Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Addendum)

Grand Mol
I was going to try and work this into the story as a whole, but somehow it didn’t seem to fit. So I’m sort of wedging it here middle, between these two tales of one city. I think this is really where it belongs.

I also indicated that it would be an anecdote, but it’s developed into kind of an anecdote wrapped in an opinion, so I really wanted to give it the separate attention it deserves.

So anyway, what I had alluded to in Part I, but neglected to elaborate upon in Part II was that within minutes of checking into the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Dallas on Thursday night, I experienced a Grand Mol Seizure.

Aw hell, don’t worry ‘bout me; it was definitely a good thing. What happened to me wasn’t some discombobulation of my central nervous system; nah…nothing like that.

I just met Molly Holzschlag.

You see, Molly isn’t just any ordinary nerd. She’s something else entirely. Remember when I mentioned I had mistakenly assumed that most web types were like me — laid back, kinda quiet and low-key? Meeting Molly is where I really discovered just how wrong I was.

When Molly Holzschlag meets you, you know you’ve been met. Her personality seizes you and holds you like there’s no tomorrow.

Frankly, prior to the conference I’d never heard of her. For that matter, I’d never heard of any of the speakers at the 2007 Webmaster Jam Session, but Trey had. He knew ‘em all, and was absolutely itching to attend the conference, especially since he had missed the inaugural event in 2006. They were like rock stars to him, and well they should be. Now after taking in all they had to offer — especially in the realm of what they’re all doing for the future of my profession — I hold them on just as lofty a pedestal.

But back to Molly…

Trey and I had just checked into our rooms on the 21st floor. It was nearly 9 P.M. and we were obviously famished, having had only the Southwest Airlines ‘Bag-o-Nuts and Soft Drink Dinner Special’ on the flight down from Nashville. We needed to grab some grub. So after taking a few minutes to drop our bags, we met outside our rooms to head downstairs and find a restaurant.

We made our way into the elevator car and punched the ‘L’ button. As the door began to close we heard the voices of two people and looked up to see them quickening their pace towards the elevator door. Trey reached out to hold it open as they happily filed in.

Our lift-mates were a slender gentleman with a quiet demeanor, along with a gregarious, raven-haired lady wearing a broad smile and a dangerous neckline.

“Are you here for the conference?” she inquired.
“Yes,” we replied simultaneously.
“Well I’m Molly Holzschlag. Nice to meet you!” she said extending her hand to us in sequence.
“I know…I read your web site all the time!” Trey offered.

Molly then proceeded to introduce the gentleman she was with, David Storey, who I would learn later works for Opera, the browser manufacturer, which in retrospect made perfect sense.

As I said earlier, Molly isn’t any ordinary nerd; she’s a crusader. As far as I’m concerned she’s as important to what I do as anyone else in the industry.

As we reached the lobby level and disembarked the elevator, we were somewhat tentatively wandering toward to the hotel’s main corridor when Trey sort of pulled me aside.

In an excited whisper he mouthed, “Do you know who that was? MOLLY! You know…MOLLY.COM? She’s one of the main speakers here! She’s HUGE!

Don’t worry, Mol. He was talking about your reputation.

As we continued en masse down the corridor, I learned that we were bound for the same destination.

I overheard Molly inquiring of her companion, “We’re meeting in the sports bar, right? How far down is it?”

Trey and I looked at each other and I said, “Sports Bar…sound good to you?” He nodded affirmatively. About that time we saw a hotel attendant passing in the opposite direction and Trey asked if the restaurant was close by. She pointed down the corridor in the same direction we were walking.

“All the way to the end,” she called out, so we continued on.

When we reached the restaurant, Molly and her friend spotted some people in the lobby corridor who were obviously connected to the conference. They stopped to commiserate while Trey and I continued in and grabbed a table.

Later that evening we witnessed what was obviously a pre-conference mixer there near the restaurant bar, with Molly holding court for most of the evening. When Molly speaks, people listen, and therein lies her importance.

Who is this woman, you ask, and why is she so important?

Molly Holzschlag is a web browser standards evangelist, and in a nutshell, she’s fighting for my job. She is the preeminent conduit between the W3 Consortium and the software companies who make the browsers with which we surf the World Wide Web.

She’s engaged in the daunting task of bringing all these mostly disparate parties together, to make it easier for all of us — particularly web designers.

The number one problem and most gut-wrenchingly frustrating circumstances any web designer faces is the task of making their pages look and behave the same across all web browsers.

Perhaps you’re aware of it, perhaps your not, but all browsers are not created equal.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), the web code technology I have been so late in getting into in my career, was developed to combat the problem of non-extensibility in web pages. Its purpose is to make sure that web page code is clean, understandable by someone who didn’t create it, and is easily portable from one viewing application to the next.

Without going into the exhaustingly long and tedious explanation for why browser incompatibility still exists, allow me to just say that the problem is still there, but Molly is on it like stink on poop.

