What I'm listening to.

In no particular order:

“Maximo Park”:http://www.maximopark.com/maximopark/news.php – A Certain Trigger. I keep coming back to this album. It’s got great energy, great guitar driven melody, a quirky singer, and an awesome accent.

“Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah”:http://clapyourhandssayyeah.com/news.php – Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. Channeling Talking Heads and a drunken cowboy shaman, these guys play the most upbeat feel good indie pop lollipops. Their site is a great representation of their music.

“The Flaming Lip”:http://www.flaminglips.com/main.phps – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. I can’t begin to understand how I’ve made it so far in life without having listened to The Flaming Lips. With seven albums and a handful of EPs on iTunes, I sense an orgy of excess coming up. Great site too.

“The Dears”:http://www.thedears.org/ – No Cities Left. Continuing to 4 for 4 on the quirky singer list. I cannot get enough of this album. It’s my default “feel like listening to something but I don’t know what” album. I’ve got the live album too. Not as much.

“Stars”:http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/s/stars/set-yourself-on-fire.shtml(link to a Pitchfork Media review) – Set Yourself on Fire. Like The Dears, lush sounds, quirky singers, from Montreal. I’m so into Reunion; a story of a drunken 10th high school reunion fling. I never actually graduated from high school. So I never got to go to my reunion…

“The Libertines”:http://www.thelibertines.org.uk/ – The Libertines and Up The Bracket. I had no idea this was the band of that english guy who’s always getting busted for drugs. The one who was dating Kate Moss. He’s good!

“The Meligrove Band”:http://www.meligroveband.com/ – Planets Conspire. Album spanning, minor key, piano, warm glow from the vacuum amp. Best band you’ve never heard of. They look really young too.

“Arctic Monkeys”:http://www.arcticmonkeys.com/ – Demos. Speaking of young. These guys are like 19 or 20. They’re the biggest selling band in Britain. Which only goes to show that the british have fine taste in music. Plus, they have a logo.

“Beth Orton”:http://bethorton.astralwerks.com/ – Comfort of Strangers. I’ve been a fan or Orton’s since her early work (aren’t I cool?). This album is strongly in the vein of her early albums. Which is good. I was disappointed the first time through. But it’s really grown on me. It’s my “what should I listen to next” backup.

“Belle & Sebastian”:http://www.belleandsebastian.com/ – The Love Pursuit. As similar as Beth Orton’s new album is to her old, The Love Pursuit is the weirdest Belle & Sebastian album to date. But does it ever work. We go from pure ear candy to more ear candy. Belle & Sebastian have become funk superstars, in a very Scottish way.

“Spoon”:http://www.spoontheband.com/site.html – Gimme Fiction: What James Bond would listen to today. It made all the best of 05 lists for a reason.

h2. Quirky singers

Two Sides to Monsieur Valentine / Spoon
My Mathematical Mind / Spoon
Sukie In The Graveyard / Belle and Sebastian
For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea / Belle and Sebastian
To Be Myself Completely / Belle and Sebastian
Conceived / Beth Orton
Worms / Beth Orton
Dancing Shoes / Arctic Monkeys
Riot Van / Arctic Monkeys
Planets Conspire / The Meligrove Band
Isle of Yew / The Meligrove Band
The Man Who Would Be King / The Libertines
Can’t Stand Me Now / The Libertines
What I’m Trying to Say / Stars
Reunion / Stars
Lost In The Plot / The Dears
22: The Death Of All The Romance / The Dears
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 2 / The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1 / The Flaming Lips
Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood / Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah
The Skin of my Yellow Country Teeth / Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah
Graffitti / Maxïmo Park
Apply Some Pressure / Maxïmo Park

Sparkthrower.com

The best panel I attented at sxsw was about creating a design playground. I had no idea what it was going to be about. I thought it might have something to do with setting up your environment or some such thing. Instead, it was a talk by three talented designers and illustrators about creating an online place for you to play. A place to create stuff just for the sake of doing it. Not for clients, not for money. Just for you.

