A simple square framing an album can tell you so much about its contents, from its genre to who the artist is. Unlike books, which tend to be in this state of publisher flux of what’s on the covers, albums seem to be in this eternal state of stagnation. This gives the artist and producers only one chance to capture the essence of the album in on their first go.
Today I want to talk not about albums that already exist, but albums that should exist because of some clever designer that decided to try their hand in album art. This post is an exploration in the stories told through a simple one-by-one square
Each one tells a different story, and I bet you guessed the genre off of the album too. Yeah some are jokes like the “Jeb.” parody of Kendrick Lamar’s “Damn.,” or the beaten horse of Loss edits, but that doesn’t take away from the atmosphere each cover provokes. “Hank” has the essence of a solo country album. “Momma Said Knock You Out” by the concussions holds the spirit of hip-hop in it. “Starman” comes off as an electronic heavy album, probably with a lot of synths.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, but a picture says a thousand words. Each of these squares, with a little clever editing can tell a whole story inviting you into its world.
My job is in utility engineering, primarily in transmission lines. Working on projects that are several miles long and expand all across a city has brings upon its own challenges. Our lines have to be designed not only with real tangible constraints such as the voltages and required clearances that go with them in mind or the tension applied to the conductor, but also constraints that have no true physical form, like property lines.
This back and forth between physical constraints and property lines makes an interesting dance of design. Your line could be perfectly suited to be built as cheap as possible for the given weather, but if a property owner says you can’t build on their land your whole design could fall apart. Now you have to account for the laws of physics and the laws of the land.
A recent instance of this happened a few weeks ago at work. A property owner wanted us to steer clear of their land, but there literally was no other way to go about it. So a compromise was made: I would set the poles just out of their property boundary, and to make sure that our conductor had a zero percent chance of ever falling onto their property I would design the poles to have arms as long as possible. Normally this is fine, but this property was wrapped along a bend in a road.
Depending on how the conductor is wired the supporting structures will either undergo a pushing or pulling force into it, which causes the moment within your pole to increase, which then means you have to build a bigger pole with a bigger foundation, which mean that your foundation might end up encroaching on somebody’s land anyways. It pushed me between a rock and a hard place. Fortunately with a lot of fine tuning I was able to get the foundations just out the property lines.
Every field of engineering has its own set of unique constraints, utility engineering’s is a dance between the fundamental laws of nature and the legal laws of the land.
I love checklists, there’s something so rewarding about marking things off and seeing the number of tasks go down to zero. This love of checklists stemmed out of my discovery of the bullet journal method when I was on a quest to organize my life back in 2014. Bullet journalling was a lifesaver, and I used it for over three years straight. However it wasn’t without its faults: the notebooks I used were small but still bulky, organization could be tricky, and I had a really bad habit of never looking at the previous week’s pages which caused me to miss overdue tasks. But that all changed when I discovered Todoist.
Todoist is a task manager for people who love getting to inbox zero. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing ten tasks to do in the morning, and by the end of the day having that number brought down to zero.
I love seeing this… … being brought to this.
On top of its inbox zero way of task management, todoist has a terrific natural language system that allows you to write down tasks like you would in your daily planners. Unlike other apps where you usually have to fill in multiple boxes for task title, task category, and due dates, Todoist lets you write it all out in plain old English, with using hashes to quickly assign a task to a project. It’s literally as simple as sending a Tweet.
Adding a task is as simple as sending a tweet.
Todoist does lack in having a proper calendar tool, and they are aware of this. Instead the team at Todoist opted in for a clever way to integrate Google Calendar. By allowing Todoist permission to use your Google Calendar you can set tasks way in advanced and review them at will just be selecting the Todoist calendar. Even better this calendar has two-way integration, which means if you make a change to a task in Todoist the calendar will update, and if you change the due date for a task in Google Calendar Todoist will catch that and change it accordingly.
