I Voted Early

Monday, 20 October 2008

Today I voted at the BOE. Let me tell you, they are prepared. You should go vote early if you haven't already. There are two large rooms full of people eager to make voting as easy as possible. It looks like there are a couple hundred available voting booths. The longest part of the process was making my way through the 4 page ballot. The issue language for the City of Cleveland charter amendments is a bit dense, so I encourage you to do your homework before going in, so you can fill out the ballot quickly.

Judge 4 Yourself can help with choosing among the judge races.
Here's a link to the PDF of the mailer that Cleveland Council sent out about the proposed charter amendments.

That about takes care of the hard stuff to learn about in regard to this year's election. The state amendments are clearly explained and fairly easy to find more about online.

Take it seriously! Go Vote! It's the most important civic activity that you can participate in.

Toadies at The Grog

Sunday, 19 October 2008

On Wednesday I went to The Grog Shop to see Toadies, one of my all-time favorite bands. They played all of their old hits and most of their new album, which, after a few listenings, is quite good. The Grog was full of folks that looked like they hadn't been to a concert since Cobain was alive, but Toadies RTFO™. They played I Burn:

Possum Kingdom:

and it was Toadies drummer Mark Reznicek's birthday so the crowd sang to him.

My voice is still recovering.

An Event Apart — Chicago

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

I spent the bet­ter part of Sunday, all of Monday and the bet­ter part of Tuesday in Chicago at An Event Apart. I had an amaz­ing time. The sched­ule was jam-packed with talks from 8:30 AM to ear­ly evening both days. Not on­ly did I ac­tu­al­ly get to see a bunch of web lu­mi­nar­ies in meat­space, I fi­nal­ly met Eric Meyer, and my per­son­al de­sign role mod­el, Dan Cederholm.

Overview

At times I thought the con­tent of some of the talks was a bit too con­cep­tu­al and utopi­an; I mean that the tips about on­ly tak­ing jobs you feel pas­sion­ate about and spend­ing hours on the crafts­man­ship of a site sound good enough, but are on­ly re­al­ly ap­plic­a­ble for folks who run their own, al­ready es­tab­lished de­sign busi­ness (Which were the folks giv­ing the talks). I work on an in-house team of thir­teen, my boss, 7 de­vel­op­ers, 3 de­sign­ers and a web-main­te­nance per­son; we have around 100 sites that we are re­spon­si­ble for man­ag­ing. Since we’re in-house we can’t re­fuse cus­tomers and since we have so many sites to man­age we don’t of­ten have time to give them the pol­ish they de­serve. As a com­par­ison, the team that Cameron Moll runs for the LDS Church has twice as much staff for the same num­ber of web­sites. Folks were con­sis­tent­ly amazed that there were so few of us on our team and that we dealt with so many web­sites.

That’s my on­ly com­plaint about the con­tent; in terms of lo­gis­tics, I would have ap­pre­ci­at­ed a map to the AEA Party the first night, but the pre­sen­ta­tions were avail­able on­line for con­fer­ence at­ten­dees and every­thing stayed on sched­ule.

