Test Flight by Vanja Utne

One the best pictures ever released for the Commodore 64 has got to be this one, by Vanja Utne:

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What it looks like on the monitor:

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Released just a couple of days ago in 17th November, 2016 shows everything one can hope from craftmanship. This picture was drawn in AFLI mode, which means that the artist could only use 2 colors per line in each character block. This is more apparent if you turn on the 8×8 grid…

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…and zoom in a bit:

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No matter how hard you look, one line in one block will only have at most two different colors displayed from the fixed 16 color palette.

The picture is amazing. If you look at it, additional shades are created by mixing colors together either by dithering or switching colors every other line. (Look for the parts in the monitor photo!) Neither technique is new, but if just by glancing on it, it really displays something more than what it had been considered possible on the platform. Commodore 64 never ceases to amaze me.

Why AFLI? Vanja originally drew this picture years ago for the original MSX. Fixed 15 colors, 256×192 resolution, and, not surprisingly, same limitations as AFLI: max 2 colors per line in a char block. It was not a scan, she started to doodle a bit, then it just came to be. Here are a couple of steps of the MSX picture:

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If you then swap the MSX picture with the C64 one, it becomes apparent what the difference is between the old and the new version:

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There is more. A scener, Carrion took the C64 version and converted it into a Plus/4 version picture. The pixel data remained the same, but he applied the platform specific colors. Here is the result:

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Sources: I used the CSDb page and Vanja Utne’s public Facebook page to dig up the information as the basis for this post. The comparisons were made in Photoshop, if you’re interested in the file, you can grab it from here.

Do things imperfectly

Sara Mauskopf on how to succeed when you don’t have time:

Force yourself to do things imperfectly

To give a very practical example, I have given myself an hour to write this post before I’m on childcare duty. I can publish the post after that hour or I can spend more time later polishing it and making it perfect. I’m forcing myself to publish the piece before the hour is up even though it probably has some typos and maybe could be written more concisely.

The extra couple hours I could spend polishing it won’t make a massive difference in the number of people who read and benefit from this post. Perfectionism is a tough habit to break so you have to set time limits and force yourself to just put things out there even if they aren’t 100% perfect.

I have this problem myself. (No, not about writing blog posts, but realizing how much work I need to put into things. I like to make it as good as I can – which is great if you have a lot of time for a lot of things, but if you have a set amount of time for a lot of things, you just need to learn how to deal with imperfections and let them pass through you.)

The new MacBook Pros are interesting

Tobias van Schneider, designer extraordinaire:

As for the new Macbook: I’m not impressed. As a “pro user”, my Macbook Pro is mostly connected to an external display which renders the new Touch Bar useless.

This is a valid point, but maybe the Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar is already in the works?

I think Apple used to be the company that shipped magical products. It used to be the company that built “computers for the rest of us”. But things have changed, Apple has changed. Today, Apple doesn’t ship magical anymore, but solid experiences that work but don’t necessarily surprise you.

Touch Bar as another dedicated channel of interacting with the screen in itself is a pretty interesting paradigm. I can’t wait to try it out (and use it!). People are demanding way too much from Apple. If you consider your view as a technology bystander, I think they’re just moving at the right speed doing the right things AT THE WRONG PRICE. 😀

Protip: exporting with transparency from After Effects

I’m logging this here so I can find it in the future. Here is how to export a movie from After Effects with transparency:

1. There is a dedicated icon to toggle transparency on and off in the viewer:

This is where you find it:

2. When exporting, make sure RGB + Alpha is selected:

Regarding straight and premultiplied alpha, I didn’t find any noticable difference. Here is a good rundown on the two. From what I can understand the straight is a better option.

(I don’t understand why there is a dedicated button for transparency in After Effects. Photoshop solves this problem nicely, eg. every layer you’re working with is transparent and if there is nothing left you see the void, aka checkerboard pattern. Here you see “black”, or the setting for your composition – there is no way to set “transparency” for your comp background, it has to be a color. I guess this used to be like this since from ages or the pro editors might make a case for this. Point being: in After Effects you need to research and learn a lot, otherwise nothing will work as expected, ie. my expectation is when I submit transparent assets, my exported video will be transparent as well.)

Protip: how to clear official app caches in iOS

Express.co.uk:

You can clear the cache in a number of preinstalled Apple apps, including App Store, iTunes, iBooks, App Store and the Apple Watch app.

Launch any of the above apps, then tap on any of the icons at the bottom of the screen 10 times in a row.

For example, launch the App Store app on your iPhone – then hit the “Featured” tab in the bottom left-hand corner ten times in a row.

Your iPhone display will then go blank as the smartphone clears the cache.

Use this when you have problems with these apps.

My iPhone 5c experiment is over

This will be my last post on my personal hardware devices, but I feel like, for the readers of this blog, I owe an explanation.

After 882 days, or 2.4 years, I’m replacing my yellow iPhone 5c 8 GB phone. It was an interesting experiment that lasted so much longer than I’d anticipated. Background: I had a 32 GB iPhone 5 and when the 5s / 5c series came around, I decided that for me the next step won’t be the 5s, but the 5c (which was roughly the same hardware as the 5) in the most basic, 8 GB version.

I did this is because I liked the looks better (I still do), and I thought that the 8 GB version will be enough for me as I won’t be installing unnecessary apps on my device – it will be a shift in my digital lifestyle, zen-state and so forth. I was wrong with this assessment. If I had bought a 16 or 32 GB version of the same phone, I wouldn’t have had to replace it just now, the storage is my primary reason.

iCloud Photos is a wonderful service where all my digital photo and movie library is displayed on all of my devices in sync. I’m archiving my library every year, so it is at a manageable size. Since my library this year was around 30 gigs in size, I thought I would be doing a clean slate, removed everything from my phone, started a new lib (you can do this by option clicking on the Photos.app icon), turned on optimize media on my device and stored all my photos and videos in the cloud against my free 5 GB cloud storage.

