Yellowgold's Ever One Review

When I heard that Jason Howell had established a Kickstarter campaign to back the release of his second album, I backed it immediately. Why would I do that? Because I like to support "The Arts", Jason seems like a genuinely nice person (as much as one can tell through podcasts, social media and a 1-minute Skype conversation last year) and having heard some of his previous work, I knew this would not be a waste of money.

I honestly wasn't expecting this album to be as good as it was. My apologies if that seems like a backhanded compliment, but I've supported musicians in the past, listened to a CD once or twice and then kind of forgot about them. This is not that kind of release.

What can you expect? Cross Jack Johnson with Ozzy Osbourne and you've pretty much got it. So if eating banana pancakes while riding a crazy train isn't your thing, I just don't know what to tell you. My wife who "doesn't like music" liked this. Make of that what you will.

It's good stuff. Just trust me on that.

The album goes on sale to the public on December 2nd, but you can pre-order now if you like. The page allows you to sample the first track "Lonely Nights" which is a real earworm. Personally, my favorite song is "Scan Lines", but you'll have to buy the CD to hear that one.

Creating The Android Kit Kat Homage Desktop

Since the announcement that the next version of Android was going to be called "Kit Kat" instead of "Key Lime Pie" as everyone thought, there have been several attempts to mimic the Kit Kat logo and give it an Android twist. They were fine, but not what I was looking for personally.

I did a little research and... Wow! There are a lot of official logos.

Mainly I wanted to know which font was used (or something close). What I found first is that there are two main variations on the logo; a US and an International.

While the design of the International branding was simpler, I found I preferred the look of the US version. I found a reasonable facsimile of the font used. It is called Kitty Kat (clever!) and can be found online pretty easily.

Next, I sampled the main colors and created a Photoshop color swatch for all of the various components. (Feel free to grab it if you like.)

Let's just concentrate on the main text. This is what a Kit Kat wrapper looks like:

The colors are a bit off from what I wanted (just another variation), but it gives you a general feeling for the styling required. There are the letters (white), some internal shading (grey), an outer border (black in the version I like) and then a drop shadow (dark red).

But first, let's get the letters on the virtual canvas.

Yeah. You see it too, don't you? The kerning and baselines are all over the place! (It's never easy.)

I decided to create each letter on a separate layer so I could easily arrange them as I wished.

Because I really wanted to treat this as a single item and apply the same styles to each letter, I selected all of the layers and created a smart object. This would allow me to make adjustments later if necessary.

Here is the smart object in with all of the other components of the logo.

Let's add some style!

First, we need that grey internal shadow. Not surprisingly, I went with an Inner Shadow with the Choke set to 100% to get that solid edge rather than a blurry one normally associated with a shadow style.

That's not quite right, is it? The shadow in the actual logo does not meet the edges of the letters. We really can't change that with the Inner Shadow, but what we can do is create a Stroke on the inside of the letter and using the same color as the letter (white).

That worked out surprising well!

Next is the black edge on the outside of the letters. Normally I would use the Stroke style for that, but since we've already used it, let's go with an Outer Glow instead. The trick here is to change the Blend Mode to Normal (versus the default of Screen) and to set the Spread to 100%.

There is actually one issue here. The real logo has letter borders where the corners come to sharp points. What we have done is created rounded corners. I decided that I was OK with that difference.

Finally, the drop shadow where we'll use the Drop Shadow style. The only trick here is to once again set the Spread to 100% for that well defined edge.

And there you go.

If there is enough interest in the other components, I'll follow up with a part two and show you how I managed the ovals. That might be better suited to a video.

Some final notes.

The "Buttery Smooth" typeface I used is called "AdLib". It was the closest I could find to match the "Crisp Wafers" text of the original.

The Kit Kat Android came from Google's Android page.

Discordant Google Music

I love, love, love Google Play Music All Access (other than the name... heretofore, just "All Access"). For $10 a month ($8 for use early adopters) you get access to millions of songs as well as cloud storage for 20,000 of your own personal tracks in one handy location. Yes, there are plenty of other good options (if you live in the US), but this works well for me.

