Thursday, February 28, 2013

Career realization orchestration

oday I went on a whirlwind tour of small web design firms in the DC area... via their websites. I'm not entirely certain where I'll wind up working next, but I wanted to get an idea of the playing field, who does what, who has which skills and so on. A quick Google search netted me about a dozen firms to browse through, cross-referenced to some Yelp reviews and Angie's List. I realized partway through that in the longterm I want to be working on a single project, e.g. for an organization developing and maintaining a service, product, brand or mission. However, until I'm at that stage, I do want to build or contribute to as many small things as I can to get more experience in a variety of languages, platforms, aspects, tools, ad infinitum.

Anywho. Between browsing all those design firm's sites and clicking any link with the word "design," I've been all over the place lately. My favorite sites are usually minimal, clean and simple, no clutter, a touch of flashy stuff (watch the "Silver and Light" video, this guy is great), hand-drawn elements, and a limited palette (though I might also go for lightly cluttered and slightly "hipster").

EDIT: I started an account on, but am not entirely impressed with the service. The idea is that they archive screenshots and entire copies of webpages, hence, good for a design inspiration collection. Adding pages can be glitchy, and it still doesn't have an easy "embed collection" sort of thing. Picasa (despite having irritatingly merged with G+) does support embedded slideshows, but generates an embeddable version itself. However, I'm not actually using Boltnet for its original intended purpose.

However, I ran across a lot of sites using carousels at the top of the page, and I have to say that was a big turn off. Knowing how popular they are, I'm pretty forgiving, but good lord. If I'm disinclined to actually look at a scrolling reel of content, I can't imagine that the average user will give it any thought. And a carousel is like the A1 photo; it takes up the majority of the space above the fold, which means that space is completely wasted if no one looks at it, much less clicks on the content flying past.

All of this has been discussed and debated quite a lot across the web. The general conclusions I found are that carousels stick around because you can sort of cram more content into a single space, and because they've become a staple. The problem with reading up on this is that while every design firm and marketing agency has done their own usability testing, that data is usually kept private.

The UX site on Stack Exchange has some discussion on the effectiveness of carousels, to wit, whether rotating content nets a site any conversion (meaning the user does what the marketer is hoping they'll do: convert from just browsing to being an active user or a paying customer). I can't remember how I found this article, but it's a good, recent roundup of tidbits on banner blindness, user control and contentless content. And from there I found Jakob Nielsen's denunciation of the autoforwarding carousel (though I was disappointed to find that the main example of user testing was literally user testing. One user.)

Anyone have a good way to collect inspiration online [that isn't Pinterest]?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What color is your flower?

few weeks ago a friend suggested that I fill out the "Flower exercise" from What Color Is Your Parachute? The exercise is designed to help you figure out what you're looking for in a career, and from what I can tell, it's also the core of Parachute (My copy is from something like 1980, and I haven't quite managed to read it). The book actually goes into quite a lot of detail on how to fill out the flower, but you can also just wing it based on the petal titles.

I know, it sounds a little hokey. I thought so too, especially since I thought I had a pretty good idea what I was looking for already, but I went with it. Turns out it's always helpful to get thoughts outside your head, whether to see all the facts in one place, leave reminders for yourself or generate new thoughts in the process. I don't want to make mine entirely public, but here are a few things I'm looking to do in my career:
  • Make information widely available and easy to access. That could be something straightforward like library work, or structuring webpages so that users can find what they're looking for plus several things they weren't. It could even be backend support for projects with this as a goal, e.g. part of a multidisciplinary team.
  • Help people become inspired to be self-motivated, informed learners who never just say "I don't know," but rather "Let's look it up."
  • Provide information services through products that are viable, upgradeable, scaleable and generally future friendly. So, no silos, relative links, transferable data, that sort of thing. 
As for skills, I have profiles on Coursera and Codecademy that will give a bit of an idea what MOOCs I've been fiddling with, and this project should also make it pretty clear what I'm capable of (anything! mwahaha*ahem). Generally: HTML, CSS, JS, some SQL and PHP, WordPress, Photoshop, Lightroom, baking, gardening... 