You may know that software giant Microsoft is the Great Satan in the minds of many, if for no other reason than this one: Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) handles many CSS commands differently than do the Mozilla Firefox and Opera browsers. On the Macintosh side, Safari is somewhat of a different animal as well (pun intended).

As a result, when coding CSS to display the same on all these browsers, it’s necessary to involve work-arounds or ‘hacks’ to get the code to behave properly. Even then, pages don’t always look or work the way they’re supposed to.

This is extremely frustrating for a person like me, who is still in the process of learning CSS to begin with, let alone having to become a hackmaster in the process.

So when Molly is visiting Bill Gates for a summit on browser standards, she’s not just pleading the case of millions, she’s pleading my case. And she’s not just punchin’ a clock here either, people. She’s passionate about what she does. I think she knows it’s her legacy. What an awesome thing that must be, but also what an emotionally taxing burden as well; all the egos; all the red tape; all the corporate bullshit.

At the conference, Molly participated in panel discussions and her own keynote session in which she delivered her State of the Browser Standards address, detailing how the problem could be solved once and for all. Through her diligence, there is hope upon the horizon.

Prior to this 2007 Webmaster Jam Session conference I didn’t know she existed, but now, I’m awfully glad she does.

I’ve met the person.

I’ve seen the passion.

I’ve been seized by Grand Mol.


Also See: The Long Goodbye, Part One

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Part III)

Work hard, play hard.
It’s become almost a maxim of modern society. It’s as therapeutic as it can be excessive. What am I talkin’ about? Cutting loose; Serious relaxing; Gettin’ your Ya-Ya’s out.

Work hard, play hard, as the saying goes; that release of frustration, tension, and all-around nervous energy we all need to experience to balance what is an ever-increasingly hard-edged, pressure-packed existence in today’s working-world reality.

Personally, I’ve always been a low-key kinda guy. And given the fact that I’ve rarely worked closely with a lot of creative types throughout a largely freelance-or-one-man-shop career, I figured most artists were sorta the same way.

One of my best buddies, and only truly lasting college friend, Jay, with whom I spent five years in the Long Beach State Illustration Department, has a similar temperament as I do, which further fueled my shockingly narrow-minded assumption that artists are generally ‘Type Z’ personalities.

And finally, Trey, my traveling partner and web superior at The Company, is an extremely mellow and soft-spoken guy. So you’ll forgive my misappropriation of opinion here. Who knew?.

Don’t get me wrong; I like to have fun like anyone else. However I much prefer watching people exuberantly lighting it up (no illicit pharmaceutical pun intended) than being the one watched.

And Dood, did I have plenty to watch at the WJS parties!

I guess I wasn’t all that shocked. I mean, bring a few hundred people together — no matter who they are — lock ‘em in a couple a’ big rooms for eight hours and then mention the words, ‘open bar’ when the day is finished, and yeah, you’re gonna get a visceral response.

But hey, I kid because I love; and I really mean that — I I loved this group of nerds — mostly because of how un-nerdy they were! What an incredibly affable, gregarious, courteous, and talented bunch; from the attendees, to the organizers, to the instructors, there was a sense of solidarity and inclusiveness that was really unique for me to behold.

That sense permeated the conference hall throughout both days of keynote sessions, but it was cemented at the parties that the key conference sponsors made available to attendees each evening as a sort of reward for enduring the long days of lecture and instruction.

Mind you, we didn’t really need a reward for two days of top-notch information, but they gave us one anyway.

You gotta be a Geetar Hero
The Friday night gathering was sponsored by Microsoft and Blue Flavor, and held onsite at the Silhouettes Bar, located on the lobby-level in the hotel. It was closed to the public for our little shindig, which was also a nice touch.

The vibe was sedate enough, with most of the folks just milling around, commiserating and enjoying the open bar. This was pretty much how I thought nerds should hang.

The main attraction was definitely the all-comers venue of the video game Guitar Hero 2, which to show you how out of step with the video generation I am, I hadn’t seen or even heard of prior to that weekend.

Back at in the conference area, Microsoft had set up a ‘Digital Lifestyle Experience’ exhibit in a side room, complete with living room furniture, a large plasma screen HDTV an XBOX 360, and Guitar Hero 2 playing on it. People could wander in, try their hand at the game, and chat with the MS reps who were there to talk about their software, which also included the brand new Halo 3, as well as several others for XBOX. It was a bit of a different approach by Microsoft, which was prominently represented amongst the speaker’s group by Chris Bernard, but left a relatively small footprint at the conference from a corporate standpoint. They went for the soft-sell approach, and I think it went over pretty well in an environment dominated by Apple Macintosh users.

So they brought some of the equipment down to the party and had it set up for people to play throughout the evening. They would later that evening give away two XBOX 360s as door prizes. Oh yeah, that got people’s attention.

But what got my attention was the game itself. It was quite a spectacle. GH is a part of the newer generation ‘DDR’ (Dance Dance Revolution)-style games that you play in front of the TV with a (wired or wireless) controller device, which in this case, is shaped like a heavy metal electric guitar.

