Father and Son Time in Philly!

Over Memorial Day weekend, my father and I set out on trip to Philadelphia. We flew out of Detroit Metro (and scored the new Motor City Badge). After an extra hour delay once we boarded the plane (they couldn’t have figured that out 10 minutes earlier so we didn’t have to sit on the plane?), we made our way to Philly.

The whole reason for the trip was for my dad to check out a 2002 Ford Thunderbird he had been eyeing online. He’s long been a T-Bird guy and even still owns his first new car, a 1978 navy blue T-Bird. He recently decided getting the “new” Thunderbird would be a lot less hassle for a mechanically challenged individual like himself than picking up a classic 55 version. I always thought this was a hypothetical, but a couple weeks prior I got a phone call asking if I wanted to go to New Jersey (where the car was, but just over the border) with him. After a little bit of planning we found a flight to Philadelphia, set up a hotel and reserved a rental car.

After arriving Friday morning, we got our rental car and headed to New Jersey (Side note: Chrysler 200s are a much better car than I had ever thought). We arrived at the dealership and took the T-Bird for a spin. The car was in incredible shape. I expected it to be nice, but this was almost brand new nice. The low mileage, decent price, perfect color and all the loaded features made this the right car for my dad. As I told him when he asked me what I thought he should do, if that is the car you’re looking for, you’ll never find it like this again. So, obviously, he went for it. It’s currently traveling back to Michigan as we speak.

The weather was pretty crappy that first day. It was raining and a bit chilly (hence the earlier mentioned plane delay). We left New Jersey and headed back to Philadelphia to check into our hotel. On the way we figured we could stop for a bite to eat, but apparently New Jersey has barely any place to stop. We ended up driving way out of our way to track down a McDonald’s.

By the time we made it to the hotel, it had been an extremely long day already. We settled in a bit and with the weather the way it was and being so exhausted we opted not to try and attempt any touristy things that night. I used Foursquare to pull up some dining options. I found a Penrose Diner not far away so we headed over. Their menu was massive! I went with a cheese steak, because, well, it was Philadelphia after all.

Independence Hall from across the mall.

IMG_1320Saturday was our day to do stuff. I knew I couldn’t miss the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, despite how truly touristy they are. They’re still big parts of American history. I can honestly say both my dad and I were incredibly impressed at the tour of Independence Hall and neighboring Congress Hall. They have such deep history, even more so than I had though/remembered from school. Definitely worth checking out if you find yourself in Philly. The bell was cool to see, since you hear about it so much. Unfortunately it was rather well guarded so I wasn’t able to sneak in a lick and see if it tasted like freedom. I guess I’ll just take your word for it, Ted Moesby.

While at the visitor center, we noticed an ad for a Supremes exhibit nearby. My father is a HUGE Supremes fan so he had to go, even if we were the only white dudes at the African American History Museum. It was pretty entertaining though. Some of those costumes they wore were absolutely crazy in detail and color. It was also fun to hear my dad reminisce about seeing the Supremes where certain outfits on TV and concerts he had attended.

Next up was the art museum. I had heard a lot about it. It’s huge, the steps are extremely famous if you’ve ever seen a little move called “Rocky” and we decided as two former art majors, we should give it a look. It really is huge. It was a little difficult getting to the appropriate lanes sometimes on the way there, but in the end we saw a lot of good stuff.

Originally I had planned to play the only disc golf course in the city, but due to weather (rain, wind, extreme wind) it did not happen. I also was interested in the Franklin Institute but we just ran out of time.

Sunday ended up just being an airport day as we didn’t have enough time to do much in the morning and the weather wasn’t great anyway. Overall, I’d like to go back and explore more. I barely got to experience any of the cuisine and there were a few other stops I’m sad to have missed out on. It was a great trip though, and I’m glad I could share in it with my dad. It was also a great trip for Foursquare badges. I ended up with four, and I think I narrowly missed out on a fifth. They’re below.

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A Responsive Retrofit: Frostic School of Art

Frostic School of Art HomepageA long, long time ago, in a gala… I mean when I was but a mere student of graphic design, I designed a really cool website for the Frostic School of Art along with fellow student, Max Millermaier. When it was time to build the site, I was hired on after graduation to do so. So in the summer of 2009, I was so psyched to launch, what at the time was, a bleading-edge, video-background website. Fast forward four years and the site was starting to feel sluggish, dated and disjointed.

