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4th of July

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It is 6 p.m., and darkness has just fallen on the Lacandon jungle, a dense patch of rainforest in Mexico’s southernmost state, Chiapas. A cry rings out: “Food circle!” At this signal, hundreds of people emerge from the forest and gather in a clearing, forming a circle, holding hands. They start to chant, softly, “Om … Om …” while lifting their joined hands toward the sky. The chanting stops as suddenly as it began, and a vegan dinner is served from huge steaming pots.

These men and women, who travelled to this spot in the vicinity of Palenque’s pre-Colombian ruins from dozens of different countries around the globe, are here with one aim in mind: to witness the end of the world on December 21, 2012, a date that marks the end of the Mayan calendar. They are part of the “rainbow movement,” a post-hippie collective that emerged in Oregon in 1970 around the teachings of writer Barry Adams and gemstone specialist Garrick Beck. Its members gather annually across the U.S. on July 4th.

Most expect they won’t be around for next summer’s gathering.

There are no leaders in the movement. “All decisions are taken 100 percent consensually by talking circles,” explains Bolivia, a 32-year-old Briton. The camp functions without money: food is prepared by a group of volunteers and handed out for free. Other necessities can be bartered. Trading currencies include sweets, crystals or Snicker bars. Alcohol, meat and loudspeakers are forbidden.

Rainbow Gathering attendees, who call themselves The Family, spend their days bathing naked in the river, doing improvisational theater, juggling or practicing yoga. Twice a day they gather for the food circle. Most live in the manner they do in hopes of showing the rest of the world that an alternative way of life — “without wars, guns or money,” as Bolivia puts it — is possible. Among Family members there is a lot of talk of chakras, inverted pyramids and “portals” that will open on December 21st.

The end of the Mayan world, meanwhile, is a much more down-to-earth affair. It is taking place roughly 100 miles from where the Family is gathered, in a small village called Lacanja Chansayab that houses the last descendants of a civilization that dominated Mesoamerica from roughly 250 to 900 AD. There are fewer than a thousand Maya left. They speak a language, Hach T’ana, that closely resembles that of their ancestors. They wear their hair long, don white tunics, hunt with bows and arrows and revere their gods by burning rubber dolls in ceremonies that symbolize human sacrifice.

Or, at least, they did until recently. The Lacandon Indians emigrated from the Yucatan peninsula in the 18th century to flee the conquistadors, and remained there almost untouched until the middle of the 20th century, when loggers and archeologists started to arrive in the area. The erosion of their culture accelerated in 1998, with the opening of the road from Palenque. Electricity followed shortly after, in 2000.

As we pull into the village on a sunny day in December, change is apparent everywhere. A truck is unloading a fridge, a washing machine and a TV. Music blares from the loudspeakers of the Refugio de Esperanza, the Pentecostal church that set up shop here 13 years ago.

“The hardest thing for me was learning to wear shoes,” remembers 53-year-old Chan K’in.

But modernity also brought with it more serious woes: “A lot of the kids leave the village to attend secondary school in nearby towns,” explains 26-year-old Victorino. “When they are away from their family, with no one to watch over them, they often start taking drugs.” Lacanja Chansayab lies just a few miles from the border with Guatemala, along one of the main cocaine routes.

But what really disrupted village life was the advent of money. In 2004, the Mexican tourism authority decided to sponsor ecotourism infrastructures in the village, in part to ensure Lacandon loyalty in the face of the 1994 Zapatista rebellion in neighboring communities.

“We gave 550,000 pesos (43,200 dollars) to eleven families to build three cabañas each,” says Alberto Morales Cleveland, the local tourism representative.

Other families had to manage without that help. “The head of the village shared the subsidies among his friends and the community is now split between those who received money and those who didn’t,” sighs Martin, who operates an independent eco-lodge.

“I don’t believe December 21st will be the end of the world. But for us, life as we knew it has certainly come to an end,” laments his brother, Ismael.

