Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Web Design Trends 2014

Flat and Clean Design 
Yes, simple is once again beautiful. We all remember the monstrosities associated with the dawn of the world wide web in the early 90s such as rainbow colors, animated icons, 3D bevels, and weird textures. As users of the Internet have matured they said "no, thank you" to the superfluous razzle-dazzle. Most people use the internet as a way to get information quickly and efficiently, and they don't want to sift through clutter in order to get to it. Modern websites strive to be clean and well organized; a pleasure to look at and a snap to get from point A to point B. This means flat design with only subtle shadows, gradients, and textures, if any at all, effective use of white space, more boxes, less bubbles and less rounded corners.

Sophisticated Typography 
Fonts have always been underrated. Until Comic Sans showed up on the horizon and made everyone blatantly aware of its misuses, no one really noticed fonts. It was more of a subliminal message in advertising. But now typography is making its great comeback: there is not only more focus on typographical elements when they are featured sometimes as primary design elements (like in the Swiss style or Russian propaganda posters), but they are being used more creatively. Sans Serifs (with Helvetica in the lead) were certainly a big improvement for cleaner designs, but now designers are mixing typefaces to create interesting, effective, and appealing combinations. However you do it, the type must be clean, legible, and objective.

Responsive Design 
Your mobile device is no longer just a phone: it slices, dices, and makes julienne fries... its internet connectivity capacities and larger displays allow for more convenient web browsing. With the mobile device share of website traffic at over 25%, it is becoming imperative that businesses optimize their websites for smaller displays. While smartphones are used primary as a web browsing or research platform, tablet use for making online purchases is expanding as users' comfort levels rise. To prevent alienating a large chunk of the market, web sites are adopting adaptive or responsive designs to eliminate usability issues arising with smaller displays. Big buttons are in; hovers are out. Menus are simplified and downsized. Performance is optimized to give users quicker access to information.  

Full-Width Backgrounds 
Super-sized, high quality images take center stage. This trend's increasing popularity is not only related to aesthetic appeal but also usability and maintenance. The plethora of display sizes and resolutions--from small smartphone screens to large laptop displays--create viewing consistency challenges. A full-width background that stretches and adjusts accordingly to the size of the screen adds stability to the design. Also, large attractive images can appeal to audience pathos and trigger an emotional response strengthening branding and import of the message. The website can easily be updated, refreshed, and revamped by simply changing the background image.

Vertical Scrolling
Vertical scrolling and one page designs eliminate clicks and present content neatly in one spot where it can be accessed by scrolling down the page, which is intuitive, simple, and mobile-friendly. The vertical design opens the door for parallax effects and sticky navigation. Even though there seems to be much buzz about alternative navigation functionalities, at this point we have enough trained users to look for navigational elements on the top and left of the screen, and I think appealing to these conditioned tendencies rather than trying to subvert them is a much more successful strategy.

Social Media Integration
Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Google+, Instagram. . .  they came, and it's pretty clear they are here to stay, so you might as well incorporate social media interactivity into your website and, what's more important, use the exposure to your advantage.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Our Little War

People have been posting sappy pictures with messages about the death of our troops on Facebook. Here's one, "R.I.P. To the 31 US Troops who were killed in Afghanistan yesterday. I bet no one cares enough to repost this to show some respect. This is the real reason for flags at half-staff! I have only seen this posted one time; if it was [sic] a celebrity[,] it would be plastered all over Facebook. What a shame! I reposted out of respect to the fallen heros. God Bless Our Troops." What a piece of blubbering idiocy! I appreciate the sentiment: troops are dying overseas fighting a useless war. Sad. They are the property of the government, but that doesn't mean they should be treated like pawns in the government's game of chess... oh wait, checkers. Honestly, if the government did not send troops to the hostile ass of the world, there would be no fallen troops. What are we fighting for over there? Our freedom? Equality? The end of oppression or tyranny? The assurance of our way of life? None of these the last time I checked. Someone, please, explain to me why we are there. It seems to me that the only reason why the United States decided to start this military operation was to save face. Were we really afraid that the Afghani were going to be a consistent threat?