Therefore it is with great sadness that I take a few moments to complain.

The Google Play store existed already. My impression was that All Access was an extension of that ecosystem. It seems like a logical progression, however I've been increasingly frustrated by what appears to be an unnecessary separation between the it and the store.

You're probably saying, "Tom! Amigo! These things should be separate. One is a place where you buy  music and the other is a place you're allowed to listen to music you don't own." I guess that's a fair point.

Except I do own some of the music in my All Access library. In fact, if I buy something from Google Play, it automatically shows up in my library. So I'm not smelling what you're cooking.

Pictures being worth a thousand words, I thought a side-by-side comparison was in order. The following are my list of complaints:

The Logo

Google can't use the same assets for the logos? I know it's really picky of me, but a little consistency por favor!

Hide-And-Seek Options

Initially I thought that one could not buy or share from All Access, but if you hover over a track or album, you'll see a button with three dots arranged vertically. Clicking this gives you a menu of (less important?) options.

I understand that the AA user interface is geared more towards playing music (thus the controls at the bottom of the page), but a gesture and two clicks creates needless friction. An obvious option for one-click sharing would be a win-win. (Don't we just love "win-win's"?)

Anti-Social Behavior

Why can't I see ratings, recommendations and reviews from All Access? I want (nay, need!) this information. AA has a distinctly anti-social feel here.

You can get to that data by going to the Play store but, once again, the option to do so is hidden behind the triple dotted menu.

Don't see it? It's that "Buy" link.

Now I don't know about you, but I do not like to click links that say "buy" unless I'm planning on spending money. It turns out that this is relatively safe, because all the link really does is take you to the aforementioned Play store page as you see on the left in the comparison image above.

Let's look at things coming back the other way. If someone shares music from Google+ and I follow the link, I'm sent to the Play store where we only have the option to listen to a sample or buy. Even though I'm an All Access subscriber there is no easy path to AA from the store where I might listen to something in its entirety or add it to my library.

More friction.

And let's not even bring up the mobile apps!

Brave New World

None of these issues are deal-breakers. One could argue that Google will get there in time. One could also argue that these are only problems for me and that I need to get over it.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Have I missed something? Let me know below!

Geek Fitness: Year One By The Numbers

A little over a year ago I started this "geek fitness" thing fully intending to write regular articles with progress, tips, etc. I wasn't as active in posting as I would have liked, but I did stay on the fitness path and have pretty faithfully tracked what I've done.

Because I'm a geek and since I've got some data, let's crunch some numbers.

Weight Tracking

This wasn't really about losing weight, but rather "getting fit". I don't have a target in mind as long as I look and feel healthy. That said, I know what I weighed in my P90X heyday so I can make some correlations since I'm keeping track anyway.

While I tried to hit the scale around the same time each day, there were some day-to-day variances. Even with regular timing, there were some crazy fluctuations. Much like the stock market, it seems to me to be more important to view things over time. Over the year there was a 15 pound difference between my highest weight and my lowest. However, it's the obvious downward trend that seems to indicate "progress".

The Breaks

I hate taking breaks. No, really! It feels like cheating and I can feel myself blimping up for every day I'm not following a program. The body does need time to recover, though, so breaks are important.

The reality is that as long as you don't go crazy with the food and remain at least a little active, you don't lose too much in terms of your fitness levels. I've read that the general rule is it takes about as long to lose your progress as it did to make your progress. The numbers seem to bear that out as show my weight after time off was pretty close to where it was at the end of the previous round.

Sticking To The Program

Two-thirds of the time I was on schedule or working out. That's kind of not great.

Friday was my biggest day for slacking off. Although it does look like I'm an equal opportunity slacker.

Round 3 was... embarrassing. There weren't even any holidays to blame that on.

Apparently I never miss a Cardio Power & Resistance or a Cardio Recovery day.