The other petals include things like: I'd like to work in a sunny, friendly office, with bikeability, sensible benefits, and most importantly lots of opportunity for learning and inspiration from colleagues, classes, workshops, conferences. 

And continuing with the embedding problem, here are some snippets of Parachute from Google Books in an iframe:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

OWW: Tidying up

So, how about that acronym? It is sort of descriptive of how my brain gets to feeling after too many hours staring at the screen. Here's a post on some trouble-shooting of the last two posts, and tidying up any loose ends that I can.

First, the original list post was confused about what element tags to use for embedding HTML content. I started with embed because it sounded like what I wanted to do, but it's actually "for an external (typically non-HTML) application or interactive content." Then I found object, which "will either be treated as an image, as a nested browsing context, or as an external resource to be processed by a plugin." And finally iframe which I had really thought went the way of the dodo for some reason, and which "represents a nested browsing context." Sooo...

Second, hopefully related, the embedded HTML doesn't show up in Google Reader. By switching to object tags, I did get it to at least display alt text. Turns out this is indeed a security problem with RSS feeds.

However, problem B is that the entire embed shows up as an empty frame for at least one reader using (you guessed it) Internet Explorer (IE. Abbreviations will carry into future posts). I suspect this has something to do with cross-site restrictions/same origin policies, or possibly just content blocking. Looked up user agent switching and (yay) Chrome has a built in feature to switch user agents from the developer console. However, everything displayed just fine when I checked the blog through the IE emulators, so I dunno.

The original list has now been tidied up, streamlined, and the stray notes I had in there for my own benefit have been relegated to drafted blog posts. I probably shouldn't blow any time styling it, but it's tempting. I would at least like to standardise some nice classy, plain styling for future documentation purposes.

Also, since this entire blog ought to be transferred to my domain in the near future, I'm not sure how much will be lost in the translation, so I'm not futzing about style too much right now. I did settle on using courier bold to highlight code terms, but then discovered that the code element does the same thing, so will use that henceforth.

Oh yes, and I had intended to use some pre and code elements in my TodoList file, but they didn't display properly on the first two tries. Turns out the < and > are still interpreted as HTML, so substituting in "&lt" and "&gt" respectively was necessary. It's worth noting that all of my HTML/CSS coding is happening using only TextWrangler, having upgraded from TextEdit. Someday fancy software (especially for previewing work) would be nice, but right now I like this basic approach.

Phew. I like fixing all the little problems, but it can certainly get a bit tedious. All my librarian research skills sure are coming in handy!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Gitifying the OneWeekWebsiteList

ote to self: document as I go, not after the fact. It felt a lot like I was running in circles trying to find documentation and n00b help as I was working on this, so I didn't take notes along the way. A lot of the point of this first step was to familiarise myself with a few new systems (Git, GitHub, Terminal, Unix command line, Vim), as well as just publishing my strategy for creating a bigger, better website for myself. The entire project is more about learning than having a finished product (although it would be nice to sell a photo again, someday), so each post is intended as a reference for myself, as you'll note from the links peppered throughout the text below.

