Fun with Photoshop

While developing some new creative techniques in Photoshop I was throwing pixels around to see if I could achieve the effect I wanted. I could. Yay. And as I worked those pixels, for some reason an overheard phrase kept floating into my mind. “We designed it to be so simple a child could use it.”

So I grabbed my pen and started to work anew. I found myself coming up with this concept, which I am now developing for one of the companies in our medical division. It depicts the ease of use of our SaaS and cloud services, avoiding all the usual tech heavy text and sales patter commonly found in such adverts.

This concept is not about bandwidth, capacity, security or features. It’s about how it feels to use the software.

It feels like being a kid again: Like stepping right out of the phone and away from technology: Like working from the beach: Like being a kid running through a field of grass, stress free.

This captures sunshine and freedom and a whole new way of working. Follow our bouncing ball, Pied Piper style, to new horizons and new adventures only made possible by this brave new world. Sorry, went into marketing mode for a minute. In a nutshell, it’s so simple a child could use it. I think I hit my target.

The question is: Does it work? Discuss.

Click to view at a larger size. Feel free to leave comments. Thanks!

Balloon EHR
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Windows 10 New Default Settings May Open Back Doors. Or not.

Like 67 million others in the first week of release, I have upgraded to Windows 10. It was a painless transition which held no real drama – it just worked. I was, however, interested to discover the defaults that the new Microsoft operating system ships with.

The new Microsoft defaults could potentially compromise the security and stability of medical practices and facilities, or indeed of any organization that uses computers.

As many of you know, I author technical blogs for several multinational companies, one of which is the VSS Medical Group, a group of companies specializing in medical software. So what? Well, the product range includes hospital and practice management systems called EHR’s that hold vast amounts of patient health and treatment data, along with associated personal health information (PHI). That prompted me to write this piece, which has already gone out across North America and Canada to all our subscribers.

In a nutshell, then, this is what you need to know.

Windows-10Windows 10 introduces automatic updating by default. Updates will occur when Microsoft says they will. This is good, in that any zero day patches for serious issues will be rolled out automatically, protecting the entire Windows using population even while they sleep. That is pretty amazing. It could be problematic, however, if Microsoft decides to reboot all your office computers during the working day. Imagine a power outage. Same result. In a hospital, that could even be fatal.

You can override this new default and set your own schedule, and I will show you how to do this further on.

This version of Windows also introduces peer-to-peer updates. Yes, just like BitTorrent. Up until now all updates have come from the dedicated servers at Microsoft. This new default really changes this playing field. Here’s how it works now.

Rather than all updates downloading from Microsoft, they are now by default pulled from and shared with the strongest connection offering the fastest available download source. That source could be your other PC’s, or a computer down the block. Conversely, others can get their updates from your PC. Note that.

This is fantastic news if, as in our home here at Gyst Towers, there are a half dozen computers scattered around. Rather than each computer having to download massive individual updates, any update is only downloaded once, to the first PC. The rest of the computers on the networks then share that update among themselves, saving huge amounts of extra download time and bandwidth. Pretty neat.

This will be advantageous in a medical practice (or any organization) with multiple computers on their own internal network. However, it is in principal no different than having a virus: A software patch that spreads automatically across your network and updates all your computers without your knowledge. You may find this to be of concern. I do. And I know many IT administrators that are already losing sleep over this. Because bad guys are good at finding holes.

The update system has been extensively tested by Microsoft and is undoubtedly robust and secure. But. Bad guys find new ways into secured computer systems every day. From that, it is not a huge leap to foresee a malicious update finding its way into computers through this new update system. If such a thing happens the results could, no, would be catastrophic. Review the data breach headlines for 2015. Of course, it may never happen. But…it could.

Fortunately, this default too can be changed. Here’s how.

Click your snazzy new Start Button (hooray!) and then Settings. Click ‘Update & security’. If not selected, click the Windows Update tab over on the left. Then back in the centre choose Advanced options. This is where you set how your updates are installed.

