Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Hey everyone, sorry its been so long since a post. As you probably know I've had some developments in my personal life, and am going thru some... stuff... right now. Anyway, I'm back in the frozen tundra and will with luck be able to continue posting about graphic design, movies, video games, aesthitics, fashion, wine, and general nuttiness soon. I've got quite a few ideas rolling around in the old noggin that may or may not make for some good posts. So look for those pretty soon!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Nippon Pt. 1

Hey ya'll... I'm in Japan!

The most astonishing thing about Japan? How much of it is in English. Spoken and written. No problem getting around at all.. most things are in romanji as well as Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. What's door in japanese? Doah. They have taken so many english words into their language its crazy.

So, we've eaten lots of food - katsu (AMAZING), shabu-shabu (really good), yakiniku (GREAT), and italian.. which was spectacualr! The italian was actually Original Joe's, same as the one in San Jose, only a tiny storefront.

We've seen a couple of really cool smaller temples, and shinto shrines. Saw a japanese wedding at one of them (traditional non-western). Also went and saw the Great Buddha of Kamakura. It was really, really amazing. The age of it, the artistic qualities, the love that that thing has been shown. We even got to go inside and look around at how it was construction. Amazing.

Thats all for now.. I'll be able to put up more later when I have a more definite internet connection!

Love you all!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Designing the stop sign

Since this blog is nominally about design... here's what would happen if the stop sign was designed today. BRILLIANT.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who am I?

Some results of random introspection I've had going on lately:

I'm a former cheerleader who can name all the major characters in both Star Trek and Star Wars, as well as a good portion of the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers. I'm a nerd who collects as much information on every useless topic she can and uses MAC and Yves Saint Laurent cosmetics. I watch Doctor Who, I Claudius, NOVA and NATURE and have made it exactly five minutes thru an episode of Sex and the City before turning it off. I will bend myself in a pretzel to stay in any relationship or friendship, and I chastise my friends for not caring enough about themselves. I own two Kate Spade bags I purchased at goodwill. I am passionate about the environment and the right to bear arms and bare arms, though I am unsure about arming bears. I think Orlando Bloom, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, and Mark Walhberg are all amazingly attractive. I want my cell phone to withstand a 50 foot drop off of rocks into a lake and be able to look up where a nice restaurant is on it afterwards. I love cats and dogs and guinea pigs and steaks and pork chops. I tell white lies and am honest about saying I do. I love clothes and hate labels. I love taking fast car rides on windy roads and get motion sick in movie theaters. I wish everyone cared enough about politics to investigate what politicians actually do and not just what their soundbites say. I have written fanfic and disparaged furries. I've been a fan of ninja turtles and professional wrestling. I wear high heels all the time to the point of having high heel converse and I love going backpacking solo in the dusty california backcountry. I read Shakespeare, Marx, Nietzsche, Tzu, Orwell, Huxley, Bradbury, Simmons, Niven, Tan, King, and Rowling. I think that subtexts should be analyzed but sometimes a bat signal is just a bat signal. I love wine and beer and good liquor and have drank a king cobra outside a bowling alley. Many women scare me. I play D&D, Mega Man, and the worst game of volleyball ever seen. I enjoy dining at Michelin star restaurants and back home with my parents. There are certain words I rarely spell correctly, like "definitely". I love you all very, very much, even tho you drive me totally insane.

So who am I?

I dunno. Who do you think I am?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Burn After Reading, best since Lebowski

Went to see the new Coen bros. film Burn After Reading this week. Now, the Coen bros and I have a storied history. Some of their films I love (The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Tho, Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy) while others I don't enjoy so much (Blood Simple, Barton Fink, Intolerable Cruelty.) Not that most of those are exactly BAD movies, I just don't enjoy them. Quirk of my personality.

Burn After Reading is in the first category. Its dark, yes. But its the funniest take on spy culture ever. Instead of being about an uber-spy that seems to be able to find everything out and is ultra-competent, it is instead about a group of rambling idiots that couldn't find their grocery list if it was stapled to their forehead. Most of the group (with notable exceptions) are likeable bumbling idiots tho, so that's ok.

Clooney gives his usual great performance, complete with an odd obsession with wood flooring. Pitt is the best I've seen him since Fight Club (or maybe 12 Monkeys). His character is spot on and cracked me up more than any other - and I'm not usually a Brad Pitt fan. Francis McDormand shows once again her amazing acting chops and reminds me that not all actresses are amazingly beautiful and under 30. Malkovitch is a total and complete jerk, and Tilda Swinton is the best (or worst) English upper-middleclass stereotype I've seen.

The "supporting" cast deserves a mention here to, as they have to deal with all these loonies. Especially happy for me to see was David Rasche (best known to me as Sledge Hammer, a great mostly forgotten 80's comedy cop show) and J.K. Simmons (best known to everyone as J. Jonah Jameson, aka Spiderman's boss). Simmons is basically doing Jameson over again, but he's so entertaining at it that it makes it all worthwhile.

The writing and directing are, not surprise, superb. I don't even have anything to add.

Despite darkness (and it is dark) this is the funniest Coen film since Lebowski. I'm going to see this one in the theater again. One note: more than any of their comedies, if you're easily offended and/or shocked, don't see this. It is offensive and shocking. And hilarious.

I always find it much harder to review films I really liked than I really hated. The most I can say is that the thing that Clooney is building in the basement is ... pretty shocking.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pro-Obama D&D D20 Dice T-shirt

"It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement..." -McCain aide Michael Goldfarb

When I read that, I was all, "Uh-uh." So... I designed a pro-Obama D&D Dice t-shirt. Unfortunately, because of the logo use rules on the Obama logo, I can't offer it for sale (even at no profit). So... click on the image and download it, then go to http://www.zjavascript:void(0)azzle.com/create and create your own. May I suggest some text?

