Brian Feeney
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An iOS App for Album Collections

My Apple Music library contains 47,400 tracks. It's an unwieldy mess. Is that maybe too much music? No, and don't ask that again. I need all of it. For reasons.

Neither the OSX nor iOS apps allow for any real album organization. Playlists are the best option, but that's a design solution for songs not albums. What I want is a way to scroll through a collection of albums that I've set aside. Similar to having a massive record collection in one room, but being able to leave a couple dozen next to the record player for quick access. Some favorite records. Newly acquired records. Records I want to remember to listen to again, soon.

I can excuse Apple for leaving this out. How many people really have more than a few thousand songs in their library? Can't be that many. For nearly everyone, the regular library is perfectly scrollable. For me, it's completely useless.

Apple could add another tab to their Music app for this feature, but that would require yet one more slightly confusing UI pattern for yet another kind of grouping. The best answer is to have a separate app entirely. Just as I'd like to pull my Albums Of The Day off the shelf to leave near the record player, I'd like a second app for quickly getting to the records I want to listen to at the moment.

I've designed this app. It's very simple, and I was able to use only Apple-provided UI. This could be built without any custom components at all, as far as I can tell. The simplicity of the app has tempted me to build it myself a couple times, but I'm still stymied by Xcode and my limited programming skills. Maybe third times a charm?

I share the designs here, and would be happy to see anyone — literally anyone — build it themselves. I wouldn't even ask for any of the profits. If you made this app, I'd even pay for it. Charge me $19.99. Having this would be such a benefit to my listening habits.

August 11, 2020

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Tuning Myself to Luck

There's a great anecdote in American Cosmic about a scientist who "tunes" his body to receive signals from the universe and readies himself to act on it, even if they were mistakes. I do something similar, though it has nothing to do with communicating with aliens.

I like to be sure there is a certain amount of chaos in my life. Enough to randomly generate new things for me to experience, but not so much that I can't make use of new info or take advantage of opportunities. If there's too much chaos, it becomes difficult to single out the right element to act on. The sweet spot is when you can watch the chaos unfold, and can see the opportunity present itself before it does.

It's a mystic way of looking at luck.

I'm realizing it's been months since I've successfully made good on this kind of opportunity. Not since the pandemic shutdown. Too much chaos.

August 11, 2020

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From the Mind's Eye

Om Malik shares this great Ansel Adams quote:

In another interview, Adams pointed out that most people think of photography as an external event. You see a scene and snap, snap, snap. It is “recording things for their own memory in the future,” Adams said. In contrast, when it comes to creative photography, Adams pointed out that there is an internal event inside your mind.

Adams pointed to a comment by Alfred Stieglitz, another legendary photographer. “I never really go out to make a photograph,” Stieglitz said. “When I come across something that excites me, and I see the picture in my mind’s eye, and I make the photograph.”

“Specifically seeing it the mind’s eye which we call visualization,” Adams said in the interview. “The picture has to be there clearly, and if you have enough craft in your own work, in your practice, then you can then make the photograph.”

August 11, 2020

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Productivity in 2020

Life has changed drastically since March. Permanently working from home breaks the clean split between home space and work space, between personal time and productivity. I've never been great at establishing boundaries between the two, but now it's worse. For my own sanity, I need to find a solution.

I'm trying a new scheduling method. 10am to 6pm, I produce. I do my work. I write. I edit photos. I post to my site. I think deeper about the issues I face as a designer. I do not read anything online. Not blogs, nor Twitter. I want to bifurcate my day. Two halves, one for making and one for consuming.

If I happen to find myself with ten free minutes between meetings, I'm going to take a pause and sit in the space. No blogs, no Twitter, nor news reading. Ten minutes is not enough to time for good design work, but there are other things to do instead of catching up on news. Even just sitting quietly and doing nothing is better than filling my brain with non-design information. Boredom is ok. Boredom allows the mind to relax and to stretch.

It's stupid to even think that ten minutes of downtime is boredom.