Talk Thoughts

  1. Jeffrey Veen’s (for­mer­ly of Google) talk about in­for­ma­tion de­sign was ex­cel­lent, and it made me think of a bunch of ideas for how we could dis­play Election Information on the BOE site. He worked on the Google Analytics web­stats project so he’s an ex­pert on how to dis­play large amounts of data in var­i­ous cus­tomiz­able ways. He talked about how in­stead of telling the sto­ry of the data, we can en­able the user to tell their own sto­ry. We sort of al­ready do this with our cus­tomiz­able elec­tion re­sults, but af­ter hear­ing Jeffrey speak, I think our im­ple­men­ta­tion could be a lot bet­ter.
  2. Cameron Moll talked about deal­ing with in-house de­sign groups. He man­ages a group of 30 de­sign­ers for the Mormon Church and their 100 web­sites. Their process in­volves things like sketch­boards, which sounds like a great way to sell a de­sign, if you have the time to put them to­geth­er.
  3. Zeldman gave an ex­cel­lent talk about how de­sign­ers need to be em­pa­thet­ic to the needs and be­hav­iors of the users of the sites we de­sign, in­stead of just de­sign­ing for what a board or com­mit­tee ex­pects to see. I un­der­stood his point, and even agree with it, but he didn’t re­al­ly ad­dress the fact that it isn’t an op­tion very of­ten.
  4. Jason Fried’s talk was sim­i­lar. He’s the main man be­hind 37sig­nals, a very suc­cess­ful CMS and work­flow com­pa­ny. He talked about crafts­man­ship and how do­ing the lit­tle things and tak­ing your time with a pro­duct will make it ex­cel be­yond the av­er­age. He men­tioned how his com­pa­ny spent 4 or 5 hours dis­cussing the best way to work the items in a ra­dio list. It would cer­tain­ly be nice if we had that kind of time to in­vest in the crafts­man­ship of our sites, but I gath­ered from just about every­one else there, that you on­ly have that kind of time if you’re self-em­ployed or run your own busi­ness.
  5. Dan Cederholm (my hero! and the au­thor of Web Standards Solutions and the Bulletproof se­ries) showed us some neat new CSS tricks that can be im­ple­ment­ed now for for­ward-com­pat­i­bil­i­ty, while at the same time look­ing just fine in cur­rent browsers. He kept stress­ing that it is okay if a site doesn’t look ex­act­ly the same in all browsers.
  6. Rob Weychert com­pared de­sign method­ol­o­gy to how folks play chess. This was a great talk.
  7. Rob Hoekman did on the spot us­abil­i­ty re­views. This is some­thing I think we need to do more of on our sites. There’s a site called Five Second Test [source of the idea] that can give a good rough es­ti­mate on how well a site’s de­sign works with the us­abil­i­ty. Another site that was men­tioned near­ly con­stant­ly was UIE which has all kinds of help­ful in­for­ma­tion about User Interface Design.
  8. Cleveland’s own Eric Meyer talked about his use of re­set stylesheets, which force most browsers to de­fault to the same dis­play rubrics. I’ve used them on a cou­ple of sites and they are amaz­ing. No more hav­ing to fig­ure out why things break in IE! The Debug stylesheets are used to im­prove ac­ces­si­bil­i­ty, by show­ing im­ages that lack alt text, mal­formed ta­ble data and oth­er stuff. They are on­ly used as a di­ag­nos­tic tool, but are very help­ful.
  9. Andy Clarke talked about how he us­es comic books as in­spi­ra­tion for web­site de­signs.
  10. There was a lot of talk about the us­ing the Golden Ratio through­out the con­fer­ence. I ac­tu­al­ly did a rigid Golden Ratio based de­sign for the TWiFi project back in the day.
  11. There was a de­mo of Adobe CS4 as well and there are some se­ri­ous­ly awe­some new tricks to make work­ing in Photoshop and oth­er pro­grams much more user friend­ly. I’m ex­cit­ed about get­ting those pro­grams if we ever have the cash for it.

Interesting Links

  • http://​wave​.we​baim​.org/ — Accessibility Checker
  • Firebug (Firefox Plugin that al­lows in­stant CSS check­ing and mod­i­fi­ca­tion)
  • Xscope is a tool that al­lows you to de­ter­mine the widths and heights of el­e­ments on­screen, with­out hav­ing to click around or open files.
  • jQuery is a javascript li­brary that is eas­i­ly in­te­grat­ed with CSS and is there­fore eas­ier for de­sign­ers to im­ple­ment and use.
  • Web Accessibility Checklist PDF

Other Cool Stuff

  • Using the CSS out­line at­trib­ute doesn’t af­fect page lay­out the way that us­ing bor­der does.
  • # is called an oc­tothor­pe
  • Instead of us­ing the CSS opac­i­ty at­trib­ute, which in­her­its to all chil­dren el­e­ments, you can use back­ground-col­or: rgba(0,0,0, .7);

I flew in Sunday night and want­ed to go to The Field Museum, but the Chicago Marathon had traf­fic so snarled that I spent 45 min­utes on a bus, moved about half a mile, and was then told to get off the bus, cross the street, and wait for a shut­tle that would then turn around and take us to the mu­se­ums. This was at 3:30 and the last ad­mis­sion to the mu­se­um was at 4, so I was forced to walk up and down Michigan Avenue shop­ping. I al­so went to Navy Pier on Sunday Night. Monday Night I went to The Billy Goat, which is a fa­mous bar where Chicago Tribune jour­nal­ists have been go­ing for years and years. They serve cheezborg­ers (that’s how they spell it) and steak and egg sand­wich­es. No Pepsi…Coke, No Fries…Chips. It’s cash on­ly, and a re­al­ly cool place. The Billy Goat Dark beer was re­al­ly tasty, but I drank it all night with­out even get­ting so much as a buzz. I watched the Browns game a bit and hung out with some folks I know from MetaFilter.