"Critical Vote"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When did it become ok to treat voters like this?

Seriously? Right now I'm so angry I'm almost crying. WHEN did most of the media stop doing their jobs and not call and outright LIE what it was? Is there any responsibility left anywhere for telling voters the truth, no matter how ugly?

Oh yeah, there is. McCain referenced it in a commercial. And it made them angry.

Both sides in the presidential contest have told whoppers... but one side has definetly told bigger ones. Hint: rhymes with "McPain" (or McVain, McStain, McPlain, McLame, McTame... )

FactCheck.org - know the TRUTH.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Salvador Dali, surrealist color master

Returning to my influences (which I haven't blogged on in a while!) Salvador Dali is one of the first artists I can remember really loving. I think I was about five or six when I saw "Persistence of Memory" - the melting clocks - and remember falling instantly in love. I have so many pencil-on-notebook paper drawings of things melting over the backs of chairs and table and whatever from grade school that I could probably make a nice softcover out of them. Back then I didn't really understand many of his subtexts - I just loved how the stuff he painted looked and the "weirdness" of it all.

Even today I'm entranced by his soft, smooth shapes and lines, and brilliant colors. And more than a little in love with the surrealist vision where nothing is as it seems and everything has a subtext - even if the subtexts get a little too Freudian. There are so many lessons in Dali paintings for the graphic designer... composition, movement, shape, line, color, and the element of making something more than its face value.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Any Given Sunday, jersey design, and the XFL factor

I watched "Any Given Sunday" the other day. Now, unlike a lot of people, I LOVE that movie - its my favorite Oliver Stone by a long shot. It gives just the right amount of history, brutality, showmanship, modernity, drama, and humor that make it the perfect (for me anyway) football film. Unlike baseball, which I love to watch glorified, stylized, and mythologized (favorite baseball movie: The Natural), football to me is much more visceral. I don't want my football heroes perfect. And I want there to to be some acknowledgement that there is a defense as well as an offense (and maybe even special teams...)

There's just one thing about the movie that has bothered me since the first time I saw it (ok, two things, but we'll pretend the "eye-popping" didn't happen, ok?) The uniforms for the Dallas Knights looked like they had been designed by... a costume designer. They were seriously, unbelievably, totally, completly, god-awful. I STILL can't see the movie without cringing every single time I see the giant ankh on the front and the "eye of providence" on the helmet. I know that Oliver Stone is in love with the Illumaniti, but crap, thats got NOTHING to do with football!

Well... wait a year... and apparently Vince McMahon's costume designers thought that the uniforms in Any Given Sunday were great, and although none sunk quite to the level of the Dallas Knights, they were still a step in the "Poochie" direction ("We at the network want a dog with attitude. He's edgy, he's "in your face." You've heard the expression "let's get busy"? Well, this is a dog who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.") Crazy fonts, big blocks of contrasting color, and above all, edginess. A couple of my least favorite and apparently the ones some teams in the NFL liked the most: NY/NJ Hitmen, Memphis Maniax, Orlando Rage (SHUDDER), and San Francisco Demons.

When XFL folded after one year, the NFL took some of its innovations to heart. The Skycam was a good one. XFL uniform design... not so much. But today many teams have done the XFL one better and we have such designs as the Chargers, Vikings, Falcons, Broncos (the Orange Crush needs to return - I may hate them as a team but I respected those uniforms), Cardinals, Ravens (actually, these would be ok without that font)... and then the real offenders like the Titans with their hideously ugly san-serif font and hockey jersey look, and the Bengals who have the absolute worst uniform in football. Its hard to know where to start.. with the ridiculous tiger-striped sleves and contrasting side color to the tiger striped pants. AGGGG. Sorry Bengals fans, but them things are UGLY.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned and I want to see football players in uniforms that look like they're going to be playing football and not modeling for a Nike ad... or dressing in something a costume designer could have put together.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

AdvancedBreastCancerCommunity.org launches too!

Oh yeah, and today we launched AdvancedBreastCancerCommunity.org (say THAT 5 times fast!) This is a place where women who have advanced / metastatic breast cancer can go and find information - lots and lots and lots of information. Basically the site works as a "portal" to metastatic information on most of the major sites about cancer and breast cancer. You can see all the partners that contributed to it on the site.

I did the site design, but the logo and pink/blue color scheme were decided by others. I did colorize the picture on the front page tho.

Inspire's new homepage

I've meant to blog about this for a few days, but Inspire has a new homepage. Designed by yours truly! Wooo!

In case you don't know, Inspire is my employer. We make online support groups for health and wellness... the thing that makes Inspire special is that we team with known and trusted partners (mostly non-profits) to create the groups.

Have I mentioned I love my job? I friggin love my job.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Singin' the praises of tulle

Design isn't just about visuals; its also about learning it see things differently - not just accept their intended use. Take today's example: tulle. Ah tulle, is there nothing you can't do? Fluffy, frothy accompaniment to weddings and proms galore, this is one of my favorite pieces of outdoor gear.

Confused yet? After my wedding I had several yards of the stuff leftover. What to do with it? At the same time, I was thinking about backpacking and the need to strain noodles on the trail. Hmmm... AHHHH. Tulle! Nylon netting that melts well above the boiling point of water, and weighs as close to nothing as can be imagined. So I grabbed some leftover, washed the starch out of it, and tried it out. The method that works best, as it turns out, is to have enough tulle so that you can wrap it entirely around the pot (take it off the burner first and let it cool a tad) and grab it on the other side, then just turn the pot over over a cat hole you've dug a good distance from water.

