Water Tower Engineer’s Guild Handbook

Last fall, while working on the barn renovation project, I found a well worn copy of the “Water Tower Engineer’s Guild Handbook.” It was truly an AMAZING find.

Water Tower Engineer's Guild Handbook

I am thinking the former owner of my house must have been a guild member – this book contains some rather esoteric material, stuff that Mr. and Ms. Vince J. Public doesn’t know. For example, I bet you didn’t know that water tower engineers and light house keepers have a special bond. They are close cousins, and part of a secret aquatic society. When the master of a lighthouse needs to travel inland, he always stays with a water tower guild member.

I’ve also learned something about the actual mechanics of different types of water towers. The “sky pimple” model uses a gravity driven well system (much like the lochs in the Panama canal) to pump water from underground aqueducts to the top of the tower. An octopus, usually, lives in the tower itself and manages the flow to surrounding communities [see diagram]. An octopus is as smart as a house cat – very clever – and much more industrious. That’s another guild secret – they understand the cephalopod mind. Some common East Coast water tower structures are summarized in the following diagram. Please click to view full sized version:

smaller view of water tower diagram

This book is packed with a lot of information that I don’t really understand – and I’m pretty sure that I am as least as smart as a house cat. As I learn more, I’ll post it here.

Web Accessibility Conference, 2008

At long last, the day is here. After almost a full year of planning, the Johns Hopkins Web Accessibility Conference will take place today.

web blocks

I’m delighted to say that I’m giving a talk on the basics of CSS and you can download my materials here. My presentation slides, the examples and sample site are available in a zip file. I’ve been teaching the in-and-outs of CSS for two years, sometimes in a semester long format, sometimes in a single day. This is my first shot at an hour and fifteen minute long overview.

[Update: I’m writing from the conference. There are about 140 attendees. That’s more than the sum of all co-workers at every small company I’ve ever worked for. My talk went well!]

If you came to the conference, thank you! I hope it was helpful!

I’ve donated my own time to create this presentation and these materials – I didn’t get paid to do this. I think accessibility is important, and I think that if we all strive to make web sites using the standards provided by the W3 – as flawed as the process is – we will  shape that path we all are on – developers and designers, web users and browser makers.


I began carrying a sketchbook with me everywhere I go about two years ago. I had abandoned this practice for maybe six or seven years, when most of my life/work/art/ideas lived almost entirely in digital forms. When the going gets overly complex and/or stale in the digital realm, though, pen and paper prove their worth everytime.

I started with an 8.5″ x 5″ book, like this one.


I used it so much that I started carrying a smaller 6.25″ x 3.75″ sketchbook, too.


I always have the smaller one with me, and usually both of them, depending on whether or not I have a laptop in my bag.

Last spring, I attended the Event Apart event in Seattle. In the “bag of swag” was a spiral bound ruled notebook (6×6). One of the presenters suggested using the book at work. I don’t like spiral notebooks – the metal usually becomes twisted and jagged during my travels, etc., but I thought I’d give it a try – it had the “Event Apart” logo emblazoned on the cover and I really enjoyed that show.

Between April and December, I took many notes during meetings, I worked out ideas and made plans. The book recorded the portal redesign project I’ve been working through (more on that soon). The book added something to my work process, and I became rather attached to it (despite spirals). And then, in December, I misplaced it. I haven’t been able to find it ANYWHERE. I believe it’s gone forever. Even Saint Anthony doesn’t know where it is.

Which seriously sucks very much.

I keep encountering “Moleskine” books. I’ve resisted them because my books, shown above, are extremely durable and much cheaper. And, I wondered if maybe Moleskines are a little snooty. But, is it not written, “Every problem is really an opportunity?”

I decided to replace the missing spiral book with a graph lined Moleskine.


And what do you know? It’s really fun to write in – it reminds me of a book my dad used to keep. I don’t know that I’d use any of the Moleskine sketchbooks as a main sketchbook (I’m going to give them a try), but the graph Moleskine has quickly become a trusty replacement for the missing spiral. I suppose all the people on those Moleskine fan web sites can’t be all wrong…

Cold Drinks

Cold Drinks CD cover

Finally! Patrick O’Donnell’s latest CD is released into the wild (Skoda Records). I love getting mail. This is his best music to date (in my opinion). And not just because I contributed drum tracks, either.

What a nice way to start the musical new year!


IF: Horizon

This week’s Illustration Friday topic is “Horizon.” Keep a weather eye on the horizon.

Click for larger:
Where is up?