Ah, but we were attacked: on September 11, 2001 the World Trade Center was taken down by terrorists. What was 911? It was an isolated act of violence against, not a country, but a random group of people (by the way, I worked at WTC when it happened). It did not promise any sustained threats. It was orchestrated to piss Americans off, to force a retaliation. And that's exactly what it did: we got sucked into it like a moth to a flame. We're not even sure whether this attack was foreign or domestic. I wouldn't be surprised if our government did not dip its greedy, corrupt fingers into it.

Was a military response really the best, most reasonable one? It wasn't reasonable because there was no good cause to start a war and because it was not economically sound in our failing economy. Karl Marx labels war the ulti­mate exam­ple of unpro­duc­tive eco­nomic activ­ity and calls it “the direct equiv­a­lent of a nation throw­ing a part of its cap­i­tal into the water.” We consider ourselves an advanced, civilized society, right? And the Afghani are not exactly on the same socio-evolutionary level: their governance system is rather primitive in comparison to ours. Why not respond with reason: open communication to try and understand why they bear this grudge? Wouldn't it be more civil?

Of course, it was a shame that the towers were taken down and that 3,000 people had to die. Any form of terrorism is a shame and should not be permitted. But it is terrorism, and by definition it aims to create fear. And remember what Yoda said? "There's much fear in you" Fear leads to the Dark Side, it leads to evil. Our response only showed that we were no better than them. Are all the Afghani people guilty of ill will towards Americans? No! An isolated, pompous group of extremists. Then why are we terrorizing the entire nation? And why is it that our elite military force we boast of cannot get rid of a relatively small, targeted, primitive group of hostiles? Am I the only one who sees some serious ideological flaws in our government's actions? So no! I don't support this war because I don't understand the cause for it. And no! I am not happy that my tax money goes into paying for it, for widowing women, for making orphans out of innocent children, whose lives wouldn't be any different if their fathers did not die! And yes! it makes me angry to think we're losing innocent lives for nothing.

I do believe that there are wars that are justified. World War II would be one of them. Let's compare! Let's look at the casualties. Let's look at the causes, the countries involved, and the freedom threatened of many, many European nations. 60 million people died in WW2: that's 2.5% of all population. The reason World War II broke out because one nation led by one bloke, Adolf Hitler, decided to successively acquire neighboring countries: he started with Austria, then Czechoslovakia, and then he decided to help himself to Poland. Meanwhile, in Britain, the conservative Mr. Chamberlain continued his appeasement policy: "Let's just give these insignificant East European countries to Hitler. Perhaps he won't bother us." Finally, when Poland stood up for itself and declared war, with Hitler's troops knocking on its own door, Britain finally considered Hitler a threat to all of Europe. There were at least 30 countries directly involved in the conflict. Let me make this perfectly clear: Germany threatened the freedom of the citizens of Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Britain, among others. How was their freedom threatened? Well, he physically walked his troops into those nations and started killing people--soldiers, civilians, people of power, members of the intelligence, clergy, Jews, cripples, people who looked funny to him.... There were battles; there were tanks; there were planes; there were submarines; and ships. It was a full-blown military operation. If the operation were successful, most of Europe would be German! WW2 vs. one, half-assed, isolated act of violence by a couple of suicide (read: desperate) extremists against a country defensively positioned to prevent armed land attacks (with two oceans guarding most of its borders) where 3,000 innocent people were targeted by one angry loony at the head of one terrorist organization who had no means to threaten either the United States or any other nation any more than he already did. Hmm... you decide which one is more justified.

