How to Make an Orinz-Style Icon

Everyone needs an icon these days. I’m sure that you probably have a digital camera, that you could probably take a picture of yourself and crop it into a square and upload it. Sure. But it probably won’t look good small, it may not be very recognizable, and it could even be boring. Pictures of things you like can be a better idea, but no one should need to hide behind pretty flowers because they’re afraid of how the light will cast their face (unless that’s the mystique, I suppose). I’ve always favored showing my face — there’s something open and honest to it, and it always seemed simpler anyways. So I figured out a way to show my face in an identifiable, personal, stylish, not-boring way. This is my method using Photoshop CS4, but the principles are the same in any image-editing program.

  1. Here’s an original black and white image of the top of someone’s head. I happen to be quite attached to this one, so we’ll use this.The ideal image has an interesting outside shape with lots of fluffy bits. The background needs to be a solid color, one that contrasts with the subject’s hair (or whatever the fluffy bits are).
  2. Usually, when working with Photoshop or similar image-manipulation tools, the easiest and best selections have sharp, distinct edges. If your subject is completely bald the regular-ol’ wand tool is the way to go. But I think such lines wouldn’t produce as interesting an icon and, well, most people do have some hair. The solution: the background can be quickly and smoothly removed using a tool like Vertus Fluid Mask. While it’s not free, older versions can readily be found at a large discount. Paint the areas you want to keep, and those you want to delete, and liberally splatter BLEND over everything else. Blend really is great for hair. Preview sections as you go using the T key. It’s easy once you learn the few keyboard shortcuts. Voilà!
  3. When you’re done, you will have an image with alpha transparency. This is what allows any program (that understands it) to make your image look good against any background. You need to select the pixels according to how transparent/opaque they are. But, since there’s no alpha channel (or alpha layer), and since there’s no direct way to select based on transparency/opacity in Photoshop, we have to be clever. Make two duplicates of the new background-removed layer. Invert the colors of the one on top.
  4. Change the top layer’s transparency to exactly 50%. The two layers will cancel each other out and make middle-grey. Merge your two duplicate layers into one. This layer has no color contrast at all, no details. It is, in fact, a nearly precise reversal of the elusive alpha transparency.
  5. Using the levels tool (ctrl+L or cmd+L), make the color completely black. Slide the input level all the way to the right. Although 246 is shown, you can and should go all the way up to 253.
  6. A black image makes a much better selection. So here is where you can finally select the alpha transparency. From the layers tab, switch to the channels tab. Ctrl+click (or cmd+click) on the RGB channel to select based on transparency.
  7. Once you have this selection, you have the key. To make an outline (left), simply fill the selection with a solid color. I use color stripes over my icon, and I like seeing the unique shape against all backgrounds, so I cut out a simple image of solid stripes (center) from my selection and get a translucent image in the shape of my head. When you combine with the original photo (right), these give a smooth-edged, recognizable, quite personal icon that resolves well even at small sizes.

It’s easy and fun to play with the outline and experiment with all the different things you can do. You’ll discover there are all sorts of cool things one can put on a face. To conclude, here’s a collection of what you can create with this technique:

Uncanny Silicon Valley

This record is weird and you’ll probably like it. Before I say anything else, I’ll give you the opportunity to trust my words and just go download it. I’ve long been an advocate of knowing nearly nothing about a song or album before listening to it so as not to sully the innate purity of one’s judgment. It saves you the trouble of being seduced by the idea of some kind of music only to later realize that, hey, this Brent Spiner album really sucks. But — since if I’m going to bother sharing some music I really ought to explain why — I’ll go ahead and give an idea of what “Silicon Valley,” by Raven Kane and Klaus Netzle, is like.

“Video Invasion” by Raven Kane & Klause Netzle

There’s no way you could find a record quite like this. It isn’t much like anything I’ve heard, although one can easily place it in the 1980s epoch. For me, the best thing about it has got to be the earnest, catchy, often absurd lyrics — with topics such as office equipment, video technology, and artificial intelligence. It’s very firmly in Neo-Luddite on all these issues. You will, in the course of listening, encounter a joyful cognitive dissonance if you ponder how many electronic instruments are used (although, to be fair, the album’s subject is enhanced by all those clicks and boops). Even though the electronics are a campy marvel of the 80s aesthetic, the lyrics are incredible. As an example, I’ve transcribed the lyrics of one of my favorites:

“The Robot” by Raven Kane & Klause Netzle

(lyrics to “The Robot”)

I Am Rusty Ceiling RobotTHE ROBOT
radical reclamation
impersonal declaration
march of the intellect
invading the realm of man
(invading the realm of man)
THE ROBOT
THE ROBOT

Guard, defend, preserve humanity!
Guard, defend, preserve humanity!
Take caution at the hint
of a world where robots may replace
the entire human race
(replace the entire human race…)
THE ROBOT
THE ROBOT

How can the passions of man be replaced by steel and artificial minds?
The spirit, fire and farts(?) of man cannot be replaced,
shall not be replaced.
Will they be replaced?
(will they be replaced?)
By the ROBOT.

