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.


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.