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Fitbloggin’ 2010

I’ve been looking forward to speaking at FitBloggin’ since last year. This conference is organized by my friend Roni Noone, the hardest working Mom in blogging. It was Roni who actually introduced ME to WordPress a few years ago. I’m excited for her, and proud to be a part of this event.

I’m also glad to have a chance to talk about WordPress – not as a developer-designer-JavaScript nerd – but as a blogger.

When I first started blogging, if you can call it that, it was a simple list of things that I was enjoying at the time. I called it Joie de Vivre, and as you can see, I updated it just over a dozen times. That saying “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” applied here – I was so busy making Web sites for other people that I didn’t really update or work on this. So, I installed WordPress.

My favorite quote by Colon Wilson that “pessimism robs ordinary people of their power” turned into the mission statement of my blog. I decided NOT to blog about technology/web design because a gazillion other people do this and technology posts are often irrelevant before they are even published. It seemed to me that writing about the fun-good-happy-doubleplusgood things in my life would reinforce an optimistic attitude, and spin even more good vibes into my life.

I was right. By focusing on the positive things in my life, more good things have happened BECAUSE of this. Good shit happens when you blog. The Road to Hell is NOT paved with good intentions – it’s paved with NON-intentional behavior.

Now, that might sound goofy, but it’s completely true. This Web site is a record label, printing press and art gallery and it’s potentially available to millions of people. I work hard at Art, in part, because I have an opportunity to publish Art – and I don’t mind publishing my mistakes and drafts and experiments. I don’t wait for anything to be perfect (admittedly, this may not be the best practice). I’m just so happy to have a place to put things that I can keep going-learning-growing.

Anyway, dear friends – here’s my presentation. Leave me a comment. Subscribe. Say hello. Keep in touch.

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jQuery at WordCamp Boston 2010

Man, Boston sure feels cold! My talk went well, considering that:

  • jQuery 1.4 just came out and I had a ton to cover
  • My talk was a 45 minute talk, and I did it in 30
  • I used a NetBook running Linux to present slides authored in PPT, which seemed a little risky at a MicroSoft compound ;)

To everyone who attended my talk, thanks. My slides are here no longer relevant.

My good pal Roni Noone was there, and we got to play with Microsoft’s tabletop touch computing device.

Table top computing

Chess

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WordCamp NYC jQuery Slides

jQuery Wordcamp NYC slides

This weekend,  @zgordon and I decended on Baruch College in New York City with 740+ other WordPress peeps for two very full days of WordPress. I gave an introductory jQuery talk to a receptive crowd on Saturday afternoon.

I covered:

  • A look at the current state of jQuery
  • A look at DOM manipulation and some popular aspects of jQuery
  • An overview of some handy plugins, including browser fixes, gallery tools, AJAX/JSON, etc.
  • Adding jQuery to WordPress themes

At long last…

My slides are here. Enjoy. If you were there, please let me know what you thought!

Talk

Talk

Pre-talkcrowd

I was asked to give an ignite style 5 minute talk the next day. I was really tired and I don’t think it worked very well as a short talk. Five minutes just wasn’t enough!

I came away with a lot, more of which will appear here in the future. It was great to catch up with Jeremy Clarke and Rebekah (I’ve downloaded net beans), hang out with Jim Groom and to meet Baltimore’s own John Bintz of Comic PressAndrea_r and Ron, pillars of the MU community, we even nicer in person.  I loved Noel Jackson’s talk on P2/Monotone. I had a great conversation with Dan Milward as we walked to Baruch on Day 2.

Thank you to everyone who attended my talk! What a great weekend!

P.S. Thank Zac for the photos and helping me out so much!

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I’m Speaking at WordCamp NYC

I got the word last night that my proposal for integrating jQuery in WordPress theme/plugin design has been accepted. I’m beside myself with excitement – I’ve been looking forward to attending this for months, and to actually have the chance to present a talk is awesome. I’ve meet so many cool people at these things, and this event is shaping up to be a blockbuster with multiple tracks (eduction, WordPress as a CMS, MU, designers/developers, enthusiasts, etc.).

WordCamp NYC

Slides, files and notes coming soon – stay tuned.

P.S. If anyone has any cheap lodging ideas, please write!!!

