November 28, 2016

Poem: Respite

We drink wine and whiskey
While the world falls apart.
Despair is parked outside;
Anger left by the door
Like a wet umbrella.
Here in the Kingdom of Cheddar and Brie
Contentment reigns -
Nine o'clock and all's well.
We tell old stories,
Sing old songs,
Drink old scotch,
And share memories,
And memories of memories.
Tomorrow's news
Will put new wrinkles on my face.
But tonight,
I drive home in silence -
Cheese in my stomach,
Music in my head -
And sleep in quiet peace.

September 30, 2016

Collage: September Diptych

It's been a while, but I finally made some new desktop picture collages. This month, I was not very creative and just searched Flickr with the word "September".

Because I have two monitors, I created two complimentary collages, like I did with my fog diptych.

September 1 by S. King

September 2 by S. King

The first image is on my main monitor and the second is to my right. I like how looking from left to right is like looking from the beginning to the end of September, from the last days of summer to the start of October and Halloween season.

Here are the 4 images I used as my sources:

Crop Rotation (Sunset & Cows), Dorset
harvest moon september 22nd 2010
Fonti del Clitunno  [Explored]
Hello Flick Family. Read My Story. Know My Name :))

I used the Pixellate > Pointillize filter a lot in both collages. For the second, I also used the halftone filter. One of the pointillized layers from the boat image is in the moon picture, to add more texture and color. I used the threshold filter on a cut-out of the cat to make the shape stand out and look more like a shadow.

September 14, 2016

Poem: Midlands September

Photo illustration by S. King. Mosquito image credits.
Some day soon
Mosquitoes will lie dormant
And the water in the air
Will retreat
To clouds, lakes, and rivers.

Some day soon
I will walk outside
And my shirt will not
Stick to my back and chest.

Some day soon
A breeze will make me shiver
And I will open
Every window in my house
To let it in.

Some day soon
Summer's tyranny will end
And we will dance in the streets,
Wearing jeans,
Rejoicing in the victory of Fall.

September 11, 2016

Creating a weekly family schedule

My husband and I both work full-time and we have two elementary-age kids. This means that our life can get pretty busy sometimes, what with everyone's activities, obligations, doctor appointments, etc.

Several months ago, my husband wished for a way to organize our chaotic schedules, to have a big-picture idea of what was coming instead of just being unpleasantly surprised by his phone alerting him that David has a basketball game across town in 15 minutes. Synced smart-phone calendars help, but they don't do a very good job of giving all four of us a picture of what our week will look like.

In the past, we'd also had laminated chore charts on the fridge so we could check off everyday chores. He wanted to bring those back, too, so I took it up as a design challenge to save fridge space and combine the two: weekly calendar and daily chore chart. After all, I'm a graphic designer turned UX specialist. This sort of thing ought to be right in my wheelhouse!

After several iterations, here is what I came up with. This is an example of a weekly schedule from a few months ago.

Here are some of the notable features of this design:

  • Only 4 activities fit on each day, a reminder that it's just not realistic to try and do too much in one day.
  • The schedule begins on Monday, because that's how we think of our weeks: five days of school/work followed by two days of weekend. Also, some events go across the whole weekend and having Saturday and Sunday next to each other makes it easier to show that.
  • The chores can be changed each week when I print out the new schedule. For example, this week I added making & delivering a cake to the chores. 
  • Originally, I had initials next to each chore showing who was supposed to do what. I ended up getting rid of those because everyone already knows which chores are theirs.
  • We can use this schedule to plan meals for the week, seeing ahead of time which days we'll have a lot of time for cooking and which days will be 'Leftovers a la Microwave.' If I were a terribly organized sort of person, I might even add the menu to the schedule (but I'm not, so I won't).
  • Even the youngest member of the family can easily see which days are busy and which are not, especially useful if you want to know when you can invite a friend to come over.
I'm still working on the design of the weekly schedule, refining features based on user feedback. For example, I'm experimenting with the best way to display multi-day events like the camping trip shown here (especially tricky since this has to work in print, not just on the screen).

I'd love to hear any feedback you have on this design, especially any ideas for improving it!

July 23, 2016

Poem: Spartanburg Dim

I wrote this poem a few months ago, but waited too long to post it, and now it's no longer relevant. However, I still think it's pretty good, so I'm posting it anyway. While Spartanburg, SC may have slain their dragon at the polls, there are plenty of other places across the USA where the advice in the last four lines still applies.

aerial view of Spartanburg, SC

The town is plain, unadorned
A model of the civic norm.
But look: inside
Its borders something hides.
Stupidity is sheltered there,
Ignorance has made its lair.
It sprawls, it rules,
It gibbers, shouts, and drools.
The light of knowledge flickers dim,
A brown-out of the brain within
This town. But wait,
It's spread across the state!
The people there have set it loose
To grow, breed, reproduce.
Who can suppress
This plague of foolishness?
Just like a fungus, like a mold
It's taken root and taken hold.
Look out! Despair!
The crazy's everywhere.
The folks back home now hold the key
To break the spell and set us free:
One man, one vote.
And while I breathe, I hope.

Increasing MIDI Volume in GarageBand

Years ago, I bought an Edirol PCR-50 MIDI keyboard on eBay. Just this week, I got it hooked up and working with my new iMac running OS X El Capitan. But there was still one problem, something that had frustrated me back when I first bought it: the volume of the MIDI tracks in GarageBand was too low.

Even with the track volume turned all the way up, the green bar barely showed, no matter how hard I pounded on the keyboard. Naturally, I turned to Google to solve this problem. I found a lot of old, irrelevant advice. The closest thing to good information I found was this FAQ page (warning: do not click unless you've got a good pop-up blocker), clearly geared toward an old version of GarageBand.

But that old info pointed me in the right direction, and I found the answer. Here's how to get it to work.

GarageBand visual EQ manual settings

  1. With your MIDI controller (i.e. keyboard) plugged in, select the MIDI track in GarageBand.
  2. Over on the right, select the Edit tab, highlighted here in yellow.
  3. From the Visual EQ dropdown list (also highlighted in yellow), select the Manual option.
  4. A pop-up window like you see on the left here will appear. Click and drag on the blue line to increase the volume.
The settings you see here aren't necessarily the best - play around with it until you get something you like. It might vary depending on the instrument you're using. For example, I needed to raise the Bass and Low Mid to increase my overall volume, but didn't touch the Treble or High Mid. (My keyboard's all about that bass, no treble.)

I rushed to take a screenshot and post it here so that anyone else out there using an old MIDI keyboard with a new copy of GarageBand would be able to find this information. If you actually know something about MIDI controllers and EQ's and all that jazz, please post in the comments and correct any mistakes I might have made. Thanks, and happy music-making!

February 19, 2016

Poem: These Clothes Do Not Fit

illustration by S. King
This suit of clothes which
You have given me
Looks finely made, but
I have to tell you,
I am afraid that
It does not fit me.
The sleeves are set so
My arms can't reach them.
The legs are too short,
The collar too tight,
The waist much too loose;
I cannot wear it.
Now, I suppose that
I could change my shape.
Given enough time,
Patience, strength of will,
I could make myself
Fit into these clothes,
But I hesitate,
Asking, is it wise
To change who I am
In order to fit
This suit of clothes which
You have given me?