I suggest setting this to ‘Notify to schedule restart’. This will notify you when an update is available and let you avoid those automatic midday restarts mentioned earlier. You can schedule a more convenient time, say during the evening when the office is closed. Note well, you are now responsible for your own updates. Keep an eye out for notifications or you could miss an important one.

Next, look a little further down the same screen to find ‘Choose how updates are delivered’. Click that to turn on or off ‘Updates from more than one place’. After reading the provided explanation of the benefits of this new system, you will want to turn this OFF if you are paranoid. Frankly, you should be if you are handling medical data and PHI. HIPAA will be proud of you. Even if you are not, you may want to close this potential loophole. Doing this will ensure all your updates come from Microsoft and only from Microsoft. If you have a network of computers, you can instead leave this set to ON, and click the radio button which says ‘PC’s on my local network’. That offers the best of both worlds: You only download from Microsoft, but your computers will share each update between themselves.

The new defaults are now modified and you can go about your day.

Windows-10I have found Windows 10 to be solid, extremely fast, reliable and a pleasure to use. The upgrade was amazingly smooth and went without a hitch. This was an absolutely phenomenal achievement for any company. Microsoft effectively upgraded the whole world overnight, and did it with nary a noticeable hitch. Kudos to them. With the small exception of these new default settings and the concerns they raise, I can whole-heartedly say the experience has, for me, been exceptional. I am enjoying the new features immensely.

P.S. – I have spoken with some people that have expressed concern that the Windows 10 upgrade would affect some of their web or cloud-based services. Be reassured. The upgrade only affects your own computer(s). Cloud solution are unaffected, as your provider is the one hosting the service and all your data. You simply log in via your web interface as before: No change to any files or way of working. Business as usual. Nice.


Sig Cube on Metal Plate

Another experiment in 3D rendering, this cube takes my existing Cube concept to a whole new level. A different direction, a new look. I like it. I like it a lot.

The flexibility offered by adding dedicated 3D software into my repertoire is amazing. Not so much for photo realistic renders, I’m not interested in that. For design. I can use the techniques I am developing here for a huge range of possibilities.

For example, I discovered that this Cube looks just as amazing from the inside. Standing on one of the letters and looking up, it looks like a cityscape scene right out of a Lego movie. Just add characters. Or, the view from inside a toy box. Add a youngster raising the lid and staring down in wonderment. It’s just a matter of scale.

Using 3D software I can take this cube and render it anywhere, at any size, under any lighting conditions. I can break it apart, hide faces, view it from any angle, any distance. And I can do this for any cube, not just this one. Different words. Different worlds.

I used Illustrator, Blender 3D, and Photoshop to create this. Finding the best workflow to use these together was a learning curve of design decisions. Now I have that workflow down, I can recreate this or anything like it at will. That could prove very useful. It’s a valuable skill set that I’m glad I spend time developing.

Suddenly it seems there are no limits to what I can achieve.


How cool is that?

(Click this photo for the even bigger picture. You’ll be glad you did.)

Click for larger image. Really, please, click it!
Click for larger image. Really, please, click it!

Windows 10…9…8…

I updated my PC to Windows 10 on the same day it launched.
This is how it went.

First, I was impatient. Like the rest of the world, I clicked that little white Windows icon in the system tray, and it told me I could click to be notified when Windows 10 was available. Huh. I went into the Windows Update section of Control Panel to see for myself and perform any other updates. That’s when I saw that the Windows 10 update had actually been tried twice. And failed. Double huh.

I figured that maybe the download had failed because of the massive bandwidth pulling on the MS servers. The whole world was trying to get this update at the same time, after all, so that made sense. It would have sorted itself out over time, when the MS update system rolled itself around to it. But that could take hours. Days. Weeks. Triple uh uh. I chose not to wait for Microsoft to tell me when I could update. I forced it.

The way to do that (and if you choose to try this yourself, you do so at your own risk) is to put the Windows updater into a position where it does not see those failed updates. That makes it think the update was never attempted, so it pulls the download again and tries to install again, thinking it’s the first time. Sneaky, eh?