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When I asked Kevin Parker if he hails from another planet, he paused. And then he laughed.

“Not that I know of, no,” the 20-something Aussie admitted. “I’m assuming that’s a compliment of some description?”

You tell me. By this point, Parker is likely used to glowing praise and reviews. The neo-psyche wunderkind, who records and performs under the guise of Tame Impala, just dropped his sophomore long-player, Lonerism, via Modular. And if gear-heads and “folks who are just really, really stoked on music” alike weren’t already losing their minds over the other-worldy, fuzz-pop beam of auditory blankets that are Tame Impala, they certainly are, now. Lonerism is being heralded as a rich, “alternate take on anticipating technological encroachment”, the stuff of forward-leaning revivalism and late-entry album-of-the-year contention. You can stream it here or here. Go on.

Now, Tame Impala has always been a rock band. Deeply indebted to the strange, lip snarling, yet rosy vibes of late 60s and early 70s era psychedelia and prog, Parker’s baby could – and still can – be viewed as the lovechild of Cream, Pisces, and maybe even Emerson, Lake & Palmer, if that infant homunculus came screaming out of the fog of some far-off galaxy where every 10-strip came toting a booming sack of that Fourth of July special. To crib Dalí, if I can be so bold: Parker’s music does not require drugs (though it doesn’t hurt, if that’s your thing). Parker’s music is drugs – indeed, the warmest of warm drugs.

But I wanted to know what led the project out of the far-out ambling of its first proper full-length, Innerspeaker (2010), to its new direction – a sugar-coated pop “joke”, in Parker’s words, that eventually came around to form a fully-realized capstone to some of Tame Impala’s longest-running motifs. I recently had the chance to catch up with Parker, who’s currently at home in Perth, Australia, with the rest of his band (Tame Impala performs live as a five piece) for a few last days of rehearsals before setting out on a sprawling European jaunt in support of Lonerism. He sounded off on solitude, how to appropriately go about naming individual pieces of gear, and of course patience, or the lack thereof.

Hello, Kevin.

Hey.

What’s up, man?

Not much.

How are you doing?

Yeah, really good.

Congratulations on the new record. Exciting, yeah?

Oh, thanks. Yeah, I guess so.

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Good Web designers know what many others might not realize: that creating a truly beautiful website requires care, time and craft. And similar to how a craftsperson molds their creation by combining raw materials, skill and unwavering focus on the vision, a beautiful design is planned and executed with exceptional focus on what is to be achieved by the website.

It is important, however, not to confuse a beautifully crafted website with one that simply brushes over the content with attractive visuals. This article provides a small selection of tried and true methods that Web designers regularly employ to give a website that bespoke look and feel (think a tailor who carefully cinches a suit here and there to ensure a perfect fit).

Make no mistake: these methods do take extra time, and they often result in improvements that the untrained eye might not consciously register. But the payoff is a better overall experience for the user. Users will leave with a smile and a lasting impression or relationship with your website, even if they can’t quite put their finger on why.

Start From Scratch, Every Time


For a truly customized design, always start with a blank slate.

Whenever possible, avoid cobbling together work from old designs. Every website should be treated as unique, regardless of its type (e-commerce, author website, blog, etc.). The very best websites are designed to fulfill a defined purpose. Building your design from the ground up fosters clarity, focus and commitment to the design.

At every step in the design process, ensure that everything in the layout has a deliberate purpose; you should be able to explain your thought process behind every element on the page. If something has no reason to exist on the page, then consider removing it because it could simply distract visitors from more important content.


Every element on the page should have a reason for existing.

Simply copying and pasting elements from previous designs is a crutch that prevents you from experimenting, learning and growing as a Web designer. This isn’t to downplay the value of iterating on previous design elements, which can be a useful exercise and which can challenge you to get creative and experiment.

Invest In Custom Icons And Graphics

Spotify
Spotify uses custom icons and graphics, rather than relying on stock images, to give their design soul and character.