Because the ultra-light hikers mantra is that everything must serve more than one use, here are some other things I've come up with:
  • Tea strainer. Nothing lighter or easier to clean up if you use loose leaf tea (I'm a total tea snob) like me.
  • Pot cleaner. Scrubbies can get germy FAST... but if you use just a little scrap of tulle you can dispose of it after use. OR, clean it with some soap (if you use soap on the trail) and use it again; it should keep much less germy than a sponge or scrubby.
  • Bandage wrapping. Don't laugh - it works really well in long thinnish strips to hold gauze pads on, and its still crazy light
  • Mosquito netting. I haven't had to try this one to keep mosquitoes out, but I have made a great light-weight bug catching net out of it.
That's right: tulle. Now more GI Joe than Barbie.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cross J Norton from Stone Hill Winery

I know, its been a while since I posted. I went to Wisconsin and saw Giant Spider Invasion instead - and all my internet time was taken up with that thing I do to make my living. Oh, and I should mention here, I love my job. Also, over the last week I saw Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, and Weird Al. Reviews and gushing raving nerdiness (guess which one that's about!) coming soon.

Anyway, just thought I'd throw down some quick tasting notes about the Cross J Norton I'd mentioned in an earlier post. It arrived! I've opened a bottle and poured a glass or two. So...

Right away: Color is great, really dark and purple red. Mmm, this smells yummy. Fruity, vanilla, and a bit warm. Let me take a sip...

OK, lets let this breathe a while. (waits)

Lets try this again. Oh, that's much better. At first the oak was almost completely overpowering, but now its much more mellow. Still there really strong (probably the strongest flavor), but it seems more balanced with both fruit and acid now. Oo, that's good (big gulp). Hmm, Norton's character is certainly unique. Its an absolutely yummy wine, and I'm having a hard time comparing it to anything else. A little bit spicy, but not like a Zin, a little fruity, but not like a Pinot Noir... its definitely a wine that I could quaff tho. The finish is great, tastes like blueberries and a little like wild blackberries (yes, I'm specifying WILD. If you've had both wild and store bought you know the difference). This could be a problem, I could drink a LOT of this (my glass is now empty and the finish is making me wish it wasn't).

Does it have the terroir I was seeking? I was going to say no, even tho it is a great wine, but that finish really blew me away - has just that little taste of the midwest that I was hoping for. I'm a happy person. Cross J Norton, you have a fan.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight, right-wing propaganda, and mack truck plot holes.

Went to see The Dark Knight on Friday. I'll admit, I was excited to see it, even tho I hated Batman Begins (boring, poorly done action, and the CARDINAL SIN of incorrectly portraying a character I cared about). I love the Joker. Unfortunately, I walked out of the theater at the end of the movie not only disappointed but angry.

OK, the good stuff first. Some of the dialogue was great. Heath Ledger was indeed wonderful as the Joker, tho I would have made him a little more likable as well as psychotic - that's always been one of my favorite parts of the Joker, that you love him at the same time he's doing monstrous, horrible things. Still, the lack of lovable dialogue was not that big a deal - they did include some classic Joker bits such as him having a "multiple choice" past. Jim Gordon was also played beautifully by Gary Oldman; unassuming, caring about his family, being the dedicated uber-cop. Aaron Eckhart plays the first Two Face that is anything at all like the character - and his makeup is grotesque, awesome, amazing, stunning, and wonderful. There was one shot in the movie that really was beautiful - the Joker leaning out of a squad car window, with no sound effects, just the sense that he was at peace with destruction. It was a virtuoso visual moment in a movie that was visually... well, we'll get to the bad stuff.

I honestly didn't mind the movie for the first hour or so. I thought the pacing was slow, and the action scenes flaccid and boring, and I was a bit bothered by Batman leaving Gotham for an "extreme rendition," but I didn't dislike it at all. That changed when a major character was suddenly "killed." It was done with so little fanfare, and so much disregard, that I was able to immediately lean over to my husband and whisper "fake out." At that point the spell was broken and I was left with nothing but sluggish editing and propaganda leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

Another title of this film could indeed have been "George W. Bush, The Dark Knight." Don't believe me? Try googling "right wing dark knight" or "conservative dark knight" to find out how conservatives are excited about the comic-style apologetic for their man. Perhaps the speech given by Batman to Lucias Fox is the best example of the agenda of this film, that "its necessary sometimes to do things that are wrong when you're fighting terrorists." Of course, its supposed to be ok because Lucias Fox has control of the apparatus and can destroy it when he's done. Oh, and then there's Batman's speech about how people don't need to know the truth, that other things are more important. *AHEM.*

Enough political commentary. Visually, the film was dull, with the exceptions noted earlier. I've said it before and I'll say it again, digital grading kills me. The editing left me scratching my head way too many times... the Joker lit a giant pile of money on fire, with a man sitting at the top, but it was never shown in wide angle, and you never really know if the guy (who at that point in the movie you actually are interested in what happens to as Batman went to fairly extreme lengths to get him) dies of immolation or manages to roll off the other side of the pile while we weren't watching. Another example would be the chase through Lower Wacker (I have no idea what it was supposed to be in the film). A chase that should have been interesting an exciting (see: Blues Brothers) ended up being repetitive and dull.

