29 Apr
   Filed Under: Announcement, IconResource, Personal   

Some doubted it would ever come. Some said it had been seen riding unicorns in misty valleys in the Scottish highlands. Others had seen it teaching design techniques to Duke Nukem, seemingly Forever. But today, the vapor has condensed.

Icon Resource 2 is actually here.

It’s great, because today is also my birthday. The best present I could give myself is bringing Icon Resource 2 to all existing members and welcome new members to the website.

As interest for techniques in iOS icon design has grown considerably, Icon Resource now has a small sibling in iOS Resource, which (for now) teaches you iOS icon design techniques, but will soon rise up next to its brother with full fledged tracks on scalable UI design and other techniques that are essential in designing for iOS.

If you are an existing members, you will get several new advanced level courses in icon design for free. You should get an email soon with new login information that gives you access to the member area. If you have not received an email by tomorrow, do drop me a line (twitter also works). I hope you enjoy all the new content, and I will update this new platform more this year with free new content.

14 Mar
   Filed Under: Drawing, Personal   

In the category of ‘mobile computing that never made it’ and ‘things the iPad utterly killed’, the UMPC is (was?) a term for very small PCs that can do everything your average laptop or desktop can, but in a small form factor. Since PC makers figured the small size and ‘cutting edge’ technologies they put in them (200+ DPI screens, fingerprint readers, 3G) demanded a premium, UMPCs were often a $1200+ market, which also explains why they never caught on.

Now that the smoke on the mobile computing battlefield has cleared, though, one can pick through the remnants and find a good deal on what is interesting technology. It’s easy to be discouraged by all the lemons and genuinely weird micro-PCs, but I’ve also found a little gem in there. And that bulky, funny looking gem is the Vaio UX.

Continue reading…

10 Dec
   Filed Under: Apple, Personal   

I own a Mac Pro, the beefiest and most user-serviceable of all Macs, and I love it for a multitude of reasons. Out of all the reasons, my favorite thing remains being able to replace parts of it myself like you would with a tower PC. And when my second Apple-sanctioned Nvidia 8800GT died, I did just that: I took out the old card and stuck in the then-best shipping graphics card that works with Mac OS X: the ATI Radeon HD5770. I got a lot of questions from people on how well it performs, how silent it is, and more, so here’s a little post about the card that can.

Gaming on the Mac is certainly not as common or well-supported as it is on Windows, but the HD5770 handles whatever you throw at it quite well. I still have to adjust to it, though: the HD5770 is not a brand-new top-tier graphics card, like the card I use in my Mac Pro for gaming under Windows (the HD5970), and can sometimes have issues with the latest games at 30″ monitor resolution (2560×1600 pixels -are- a lot to push around).

As for the PC enthusiasts that often sneer at the Mac GPUs ( – “What, doesn’t STEVE want you using *illegal* cards in your Mac? Sniff! Why buy the expensive Apple card?!” ), I have to explain that Mac OS X compatible GPUs require EFI / EBC firmware on their ROM chips to be initialized for use under OS X. This is not something you can just ‘hack together’: the cards’ ROM chip needs the extra space to have a (Windows) BIOS-compatible and (Mac) EFI-compatible firmware on there, and even then Apple has to make drivers that lets you use the card to perform well. Apple would, of course, love it if everyone could just drop a good GPU in there, as it’d just make the Mac Pro more attractive to consumers. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. On the bright side: you can do that just fine with hard drives, eSATA controllers, USB cards, firewire cards, most audio cards, and so on.

Despite that, it performs great. Fortunately for Mac owners that enjoy gaming, most titles that run on Macs can be shown in full detail on 30″ / 27″ displays using the HD5770. And best of all: it remains almost perfectly silent. You won’t be hearing it rev up the fans like the old 8800GT, completely nullifying Apple’s care to acoustics in the rest of the computer (my Mac Pro nary makes a sound).

It’s easy to connect; the card has my requisite dual-link DVI (for all ‘typical’ LCDs and the 30″ Cinema Display I use) and two mini Displayport outputs, for the LED Cinema Display and other DP monitors. It uses a single 6-pin cable from the Mac Pro motherboard to supply extra power, which is the same as my old Nvidia 8800GT, although the HD5770 is far more efficient: it draws far less power when idle, for instance.

The only two issues I have with the card are the price, as it’s about 75 dollars above the ‘street price’ of a PC HD5770, which is unacceptable for a larger ROM chip and some firmware and the requisite Mac Pro motherboard cable. I understand ATI may have to produce these cards in smaller runs, but it’s a big chunk of cash on top of what is normally 135 dollar card. The packaging sort of makes up for it:

(yes, that’s a little Sony Vaio UX UMPC. With OS X on it. Blog post coming? Hell yes!)

The other issue is grapical glitches in Minecraft. Somehow, despite having excellent performance, Java OpenGL graphics are a terrible mess. I suppose this isn’t as much an issue with the card as it is a matter of the Java runtime, but the artifacts are awful.

Overall verdict:

8/10. If you’re in the market for a graphics upgrade, I’d check out how well the now-finally-shipping HD5870 compares in terms of pure bang for your buck. If you’re using all the extra power pins on your Mac Pro motherboard already (check!), and need an affordable replacement for Nvidia’s horrible, unreliable cards and crash-prone drivers (especially in Photoshop – check!), this is a no-brainer. And you can use the box for… well, I don’t know. Storing cats.