Custom illustrations, imagery and iconography make for a unique experience on a website. While stock photography and vectors do save a ton of time, a photo of a smiling sales rep wearing a headset just feels phoney to visitors when they’ve seen the same image on five other websites.

Invest time in creating custom icons and graphics to preserve the look and feel of your website, as well as the authenticity of your message.

Spotify is a perfect example of this. Its lighthearted, “sketchy” illustration style sets its apart from all the other music services, and it leaves a lasting, positive impression on visitors.

Some other examples of great websites with custom icons and illustrations:

Remove Friction That Impedes Scrolling


Encourage scrolling by removing obstacles.

As screen resolutions expand and touchscreens multiply at every turn, we’re encountering longer pages and smaller website footprints. And with good reason: a user who has to scroll down the page will encounter far less obstruction than someone who has to click a link and wait for the new page to load. Removing this obstruction will not only simplify the navigation, but help to tell a cohesive story, without the interruption of page loading.

As Paddy Donnelly’s excellent article “Life Below 600px” explains, the fear that users will ignore any content unlucky enough to fall below the fold afflicts designers much less today. And the proliferation of devices of different resolutions makes it almost impossible to determine where exactly the fold lies.


Life Below 600px” is an excellent essay that dispels the myth of the fold.

Weave a cohesive story concept by getting creative with connecting individual page sections. This will promote a natural flow for the user, encouraging them to explore deeper into the page, building momentum in their experience and making it easier to get all the way through the page. You can even tie radically different styles of content together on the same page by adding small visual cues at the bottom of each section to indicate that more content awaits — much like how different rooms in a house can have entirely separate functions yet retain a common theme. If each section on the page comes to an abrupt end or looks like a footer, then users will be less likely to reach the end.

In fact, scrolling has become such a natural interaction on most Web-enabled devices that Apple did away with the scroll bar in OS X Lion.

The Dangers of Fracking and Slavery Footprint deserve hearty mentions. Both websites drive the user to scroll down with incredibly creative parallax effects and compelling stories.

More awesome examples of mega pages:

Make The Design Invisible Through Interactivity And Functionality

After more than 20 years of evolution, the paradigms of the print world still provide the fundamental building blocks of the way we present content online. Think about the terms we use to describe the Web: pages, headlines, columns, scrolling. These are band-aid metaphors that we’ve adopted to make the Web more understandable to the public. But the medium itself is capable of so much more. Static text and images are usually fine, but human beings by nature crave varied stimulation, and the Web is capable of feeding that craving with a much more interactive and richer experience.

Zurb
Joyride uses “Pit stops” of interactivity to keep the visitor engaged with the website.

Providing clear points on the page where users can interact with the design, rather than passively consume it, will help to relieve the burden of wading through long passages of copy. Visitors will experience the invisible part of a design; content sliders, tooltips, lightboxes, modal windows and other points of interaction give them something to do and can propel them further along in the story, much like how a good museum exhibit mixes methods of conveying information. Of course, swing too far to the extreme of too much interactivity and you’ll distract users, so be cautious of how much you build in. All interaction points should serve the overarching goal of the page.

Joyride is a great example of this approach. While the page has plenty of content, Joyride does a great job of guiding the user around the page and highlighting points of interest to come back to later. (And the little surprise at the end will leave you grinning.)

Great examples of engaging users with interaction on the page:

Pay Attention To Detail

Whether you’re going for clean minimalism or complex and illustrative, pay special attention to the details of every element on the page. Even slight inconsistencies will be picked up by users subconsciously, thus diminishing their experience or confusing them.

A few common pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Typography gone wild
    Each typographic treatment in the design should be consistent with its function. Headings in one part of the page should look the same as headings elsewhere on the page, and indeed throughout the rest of the website.
  • Buttons, buttons everywhere
    Be conscious of where a button style is called for, as opposed to plain text links. Overusing buttons diminishes their overall effectiveness.
  • Changing gradients
    If your design has gradients, use them consistently, with the same shades across like elements and with the same gradation.
  • Mind the gaps
    Consistent spacing and alignment between page elements will make the layout feel refined and high quality.