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The Future of Web Standards

AEA BOSTON
I’m having a sleepover in the Philadelphia airport, as I write this. It’s  somewhere between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.  Why? Well, Twitter, of course! See, there was a tweet that said:

We’re giving away 5 free student tickets to  the first 5 students or faculty who include #aeaedu in a Tweet. Hurry!

I did. And so did a lot of other people, and I figured I missed the boat.  Then:

Jim, Did you get my message?

BINGO! I went to gray, rainy Boston on Monday. It was, as before, a really good conference. Friendly, like-minded people, excellent food and a sense that we are all working toward a common cause.  And I’ll never pass up the chance to talk with Mr. Zeldman while he’s trying to use the bathroom.

The “standardistas” emphasized:

  • Web sites do not need to look the same in all browsers.
  • Having a “content strategy” is important, because content is king.
  • Design with CSS in the browser and not Photoshop
  • Use a Grid
  • Flash, particularly sIFR, can solve typographic issues
  • User testing is vital

This is standard issue stuff (pun intended), and was highly emphasized at last year’s conference. And the one before that.

Which made me wonder – what’s actually NEW? The web is moving quickly. A lot has happened since the last conference I attended (last August).  Why aren’t we, as designers,  talking about it?

We have jQuery, which is so easy to use, it feels like cheating. It handily repairs shortcomings of IE6 issues, allows us to easily implement AJAX and JSON solutions and gives us ways to enhance our designs with expedient virtuosity previously unthinkable  for most front-end designers.

And, what about Chrome? How does bing.com enter into the SEO conversation? How is touch computing affecting web design and mobile devices? How does Flash fit into our conversation, aside from solving typographic issues and video streaming? And Flex?  It does some pretty amazing stuff. What the hell is the W3 actually doing? And, let’s talk about HTML5.

Another observation – every other person I talked with had something to do with Higher Education. Is there a curriculum for Web Standards?  I think it’s time to expand the discussions at Standards based conferences –  the world knows that we strive to keep content separate from formatting and behavior. As a teacher, I see things shift in 5 to 6 month cycles – each new class entering my room knows more than the one that just left. Our conferences should keep up, too.

I’m really glad I got to go – the design portions of the conference were inspiring, as always.  And it’s refreshing to get out of the office (hospital)  and be with other designers, to inspire each other and connect with a community.

So, as I sit here in this empty, quiet airport during the middle of the night, I wonder…what’s next?

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Truer Words were Never Spoken

twitshirt

Uttered at WordCamp Mid-Atlantic last weekend.

Thanks to the encouragement of Roni, Zac, Lisa and Jaye, it’s now a fashion statement. Any money from the sale of this shirt will be donated to Autism research, on behalf of my friend, Sarcastro, who doesn’t yet have a blog.

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The Art of Inspiration

I have a very valuable folder on my computer called “Inspiration.” It contains years worth of images that I’ve collected from the web. It’s a digital scrapbook – a bin full of neat things and ideas for when I’m feeling stuck or need a reference for something like a water bug. Most of us have something like this, right?

collection

There are two problems with this folder.

1) It’s an unorganized mess of thousands of pictures.
2) My Dell Vostro Laptop has died TWICE in the past year. While I’m compulsive about backing up my data, sometimes I go a couple of weeks between making a DVD. I may collect quite a few images in two weeks.

So, this weekend I took a few hours and I created an application called  Perspiration™.  [And, yes, I’m super busy with teaching, taking classes and all the other projects on my desk. I just needed to do something else for a bit. Savvy?]

persperation logo

Perspiration™ lets me  upload an image to a password protected website and apply tags to the image. I can then search on tags, image names or have it show me random images.    I wrote it  in PHP, and the cool thing is, there’s no database. It uses text files, so the whole thing is highly portable (or as highly portable as thousands of images can be).  I’m using jQuery to handle thumbnail and image previews.

I’m *almost* finished with it – I’ll post the source code when I’m done for any peeps who want something like this.

This guy has a folder, too.  Enjoy:

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Milestones

To mark the 100th post on this blog, I want to note another recent milestone – the big site at work went live this week. I have too many thoughts about that redesign project to share here on this blog – I’ll save those lessons for my students.

I learned a lot sitting in the creative director’s chair – selling design to an ever shifting committee, building consensus and learning how to handle criticism like “my wife doesn’t like it,” which, yes, really happened.