This was one of those right place right time occasions. I’ve been really missing the exploration and play of just mucking around with illustrator. I’d been working so much that I’d completely fallen out of practice. All day long I design strict grid-based layouts – work I love. But it was starting to feel pretty stale.

When I was in design school, ere these not so many years ago, I made some really cool stuff. It was like throwing gas on my passion to design great work. Hearing the panel, and seeing their work was a much needed kick in the ass.

I’ve started playing again, and the effect on my designs has been immediate and pronounced. We’ve got some work in production at the moment that is amongst the best we’ve done. It’s still a ways off from launch. But my personal work is starting to go online at “sparkthrower.com”:http://www.sparkthrower.com. The site couldn’t be simpler: click the image for the next slide. Nothing else to it.

I am ridiculously stoked to be creating again. It’s all I can do to contain my energy. My mind is awash with (hopefully) brilliant client work, and I feel more relaxed than I have in a year.

Are you doing something similar? Care to share the url?

Sparkthrower.com

The best panel I attented at sxsw was about creating a design playground. I had no idea what it was going to be about. I thought it might have something to do with setting up your environment or some such thing. Instead, it was a talk by three talented designers and illustrators about creating an online place for you to play. A place to create stuff just for the sake of doing it. Not for clients, not for money. Just for you.

This was one of those right place right time occasions. I’ve been really missing the exploration and play of just mucking around with illustrator. I’d been working so much that I’d completely fallen out of practice. All day long I design strict grid-based layouts – work I love. But it was starting to feel pretty stale.

When I was in design school, ere these not so many years ago, I made some really cool stuff. It was like throwing gas on my passion to design great work. Hearing the panel, and seeing their work was a much needed kick in the ass.

I’ve started playing again, and the effect on my designs has been immediate and pronounced. We’ve got some work in production at the moment that is amongst the best we’ve done. It’s still a ways off from launch. But my personal work is starting to go online at sparkthrower.com. The site couldn’t be simpler: click the image for the next slide. Nothing else to it.

I am ridiculously stoked to be creating again. It’s all I can do to contain my energy. My mind is awash with (hopefully) brilliant client work, and I feel more relaxed than I have in a year.

Are you doing something similar? Care to share the url?

SXSW 2006: Day Two Impressions

Wow. I’m exhausted. My mind is spinning. And I’m loving it.

This conference is going to change my business. Immediately.

I’ve met some amazing people. No. I’ve met a LOT of amazing people. Shall I name drop? Let’s jut say _everyone_.-

I saw Matisyahu at Stubb’s last night. Unbelievable. As we drove past Stubbs, on the way home from the Frog Design party, I saw that he was playing. We jumped off the bus and ran for it. The show was sold out, so we spent a small fortune on scalpers tickets, and made it in just as the show got underway.

Matisyahu occupies most of the top 10 spots on my most-played list in iTunes. Almost all of those tracks are from his “Live at Stubbs” album. So seeing Matisyahu, live at Stubbs rocked my world.

To top it off, I was standing right next to Lance Armstrong. Seriously.

So yes. I’m having a rather good time. I have a long list of topics to discuss with you. I’m looking forward to having enough energy to string two coherent words together…

MySpace, teens, and the (non) death of the blogosphere

I had dinner with “Jeremy Wright”:http://www.ensight.org last night to discuss our upcoming redesign of “b5media”:http://www.b5media.com. Over the course of our conversation, the topic of MySpace briefly came up. It’s a topic that’s popping up with greater and greater frequency.

Jeremy wrote a “piece”:http://www.ensight.org/archives/2006/02/21/myspace-is-the-new-blogosphere/ about why MySpace scares the crap out of him a couple of weeks ago. His points are mainly valid (MySpace spells the death of the blogosphere), but ultimately I disagree with him.