I won’t even attempt to explain how the game is played, except to say that each player is represented by a proxy figure you can select from a series of rock-god types beforehand. The idea is to play along to the beat of various popular guitar-oriented rock songs, using buttons on the neck of the guitar (while strumming with the other hand in the middle as usual), according to the notes that appear on the game screen. Seems impossible to me, but then again I’m about as musically inclined as a doorstop.

Fortunately not everyone is like me. There were some guys and girls really rockin out on this thing. It was pretty entertaining to watch.

Trey was of course familiar with GH2, being of a generation that grew up with Nintendo and PlayStation. He sat at a table, pretty much transfixed on the game, although he never made the attempt to get up there and throw his own hat into the ring.

I just watched and mingled for awhile, seeking out certain instructors to introduce myself to and thank for the outstanding presentations they’d given. Several minutes later when I went over to re-join Trey, I noticed that he’d already been joined by a couple of very pleasant gals who wanted to get off their feet and chat about the conference.

The ladies had traveled from Iowa for the conference and were just as impressed by the goings-on as we were. We talked about each other’s careers and current jobs, families, and what we hoped to get out of what we were learning.

It was one of many very positive encounters with fellow conference attendees we would make over the course of the two-day event. I really can’t say enough about how cool everyone was. It was like a huge family gathering.

Especially entertaining was what happened after Trey decided to call it a night and retired to his room but I remained, talking with the girls. Several minutes later, one of the conference speakers approached our table and sat down, followed soon thereafter by one of his cohorts.

What started out as casual small-talk about how great a job we thought the two guys were doing quickly became even more casual and goofy, with the two guys obviously chatting up one of the ladies in particular.

I just sat back and watched as the flirtations flew back and forth. I just smiled. But after about five minutes of that, the bar lights came up and an attendant came by our table to announce that they needed to close up. I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see that it was well after 1 A.M..

We all said our goodnights in the hallway and made our way back to our rooms, feeling pretty good about all the day had held.

Little did we know that tomorrow’s event would blow the doors off of Friday night’s little gathering.

Lounge Lizards
Following another excellent day at the conference, our hosts really saved the best for last.

The Closing party, sponsored by Adobe, was held at the Dallas’ infamous Lizard Lounge, not far from the hotel.

Apropos to both its location and the fact that it would be another open-bar event, shuttle bus to-and-from transportation was made available for this grand finale.

I’ve been to a few wild clubs before, but never anything quite like this. The Lizard Lounge is a two-level club with an outdoor upper VIP deck overlooking a large courtyard, which on the occasion of a special event that evening, was carpeted in beach sand, equipped with two large above-ground swimming pools and featured at least a hundred lay, bathing suit-and-flip-flop-wearing folks gettin’ their freak on.

It was the LL’s The Wet Grooves Luau and BBQ event and we were right there in the middle of it all, with semi-exclusive access to the VIP deck. Down on the main stage in the courtyard was a booming sound and video system setup with a crew of DJs spinning music until the wee hours.

Again, the drinks were free and flowing; the incredibly active and enthusiastic bar tenders dispensing them played to appropriately brimming tip jars all night long.

The atmosphere was electric and there wasn’t a plain face on anyone in sight. We mingled, enjoyed the music, and indulged in what was a people-watcher’s dream.

Nobody freaked out.

Nobody blacked out.

Nobody made a fool of themselves (that I could tell, anyway).

Everybody had a great time.

Unfortunately, though Trey had an early flight home the next morning, but we both were ready to call it a night by around 12:30 A.M. So we returned to the hotel, exchanging business cards with some of the other attendees we’d hung out with at the party along the way, and hoped like hell that the hangover fairy would leave something pleasant under our pillows the next morning.

Trey had a 7:00 A.M. flight, so I was really glad I wasn’t him at that point. However I couldn’t exactly sleep in myself. I had to be at the rental car agency at 8:30 to pick up my wheels for a Sunday day trip a few miles north, to spend the day with my brother Alex and his family.

What I had received the previous two days will stand out as a mountaintop experience in my mind, I’m sure, for a good while. But what I experienced in those next eight hours will last me a lifetime.

Next: The Long Goodbye, Part One

Also see: Grand Mol

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Part II)

Meeting of the minds
Lest I be tempted to nominate Trey for sainthood, I guess I’d better stop slurping and get on with the story. But given the backdrop I just painted about the guy, I think you’ll understand just how great this next part was for me.

For one thing, the conference we attended in Dallas was called the Webmaster Jam Session, not the Underling Jam Session. Trey was the logical choice to attend this thing. He didn’t need to invite me. Quite frankly, some of the stuff being discussed is still completely over my head at this point. Yet Trey knew I could benefit from it nonetheless.

One day during the last week of August, Trey called me over to his cube, pointed to his computer screen and asked, “You ever heard of this?”

He had the Webmaster Jam Session 2007 web site up on his monitor.

“Can’t say that I have,” I replied.

“Well, it’s one of the coolest conferences in the country, and I want us to go,” he exclaimed.