Sir Alec Issigonis said “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”  Everyone is a designer, and everyone is creative. Building consensus and solving complex visual and technical problems within a diverse group of  smart, ambitious people felt a bit like trying to pass a stimulus package in, say, congress. But, I did it. And the camel has been set loose in the wild.

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Wordcamp for Education

The first ever WordCampED took place today on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. WordPress users love WordPress – and when you mix that with a passionate cause (like learning/teaching/education), lively discussion ensues.

Jeff McClurken talked about how he uses blogs to manage his classes (instead of, say, Blackboard). For anyone who hasn’t used the Blackboard LMS, it’s ugly, expensive, difficult, proprietary and it values data more than learning and usability. There are open source LMSs (like the really great Moodle) – and WordPress actually fits well into this category (see below).

Hosting

What are the options for hosting WP blogs? A public school teacher may not have access to server space within the school system and could easily set up a blog on WordPress.com. For those who do have access to in-house hosting, there’s WordPress.org – the latest version can be downloaded and installed in  5 minutes or less. And it’s possible to host many blogs with one installation using WordPress MU (multi-user – it’s what wordpress.com runs on).

There’s discussion as to whether having a single blog with many student logins is best, or individual blogs linked via RSS (syndication) to a single parent blog. I like the latter because:

  • Students have control over their entire blog instance
  • Students may be inclined to continue blogging after the course ends
  • New bloggers may feel slightly less self conscious blogging on their own blog and more inclined to blog regularly

However, having a single course blog can make sense because:

  • It might be slightly  easier to maintain from an instructor’s perspective, and key students can be tapped to help maintain the blog
  • Content may be retrieved faster (all the comments are in one place)
  • This could potentially be more collaborative than individual blogs (although the individual blogs can be linked to the parent blog).

Selling the administration on WordPress

OK, so you are sold on WordPress like I am – how does one bring it to their organization? There are predictable questions that regularly have to be addressed.

“We’ve already allocated $150,000.00 for Blackboard.”

Hmm. And we are looking at shrinking the faculty/educational budgets because the economy isn’t sure it wants to live in the United States anymore.  Wouldn’t $150,000 dollars help? WordPress is a mature platform – and it’s free.

“There isn’t a budget to hire programmers.”

We don’t need to hire programmers. The people who make WordPress keep it like a shiny new pin, security issues are resolved often before they are issues, and given that there are MILLIONS of WordPress installations all over the world, it’s extremely well tended by its own community. There are virtually plug-ins for every possible feature/configuration request/idea.

“WordPress is a blog. Why would we use a blog in a course?”

There are plug-ins that can transform WordPress into courseware – like ScholarPress.

And, we DO need blogs in the classroom. Having blogs hosted in education helps shepherd our student’s digital identities, and teaches valuable skills in communication, fosters digital literacy in the course/classroom AND promotes creativity and collaboration.

“What about FERPA issues? And how to we manage the institution’s image when students have blogs?”

Privacy can be managed at the application level, and through policy as well. Hopefully, there are already policies in place to govern Internet usage and digital materials within the institution. We could start here.

And here’s the thing – this is already happening in institutions all over the world. We can approach this though a fearful, risk based approach (inspired in a big way by the RIAA and like minded organizations). Or, we can be A PART of the bigger conversation about education, and contribute to it – we can propel education and e-learning forward and NOT be left behind.  Communities often behave in the spirit they are created – so, let’s create a positive, powerful collaborative learning environment. What could be better?

“Blogging takes time.”

What doesn’t? Sure, you can manage course documents via e-mail and worse, printed Word documents. And, when the class is over, projects once toiled over whither and fade. Blogging, however, can ensure that research projects endure. Which may lead to future opportunities for bloggers (employment, grants, fame, etc). Check out the Historical State Markers blog, which is actually linked as reference material from the State site – it’s a fantastic use of research.

What’s next

There are challenges to introducing blogging into our courses – how do grade a “blog?” How do I encourage real  participation from students and not just “I agree with the article” comments.

There are endless possibilities and many amazing success stories. As educators – we can and should share our thoughts, approaches, code, ideas and help each other to succeed. As students, we can shape the course with our participation. We can build relationships with our peers and create lasting works that actually help others. We can foster amazing educational experiences, develop life long skills and partnerships and help define the next wave of educational technologies.

