I Voted Early

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

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

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.webaim.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

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

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.