03 Nov
   Filed Under: Personal   

Boy, it’s been a while. I really need to update everyone on what’s up and what’s coming up.

- I’ve been working hard for the Mothership for the last months (hence the blog silence) and really enjoying the big workload. I’m very thankful to work with a lot of extremely talented people.

To get misunderstandings out of the way: I have not closed up shop, I have not relocated, and I am not working on Mac OS X Lion. Phew! This is also the reason I am not doing UI roundups and the likes for iLife ’11 or doing elaborate commentaries on Apple products. I’ll announce what I’ve worked on when it’s released, though!

- There will be new designs for Icon Designer, Cocoia and this blog next year!

- Icon Resource 2 is still very much being developed! Due to Retina Display and other new developments I’ve added some more material to the curriculum which piled on the delay. I’m wrapping things up for this year, so you can spend 2011 making awesome icons and interfaces. I apologize for the delay, but it’ll be worth it.

- I’ve been doing a video series on Minecraft. Check it out: the newest part, due out this week, will be very intense. A teaser:

Check out the full series here.

- Remember Composition? Vaguely perhaps? There’ll be news on that. It’s out of my hands, since I’ve been unable to complete it, but… well, I’ll save the good news for when it’s applicable.

- Speaking of old posts: I’ll be hitting up Dreamhack Winter 2010 again, thanks to sponsors like Intel, HP and others who are facilitating Pack4Dreamhack (with full press access!). Are you there? Let’s meet! I’ll be doing another ‘packing’ post and a report from the floor.

- And, of course, there’s some neat blog posts coming up. Good Old Games on extremely small touchscreen devices? Check! Pointers on Android UI design? Check! And (hopefully) showing off some work I have been doing for a PC / PS3 / Xbox 360 game.

10 Mar
   Filed Under: How-To, Personal   

I was asked to answer a few questions from you all on the Design Tea podcast, right on the heels of Tim van Damme.

(pardon the random image from the movie)

You can watch the whole thing here. If you do have more questions feel free to leave them in the comments. Thanks to Linebreak for having me.

09 Mar
   Filed Under: Personal   

I tend to be harsh on Flash a lot, and I dislike it as much as the next standards-advocating (and technologically savvy) Mac user. Since I like putting my money where my mouth is, I decided to try going into February and not use Flash even once during all of its 28 days, inspired by Michael Heilemann‘s initiative to do the same. He even logged his difficulties, which I haven’t and won’t be doing.

Flash Free

For me, the conclusion after February was clear. I missed out on a few things that annoyed me intensely. Most of the things I missed out on were videos on websites like TED and the New York Times. I had some catching up to do after February. With the help of ClicktoFlash and Youtube and Vimeo’s HTML5 players I was able to watch most of the video content out there, but there is still a lot that you can’t watch without that little plugin. I also ‘missed out’ on a truckload of so-called ‘rich advertisements’, which I absolutely adored.

But the problem of going through your digital life without Flash it’s not just videos on otherwise accessible websites. Try browsing for motion design agency showreels and websites for new games without Flash. Some industries have a vested interest in Flash because it is a mature platform for graphic websites, despite advances in HTML + CSS + Javascript. And I can imagine; the Flash-less approach doesn’t only break down in some browsers, it’s simply not mature yet. Take a look at the current Macheist page. At the time of this writing, it is using 65 to 70 percent of the processing power in my early 2008 Mac Pro, equipped with eight Xeon cores.

Worse still, people hail these Flash-free websites as progress and the road to the future. With terrible performance and compatibility like that, I prefer Flash, despite its drawbacks and proprietary nature. Actually using these technologies and advacing the state of the art is great, but I hope it doens’t put these upcoming standards in a bad light. It’s worth noting, however, that a lot of these techniques are in their infancy.

I’ll be happy with a more efficient and well-performing Flash plugin for Mac, but what I want above everything is a access to the of data that is used by web plugins. It’d be great if I would’ve been able to at least view the motion agencies’ showreels (which are all in Quicktime) and read a bit about games or view some screenshots without requiring a plugin. If I do want to opt into the so-called ‘rich’ web experience, I’ll use Flash, Silverlight, or Web Plugin #4512 to render blinking text and videos projected onto cubes which fall down the screen and bounce around using realistic physics.

Microsoft Labs is doing great things with Silverlight that aren’t possible with Javascript and modern standard-based technologies (yet?), like Pivot, which was demonstrated at TED this year (Flash video – sigh). Pivot’s data, however, for at least half of the video, is the actual web, built on standards and accessible to any technology. This way, if another superior technology comes by or a plugin is no longer supported, anyone can harness the power of the existing data to replicate or even improve on the functionality that we’re so accustomed to. I like that.

There is nobody stopping you from making an iPad or iPhone application using Core Animation which browses Wikipedia like Pivot does – try doing that with all the video that is on the internet.

In conclusion, I’m actually happy to use Flash again to get at all the content I want. I’m equally happy to have missed out on the drawbacks of Flash. While before February I was convinced Flash had no place in the world, I am now a bit more relaxed about it. Flash has its place – but we shouldn’t lose track of the real goal: making the data we want to interface with accessible regardless of the technology I have on my computer, be it a phone, tablet, or PC.