I also need to push back against the desire to multi-task. Now that I'm no longer in conference rooms with my colleagues, I'm extremely prone to emailing/Slacking/designing when I should be listening. This leads to a low-level anxiety that builds up by the end of the day, exhausting me.

The dumb solution I have for this problem is to fiddle with my Fidget Cube. It really helps me concentrate when my hands have something to click, spin, or rotate. My attention is easily stolen, I can admit. If I can ward off a wandering mind with a little, clicky, cube of plastic, that's great.

This is all about intentionality. Mental health over productivity. Be in control over how I spend my day. It isn't good for me to allow my whims to dictate what I do. If I can be successful at these two plans, I believe I would be much happier.

August 10, 2020

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Site Design v9

Here's a new site redesign. Did this one pretty quick, just to install a new instance of Craft, updated from version 2 to version 3. I had tried to do this a couple years ago, but I kept failing to get Craft 3 to work locally. While I'm a competent front-end developer, I struggle with a lot of the CLI installations and understanding what dependencies are required and how they work. I'm missing some basic, modern development lessons in my self-education. I take pride in that my website is designed, developed, and installed by myself. The installation part is a massive headache, though. Literally, this time. I've had a migraine the last three days.

This design is intended to put the photo blog front and center. It's the center piece to my entire website, and will likely always be. Part of me wants my site to be only a photo blog, but I still want my writing and portfolio to be somewhere discoverable. So the photos are right there at the top, everything else below. I have some ideas on how to better present the writing, and I want to add some kind of section on the index page promoting my portfolio of work. I need to design and put up an about page.

This version of my site is the first which includes a lot of flex-box and grid css. I hadn't yet really played with these no-longer-very-new additions to styling. Especially when it comes to page layout. I've used a jquery script called Color Thief to grab dominant colors from my photos to add varying palettes to pages and sections. (They're mostly accessible in contrast, but not 100%. I plan to work on that, soon.) Next is even more accessibility work. I'm proud to prioritize a11y practices in my day job as a designer. It's time I learn how to put them into practice as a developer.

While it only took me a couple weeks to design and develop this site locally, it took me equally long to get it working on my public server. Every time I do this, I get hung up on web roots, domains, and .htaccess files. Every. Damn. Time. There doesn't seem to be single good resource online to explain it. Maybe because it's supposedly simple? Basic? Self-explanatory? Well, it isn't. Something about the entire process is completely impossible for me to understand.

If you're installing a Craft 3 instance and having trouble, here are a few things which I needed to do to get it working. First, the default folder structure for Craft worked locally for me, but it had to be rearranged on my host server according to this article in order to load. I cannot explain why. The next issue was that while I could confirm my database was set to use php 7.3.11, it took me hours to discover that my server was actually set to a php 5.something. I didn't know that was possible. After that, the site loaded. Woo! The public facing part of the site was finally working, fully navigable. But I couldn't log into the admin page. By all appearences the issue was my credentials, that the admin/password was wrong, or that maybe it wasn't connecting to the database? But the database was recording my failed login attempts, so it wasn't a db connection issue. Turns out I needed this line of code

requireUserAgentAndIpForSession' => false,

added to the general.php file. But I lost a day because I had placed the line in the wrong place; it goes in the Environment section of the code, not the General Settings. Oops, again. I'm so bad at this.

But that was it! The site is up, and it's working, and I'm able to post. A huge thank you to Brad and Oli at Craft for their assistance. They were extremely patient with me and my idiocy with these sysadmin issues. I really should just hire someone to do this part of the job for me, but I'm stubborn. I demand to do it myself, like a jerk.

There's another redesign coming. Could you guess? One of the reasons I'm excited to have my site on Craft 3, now, is that it can work as a headless CMS with an API. This means I can build my next site with Vue.js, which I've wanted to do for a long while. The kind of UX and navigation I've long imagined for my site is only possible if I can applify it, which now I can do. I have a fair amount of lite experience with the Ember and React frameworks, but getting something like that up and running myself will be a challenge. I'm excited to learn something new and stretch my skills a bit. My hope is that it doesn't take more than six months to get brianfeeney.us v10 online. So let's see if I can do it.

