The Making of Leviathan

Who can tame the sea beast Leviathan?
There is nothing on earth quite like him.
To meet him is to dance with death.
Even angels run for cover when he surfaces.

Maybe it was the long hours spent playing Final Fantasy as a kid, or maybe my fascination with mythical creatures is more simple than that. Whatever the reason I have often wondered about the sea beast Leviathan…

No one knows exactly what he looked liked –some speculate it was a crocodile, others say it was a whale, some say he never existed– and the problem is complicated by the fact that much of the description in the Bible is metaphorical. For better or worse I’ve been intrigued and determined to take him captive in my sketchbook for some time now.

Honestly I was intimidated by the challenge. Drawing from imagination does not come easily for me, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to try. I’ve never created a character before, much less one described as an omnipotent beast at the top of the food chain. I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice, and for about a year and a half that fear kept me from even trying.

Even now I don’t feel like my attempt is sufficient. There are several things I want to change, and ultimately I think he’s best suited for a different medium. But the thing I realized after wrestling with him for a couple weeks is that it’s time to set him free. We both need to spread our wings a bit.

Some day I will encounter him again, and hopefully then I’ll be better suited to bring him to life. Until then I offer this interpretation:

The Season Finale of the Appendix Saga

AppendixTimeline

What began as a normal day in late July quickly turned into one of the roughest seasons of my life. I had no idea I would still be dealing with it three months later, but at last the end is in sight. Tomorrow, November 1st, I’m finally getting my appendix removed, so I can close this chapter for good and get on with life.

I made the timeline above to graph my progress on the Awesome scale at key moments along the way. If you’re curious you can find the full story here. Continue reading

Re-think Your Phone Upgrade

I’ve been eligible for an upgrade for a few months now, but there’s something that’s held me back. For starters my phone has been working fine (until recently), so I couldn’t justify the purchase of a new one. On top of that if I upgrade I’m forced into a new contract which means I will lose my Unlimited Data option. If you’re anything like me, that’s kind of a kick in the head. I use a lot of data for work, and I really don’t want to resort to counting kilobytes. Fortunately, there’s a way around it.

Verizon’s current offerings are something like this –btw, I’m ignoring Talk and Text options to keep things simple here:

  • 2 GB/month for $30
  • 5 GB/month for $50
  • 10 GB/month for $80
  • Unlimited data for $29.99 (no longer offered)

At some point Verizon will change their plans and prices making the above info completely useless, however, the principles below will still apply.

All upgrades lock you in to a 2-year contract. The advantage is that you get the phone for much cheaper by signing up. Typically a new smart phone costs about $600, but they will offer it for, say, $200 if you sign up for two years of over payments –I mean, a contract. Here’s how the prices break down for a new phone today.

$650 for the phone w/out contract
$30 per month unlimited Data (only applies to customers who already have this plan)
$1,370 Two year total

$300 for the phone w/ 2-year contract
$50 per month for 5GB Data
$1,500 Two year total

$300 for the phone w/ 2-year contract
$80 per month for 10GB Data
$2,220 Two year total

In other words it’s $850 cheaper for me to buy a new phone at full price than it is to get the “discount” and pay for usage (over the next 24 months). Plus I have the peace of mind knowing I never have to worry about overage charges.

So if you find yourself in the same situation as me rest assured you don’t have to be the sucker consumer. Try buying a new phone and simply having the number switched over. Your wallet will thank you.

A Washingtonian Guide to Navigating the NYC Subway

MetroSubwayBannerLowRez

I lived in DC for 11 years and just recently moved to New York City. As of yesterday I no longer own a car which means I’ve learned to find my way around town without a set of wheels. I wrote the following guide for a friend who’s coming from DC to visit. I figured he’s probably not the only one who could benefit from it, so here you go. A few tips on getting around Manhattan and Brooklyn:

In general Google Maps is terrific for finding your way. Just select “Public Transit” as your mode and let the directions do the rest. Here’s an example. I would recommend sticking to just the subway lines at first, but if you’re feeling adventurous the bus system is pretty straightforward also.

You’ll need to purchase a metro card from one of the MTA vending machines found near most of the entry gates inside the station. You can use the same card for both the subway and the bus. The fare is the same price ($2.50) regardless of where you’re going, and you only have to swipe it upon entry (not exit).

Here’s a downloadable subway map. There’s an app for Android that is very handy.