“Sounds good to me!” I beamed.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t pretty pleasantly surprised.

Trey went on to say that the bulk of the speakers for the WJS were folks he had either read or was familiar with, and you really couldn’t argue with the sponsors, an impressive group led by Microsoft, Adobe, Digital Web Magazine, and CoffeeCup Software, the conference’s primary sponsor, with its VP of Operations, J Cornelius serving as event emcee.

The event was held September 21-22 at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in Dallas, a very nice venue with spacious convention facilities just across the street, connected by an enclosed crossing bridge. It was pretty cool.

Now I suppose those of you who routinely travel on business and/or pay upwards of $150 per night for a hotel room might be tempted to roll your eyes a bit at my going on about the hotel, but cut me some slack here; I really don’t get out all that often. This is a ‘nice’ hotel, but it’s not exactly The Ritz. However it was definitely the most expensive place I’d ever stayed on a business trip.

The point is, it was a very comfortable experience in all aspects, which made for a very pleasurable experience. The onsite restaurants ranged from medium-priced and decent, to very expensive and exquisite. We ate at all three: the decent sports bar for dinner, the so-so continental restaurant for breakfast and dinner, and the very fine and pricey top-of the tower signature restaurant for dinner our final evening.

Enjoying pricey meals on The Company’s dime was a different experience. All of my previous business trips had solely been training excursions to Atlanta, where most of the time I’d just eat fast food in my room since I was always there by myself. Being on this trip with Trey, and with the downtown location of the hotel (i.e.: no fast food joints in the area open after lunchtime), I at least had a legitimate excuse to spend some actual money on meals.

It was nice to see how most everyone else who travels on business lives for a change.

I mean, there was even a Starbuck’s onsite in the front lobby, so it was all good.

The conference got underway at 10:00 A.M. each morning, in tried-and-true format: an introductory keynote session followed by more specific topical sermonnettes from a variety of industry-respected speakers in your choice of the two large, featured conference halls.

Trey was much more familiar with the speakers going in than I was, as several of them have industry-related blogs that he follows on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, the philosophies, suggestions for workflow model, and several of the code techniques, tips & tricks I heard during the conference had a familiar ring to them; most of them I had already heard at least being touched upon my Trey.

So I gained even more respect for his expertise; One thing is for certain: the guy I work with — my mentor if you will — knows what the heck he’s talkin’ about with this CSS stuff.

But what I think I enjoyed the most of all were the discussions on the future and theory of web design. It was fascinating stuff. Here are some highlights:
  • Jared Spool
    The opening keynote by Jared Spool, whose think tank company works with businesses on the concept of Interface Experience Design (IED). It’s that rare, invisible quality that, when successfully implemented, “integrates the user and the interface.”

    He gave a fascinating presentation on the successes and failures of some company’s web sites; how some worked and why they didn’t; why conceptually some products have been wildly successful while others with comparable function were total flops.

    His point was that successful IED isn’t all about look or ‘slickness’ as much as it is about feel and usability — the entire user experience. He noted that it’s non-introspective: most of the time it’s not even something that the user can even describe (“I don’t know ‘how’ I can do it, I just can”). He likened the phenomenon to air conditioning; you feel it, you enjoy it, but you really don’t think about it unless it’s not working.

    But the part that really rang my bell was when Spool noted that capturing, refining, and applying such a quality is a multifaceted, multidisciplinary process, involving not just one or two web designers, but rather an entire organization. The role of expedient experience design extends throughout the entire creative team. And that is a concept I really had never considered or accepted before.
  • Garrett Dimon
    Information architect Garrett Dimon took us through the process of designing a ‘bug tracker’ application (which he supposedly will be releasing to the public soon as an opensource project). He demonstrated all the various decisions involved with creating an interface that makes sense, which are akin to the decisions made in creating web site navigation. It was really interesting to see how his criteria changed throughout the process in determining which elements really mattered and which ones just sort of got in the way.
  • Rob Weychert
    Designer Rob Weychert offered his views on the differences between influence and inspiration; the art of availing oneself to new stimuli and truly original thought as opposed to merely following trends that often quickly become cliché.
  • Molly Holzschlag
    There were multiple sessions on the subject of web standards, one of which featured perhaps the most noteworthy of all the Jam Session guest speakers, Molly Holzschlag (who I’ll have an amusing anecdote about a little later). She is one of the world’s foremost web standards evangelists and is in great demand as a speaker on the subject. She has worked hand-in-hand with browser manufacturers (including a recent face-to-face meeting with Microsoft’s Bill Gates) and the governing body of the web, the W3 Consortium, to make extensibility standards consistent across the board — a noble task indeed.
  • Chris Bernard
    Perhaps my favorite of all keynote sessions was Classic Design and Web design featuring Microsoft’s Chris Bernard. Again it was a lot of philosophical banter about how the web communicates and attempts to do so in a continuation of the established principles and rules of classic design, from the birth of movable type to today, but geeze louise, didn’t it make me feel like I was back in Archie Boston’s Lettering class in Art School! All the talk about old-fashioned typography, The Bauhaus School and Gestalt theory really got the juices flowing for me.
And that was just Day One. But there was more, much more, including a really enlightening session on Web Accessibility by Derek Featherstone.