A few months back I started thinking the Frostic School of Art’s site was a prime candidate for a makeover. I didn’t want to completely remake the site. Instead I decided it just needed to take advantage of the latest trends and technology. I dropped the dreaded use of Flash for videos and replaced them with HTML5 video, thanks to BigVideo.js.

iPhone screenshot of Frostic School of Art websiteThe next step was to make it mobile friendly. I’m a huge fan of responsive websites and have dabbled with them for a while now. I recently did a project that used the Skeleton boilerplate and found it to be very easy to use and produce great results with. I set off to re-write the whole site on top of the Skeleton. It wasn’t a small task, but in doing so I removed a lot of messy and redundant code. Like I said, the original site was made in 2009. A lot has changed in the Web world, and I’ve learned a lot too. Now the site looks awesome whether you’re on a desktop, a smartphone or a tablet.

Another goal I wanted to complete during this process was clean up. Over the years, files, directories and content became a mess. By starting from scratch, I was able to cleanup a lot of the mess. Now the end user should have an easier time getting around the site and finding what they’re looking for. There’s still some work to be done, but it’s already improved leaps and bounds.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with this retrofit. It’s not always an easy task to take an existing site and slap on a responsive framework. I suppose in a way, I didn’t really do that. I more or less rewrote the site, staying within the design guidelines of the original, but replacing almost all of the underpinnings. It was interesting to revisit a design from four years ago, and I’m happy with the results. What do you think?

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Vibram Birdie Bash

Vibram Trak and Sole from the Birdie Bash.As you may have noticed, disc golf has become a passion of mine. Ever since I threw that first disc about a year ago, I haven’t been able to quench my thirst for rattling the chains. I was extremely excited to hear my favorite disc company, Vibram, was holding their own take on a tournament this year called a Birdie Bash. There was an event set in Kalamazoo and I knew I had to be there.

It was called a Birdie Bash and the format was very unique. Each event consists of two rounds of 18 holes. You would get five points for an ace, two for a birdie and one for hitting metal. The catch being, you only throw a max of two throws per hole. It’s sort of a new take on Discraft’s annual Ace Race. You were given two Vibram discs of your choice (one putter and one driver or mid-range) and you were required to use only those discs for the tournament.

The discs I chose were a Trak (which was my first Vibram disc and needed a replacement) and a Sole (the only disc in the Vibram lineup I didn’t have). For the course we played, Knollwood Park, the Trak wasn’t of much use. I mostly tossed the Sole. After I learned the discs a bit I started to put up a few points, mostly the result of metal hits. My first round ended with a somewhat disappointing final score of four (two metals, one birdie). The second round I slightly improved to two birdies and two metals. Overall, I felt I could have done a lot better, but I had a wonderful time regardless of my score. The discs and t-shirt were well worth the entry fee. I hope Vibram makes the Birdie Bash an annual event because I can’t wait to do it again.

The User is Drunk

User experiences and interfaces are some of my greatest interests. My love of design and technology fuels this, but even in everyday life I am constantly thinking of user experiences. Whether it’s using a self-checkout at a supermarket or driving through a round-about, my mind is always thinking of how it could be better or how clever it is. That’s why I really enjoyed this little video called “The User is Drunk.” It’s a humorous take on user interfaces, but it makes very valid points.

When I’m designing websites and other interfaces, I’m always trying to keep things simple, elegant and most importantly easy to use. The video points out imagining the user as drunk is one way to ensure your end user’s experience is a good one. My personal rule of thumb has always been, “Can my mom use this?” but “the user is drunk” works too. Either way, the point is the same. Interfaces shouldn’t be complicated. A user shouldn’t have to have a computer science degree to fill out your form. In the video, he brings up the point that a good user interface disappears  I couldn’t agree more. The less you notice an interface and just get done whatever you were trying to do, the better.

Enjoy this little video, and pay attention. There are some great points in there, even if the title is a bit funny.

Let’s Make Kalamazoo “BeerCity USA 2013”

beercityusaKalamazoo is in the running to become “BeerCity USA 2013” and you can help make it happen. Home to Bell’s and a growing list of other micro-breweries, Kalamazoo deserves to win this. As the Vote Kalamazoo site says, “What we’re voting for is bigger than a beverage. We’re voting for our entire community. We’re voting to tell the world about this awesome place we call home. We’re raising our glass and toasting Kalamazoo!”

So I ask you citizens of the Internet, to go and vote for my fair city of Kalamazoo. And if you’re not from around here, be sure to visit and sample our fine beer city.