The Results

This is the point where you will want to look away since I'm going to "let it all hang out" both figuratively and literally.

Bleh... I'll definitely never grace the cover of a fitness magazine (or the electronic equivalent).

Items of note... 

I Am Not A Salesman

I'm posting these because I'm just a regular geek trying to get fit. I'm not a trainer and I'm not trying to sell you anything. I tried to make them as similar as possible by taking them under the same conditions (after a workout) with the same amount of flexing. Lighting was obviously an issue, but I did nothing to attempt to correct this in Photoshop. Other than cropping and labeling, these haven't been adjusted in any way.

Taking all of that into account, remember that your milage may vary.

Round 3?

Next, you will notice no post-Round 3 photo. That round just kind of petered out as you see above and once I got into the home improvement project, I just didn't feel like it mattered.

ASIDE: Doesn't the new floor, baseboard and paint look good? Quite the improvement! ;)

When I started Round 4, I'd say I was in Round-2-ish shape. Any gains from Round-3 were lost and that pretty much confirmed the "it takes about as long to lose your progress as it did to make your progress" rule I mentioned earlier.

Exercise + Diet = Better Results

Up until Round 4, I did not adjust my diet. Keep in mind that I do eat healthy as compared to most people and that I did see change. I saw the most drastic changes in Round 4 where I adjusted my diet for results. (FWIW, I lowered my carbohydrate intake and replaced those calories with proteins. That's low carbs. Not no carbs.)

This is kind of a no-brainer, but I do occasionally talk to puzzled people who exercise but don't get results. Most of the time it's because they don't have what I'd consider to be a healthy diet (e.g. a lot of "empty calories").


But what do I know? I'm not a trainer and I'm certainly not telling you what to do. I'm sharing what I've done and how I'm doing it. Maybe that motivates you. If nothing else it might help to know that there is someone else out there struggling with the same things you're struggling with.

Empty Promises...

I've got at least a couple more articles rolling around in my head. I'm hoping to get those put together for you "soon". Yeah... I know...

Out Of The Dark Breakdown

This image represents just how far I'll go to get the picture that I saw in my mind to print. In this case, a very small print because there are definite flaws to be found as you get a closer look. But because I share everything with you people, here you go.

Even though I spend a lot of time in Photoshop "developing" my photos, one fact remains constant. Garbage in, garbage out. What you get straight out of the camera needs to be the best your skills can achieve because that is the foundation for everything that comes next.

Check out this foundation...


This was pretty much the worst situation possible. She was far away so needed my 70-300mm lens (my options were limited), she was in a very dark area and she was pacing at a pretty brisk rate. No excuses, though. I should have been able to do better with a little patience.

Regardless, this is the best I could do with Lightroom to bring things back.

I lost some fine detail trying to compensate for the noise of a low-light shot at a 1600 ISO. Otherwise it's OK-ish.

On to Photoshop.

I masked out everything that wasn't tiger or ground as has been my style with these zoo shots of late, cloned out that obstructing foliage in the foreground and sharpened some areas to try to create some sharper edges in areas that had been softened by the noise reduction.

Next I worked to create a little more tonal range by creating a Soft Light layer with a copy of the original and then a slight curve adjustment.

I created a shadow behind Ms. Tiger and some blurring to make it look as if she was "coming out of the dark". Which, of course, she had been to some extent. This whole picture is "out of the dark" if you want to get technical about it.

Next is a shameful confession. My wife pointed out that the cat was looking a little green. I'm colorblind, but looking at the numbers that the eyedropper was reporting, she was right. My skills at color correcting to my satisfaction failed me so I turned to my old pal Silver Efex Pro 2.

And there you go. From start to finish...

The Case of the Incredible Growing Android System Data

When I bought my 16GB Samsung Galaxy S3 last year, I did so with the plan to also buy a 64GB SD card, pump my total storage to a whopping 80GB and save a little money in the process. Little did I know at the time that Google planned to steer away from using external storage. As a result, my SD card is largely unused since only a small number of the apps that I've installed allow me to set it as a target storage location (Camera and Pocket Casts primarily plus one more that I'll mention later) while the applications themselves require installation on "internal" storage.