L'il Ol Me? Who says I'm incapable of emotion.THE ROBOT
cold, dull & passive
indifferent to the world around it
capable of inhuman tasks
incapable of human emotions
(incapable of human emotions)
THE ROBOT
THE ROBOT
frigid, hard, and cast of steel
modeled to move the impossible
impossible to stop the modeled robot

watch it move, watch it move
how does he think?
what does he think?
how does he think?
what does he think?

THE ROBOT
radical reclamation
impersonal declaration
march of the intellect
invading the realm of man
(invading the realm of man)
THE ROBOT
THE ROBOT
Guard, defend, preserve humanity!
Guard, defend, preserve humanity!
THE ROBOT
THE ROBOT

watch it move, watch it move
how does he think?
what does he think?
THE ROBOT
THE ROBOT
THE ROBOT
THE ROBOT

Man, it is fun to sing. I hope this doesn’t spoil it. I was actually hoping to do more research on this album before publishing, but guess what? There isn’t that much actual information on this record. I can’t find out why these two collaborated, what they were trying to accomplish, or what the reception was. I know that I’m  happy to have found it. I know that it’s good to keep it alive. And I’m happy to help others find it, too. With no further ado, click these two techno-prophets for a Sharebee link:

The Game of Noticin.gs

Noticin.gs in 30 seconds:

Take photos of interesting things (things, not people) you see in public places. Publish and geo-tag the best ones on your Flickr account the same day. Tag them with ‘noticings.’ Score points for going to new neighborhoods, shooting persistently, or finding certain kinds of interesting.

I knew there was a reason I subscribed to Photojojo. They tipped me off 5 days ago. It really has brought out the documentarian in me, and I’ve been going on photo walks around my neighborhood every day since.

As you may know, I’m generally not good at sharing my beloved pictures in a timely manner… no matter how beloved they are. Anything that can be used to get leverage on myself is generally good. By that standard, I’d say noticin.gs has absolutely done it’s duty. Of course… we’ll see how long it lasts.

Heart You

How to Save the Content Industry

The secret, and it’s a big secret: stop acting like belligerent, entitled, megalomaniac dinosaurs, accept the reality and the benefits of file-sharing, and be a force for good in the culture.  I dunno. Seems reasonable.

ACTA is falling apart, says Zeropaid. Oink got off. The latest strategy of co-operating with ISPs seems doomed to failure just as much as every other stupid thing they’ve tried. Their overzealous plans to make content hosts –well, anyone screen for copyrighted content are, if not impossible, just going to push people toward other options. Sure, Freenet sucks but it’s a decent idea. TOR is a hell of a thing.  nd those are just the rough drafts available if things get worse for sharers.  If there were a better motivation for the masses to adopt ubiquitous encryption, I can’t think of one. And I know how much governments around the world would like that.

Even if these blind and ignorant dinosaurs-on-steroids-on-acid did somehow get the thousands (millions?) of ISPs in every country on Earth on board, every new and harsher step just seems to alienate more people and convince them of a deeper evilness. It seems that they have a dual problem: 1) how to overcome human nature, and the wholesome desire to spread beauty, truth and joy 2) resentment for the scorched-earth/hardball strategies used trying to do so. The answer, of course, is just give up because that’s a ridiculously awful problem. The business model was broken and they never accepted it. It’s impossible — I.M.P.O.S.S.I.B.L.E. — to control things like they used to.

Here’s an idea: play nice. Don’t use your established position to crush new competitors and stifle ideas. There’s room for everybody, especially if new people are making new room. How about you encourage people to buy things by being a force for good, by respecting the customer, by putting out quality content? Why go through such elaborate steps to market crap just because you can have more control? Your modus operandi as a for-profit company is to make money, not maintain control. Accept that personal politics in the future will have a good deal to do with one’s opinions on the corporations and production methods one is supporting — thus the expression, vote with your dollars. Example: green movement, Food Inc, cc authors like Doctorow. Can you imagine what immense goodwill there is for the first big content provider to say the following:

We will never sue our fans. We still want their money and for good reason — that’s what we do. Outside of our promotions, we won’t help share content for free because that’s the fan’s job. We know that it is, on the whole, good for society. We are morally, financially, and legally against anything that tries to buttress an outdated system at the cost of our own culture. We need that culture healthy so we can continue to survive. And this will make it better.”