The back and forth communication between Google Calendar and Todoist might be the most clever use of Google Calendar I have seen.
Finally my favorite feature – that I am ashamed to admit I just recently discovered after months of use – is the filtering system. Todoist’s default view displays all your tasks for the day, which can be overwhelming, especially when it’s a mix of work, side projects, and personal tasks. But the filtering system changes everything! Todoist allows you to set custom filters, that will only display the tasks you want to see at the moment. With really simple setup and a quick tap of a button you can easily swap between what tasks you do and don’t want to see.
Todoist a wonderfully intuitive and smooth task manager that simplifies and streamlines a lot of issues found I have faced with other apps. As much as I loved my bullet journal, Todoist has become my primary app for getting things over the past few months. If you are the kind of person who has to bring your inbox down to zero, Todoist the right app for you.
What’s your favorite task manager and what do you love about it?
Reddit is a wonderful place, a place where anybody can build a community around whatever topic they’re interested in. From Star Wars, to women’s issues, to even Tim & Eric like content and funny short videos, reddit is a wonderful resource for finding people with similar interest of yours and building a community around it.
Reddit can be a powerful tool, sometimes too powerful for its own good and can easily become a time sink of distractions and procrastination. However its unique community building also allows communities of productivity junkies like myself to contribute and take tips from. Below is a list of my favorite self improvement and productivity based subreddits and what they focus on.
/r/Productivity – Exactly what it says on the tin. This subreddit is great for reading up on useful tips of keeping tasks in order and getting things done, along with asking the community for advice about troubles you’re facing in your systems.
/r/GetDisciplined – Get Disciplined is all about how you can build healthy and strong habits to live the life you want to live. It is the sister subreddit to /r/GetMotivated, where Get Motivated focuses on inspiration and igniting the spark of action, Get Disciplined focuses on the habits required to sustain that motivation and turning it into habits you don’t need to think twice about.
/r/Entrepreneur – You don’t have to be building a business to browse here. Entrepreneurship requires so many things to launch a project, from self discipline to personal and team management, finances and more. The entrepreneur subreddit is a perfect place to learn from those bringing their projects to life and to learn from their lessons and experiences in getting things done.
/r/GiveMe40Days – A bulletin board for you to post your next big goal. Give me 40 days is a great subreddit for making your goals public and holding yourself accountable.
/r/PersonalFinance – Although not a productivity subreddit perse, knowing how to manage and grow your money can make or break how you spend your time. Having a strong focus on money management is key to keeping your life in order, and knowing how to focus your time. A strong knowledge of your expenses relieve stress, allowing your mind to focus on things that matter to you.
I have a long list of subreddits I find useful for learning new ways to improve myself, those are just a few that I think can help anyone looking to improve their life and get things done.
What are your favorite subreddits for fulling your goals?
Over ten years ago, back when I was a naive teenager before I even had a license to drive I embarked on my first writing project. Well “writing project” is a bit of a strong phrase, honestly it was just two teenage boys screwing around on Steam chat daydreaming and sorta role playing an epic scifi story about a totalitarian government, secret organizations, time travel, and a rag-tag group of rebels fighting against the system to restore order.
My friend and I wrote the story in what we thought was a clever way. I would write the POV of the protagonists, he would write the POV of the antagonists, and we’d attempt to surprise each other with throwing curve balls the other had to write their way out of. In hindsight this was more of a role playing session between two dorky fifteen year old boys who played too much Half Life 2 and were too “cool” to use the word role play. Now as a twenty-six year old dork who plays DnD every Monday I have no shame using the phrase role play.
The characters names in the story were heavily inspired by The Matrix and the Metal Gear Solid series: they had real names, but the always went by their code names, the real names were just there to fill in their backstories.
