Launching

So I finally just bit the bullet and put something out. After maybe four internal revisions and plenty of trial and error (and talking to myself), I have pushed out http://deck78.com.

There are going to be changes to the site in the future, but what you see right now is what you are getting until I find some more time to really sink my teeth into it. The main objective now is to actually start making some money and also get ready for the addition to our family come the end of July and other projects around here.

Tomorrow also marks the first unofficial gathering of tech people in New Ulm. It should be a good time and I am really looking forward to it. I’m hoping to have more information about that group in the future.

That’s about it at the moment. Thanks!

Being Geek

This is a short review of Being Geek by Michael Lopp. I’m writing it up now because I finally had my wife read the chapter she was supposed to and we were able to have a good discussion of who I am.

I’ll give my recommendation first: if you are any kind of software developer or “geek”, just save yourself the trouble and get this book right now. You’ll enjoy it and Lopp is a great author. Now, we get to the little itty bitty amount of meat in this post.

Being Geek is a book that closely  mirrors what Lopp has been writing at Rands in Repose for the past few years. If you have been reading him there, you will feel right at home reading this book.

It gives excellent advice for people who are looking to break into managing geeks (or nerds as he more often calls us). However, it also is beneficial for those who are being managed in one way or the other so that you can understand what is going on and how to handle those strange situations where you have no idea what is going on.

I took away many good things, but I won’t recount them here. The real gem, however, lies in the single chapter that is written for the other, non-geeks in your life. It is a primer on how we think, how we view the world and gives a taste for why you and I are the way we are. It is written with the usual wit and humor that Lopp writes with, but it brings up many fine points as to why we seem to be so strange to so many.

I’m purposefully not saying much here because I would like you to go and read the book for yourself or at least read some of Lopp’s other writings out there. Just go.

Note Taking Adventures at MinneBar

I was going to title this “iPad vs. Field Notes” … but that’s a little bit too dramatic for me. Really, it was just me using MinneBar as an opportunity to test out two different ways of taking notes and see which one worked the best for me. These are my overall impressions.

iPad

It actually worked better than I expected, both with and without the keyboard. The keyboard was nice, but it is big and took up space (both at a premium in a packed session). I just used the built-in Notes program and it worked just fine.

For the most part, I recommend using the on-screen keyboard to take notes and just take down what you need. The main problem, for me, was finding a comfortable position to sit and type in when there was no desk or table top. Typing, for me, is relatively fast but mistypings and misspellings were pretty common because I was trying to get down more notes than I could type.

One thing I did notice is that I spent more time concentrating on typing notes than on the speaker for parts of the session as I tried to get certain things down.

Field Notes

I’ve gotten into the habit of using a 48-page Field Notes notebook to take down my daily todo list and any thoughts I have during the day. I also tend to doodle or sketch in them as well, so I wanted to see how well it would hold up as a note-taking apparatus.

If I was going to give one bit of advice about using a notebook it would be to get a GREAT writing utensil. Buy as many different pens as you can find and try them all out, you are bound to find something that you love and you need to in order to make it worth the effort to use a notebook.

I’m going between three at the moment, but that is for another time.

The Field Notes notebook was perfect for many things like writing down short little notes as quickly as possible. Sadly, I had a substandard pen with me at the time so I can’t read some of the notes because the ink becomes too light. Maybe the best thing is that the notebooks are small and the feedback immediate. You can write down a short little blurb faster than on an iPad and then set it aside until the moment you need it again. It is also easier to sketch things in the notebook.

It is hard, however, to write with certain pens if you can put the notebook against something (like your leg) so you get into the habit of sitting in funny ways to get around it.

You should always have a surface to write on at conferences.

Winner?

Neither and both. Both worked well and I liked using both but you really just have to try out the different options and choose for yourself.

I choose the pen and Field Notes. Now I just need to find a better pen.

My Day at MinneBar

On May 7, 2011, me and two friends (Aaron Spike and Phil Wels) headed up to the Best Buy headquarters in Bloomington, Minnesota to attend this year’s MinneBar. We were only three of the nearly 1200 people there, but I think I can safely say that we enjoyed our time.

It is hard to get all of the information contained in the talks during the day, but I’m going to briefly touch on the ones that I thought were the best for me.

HTML5, CSS3, & Mobile: Responsive Design

This was the first talk I attended and it did not disappoint. I was able to catch Mike Bollinger’s CSS3 talk during last years MinneBar, and you might consider this talk an extension of that.

If you don’t know what Responsive Design is about, I would recommend reading Ethan Marcotte’s article at A List Apart for an overview and then check out Andy Clarke’s 320 and up for some code that you can start with. If you want some inspiration, check out Media Queries for some good examples of live sites doing exactly what we would like to see.

It really boils down to using the same semantic HTML markup and using CSS with media queries and other mumbo jumbo to tailor a site for any screen resolution. It really is an exciting idea, and recent advancements in browsers has allowed this to become a reality. While Mike’s example of the upcoming TECHdotMN contributor page starts with the largest viewport and works it way down, Andy Clarke starts from the smallest viewport and adds in things as it gets larger.

