Eric Westbrook

Bio

I'm Eric Westbrook.
I use technology to make pretty things of all sorts.

In my youth, I chose not to apply myself to much outside of computers, skateboarding, music, and art. I was a strange kid in a conservative state while maintaining a status of severely uncool. As such, I wasn't motivated by much outside of fun with the few like-minded friends that I had. I stayed away from extra-curricular activity and chose my electives based on what I already felt that I was good at or whatever would get me out of being physically present and/or connecting with my peers. This lack of ambition got me into darkroom photography, layout design, programming, & arts.

All the while, I was being raised by two parents who were brought up as hard-working, midwest, country folk. As a slacker and only son, they desperately wanted to instill some work ethic in me. Or at least some trade skills to become a laborer in case I flunked myself out of school. This taught me some "man's man" skills. Woodwork, auto mechanics, construction, plumbing, electrical, what was then called "fibre optic" cable, POTS lines... The builder skills come in handy for sure, but more importantly, I was taught to be a jack of all trades. To understand the things you surround yourself with and to be your own first line of support. To always educate yourself and to always be organized. To do a project and to do it right. At the time, I felt like my parents were just being dicks, but down the line, that stuff has a way of getting through.

It wasn't really until I became a parent that I was motivated to turn my technological talents into a career. A tiny life who's fate lies in my hands was enough to shake me. I decided it was time to get my foot in the door in technology by completing an associates course and obtaining certifications. By July 2008, I achieved: CompTIA A+, Net+, Server+, & Security+; Microsoft Certified Professional & Systems Admin; and Cisco Certified Wireless Network Admin.

After a small stint of wearing a tie in an office as internal systems and IT for a major restaurant chain in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas, I decided that if I really wanted to be happy with my career, I needed to move somewhere else. I wanted to be where innovation was happening, where crazy tech ideas could explode into profitable businesses, where I could create instead of support. But I also wanted to be where lifestyle was happening and where my views and lifestyle choices were more the norm. The obvious pick was the San Francisco Bay Area.

I moved to San Francisco in December of 2008, and opportunity has just exploded from there. I was fortunate to work with a vast amount of technologies via consulting at Rocket Science and their epic list of clients. I eventually transitioned away from IT and into UX & design. I've been lucky enough to be a part of some earth-shattering, dream fulfilling, and star striking business engagements. I've created multimedia campaigns seen all over the world. I've photographed and processed shots for musicians and other performance artists. I've been able to use my talents to fuse art and technology. I've been an innovator at levels that I never imagined.

I feel like I have acquired a set of skills that aren't all unique in the tech world on their own, but combined, they open the door for some interesting possibilities. I bridge the gap between creative and technology. I'm a designer of many categories. I'm a developer on the front-end, back-end, & mobile. I'm a photographer, a Creative Suite power user, a videographer, an audio engineer, a systems & network admin, a security specialists, a hacker, an electrical engineer, a master of interfacing technology to lifestyle, a small electronics tinkerer... Really, anyway that I can use technology in artistic, forward-thinking, or unusual ways, I'll exploit it the best I can. For whatever purposes I'm ethically aligned with.

Technology

Technology is a continual drive for understanding.

As long as I can remember, It's never been good enough to have something that does something cool. I've always had to take it apart, exploit it, make it do neat tricks that it isn't supposed to do. Even at the risk of breaking it. I feel like I have an inherent drive to understand the world around me. I can't just accept "magic" or "warranty void if opened" as legitimate answers to how things work. In technology, in life, or in the universe.

I consider myself primarily a designer and a developer. However, my entrance to working in technology was in IT. I have years of experience managing servers, networks, security, and users in environments big and small, spanning a wide range of vendors and technologies. This experience combined with my continued engagement in technology and my own tinkering habits, I have become a web media powerhouse of sorts. I don't just make designs in Creative Suite and wash my hands of it once the time comes to implement technical requirements. I manage hosting, databases, groupware, and security. I code for the front and back-end alike. I make it responsive, I format my own content for the web, I code for the most powerful content management systems, I enhance the exposure, and I hook the APIs... All on my own. From start to finish, I can oversee most web-based creative projects and understand how all of the pieces fit together.

I live an extremely interfaced lifestyle.

The most exciting way to exploit technology in my day to day life is in interfacing everything that I can. As a kid, I had a sort of 1960's "house of the future" obsession. I had the same wonder for what life would be like if technology could enhance and interact with everything that we do. Given the ridiculous increase in interfacing capabilities, especially since the birth of more intelligent mobile devices, it's safe to say I'm not the only one. Developers are constantly finding new and innovating ways to interface your devices with your lifestyle.