The NYC Subway is very different from the DC Metro in a few key ways:

  1. The destination can vary at different points along the route. Typically they list the next major neighborhood or borough they are going to. For example: it may say “Trains to Uptown” …or Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, etc.” This is where Google Maps is especially helpful because the directions will tell you which way to go.
  2. Not all entrances are created equal. There is not a consistent look to all the subway stations –unlike DC, it’s not always obvious where the entrance is, so you may need to look closely. Often it’s a stairwell with a little green railing around it, but sometimes it’s inside a building or breezeway. Additionally, you’ll need to read carefully which direction the subway is going before you walk down the steps to enter the station. Generally the trains will follow the same direction as traffic, so if the entrance is on the right side of a road that’s going north, the trains are probably going that way as well. Sometimes you can get to the other side of the platform underground, but not always. The sign will typically tell you where the other entrance is or if you can walk to it from within the station.
  3. Possibly the biggest difference is that system is much more complex. DC’s most complicated station is L’Enfant Plaza because there are tracks going in two directions on two different levels. Some of the bigger stations in NYC have 4 or 5 different levels and a whole mess of tunnels connecting them. When you enter the station look for signs on the ceiling showing where to walk for the appropriate line. Keep following (and trusting) the signs on the ceiling and no one will know you’re not a New Yorker.
  4. There are express trains and there are local trains. If you look closely at the subway map you will see stops represented as white dots and black dots. The white dots are where the express trains stop. The local trains will stop at both the black and white dots. Additionally, under the name of each stop you will see a few small letters and numbers that show exactly which lines stop there.
  5. Several stops have the same names, but they’re on different lines. For example, there are five separate stations all named “23rd Street.” They are not the same stop, and they’re not connected. Double check the intersection before you plan your trip. There’s nearly a mile between 23rd on the C train and 23rd on the 6 train.

Here’s a couple other things to keep in mind:

  • Your cell phone won’t work in the subway, so don’t rely on pulling up directions en route. I will usually put my phone on airplane mode so it doesn’t waste battery searching for a signal.
  • The buses and trains run 24 hours. However they are not nearly as frequent at night or on the weekends.
  • You can eat and drink on the subway.
  • The trains, platforms, and tunnels are smaller than they are in DC. It’s not claustrophobia inducing, there’s just a reduction of personal space.
  • Not all stations have screens displaying when the next train will come.
  • Taxis are fairly cheap and easy to find in Manhattan. Brooklyn is kind of a different story.

I’ll update this post as I learn more, but please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments. I hope this helps!

17 Reasons Why I Ditched the iPhone

I’ve been a Droid user for the last two years, but when my account was due for an upgrade I decided to make the switch and try the iPhone 4. “Worst case scenario” I thought, “I can return it and pay the restocking fee. At least I’ll know which platform I like better.”

It turns out that I’m not a big fan of the iPhone. After two weeks of using it as my only phone, I was eager to return it and get a Droid again. During those two weeks I used Evernote to keep a running list of Pros and Cons. Any time I found something I liked or disliked I made a note of it, and now I’m turning it into a blog post.

The Good:

  1. I love being able to move the cursor accurately between letters. The little magnifying glass thing is fantastic.
  2. I love how responsive the screen is. Never experienced any scenarios where I had to keep clicking or swiping repeatedly.
  3. Really like the sharpness of the display and the home screen picture. The screen is a beauty!
  4. The copy and paste function is very well designed.
  5. The App Store has the original Final Fantasy games. Mind = blown.
  6. I really like the form factor and product design of the iPhone. This is one thing Apple does better than anyone.
  7. The photo viewer enlarges images so that they fill the screen to match the aspect ratio. This looks very sharp and takes advantage of the impressive screen.
  8. After discovering the voicemail feature on the iPhone I may take back everything negative I’ve ever said about the phone. You don’t have to dial a number and listen to pointless menus and instructions as if you’ve never used it before. The message is saved directly to your phone for easy playback and deletion. This is the way voicemail should be!
  9. I love the physical switch for putting the phone in silent mode.
  10. Battery life is significantly better on the iPhone than any other smart phone I’ve seen.
  11. I really like the option to resize images when sending them.
  12. I really like the screen shot feature. Simple and effective.
  13. I like the headphones’ built-in mic and volume control. Extra points for including them for free!

The Bad:

