Feb 12 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #9: Chinese Language

As part of my ankle-deep immersion for his VBS I have been learning Chinese. I am using a number of apps, but mostly I am listening to podcasts from ChineseClass101.com. The podcasts are great for picking up the language and they have lots of notes about the culture, but they will email you incessantly, and you should really be careful about what paid options you are actually paying for and/or what options they will auto-renew your account for without telling you.

Contrary to what I expected, Chinese is pretty easy to learn so far–especially compared to Welsh, in my opinion.

The sentence structure, at least for the simple sentences I have learned is similar to English–subject, verb, object. Declarative statements become interrogative questions with the addition of a particle at the end of the sentence. The greatest thing–no conjugating verbs–verbs have only one form.

I can’t read a single character (besides the one for ‘middle’, but I can hear, identify, and speak several words and make a few simple sentences.

The hardest part? Probably learning the tones. According to the instructors there are only about 400 sound combinations in Chinese. However, there are 4 or 5 tones, and changing the tone changes the word, whereas in English changing the tone gives some auditory cues as to the intended meaning, or maybe whether the word or sentence is meant as a statement of a question.

I’m enjoying it a lot, and maybe eventually (after smatterings of French, Spanish, Welsh, Hebrew, and Greek) I could attain bilingual status.

Right now, I still just know enough to get me in trouble.

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Jan 27 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #8: Logo


This is a pretty graphic-heavy post.

When I first start working on a logo, I trial several fonts in Linotype FontExplorer, then I try them out  in Illustrator to see which ones I like best, looking for things like readability, tone, and flavor. This lets me see which fonts I might want:

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—as well as ones I absolutely don’t want—specifically fonts that have that cheezy, clichéd ‘rikki tikki’ Chinese feel to them:

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Once I have selected a few possibilities, I make a text box with the title in Adobe Illustrator and then copy it about a dozen times, then apply the different fonts to the text.

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My first logo concept, like almost all first logo concepts, stunk. It looked like a very boring book:

Black Mantis1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going back to the desk I decided on my favorite font: KingThings Conundrum. It looks amazing, just like it was drawn with a Chinese calligraphy brush.

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However, it has a major problem: it’s not very readable. First I converted the font to outlines so that Illustrator sees it as a series of objects instead of type. My next step was to clean it up, getting rid of most of the ornaments:

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And here is the font all cleaned up. Notice something, however: the kerning. My friend Brenton taught me to use Illustrator. Back when I was first learning to use it, one of the first things he taught me was one of those tricks that separates the noobs from the pros–-kerning.

Kerning is the horizontal space between the letters. Notice how the spacing between the letters is uneven and crummy looking. The vertical space between the lines of letters called leading (pronounced LED-ing), is pretty bad too.

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Now you can see the comparison between the cleaned up version and the original unkerned, unleaded, unreadable font.

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I have applied a stroke effect to the letters to look for any problems. Notice on the crook of the L part of the stroke has not applied, meaning I have a break in the shape of the letter.

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When I apply the stroke, I actually group the entire logo, copy it, and then past it behind, then apply the stroke to the behind-most copy. Below you can see how it looks when composited, next you can see the unstroked copy, and then the copy with the stroke applied.

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There are still some tweaks to do. As you can see below, the default corner type looks kind of lame on certain points. You can adjust them to be sharper or more blunt, but in the end I just went with a rounded corner.

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I wanted to go with a gradient for this logo (I usually don’t) to give it more of an action/adventure feel. However, it still looks kind of flat, so I applied a thin, bright stroke to the front-most objects, which really made it pop out more:

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Next I made a  drop shadow behind the logo by making a copy, pasting it behind the original, filling it with black, and shrinking it by ~2%.

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I decided to bring back my kind of Chinese brushstroke mantis from my early design, to give kind kind of an ominous shadow to our heroic logo.

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I also wanted to incorporate some sword iconography, since it’s the story’s MacGuffin.

The mantis and the sword are just lines with a brush effect applied. You can see them below, as well as a box with a few more brush-effect lines added.

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And here is the completed logo with bonus background (OK, so it’s not totally complete–the Chinese inside the green ribbons is just placeholder text):

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Aug 20 2012

Worst whoopin’ ever

My last employer was a Taiwanese-owned company and I worked with a lot of Chinese / Taiwanese people. One day Yahwen and I were comparing the worst whoopins we ever got as children.

Here is his in his words, to the best of my memory:

“In Chinese households there is this kind of bump that goes over the threshold, and you aren’t supposed to step on it or it brings bad luck to the family.”

“And you stepped on it?” I asked.

“No…I was jumping on it.”

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Apr 27 2011

Victory, pt. 2

As mentioned in a previous post, I assisted someone at work in getting their laptop connected to our wireless network. The user was Chinese, and I greeted her with a friendly nihau.

A few weeks later I was assisting a user in Personnel.

“I heard you are a valuable asset to our company,” she said.

That made me kind of nervous for some reason.

“How so?” I asked.

“I heard that you were able to help an employee recently because you spoke Chinese.”

I saw way too many sitcoms growing up to know what happens when you let this kind of thing go:

“Mr. CEO–the Prime Minister of China is here to donate several billion dollars, but we can’t find any of our Chinese-speaking users! What should we do?”

“I heard there’s this guy in I.T. who speaks perfect Mandarin. I’ll go get him!”

I’d rather they find out now that I only know how to say ‘hello,’ ‘beer,’ and ‘where is the bathroom?’ than wait until I’m in that meeting.

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Feb 14 2011

Victory

A couple of months ago at work one of the secretaries brought a Chinese user down for some assistance with her laptop on the wifi network. The laptop had an English keyboard, but the OS was entirely Chinese.

“Ni hao,” I said, almost entirely exhausting the Chinese I learned at my old job.

“Oh, you speak Chinese!”

“Nope, I just know how to say hello.”

I spent about five minutes trying to figure out what to click, tried issuing English keyboard shortcuts, and finally went the slow point-and-click way through the My Network Places, which I could recognize by its icon.  Five minutes later, we were online.

The user thrust both arms into the air and yelled, “WICTOREEEEEEEE!”

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