It was a good plan: the phone would always optimize my local copies to display a preview only, but my albums and edits would be carried over. I could move finally away from the archaic file based workflow. When my cloud storage became full, I could still update to 50 gigs for 9 SEK in Sweden, which is very affordable. Even if I did need more, I could archived my photo library and started a new one – I could work with that.

For some reason this works in theory, but in space constrained environments iCloud Photos refuse to upload the changeset to the cloud and the only way I could get around this is by removing apps to free up space and to kick in the upload process. It was a mess and a final push that I needed to move on.

It’s not a good time to pick a new phone, because the days of vibrant, colorful products are now gone. So let’s go back being dull. After some consideration I picked up a 64 GB white iPhone SE with the black leather case. Having said that I can conclude my last post on my personal hardware devices as something I was wrong about.

Video games are not art – they’re better

Jeff Vogel:

I just finished playing DOOM. Like many, I was amazed by how awesome a game it turned out to be. Penny Arcade had the perfect description for it: “Playable sugar.”

DOOM had three of the best boss fights I’ve ever seen. Punishingly tough and yet scrupulously fair. When I died, I could say, “OK. I know what I did wrong. I won’t do that again.” When I fought those bosses, I was utterly transported. The rest of the world vanished. When I won, I was sweaty, wrung out, and completely satisfied.

I love literature and theatre. I love great movies. Yet, I can’t remember any work of art, no matter how good, that consumed and drained me as much as the Cyberdemon in DOOM.

The whole piece is a must read. While I agree on many fronts, I don’t agree with the bullish, video games über alles conclusion in general. It’s a matter of personal affection, where some create video games and some create sushi, nothing beats the other.

One big question

Q: What were the biggest surprises from living in a simulated Martian habitat for a full year?

Tristan Bassingthwaighte, the mission’s architect, A:

I would say the biggest positive is that when you remove social media, TV and commuting, and even the need to have a job – because you can’t go to a job when you’re in there – you had a lot of time to do stuff for yourself. For example, I learned how to salsa dance, trained for and ran a marathon, lost 20 pounds (9 kg) and got back in shape, learned how to cook, got 150 pages of my doctorate written, and did a lot of funky t-shirt designs.

We are looking for more people

Today we updated our jobs page. We’re currently on the lookout for three positions:

1. Global Business Operations Lead
2. Front-End Developer
3. DevOps Engineer

Since we’re already a distributed team, remote work is also possible if you don’t want to relocate to Sweden. If you’re interested in one of these, just reach out in an email with your CV and references. By the way, if you know me, you might as well contact me directly to clarify things.

Mapillary is a 20-something people big, financially stable product company. I’m emphasizing this because if you’re used to agency style work, this will be night and day. 🙂 Come, join us!

On licensing fonts for your startup

John Gruber is shutting down his app. He wrote a long piece about it, but here is the interesting part:

We’ve been asked “Why now?” Why not just let Vesper and Vesper Sync keep going as they are? The biggest factor is that we have recurring costs: the sync server and the licensing fees for Ideal Sans, Vesper’s typeface. We’re losing money every month.

I’m a designer and I care about type, but what I care about more is if my startup can actually get off the ground. I’m not saying that not licensing Ideal Sans would’ve turned the story around, but what I’m saying is licensing type is much further down the road.

I may not have been the only one observing this, because I’m realizing the day after (since this post was sitting in the drafts), that said paragraph was rewritten after publication, so now it reads:

We’ve been asked “Why now?” Why not just let Vesper and Vesper Sync keep going as they are? The biggest factor is that we have recurring costs: primarily, the sync server. We’re losing money every month.

An interesting choice of words, because the following information could have been just added to the paragraph above:

Product vs. marketing illustrations

Meg Robichaud (illustrator at Shopify) wrote a nice piece on the different types of illustrations both for product and marketing (~brand). Icons, spot, scene and editorial illustrations get introduced and looked at both from product and brand perspective. Here is the gist of it:

Icons in product: power and available features
Icons in brand: navigation, to inject some branding
Spot in product: to be read, “hey look at this thing” and just straight up show you the thing
Spot in brand: marketing illustrations say “holy butts did you know about this tho??”, feature call outs
Scene in product: explain complicated ideas, mainly in onboarding
Scene in brand: explain, but also why is it relevant, “how it works”
Editorial: complement the content, capture the mood

I also liked her checklist on icon design consistency:

– Corner radius
– Line treatment (stroke weight; cap treatment; ect)
– Overall weight (ie. if each pixel was a drop of paint, would they all make more or less the same tone when you mix them together?)
– Use of colour
– Are they all tilted (or not tilted) at the same angle?
– Do they handle connecting pieces similarly (either by leaving spaces or by finding ways to connect multiple objects)?
– Do they have either relatively similar silhouettes (eg. all contained in circles) or relatively unique silhouettes?

If you’re this far in reading, read the whole thing.

Visual design comparison between Chrome 51 and 52

New window chrome visuals land in Google Chrome 52 by the fantastic Sebastien Gabriel. Here is Chrome 51 versus 52 animated (click to see the 1:1 version, sorry no retina):

There is a new incognito design, which is now dark, like a sith lord. I dig this, very tight and fresh. You could argue about the tab shapes (I’m expecting an outcry from users), but it doesn’t hurt to go bold at times.

Since I’ll be working on Android apps too, I’m going to read his excellent article with lots of detail on how he redesigned Chrome for Material Design (part 1, part 2).