Worst of all, they got some of the most important characters wrong - Alfred and BATMAN. Alfred is best when he's an proper English gentleman, not a leering cockney Michael Caine (I love him in other movies, but holy crap, stop mugging!!!) Batman was a travesty. In the first movie Batman shows no compunction about killing Ra's Al Gul (sorry, he didn't kill him, he just didn't SAVE him. Ahem.) In this movie he repeatedly doesn't kill the Joker... REPEATEDLY. A huge point is made of NOT killing the Joker. But then, at the climax, Batman seemingly kills Two Face in a completely offhand manner, but then takes a long time to discuss with Gordon how they need to lie about Two Face's deeds. Not Batman on either count, sorry. When he decided to self-destruct the Batmobile, he did it in such a way that innocent bystanders would have been blown to little bits (and don't tell me "its just a movie" - Christopher Nolan's big thing is supposedly how this Batman is so "real world".) Oh, and then there was Christian Bale trying to affect a gruff Batman voice - every time he opened his mouth I couldn't help but start laughing. Seriously, that was so awful it transcended into the unbelievably funny category.

Of course, there was also the moral of the movie, which was apparently that anyone can be driven insane when pushed too far. Sort of the opposite of "The Killing Joke," where Commissoner Gordon sees he daughter shot and apparently repeatedly raped by the Joker, over and over for hours.. and manages to stay sane and demand the Joker's arrest "BY THE BOOK!" Way to miss the point there, guys.

I know all of America except me is in love with this film, I just can't figure out why. Anyway, I'd say avoid it, but you probably won't listen. *sigh* I think I'm going to go see Iron Man again. There's a movie about a rich industrialist turned vigilante that still manages to maintain moral culpability - and a sense of entertainment. Or I'll go watch my copy of Batman - Mask of the Phantasm, the best version of Batman ever put on screen. Or good ol' Tim Burton's gothic 1989 Batman - Jack is still the best, and Michael Keaton IS Batman. Or maybe I'll even watch Batman - the Movie.

Dark Knight was still better than Batman and Robin tho.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Serenity vs. Unsernity

I've been asked a couple of times now what my "Unserenity prayer" means. Here you go.

I've always been bothered by the serenity prayer. I understand its message is about trying to accept things as they are, de-stress, be calm. But something about it also says "Don't bother trying unless you know you can win."

Hopeless causes are sometimes the best causes - and even if you personally can't change something, it doesn't mean that your attempt to affect change is meaningless. You might inspire someone else - or many someone elses - to try to make the change happen. Or in a more cynical view, you might shame someone who has more power into making changes happen.

Perhaps I just read Dylan Thomas one time too often as a kid.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wine thoughts for today - told you I was obsessed

I've been re-reading The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine, probably one of my favorite books on the subject of wine. Its a great book that talks about wine in a very non-snooty, approachable way. But.. it still concentrates on France and California (tho mention is made of Oregon's Pinot Noirs.)

And then there's the new movie that I saw a trailer for while waiting to see "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr.Hunter S. Thompson" (which was a great reminder of how much this world needed that man, and still does, and how pissed I am at him for being so selfish)... "Bottle Shock." Its based on a tasting that took place in Paris, in 1976, when (SPOILER ALERT) California wines won every category. The supposed "shock" of this movie is that an AMERICAN wine could outdo a FRENCH wine. Mon Dieu!

Of course, something like this had happened before, but you don't hear about it because for some reason we've all been led to believe that the American wine industry sprang full grown from the hippie enriched soil of California in the 1960's. But... in the 1873 Vienna World Exposition, a Norton wine from MISSOURI won the gold medal, and was declared "best red wine of all nations." Of course, in those days Missouri produced 48% of the nations wine, so you'd have to expect that there'd be some good stuff coming out of there.

But in came prohibition - and, well, I went on about this before. The good news is that when prohibition went down (and in Missouri that was in the 1960's), the winery that made the 1873 gold medal Norton was revived and is making Norton today - Stone Hill. I'm going to get me a couple of bottles pretty soon, and I'll let you know if I think they're still "the best wine of all nations" - or at very least if you can drink it with dinner.

Maybe next time Hollywood makes a wine movie it'll venture outside California? *sigh*

My unserenity prayer

God, grant me the strength to change what I can
the courage to try and change what i can't,
and the inability to tell the difference.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wine Industry Outside California Update - Orchard Country's Audrey Grace

For how I got started trying wines from outside California, check out my previous article. Today the very nice UPS man came and delivered my bottles of Lautenbach's Orchard Country Winery's Audrey Grace. Just popped one open and here are my instant impressions: wow, this is really good. I'll try not to sound too much like the Silly Tasting Notes Generator while talking about this.

The color is a nice dark raisin; a little too brown to be called red but too red to be called brown. The nose - smell - is warm (actually, it had me a little worried at first), with cherries, olives, and honey. The taste is fruity, but not to a fault, as it has enough acid to balance it out very nicely. More olives here! Some tannins to round it out and give it some nice oomph. The finish is like a dream! A little lingering tannin to make me think it could age a little. And of course, these are just my impressions; YMMV.

But most importantly... its a great wine to drink. As soon as I tasted it I wanted a big, thick, juicy steak to go with it.. it might be a "lighter" red but the flavors here just BEG for it.

So, after all that, does it have what I hoped for, a Wisconsin/Door County terroir? Well, I can't answer for the second half, but I think I can for the first. There's a flavor here.. the olive-y flavor maybe? I'm not 100% sure, its hard to pin down, but the only other place I've tasted it is in my parents homemade wines. So I'd venture to say that yes, my experiment was successful. Of course, even if this was a generic, terroir-less wine.. its still really tasty, and in the end that's what counts, right?

Great wine, great price, and I'm definitely going to buy it again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Fall

Went to see a movie this weekend, and it was totally, utterly spectacular. I'm talking about the critically panned "The Fall" - the movie that is bumping aside "Iron Man" and "Kung Fu Panda" on my best movies this year list.