The talk was great and seeing the actual code and how things are structured was really useful. The venue also had the most comfortable seats. WHOHOO!

Ban Helvetica Part 2: How to Pair Fonts

Typography is one of the huge weaknesses in my web design/development toolkit and this talk was a good introduction to how one designer chooses fonts that work together in different ways. It is a highly subjective topic, but he added some objectivity to it in order to provide a framework to work from.

Here are the four steps:

  1. pick a font (any font)
  2. REALLY look at it (REALLY BIG)
  3. complement and contrast
  4. pick fonts based on observed attributes

The four parts of a font that he (Garrick van Buren) observed were:

  • serifs
  • contrast
  • shape
  • terminals

That’s it. You look at the four parts of a font, look at what would be similar and what would be different and then start choosing fonts based on those attributes. You want to choose a font face based on whether it complements or contrasts with your chosen font.

That might be the main thing I took away: choose fonts for a reason. Be deliberate in your choices and have reasons outside of “they just look right together.”

Overall, a great talk that had way 10 minutes of information and then many examples of how he does it. Sometimes it is the simplest things that you take away.

Pseudo Elements for Fun and Profit!

his one was right after lunch, so I was in a little bit of a food coma at the time, but Chris Coyier did an awesome job of showing us how awesome pseudo elements can be for hammering out designs in CSS. It really is remarkable what you can do with just CSS, and it was the inspiration for me to hammer out my CSS calendar icon today at work.

Nothing like an icon written entire in code that will be easy to update on the homepage. Awesome sauce.

Chris is a great speaker and I hope I can catch him again in the future. Remember, pseudo elements are a part of CSS 2.1, so if someone isn’t implementing them, they can’t use the CSS3 excuse!

Color Theory & Consumption: A Matter of Life & Death?

This one was a last-minute change for me, and I’m glad I went. John Mindiola III was an awesome speaker, very engaging and very funny talking about a very serious subject.

He started (and most of his presentation) revolved around what design is used for in order to sell things to consumers. Most of the time it is trying to sell something that maybe a consumer doesn’t need, or maybe shouldn’t want. He used chips as an example, blue M&Ms and many other junk food things.

He then brought up baby carrots and their website and campaign to try and get them into more places and more kids eating them. It was all very eye-opening, even for someone like me who tries to work my way through the advertising. It really is all around us.

Finally, the main gist (I think) of the entire talk was to get us to think. Here is my (poor) paraphrase:

What is we spent as much time trying to sell things that are good to people as we do trying to sell things that are considered bad?

That’s a terrible paraphrase (he said it far more profoundly), but it brings an ethical tilt to the job of a designer when often they might just be asked to make something look pretty to get people to buy something … anything!

The Missing Web Curriculum: What Every Web Professional Should Have Learned

Jeff Lin took the time to talk about what he sees as the missing parts of the current curriculum for web professionals. He kept it broad for a reason so that he could bring in anyone who even touches the web (which could include producers of content along with coders and designers).

He’s currently working through a curriculum change at the college where he teaches and he gave an overview of how they are handling that. Basically, they are moving to a more generic curriculum so that they have the opportunity to catch all of the current technologies without having to go back and redo the entire curriculum every year.

He is an advocate of learning how to actually markup in HTML and CSS, which is HUGE in my book.

However, the rest of the time was mainly spent with discussions going on in the group. Sadly, most of it revolved around people defending the current higher education model of education and trying to fix it or mold programs into what they perceived as beneficial. While that might work in some cases, I think that the web and technology in general (NOT things like computer science necessarily or design generics) do not lend themselves to the “ivory towered” approach of higher education and that starting from scratch and building something new might be both more beneficial and more economical.

Overall, a good presentation with even better discussion.

Closing Comments

The whole day was great and I enjoyed the whole thing. I’m looking forward to getting back again next year to learn some more. Last year I went to many of the startup/business sessions and this year I spent most of my time at the design sessions. Who knows what I’ll visit next year.

Identity Crises

Go ahead and read Ubuntu’s marketing kick: Is Canonical the next Apple? and then come back. I’ll try and make it worth your while, but I can’t promise anything.

I don’t really have much to say about the article at all, but it is pretty normal tech press coverage of an event. Namely, it is boring and doesn’t add anything of substance. What I want to really focus on is the title, and really just the phrase “Is Canonical the next Apple?”

Besides an obvious answer of “no” (both because it is absurd and because it has a question mark at the end), it really brings to light another problem we all tend to have. The idea that Canonical (or anyone else) needs to be the next Apple (or anyone else) is absolutely ridiculous and counter productive.

Let Canonical be the first Canonical and Apple be the first (and last) Apple. We should never want another company or person to gun to be like another company or person. You can feel free to emulate aspects of other people or parts of a company, but why would be want to limit ourselves or our companies?

We don’t want Canonical to be like Red Hat or Microsoft or Apple or anyone else. We want them to be Canonical and to keep doing things their way just like we don’t want Apple to be like Microsoft or Google or anyone else either. To do so is to eliminate what makes companies unique. What a bland place to wish for.