The Blue Line Elevated Train ran from O’Hare just about to my hotel, so I saved some se­ri­ous cash by pur­chas­ing a CTA pass in­stead of spend­ing $60 for the round-trip shut­tle or $80 on a cab ride. In Chicago, just about every­body rides pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

All in all, a great stay. Chicago is a town that is pret­ty much im­pos­si­ble to dis­like.

Five Thirty Eight

While I was in Chicago, a cou­ple of the guys from 538 rolled through Cleveland. Awhile ago, when they start­ed their On The Road se­ries, I sent Sean and Nate an email ask­ing them to let me know if they need­ed any help if they came to town. They didn’t spend a day in Cleveland like they have been else­where, but they did spend the night in my up­stairs apart­ment. They’re trav­el­ing around on a shoe­string (they had to bust on down to Appalachia-Ohio yes­ter­day to catch up with Joe Biden) and do­ing good work, so I was hap­py to help out, even in ab­sen­tia.

This is the sec­ond time this has hap­pened to me. In ear­ly June of 2007, Division of Planes, a band with a mem­ber who is al­so a mem­ber of MetaFilter, came out to Cleveland for a show, and had a good turnout. I scored a free copy of their EP be­cause of it, but hap­pened to be in Canada while they played at Now That’s Class. One of the­se days I’ll make sure to be in town when I in­vite peo­ple to come vis­it.

Taking Stock

Thursday, 9 October 2008

With the stock mar­ket act­ing like a bead of grease on a hot grid­dle, lots of folks have been talk­ing about how the in­com­ing 401k re­ports are go­ing to af­fect the elec­tion. I don’t have a 401k; since I’m a pub­lic em­ploy­ee, my pen­sion is man­aged by OPERS. I haven’t got­ten that state­ment yet, but the state­ment for my de­ferred com­pen­sa­tion plan, an ad­di­tion­al, vol­un­tary, pre-tax re­tire­ment op­tion came in the mail to­day.

A nice thing about this plan is that I can go in dai­ly and make changes to how my mon­ey is in­vest­ed. I’ve done this a few times over the last year as the grease grid­dle-hopped in the stock mar­ket. Since I start­ed the plan, I’ve done noth­ing but lose mon­ey. Even as I moved the in­vest­ments in­to more and more con­ser­v­a­tive port­fo­lios, I’ve lost more and more. The last state­ment in­di­cates that 55% of the mon­ey that was tak­en out of my pay­check this last quar­ter and in­vest­ed in my de­ferred com­pen­sa­tion plan has been lost. I’ve lost 17% of the to­tal mon­ey in­vest­ed since July of 2007

So I log on to stop ad­di­tion­al de­fer­rals and find out that in the last week, I’ve lost an ad­di­tion­al 11% in the val­ue, bring­ing the to­tal loss in one year to 28%.

That’s some se­ri­ous shit. Especially since my in­vest­ments are di­ver­si­fied among the most con­ser­v­a­tive in­vest­ment port­fo­lios that they of­fer. No more ad­di­tion­al de­fer­rals un­til what’s cur­rent­ly in there starts earn­ing mon­ey. I ba­si­cal­ly gave that cash to some­one else to throw away. I’d much rather throw it away my­self, or just let it pile up in my sav­ings ac­count, which, at least, is FDIC in­sured.

I won­der how much worse my OPERS pen­sion plan is go­ing to be.

Abraham’s First Television Appearance

Monday, 6 October 2008

Abraham and Debbie were impromptu shanghaied into appearing in the November 2004 Presidential Election Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Vote by Mail video a couple of weeks back. Now that it has made its way onto the airwaves and YouTube, he's officially famous.

Debbie looks pretty good too. ROWR.