I almost don't want to review this movie because it would give things away that really should just be seen and experienced. There are three especially wonderful things about this movie:

1. Everything visual. Eiko Ishioka, my favorite graphic designer and one of my aesthetic influences, does the costume design (much as she did for the Director's earlier work, "The Cell" - don't think this is going to be a "The Cell 2" tho, it's much, much better!). All of the production design by Ged Clarke and the art direction by Lisa Hart is devastatingly gorgeous (and IMHO led by the spectacular costumes). For me the really amazing, refreshing, and wonderful thing is that all of the effects were done in-camera... no CG!! There are some sequences that have to be seen to be believed - elephants swimming, backgrounds becoming people, gates that dwarf skyscrapers. I'd say go see this movie just for the visuals. But there's more!

2. The story. This is a great, timeless story, that reminded me of all things of Muppet Babies. Bear with me! It has nothing childish or cute about it. It doesn't shirk from some really hard truths about life in the period it is set in (and life in general). But it does share the hope, optimism, and belief in the power of imagination that Jim Henson endowed into his creation. The movie is nothing less than a poem about storytelling and imagination, and how both can help change lives.

3. The acting. All of the supporting actors were wonderful in their roles. The leading man, Lee Pace, did a great job showing the humanity of a character that handled slightly differently could have come off as completely reprehensible. But it's Catinca Untaru as Alexandria that really makes this movie go from a really good art house film to something amazing and spectacular. She's totally natural, never overacting, yet she's as engaging and charismatic as Shirley Temple at her best. I can't think of another child actor I've ever seen who is as good as her.

So... go see "The Fall"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wine and Terroir, or, There is an American Wine Industry Outside California

I've become wine-obsessed lately. This is in part due to the fact that I'm living in a new house with a peaceful and green backyard patiently waiting for me to lay in my hammock with a good book and a glass of great wine, and partly due to the fine folks at Bonny Doon Vineyard. It was they who introduced me to the concept of "terroir" - a fancy French term that means that the best wines (and food) should exhibit a sense of place; should have some clues in the fragrance and taste as to where they came from. I found this concept instantly fascinating - of the wines I've drunk so far in my short wine-tasting life, my favorites invariably came from small to medium (and sometimes even large) producers working with varietals that are not so well known, but often are particularly suited to their growing site. Not that I haven't enjoyed a bottle of Two Buck Chuck, but it is a much different experience than, say, the Bonny Doon Barbera/Freisa Amarone, a wonderful, complex red produced in Bonny Doon's biodynamic Ca'Del Solo Vineyard, or even the much larger production Ironstone Obsession Symphony, a semi-sweet but extremely well-balanced white produced with Symphony grapes grown in the Central Valley (where the Symphony grape thrives in the heat).

Of course, this new-found obsession with wine and terroir returned to a place most of my obsessions do: the Midwest - especially Wisconsin. And lo and behold - yes Virginia, there is a grape wine industry outside of California.

In fact, the wine industry in the middle of the country used to be HUGE - with Missouri and Virginia having some of the largest vineyards in the country. Of course, then came prohibition, and perhaps because those states were ever so much closer to the center of government the vineyards were ripped out en masse and the wine industry east of the Sierra died out.

Prohibition didn't last forever tho, and now vineyards and wineries are popping up everywhere. While perhaps not as polished and frankly snooty as their California cousins, the small (and not so small) wineries being started in the Midwest and East Coast are fascinating.

In Wisconsin places like Lautenbach's Orchard Country Winery are using varietals uniquely suited to Northern growing climates like Frontenac and Foch to create wines that are winning rave reviews - and I'm hoping a distinct sense of place (I can't see growing Cabernet in Wisconsin giving any kind of sense of place - grapes need to be suited to the climate, and beyond that the unique growing site). I've got a couple of bottles of the Orchard Country's Audrey Grace on order - and I'll let you know if it indeed has a uniquely Door County Wisconsin Terroir - I'm hoping for some cherry and a little bit of the Lake Michigan minerals. They should be arriving sometime in the next couple of weeks - I ordered them last weekend - and I'll let you know how it goes.

Another wine that I'm excited to try in the near future grows better slightly further south - the Norton or Cynthiana varietal. Its the only native (or part native - this is a good history of the grape) grape that's considered to have the right characteristics to make a really fine table wine. Being a native grape in my eyes gives it a great terroir advantage - it has evolved to work in North America, and its flavor will be truly unique to this continent. I'm still not sure which Norton variety I want to try - I'd definitely like to go with one that is either small family farmed (not so much of a problem since factory wine-making hasn't reached too far east yet), and/or organically raised (or even biodynamic, but I don't think that biodynamics has reached far out of the west coast yet.)

My overall point here is - if you live outside CA, try looking into locally produced grape wines (and hey, fruit and honey wines can be fun too, if only for dessert!). They might surprise you with their quality, inexpensiveness, and perhaps even with their terroir. And if you live in California - get your nose out of the air and into some glasses filled with wines from outside Napa/Sonoma.

Friday, June 13, 2008

And... we're back.

Nothing like taking a couple of months off to move to a new house! But I'm back and have a bunch of ideas for entries, so hopefully I'll get back in the swing of things fairly quickly. For now, I've got three short-form movie reviews on the three big blockbusters of the summer (and no, I'm not going to be reviewing "Sex in the City" - its not "Star Wars for girls" as some reviewers claim. Star Wars was Star Wars for girls. And even that wasn't as Star Wars as it used to be, if you know what I mean.)

