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

Before and After

Many people will see a photographers’ work and say “Wow! You must have a great camera!”

That’s like telling a world class chef that he must have a nice oven.

Waving the camera around is the comparatively easy bit. When you get the photos into the computer, that’s when the magic begins.

Take this photo. Very difficult lighting, the sun through the windows was silhouetting the happy couple. Without blasting the flash and ruining the ceremony, you have to adjust your strategy. I exposed for the outside light knowing that when I adjusted in post the windows would be blown out to white, giving me a beautiful soft glow, correctly exposed faces, and no distracting greenery.

I didn’t stop there. The minister standing between the bride and groom was also far too distracting. Her smiling face was the natural focus of the photo, but I wanted to show the love in the eyes of these two as they gazed at each other. They were the only people in the world at this moment. The minister, a wonderful woman, had to go.

Phil and Kelly - before and after
Click for larger image.

This is where Photoshop skills come in. Removing the minister using a combination of masking and the healing brush, I then clone stamped the window frame and wall in place and adjusted the shading to match the scene. I tweaked the colouring, adjusted the RGB curves, and used some adjustment layers to add warmth. After adding the ribbon and linked rings, I used my favourite script font to add their names in gold, and finished the whole thing with some final tweaks in Perfect Effects. After applying some noise reduction and sharpening, it was done. An hour well spent, and on to the next photo. You cannot do all that with just a camera. Even a great one.

The high resolution version of this ‘after’ photo became the cover for the wedding album.

It is something the happy couple will be able to look back on at their 50th anniversary, and smile.  It is their perfect memory. That was the plan. That is always the plan.

A Toast to the Newlyweds

Last Saturday, May 30 2015, I was asked to be the wedding photographer for two friends. As anyone that has been in this position knows, this rarely ends well. All kinds of things can go wrong, and long-term friendships can turn into long-term bitterness. Fortunately, that is not going to happen here.

Kelly and Phil have been together for some time. They finally decided to tie the knot at the Bethel Community Centre in a low-key event attended by a select group of friends and family. No releasing of doves. No ticker-tape cannons. Just a minister and the people they loved. And it went well. Very well. Continue reading A Toast to the Newlyweds

Time, gentlemen, please!

When I was a boy I spent a lot of time in bars. Specifically, one bar, the Malt Shovel. As a latch key kid I would swing by to meet mom as her shift as a barmaid finished. I would help clear tables, collect ash trays and, occasionally, bat my cow eyes at the stragglers and ask them to bugger off home so I could get out of there.

It is not legal here in Ontario for bars to sell alcohol for take out. In England, back when I was a boy, it was common. Many bars had a separate entrance or window where you could pick up beer without having to actually go in the bar.  It was called ‘out sales’, as in, you take it out.

This was also great for the more enthusiastic drinkers who, having reached the point of being cut off by the bar staff,  would accept banishment gracefully and just take a couple bottles for the walk home, to keep out the cold, doncha know. Very civilized.

Compare that with today. I wonder if that old fashioned style was not a better way. Drunks don’t walk home these days, they drive. That’s not good. Worse, because they can’t get a drink to take out, they stay longer and have those extra drinks at the bar instead. That’s also not good.

So here is my question: Does it make more sense to have out sales, or not? To me, it certainly does. It allows bar staff to move drinkers out without arguments. It makes the roads safer and keeps the patrons happier, since they don’t have to put up with the offensive drunk that just left.

Anyway.  I’m just reminiscing about those long distant days when I stood knee high to a grasshopper and learned far more than I should have from the regulars at the bar. I won’t call them happy days, but do you know what? They were not at all bad.