This means that you are forcing the camera to have the shutter open for a long time to compensate for the lack of light and sensor sensitivity.  Throw in moving water, and you get that cottony type feel to it.  It looks spectacular with waterfalls and rapids.

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So this technique is pretty stellar.  Using a combination of bracketed exposure, a tripod, and Photoshop, you can achieve an image that’s far closer to what our eye sees than what a camera can capture.  Relatively easy, the real work is done in post – where I have very limited experience.


Essentially, the human eye is a wonder to behold.  Every second, your eye is making thousands of small changes and alterations to itself to better discern the world around you.  Focus, brightness, movement, it’s all captured and ‘exposed’ perfectly in real time.  Unfortunately a camera can’t do this.  It can’t look at each detail and perfectly expose every section to get an image that directly represents the location you saw.  So you have to get essentially an average – a shot that best represents the scene as a whole.  But when you do that, you lose the details.


One way to get around this is to basically take multiple images and merge them in post.  One would be overexposed to capture the detail in the shadows, one would be normal (the ‘base’ image), and one would be underexposed to get more detail in the highlights.  You would combine these images together and tell the computer to take the base image, and average the curves of all 3 so you get a better representation of the scene.  You could go further and take even more images (5, 7, always an odd number to ensure it’s evenly under/over exposed), each a certain level away from the ‘base’ image, and get an even more accurate representation.


This technique has a few drawbacks:


  • It can only be done on a camera with bracketed exposure, that basically leaves ‘prosumer’ SLR’s and up – although I know some of the entry level SLR’s are starting to pick this feature up
  • The subject has to be stationary, if it’s moving, the differing images will throw off the final image
  • It has to be done with a tripod, the human hand is just not steady enough
  • You can’t make adjustments in the field – it’s all brought together in post (unless you’re carting around a laptop)
In certain situations, I really like it.  It has great potential to do some amazing things – just search on flickr for ‘HDRI’.
What I shot above is this great little spot in the Cleveland Metroparks, and unfortunately it doesn’t really do the technique justice.  The saturation is lost in the leaves because they were moving in the slight breeze, and the sky is ‘bleeding through’ when the images were composited together.  The real difference is in the ground, stairs, and the treebark.  You can see in the image on the right, it was shot at an ISO of 250 for half of a second.  During that time, you can see the noise that built up in the darker areas that the sensor was trying to make sense of.
My next step is to try an HDRI image in RAW format and see what happens.  I may have some time later today during my lunch, so I’ll head out to the park or something – something with a good amount of color and detail.
Ideally, the next step forward would be a digital sensor that was capable of multiple exposures for each shot.  Once the camera shutter was opened, you could divide up the sensor in a matrix pattern to grab different exposure levels for each shot.  Since it’s done digitally, you wouldn’t have to worry about the noise that comes from turning up the ‘gain’ on current analog sensors.  This would allow you to take an image of something – anything, and have it be an HDRI image, thus rendering photos we’ve taken now grainy and obsolete.  They would have greater detail and look absolutely fantastic, since they’ll able to more closely recreate what the human eye is capable of.  Then that technology would be transferred to movies, for obvious reasons.

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Independence Day


We sat on the grass on a warm July night, the ground still wet from the earlier rain.  The pond before us was calm and still, even as a slight breeze played across the grass.  The cacophony of the crowd surrounding us bathed us and made our voices private even in the middle of all of these ears.  On our blanket we waited, dusk passing over our heads, patient for the triumphant reward that greets us every year.


Off in the distance, beyond the pond and past the reach of the lights one, then two, then three, then four flares were lit.  They separated and walked past the wooden crates that were now illuminated in an unearthly red glow.  Down one went, then back up, then another dipped only to return.  The crowd cheered; it had begun.  With a muffled blast the ball was sent skyward, sparks trailing it toward the cloudless sky before finally exploding in a triumphant blast of color and noise.


It was as this point that Emily and I learned bringing Hershey was a bad idea.


The lights intrigued her, the loud explosions didn’t bother her (after a time), but it was the whistling ones; those shrieking missiles heading skyward, that she couldn’t take.  She hid between us and would only calm down if I managed to say her name into her ear louder than the discordance before us.  Needless to say, we were happy when it was over.


The next day, neighbors set off more fireworks.  Our new neighbors.  Let’s say their diplomatic skillset on being around fresh people is a little wanting.  Basically, it may seem rude to set off a quarter stick of dynamite in the middle of the road at 4 in the afternoon 2 days after you finish moving in.  But hey, maybe I’m just a traditionalist.


Saturday was a cookout, Sunday was a trip to the park.  Both have stories of their own that will have to wait for another day.  For today is Monday, so I must toil in the salt mines.

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