  1. Auto-complete is lousy, but at least it’s good for a laugh.
  2. Calendar does not show week view.
  3. I can’t stand the way text messages and notifications pop up on top of everything else. This is not helpful for someone who tries to minimize interruptions.
  4. Gmail is horrible on the iPhone. It makes Hotmail look efficient. The display and organization is nothing like gmail in a browser. You have to click through each message individually rather than scrolling through the entire conversation.
  5. It’s annoying that you have to enter your password every time you download an app.
  6. Everything seems to require a lot more “clicks.” Email is especially excessive; just try “starring” an email for example.
  7. Contacts don’t sync when you setup a Gmail account –only when you set it up as an Exchange account.
  8. After syncing the iPhone with my Macbook Pro I had to sign in to all my apps again. I’m guessing/hoping that’s not normal…
  9. The iTunes interface is horrible. Its a clumsy music player that was never intended to handle all the data of the iPhone. I want to be able to plug in my phone and use it like a USB drive.
  10. The fact that you can’t customize the notification sounds unless you jailbreak the phone is just inexcusable. This makes it confusing when you’re in the same room with a handful of other iPhone users, unless you’re that guy who actually likes anything but Tri Tone.
  11. The mail “Search” is a joke. It doesn’t use any of Gmail’s search operators. For example “is:unread” or “has:attachment” did not return any results. Even simple searches didn’t find what I was looking for most of the time.
  12. Overall integration with Google is just plain lousy. (More on that below)
  13. For no apparent reason it keeps saying that that my username or password for gmail is incorrect. Yet it occasionally gets a moment of clarity and imports my new mail. Had to remove and add my account twice to solve this issue.
  14. I can’t tell if Safari supports flash, or if it’s just crappy at displaying it.
  15. I wish you could adjust the volume of the alarm independently from the ringer volume.
  16. Calendar only synchronizes with the main calendar for each Google account. There is no way to view the sub calendars or shared calendars.
  17. Save Draft only works locally. You can’t start a draft on your phone and then finish it on a browser.

The Indifferent:

  1. The page scroll (in email) doesn’t keep sliding; you have to keep scrolling up or down.
  2. The horizontal keyboard is not available in all apps.
  3. I noticed a big hit in battery performance when using wifi for the day instead of 3G (which is normal for any phone)
  4. The iPhone is the iPhone. There’s only one manufacturer, and it works just like every other iPhone. This ensures consistency and quality control, but it also defines limits and inabilities.
  5. There’s probably an app for everything I don’t like about the iPhone, but I’m only looking at the built-in functionality here.

In the two weeks that I had the iPhone my attitude went from, “I really like this thing” to “I can’t wait to have my Droid back.” In the end the big deal breaker for me was the lack of integration with Google –especially Gmail and Calendar. I suppose if I switched to iCal, and iPhoto, and iTunes, and iHateEverythingButApple then everything would work flawlessly…

To be fair, there are some things I don’t like about my new Bionic (namely the pre-installed apps, screen, and battery life) but at the end of the day it’s the unparalleled integration with Google that has made me a fan of the Android platform.

DC Triathlon, Not a Spectator Sport

LaceyTriathlon-5329-EditWell before the butt crack of dawn yesterday thousands of people gathered along the banks of the Potomac to participate in the inaugural DC Triathlon.  My girlfriend was one of them, and I tagged along as a supporting cast member. Like any big race in DC it was nearly impossible to drive or park anywhere due to all the road closures, but this one came with the added challenge of starting before the metro was running.  Shuttle service was provided for the athletes, but us spectators had to fend for ourselves.

Fortunately we gave ourselves plenty of time to park nowhere near the course and make it to the starting point with time to spare.  Initially it felt a bit awkward walking through the middle of a huge crowd of swimsuit-clad folks; it was kinda like being at a water park except everybody was in decent shape.  All things considered, I’ve seen worse.

The next thing I noticed was that at least half of them were waiting in line for the porta-potties.  I for one am glad that they decided to use the restrooms then, rather than take care of business during the swimming portion in the Potomac.

DC Triathlon-5309

The first wave of folks made their way down the temporary pier and into the water.  The little horn blower dude did his thing and the inaugural DC Triathlon was underway.  There was an excitement in the air as if all the anticipation finally had an outlet.  I probably had goosebumps at the time because 1.) It’s always inspiring to see a huge mass of people achieving something and 2.) there was a certain sense of history that comes with this being the first of many DC Triathlons, and 3.) I get inspired easily.

I watched and cheered as my girlfriend eventually made it down the pier and jumped –and I mean, JUMPED– into the water.  Her excitement was contagious!  The horn made its lovely noise and she took off.  I wanted to go to the other side of the viewing area to get some better pictures, and it was at this point that I realized there was almost no thought given to the spectators.  The only way to get to the other viewing area was to walk all the way around the transition area where all the bikes were stored.  I finally got to the other side, snapped a few pictures and then walked all the way around to the swim exit.  Lacey came out of the water just a couple minutes after I got there.

DC Triathlon-5342

According to the map it looked like there was a good place near the Kennedy Center to watch the bikers come by, but when I got there I was the only one cheering.  Everywhere I looked the sidelines were empty (except for the start and finish.)  I stood in the tunnel where my voice would carry and there I cheered and whooped and even did a slow clap or two.  People need that encouragement and it was disappointing to see so few people along the way.

Next I was able to get in my car and drive relatively close to the finish line.  Why the event organizers put the finish line so far away from the transition area is beyond me.  Nevertheless, I made it there in time to see Lacey and a couple of her friends cross the finish line.