I do not install a huge number of app and those that I do install tend to be pretty small. Imagine my surprise when updates would no longer come down from Google Play because insufficient storage was available. I uninstalled a couple apps and then installed Disk Usage to give me a general idea of what was what.

As you can see above, I didn't get the detail that I was hoping for.

That's not really the fault of Disk Usage, though. Some applications put things in this "System data" area and call it a day.

After a little digging, I found the culprit. In my particular case, it was Cyanogen's ROM Manager that was hungry for storage. More specifically, it was more some poor choices I made when I installed it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's rewind.

Here is where I started...

Look at all of that free space!

If I go into ROM manager and perform a backup using the default settings, we see an immediate impact on storage to the tune of ~1.7GB.

Manually performing backups would be bad enough, but the act of doing this repeatedly would (should) trigger most people to think, "Hey! All of these backups are going somewhere. I might need to take care of those old backups."

My brain and I, however, have never been on the best of terms.
Brain: Hey, Tom! Why don't you do a backup every few days? You know... Just to be safe.

Me: That seems reasonable. You're so smart!

Brain: Awww... shucks!

Brain: [Aside] BWAHAHAHA!
So I set up an Automatic Backup with a frequency of four days, thus sealing my fate. Every four days I would sacrifice 1.7GB on the Altar of Pointless Activities.

The immediate solution (and probably the reason you are here) is pretty straightforward. In the "Backup and Restore" section of the ROM Manager settings, there is an option to Manage and Restore Backups. Tapping this should pull up the following which lists each of the backups that are available.

Tap the backup you're interested in and then tap Delete to free up some precious disk space.

So what did I do wrong?

First, I probably did not really need a backup every four days. I'm not sure an automatic backup is even necessary in most cases. If you feel better having one, you need to commit to managing those old backups in some way. Personally, I'm way too lazy for that.

Next, remember earlier when I mentioned that some applications allow you to store data on an external SD card? Yeah... ROM Manager is one of those applications.

If you slide all the way to the bottom of the ROM Manager Settings list, you will find the option to "Use External Storage". If you've got the storage, toggle that to "On". It's smart for several reasons.

Once toggled you should see the change reflected in the path shown under the "Backup Current Rom" option.

There you go!

I've noticed this question cropping up in several places lately. The particulars of your situation may be different. Maybe you don't use ROM Manager specifically, but rather some other utility. The concepts are the same. Think about anything you may installed that creates large files, clean those files up and then investigate the app's settings to see if there are some options to better manage your resources.

Frolic Breakdown

At the Memphis Zoo this little guy was having a romp into the water on a hot day early in the summer of 2010. I really wanted to freeze the action to get some nice water splashes. This is what I got right out of the camera.

My first run at processing the photo brought me here.

I went with an HDR-ish approach while darkening areas I wanted to downplay. There are things I like about it and things I don't. Let's concentrate on the negative.

The problems boil down to bad framing, important details getting lost in the unimportant and too many clues that this was taken in a man-made environment. (As if anyone would believe I'm an actual wild-life photographer.)

Lately I've been going for a high contract black and white look where the background is blacked out. That would solve the problem of hiding the unimportant background details with the additional benefit of being able to recompose things on a solid background.

After recomposing, the tedious task of masking starts. Drop by drop...

...until the mask looked a little something like this.

Now with the mask applied.

The hard work done, it's time to turn this into a black and white photo.

Next a global curve adjustment...

... and then a targeted curve adjustment on the water.

I cloned in a few droplets off the front paw and along the bottom where the pattern was just a little too clean.

A final global curve adjustment finishes things off.

Here's your usual before and after comparison.

Hopefully you enjoy these breakdowns. They are personally useful in helping me to document my experiments as I continue to learn more about creating these images.

If you didn't enjoy this, then you can blame +Justin Martin since he's the one who asked me to do it. :)