MySpace is undoubtedly cool. If I were a teenager I’d be all over it. It’s an amazing way to connect and hang out with friends, find new music, pose, preen, and generally be cool. But I’m not a teenager (despite my brain’s insistence that I’m 18). The very things that make MySpace cool to an 18 year old are annoying to me.

Having been a teenager, I feel I have some authority to speak on the dynamic interests of a maturing human. Sure, this teen cohort are growing up with MySpace, Facebook, et al. But as they mature, I believe they will want to strike out from the crowded confines and safety of similarity to the riskier and more rewarding solo sites that make up the blogosphere. I don’t see MySpace killing the blogosphere. I see it as a breeding ground for new bloggers (or whatever we’ll be calling ourselves at the time).

Think about it: this cohort lives online, and lives in text. Right now, group membership is incredibly important. But give that same group five to ten years, and the need to be a member will be replaced with the desire to be an individual.

MySpace doesn’t scare me. It does the exact opposite. I just wish it had been around 20 years ago.

Inspirational sources

Where do you go when you’re looking for inspiration? Personally, I’m getting away from the various css galleries. While I love most of the work posted on them, they share a certain inevitable homogeneity due to their common function and underlying structure. I enjoy reading design magazines, but find that they are becoming less and less relevant to screen oriented designer.

Instead, I’ve been spending some time with a few marvelous new (to me) sites: “design*sponge”:http://designsponge.blogspot.com/ and “Oh Joy!”:http://ohjoy.blogs.com/my_weblog/. Both offer terrific mixes of cool furniture, fashion, interior design and cool design-y stuff. I love the shapes, textures, and colours of all the delicious fabrics and ceramics. I’m becoming a serious wallpaper nut, and my fetish for all things danish and modern has been seriously rekindled. I’m not only inspired to work, I’m inspired to buy!

Where are you looking for inspiration these days?

Fantastic service goes a long, long way

I finally got around to booking my airline tickets to SXSW last night, and have to pass on a story of exceptional service. To make a long and convoluted story as short and painless as possible, suffice it to say that having searched high and low, I was trying to book online with “targetvacations.ca”:http://www.targetvacations.ca. Their site was giving me a headache at checkout (new design coming soon, courtesy of “moi”:http://www.theblogstudio.com/portfolio), and normally I’d have passed, but their rates were better than the competition by a sizable margin. So I picked up the phone and called.

The guy at the other end, Drew Kelley, was simply amazing. He went way, waaayyy beyond the call of duty to find us the best rates and the best schedule. By calling this guy, we saved over $1200. I cannot recommend him highly enough. If you’re looking to make travel arrangements out of Toronto (or elsewhere for all I know), send him an “email”:dkelley@targetvacations.ca

Three months with WordPress

So what do I think, three months after changing from “Textpattern”:http://www.textpattern.com to “WordPress”:http://www.wordpress.org? It’s a bit of a mixed bag actually. WordPress has some nice features

what I like

* templates
* all the options on the write post page
* the gazillion plugins
* the simple, elegant plugin system
* the need to learn some php
* the ease of creating a static page
* the ease of adding categories on the fly
* the ability to edit my templates using Transmit

what I don’t
* the complexity in creating sections
* the sometimes weird way it interprets paragraph breaks
* the need to learn some php (Textpattern’s tags are much more elegant)
* I miss Textpattern’s extra fields

“The Blog Studio’s”:http://www.theblogstudio.com site is still on Textpattern, and will not be changing any time soon. The different areas of that site pull data into different sections – something that would be trickier to do in WordPress. The thing that’s really floating my boat these days is “Expression Engine”:http://www.expressionengine.com. We’re involved in a couple of projects with EE at the moment, and I am *totally* blow away.

It takes the graphical loveliness and ease of use of WordPress’ back end, and combines it with the power and flexibility of Textpattern. Then cranks it up to 11. This is one impressive CMS. At $249 for a commercial license, it is cheap cheap cheap. I’ll write more about it as I get to know it a bit more. This program is going to make my life a whole lot easier.