SiteKey: Bagel. 2014, mixed media. On loan from the Sebastiaan de With collection.

Friday, March 21 2014

SiteKey: Bagel. 2014, mixed media. On loan from the Sebastiaan de With collection.

Are you starting a tech podcast? Are you still looking for that perfect title that speaks directly to your core audience of programmers, tech writers, and fanboi? Do you think it’s funny when words mean, like, one thing, but also another thing? Here are some possible titles—and show ideas—that’ll rock the roof of the exclusive club of software development:

  • Auto Layout — You’ve always wondered how your favorite developers organize their car’s dashboard and glove compartment. Wonder no more!
  • Hide Others — Tips and tricks for turning your social anxiety into antisocial productivity
  • Profile Without Building — Fascinating conversations with people who haven’t actually shipped much software
  • Master-Detail — A podcast for those unafraid to show their computer who’s the boss by insisting on having all the minutiae of their desktop set up just so.
  • Code SigningCode is art. Artists sign their work. What part don’t you understand?
  • Discard All Changes — Casual chat about the good old days of programming, back when it was just a man and his machine. Yes, a MAN.
  • Simulate Memory Warning — Everyone ages, even coders. In this podcast we ask some seasoned pros: are you afraid of getting old and dying some day?
  • Special Characters — Interviews with self-described “development divas”
  • Human Interface Guidelines — How to talk to other people in an insightful and entertaining way

(Related: Book titles Tom Clancy bookmarked for future use when he took his first Computer Science class)

Continuing my 2013 breakdown, here are the movies I liked last year:

  • Tucker, Francis Ford Coppola, 1988
    Chances are you’ve never heard of The Tucker automobile, and chances also are you’ve never heard of this Coppolla/Lucas film. It’s a lovely, friendly, beautiful little piece of golden-age cinema. Effortlessly watchable stuff.
  • Threads, Mick Jackson, 1984
    1984 was a singularly mind-blowing year for cinema, mostly due to the number of popcorn action flicks Hollywood put together. The British speculative pseudo-documentary Threads is the polar opposite of all that: an absolutely terrifying, mortifying, depressing, unbearably sad speculative account of how a nuclear apocalypse might unfold. While Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic fictions usually choose to show the Wild West that follows the disaster, Jackson focuses on the immediate cost, the social tragedy. If you thought The Road was dark, Threads makes it looks like Harry Potter (I mean the first film). If you can stomach it, it’s masterfully done. Unforgettable. Watch the full film on YouTube.
  • The Emperor’s New Groove, Mark Dindal, 2000
    I know—you’ve seen this. But I hadn’t, and for anyone else who hasn’t yet: seriously, it’s good stuff. The Chuck Jonesiest thing Disney ever dared release.
  • Chimes at Midnight, Orson Welles, 1967
    By some accounts, the director’s own favorite. He takes all the appearances of John Falstaff in Shakespeare’s plays and weaves them into a single narrative with the usual ingredients of Welles’ genius: stunning cinematography, previously unseen effects, larger-than-life theatrical performances, grand themes of pride, betrayal, and purpose in life. A must for fans of Shakespeare or Welles. [Hard to find]
  • In A World…, Lake Bell, 2013
    A thoroughly modern comedy with a “voice” all its own (har har). Can’t wait to see what Lake Bell does next.
  • Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven, 1997
    I was so into this when it came out, and then I spent fifteen years thinking I was an idiot for liking what everyone else told me was a cheap, trash/pulp sci-fi flick. Dummies—this is one of the cleverest, most confident, most daring movies of the 1990s. 
  • Mind Game, Masaaki Yuasa, 2004
    Truly impossible to describe except as a bathos-filled existential daydream, Mind Game may be the most joyously, goofily, wildly, maddeningly, beautifully cinematic film I’ve seen in years. It contains seemingly everything. [Hard to find]
  • Mud, Jeff Nichols, 2013
    Jeff Nichols and Matthew McConaughey both continue their ascents into the upper echelons of American independent cinema. A lovable heartland tale.
  • Lazer Ghosts 2: Return to Laser Cove, Steven Kostanski, 2008
    A schlocky trailer for a nonexisting movie, made to illustrate that you don’t always need more than a few minutes of the viewer’s attention to fully engross and entertain them—a sentiment I can very much get behind. Watch it on YouTube.
  • Homicide, David Mamet, 1991
    Mamet’s movies are often flawed in similar ways: hyper stylized, oddly dialogued, needlessly overplotted. This one is a lot like that, too, but it’s worth seeing for its truly unpredictable story. 
  • Black Narcissus, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1947
    Visually, perhaps the most stunning movie I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t hurt that everything else about it is skillfully handled, too. Powell & Pressburger made movies unlike anyone else’s, and this is a particularly good one.
  • Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón, 2013
    Well duh.
  • Five Minutes Mr. Welles, Vincent D’Onofrio, 2008
    Vincent d’Onofrio directed this short film to redeem himself for what he thought was a poor job of playing Orson Welles in Burton’s Ed Wood. It’s a cute bit of insider theater, tightly written and edited. Recommended for all Welles fans. Watch it on YouTube.