Ah, yes... But we need to look at OUR OWN involvement in WW2. The United States entered the war because Japan attacked Pearl Harbor (otherwise, the US just sat there and watched how the war enfolded... in fact, I don't believe the US sent any troops to help out the allies in Europe until 1944... that's one year before the war ended and 5 years into it). We declared war on December 8, 1941 and fought bravely naval battles with, predominantly, Japan. Hitler was really never a threat to America, but Japan had the military means and the best geographical location to threaten our freedom. Again, Pearl Harbor: 361 Japanese warplanes attack American airfields and shipyards, disabling 19 ships, destroying 200 planes, and killing over 2300 men. Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Malaya, Philippines soon fall to Japan... that means a bigger threat. We responded to an organized military operation that potentially endangered all of our West Coast and revealed a weakness in our defensive position, possible gate through which the enemy could enter the land. Let me add a post scriptum: Germany capitulates on May 7, 1945; the US bombs Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945. Do you detect a slight anachronism here? Not only was Hitler dead and Germany not a threat anymore, but Japan was very much powerless at the time (sans an official surrender). Yet another questionable decision of our government.

Neither Saddam Hussein nor Osama bin Laden have ever had the military means to cause serious damage to any people but their own. The question is, "Is it really our business, if we are not in any way involved?" If you are suggesting that we should enter Afghanistan and Iraq on a humanitarian mission to help the oppressed citizens of those countries, then why didn't we help out the allies in Europe during WW2? Why didn't we help out Rwanda in 1994 to prevent the genocide, when our military help would've saved lives, would've made a difference?

We would all want to believe, especially our soldiers, that our troops are fighting for our freedom. Freedom is not free, you say. Jean-Jacques Rousseau once wrote" "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains." No freedom is not free... not in the United States, and most likely nowhere else: I pay taxes for mine. Albeit, it should be free. It's our fundamental right as human beings. If we are not enslaved by kings and monarchs, masters and oppressors, and our measly employers in this fine capitalistic society, we enslave ourselves by our narrow thinking. It's true! But what I'm saying is that our freedom was never threatened on 911. How was it threatened? Again, it was an isolated act of violence... it's like saying that the shooting at the movie theater was an act of war, that the school shooting in Connecticut was a threat to our freedom, or that the Boston Marathon bombing was a military operation. Hell no! Did the people die in vain? Yes, they did. That's what happens when nut jobs have their way. What do you think the victims would say if you told them, "Hey, we're going to go and start a war to avenge your lives"? They'd say, "I'm dead! You can't bring me back. Why spill more blood? What's done is done. You're out of your mind. And put away that medieval thinking!"

What can we do, you ask? First of all, how about we let our government know how we feel. The Dalai Lama says, "If you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room." The very basis for a democracy is that individual people CAN do something about it because WE control the government. I don't think I have the power to do it by myself. All I can do is create awareness that something is rotten in the state of Denmark and that I disagree with the government's decisions. Would it be better we pulled our troops now? Hmm.... Is it better we remain there and keep losing and taking lives for no good reason? This is why we pay those foreign ministers and advisors, who are (or supposed to be) well-trained in foreign policy: to solve these riddles for us. They got us into this mess; let them take us out. But first we need to make sure the government we support knows that we do not support this expensive, rather futile operation.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Review

Walter Kaufman’s discussion on Goethe, Hegel and Nietzsche in his book, From Shakespeare to Existentialism is illuminating. By the end of the book, however, his insights become less informative and increasingly invidious, irrelevant, and tedious. His chapters on Kierkegaard and Heidegger fail to provide a substantial exposition of the respective philosophical views; instead it focuses on single failings of the philosophers: Kierkegaard is presented as overly, dogmatically Christian and Heidegger, obscure and ambiguous. The book culminates in a tirade against Toynbee taking up what seems like an unnecessarily lengthy discussion (about 50 pages) about a man who is not a scholar, historian, poet, or prophet. If Toynbee has nothing to offer, beyond influence to Americans who don’t know any better, and is rather irrelevant to the topic of existentialism, why bring him up at all? Kaufman’s criticism and scholarship is admirable. But the book lacks aim, focus, and, by its end, objectivity.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Love of Words

I have a special relationship with language. People? Not so much. When I talk, I usually avoid niceties. I get straight to the point, and quite often people think I'm rude or arrogant. They get offended and shy away from me. That's one reason I am somewhat antisocial and choose to remain in my shell. If you can imagine, I lose friends quickly, but the ones I keep I cherish: they are the good ones that have weathered it all, proven their loyalty and love, and I love them for it. I don't complain: one good friend is worth more than a thousand false, two-faced, acquaintances ill disposed towards my persona.