I apologise in advance, too, for these posts likely being very dry, incoherent and plentiful. I'm often writing from the top of my head and focusing on developing and documenting rather than fine literary prose. Coincidentally, my horoscope for today:
Once you break down a task into manageable chunks, you'll discover that your challenges are not really that hard. You are absolutely capable of meeting the goal you projected at the beginning.
Essential breakdown of Gitification of The List:
  • Wrote project todo list.
  • Thought about purpose and use of list- dynamic, changing, updating steps as I go to keep track of overall process.
  • Translated list into HTML 
  • Created GitHub repository (repo) for new project, cloned repo onto local drive
  • Updated and committed ReadMe file on GitHub
  • Discovered that this threw my local clone out of sync, figured out basics of git pull.
  • Finally figured out how to control the vim editor in Terminal (thanks largely to the patient human who helped me with basic commands) to add messages to merges and commits when I forget to use the -m option .
  • At this point, the list was basically done, and pushed to GitHub. 
  • Researched how to publish a repo to the web so that it looks like an actual page. I had seen a friend do this with a basic design portfolio, but couldn't find a simple button to push in order to see repo files in anything other than raw code. 
  • Turns out I had to create an entire new branch in my repo, move everything, and when it still didn't seem to be working, realised I had left off the obvious !DOCTYPE declaration.  Actually, I could have just left it and popped in a reference or something. oh well.
  • Had also found this Google Style Guide, which mentioned that some element tags are optional in HTML5. So I guess my dunderheadedness over formatting my initial list file wasn't actually critical, but I haven't implemented the recommendations yet. Also ran it past a W3C validator
  • Meanwhile, I just need to get the published OneWeekWebsiteList.html into my blogpost, somehow, in a way that would save me from updating said blogpost every time I modified the original file. I found the embed element in the HTML5 spec to be a simple solution. Presumably there's some way I should have done this with PHP or scripting or one of those things I don't know how to do yet.
  • So, one properly sized embed element and a div element with simple border later, the list mostly worked as dynamic content. 

Unfortunately, I couldn't discover until after publishing that the embedded HTML file doesn't display in Google Reader. It's visible in the RSS feed itself, so the problem comes somewhere in the aggregator?

I would love to hear about better solutions to this problem, as I just went for the first option I could find in the interest of moving forward. I've also just now switched to an object element, since embed seems to be intended for non-HTML content. Any thoughts?

One Week Website

ow, in all fairness, this was a very optimistic concept on my part. I can put together a decent looking personal website in a week, no problem. Getting through the entire process I've outlined below, blogging and documenting each step, including research, references, background, backend, comparison shopping, self-analysis and content transfer? Not so easy.

The idea, however, in documenting the entire process is that I, and anyone else who cares to poke around, can review my notes and see the progress I've made and the time/effort I put in to doing a relatively thorough job. Thoroughness might actually be a fault of mine. I have a need to understand everything about a topic, to understand how the wheel works before I drive the car, etc. I can't just install WordPress (WP) and go with it, I need to understand how the backend works, how my data and files are structured, how I can query that database, and why that form is the right choice for me.

This means my initial process is slower than would be ideal, but I think the payoff in the long run will be greater. I have learned to let some things slide for the time being, marking them to revisit later when I have enough background to understand them better.

First, I need to figure out how to track this list. Do I want to Gitify (version track) it? repost at the end of each sub-post? certainly link back to the original list with each execution of a list item. It seems like a version-tracked version I can update and reference would be best... without having to republish every time I make a change. So I'll have to embed the list (published github page) itself:

Oops, try this instead.

ps. Yes, this looks ghastly. I need to publish and then iterate. I hear this is a thing you do.
pps. I see the embed doesn't work in Google Reader. Will have to figure that out, too.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

From the archives: Moose!

pulled onto Jenne road at 8:15, a left turn. As I advanced down the narrow dirt path at perhaps 10 or 15 mph, something moved in my left peripheral. I slammed on the brakes, stopping Gemma (my car) in her tracks. At the same moment, the poor moose I had startled walked out of the bushes to the side of the car, just a foot from my front bumper. I sat very still, being slightly worried that the moose would get the idea that I was trouble and should be trompled.  
The moose had other plans. He (I’m assuming it’s a he. It was a moose of moderate size without antlers) started ambling down the center of the road in front of me, completely blocking passage by any way.
So I waited. And I waited. The moose butt in front of me continued to mosey and generally take its time getting down the road ahead. When it was a moose butt in the distance, I started scootching up, revving my engine a little to let him know I was there. 
Two big moose eyes and ears turned to look at me in a vague, moose-like approximation of indignation. I stopped and went back to staring at moose-butt. Finally he decided, of his own accord, mind you, to get off the road, and stepped delicately into some shrubs. 
As I pulled past the spot where he had disappeared I muttered under my breath in mild frustration: Meese.

Originally posted to a previous (now defunct) blog on August 28th, 2006. One of two moose-sightings I had while living in Vermont!