I need to get better at making the time to check out more movies. I like movies! If you really care to see what I’m watching, follow me on Letterboxd, maybe.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty slow to catch up to new releases, so no one really wants to read about my favorite anything that came out last year. Instead, I’ll tell you about my favorite books I read last year, regardless of when they were first published. Here we go:

  • A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson, 2003
    You think you know all there is to know about these Western-science anecdotes, but Bryson manages to find interesting details and insights on nearly every subject, and he writes with a dry, likable wit that should draw you in from the first page.
  • Sam & Max: Surfin’ the Highway, Steve Purcell, 1988
    You surely know the game, but did you know that the original comic book is even better—chock-filled with zany, corny, screwball comedy that feels less frustrating and more lovable on the page than it does in its interactive form.
  • Sign Game, Justin Green, 1995
    A charming comic that’s part history of signpainting, part how-to tutorial, and part amusing little inside-baseball chronicle.
  • The Sot-Weed Factor, John Barth, 1967
    While Barth clearly wrote this postmodern take on the 18th-century farce-novel as a tour-de-force exercise in jamming into a book literally anything and everything he could possibly think of, he didn’t forget to make each page fun to read.
  • How to Do Things With Videogames, Ian Bogost, 2011
    With every short little essay in this book, I gained a new insight into videogames.
  • Tenth of December, George Saunders, 2013
    You may have read in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker that this is good, but did you know that it’s actually good?
  • REAL Ultimate Power: The Official Ninja Book, Trey Hamburger, 2004
    Of course you’re going to like this because it’s completely sweet and awesome!! What are you, a stupid baby idiot?
  • What’s Bred in the Bone, Robertson Davies, 1986
    Just straight-up excellent literature, from an author you’ll soon wonder why everyone hasn’t heard and heard of over and over again. (It’s part 2 of a trilogy, but don’t worry—it works on its own.)
  • Templar, Jordan Mechner, 2013
    This doesn’t reinvent the medium of comics, but it’s efficient, effective, good old-fashioned entertainment.
  • A Hell of a Woman, Jim Thompson, 1954
    This pulp study of a deranged mind at first reads like a twelve-year old’s violent fantasy, but stick with it—it’s something quite different.
  • The Society of Mind, Marvin Minsky, 1988
    Ranging in topic and complexity from casual anecdotes and folk reasoning to dense, neologism-laden academic work, Minsky’s one-essay-per-page AI masterwork feels like a text whose aphoristic tone and broad scope will reward each return to it, saying more than it seems to say at first.
  • The Stench of Honolulu, Jack Handey, 2013
    If you wondered how Jack Handey might handle the transition from the one-liners of Deep Thoughts to the long form of a novel, the answer is that he doesn’t even try. At a time when the dominant forms of comedy are situational, character-based, or just “awkward”, it’s good to see someone writing plain old punchlines.

Overall, I read 56 books this year. I aimed for 80, but a few long, slow books threw me off. My page count is ~16,000, or some 43 pages per day. (How do I know all this? Goodreads, natch!) Next year, I may well read far fewer books as I plan to write more.