The finish festival was buzzing with the usual excitement and sense of accomplishment that you would expect.  Aside from the massage booth all the vendors seemed adequately prepared to handle high volumes of people.  In fact, it seemed like the athletes were very well taken care of throughout the entire race.  All of the details concerning them seemed well thought out and professionally handled, however, there was seemingly no concern for the spectators.  Namely:

  1. Transportation. Don’t schedule an event that closes down traffic before the metro is running.  This was just a stupid call.  I know it gets hot early during the summer, but why was the triathlon scheduled in June in the first place?
  2. Public restrooms were non-existent.  There were a host of porta-potties for the athletes, but the spectators just had to hold it apparently.
  3. Location. You can forget about the transportation issues if you don’t make everybody walk two miles to get from one viewing area to the next. Put the finish line next to the transition area and make life easier for everybody.
  4. Make it convenient (and fun even) for the spectators and I guarantee you will have a lot more people cheering on the sidelines.  The DC Tri wold do well to take a note from the Crystal City BID for their sideline activities during the Marine Corps Marathon.

In the end the DC Triathlon is not a spectators sport.  There is a lot of room for improvement, and I hope they do a much better job with it next year. Congratulations to Lacey and all the participants!  Thanks for inspiring us!

Art Exhibit by Dylan Byrd and Yours Truly

Consider this your formal invitation to join me this Friday for the most amazing art gallery on the planet.

How’s that for managing expectations?  Seriously though, I have the distinct privilege of displaying some of my work alongside illustrator Dylan Byrd. Dylan is a friend and extremely talented artist. It’s worth coming to the show just to see his stuff!

As for me I will be featuring some brand new pieces as well as some old favorites.  You will find a combination of commissioned work and personal projects, photography and graphic design.

Basically, you should come check it out!  In addition to the artwork there will be live music and some goodies to munch on.  …and did I mention that it’s FREE?!  Yeah, what’s your excuse now?  Besides, it’s from 7:00 – 9:00, so you’ve got plenty of time to get your Friday night party on afterward.  Details below:

  • What: A stunning visual experience that is sure to make Avatar look like a thing of the past.
  • When: Friday, May 7th from 7:00 – 9:00 PM  (and it’s ONLY during that time. One night only.)
  • Where: Ebenezers Coffeehouse (201 F Street NE)
  • Why: Because it will rock your flippin’ socks off! Gosh!  Besides, it’s local to support sexy artists.
  • Who: You! Me, Dylan, and a special guest appearance (of international fame, no joke!)
  • Bonus: The first 362 people will get a souvenir high five from Stephen Elliot!  Better come early!
  • No need to RSVP, but here’s the Facebook event page if you’re into that sort of thing.

Robert McKee’s Story Seminar

I’m not even sure where to begin…

I dream of being a filmmaker. For now, I’m a photographer.  And lately I’ve had an unshakable desire to pursue filmmaking again. Then this book came in the picture, and now I’m really not comfortable with things.

One of the decisions I made was that I need to attend one of Robert McKee’s Story seminars.  The only problem is the timing.  He only does two seminars a year in North America.  The first one is wrapping up today (likely as I am typing this); the second one happens in New York City this week.

When I first saw the schedule two weeks ago I looked at my calendar and my wallet thinking it probably won’t happen this year, but I haven’t been able to get the thought out of my head that I need to go.  I honestly can’t tell if it’s an act of faith or selfish ambition, but at very least I feel compelled to let my thoughts out.  Maybe God will use this simple post to encourage someone else, or make a connection, or kick me in the pants, or, or or…. who knows.  Either way, I’ve got to do something with this desire to make films, and this is a small step in that direction.

Blogging on the go

This is the first of (hopefully) many mobile blog posts. In an effort to share ideas and lessons learned more frequently I’m trying out the “WP to Go” app on my Droid. This, plus the addition of my new MacBook Pro (scheduled to be delivered in 11 hours and 19 minutes –not that I’m counting or anything) should give me no excuses to hoard any ideas that might be worth sharing. The trouble now is determining what things are best suited for the blog, twitter, the camera, or the Moleskine… Just because I can blog about something doesn’t mean its worth blogging about.

I would love to hear how/if you have discovered a rhythm or guidelines for what gets blogged instead of journaled or tweeted etc…

Avatar [film review]

I saw Avatar on opening night. The fact that I managed to avoid all reviews and opinions about the film before seeing it made me simultaneously glad and depressed.  Glad, because I don’t like to poison the well before seeing a film, and depressed because it reminded me that I don’t actually have a pulse on the film (and special fx) industry any more…

Nevertheless, I walked out of the theater and couldn’t seem to stop making notes about it (which have now been polished into the blog post that follows).

SPOILER ALERT! Enter at your own risk… Continue reading