1. Iron Man - See it, see it, and if you've seen it see it again. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this movie - brilliantly directed and acted, with spectacular visual effects (hey, that's what you get when you have practical effects for almost everything that are just ENHANCED with CG...) and all around great comic-book action. Special girly mention goes to the blue dress - I'd kill for a dress that color! Oh, and Gwenneth Paltrow's shoes at the end of the film. Niiiice. Oh, and the "control surfaces" sequence totally made me geek out - nice blend of science, sci-fi, and comic book coolness. Oh, and best of all, a beefed up Downey in just a wifebeater and pants... surprisingly enjoyable eye candy, there. Best movie so far this Oscar year. (As to rumors that they won't let Favreau direct the next one... are they friggin CRAZY?!? Pay the man what he wants!!!)

2. Indiana Jones - If you can avoid it, do. While not as soul-wrenchingly bad as the Star Wars prequels, George Lucas still shows that he should no longer have anything to do with the cinema. The directing is campy and boring at the same time, the plot has holes as big as the trucks they drive through the warehouse, and the CG is beyond laughable. Seriously, CG in an Indy film? Ewwwww. Oh, and Harrison gives some of the worst line readings this side of the Blade Runner voice-over. Don't get me wrong, the actors REALLY tried to make something out of this, but... *sigh* Any time you get into "King Kong" land of "things are happening because... they are..." its a bad sign.

3. Kung-fu Panda - VERY close runner up to Iron Man for best movie this Oscar year. A perfect blend of Kung-fu action and family friendly comedy - Pixar couldn't have done it better, and Dreamworks HASN'T done it better. The Tigress was sorta... boring... and a couple of characters were under-utilized, but still a GREAT film whether you have a family or not.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Obama's logo, part deux

Well, its been a few months and I thought I'd revisit the presidential candidates logos. Now, I didn't review McCain at the time because at the time he was considered an also-ran... so much for that. Things are still more interesting on the Democratic side. Hillary has kept the same logo I liked so much at the time of my last writing. Barack Obama, however...

If I didn't know better I'd say someone from the Obama campaign was reading my blog, as they seem to have fixed every single thing I complained about! To compare:
When I last reviewed Obama's logo I had three main complaints: the font and lowercase letters made it look weak, the "BarackObama.com" was extraneous, and the sun logo was somewhat muddy and not very well integrated. First, they've changed the font to a bolder, all-caps font (look at how much stronger the top and bottom of the O are now) Also, they've done really nicely with balancing the Obama'08 by making both the O and the 8 slightly larger. I do like that they're still using a serif font - gives it a nice touch of class. The "BarackObama.com" has disappeared, and rightly so. My favorite thing is what they've done with the "O sunrise" element - by adding a white border, drop shadow, and shine and making it the central element of the logo they've added emphasis to the "newbeginning" message and at the same time made it feel modern and nicely designed.

So... we have a new winner in the logo contest, and it is Mr. Barack Obama. Congratulations, I imagine it will serve you well!

Thursday, February 07, 2008


Seriously, this is the best nail polish I've ever used. OK, yes, I've only managed to grow fingernails for the first time in my life in the last month, but not having fingernails never kept me from trying and failing to use nail polish. It always smelled bad going on, was all gunky and hard to control the brush, and nail polish remover is one of the most horrible substances ever invented.

But hey, if I was gonna have nails, I wanted 'em polished, darn it! Its fun to color on yourself, as any 5 year old or Harley Rider will tell you. But I really, really, really didn't want to use regular, stinky, chemical-y nail polish. I have enough hormone problems, thank you very much. So I started doing research: was there anything like a water-based nail polish?

Enter Acquarella. One of the few water-based nail polishes around, I was desperately hoping just for a healthier alternative to acetone and formaldehyde (really, unless I'm dead I don't need those particular chemicals around me) but what I got was much much more.

There's a bit of a process involved in putting on the polish, depending on how often you've worn polish in the past. Myself, I had only worn it occasionally and therefore skipped the conditioning step and went straight to the buffing. You gotta buff first - not a big deal, but it takes off impurities that would prevent adhesion. Then swab off the nails with the Acquarella remover to take off any remaining stuff, rinse with water and let dry.

Now for the really beautiful part - just apply two thin coats. Thats it. The polish goes on smoother than any traditional polish I've ever used, doesn't get gunky, and is extremely easy to control. Acquarella says it takes about three minutes to dry, but for me it took about the same amount of drying time as a traditional 60 second polish. It covered the entire nail evenly and without streaking. And the SHINE, we're talking super-hi-gloss ... I've never gotten results like this with traditional polish.

So... non-toxic, quick-drying, ultra-shiny, and easy to apply? Call me a convert. Best. Nail polish. Ever.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Inspire in the news

The company I work for and love, Inspire, was featured in a Washington Post article today, "Log On For Support" It highlights online medical and health support communities and talk specifically about Inspire's moderation and great privacy policy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Folding brass luggage cart doesn't exist.

So I find myself getting some vintage luggage. The set I'm hoping to get is a beautiful tan color (leather) with brass hardware, and really will be wonderful. The only problem is that being vintage its not that easy to get around with, unless you have a hand truck available. No problem, I think.

Then I go and look at folding luggage carts. Folding luggage trucks. Folding luggage dollys (dollies?). Folding luggage whatever you want to call them, they come in: matte black and chrome, or matte black and brushed aluminum/steel, or matte black. Now while these would look fine against a boring, typical matte black suitcase ... why oh why oh why aren't there prettier options? Why am I stuck with a luggage truck that looks like it retired from warehouse duty when hotels get beautiful brass luggage carts?