On my side I wrote primarily for the characters of Team 7, a small group of rebels sworn to overthrow the global government of The Twilight Alliance, and dethrone Nexas, the Alliance’s figurehead. Leading the team was Q, a smart but cautious man who initiated the entire rebellion. Q was the kind of person who would spend hours, days, and weeks thinking of a solution before acting, he saw injustice in the world of Nexas, but was too cautious to act upon it, at least until he met Nine. Nine was a headstrong and reactive woman who functioned as the team motivator and point man for Q. Q would think of the plans, and she would act upon them, she served as a catalyst for Team 7, always pushing for results. The duo were unstoppable together. Working alongside them were the rest of the members of Team 7. There was Spund, a spunky young man and the son of a rich oligarch who had rebelled against his family and the empire they served. Coming in as a weapons expert was Kiler, a retired general who lead the Alliance’s army into victory. After he and the Alliance emerged victorious he realized what he had done and disappeared into self exile to repent for his sins against humanity. Up next we have Fifty-Six, the femme fatale of the group. Fifty-Six was a cybernetically enhanced rouge spy who used her charm to get what she wanted. Her implants allowed her to change her eye and hair color, and hair style at will, allowing her to take on many identities at a moment’s notice. Finally there was SARA, the AI assistant to Q.
Personally the two characters I related to the most were Q and Nine. Q had many similar mannerisms to myself, he was more of a thinker than a doer, and he wanted to act more but his overly cautious brain got in the way too much. Which is why Nine was so important to him, she would take his ideas and put them into action. The two couldn’t live without one another.
We covered a lot of ground writing the story, but life went on and it eventually faltered. My friend and I did give it a second shot as a conventionally written story with chapters, paragraphs and all, but we were in college at the time and we were too busy to sustain it after five chapters.
Now let’s get to the logo.
One thing I have always been fascinated with is graffiti and street art. There just seemed something so pure about it. These artists are risking running into the cops to express something they just have to show the world. I will admit I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to street art, and my impression could be dead wrong. That romanticism is what drove me to work alongside the City of Austin in their Make Art not Marks program. I want to give these graffiti artists legal permission to express themselves and make a more beautiful city, but I digress. There are two parts of that romanticism: the first comes from my inability to produce any sort of visual art, and the other part is because I am too much of a coward to challenge the law, but that never stopped me from being fascinated with it.
During my freshman year in college my roommate introduced me to Banksy. I thought that Banksy was the coolest with his prolific and lengthy career as a street artists and never unveiling his identity. I instantly purchased Banksy’s Wall & Piece.
Although I never had any intent to deface public property I wanted to have a logo inspired by Banksy. His stencil work inspired me to think simply, it had to be something that could be cut into cardboard with an X-ACTO knife. I spent a while thinking of this, my mind was firing blanks. That was until I remembered my characters for the story, and then it hit me.
Q and Nine and the rest of Team 7 at that time had faded into the background of my life, the project abandoned for its first time months prior to college graduation. Despite them being regulated into the “has been” category of projects, they still held a strong significance in my life because they were a part of the first collaborative writing project I had worked on. I wanted to incorporate them into my logo. I quickly sketched out a capital Q and ran a line perpendicular and tangent to the little line protruding out from the Q and thus was born the Q9 logo, a hybrid of two characters who embodied my traits and my aspirations.
Fortunately for me, I never had a Nine in my life to push me to tag the logo on a wall. Instead the logo always just hung around the background of my life. It was there to remind me of who I am and where I wanted to be. Presently it is sitting as my desktop’s wallpaper.
Q and Nine were also the inspiration for the namesake of this site. I wanted something that would be reminiscent of their story, but also was something fresh. So the name QuadrantNine was born.
Without my dorky fifteen year old me role playing a scifi epic heavily derived from Star Wars and Half Life 2 with my friend, and without my freshman year roommate introducing me to Banksy this logo would have never been born. I’m happy I was such a dork because without it I wouldn’t have a personal logo I hold so dear to me.
Do you have a personal logo or symbol? What is it and how did it come to be?