Thoughtfully questioning each element in the layout is key to achieving a highly polished design. The burden is on you to prove that an element has a reason to be there and is not superfluous to the experience. At the end of the day, don’t fall into the trap of thinking “No one will notice,” because the chances are high that someone will!

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said:

Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Consider whether the elements on the page have the right amount of detail to fulfill their purpose. Does that button have the right texture and color treatment to serve its role? Does it need texture at all? Simplicity is key and is relative to the purpose of the element.


Polished designs can be found across the Web, if you look closely.

Polished touches lie all around the Web if you look. Little Big Details rounds up some details from the Web and other interfaces that many of us encounter every day but don’t notice.

Details

To see a truly polished design, head over to PixelResort. To describe it in one word: sumptuous. No detail has been spared for each element. The entire experience has a weight and tangibility that stays with the user.

Some other excellent examples of polish on the Web:

Bringing It All Together

Creating a truly beautiful and memorable website ain’t easy. You’ll need to make a significant investment of time and effort, focused in key areas for maximum payoff:

  1. Design the entire layout specifically for the given website. Putting a new coat of paint on an old template won’t give you the most compelling design possible.
  2. Create your own graphics to give the design a unique personality.
  3. Motivate visitors to scroll by weaving a story across the page that compels them to finish.
  4. Engage visitors with variety. Adding “rest stops” of interactivity will keep them actively thinking about the experience that you’re leading them through.
  5. Finally, polish, polish, polish! Think about every detail in the design. Make sure nothing is missed.

There you have it: five solid techniques to ensure that your website is a beautiful and memorable experience. This roundup is by no means comprehensive, but the techniques will pay you back with returning visitors, high engagement and user satisfaction.

Do you have any tips on adding beauty to a design? Feel free to post them in the comments!

(al) (jc)

© Jason Amunwa for Smashing Magazine, 2012.

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LENSCRATCH is creating exposure opportunities for photographers with group on-line exhibitions. Photographers will be allowed ONE entry per exhibition and ALL photographs will be published. I firmly believe in having occasional unjurored opportunities that allow for community and conversation.

Submission Guidelines:

Image size: 72dpi at 1000px on the long side, save as a jpg.

Send name, title, location (where you captured the image), and link to your work (website or other)

Example:

Aline Smithson, The Red Rose, Los Angeles, CA (http://www.alinesmithson.com)

In the subject of your e-mail, type the name of the exhibition (example:AMERICANA) and e-mail to:

alinesmithson@gmail.com

If your images are sized incorrectly or the submission is incomplete, they will not be posted.

Submission Categories and Due Dates:

Due Date: June 29th

AMERICANA Exhibition to run on July 4th.

All things American...

Image by Aline Smithson


Due Date: August 20th

YOUR HOME TOWN  Exhibition to run on August 27th.

Where you live or where you were born

image by Aline Smithson


Due Date: October 24th

MASKS and COSTUMES  Exhibition to run on October 31st.

Scarier the better!

Image by Aline Smithson

Due Date: November 15th

FAVORITE PETS and ANIMALS Exhibition to run on November 22nd (Thanksgiving)

To say thank you to that family member that seldom get recognized...feel free to send a few sentences about what makes them so special.

Check back for new opportunities....

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For this week’s issue, we combed countless archives in search of the perfect photograph to accompany a history of the American Dream, the subject of the cover story by Jon Meacham. In the end, we turned to photographer Mike Sinclair, who’s been rigorously documenting America’s heartland near his home in Kansas City, Mo. When asked about his photos, he modestly says, “I never really set out to photograph the American Dream or western culture. These are not projects. The edits come out of thinking about themes. I like going through my work and then figuring it out.”