Update (8/11/2020): I launched v10.

August 05, 2020

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RSS and the Cost of Solo Subscriptons

Ajay, on Substack subscriptions:

In that introductory message I linked to above, Andrew mentions the similar Substack-based endeavors of Jesse Singal and Matt Taibbi, and while I think both of those guy as are superb journalists, if I were to subscribe to their work as well as Andrew’s that would cost me 150 bucks a year. I still might do it — but that’s a lot of coin for three voices.

There’s an economies-of-scale problem here. At a newspaper or magazine, writers share an editorial and technical infrastructure, so costs of production are distributed. Those who go it alone don’t get to benefit from that, and neither do their readers. So the cash outlay for those readers can escalate in a hurry.

This is one of the problems I solved for when designing Feeeds. While most RSS feeds users would add to their accounts would be full content, one would have the option to offer truncated feeds for links, but also paid feeds for receiving full content. In addition, feeds could be bundled by a group of bloggers who might want to publish their own "magazine" via RSS for a single fee.

Every few months, I see another reason why I should get this app off the ground.

July 23, 2020

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Slingbaum One

Screen-Shot-2020-07-08-at-12.38.16-PM.pn

This month, jazz producer Terry Slingbaum released his debut record, Slingbaum One, an excellent three track EP featuring Erykah Badu, D'angelo, FKA Twigs, Oumou Sangare, Nick Hakim, Damon Albarn, Bilal, Syd, Ahmad Jamal, Ron Carter, Cory Henry, Masayuki ''Bigyuki'' Hirano, Jameel Bruner, Marcus Strickland, Chris Dave, Justin Brown, Keyon Harrold, Nicholas Semrad, Aaron Liao, Bendji Allonce, William ''Cito'' Vjvas, Ben Tiptonford, Rob Moose, Zach Brock, Celia Hatton, Malcolm Parson, Perrin Moss, Fernando Diaz, Simon Mavin, Jake Sherman, Paul Kowert, Amani Fela Greene, Austin Williamson, Rashad Ringo ''Tumblin Dice'' Smith, And Tariq Khan.

It's a fantastic little mystery.

Who is this little-known person and how was he able to put out a record with all of these huge names in jazz and R&B? Alarm bells are ringing. Sirens are blaring. Something is up.

The official story is that he's a 32 year old Brooklyn resident who, via years of networking and industry connections, has built up a quiet reputation. Dozens of artists (many hugely famous) in his broad circle agreed to record for him for this simple release. A personal project. Vinyl only, never streaming. Three odd tracks not meant to attract much attention, nor income.

Sure. Could be. I'm doubting it's that simple, though. The alarm bells, remember? So let's have some fun and see if this isn't a playful little conspiracy.

First sign something is afoot is that the album art looks to be by Robert Del Naja. Robert Del Naja is Massive Attack, and some people (including me) believe him to be Banksy (or one of many who are, collectively, "Banksy"). The music itself, also sounds like Massive Attack, with a jazzier flavor than any of their other releases. That Damon Albarn is on the record strengthens this case. Albarn and Del Naja are close friends, and have put out at least one track together. It's also worth mentioning that Banksy did the album art for Blur's 2003 album Think Tank. That's a small, tight circle. And Albarn has said at least once he knows Banksy.

With all this in mind, it's clearly plausible that Del Naja, is involved. Does that mean Terry Slingbaum is not a real person. Nah. There's no reason to believe Slingbaum isn't real, that he doesn't actually live in Brooklyn, ghost-writing and ghost-producing for major artists. But the character of Terry Slingbaum has major echoes of Theirry Guetta, the artist from Banksy's film Exit Through the Gift Shop. Guetta was also real guy, an actual cousin of Space Invader, and really did the things in that doc. What made ETtGS so great was how it played in the gray area between reality and perception. Guetta produced graffiti and art himself, but the extent which Banksy was involved in the production of his art was highly disguised. Much of Guetta's art was really Banksy's (Banksy knocking off his own work).