All Windows updates are downloaded into a specific folder – C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download – and the system runs them from there like any other installation file. Deleting all the files and folders within this folder (again, entirely at your own risk, I’m not taking the blame for you messing your computer up!) is step one to fooling the updater. Step two requires a command prompt with Admin privileges. In Windows 7 and upwards, right click your start button and select Command Prompt (Admin).  In the box that opens (the command prompt), we manually force the Windows updater to scan for updates, by typing: wuauclt.exe /updatenow and hitting Enter.

If you did this right, a window will open and you will see the magical phrase “Windows 10 Downloading”. This will take some time. It’s a huge download, the size of which is variable depending on your own setup, but no less than 3Gb. Tip: If you are on dialup or slow connection, forget it. Have a friend download the ISO installer and run it from a CD or USB stick instead.

In my case, I have to say the installation failed two more times. I had to download the full Windows 10 three times before I got as far as the first “Click to install” screen. That was a 5Gb, a 4Gb and a 3Gb download respectively. Good job I have a great Internet connection and no cap on traffic. It seems that for each download a portion of the update was applied before failing. I was in essence updating a little at a time. And that was fine, because the third time was the charm, and I was on my way.

The actual installation went without a hitch. It took around 40 minutes. Files were extracted, Windows components were updated and configuration settings transferred. All without user intervention. All without a hitch. This was a very pleasant surprise.

When the PC rebooted into Windows 10 it performed some final tweaks, and that was it. Done. Every program on my computer still worked. All their settings were kept. Everything just worked. No reinstalls required. No files lost. And the new features? Amazing. But that’s another story. The speed increase was phenomenal. My computer is already fast, but after this upgrade it’s like a new machine. The search function alone makes the upgrade worth it. I have eight big hard drives. Finding a file is now as easy as pie. As fast as I can type the results come up.  My whole system is indexed, properly. Truly phenomenal.

For a guy used to fixing problems caused by updates and making old programs work with new operating systems, it was in many ways disappointing. I felt a little cheated. I had nothing to do. No cleanup. No registry hacks. No driver re-installs. One final reboot and my graphics card was automatically updated with a Windows 10 compatible driver and I had both my screens up and running. No sweat. This was great! But also…not great!

How can I make money fixing computers that aren’t broken? This is serious! I may have to sue Microsoft for lost earnings.


This tree comes with a kitchen

In the last post I wrote about the beautiful tree we bought, which coincidentally came with a house. This is an update.

The keys were dropped off yesterday. We threw some bits and pieces in the back of the car, and spent the night on the hardwood  floor of the empty living room. We woke to birds singing and sunlight streaming through the shuttered window blinds. Nice.

We took a bottle of wine with us to celebrate our first night in the house. We drank the wine from the engraved goblets we were given as a wedding gift by David and Tiff (Nikki’s son and daughter-in-law). The same goblets that we took on our honeymoon road trip. The same ones we use on each anniversary, and the same ones we will use to celebrate every major event in the future.

Nikki loves the kitchen, it’s her favourite room. A new gas stove, a new fridge, and easy-close cabinet doors throughout, lots of them. Un-slammable. Try as hard as you can, they just whisper silently shut. Throw in the Lazy Susan, the double sink and the pantry, and I seriously worry I may never see Nikki in any other room: It’s big enough to put a bed in. Shh. Don’t give her ideas.

I don’t have a favourite room, I kinda like them all. But I am looking forward to taking my first bath in ten years. Showering is efficient and quick, but there is nothing quite as relaxing as soaking in a tub for an hour and coming out pink, wrinkly, and stress free. The bath in this house is deep enough to do that, so I am going to the store today to buy a rubber duck. Maybe the bathroom will grow to be my favourite. Time will tell. I look forward to finding out.