Feed Me
Day Two included sessions on web font usage, search engine optimization, more on CSS, further discussions on maximizing user experience in web design, and several other talks I only neglected to attend because I just couldn’t figure out how to be in two places at once.

Trey and I split up for a few sessions, with him opting for the more management-geared keynotes while I attended as many talks on CSS as I could fit into my schedule.

It was all a lot to take in, but even as the long days grew longer, the vibe, the ‘wow’ factor, the look on everyone’s faces — when they should have been totally burned out — instead were beaming with a look that said, “I want MORE!”

Well…there were always the parties…

Next: Work hard, play hard

Monday, October 08, 2007


I guess I asked for it…
I’m taking a short break from my current series (of which I posted a new part to, just ahead of this one) to indulge a rather fun interaction that I’ve come to enjoy recently.

One of my favorite people in Blogland is also one of my oldest acquaintances. She goes by the initials ‘CCC’ (but I just call her ‘C’ for short). She was among my original core of readers who herself began blogging near the same time that a lot of us did, in May of 2004.

For nearly a solid year she was as consistent as the sunrise with her comments of support until sometime in early 2005 when she just seemed to disappear from her own blog as well as mine.

Well I’m happy to report that as of early this past February, I discovered that C was back — and quite busy, thank you! She made the decision to do a complete career change, and has devoted a whole new blog to it, called Leaving Corporate. In it, C chronicles how she decided to take the plunge, eschewing a dissatisfying, yet high-paying job in the corporate world, for something much less stressful, while figuring out where her true career calling lays.

Pretty brave, but that’s the kind of passion for life this lady possesses. She is without a doubt the most honest and ‘rubber-meets-the-road’ blogger I’ve ever encountered. She really lays it all out there. Every post exudes power, self-discovery and the wisdom that comes with being real to oneself and to others. She’s got a lot to say, and has developed a pretty nice following of readers who enjoy the vicarious thrill ride of witnessing her dealings with both the demons of her past and the hope that we all have for her future.

But what’s kinda fun for me is, C thinks this post is about me, but it’s actually about her. The fact is, I'm taking the opportunity now to complete some unfinished business from March of 2005, when I wrote a series of tributes to a few of my favorite bloggers who had for one reason or another temporarily curtailed or discontinued blogging altogether.

It was about that time (if memory serves) that C also began to slow down in the daily posting to her old blog. I had wanted to include her in my Bloggers of Extinction series much more than just the cursory mention I did make of her at the end of it, but at that point I really wasn’t sure exactly what she was going to do. I didn't realize that she’d actually left until sometime later, after I’d finished the series.

So I’m now taking this time to do now what I wanted to do then. Actually, I kinda tricked her with the help of new member of my blogroll, and fellow CCC admirer, Josie Two Shoes.

The Two Shoes Interviews
On her blog in late September, Josie continued a memetic exercise she had participated in with another blogger, who offered to ‘interview’ her readers. As the blogger from whom she got the idea had done, Josie would ask five random questions, which the interviewee would then answer and expound upon, on their own blog.

Interesting concept, no?

Well, as an avid reader of Josie’s site, C took the challenge and asked to be put on the spot. Her responses to Josie’s questions can be found here and here. Predictably they were thought provoking and honest, encompassing the wisdom of both C’s late Mom and the lessons in human nature that life continues to teach her, concepts from which we can all benefit.

Subsequently C offered to continue the string passed along to her by Josie, to interview her own readers. Naturally, I was intrigued at what kind of questions C’s fertile imagination would come up with for me, so I e-mailed her to offer myself as a potential victim.

As I said, my intent was twofold; sure I was curious about her interview questions, but short of that, I just wanted to take the opportunity to say how special she is, and how much I appreciate what she means to our Blogland community.

So there. I’ve accomplished one part of my mission, now onto the other.

Tripping the Dark Fantastic
One thing I have to admit that draws me to C’s work is the fact that she’s so different than I am in the way she looks at the world. For whatever reason she enjoys the darker side of things, although not excessively so.

I wouldn’t necessarily consider her ‘Goth,’ or someone who particularly dips her toes into the waters of the occult, but she definitely leans in that direction.

In her e-mail response to my, “Eh…maybe I’d like to be interviewed by someone…” come-on, she sort of stated the obvious (and again, she did not disappoint):

I would love to interview you! Although, I'm a different type of interviewer than josie.

Er…no duh, C!

On to the questions...

1) You have just died. Your Maker has informed your soul that it will return to earth to learn several valuable lessons which AJ did not learn in his former life. What will you return as (male/female/animal) and which lessons does AJ still need to learn in his new life?