The conspiracy of Slingbaum One is essentially the same thing, but instead of street art, it's music. Terry Slingbaum is the face of the project just as Theirry Guetta was the face for Banksy's comment on street art, celebrity, and the art world. He might have actually run the studio, facilitating the recording, but I'm suggesting the tracks themselves are written and produced by Del Naja. I listen to these and I hear Massive Attack.

Am I wrong? Maybe! There's no obvious reason why Del Naja would go to all this trouble to obscure himself for this release, if not for the fun of it. If he didn't want it to be a Massive Attack record, he could have put it out under his own name. There are also dozens of artists involved in making this recording, greatly increasing the difficulty in keeping anything sneaky a secret.

At this point. I accept the official story. It, too, is perfectly plausible. A well connected producer could believably want to put out a record like this without any interest in attracting media attention. No conspiracy needed. Not everyone wants to be famous. But I won't be surprised if we learn all this secrecy around this album was in fact concealing an entirely different truth.

In any case, these are three great tracks which sound like Massive Attack playing with the sounds of modern jazz/R&B/soul. If you can find them, I highly recommend it.

Addendum: Another report has connected Jamie Hewlett, co-founder of Gorillaz with Albarn, with ownership of the companies associated with Banksy. While I don't believe Hewlett to be Banksy, I'm not shocked that he's in the mix of Banksy business. Gorillaz, as a fake band, is also very similar to Guetta being something of a Banksy front, or Slingbaum maybe being one also. These are cheeky people who love having fun with this kind of thing.

July 08, 2020

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Introducing the Fantastic Four and X-Men into the MCU

Finally made my first post to Reddit, some super comic nerdery in the MCUTheories sub.

Fantastic Four and X-Men won't be retconned into the MCU. Their time will come for us in five to fifteen years. Keep this in mind: Disney/Marvel want to keep the financial success of the MCU going for as long as possible, so it's in their interest to spread out the big tent pole IPs as long as possible. We just had ~12yrs of Avengers. So we'll get about 10 years of FF and Doom and co. (~2023-2033), and then a good 10 to 15 years of X-Men (2028 and beyond). I can't wait.

Now that they can carefully plan the X-Men/FF introductions, they'll be super clever and assured about it. We'll get all kinds of fun fan baiting and winks and nods. Long before we get any of their movies or shows, we'll meet Professor Xavier, Wolverine, Storm, Reed Richards, Victor von Doom. In the GotG 3 or Thor: LAT end credits, we'll see from a ship window the tiny figure of Silver Surfer zooming through space.

A lot of speculation about the FF seems right. We'll meet Reed Richards as a genius scientist/inventor associate of Fury or Pym long before he becomes Mr. Fantastic. Victor von Doom maybe introduced at the same time. My feeling is that Ant-Man, as a standalone character, has been spread somewhat thin on storylines, which makes AM3 a perfect vehicle for a slight-of-hand first FF film. At least, that's when we'll see the FF experience their accident and gain their powers. It's when we'll see Doom become disfigured and aggrieved at . . . something. By the time Black Panther 2 comes around, Doom will be good and ready to become the great villain we know and love. Wakanda versus Latveria. After that, it really does seem like a good bet Doom will be the first villain to have his own movie (and it'll be a version of the Triumph and Torment story, featuring Doctor Strange and Mephisto).

Galactus seems like a perfect guess for the next Big Bad. Would pull together so well the FF, Doom, Eternals, GoTG, and Captain Marvel. Young Avengers, too. All our heroes and villains on earth needing to work together to save the planet. That's good drama.

I think the X-Men will be the most fun for Marvel to roll out. I'm guessing we'll see the introductions of Xavier, Juggernaut, Wolverine, Storm, and Rogue in the films/shows that have already been announced (2021-2024). Then, around 2026 Marvel will premier an X-Men Disney+ show featuring the original X-men, with Juggernaut as the villain. It'll be a teen drama type series, like Riverdale but with the comedic sensibility of the Spider-Man MCU films. No Magneto, and no saving the world, but instead a relatively low-stakes series of battles with small villains, mainly teens not yet strong in their powers. Charles Xavier vs his brother Cain will be the strongest through-line of each episode. A tv show, instead of a film, gives Marvel a much longer run time to explain mutants and set up their whole world. Plus, as teens, they won't be ready yet to help take on Galactus. We'll be ok with them staying in their Westchester mansion during that whole thing.