Photo Finder 4000

Ok, I am a photographer. Or I take lots of pictures, at least. Or I take lots of pictures and obsess over processing them. And then people use them all over the Internet (I use a Creative Commons license on all my photos, much like I use on this Glot).

I can point straight, at leastOk, so I’m a photographer. Today I was looking at this magnificent gallery of photos taken on the Suisun Bay Mothball Fleet. The photographer has a pretty nice gallery (although it could be a little smoother, photo transtions and such). And then I realized that her site actually links up with her Flickr. Huh, that’s a cool trick. I then found the very clever and useful Flickr Photo Album for WordPress plugin from Joe Tan. It allows you to put up galleries of your Flickr photos onto your own site — you know, like a “real” photographer.

My, my, it seems like I could get some real use out of that. For a while I’ve had a back-burner project to start selling some photos (although the feasability of that remains to be seen). I’ve always liked the idea of showing my stuff right here, where I can control the presentation. And, honestly — don’t tell ’em I said this, though — I’m beginning to think a lot of people consider Flickr kind of a photographer’s ghetto, where every level of quality or involvement is allowed, and where the best aren’t necessarily advanced forward. Having your own gallery is more than simply a mark of pride, or effort, or professionalism, but also a mark of status.

Little-known: I began at an early ageThus begins the odyssey to create something worthwhile. Things I hope to incorporate eventually into my very rough, yet functional gallery:

  • CeeBox for pop-up image enlargement
  • javascript toggles to show/hide sets
  • integrated commenting, so a visitor never has to leave the site
  • browsing by tag
  • javascript pagination — so there’s no tedious reloads
  • Flickr collections, favorites, galleries, view counts, contacts (maybe)
  • a classy dark layout

Long, Cold, Grey Domain Transfer

Brrr… that was unpleasant.

For the last two weeks I’ve been without Glot. All just an error, but whose is hard to say. I waited until three days before homepie.org‘s expiration to try and transfer it, which wasn’t very smart. After it expired on the 13th, there was an unanticipated 5-day waiting period from Tucows.com (my registrar’s registrar? I think?) and after that, the nameservers “didn’t carry over,” and we had to wait for them to “propagate for up to 72 hours,” and even that “didn’t work,” blah blah bleh. I just kept calling Moniker customer support and eventually I got high enough that somebody flipped a switch and BOOM everything works exactly as before. That sucked, but boy does it feel nicer now.

It sort of reminds me of something which happened around exactly this time last year.

One of the worst parts is that my primary email is located on the homepie.org domain — so even though it’s hosted on Google Apps, the magic of the internet couldn’t find it. I’m sure I’ve got a lot of newsletters to re-subscribe to, and a lot of people to inform that I’m not dead yet.

Regardless, it’s good to be home. Don’t let me do that again.

Some of My Favorite Apartment Games

I’d like to think a list like this needs no more introduction than a title, but I’ll go on introducing anyways. It’s a list of games: easy games, fun games, games which you can play in your own home (yes, do try these at home, folks!). In my home, these are the games I regularly play every week, but I’m sure there are many more. They can be also be played in houses, duplexes, public housing projects, or wherever you happen to dwell. Please share if you have any of your own! With no further ado…

Apartment Games:

  • Will I Require Pants? – A simple yet enjoyable game, suitable for many occasions. Play it next time you will be using a handsaw, running for the doorbell, carrying bags of garbage, talking on the phone with relatives, walking around the house at night, eating finger-food, sewing or doing needlework, or any of the many other situations where having (or not having) pants is so often uncertain.
  • Does This Go Here? – This game is not as well-known as some, but I guarantee it’s worth trying. The object is to find something in the home that is out of place. But you probably won’t win with just any ol’ dirty sock wrapped ’round a ceiling fan—you should seek out the most wildly unlikely, head-scratchingly bizarre, pickle-jar-full-of-melted-cheese-inside-a-fishtank type combination. Great with kids.
  • What Am I Supposed to Do With This? – Much similar in idea to the classic game “Hot Potato,” but picks up where it leaves off. The giver hands the receiver a “potato,” which is, let’s say, a large freezer bag full of pipe cleaners. No matter how seemingly unimportant or stupid, whatever it is mustn’t be thrown away! Instead, the receiver must decide what next to do with it. You’ll discover this is easier said than done…
  • You Go Here Now – Like Tetris, spatial awareness and strategic thinking are necessary to win at this game. The challenge is to fit something into a space which really can’t possibly accomodate one more thing. How is that possible, you ask? When you finally find out, make sure to yell, “You Go Here Now!”
  • I Come In Here For Something – Fun for all ages, and can be played anytime, with equipment you probably already have. All that’s needed are two or more rooms, a collection of stuff which cannot be stored in only one of them, and another (hopefully larger!) collection of mental distractions. Simply mix and begin play. Plan a series of such games for hours of entertainment.
  • Find The Smell – One of my least favorites, unfortunately, since I’m generally quite good at it. This game is distinct in that winning isn’t always much fun (as “The Smell” is often something unpleasant/unwanted/disturbing), but still not as bad as losing. Rotten fruit, pet feces, standing water, household pests, building damage, questionable visitors, and all manner of dead things are usually good props utilized for play. Similar to hide-n-seek, but more viscerally revolting.
  • Secret Weakness – Hard to explain the rules for this one. Can be played alone or with any size group. A sort-of riddle game, the idea is to find something (not previously expected) that makes you feel suddenly, gut-puchingly powerless. For example, if one player has a job with a strict dress code, use the last of his/her leftover purple hair dye. An elegant game when played correctly.
  • I Need A Hug – Collect as many hugs as you require in the shortest amount of time, from as many people you find tolerable. Usually played after other games, like Secret Weakness or Find The Smell.

