SXSW PBP

I am safely returned from Austin! The conference was good, and the city was fantastic. The only other place in the states that I’ve enjoyed as much is Chicago. Maybe it’s because of all the extra people and chaos around the SXSW festival, but the amount of music and amazing food (two of my favourite things) was unbelievable.

Friday morning I discovered the wonder that is the breakfast taco at Cicso’s Restaurant Bakery! In the afternoon it was to the Museum of The Weird, and then to a (terrible!) laptop music battle. The idea was really cool: A dozen pair of musicians battle, each one gets exactly 3 minutes, crowd decides which ones move on to the next round. Unfortunately, the music was (seriously) horrible and (even more seriously) boring. I would love to sign up for next year and kick some ass.

Saturday morning was more delicious breakfast, and Saturday night was a party full of wonderful and weird entertainment. A lot of fun until the lineup for the washrooms became longer than the lineup to get in. Ended up at a place called The Jackalope, which is quite likely the most awesome bar in the world. Pulled pork quesadillas are like a sex party for your mouth.

Had lunch Sunday with the WordPress crew, and then a night drive to Driftwood, Texas, where we made a pilgrimage to the best barbeque in a day’s travel: The Salt Lick. I tried to take photos of it, but there was no way to capture the scale of the place. It’s two or three huge buildings, with a parking lot the size of Rideau Centre. Serious fucking food. (Also, serious fucking drinking: Driftwood is in a dry county, so it’s BYOB — there were families there who brought massive coolers-on-wheels full of beer and whiskey.)

Spent a beautiful Monday day walking around South Congress, which is what Queen Street West would have been if everyone there listened to psychobilly instead of post-punk.  In the evening was the EFF party, which reminded me of the Dark Carnivals, except with cooler vendors and less interesting visual artists. The headlining artist was Ian McLagan (formerly of the Faces [with Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones, and Rod Stewart], aka The Modfather), and we snuck backstage to hang out with him for a few hours after the show, where he gave us many drinks and told us hilarious stories about Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg. Stopped by the Casino El Camino on the way back to the hotel for a delicious dirty cheeseburger (and to say hi to The Amazing Mr. Lifto) before calling it a night.

Then Tuesday a brief stop at Austin’s finest haberdashery, a bunch of hours on a couple of planes, stopped by Zaphods for the last few hours of the night, and (finally) home.

How was your week?

augh

Trapped behind the gate at Frankfurt airport. Flight is late, screaming children are everywhere. We were told to arrive three hours early, security took away my iced tea and there is literally nothing to drink here (and no way to get anything to drink), and I’ve forgotten all three of my books in my checked luggage.

This is going to be a terrible flight.

Only an hour left until we board!

…and then only eleven more hours until we land!

…and then five more hours in a car to get home!

If maschinenfest weren’t so awesome I would be pretty pissed off.

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One of the weirdest things about this trip is the peek it gives on how I could have turned out.

I’m a bit of a celebrity here, because I’m the only one of Flint’s children who made it to his sister’s funeral (the big man himself was explicitly uninvited, and was smart enough to stay away).

Of course, no one here really knows me. They know a part of my story, or what I was like when I was eight or ten or fourteen. (One aunt refuses to refer to me by my name, she calls me “the genius” instead, like I’m from a different world.)

I’m asked a lot why I never moved back to montreal, why I’m not moving back now. There’s opportunity abound (this cousin just bought a fido store on a whim, that uncle runs a very successful new media firm, etc.) and it’s difficult to articulate my reasons in ways that make any sense to them.

The stories shared over drinks (congac that I could never afford, let alone appreciate) are equally alien: turning Bill Gates down for an opportunity to invest in Microsoft in ’73, trying to call a cab to a family-owned factory in the heart of Compton at 4AM, or paying off a hit on a brother to save their life (and then telling them years later how much they regretted it).

More to come as I get the chance to post it.

tbgo

I’m in Montreal for a funeral. It was for one of my aunts, someone who helped take care of me when I was young, after my dad kidnapped me. (I didn’t post about it before, because I didn’t want to advertise that the largest gathering of clan Kaya in twenty years would be in range of one well-placed grenade.)

This is the most involved that I’ve been with my father’s side of the family since those days, and it feels like I’m through the looking glass. Limos, private restaurants, multimillion dollar homes, arguments about who stole the will from who…

It’s all very surreal. I’ll try to take some photos.