I create this realm of interconnectivity around me that seems so normal to my tech-savvy friends and to myself, but continues to mystify a large number of people who bare witness to what I can accomplish in unconventional ways using little more than the tools they likely already own. Computers, tablets, smartphones, wifi networks... These devices are everywhere, and they're being under utilized.

I download content to a media server as it becomes available. I can view said content on any computer or television in my house. I can view it on my iOS devices or my laptop from anywhere in the world. I can use the same devices to manage said media server as if I was there. Or I can use them to manage my web server, to print documents, to have an entire tv series waiting for me when I get home, to play music in any number of rooms in my house at independent volume levels from any audio source, to control virtual instruments wirelessly, to stream video content... and this is all primarily with software tools that already exist for little to no cost.

I also enjoy interfacing technology in even more unconventional ways. I like small electronics engineering and audio equipment. I have developed ways to interface live audio with explorable interactive 3d environments that respond to sound. I've built custom midi interfaces for devices that certainly should not have such a thing. I build evolving audio loops with complex midi synchronization networks. I have big dreams of being commissioned to work on projects to interface midi messages with unconventional lighting and visual effects.

Design

Art meets technology

With the continuing advancements in creative software and the platforms they're provided for, technology has become a focal point of creativity. Not to say that traditional methods are irrelevant or outdated, but simply to say that if you choose, you can now use technology as a tool to create in ways unique to any other media. Vector-based design has given us the ability to scale designs from as modest as a magazine page to as massive as the side of a sky-scraper. All with crisp elements. Designers can make print decisions contained in a file to ensure their intended results. They can also enhance traditional media art with unheard of precision.

The perception is that technology has become a shortcut to design. To this, I say that I could agree in certain aspects, but that no tool can recreate the creativity required for solid design and innovation. Good designers are more intimate than ever with the printing process. There's rules to follow and decisions to make based on color count, printing capabilities, special inks, paper processing, and a whole slew of other creative printing tools technology has brought us.

I use my knowledge of print media for many purposes. I've designed billboard ads, trade show booths, marketing hand-outs, endcap displays, membership cards, automobile wraps, and rogue advertising for businesses large and small. I have been commissioned for strictly artistic poster art. I also design print art of my own. I can design for any sort of print project and I would like to explore designing tangible objects with three-dimensional rendering tools.

There isn't a single investment more important than your image.

Period. I've watched too many businesses with an impressive product flounder based on their crap image. Similarly, I've watched too many meek products soar based on little more than their impressive branding or campaigning. The truth is that no matter what you are offering, your image is the first chance for your audience to bless you with instant authority, or to curse you with instant doubt.

Furthermore, every single element matters just as much as the last. Your business name, your products, your logo, your business cards, your marketing collateral, your website, your advertising and communication to your audience... Your image absolutely needs to be your top commodity. This is what your audience typically learns of you before they evan learn what you offer. I have the tools and creative experience to ensure you captivate your audiences with every interaction. I'll work with you to provide branding decisions for print, web, video, and other media alike, in traditional or wildly unique fashions, that are sure to conjure praise.

Design the experience

I am a firm believer that the largest factor of design success is in how your users interact. Every day, you are faced with interfaces of many sorts. The most basic function of these interfaces is to pass information. To inform you, the user, or for you to inform the interface, or the service. This interaction may seem basic to the user, and even to many designers, but there is a very sensitive harmony in layout, in the types of information,in the order in which to pass this information, in the length of time or number of clicks this process takes... Without paying attention to these details, it becomes easy to frustrate or disinterest users.

These interface interactions are the true keys in attracting users. This is where smart designers invest their critical thinking and it's also a huge factor in the success of Apple products. Users want to achieve their goals in the simplest, most accessible, user friendly, and even if subconsciously, aesthetically pleasing method possible.

Awe with interaction

New web technologies have opened up possibilities for some extremely creative design decisions. They've allowed us to implement some wild interactions with confidence that both mobile devices and modern browsers will enjoy a beautiful experience with interactive elements that impress and excite. We've been given new rendering tools in layout, opacity, animation, and interactive responses that minimize implementation time and allow us to focus more on creating the experience.