There's no reason for this that I can figure. So... if some company could just go ahead and make what I'm showing in the picture (or something along these lines - the key here is BRASS and FOLDING guys!) , I'd appreciate it. And if you want, go a head and make a set thats entirely brushed metal (alum or steel) too. Oooo, and if you really want me to be happy, copper. Just not black, for heaven sake.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Total craziness

So you might not have heard, but there's some crazy stuff going on on the Internets. A group who calls themselves "Anonymous" have declared war on the Church of Scientology. I've been reading about the whole attack and its pretty bizarre to say the least. Here's a link to a summary of the events so far - but beware, its an Encyclopedia Dramatica link, so its possibly racist, sexist, homophobic, and I'm not going to say the language is clean - it isn't. You have been warned.

Anonymous vs. Scientology

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Three great movies - Juno, Persepolis, and There Will Be Blood

In the past week I've been lucky enough to see three great movies that are in theaters right now: Juno, Persepolis, and There Will Be Blood. I saw all three before the Oscar noms came out, and I gotta say that for once the Oscars seem to have gotten it mostly right (tho no nom for my favorite movie event this year, Grindhouse ... not that I'm terrible surprised, but still, LAME)

Juno is probably the most honest movie I've seen about teen pregnancy - while still managing to be funny, un-preachy, and likable (unlike the "other" pregnancy movie this year, "Knocked up", which had some of the worst female characters I've ever seen on film). Ellen Page, who takes the title role, is phenomenal - great comic timing and screen presence. If she doesn't get the award for Best Actress I'll be disappointed. Nothing really noteworthy in terms of cinematography or score, but solidly directed and superbly acted, with a great script. And even Jennifer Garner wasn't that bad.

Persepolis, tho denied a best foreign film and best picture nod, should be seen by everyone in this country. Its a beautifully animated (hooray for a old fashioned 2-d aesthetic that isn't ANIME!) film based on a graphic novel of the same title by Marjane Satrapi. It tells the true story of Marjane's childhood growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Heartbreaking and beautiful, it shows a very different perspective than Americans are used to seeing (Communism an agent of freedom?) but that is all for the good. The movie is just plain beautiful, with the majority being told in flashback, in stark black and white. I saw it in the original French with subtitles, and I recommend that everyone should see it this way if possible - the voice acting is superb and I can't imagine it has the same lyricism in english. Like I said, EVERYONE should see this film.

There Will Be Blood. That's a promise made with the beginning Biblical-style title of P.T. Anderson's latest movie, and it doesn't lie. This is a movie that has it all - Directing, Cinematography, Music, and the Best Actor of the Year (and maybe vying with Lawrence Olivier for best actor ever) Daniel Day Lewis. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair's Oil! it tells the tale of the oil magnate Daniel Plainview. It covers every theme from man's struggle with nature to family values to twisted religious figures. I'm not going to give anything more away about it, other than to say that it really was the best movie of the 2007 season, and I hope it gets the Oscar. Special note: I dearly loved the score for this film, and the constant edge of uneasiness it gave the film (see 2001 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind for other examples sort of like this). See it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ansel Adams, the grand old man of photography

Ansel Adams was a man who truly used light to create some of the most beautiful, memorable, and recognisable photographs ever. The impact he had on the photographic community was immense - to say that he changed photography forever would not be just hyperbole.

He photographed the beauty of nature so amazingly that he is forever linked with some of his favorite subjects, such as Yosemite. I love the views he captured. Many people have been brought to a greater appreciation of nature through his work.

Probably my favorite parts of his work are his understanding and use of natural form and line, and his amazing ability with light. The second is probably what he is most known for; many, if not most, of his photographs display the stunning contrast of the blackest blacks with the whitest whites. To look at an Ansel Adams photograph is to really see how light defines and delineates an object.

His use of line and composition is less thought of, but still to my mind an integral and beautiful part of his works. Some of my favorite pictures of his (like The Tetons - Snake River") - show a sinuous line contrasted with the sharp jaggy edges. All of his contours helped move the eye around the piece - like the LA Freeway shot to the left - or helped them settle on the picture and take in its tranquility, like "Autumn Moon"

If there's ever an Ansel Adams show near you, go see it! And until then, check out a book of his photographs at your local library.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mark Friedberg, production designer

COLOR. Beautiful, rich, vibrant, COLOR. Thats what I have gotten most from Mark Friedberg.

Now, I'll say right off the bat that I haven't seen all of his films. In fact, going thru the list, I haven't even seen half. But those that I have seen have made a HUGE impact on me and the way I look at color. I'm going to concentrate on two of his works that I know best (both done with director Wes Anderson) - "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and "The Darjeeling Limited."

To look and see how much "The Life Aquatic" and its colors have influenced me, just look at my design for Finned Friends. The colors in "Life Aquatic" are so brilliant, so beautiful. The blues of the water, the uniforms; the red caps; the beautifully yellow sub and helmets; the multicolored ocean life. Everything in this movie is just one step beyond real life - the set for the interior of the ship is several stories high and is esentially a bisected diagram of a boat brought to life. Even with this heightened reality (and anyone familiar with Cousteau's films will recognise at least some of the inspiration), the colors are so vivid that they stand out.

I've already gushed at length about "The Darjeeling Limited" Oranges, saffons, umbers, and ochres glow in this movie (with turquoise providing a lovely counterpoint). Speaking of painting with light - the sky in this movie frequently reflects the color palette of the film as well. (Reminder to self: do an article on Milena Canonero as well, the costume designer behind these films as well as a bunch of other AMAZING movies...) The colors of India as portrayed in the movie are vibrant, earthy, and beautiful.