I hope you find some new favorites of your own in the list above. Read on, my friends, read on.

Legacy by Neven Mrgan, 2013. (Mixed media)

Tuesday, December 10 2013

Legacy by Neven Mrgan, 2013. (Mixed media)

Andy Ricker of Pok Pok, Portland’s best restaurant, gives an interview to Restaurant Girl and answers two questions that are on my mind a lot lately when it comes to food:

You were kind of thrust into the position of poster child for a current spate of white chefs cooking Asian cuisine.  Why do you think this became such a hot button topic for people?
I don’t know, really.  Probably lots of reasons.  I notice though that there’s not a lot of criticism of American chefs cooking Italian or Spanish food despite what their ethnic background is (Irish guy making some of the best Italian food in the city, anyone?)

You were more recently involved in a bit of an imbroglio about the fact that you charge for rice.  Is this indicative of New York’s perception of Asian cuisine overall, that it should automatically come with free rice, or is this a larger, nationwide expectation?
It’s a larger issue than just rice.  We seem to think that Asian food should be cheap and plentiful no matter what effort or ingredients go into it or what rent or wage is paid to produce it.

Watermarked by Neven Mrgan, 2013. (Mixed media)

Thursday, November 14 2013

Watermarked by Neven Mrgan, 2013. (Mixed media)

No More Words (I Love You, Ray Shaw) by Neven Mrgan, 2013. Mixed media.

Wednesday, November 13 2013

No More Words (I Love You, Ray Shaw) by Neven Mrgan, 2013. Mixed media.

Fans of comedy and theater! Yes, both of you! I’ve co-written and assistant-directed another sketch revue, opening this December in Portland. It’s a spooky tale of a kidnapped Santa who must stay alive by charming his psychotic captor with tales of Christmas Joy… How long can the jolly old fellow play this nail-biting game? Find out for yourself this holiday, at The Brody Theater!

Tuesday, November 12 2013

Fans of comedy and theater! Yes, both of you! I’ve co-written and assistant-directed another sketch revue, opening this December in Portland. It’s a spooky tale of a kidnapped Santa who must stay alive by charming his psychotic captor with tales of Christmas Joy… How long can the jolly old fellow play this nail-biting game? Find out for yourself this holiday, at The Brody Theater!

Add to Basket (Free Shipping) by Neven Mrgan, 2013. Mixed media.

Wednesday, November 6 2013

Add to Basket (Free Shipping) by Neven Mrgan, 2013. Mixed media.
  • Podcasting nook
  • Twoilet
  • 3D Home Theater
  • Airbnb annex
  • Some kind of skeuomorphic library
  • Device-charging closet
  • Banh mi parlor
  • Analog garage (?!)
  • Hallway o’ selfies
  • “Kitchen”

Thanks to my friend Colin Cornaby’s efforts over the last few weeks, my texty-artsy game Blackbar is now available for Android devices. Grab your copy from the Google Play store. Enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 9 2013

Thanks to my friend Colin Cornaby’s efforts over the last few weeks, my texty-artsy game Blackbar is now available for Android devices. Grab your copy from the Google Play store. Enjoy it!
“"Scientific studies"… have taken over the place that bible stories used to occupy. It’s only fundamentalists like me who worry about whether they’re true. For most people, it’s only important that they’re morally instructive.”

Today is the fifth anniversary of my employment at Panic Inc., Portland’s little big software company. Five years ago, after a very informal lunchtime interview, I joined the team as a designer. On my first day, I designed the above icon, meant to be used in the menu bar.

If you’re wondering why the lines are kind of wonky, it’s a matter of optical adjustment. Using a principle similar to ink trapping, the icon was adjusted to look sharp, clear, and even on a pixel display. Below, the left icon is drawn “on the grid”, while the one on the right is “trapped”. 

Five years later, I’m currently working on a similar graphic. I’m afraid all this is not a very good metaphor for the time I’ve spent here. Panic is a true second home for me; a place where I feel inspired, delighted, and safe. I love everyone in this office, I love what we do, and I love how we do it.

Just five years. Here’s to many, many more.