Today I spent $155.88 at a second attempt at starting a blog. Why would I spend $155.88 on a blog that in its last run only had two post over the course of a year instead of going somewhere free like Blogger? Because sometimes I believe in second shots, and I also believe that spending a money can be a good motivator to commit to something.
My dad always raised me with the mentality of paying for something once then milking the crap out of it to knock the per-use cost as low as possible. For example whenever we skiing we have to ski enough times to get the cost per lift down to $10 ($5 is ideal). So today begins the first day of my 31 day challenge of writing, with a hefty cost on a blog to knock that $155.88 cost down to $5.02 a post within my first month. But it won’t be as simple as writing 500 rambling words a day, I have some ground rules:
I must write everyday, if I miss a day I must fill in that void proactively by writing in advanced or doubling up the next day if I miss a post.
Each post must be about something of interest to me, not something about me. It’s easy to write about what you did that day, but that can be a copout (and let’s be honest, most of the time nobody cares about your day).
Posts can be no shorter than 250 words, with an ideal minimum of 500. Writing everyday is a new thing for me, and I am a slow writer so I want to keep it simple. The point of this exercise is to stretch my writing muscles and explore ideas and interests of mine to find my writing voice.
Those are the rules. Now let’s knock the cost of this blog down to $5.02 a post.
Working in public utilities has really made my appreciate what cities are: they are a massive habitat for thousands of people to come together and live their lives. Cities bring out the best aspects of humanity: collaboration, innovation, industries revolutionizing the world, creativity and so on. Any aspect of human nature can be amplified by the city in which they live.
Working for the city has made me appreciate the concrete jungle even more than I used to. My job is to deliver the resources you need to make a living right to your door, and if I do it right nobody notices. It’s only if the power fails or a water main busts before you bring attention to my job. As they taught us from day one: we’re public servants, it is our duty to serve you, but that doesn’t mean we have to make an eyesore to get it to you.
My main job is in transmission line engineering, you know those big giant steel poles or lattice towers that are as tall as a five to fifteen story tall building. And maybe it’s just my professions version of the frequency illusion, but I notice transmission lines and even distribution line (the smaller, usually wooden pools) everywhere I go. They’re ugly to look at and utilitarian looking at best, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
One of the best aspects of living within the city are the creative people cities attract. If you live in a significantly large enough city you will find a nice community of artists, especially street artists and muralists. Few cities are beginning to realize that they can unite their artists with their engineers making the city streets into an drive through art exhibit instead of being littered with utility poles and boxes. If the city were the human body, the city departments would be the organs and the artists would be the soul.
The Moon City Creative District in Springfield, MO was the first district I discovered that made an effort to make something more out of their distribution poles. I personally spoke with the lead artist, Linda Passeri, and the lead organizer, Phyllis Ferguson, of their now famous Paint-a-Poll Stroll. And I got some great notes.
Moon City is known to be the creative district within the city of Springfield. It houses dozens of art studios which give the city its unique personality. According to Linda and Phyllis, the two were tired of looking at the wooden poles right outside of their houses, so they decided to do something about it. Without permission from the local utility company, the two took matter into their own hands and decorated two poles. When they were finished, what used to be a wooden splinter became a canvas. They took photos and prepared for their next step: a presentation to the local utility company.
The artful duo scheduled a meeting with the top execs of the City Utilities of Springfield, not afraid to show off their vandalized poles. According to Linda, the execs cut them off halfway through their presentation. The execs were blown away by the idea of making utilities into art and gladly allowed the two to carry out their project.
Linda told me that another motive for the project was to distinguish the neighborhood from the rest of the city, her and Phyllis wanted to leave a message for all passersby saying “Welcome to the most creative part of Springfield.” Apparently everybody else in the district loved the message so much that within two years the neighborhood had over 130 painted poles.