My heightened sensibility to language is probably born out of my multilingual education. My first language was Polish. In third or forth grade I started learning Russian (according to the mandatory elementary school curriculum imposed by our Eastern communist comrades). Then when I was fourteen I moved to the United States, and my rendezvous with English started. Latin was next on the list to learn because, as Thoreau explains, it is impossible to be deliberate in a common tongue. Only when ancient Rome and Greece stopped talking were we able to here the best thoughts of those generations that provided the foundations of Western civilization. So when I look at words, read words, I do not merely translate the visual symbols into sounds: I think about them, analyze them, and relish in them. So when I communicate with people daily, I try to be as brief as possible.

There is a difference between spoken word and written word. Henry David Thoreau tells us that the orator speaks to a mob, but a writer speaks "to the intellect and health of mankind" and to all who can understand him. Our everyday language--words we use to get things done, to communicate simple needs--is not the same as the language of literature. Everyday spoken language is crude, vulgar, brutish,  and transitory. We don't pay attention to how we say things most of the time because we are too familiar with it. Written word or literary language, on the other hand, is deliberate. Writers put effort and energy into what they say. They think about the vocabulary, grammatical constructions, punctuation, and order because they have that luxury.

My economy of spoken word comes from a deep conviction that words should be revered. One should not use them in vain. They make our world possible. Without words our experiences would be meaningless. Words give us a way to describe a world, organize it, explain it, and share it with others.  In fact, they do not only describe the world around us but also create it. Immanuel Kant tells us that all knowledge is not derived from experience: we use the external world in our thinking processes and transform it, using semantic paradigms, into models that make sense to us. In that sense we must admit that the world is somewhat subjective: there are as many worlds as there are minds. Words allow us to partake in the eternal: through them we participate in the history of human race. Maybe it is through words we can feel time.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Heroes Wanted!

We look around lately at the arts and culture, literature and poetry, theater and the cinema and perhaps cannot help but to feel that somehow as a generation we are lagging behind our more accomplished predecessors. Is our age, our (post)modern condition, somehow unprecedented in its artistic mediocrity? Is the age responsible for the impossibility of real genius in the arts today? Or is this condition (if one such exists) perpetuated by our own lack of confidence in our accomplishments?

Walter Kaufmann looks back into history to find some examples of genius or excellence in philosophy, music, and literature. We revere Plato and Aristotle for their philosophy, Mozart and Beethoven for music, and Shakespeare above all for drama, while modern artists wallow in self-pity and burn their works and egos on the altars of futility crying, “Oh, if I were only born in another age!” After all, who are our heroes today? Who do we idolize? Hollywood and mass media teaches us to follow popular trends too readily. Social media further shows our preferences. For example as of today, the most popular on Twitter are Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Barack Obama (the only politician who has wiggled his way into this entertainment pageant). Perhaps the problem lies not in the lack of genius but in the lack of recognition of genius: if a Shakespeare or a Mozart or Aristotle appeared on our culture’s stage, would we even recognize their remarkable talent or would we boo them off the stage?

Although I cannot disagree that popular taste is not the most sophisticated or discriminating nowadays, has it ever been? As Kaufmann explains, Socrates was put to death, Dante was exiled, Van Gogh died a pauper. Are we lacking an elite, a sophisticated audience? Have our tastes disintegrated because of poor education? I don’t believe so. I think we are more starved for quality cultural products than ever–starting with TV programming, news, art, music, cinema ending with philosophy and politics.

Instead of complaining and whining about our inability to live up to the best other ages had to offer, we should confidently march on and pursue our passions because without passion and spunk none of these great men would have made it into the pages of history. Besides, only the future is capable of singling out a generation’s men of genius. So we might as well abandon our anxieties and reach for the stars!