Watch these (and others Mark Friedberg Production Designed, including Broken Flowers, Pollack, and Ice Storm) for a taste of what color can do for a story.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


In my opinion, almost no one uses line to move the eye around the page better than Hiroshige, master of the Japanese woodblock print known as Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world). His landscapes are amazing to me, because they have a great sense of depth (Hiroshige incorporated western techniques of perspective) and still have a wonderfully stylized, particularly Japanese character. And his COLORS ... along with Monet he seemed to be able to capture an amazing sense of time of day and mood. "The Dyers' Street in Kanda," the picture to the right, is a perfect example of this. The colors are the perfect early-morning tones, the sense of perspective is strongly developed using both variation in tone and one point perspective, and the sinuous organic line of the cloth is perfectly contrasted with the squared-off, man-made lines of the hangers. The long bits of cloth on the right draw your eye down the page, and the ones on the left draw it back up to Mt. Fuji.

I'm in good company listing Hiroshige as one of my influences - Van Gogh and Monet did as well.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ken Adam, Hollywood God

Changing pace a bit, I'd like to talk about Ken Adam, perhaps the finest production designer to ever live. Now, I'll admit, I'm partial to James Bond flicks. The intrigue, the gadgets, the locations, the Connery. I'm totally a Connery Bond girl - no one else has quite matched the level of sophistication mixed with danger mixed with outright sexifulness (10 points for recognizing that reference). But perhaps the thing that made me love the Connery bonds more than anything else were the beautiful and amazing sets they were filmed on, all courtesy of Ken Adam.

All of Ken's sets for Bond an amazing futurism to them - yes, it was the future of the 1960's, but in my opinion it holds up amazingly. Many times, especially in the Bond series, Ken encorporated organic and man-mad materials into the same set and made something really awesome. Dr. No's underground lair was an excellent example of this - rock formations, trees, and fish juxtaposed against clean-planed wood floors, metal stairs, and plastic walls (with classical paintings and furniture thrown in for good measure). I'll admit, if I could I'd live in Dr. No's place. For more examples of this, see Goldfinger (probably my favorite Bond overall), Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, etc, etc, etc.

His non-Bond work has been just as amazing. The war room in Dr. Strangelove was so amazing and memorable that (reportedly) when President Regan took office he asked to be shown it! It also shows what I find to be a style characteristic of Ken's; the use of the circle as a prominent design element. Again, it adds a wonderful touch of futurism and fluidity to a set of sharp angles (for more examples of this see Dr. No again, and You Only Live twice). Of course he also did wonderful and amazing work on Barry Lyndon, Addams Family Values, and the Madness of King George among others.

I will always admire most his ability to combine disparate elements into a beautiful and cohesive whole. If you haven't seen at LEAST all the movies I've mentioned, you really should.

Monday, January 07, 2008

M.C. Escher, my favorite MC

I know, I know, I started off by quoting Weird Al.

Ever since I was a little kid I loved M.C.Escher. What nerd doesn't? His draftsmanship is so superb and the way he plays with space is sublime. His influence on me is most obvious in my illustration work, though I don't even get close to approaching his level of (sur)realism. My favorite works of his incorporate the line quality I love - very organic shapes - with his wonderful sense of balance. I would be hard pressed to find a work of his that felt top, bottom, right or left heavy - and many of them are very symmetrical.

The other thing that I find really interesting about his work is what appears to be a Japanese influence. Sky & Water, the famous woodcut, shows a simplicity of form and line that I particularly enjoy. Puddle, the image on the right, show forms that could have been done by Hiroshige (but the way the trees are reflected is pure Escher).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

My earliest influence, Georgia O'Keefe

It'd be fair to say that Georgia O'Keefe has been one of the strongest influences on my ideas of art and design, and she's absolutely my earliest influence. I first remember seeing her painting on a PBS program when I was around five. The bright colors and simple, organic shapes entranced me then, and they continue to today. Her abstracts hint that they are not so abstract, and her still life's hint that they may be more abstract than you think. I have always loved the way her colors always seem to have a beautiful, smooth gradation from light to dark, or color to color. Her use of color contrast is amazing and beautiful. And the colors themselves - you won't find a bolder, more interesting palette except in nature.

Perhaps more than anything I love her use of line: undulating, sometimes curvy, sometimes sharp; always organic, living, wild, and beautiful. It is her sense of line that I find popping up in my favorite bits of my own work; soft curves and organic shapes. Looking at my Trillium Arts logo, its practically an ode to Georgia in both its line and subject matter.

Of course, I should also mention here that I also love Georgia for another reason - she's a woman who made it to the very top of a male-dominated field, at a time before women's lib had really taken hold. Oh yeah, and she's from Wisconsin :)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Aesthetic influences

I've been giving some thought to my favorite artists and designers and my artistic influences lately. I've come up with a list that surprised me a little bit, in just how modern and slightly eclectic it is. Off the top of my head, I was able to think of the following artists and designers that have influenced my aesthetic and the way I look at art, design, and the world: Ansel Adams, Ken Adam, Salvador Dali, M.C. Echer, Mark Friedberg, Hiroshige, Hokusai, Eiko Ishioka, Robert Mapplethorpe, Claude Monet, and Georgia O'Keefe.

I'll be going into more depth as to why I love the work of each of these individuals, but I can say that it generally falls into two categories: use of organic lines and shapes, often contrasted by strong man-made and industrial lines; and use of color and light to create beauty. Some of these artists specialize in one or the other - Ken Adam is a great example of the first, Monet of the second. Most of them fall into both categories, at least to some degree. All of them have helped make the world a more beautiful and interesting place. (And for those who may scoff at Mapplethorpe for his "unsavory" reputation - well, the flower on the right is a picture of his. Surprised?)