But then, around 2032, we get the X-Men movie, in which our teen X-men are now a few years older and stronger, and Xavier has roped in Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Nightcrawler, etc. into a much bigger team, fighting a much bigger villain. Magneto, probably. And probably another B villain or two we've met in the intervening years between now and then. Because we've already been introduced to the whole mutant lore, the film can get right into it, and expand upon the universe right away. It'll be so much fun.

Since we'll be in a post-Galactus MCU, the FF and other heroes will be dropping off and retiring. The stage will be set for the X-Men to take over the MCU. Most other heroes will have had their time, and the x-men universe can get crazy big and expansive.

My timeline guesses are probably wrong by a few years, but this gives us about another 2 decades of films and shows.

May 03, 2020

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The UX of BFUSv8

bfus-may-1-2020.jpg#asset:1825

This is my site. I'm a designer, the UX is terrible, and I like it that way. For now, at least. Let me explain.

I love having a website of my own. I believe everyone should. Ditch Facebook. Walk away from Instagram. Pick a blogging platform that you can run yourself, even host yourself. How you run that website is completely up to you, which is really the whole point. You get to decide what visitors see first, where the contact info is buried, wether or not you allow comments or any kind of interaction at all.

Two decisions have shaped the current iteration of brianfeeney.us. One, I'm assuming very few people are looking for me. If it can be trusted, my analytics put my visitor count at around 15 people a day. Hi! What are you here for? Probably for little more than seeing that yes, I exist, and that is my correct twitter handle. You want more? Click the "More about me" button. There you'll find my portfolio, résumé, and contact email, and links to the other site pages. 

Does anyone really visit to read my blogs? Either the photos or the writing? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ But the links are there if you want them. Which brings me to decision two, which is that I'm assuming if you are interested in my blog stuff, what you probably really want is the RSS feed for following along in whatever reader you use. This is mostly why the blog isn't on index.php, but the RSS icon is set so large. So click that RSS icon and pick the feed or feeds you want. Also, I don't post much or that often, so daily visits or even occasional visits aren't really worth it. RSS is the way to go.

I'd love to redesign and rebuild this site sooner rather than later. In fact, I've redesigned it a few times since launching this version. Just didn't care for the new designs any more than this one, so why rebuild it? I'm sure I'll get the itch to try out the new CSS bits before long. 

May 01, 2020

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Problems with Charter Schools

America’s Charter Schools Have A Commitment Problem

But modern charters are not public schools, and they do not make a public school commitment to stay and do the work over the long haul. They are businesses, and they make a business person’s commitment to stick around as long as it makes business sense to do so. That does not make them evil, but it does make them something other than a public school. And it underlines another truth ― students are not their number-one priority.

I think the perfect metaphor for charter schools are those Magic Eye posters from the 90s. If you stare from a very particular angle, cross your eyes, and focus intently only on what’s right in front of you, you get to see the sailboat.

From a conservative point of view, charter schools are perfect examples of how unregulated markets can improve an industry. Competition is good! The better schools will win and the bad schools will close!

But if you look at charters from any other angle, the problems become crystal clear. What happens to the kids when the schools close? What affect does for-profit financing have on the curriculum, or the design and furnishing of the building? Of the nutritiousness of the kids’ lunches? What does it mean when schools play roles in communities more like Walmarts and less like decades-old public institutions.

When I cross my eyes and look at charter schools from the conservative angle, I get it. They seem great. But it’s now obvious there are a hundred problems which piggyback on the one single solution they offer.

I support higher governmental support for our current public schools. Give our teachers huge pay raises. Double the funding for educational infrastructure. Care about the kids. Forget about “markets”.

April 19, 2018

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