For more than 30 years, Sinclair has documented places where people gather, like state fairs, sporting events and parks. “I grew up in the heyday of LIFE and photojournalism. I realized early on that I was better at visual things,” he tells TIME.

Sinclair decided to pursue journalism at the University of Missouri, but after one year, he realized that it wasn’t a great fit. “I came under the spell of Winogrand and Friedlander and found them more interesting as a budding photojournalist. I eventually went to Southern Illinois University, where they had an undergraduate program in fine art photography. Once I got there, I was in heaven—it combined my interest in the fine arts and photography.”

“I just like everything about taking photos and going to these events. It’s a great counterpoint to photographing modern architecture,” says Sinclair, who does the job professionally to make a living between his documentary projects. All of his images reflect the rigor of an architectural photographer with the straightforward style of masters like Walker Evans, Joel Sternfeld and Stephen Shore.

“I switched to architecture because I thought after 30 or 40 years I’d have some kind of record of this time and what happened,” he explains.

Sinclair’s understated and introverted approach to documenting an event feels easygoing, placing viewers in the shoes of a local rather than an outsider. He photographs on trips he plans and usually goes with his family. “I kind of plant the camera in front of people and spend time with them,” he says. In all his images, he almost feels invisible.

Sinclair has no real plans for his work except to keep making it. In the beginning, he says, “I first shared the work to the owner of the Dolphin Gallery in Kansas City and was encouraged by him to show it [elsewhere]. Eventually, through them, my work found its way into collections around the country.” These collections include The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, also in Kansas City.

Sinclair disagrees when people label him as a certain type of photographer. “I don’t think of myself as a Midwestern photographer. I think the same sort of things happen everywhere I’ve been.” His image of the Fourth of July (featured above) speaks to his claim—it feels like it could represent almost anywhere in America.

“Part of what I’m interested in is this idea of public space and the preciousness of it. It’s something that we all need,” he says.

Mike Sinclair is a photographer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His current exhibition ‘Public Assembly’ is on view at Jen Bekman Projects in New York City until June 24. 

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David Gerard writes "It seems the authors of Stuxnet/Duqu/Flame used the LZO library, which is straight-up GPL. And so, someone has asked the U.S. government to release the code under the GPL. (Other code uses various permissive licenses. As works of the U.S. federal government, the rest is of course public domain.) Perhaps the author could enlist the SFLC to send a copyright notice to the U.S. government..."


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proportional_1000_1479_largeview.jpgFourth of July #2, Independence, Missouri, by Mike Sinclair

Photographers, mark your calendars! 2009 Ne Plus Ultra Mike Sinclair's debut solo show in NYC, at Jen Bekman Gallery, is but mere days away. An opening reception for Public Assembly will be held on Friday, May 11th, 2012, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., and the show will be on view Saturday, May 12th, through Saturday, June 24th.

Mike impressed our panelists with his ephemeral portraits focusing on "crowds at sun-soaked fairgrounds, beaches and baseball games," and he adeptly captured a sense of nostalgic Americana that we simply couldn't get out of our heads and hearts. Soon, he was creating limited-edition prints with 20x200 to share with collectors all around the world. We are thrilled for Mike's success, which includes being published in the New York Times, Metropolis, Architectural Record and Interior Design, as well as having his work in private and public collections in the U.S.

+ Photographer Daniel Seung Lee, who was a contender in a past round of our competition, was selected to participate with 20x200. Two of his photographs are now available as limited editions on the site.

+ April is almost over, and with it the Month of Photography Los Angeles (MOPLA). If you're in L.A., there are major ongoing exhibitions you can catch, like Robert Adams: The Place We Live and Fracture: Daido Moriyama at LACMA, as well as In Focus: Los Angeles, 1945-1980, Herb Ritts: L.A. Style and Portraits of Renown: Photography and the Cult of Celebrity at The Getty.

+ Smaller shows were also taking place across town that featured Jen Bekman Projects artists. You can still catch Taj Forer's solo exhibition, Stone by Stone at LeadApron through May 19th.

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