Click for larger image

We Bought A Tree

Dear diary, today the edible Nikki and I bought a ten year old Japanese Red Maple. For my UK peeps, that’s a tree. This fine specimen of Mapledom reaches for the sky in every shade of flaming fire red the mind can imagine and outshines even the blazing noon sun of a Canadian Summer. The leaves glow with rebirth, new life, and the promise of summers yet to be, and it is very beautiful.

We paid a good price for our tree. Some may think we paid more than we should.  But that’s not fair. They don’t realize that this tree came as part of a package. To buy this particular tree, we had to suck it up and agree to buy the four bedroom house that came with it.

So we did.

Our House (cue Madness riff, long live Suggs) is on a 40′ by 165′ lot that we have big plans for over the next however many years, starting with a raised rear BBQ deck and a vegetable garden. One day, maybe even a pool. There is a full basement, and my first planned purchase is a beer fridge, and that beer fridge will sit right beside the spot on the wall where I will lovingly mount the dartboard I have kept in storage for many years, waiting for just this very day. Nikki wants a push mower. I love her very, very much.

The front of the house has a veranda which looks across the front yard to our Japanese Red Maple. We plan to spend many years sitting on that porch in rockers, watching our tree grow and waving at the ships passing through the Welland Canal at the end of our street, as they ply their way to the four corners of the earth.

104 Bell Street-8

It took many years and a lot of blood sweat and tears to get here. We earned this. This has been a long time coming. This is us, hitting the slopes of Mount Retirement. As we slide down that slope we aim to add wheels, to make the slide even more uncontrollably fun.

Once we have a garage (second major purchase), I want a ride on lawn mower (because that’s a big-ass yard!), then a snowmobile, a boat, a Seadoo, a motorbike or two and, if I survive long enough to make it happen, a Batmobile. ‘cos why the hell not?  Think big.

Well, that’s the next twenty years planned for. Now we just have to figure out how to make it happen. And that, my dear readers, is all going to be part of the fun. Yay. Retirement, here we come.

Run Me Over. I Double Dare You.

A good advert can stop traffic. A really good advert can make traffic too scared to pass. This, I say, is a really good advert.

Designed for my own company, GYST Services, it gets the message across in a highly visual and effective way. It says that small can be powerful, and versatile, and aggressive. It says we got game. And it says we can hold our own against the big boys, and win. Just like GYST, in fact.

Here, it’s Muscle Car vs Cube. Cube wins. Cube always wins.

And it speaks the truth: Never underestimate the stopping power of a well-placed advertisement. Want one? 🙂


Something Old, Something New. Something Vintage

I don’t get as much time as I would like to work on personal projects. Well, strictly speaking I do, it’s just that I have to be in the right frame of mind, and that can be elusive after a solid day in front of the camera / computer doing the commercial work that pays the bills.

I composited this image from several source images, not all of them ideal, but I made it work. The shot of Whitby harbour was taken the last time I was there, from the famous Abbey walls, home of the Dracula legend. The view from here really is quite breathtaking and I recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

While in Whitby you should check out the Magpie restaurant. Famous nationwide for the best Fish and Chips, and most of the TV crews that film around the area eat here, so you may bump into someone famous. You can see the Magpie in this image if you look closely. I can. Follow my eyes. I’m looking right at it!

Little Whitby
Click to see this image in its full glory

When the composite was finished I tried to come up with a colour tone that set it off to best effect. I maxed saturation, tried photo filters, HDR and high contrast, low and high key variations. All the usual variations. None of them worked for me, and since this is my project I wanted it to look my way, so I kept going until I came up with this retro look. I like.

Intended to look aged, as though clipped from an old newspaper and stored in an attic for almost a hundred years. For some reason, that resonated with me and seemed the best look for this image. I guess that’s the frame of mind I’m in today. All good. Enjoy.

WIP v 2.0

My last post showcased a work-in-progress (WIP) for one of the many companies I work with. For each company I routinely have many folders full of collateral to call upon, and for each I always have at least one WIP. Here’s why.

