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A couple posts back I said I would wait for a while before setting this site up on a new domain. Well, I changed my mind.

Click here and head over to www.droppinglsd.com.

Basically, I got fed up with not being able to customize anything. I’ll change the Dropping LSD title one day, but it’ll be easier if I’ve got everything under my control from the start. So keep visiting!

Woot! I have “hired” myself to work on a nice big project: a wedding site for my my fiancée and me. This might very well be the first piece of a real design portfolio.

The Framework

The date is set for June 4, 2011, and we want to have a website available for our friends and family. It will mainly be an information repository, with venue and transportation information, things to do that weekend (aside from the wedding!), photos, relationship stories, that sort of thing.

So I bought a domain for it, put it on a host that I already have, and I will be working on it in my free time. In fact, the work will probably occur at the expense of my other law school-related responsibilities, but that’s no big deal…this is still productive and fun! If it wasn’t this site, I would just be procrastinating in some other much lamer way.

I’m using the WordPress platform as a content management system, and I’m planning on basically building a personalized theme from the ground up. Actually, using WP Framework as a base. I want to use all my own graphics, to showcase my design work.

The funniest thing about all of this is that I actually have very little idea of how to build a WordPress theme, or how to cover all aspects of design for the website (icons, textures, page layouts, etc.). But I’m not worried, and rarely am in this sort of situation, because I’m very confident that I know how to learn how to build a wordpress theme, or how to do all the graphics work. It’s really an amazing state of mind that we’re all capable of, really, although only time will tell if I’m able to pull off these things well!

The Content

So, my fiancée and I have already done a bunch of brainstorming on the content, and we more or less have the outline done. I also pinged the hivemind over at Reddit and was given a bunch of great suggestions for website features. Aside from the things described above, there’ll be an infrequently updated blog that will log all the major wedding preparation steps (e.g. venue booking, caterer booking, dresses/suits, wedding party), and we’re going to design our own cartoony map of the town (think theme park map, or novelty map) to guide people around.

But our crowning idea, and this one we came up with ourselves, is going to be our registry. We’re not really wild about getting stuff for our wedding, because we more or less have everything we need in terms of housewares. Anything extra that we receive will just be junk that ends up laying around/regifted/sold away. But what we do like is the idea of guests paying for pieces of our honeymoon. In other words, in lieu of physical things, they might pay for “a night at a hotel” or “a portion of our airfare.” Now this will require a little bit of implementation, and it is the piece of the process that I’m most unfamiliar with. However, I think it also has the potential to be one of the coolest parts of the site.

What I’m imagining I’ll set up is a mock storefront, in which money from guest “purchases” of the various honeymoon pieces end up in a Paypal account. I’m thinking of adding little thank-yous on the site to memorialize who bought what. For instance, if an aunt buys a tour boat ride, the page will return a permanent graphic describing her as the “owner” of that portion of the honeymoon. Afterwards, we could even take pictures during the boat trip to serve as a “thank you” note. But first, of course, is just the need to figure out the best way to do this.

The Design: The First Six Steps

Now, this portion has the potential to become the biggest stumbling block, because it’s so open-ended. Worse, without at least a sense of the desired design, I can’t really implement a WP theme in any satisfactory way. So I’m going to approach this systematically.

  • First, I’m going to mine the internet for basic theme layout ideas. This will be from both wedding-related and wedding-unrelated sites. The point is to figure out how we want information arranged, how extensive the header, how extensive the background etc.
  • Second, I will sketch, by hand, the layouts that are top candidates, and we will choose from them.
  • Third, I will go back to the internet for inspiration, and see what other people are doing in terms of design elements. Fonts, menus, icons, color schemes, and so on.
  • Fourth, I will sketch by hand, or in photoshop/illustrator if it’s necessary, some alternative options.
  • Fifth, I will determine in more detail what the overall mood and style of the website will be. Will it have more of a sketchy, blueprint-like feel to it? Will it be a gradient-heavy, rounded corner, Web 2.0-like theme? Will it be more vector-based or photography-based? Again, this might require some additional research, but it’ll also be something I’ll be considering at at every step of the process.
  • Sixth, then, and only then, will I begin to consider exactly how I’m going to pull all this shit off!

But that’s a future problem that I am laying the groundwork for now. I am excited!

Sourced from Think Progress. Ted Olsen on Chris Wallace’s show, discussing Judge Walker’s Prop 8 decision.

Boom, lawyered!

