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.

Announcements Life Technology

Pre-Announcement Announcement: Deck78

I pre-announced it today on Twitter so I thought I’d do the same thing here just to make it a little more “official.”

I purchased the domain for Deck78 (or Deck 78 or deck78 … whatever) today and Deck78 is going to be the kindred spirit of Replosion, my prior failed adventure into owning a business (and may it live in peace).

More information will be coming in the future.

Also, an imaginary cookie to the people who can figure out the reference in the name.

Life Technology

Another Technological Change in Direction: Week One

So it has been one week since we dropped our Mac Mini into someone else’s lap and picked up a used MacBook for my wife to use. I thought I’d post some quick thoughts on how things have done so far. Yes, it is a list, so bear with me.

  • I spend far less time in my office at the moment now that I have all of my stuff on my MacBook Pro. Granted, part of that has to do with me ditching caffeine as well and needing more sleep. I am interested to see if that will change as I get more and more into the development side of things again.
  • My wife uses her laptop A LOT, which is great.
  • The speed increase between Late 2009 and Early 2011 for the MacBook/MacBook Pro is pretty amazing, but the MacBook is still REALLY usable. Actually, more than that, I would still use it as a main development machine if it was mine.
  • An SSD really can make all the difference. I don’t have any right now, but my old MacBook Pro was fast ONLY because of the SSD I had in it.
  • OS X is worth the “price of admission” for me and my family. The amount of time I spend fixing things is nil now, which is great.
  • The glass screen of the MacBook Pro might be glossy, but it is SO strong that it is worth it.
  • I can’t believe I missed it, but purchasing an entire cable (instead of just an adapter) to run from my monitor to my MacBook Pro is worth it. So much simpler.
  • Mice are a crapshoot. The Magic Mouse is a great mouse, but you will need to try out a number of mice to find one that works for you.
  • I really wish Apple was still making the smaller USB keyboard (the one that looks like the Apple Wireless Keyboard).
  • The iPad is still incredibly useful. I was worried that its usefulness would go away with the purchase of another laptop, but that has not been the case. The experience is still completely different, and different in a good way (both using a laptop and using the iPad).
  • Apple’s MagSafe adapter might be my favorite change to laptops along with LED-backlit screens. A minor thing overall, but it makes a HUGE difference.
  • We really need to get a desk just to hide the power adapter. Would really like a roll-top desk so that we can hide the MacBook from our son.

That’s about it. More later!

Life Technology

Another Technological Change in Direction

Where the confluence of life and technology meet, I waver back and forth. I’ve always been this way, for better or worse, but it seems to be at pandemic levels at the moment as I waffle back and forth on my technology setup for the future.

If you’ve been keeping track for long, you’ve seen me go between Windows, Mac, Linux, Mac, Linux, Mac and then Linux again. I probably missed one or two transitions in there, but you get the general idea from that list.

One positive has been my ability to stay rather neutral as far as file formats go, and moving between platforms has been relatively painless for me since my initial move to Mac back in the Spring of 2005.

However, I’m set to make another course correction in the near future, one necessitated for a number of reasons. I’ll split them into Work Reasons and Home Reasons.

Work Reasons

Work purchased me a new 13″ MacBook Pro, so that really made the decision pretty easy. I had my T61 set up pretty nicely for the time being, but when the opportunity presented itself I jumped ship back to Apple pretty much as fast as I could. I have no scruples when it comes to technology and right now Apple provides me with what I both want and need.

There is also the little bit about how I’m unofficially/officially the “Mac guy” at work as well. Part of benefit of my Genius training I suppose. So, having a Mac, using one and thus, keeping up with what is happening on the platform is probably a good idea. I’ll also get to keep up with Linux because I interact with them at the server-level every day.

So, I’m ditching my T61. If you are looking for a T61, let me know.

Home Reasons

Since I now have a Mac portable, I’m going to go ahead and consolidate on that single machine for ease-of-use. It makes sense for me, and the power of the Core i7-powered MacBook Pro is WAY more than I am used to having, so it works rather nicely.

However, that leaves a wonderful Mac Mini sitting in my office not getting used anymore. That’s not 100% true, as it does get used for pictures and videos and music at the moment for the family, but not as much as it did and not even as often as it should because of its location in the basement of our house.

The basement means having to go down a flight of not-quite-awesome stairs and also putting yourself farther away from the rest of the family. Since the machine will now be used mostly by my wife, and she can really only use it when our son is asleep (and will be able to do it even less-so when our next child arrives in July), she doesn’t get down there often. You also can’t hear much when you are in my basement office.

What does it all mean?

It means I’d like to get a machine into the main part of the house for my wife. However, we don’t have a desk to set it on, and if we did we really don’t want a huge monitor staring us straight in the face somewhere in the main living area. It also only draws our son’s attention, which we don’t want either. The boy loves looking at pictures, videos and just pounding on the keyboard as well.

Because of those needs, I am working on selling the Mac Mini and we are going to use the money to purchase an inexpensive Apple portable for my wife to use (used, refurbished, won at a drawing, etc.). This makes sense for a number of reasons.

First, it can be closed so it is not staring our son in the face the whole day. Second, it can be stowed away in a case or a roll-top desk (which we would like to get) so that it is not always out for people to look at. Third, because of the above two, it can be in the main living area so that she can use it more often to get her pictures up on Facebook or edit some video for various groups.

Now, the idea is to use any money we get from the Mac Mini to purchase the laptop so that it is an equal trade. We might have to trade some processing power for the size and portability, but that is a choice we’ve made.

I don’t know when this is all going to happen, but I’m hoping relatively soon. Sometimes things just keep on changing.