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Stuff that I like

Most stuff I’m just meh about, but I realized a couple of days ago that there are actually three things I’m using right now that I particularly love, so I figured I’d share them with you. To prove my love, I’m not even going to Amazon link this stuff with my referral account. I ain’t making a cent off these endorsements, so there.

Dell 11 Chromebook

I bought this for myself last year when I was doing some travelling and my old Chromebook had been smushed. I was already a fan of the whole Chromebook concept, but my original Samsung unit felt cheap and had been a little sluggish. The Dell 11 Chromebook (I got the 4GB model) is just awesome. It’s a pleasure to use. It’s solid, and has never, never bogged down on me, which is something that I can’t even say for using Chrome on my Macbook Air.

I love it so.

Maybe there’s a better Chromebook per the current reviews, but if you’re looking for one and the 11″ screen is your form factor, you will not be disappointed with this.

Moto 360 Watch

I’ve now used three different Android Wear watches (the 360, LG G and Samsung Gear Live). This is easily the best. Before I sell you on the 360 though, I probably need to sell you on the whole smartwatch concept. The big gripe that I’ve read about the entire product line is that it’s “just notifications”. This is (not quite, but mostly) true. But here’s the thing. It turns out that 80% of the time, all that I use my phone for are notifications. I just need to see something, be it a message from someone, a meeting reminder, or a package delivery alert. I don’t need to take any action. And that 80% of the time, it turns out that I was taking my phone out of my pocket for nothing.

I don’t need to do that any longer. My phone stays in my pocket far, far more than it did in the past, and I still have the same amount of actionable information.

So, if you’re the kind of person who actually wants people to be able to get in touch with you (and I realize that not everyone falls into this category), a smartwatch could be for you.

That said, there are a lot of models available that use the same basic OS: Android Wear. From my standpoint the Moto360 is the clear winner right now. It’s round. You know this. But I can’t emphasize it enough. It’s round. If you’re not paying close attention, you probably wouldn’t think twice if you saw it on my wrist.

And if you’re a geek like me, seeing that round screen feels just like someone went into the future, carved a bit of it off with a steak knife, brought it home, and stuck it on my wrist.

As far as the tech goes, I’ve had zero trouble with it. It has “just worked,” which is really what you want in a device. The charging cradle is superior. The whole thing was well thought out, and, if you’re looking for a smartwatch, I think it should be considered a raging success.

Here’s how I know that I love it. You know that feeling when you forget your phone when you head out for the day, and you realize that you’re going to have to backtrack to an older, crappier way of life without it? The day that I forgot to wear my 360 I felt the exact same way. It was like Oh noes, I actually have to drag my phone out today. Compared to the interaction flow with the watch, getting my phone out of my pocket now felt like a serious burden. I felt like a Philistine.

Incidentally, I got the one with the black leather band, bought the Pebble Steel matte black band, and replaced it myself. Joy says that it looks all right, and by that I mean that she really likes it.

On the smartwatch front at this point, I’d caution you accept no substitutes. While the Gear Live I used was okay, it looked clunky, and I had to hard reset it a number of times over the course of two weeks. I was never able to get my LG G watch to even connect to the Internet and sync properly with my phone. It was a complete fail.

AngularJS

Finally, the last thing that I’m in love with right now is AngularJS. Yes, it’s not the newest hotness in the world, and yes I do work for the self-same company that made the framework. However, all biases aside, it’s fantastic. Over the years I’ve tried a large number of JavaScript frameworks, and they were either incomprehensible (i.e. they had such a strong point of view that developing in them was like learning a whole new language which comes with supportability problems) or only semi-finished. Because of that, I had developed my own methodology for building the front ends for Rich Internet Applications. It’s pretty good, and people that have used it really like it.

But AngularJS has become my new favorite. At first, I was leery of building so much functionality into the markup. Markup is to provide logical structure, right? But once I got into it, I realized that as long as you did things correctly, all of the functionality you were removing from main code and putting into the markup was purely display oriented. If you do it right, you basically don’t have to write a View module any longer. You just wrote the business logic in your controllers.

It’s great.

I didn’t mind doing things the older way that I had come up with, but I love doing things the AngularJS way.