Hmmm…I guess I could return as a female so I could be a helluva lot smarter, but then that might not really satisfy The Maker’s intentions for me to learn the stuff I couldn’t get through my thick skull the first time around.

So yeah, I think I’d give it another go as a guy, except this time I’d be at least eight inches taller so I could lose this Napoleon’s Syndrome thing I’ve had going on all my life. Yep, I admit it, I’m a little on the passive-aggressive side when it comes to my shortcomings (no pun intended). Thankfully I’m much better in that regard now than I was in my twenties, when success as an athlete and circumstances in my personal life pretty much convinced me that my shit smelled like roses. As Michelle will tell you, in no uncertain terms, I was a lot harder to live with then. I didn’t want to face up to my lack of initiative, my lack of trustworthiness, being on time, etc. When confronted, I bristled and assumed that the world was against me. “I’ll show ‘em,” I’d think to myself. But most of the time there was nothing to show.

The moral I learned, and am still learning, is that you never grow up, you never mature, you only progress; and that is yet an ongoing process. I didn’t really learn that until I well into my forties; that’s lots of wasted years in frustration that I’d like to have back.

2) Before your soul returns to earth, your Maker has asked you to describe your preferred a) parents (if any) b) lifestyle, c) spouse (if any) and d) children (if any). Your Maker also informs you that your choices cannot be the same (people/lifestyle) as in your former life. Describe what you want in your next life.

Wow, that’ a loaded question! Certainly I would like my Mom to still be alive, and since she wasn’t really a part of my life as it turned out, that option would still apply under your scenario. I would have liked the chance to learn from her. Every indication is that she was as universally loved and respected as a person could be, but unfortunately the family curse, Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease robbed me of the opportunity to experience that part of her first-hand.

Obviously it’d be fun to be in a more financially well-off circumstance than the one in which I grew up, but not if it would serve to change my values, and the respect I have for the value of a hard-earned dollar. I mean, The Maker would want me to improve myself, not the other way around, right?

And finally, if you think I’m gonna entertain the thought of having a different spouse, you crazy, grrl! I know what’s good for me! But seriously, if I couldn’t have Michelle, then I guess the only thing I would wish for was someone just like her…but maybe like two inches shorter — or me being two inches taller. And you asked her, I know she’d agree. It’s not that big of an issue, it’d just be nicer that way is all.

3) Minutes before you died as AJ, both you and your wife were tied up and locked together in a closet by a robbery gone bad. How unfortunate. The robber is just outside the door and announces he will shoot the both of you shortly. At that moment, you look at your beautiful wife, knowing that you may never see her again -- should this robber succeed in his plan -- and you desire to tell her something you have NEVER told her before. What would you say/confess?

I would only say this if I was absolutely certain she’d believe me, otherwise I wouldn’t waste my breath on the possibility that she’d over-scrutinize or take it cynically. I’d only say it if I was sure she’d accept it at face value.

So with that condition met, I don’t consider it a confession as much as a declaration, and I need to preface it a little further here. No matter how much you love someone, no matter how well you know them, you cannot know their innermost thoughts and attitudes unless they want you to. I would like to think that I’ve communicated what I would say to her already, if not in so many words. But I don’t know if she believes me, because of my actions, which so often betray those words.

That being said, I would want her to know that I genuinely consider her to be the greatest gift that God could have ever given me, and it is her and her alone who makes me feel lucky to be who I am. Believe me, things could have turned out a lot worse for me. She is my pearl of great price, and I cherish her like nothing and no one else, regardless of whether or not my stupid self allows me to show it.

4) Your wife is staring at you, stunned at/ in awe of what you just told her (moments before you are about to die). What is the *one thing* you want her to say/confess/ or do to you before the robber opens fire on your ass?

Meh…something similar to what I just said to her would be nice. But it really wouldn’t matter either way.

5) All of us are going to die one day. Most of us hope we go peacefully in our sleep. And as we lay awake at night thinking of the way we are to die, there is this fear that hovers closer still -- the fear of how we *do not* want to die. Describe what method of death you most fear, and why?

Aww, ya saved the easiest question for last, eh? I sure as hell hope that by revealing it I’m not tempting the fates, but I’m scared shitless of drowning; drowning in water or suffocating in some type of semi-liquid material (like quicksand). I’ve had nightmares about it all my life and it gives me full-body shivers to dwell on it even for a moment.

I think the ‘why’ again emanates from my desire for control over my own existence, despite the fact I realize (and truly believe) that I really have none. Yeah I know, go figure.

Nope, when I go, I want it to be quick, in the daytime (I want to be awake and fully knowledgeable of what’s happening), and as relatively painless as possible. Think you can arrange that for me, C?

Passing it on
Thanks again to C, both for falling for my lil’ trick and also for posing such interesting questions. Hopefully I answered them to her satisfaction.

In keeping with the requirements of this meme, I now open it back up to my readers. If you would like to be interviewed by me, simply e-mail me (my addy can be found on my Blogger profile page), or leave me a comment to that effect. I will choose five questions that you will answer and post on your own blog. Then you can offer to extend this string a little further on down the line.