There you have it! Hope you enjoyed my list, and please, please, do send me more if you have them. I’m always up for more fun!

This Ol’ Twitter

And that's the l'il page...

Because it took me  long time, because I’ve not seen it before, because I can, I’ll tell you all about this:

Orin Zebest’s permanent Twitter archive for his Twitter account, @Orinz on Twitter

Yes, that’s right, it’s a collection of every tweet (Twitter update) I’ve ever Twitterered. Because who knows? Twitter.com could be bought by Fox News Corp., or explode, or any number of unfortunate things. Or perhaps it’s just a pain in the ass to search through 120 pages for one interesting thing. So, through the miraculous process of tedious copying and pasting, I’ve made myself a good, everlasting monument.

Course, I still have to maintain it. And I couldn’t actually fit it all on one page, since after about 2000 updates the code gets so large my web server can’t handle it all in one chunk (I split it into three, there’s one for 2008 and 2007).  But it still looks nice; like my real Twitter page just much, much longer. It was a labor of love. I’m pretty amusing, it turns out (to me).

That picture on the right is a screencap of my whole first year, the shortest (!).

Seeing Up Close in Black and White

It’s fun to experiment. I got a most wonderful doodad the other day, a Sigma 70-300mm telephoto lens, and I was promptly forced at gunpoint to start taking pictures of friends and loved ones nearby. The results have been quite good so far, and Lynae’s merch should start looking better than ever. Parenthetically, that is to say that, yes—there was a good reason for this indulgence. And hey, tax-deductible business expense!

Anyways, the pictures I shot were good, but lacked that little something that makes ’em special. Fiddling around in Lightroom I loaded up a bunch of presets designed to imitate old black and white film. This was a curious move. I mean, I’ve dabbled before, who hasn’t? But black and white pictures… they’re nice, I suppose… I understand why the form continues to thrive… just… does this look like a website for someone who shoots photos with no color? Really now.

Yet despite my completely natural disinclination, I think I made some spiffy pics. They have some real character. Here are the magnificent seven, from my lens to yours:

Talk Into the Hand (by Orin Zebest)

She's a Smirker (by Orin Zebest)

More photos in this post…

A Strange Thing Happened on the Road to Married

My fiancée, Lynae Gladys Straw, is a ceramicist. More than just a ceramicist, she started her own small business around ceramics. She sells her stuff on Etsy and makes a pretty decent living (for a 23 year-old that started her own business).

Me, I’ve come from a series of bad work situations. I went from one job I was unhappy at that paid me little to a job that made me very happy but paid me nothing. Then I had a few jobs where I was relatively happy, and where I was decently paid, but the bosses were either incompetent or incomprehensible, sometimes both, never neither. I stopped wanting to work at places that believed looking up information on how better to do one’s work somehow counted as play. I got kicked around and more than a little disillusioned.

Everyone should know by now that I do a lot of work for the little lady. Specifically, I do almost all her packaging and all her product photos—two things which are rather important for an online business. So I kind of ended up working for her (that’s what I like to tell people at parties, anyway). But it’s a little more complicated. Y’see, for everything but tax purposes, I’ve started to see it as our business. She makes the stuff; I’m the one that gets rid of it.

That’s fine in most ways. I’m happy. There are some ways which don’t seem to work as well, though. I’m still operating within her big shiny creative orbit, no matter how many sunbeams I bounce off into the far reaches of space. What I need, what I’m thinking, what she agrees, is that I oughta have my own thing too.

Real soon I’ll be stocking my own Etsy store. The refined talents of the but-for-a-moment-still Ms. Straw should come in handy there. Keep an eye on the GLOT, too, as I’ve got many plans in store for it. Wish I could reveal more, but I’ve revealed enough. Accelerate it, baby.