Any creative brief leaves much room for interpretation.  It’s my role to interpret what is asked for, choose a path to that ultimate goal, and then create something wonderful. It’s on me to make the client go “Wow!” And that brings with it both a challenge and an opportunity. This is all part of the joy of design.

The challenge is to visualize exactly what the client means when they say something like “I want something dynamic!”. That broad concept and what it means to me, may not be what it means to the person speaking. Dynamic can mean interactive, or giving the impression of motion. I have, in fact, seen this very sentence yelled out lout, accompanied by a palm slamming onto a table. I even once watched as a CEO did a little Superman impression complete with accompanying “Whoosh!” flying sound. I kid you not.

Those are the clients that don’t really know what they want, and do you know what? They don’t need to know. They just want me to pull something amazing out of my hat. And that’s where the opportunity comes in.

In the absence of specific guidelines, you need to come up with your own starting point. Make your own design decisions. Choose the direction and the meaning of what you create. Many of my clients want me to come up with all the ideas. That’s fine. I actually prefer it.

I usually begin by asking for two colours. Then I ask for two or three words which encapsulates the message they want to send. That could be about the company itself (Dynamic! Forward thinking!), or about the product they want to promote (Reliable! Innovative!). That’s when I start throwing pixels.

Starting with the base colours provided, it’s sketch time. What do those two or three words say to me? How can I make that message into something visually pleasing that will attract the target audience of Joe (or Joan) public? Is it a sales message? Informational? Who is this aimed at and what do they want to see? What will pull them in?

Starting with a blank page I can spend a lot of time putting together concepts which are ultimately thrown away, because for whatever reason they don’t quite work. That time is not wasted however, since it helps to polish the process, and zones in on the final choice of concepts. Now, some have likened this process to a sculptor starting with a square block of marble and throwing away the marble chips as he works, revealing the finished statue. That’s far too pretentious to my way of thinking, so forget that, but on a practical level it is true that throwing away all the good concepts created along the way would be wasteful. Though they may not work for this particular project, they may be perfect for the next. That’s where WIP folders come in.

Click to view larger image

The previous post showed one such WIP concept, a car representing a company. Compare that image with the one in this post. Same idea. Different product, different company, different look and feel. But for this company, this concept works.

Many creative artists and designers have also had the unhappy experience of putting their hearts and souls into a project, only to have it dismissed out of hand by the client when they present it. I feel your pain, I’ve been there. I think all of us have.

What I want to say to those on the receiving end is simply this: If you haven’t already, put your cast-off designs into a WIP folder of your own. When you have time, revisit it. You may find another angle, another inflection, another use. If not, you can play with the design, develop it further. Practice. And play.

Play is the oil that keeps the wheels of imagination turning. There I go being pretentious again. But it’s true. Keep on keeping on. Your WIP folders serve as your source of both inspiration and reassurance: When you look back on them you know your work is good.  Use your WIP concepts to reflect on old and new projects, and to get your creative ideas flowing. Often, you will find they serve as a launch pad for new and even better creative ideas.

And that springboard will lift you to new creative heights.


This discarded concept is an unfinished work-in-progress developed for one of the companies for which I design the advertising art.

Yellow and black are our corporate colours. The concept centres around the recurring phrase “If it was a <this> it would be a <that>, where the thing it would be represents either a feature of the software, or spoke to the quality of the product.

The plan here was to roll out a new concept in this line each week using a new tagline to match the updated art. It was intended to make people to look forward to each new ad, and have them watch keenly for every new distinctive yellow and black advert, keeping their interest and building product awareness.

This type of campaign is a good concept, one that I have used to great success on other campaigns. This one, however, didn’t see the light of day. I may go back to it someday to put the finishing touches to it but right now it’s just gathering electronic dust in the WIP folder of my collateral library. Came across it today again while doing my month end backups and reorganizing.

Rather than just keep it sitting on my hard drive I thought I would share it here and let it see daylight. Fire up the engine and take it out for a spin, so to speak. Hope you like!

If Sigmund Software was a car, it would be a Mustang
Click to view larger image