The power for a design to leave a lasting impression is in how creatively these tools can be exploited. Forward-thinking design means trying to re-think standards and to deliver the unexpected, even if slight. The tools are present for some amazing artistic design decisions, and I intend to use these tools as far as my imagination will limit. As a designer, my self-education is never complete. My exploration of the possibilities for presenting content is endless. I try to complete each project with the ability to say with confidence that the user will see interactive design decisions that leave an impression.

Make it responsive

It's safe to say the web has expanded far beyond the computer monitor. Content is now accessed on computer displays of all sizes, but also from tablets, smart phones, televisions, and more. In the old days, it was easy to make assumptions that your audience was viewing content on a standard-sized monitor. CSS was used to make styling rules based on these assumptions. With a lack of options in screen size or technology, it was safe to define a canvas with exact dimensions.

Those days are over. Users are just as likely to view a web page from a mobile device as they are on a desktop computer. If the page is being displayed on a computer monitor, who is to say if that monitor will be 800 pixels wide or 6400 pixels wide? How is one supposed to deliver content in an elegant format when you can't even be sure of what it will be viewed on?

Quality designers take these challenges as an opportunity to completely rethink the way they approach design. The answer is a flexible grid system called "responsive design". Exploiting new tools introduced in CSS3 and HTML5, combined with creative thinking and a "mobile first" approach, the responsive design approach offers flawless layout, regardless of device.

Take the site you're looking at here as an example. If you're on a tablet or a smart phone, try it out on any modern desktop browser. If you're already on a desktop browser, try it out on another device. Or even cooler, you can resize your desktop browser window by dragging a bottom corner. This lets you watch these changes occur in real-time. It's like magic, and that's the power of responsive design. Changing your way of thinking to conform your design to the user, rather than forcing the user to conform to the design.

Development

Front-end, back-end, and everything in between

Many developers will dedicate themselves to one space of development. Typically, this narrows down to "front-end" or "back-end". If I had to choose, I would say that I prefer work on the front-end, just because this is where design meets the back-end. This is where visual layouts become the real interface that users interact with. However, I have a strong analytical nature, an endless love for math, and a deep fascination for the mindset of object oriented programming. I like to think about the different ways that anything in the universe can be creatively expressed in if-then statements, loops, and variables. How everything has properties and methods. I love the power of interfacing and I enjoy hooking APIs and databases to applications.

Application development

The good majority of my application development experience is in Java. Primarily with Spring Framework, for mobile web applications utilizing geolocation. These were tied to several data sources with high user bandwidth. I am confident in my understanding of applications and deployment processes. I am currently studying to expand my application development to include Android native applications, especially since working so heavily with Spring Framework. I am also studying objective C to branch into iOS application development.

Mobile in mind

If a project is to face the web, it is to face mobile scrutiny. I have experience developing responsive web content to be viewed and interacted with on multitudes of mobile devices. I have implemented techniques to retrieve information about a user's device and give a unique experience accordingly. I've used this information to format media appropriately, decreasing bandwidth load and saving the time it takes to retrieve content. I test all layouts on as many devices as I can, and I see more value in attracting new tech adopters than those still using IE6.

Project Management and/or control issues

It all comes from my inherent desire to understand how everything works around me. It isn't enough for me to have an idea. I like to understand what is happening and why it is happening at every step. I want to be able to make suggestions or at least speak the language of the sources I rely on. Whether this is other engineers, other designers, hardware manufacturers, or service providers.

Some might call this the nature of a control freak, and perhaps it is, but that really implies a close-minded stance. I trust the people who I am surrounded by in their decisions. I just like to understand those decisions. Collaboration is among the most important ingredients in any creative environment. Start-up environments with blurred job roles have taught me to try and help in any situation possible. Everything needs the scrutiny of untrained eyes, and I enjoy having colleagues to test, proof read, and crazy check my work before the world sees it. It's saved me buckets of embarrassment.

I have experience in many roles, so I have the ability to speak many different dialects of geekenese. I can understand hurdles and concerns and assist in problem solving actively. The reality is that project managers are supposed to be control freaks. They're intended to be the driving force to motivate a team and keep them all organized. But they typically have a role a bit more disengaged from the entire project scope. They may know a good UI, but they could be clueless about back-end needs. They may know the back-end, but they may not know what kind of load balancing is needed to handle the traffic. They don't know exactly what needs to be done, they just know who to instruct to get it done. I feel like what sets me apart is that I understand a good majority of the "magic" that goes into the development process. I can more easily relate, understand issues, relay, coordinate, and participate.