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SocialDevCamp East

SocialDevCamp Fall 2008
SocialDevCamp Fall 2008

Following up on the successful premiere of SocialDevCampEastSpring2008, held in Baltimore in May, SocialDevCamp East Fall 2008 once again invites east coast developers and technology business leaders to come together for a thoughtful discussion of the ideas and technologies that will drive the future of the social web.

SocialDevCamp Fall 2008
SocialDevCamp Fall 2008

I’m new to BarCamps – this is a great thing. We met in the morning and, as a group, listed a bunch of topics (Building sustainable co-working in Baltimore, iPhone Apps, Best practices in building your online community, etc.) – and then we broke out and presented/discussed/worked on these topics. Talk about user generated content!

Session Organizing
Session Organizing

At one of the sessions, I won a shuffle! Golly!

shuffle
shuffle

More to follow…

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San Francisco, Part Two

Jeffrey Zeldman and me

I’ve had a couple of days to digest the material from WordCamp and An Event Apart. I’m not going to transcribe the entire thing, as many other blogs have it covered, but here are a few highlights.

The WordPress WordCamp got my gear turning. WordPress == framework, which can be a website, blog, photoblog, social media site, etc. It’s open and completely customizable. Liz Danzico and Jane Wells did a fascinating demo of “Crazyhorse,” a prototype of the next generation of WordPress. It’s not clear if all the changes they’ve described will be implemented, but many were improvements. Their process involved a lot of user testing with cool “lasers” that track eye movement on the computer screen. They literally took what users asked for, proto-typed it, had the users test it again to see if the changes worked. Liz then gave an interesting talk on improvisation at An Event Apart, and how users and designers must work together to create better web sites. I think I was already tuned in having seen the Crazyhorse demo, and she offered that this process can be considered a framework.

Framework: Provides uninscribed and detectable cues that loosely govern a set of actions or interactions.

She made an interesting parallel to the recording of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album, where Davis walked in a handed the musicians slips of paper containing a theme, thus giving birth to modal Jazz. She called this “creative instability” and talked about the need for user design process to be improvisational. I think she sorta ran around Robin Hood’s barn to make the point, but I love when anyone uses music theory to make a point. Even if a pending book deal is likely in the works.

Eric Meyer’s first talk was on CSS frameworks…should we use them? His answer was essentially “No” and then he spent an hour talking about them anyway. Anyone who does CSS regularly already has some sort of base foundation they will use on each project, and an external Framework isn’t going to do much. I sensed a little contention between Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric about the next generation of HTML and XHTML – I think I would have preferred hearing their thoughts on that, than wasting time on something most attendees wouldn’t use.

jQ

There was a lot of talk about jQuery, a lightweight JavaScript framework at both AEA and WordCamp. The thing that drew me to jQuery initially was it’s simplicity. It’s a tiny, simple, extremely elegant library. I love jQuery.

Me and Jason Santa Maria

Jason Santa Maria, always an inspiration, asked us to put the “design” back in “web design.”

I spent some time with Jeremy Keith at the Minna gallery talking about accessibly navigation (and a day later with Eric Meyer, too).

I learned a lot about making sites MORE accessible using AJAX, about how panda obsessed groups battle each other on flickr and about project management scrums.

Do Websites Need to Look Exactly the same in Every Browser?

Finally, Dan Cedarholm definitively answered this tortuous question. I’m so glad this has been settled.

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75th Post

I began this blog a year ago next week with a tentative post about my favorite breakfast sandwich. Seventy-five posts later, I’m celebrating this milestone at WordCamp in San Francisco.

Wordcamp 2008

Here’s how this little blog has impacted me (and mine) this past year:

  • Other blogs that were started as a by-product of this one
  • I filled a sketchbook in thirty days
  • We have started using blogs at work, to great effect
  • I have produced a sizable body of work, ideas and happiness in the past year
  • I had my first exhibition at an art show, and another pending
  • I have met many talented, inspiring, nice people because I blog

Yes, many nice people, including WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg.

Me with Matt Mullenweg

WP MoleskineIf you can get to a wordcamp (and you are a blogger or want to become one), Please do. Having access to WP developers (THE developers), search-engine-optimization experts and a diverse, fantastic community is invaluable. Plus, they have free temporary tattoos (and for those who donned such tattoos there were limited edition Moleskines).

