Web Design and Fitness

Three times a week I work out hard with a trainer at a gym. It’s like sex. I don’t mean it feels good. On the contrary, it hurts. And I don’t mean there’s cuddling after. What makes my hard workouts like sex is that they’re followed by a spacey bliss in which there is no atom of desire. When I’m lying on that post-workout stretching table, gazing vaguely at the ceiling, Christina Hendricks could sashay by wearing a G-string made of thousand dollar bills and carrying a plate of spaghetti, and there’s nothing I would want from her.

Our industry rewards long hours in the cubicle and for many of us, it shows—especially as we get older.

Sometimes I wonder whether I became soft because of what I do, or chose what I do because it suits a lifestyle in which “physical activity” means answering the door when the pizza guy arrives.

For years I worked out three times a week, but with no results—partly because I didn’t know what I was doing, and the rest because when it got tough or boring, I quit. Hence the trainer.

The good client

My trainer tells me what to do next and I just do it. She’s the expert, I’m the client. I value her wisdom and experience and try to make each session a learning experience as well as a cardiovascular one.

I’m fortunate to have had good and bad clients. I know how to be a good client. The real value of a client services relationship isn’t what happens during the hours when client and consultant work together; it’s about what happens after. Like everything meaningful in life, the client services relationship is about change.

We don’t create taxonomies, layouts, content strategies and templates as a one-time deal, so the client’s content and design can be frozen in amber. We create them so the client has a framework for continuing to evolve their website into the future, with or without our help. Good clients know this. And they also know that, regardless of time and budget, we can’t do everything for them.

They know that it’s better to concentrate on getting a few things right than to try to cram every conceivable wish and feature into their time with us. Trying to do everything is a way to achieve nothing. Focus, concentration and form are what’s important. Consistency is what’s important. It’s all about the process. As in client services, so at the gym. End analogy.

Modest goals, steady commitment

I’m never going to look like Arnold, and that’s not my goal. My goal is to live a bit longer, and to enjoy life more. I already enjoy walking upstairs a lot more than I used to. Even when I’m alone on a Sunday afternoon, I’m more likely to do something physical (even if it’s just taking a photo walk instead of sitting at the computer) than I was two months ago.

And when I do sit at the computer, I’m more alert, more focused, less likely to need an artificial stimulant to get through my day.

There’s nothing special about what I’m doing, except that I’m doing it. Some old friends and some people I work with inspired me by their example. To them, thanks. Also to my ex, who advised me to give myself this gift.

Starting this weekend, I’ll be in Boston for An Event Apart. Travel usually translates to bad (i.e. overly rich) eating, which can undermine a fitness regime. Between creamy Boston clam chowder and the piles of candies and cakes with which our event planner Marci punctuates An Event Apart sessions, temptation will be everywhere. And while I can’t promise to be perfect, I will strive to put my heart before my sweet tooth.

Life is Beautiful

I haven’t slept. For much of last night, my daughter Ava cried out in her sleep with nightmares. Eventually her cries would wake us both. Instead of going back to sleep, Ava would chat with me about her day. I wish I could remember all the amazing things she told me at 2:00 AM.

Around 3:30 or so, we were both asleep when our little dog Emile began barking to be let down from the bed. (He’s too small to hop down himself.) I groaned, rose, and set him gently on the floor; off he trotted to relieve himself on a Wee-wee Pad™ I’d left in the front hallway for just such a contingency.

Moments later we heard an unearthly shrieking. The dog has progressive, incurable, pulmonary fibrosis. The attacks come on suddenly and unpredictably (except that they often most occur after he has relieved himself in the middle of the night). His lungs stop pumping oxygen. He falls over, typically into his own excrement, and goes into what appears to be cardiac arrest. Uncanny shrieks testify to his terror and pain.

Typically I can bring him back by throwing myself on the floor, talking to him, and patting his ribs to get the lungs working again. I did this and my five-year-old was right beside me, helping, and asking if the dog was dying.

“He’s not dying,” I said, confident that this was not the moment. (And luckily, I was right.)

We cleaned the dog and put him back in bed.

“Dad, there are poopy turds on the floor,” my daughter said.

“I know, I’ll clean them in the morning.”

“Dad, there are poopy turds on the floor.”

“I’ll go clean them,” I said.

Around 4:00 AM the three of us cuddled up and my daughter carried on a delightful conversation, mainly by herself, for at least half an hour. Then we were all asleep. And then the 6:00 AM alarm rang.