Definitely, my favorite bit started at the 3:45 mark. What an awesome technique, and his delivery of it was timed perfectly. Overall that was a pretty impressive display on Olsen’s part, although I’m not particularly surprised at the quality of the performance. After all, he was the plaintiff’s lawyer for the case, so all of that was probably sitting fresh in his mind, honed with practice and infused with zealous advocacy. No mere news anchor would have stood a chance.

For more amusement, if you click through to the Youtube comments you’ll find that there are three flavors of responses to the clip. Here’re some examples:

  1. The Choir: “franzmr: This guy is the personification of awesome! Very well spoken and even got a Faux News guy to agree with him. He’s definitely a hero to all who want equality for all!”
  2. The Swayed: “wilddl229: What a great video.. Changed my mind”
  3. The Functionally Retarded: “LY8Ze7xK: . . . I would much prefer to have anything decided by a popular vote, than decided by activist liberal judges and bozos like this, because at least you have a fighting chance to make your argument.”

There’s also a sprinkling of a fourth:

  • The Objective Reporter: “moochu2: Wow, Olson obliterated that fuck face”

Amen.

This was fun. Last night I spent an hour (Or so? Time flies.) doing a Watercolor and Marker Style Portrait tutorial for Illustrator by Miguel Cardona. It’s on Design Instruct, which seems like a really great resource.

I used a picture of my fiancée as a base. Here she is at the top of a fire tower in Door County, Wisconsin:

Bunny on Door County Fire Tower

And after the tutorial:

Bunny on Fire Tower in Door County Watercolor/Marker PortraitThere are a lot of areas where I think I can improve my technique. The outlining was not as thorough as I would have liked, I’m there are plenty of other shading details that I missed out on. The coloring is also lacking depth and complexity. If you look at Miguel’s finished portrait, the final coloring is pretty incredible.

But those shortcomings are mostly due to inexperience, and I’m sure that as I work on more portraits I’ll get a better handle on how to do the details.

Doing this tutorial reminded me of how much I liked doing them! Maybe I’ll try and do one a day to work on my noob design skills.

I’ve decided to refocus the content of Dropping LSD, because I have to come to grips with two of my less dependable personality traits. Also, I’m going to lay out the foundations of a Master Plan.

Two Unfortunate or Fortunate Traits, Depending

  1. I get bored of things easily.
  2. I am good at thinking up ideas, but very bad at the follow through.

Now the basic concept of this blog, figuring out how I can get out of law school debt doing work that I enjoy, is still the same. But I’m not sure that I want to focus on personal finance, frugality, and productivity, because while I do like those topics I’ve found that I’m unable to color in the lines, as it were. Something new and shiny will catch my eye, or I will get stuck on writing a post for days, or I may simply feel unqualified to really expound on a certain topic because it’s not in my area of expertise. What happens then, when I feel as if I’ve moved on from the blog in my head, is the blog goes derelict, and shutters its doors. Another reason is that the blogosphere dealing in these topics is already overpopulated and oversaturated with plenty of great sites. I don’t want to just be a recirculator.

Well, enough.

The only way I’m going to keep this blog going is by nutting up and simply writing about whatever I’m interested in at the moment, and this will change from month to month (actually, the real length of time is probably closer to every two weeks). This kind of violates that pick a topic and stick to it rule of blogging, but I’m going to take this advice instead.

A Master Plan

So, the main point is getting out of debt. That means making money. I’ll take a law job if I have to, if not that then a nine-to-five if that’s available, but in the time that I have left (that sounds morbid…I mean before graduation), I would like to work on my creative skills and at least get started with a feasible side career in writing. And this blog will be part of that.

I have a number of ideas, for a children’s book, for a web comic, for several sci-fi stories, for a faux travel book…but like I said above, I just have to follow through. What I’d like this blog to be is a jumping off point for these various projects. Sort of like a central hub. I envision giving away much of this content away for free, but then making a little extra on the side through the sale of hard copy or publication deals. Like any blogger, I do want to get traffic to my site, and I do want to develop a base; I do realize this will be difficult without any firm sort of direction, but if this has to be nothing more than another personal blog then so be it. People will just have to realize how great of a guy I am and keep coming back for more!

I’ve decided to keep WordPress.com until I’m out of debt, and then I’ll migrate to a new site. By then I’ll hopefully have more content and more readers. Three weeks in, I kind of think that Dropping LSD isn’t the best name to build a brand around, but I’m going to stick with it in the meantime. I’ll consider it as a badge of shame I have to wear for a while.