It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors better, and a lot of fun. Give it a try…I dare ya!


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Part I)

Trey Magnifique
Old adages are great, aren’t they? They’re true just often enough to make you think, “Wow, I shoulda remembered that!” in the wake of circumstances that pass through our daily lives.

It’s easy to distill the circumstances of our daily lives into these neat little packages of dogma anytime the unexpected occurs. We cite the truisms, No one knows what tomorrow will bring, or Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

My favorite is actually a rather new entry to the lexicon: Never assume, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME.

We just never know, do we? It’s amazing how often something or someone we were sure we had pegged to be one way, turns out to be another. We all do it, and usually without a lot of consequence. We simply shrug and say, “Who knew?”

However sometimes, when the stakes are a bit higher, it’s easy for a lot of us to be a bit more dramatic. Sometimes it’s easier to assume the worst than to hope for the best, then when to our surprise, the worst doesn’t come to pass, when we’ve successfully dodged a bullet, we gain perspective as to what our measure of blessing in this life is all about.

Over the past year I’ve learned — quite happily, I might add — that I was wrong about a lot of things.

I’ve come to appreciate the considerable good fortune that has been afforded me in the most unlikely of circumstances. At a time when I seriously feared for my future, he who I feared would be my executioner has turned out to be my savior.

What you don't know can hurt you
When I was told in the spring of 2006 that I was being passed over for the newly created Webmaster position at work, it stung, but not too much. I knew I was under-qualified to take on supervision of the new web site that was at the time still under construction, being created in all Java and CSS, two more recent web technologies that I knew ‘about,’ but certainly didn’t ‘know.’

I was stuck in a time warp. For eight years I had been tied to old, failing and/or obsolete web software that The Company’s previous two IT providers either owned or were heavily invested in, not-so-coincidentally foisting them upon us, having convinced upper management that they were the tools best suited for our needs.

Yeah, and carrier pigeons are the best way to send a letter, too.

So while everyone else in my profession was busy engaging the new technologies of the Web, learning CSS, JavaScript, and the newly mandated extensibility standards for HTML, I was still in the Pleistocene epoch. While my contemporaries were breaking away from the chaotic world of ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) web editors, eight years later I was still hip-deep in programs like, NetObjects Fusion and Lotus Domino.

So when the time came that The Company finally decided to graduate from dino-tech and embrace the current web standards, I wasn’t ready. I was like a deer in the headlights. I saw the truck coming, but felt powerless to move.

Now if you’re thinking it sounds as though I might need a little cheese to go along with my whine, you’re probably right. Sure, I was dealt a bad hand, but I didn’t have just to wring my hands as I did (when I wasn’t sitting on them, that is).

The Company’s ill-informed technology decisions didn’t absolve me of the sins of paralysis and apathy I committed against my own career. Instead of waiting for someone to hold my hand, I could have sought training, and of course I didn’t.

Even years ago, I could have made a bigger stink about our backward web technology. Perhaps I could have at least gotten the ball rolling, and convinced a few of the right people up to wake up and smell the coffee of the standards-driven movement that was sweeping the World Wide Web. But logically that would have required that I understood it myself first, and of course, I didn’t.

I could have attempted to learn JavaScript on my own instead of expecting for someone in IT to code the half-dozen JS projects that I had proposed, for me. I would have been willing to do most of the work; I just needed some guidance; someone to bounce questions off of; a little on-the-job mentoring. But no, “Too busy,” they said. “If you can’t do it, outsource it,” they said, and of course we never did.

I felt as though I was on an island; stranded; a castaway to my own fear of failure.

Instead of being a code warrior, I was a code worrier. I feared that if I stepped from behind the security of my one-pixel transparent GIFs and WYSIWYG web programs, surely I would be exposed for the programming-challenged faux-nerd that I was.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a pretty good designer, if I can say that without sounding too conceited. I’ve never had trouble making web sites that look good. It’s just that nowadays nice-looking isn’t good enough; non-interactive web design has become about as out of step as the 56k modem: just barely passable, and certainly not the way you want to go.

I suppose my problem was that I came into the Web arena from the print design world, with no knowledge whatsoever of code writing. I was a graphic designer who dove into web design using visual layout tools as opposed to learning HTML from a traditional coding perspective, and I certainly had no experience with programming languages like Perl/CGI, Java, or JavaScript.

I was exactly the type of person that the new movement was trying to at least enlighten, if not eliminate altogether. I was a web designer who understood little to nothing about the extended syntax of HTML, but instead depended upon WYSIWYG web programs to lay out pages visually, with their bloated, non-standard, bastardized code beneath the surface.

The biggest outcry against this visual, auto-generated method of creating web pages came from an area most people didn’t give a lot of thought to years ago, but whose ever-growing voice is now being heard and catered to: sightless and handicapped web users.

Web page readers are browsing devices that allow handicapped folks the ability to surf the web, by actually ‘reading’ a web page’s code audibly to the user, who navigates around the page via voice commands responding to the options given.