I’m thinking I’d like to get WordCamp going in Baltimore. I’m 100% behind wordpress as a platform, and I really think it is a platform, like Facebook, etc. And there are really cool things coming to WordPress soon, too. I am going to start developing pluggins in addition to themes. I’ve seen the light.

OK – I’ve held my thoughts so I could post this post at Wordcamp. More on my adventures with my friends Neil and Hobbes in San Francisco tomorrow – like, the fact the Neil and I have a fridge filled with bananas, Doritos and lime diet coke.

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Fourth Annual e-Learning Summit

I just got back from presenting at the Baltimore County Fourth Annual e-Learning Summit. I heard most of Susan Patrick’s keynote address, and was amazed to learn just how far Mexico and China are in developing e-Learning content and platforms.

I co-presented a talk with Heather Katz on creating accessible content for e-learning. Heather did a wonderful job of explaining the current state of Flash accessibility and best practices. This is the third talk I’ve given this year on accessibility, and I’ve created a new area on my site for the subject.

Talking about Melons
Here’s me, demonstrating how to talk with your hands. About fruit.

Nice watertower

Thank you to all the great people I met today.

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The Hybrid Designer

A fine kettle of fish

Recently, Johns Hopkins University enacted an “IT Reclassification Process” on its technology employees. The idea was to examine what technical industries outside the university system are doing, and to try and match some of the “real world” salaries and position titles and job descriptions. When done correctly, this helps with attract talent and keeps employee turnover low.

As near as I can tell, someone whom I’ve never met or spoken with, and with little understanding of what I do, looked at my job description and decided that I am a “web site designer,” perhaps because the word DreamWeaver appeared in the description. I logged into the time keeping system one day last October, and I had been magically transformed from my department’s “web development coordinator” to a “web site designer.”

Which got me thinking about the roles web professionals play.

At a conference I recently attended, one of the speakers polled the audience:
“Who is a web designer?”
“Who is a web developer?”
“Who are the hardware and LAN administrators?”
“Who writes content?”

I never raised my hand – I was waiting for him to ask “Who designs AND writes code?” But, he didn’t.

He was making the point that the above mentioned groups fall under the purview of an IT department – there usually isn’t a web department separate from IT – and that designers/developers are often responsible for writing content. That’s an accurate assessment, to be sure.

I read something on Jeremy Keith‘s blog recently where he mentioned a group called “hybrid designers,” which would encompass people like myself, I suppose. Sometimes programmers back into interface design, or designers become interested in scripting and coding – either by choice or necessity. I’m not sure I like the term “hybrid designer,” although I understand what Mr. Keith was talking about.

Web development is exciting because it is all encompassing. We are designing experiences, and as such, benefit from having an understanding of how all the parts work together to achieve our goal. Volumes have been written on all the separate parts. What excites me is the act of creation from a holistic approach. To combine a beautiful, effective interface with accessible coding – to have a logical, clean site organization and to understand its impact on hardware resources – to determine the best schema for a database and create it accordingly – all this is thrilling. Flash, web standards, database design, typography and GUI design, information architecture – it’s a big tasty stew.

In my current role, I wear many hats. I have to gather and document requirements from doctors, nurses, administrative assistants and people from all walks of life. I have to advocate for patients and the end user of my work – I advocate for web accessibility. I design layouts. I communicate ideas and sell new approaches and technologies. I have to learn and understand these technologies. I live in the worlds of Microsoft, Linux and Apple. I program with ColdFusion, PHP, JavaScript and ActionScript. I use Access, SQL Server, Visual Basic and Mumps. I create animation with Flash and encode video. I produce design comps with PhotoShop and take digital photos whenever needed. I am asked to think about security and understand search engine algorithms. And that’s all before my second cup of coffee. It’s a great job – my favorites are always ones that are multifaceted.

Here’s the predicament. Those of us who are web Swiss Army knives, who engage our fields on many levels – what do we call ourselves? In my case, Coordinator wasn’t quite hands on enough – but designer is too limiting. Sure, we are developers – but we are more, too. Hybrid designers? Comprehensive developers? Web Generalists? Integration Architects? Web Experience Facilitators? InterAction Figures?

Is it not written, “This is a fine kettle of fish?”