Trip Report

After much travel chaos, I’m home safe and sound after Web Directions North.

I’ve been to a number of conferences, but I don’t remember the last one that I enjoyed as much as this. There were a lot of great sessions, like Cameron Adams‘ full-day JavaScript workshop, and Brian Fling‘s Mobile Web presentation (did you know more people have access to the web via a mobile than people who have access via a desktop?), but the huge take-away for me was Andy Clarke‘s full-day workshop, “Transcending CSS”.

I wasn’t expecting much out of the CSS workshop, honestly, because there isn’t too much about CSS that I don’t already understand — but Andy’s workshop focused on thinking differently about using CSS, and composing meaningful markup. We spent a lot of time reviewing traditional web design workflow, and why/how to move to more progressive, browser-oriented techniques, and somewhere between the two topics I realized why I’ve had such design ennui when it comes to my own projects.

When I was younger and much more prolific (in my design prime, so to speak), I didn’t know nearly as much about web design, or html/css as I do now. I didn’t really know how difficult a design would be to markup or implement, and I never stopped to consider how I was going to manage the content itself once the code was done. I’d design the site in Photoshop, and I’d start hacking together code to try to get it to look right in a browser. Along the way, I’d run into a problem getting the design to display faithfully — maybe a limitation of HTML or CSS, maybe a gap in my own knowledge, maybe a weird IE rendering bug — and I’d have to find a way around the issue, which generally involved modifications to the design or rewriting most of the code.

This would happen a lot (just how often depended on how complex the site was, but a dozen times or so per site is a safe estimate), and each time this happened, the design and code evolved further away from the original concept. In other words, problem solving had become part of the creative process, and my design was being informed not just by my own ideas, but also by the limitations of browser rendering engines.

This doesn’t happen anymore for my personal sites. When I design a site in Photoshop, I’ve got a solid understanding of what is and is not possible. When I run into implementation problems, my understanding of XHTML/CSS is such that I can almost always solve them, and I end up with a fully validated design that looks exactly like the Photoshop. And that’s a great thing, if you’re a consultant and you have client sign-off on a mockup, but I’ve realized that this has robbed my sites of the things that keep me interested in them. My creative process for personal sites ends at Photoshop, now, and doesn’t carry any further than that.

I believe design is problem solving, not art. When I design a site and there’s no creative problem-solving process involved, I end up with something that I think is very pretty, but completely lifeless and boring, and I abandon it immediately.

The trick is now to translate this new knowledge into a new creative process.

Personal epiphanies aside, it was incredible to spend a week chatting, learning, (and drinking) with so many people whose work I’ve followed (or idolized) over the years, like Dave Shea, Matt Webb, or Jeffrey Zeldman. (It was like a Maschinenfest for web geeks, in that sense.)

Twelve or thirteen years ago (half a lifetime away), when I was a Very Small Jairus, and first trying to learn learn HTML, I didn’t understand how any of it was put together. The markup part was easy (I was a fairly competent C++ programmer, writing System 7 apps), but the design element of it was frustrating and confusing. How come the page didn’t look the same on Windows as it did on MacOS? Why doesn’t this tag do the same thing on two different browsers? I didn’t get it.

There were six or seven big names on the web at the time, and I emailed them all. I told them that I was trying to learn HTML, none of it made any sense to me, and (heh) could I please rip off their websites to build my own so that I could figure out how the fuck any of it worked.

The only person who emailed me back was Jeffrey Zeldman, and he said “Of course you can — go ahead and rip the code off, that’s what it’s there for”. And I did, and I ended up making my first website based off of the code and layout of his site. And honestly, if he had never emailed me back, I don’t know if I would have kept bashing my head against the keyboard until everything started to make sense; so it was very important to me that I had the chance this week to thank him in person for this, and I did.

I’ve been posting a lot of photos from this trip to my Flickr account, but the photo I posted earlier from the top of Blackcomb is the only Whistler photo I’m going to put online. The vastness and scale of the mountains are awe-inspiring, and it’s completely impossible to capture that in film. I took dozens of photos, but on a computer screen they’re just a bunch of snow covered rocks, and not the mountains that I spent two days on.

Day 1

8 pints and 1 Alaskan Cod later, it’s time to fall asleep to Confessions Of A Knife on the $10/h hotel-room jukebox.

If I sent you any embarrassing emails, I apologize. If I haven’t yet sent you any embarrassing emails, I apologize. (I promise to get to you soon.)

See you tomorrow!