This method of actuating the functionality of a web page requires clarity in the way the page code is written, with the naming of all elements being essential, otherwise the maneuvering about for options is useless or at best extremely difficult for the user.

In this case, navigating through murky, ill-fashioned code would be like driving a car down the road trying to figure out where you are but all the road signs are either blank or written in gibberish.

This and the fact that clear, precise naming and code conventions saves processing time and thereby overall bandwidth, makes the push for code clarity as sensible as it is necessary.

So, bottom line was, I knew that I was in for a pretty radical change, and while I accepted it well enough, I still didn’t get the urgency of it all. I can’t say I went kicking and screaming into the New World, but I sure didn’t go willingly. It took a little prodding — in more ways than one.

You can’t judge a book by its cover — or its age
As I did more than hint about last year, the get-to-know-you period between my new boss, Katie, and me hit a few rough spots. As we transitioned from the old to the new web presence, I blithely continued to stroll along, plugging away at my job, almost as though nothing had changed. I had been told that it would be up to me to arrange the training I would need to learn CSS and JavaScript, et al. But instead of stepping up, I retreated to busywork related to the brand update that commanded most of our attention during 2006. It was work that needed to be done, but I focused on it to the exclusion of nearly all else, using it as my rationalization for not taking the initiative to arrange the training I would need when the new web site came online.

The Webmaster position still had yet to be filled over that summer, when the outsource company who was hired to create a new, whiz-bang corporate web site had nearly completed their task. With the exception of being asked my opinion on a few matters along with the Marketing team as a whole, I wasn’t included in the meetings during which the particulars about the new web site were hammered out.

I suppose I may have overreacted, but I felt more than a little left out. I had to wonder if I wasn’t being slowly nudged out the door. Regardless of what my concerns were, my resolve should have remained strong, but to be honest, it wasn’t. I sulked. I felt the walls closing in. I just put my head down and did what I knew I absolutely had to do, and nothing more.

At that point I remember thinking, “Why get training? What’s the point? I’m probably gonna lose my job anyway.”

Fortunately those self-destructive thoughts were only occasional, but I’d be lying to say they didn’t affect my behavior. Nonetheless I did try to do a few things to indicate that I was worth keeping around.

I was able to make a few JavaScript improvements to the existing web site that temporarily placated Katie’s abject disdain for it, but I knew was treading water at best, and still gradually sinking overall.

When Trey, the new Webmaster was finally hired in August, I really didn’t know what to think. I already had this persecution complex going with Katie. I could only imagine that a late twentysomething Web whiz-kid would regard this old dog with at equal disdain.

The last thing I expected was a totally cool, extremely smart and genuine person who actually cared about my success, when he most likely had the power to replace me if he felt I couldn’t cut it.

I really saw what Trey was about when the ca-ca hit the proverbial fan a little more than a year ago. After the new web site launched in October, he had been bringing me along slowly, giving me simple projects to do; things that didn’t require a lot of ramp-up with regard to maintaining our shiny new web presence.

However we fell behind on a new initiative that was directly related to our customers, not just the corporate look of The Company’s web site. When pressed for the reason we didn’t deliver as scheduled on the developmental deadline we had for the project, Trey reluctantly admitted it was because he had to go in and clean up after me, which was the truth.

I had thought I’d done pretty well on this, my very first CSS project, but there was obviously still a lot I didn’t know. All things considered, Trey was impressed with the work I did, but Katie wasn’t so patient.

She basically told Trey that I was skating on extremely thin ice, and that she was upset that I hadn’t prepared myself my better to be ready for the work that I knew was coming. And she was absolutely right about that.

But to his credit, Trey defended me. He didn’t throw me under the bus when he had ample opportunity to do so. However that situation was the wakeup call I needed.

Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks
I immediately went out and got a couple of CSS books, which coincidentally, both Trey and other coder friends I knew suggested. I began reading and practicing. All through Thanksgiving vacation I had my nose set fast into tutorials and those books. My head was spinning. I felt totally overwhelmed at first, but quickly began familiarizing myself with the tenants of CSS.

All the while, Trey was extremely encouraging, giving no indication that that any question I had was too trivial or burdensome. Slowly but surely, I started to get it.

Now a year later I feel pretty comfortable and the path to Trey’s cubical is a little less worn than it was several months ago. Next area of concentration is JavaScript, which still poses a looming threat to my overall viability as a web designer in the New World. However I’ve been able to find a lot of good support materials and tutorials on the Web, so, onward and upward I suppose.

The point is, this guy who I had no confidence would find me anything more than a stumbling block has been more than fair. He doesn’t coddle me, but by the same token, I haven’t exactly needed it. I just needed someone to provide a little guidance; someone to bounce things off of, so that I didn’t feel so isolated in this sea of new challenges.

Lucky for me, Trey went far beyond my unnecessary paranoia. I really couldn’t have asked for someone more grounded, stable and fair.

Lucky me, indeed.

Next: Meeting of the minds