Found a neat and quick photoshop tutorial for creating microworlds. I’ve seen the technique called little planets in other places. This one was straightforward, just four steps.

Here’s my base. This is a picture of my fiancée mid-twirl above Fort Yellowstone/Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park. The park town is actually behind us, this is looking north towards Montana. We’re on the high ground on the south end of Elk Plaza. We’d hiked up on what we thought was a trail from our campground below to the town, but which we eventually realized was just a game trail. So we were tired and sweaty, but the view was well worth it at the top and we had to celebrate.

Twirling on Elk Plaza, Yellowstone

And here’s the microworld! I kind of blew through the final step of stitching together the seams created by wrapping the picture, I just wanted to see what this sort of thing would look like. If done in the future, it’s definitely much easier with a level background; in this picture the hills on either side actually line up nicely, but the coloring is skewed because of the great difference in distance.

Twirling Elk Plaza Little Planet

I’ve decided that so far I’ve only been dabbling in photoshop, and I’d really like to become proficient at it. I’ve got a bunch of tutorials lined up, and I torrented a “Photoshop CS5 for Dummies” book. There’s a lot I already know in it, but there’s also a ton of little detailed tools and functionalities that I’m only vaguely aware of or don’t know how to use. Since I’m thorough (read: anal) when it comes to learning the basics, I’m going to comb through it anyway.

Okay, this is just a little bit of me thinking out loud.

According to the Direct Loan site, my current payoff amount (that’s principal outstanding balance plus interest) is $89,178.15. Starting next month, I’m going to start paying down my interest. I’ll be able to do this since I have a part time job as a research assistant, and I have a loan surplus because I really borrowed too much in the first place. Before I begin this little endeavor, though, it’s important that I be aware of my past financial mistakes so that I can put everything in perspective.

Now, I’d love to have financial records stretching back into my toddler years, but as far as I’m concerned the day I started law school is the day my financial life started. Everything before that is a dark and brutal prehistory.

Financial Prehistory

College was a mess; I had plenty of work-study income coming in, but I also had plenty of alcohol to drink and inconsequential shit to buy. Fortunately my $160k+ undergrad tuition was taken care of by financial aid, a college savings account, and my Dad. I did work at a relatively normal job for a year after college, if normal means growing bacteria and neurons, dissecting rodents, and using things too small to see under a microscope to mess with more things too small to see. And that normal job paid; not super well, but well enough. Of course, over the course of that year and the subsequent year of traveling and studying abroad I spent the entirety of that salary.

So I considered myself at net zero worth at the start of law school. Loans, of course changed that. But I had nevertheless entered into a more stable financial time and the matter of borrowing and spending started to claw at corners of my awareness. Rather then my accounts being a sort of black box, I would note my statements and try and keep aware of what I was doing, even if I wasn’t changing my behavior. Eventually, I joined Mint.com (before it was acquired!) and got everything centralized (by everything I mean my loans and my one checking account).

The Grand Total Thus Far

Despite all this, I’d never really gone through my overall financial situation step by step.  Well, I have now, and here’s the big picture, the Total indicated below is the total spent aside from school tuition:

Net Worth After 1L & 2L Years

So on the positive side, about a third of the tuition (which more or less comes out to $45k a year) was paid for through my school scholarship and a few other school related credits. Also, over the course of two years I have had a small $8k income that came in through my research assistant gig and gifts.

Nevertheless, the huge problem here is that I spent $31k in these two years. That may not be a lot, compared to some average middle class or upwards person, but I think that in my position thirty grand is excessive. Now, not all of that was waste. I had books to buy, rent to pay, a summer program to attend, plane tickets, patent bar prep materials, and so on. But I am more than certain that a painfully wasteful amount of it could have been avoided had I adopted a more frugal mindset earlier on.

In the Upcoming Year

As for this final year’s tuition and loans, I’ve taken out a total of ~$42,500, which will kick back a sum of about $12,000 for living expenses and such. According to my calculations for rent, I will spend at least $5,200 on rent, and will probably have to add a thousand dollars or so to that in order to cover utilities.2010-2011 Rent Calculations

I’ll have to work out a budget for food, books, etc., but overall it looks like I’ll have a couple thousand left over at the end of the year.  Part of that will be an emergency fund for post-graduation, or I’ll used a chunk of it to pay off more interest. We’ll see.

So, to sum up, I’ve got my big picture finances squared away, I’m working on a rough yearly budget for next year, and I’m planning on starting to pay down the interest once a month, with any and all income that comes into my bank account.

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