There were benefits other than distinguishing the neighborhood. Traffic passing through is now slower, and safer, as people are checking out the works. The poles were no longer vandalized with graffiti or flyers. The utility company looked great for promoting local artists. Residents began taking pride in their neighborhood (Phyllis even was voted on to city council after she lead the project). And, when Pokémon Go was all the rage the poles became Poke Stops or gyms.
Moon City is just one of many cities that are working to unite engineers and artists. Through my research I found out that the inspiration for Moon City began in Canada at the Fernwood art district in Victoria, BC. Houston, TX has their own project of decorating traffic light control boxes called Mini Murals. Orlando, FL has an multi-neighborhood project encouraging neighborhoods to enlist the help of local artists to decorate everything from walls to dumpsters.
We should take pride in our cities, and there’s no better way to do that than giving the streets a bit of personality with the help of the local artists. Municipal governments, especially their utility branches, should embrace these creatives and provide them with the funding and tools to make a pole more than a pole, or turn a substation wall into a mural. We need art on the streets.
There’s something ethereal and serene about the silence of mornings. If you wake up early enough in the morning you see a world different than the one during the day. The silence and darkness feels as if the world is still asleep, and you are the only one awake with the exception of a few cars passing in the distance. A few months ago I made a significant change to my daily routine, instead of waking up with everybody else I decided to wake up before everybody else, and since then I have made a few observations about not only me, but the world around me. I would like to share some of those with you today.
My morning routine usually consist of: showering, meditating for 10 minutes, gratitude journaling, cooking a small breakfast, then writing/ editing/ or learning something new. It’s very time consuming.
I used to wake up around 6am to 7am every day, and with work starting between 8 or 8:30 a full routine like one would be impossible. Once I began waking up at 5am I suddenly found myself with plenty of time to do what I wanted to do in the mornings, I was now working on my time, not my employer’s time. Another advantage of having more time is that I am able to get some chores out of the way, like laundry or dishes, which are way more easier to muster up the willpower to do when you are freshly awake than after returning home from work.
For many people work is the first thing you do after you give yourself time to wake up. Your sleep schedule is built around your work hours, your alarm goes off just in time to get you to work without being late. At least that’s how my life used to be, yet with waking up early I’ve noticed a huge perspective shift about work: rising early makes work a part of my day, not the day itself.
Before I even set off to work I have already been awake for three hours. Three hours of my own time that I can do whatever I want during them. When I get to work I’m already fully awake and alert that I hardly feel any mental resistance, and since I like to work on my own side projects in the morning I’m already feeling pretty accomplished before I sit down at my desk. Making work a part of my day, and no longer having my sleep schedule built around my hours has been the most liberating choice to my daily routine.
Living with roommates can be tough in the morning, especially when all three of you are trying to get out of the door as quickly as possible. If you’re not first into the shower then you can find yourself without any hot water. Not to mention there’s plenty of dancing around each other in the kitchen between coffee machine, stove and pantry. The world outside of the apartment isn’t much different either: motorist are rushing down the highway, lines are filling up at Starbucks, and parking lots are filling up. The silence of the morning, even if you just wake up an hour before the rush, is like a small haven of peace before the world begins moving.
Within the silence the world feels empty, and at rest. Outside my window the only audible noises I can hear are the light chirping of the birds, and the occasional hum of a car traveling down the freeway. The sensation of silence in a busy city feels like you’re awoken in a different, more peaceful, world.
Mornings are precious. The time they give you to allow you to awake and get things out of the way is worth it on its own, you can use this time to get personal or professional work out of the way as well. But the real perk of rising early to being able to see a silent world. If you have roommates or a family those extra hours of silence is nothing but cathartic, and the sleeping world outside is just quiet enough for you to appreciate the city or town in which you live.
Of course there are dozens of different ways mornings are great, many of which I didn’t cover like cooler air for running or biking, and breakfast food, but to me these three reasons are why mornings work so well with me. What do you like about mornings? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!