If you’re interested in getting started, I can’t recommend the official site and docs. That’s its one downfall. Framework: awesome. Docs: meh, at best. They don’t do the job. I found this tutorial to be great though:

http://www.ng-newsletter.com/posts/beginner2expert-how_to_start.html

It had me up and running in a couple of hours.

You do have to rearrange your thinking to get the most out of this framework, and you’ll find yourself slowly shedding your pre-conceptions the longer that you work with it. Without fail, when I’ve run into problems that I thought were gaps in the framework, it turned out that they were gaps in the way I had been thinking about the problems involved in building a rich front end, and that AngularJS provided what was often a simple, elegant solution to what I thought would be complex and hairy.

So, if you’re a front-end developer that uses the RIA model (as opposed to the older, hopefully deader server-generated pages model), it’s a worth a couple hours of your time to learn the basics and try it out.

How do I know I love AngularJS? Two years ago, we bought a new piano. It’s a Mason & Hamlin grand. I thought that my old piano was just fine for my skill level, but it turned out that I got immediately better with the new piano. It turned out that I had surpassed my current toolset, and upgrading not only made me better, but was ridiculously fun. Sometimes I still laugh when I play it, because it’s so awesome. That’s how I feel with AngularJS now. A couple of times a week, I do something with it, shake my head and laugh out loud in the office. What’s up? Just that AngularJS is so awesome I can’t stand it.

And that’s it. Three things that I’m just psyched out of my mind about.

Frogrus out

This happened

Had some friends over. Had a bottle of bubbly. Had always wanted to try this.

Boom.

On Monday evening, I was privileged to do an hour on Blender for a joint audience of the Western Pennsylvania Linux Users Group (primary desktop Linux user for four straight years yo!) and the Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Since the Mango project, Blender has been turned into a fantastic one-stop shop for the filmmaker’s pipeline for special effects, non-linear editing, general compositing, motion and camera tracking and even color grading. For filmmakers on an extreme budget, it could really make a huge difference!

For the convenience of everyone who attended, here are some helpful links from my talk:

 The Blender Foundation – download the latest, gallery, info, &cetera.

Tears of Steel – the whole project!

Big Buck Bunny

Other Blender Foundation sponsored shorts: Elephants Dream (Included in a MoMA exhibit. I worked as a materials/texturing artist on this.), Sintel

The Blender Network – a directory of experts for hire and other commercial resources

Both Blender Guru and CG Cookie have a lot of great tutorials.

I know that Lynda.com has some Blender training available, although I’m not personally familiar with the quality of the content.

My opinion is that if you’re switching horses from another 3D package and you’re already good with the concepts, the random tutorials you find online will probably serve you well. However, if you’re brand new to all of this, I’d recommend going with a more measured approach. There’s a ton of scattershot info laying around out there and you can literally fumble through it for months without getting anywhere. I’m sure that you can find other good resources, but if you’re into books as a learning resource my book (shameless plug) “Blender Foundations” has helped a bunch of people get started. I’m working on an updated version for the 2.7 series at this very moment though so if you’re interested but thinking “I won’t have time to do this for like, six months” you should probably hold off. You’ll be better served by the newer edition.

If you’re looking for an end-to-end tome on producing a 3D short with Blender, Blender Production has been rumored to be pretty good as well.

Cheers, and thanks for coming!

Here are two “sizzle” reels. I personally prefer the SIGGRAPH 2012 one, but YMMV.

Every couple of years, I refactor the little garden stream in my back yard. The previous version didn’t have enough water velocity in the lower half to generate the kind of visuals and cascading that I had wanted. But the nature of a project this is that by the time you actually get to run water through the thing, you’re basically done, and making baseline modifications amounts to tearing it all up and starting from scratch. So unless you have limitless free time you have to take your best shot and hope. Lesson learned from the last iteration then: you can only generate consistent water velocity by a consistent drop in the underlaying ground (and plastic shell). Trying to build the slope with rocks and such inside the shell doesn’t cut it. The water just happily re-routes around it, like electricity in a circuit or money in politics.

Anyway, here is this year’s version. It features nice velocity the whole way to the end, and a splashdown that is loud enough to hear consistently at night, in bed, even with the windows closed :) The foilage hasn’t started to grow in yet, but once it does the whole thing will be very nice to have in the background when he hang out in the courtyard with friends, build a little fire and have a drink.

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