Adaptiveness to environments

From consulting and employment relationships with start-ups working in varied environments, I have learned to wear many hats in many categories of technology. I am able to bring this same approach to any development workflow. I have experience working in agile development teams with repositories, ticketing systems, and test cases. Both as an engineer and as a project manager. I also have experience as a one-man development team responsible for familiarizing myself with new technologies as needed. I can work a vast scope of most development projects in most workflow environments. I can also offer assistance in enhancing these environments and making them more efficient.

Language proficiency

Programming is more about understanding fundamentals and what is possible than about absolute memorization. It's about solving problems, knowing the tools at your disposal, when they should be implemented, and the basic syntax rules. Beyond that, the key is to network, research, and learn from example. If I don't know a language or technology, I am confident in my ability to learn as needed. As any good developer should, I am constantly educating myself and looking for more efficient ways to get the same results. With a stern discipline on readability and documentation.

I consider myself proficient in the following languages and platforms:

  • CSS 3
  • HTML 5
  • Ruby
  • Java
  • Javascript
  • JQuery
  • MySQL
  • PHP
  • Postgress
  • Spring Framework
  • XML

Photography

It's non-stop and it's typically candid.

I like to catch things as they're happening as if nobody was paying attention. I'm a firm believer in making the best of the camera you have. In a perfect world, a full-frame body would follow me everywhere I go, in a realistic world, I let my iPhone camera fill in the gaps. I shoot mostly for fun, sometimes for profit, sometimes as a privilege.

I have been a fully manual SLR user for most of my life.

I spent all 4 years of high school in a dark room with second hand pentax SLRs. I enjoyed the art of development and the uncertainty that came with it. I liked mastering the skill of prying open film cartridges and feeding them onto a reel and into a canister in complete darkness. It was only a few years ago I purchased my first D-SLR and replaced the darkroom with Photoshop Camera Raw.

Frankly, I enjoy the high tech way. Some act as if technology brings instant results for novice photographers, and to some extent, I'd say I agree. But blazing processing speeds and insta-filters don't replace the skills or finer-tuned processes that go into well composed photography.

I'm a heavy Instagram user.

I love how simple of a tool it is to build a meaningful photo album. It starts as a toy and it becomes this chronological record of your life. I use 3rd party image capture and processing tools. Most shots are from an iPhone camera, but some are shot with a Canon 60D and processed using Adobe Photoshop for iPad.

Music

"Computers are a shortcut" and other musical misconceptions

Yes. Technology can certainly be used to obtain quick, lackluster results. But nothing will ever replace innovation and experimentation. To an educated user, technology can further be used to give extra precision and manipulation of the old ways of working. Technology isn't properly used as a way to circumvent understanding, it's rather intended a means to expand on understanding. This can just as well be applied to music as it is to math.

Really, technology is what sparked my interest in sound design. Electrical engineering introduced me to oscilloscopes and waveforms. I was taught the relationships of electrical current to audio. I learned about circuit boards and data-flow. I learned about networking, channels, binary, hex, and I/O.

I enjoy working with Zebra. It allows me to build analog sounds from scratch by combining sources, controls, and modifiers as I see fit, on a pretty massive scale. If I want to go deeper than this, I build my own modules from scratch using SonicBirth. I use Pro Tools 10 as my DAW.

Midi sync and sample

I like to use soft synths with real synths, samplers, arpeggiation, loopers, and filters to build complex one-shot sessions. I tend to just do this for my own amusement through headphones. I plan to capture some future sessions.

I love the power of synchronization. I midi sync my devices to perform all sorts of tasks. From syncing clocks for loop capture to unconventional control methods and triggers. I like to experiment and interface. I like DIY controllers & noise generators, filters, chiptune instruments, and other sorts of small circuit geekery.

I'm not a musician, I just make music

I make music for me. End of story. I don't play shows, I will never tour, I will never force a price tag on my music, and I will never distribute in ways I can't self-manage. I believe that music should be free to enjoy and that the listener, not the producers, deserve the right to decide how much compensation music they enjoy is worth, including the freedom to decide it's worth nothing at all. My music will always be available for whatever you deem fair.

Share it with others you think will enjoy it. Put it on mix albums and playlists. Play it at your great uncle's funeral. Or for practicing karate in the mirror. I don't care. All I ask is that you credit me when possible and that you consider donating to me if you enjoy my work and are financially able to show such gratitude.