Kids can keep you up all night but it’s all worth it. Domestic animals give love freely to the least deserving, but their lives are short and their ends are often brutal. And it’s worth it. It is all worth it. Every day, even a sad day blurred by headaches and filled with business meetings, is magical and infinite. This dance, this particular proton dance, will never come again. This tune we’re too busy to hear will not be played again. Never forget to be thankful for your life.


Letter to My Trainer

Dear Hannah:

I am having my second major gout outbreak since I was diagnosed with the disease two years ago.

An angry red ball filled with uric acid has disfigured my right toe, pushing it out of alignment. It hurts to walk. It hurts to lie in bed.

I’m walking like Walter Brennan in To Have And Have Not, only slower.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to get my gym shoes on, and I know I won’t be able to do exercises that require pushing from the toes or the ball of the foot.

Nevertheless, I will see you at 9:00 today.


My glamorous life

My small old shi’zu watches intently as I embed the five pills that keep him alive in little balls of hypoallergenic canned food—a process that takes five minutes and must be repeated three times a day. As I work, I smile down at him and sing, “Daddy’s makin’ meatballs.”


Sleep never sleeps

Dreamed my parents were getting divorced. I’d be asking my momma why, and she would turn into my wife.

The conscious mind deals with what is in front of you, the unconscious processes what has yet to be behind you.


The dog ate my bookmarks

Disappearing bookmarks bug.

It’s been years (or is it weeks?) since something odd, implausible, and inexplicable happened to one or more of my Apple computers that doesn’t happen to anyone else’s. You know you want to hear this.

So yesterday morning I’m in my hotel, finishing some work on my laptop before leaving for the airport, when MobileMe alerts me that in order to sync the bookmarks on my laptop, it will need to delete some and add some. I click OK. A few seconds later, I have no bookmarks in Safari.

That’s strange, but it’s a bit liberating, too. I feel lighter. That kink in my neck is gone.

Heck, I can re-create the few bookmarks I really need and do without the rest, right? (Besides, I imported my Safari bookmarks into Chrome a few weeks ago, and I sync Chrome bookmarks via Google, so the bookmarks aren’t really gone, they’re just gone from Safari.)

I re-create five or six bookmarks in my laptop’s Safari bookmarks bar, close my laptop, and fly home.

Here’s where it gets weird.

At home, after midnight, sleepless, jetlagged, I turn on my iMac. MobileMe wants to sync my bookmarks. It says it will delete quite a few of them and create a handful of new ones. There is no option to send my iMac’s bookmarks to MobileMe instead. There is no option not to sync. I can skip sync for now, but eventually I’ll have to sync, and that means I’ll have to let MobileMe wipe my many old Safari bookmarks off all my computers. No sense delaying the inevitable.

I click OK.

My old bookmarks are gone, but the new ones I created on my laptop have not been sync’d. I have no bookmarks.

I start re-creating them from scratch, and as I create them, they disappear.

I create a Flickr bookmark. It works. I create a zeldman.com admin bookmark. When I look up, the Flickr bookmark has disappeared. I create a Twitter bookmark. When I look up, the zeldman.com admin bookmark has disappeared. A moment later, the Twitter bookmark has disappeared.

I begin quitting Safari immediately after creating a bookmark (in order to force Safari to save it). This seems to work. When I re-start Safari, the bookmark I just created has been saved. I do this six times in order to create and save the few bookmarks I really need in order to work.

I don’t bother re-creating the dozens of JavaScript bookmarklets I use daily. I figure I can do those in the morning. I verify that Safari now contains six bookmarks. I run a backup via SuperDuper and go to bed.

In the morning, my bookmarks bar is blank again. Overnight, all my bookmarks have disappeared.

It can’t be from syncing via MobileMe, because the computer should have gone to sleep as soon as the backup finished (and it was asleep when I woke up this morning).

At this point all I can figure is that Apple wants me to switch to Chrome.


Crowdsourcing Dickens

As an experiment in new new media thinking, I recently crowdsourced a new new literature version of Charles Dickens’s musty old old old lit chestnut, Great Expectations—the familiar tale of Pip, Ms Havisham, the convict Magwitch, et al.

Creative excellence and spin-worthy results required a pool of 10,000 people who had never read Great Expectations. Fortunately, I had access to 10,000 recent American college graduates, so that was no problem.

To add a dab of pseudoscience and appeal obliquely to the copyleft crowd, I remixed the new work’s leading literary themes with the top 20 Google search queries, using an algorithm I found in the mens room at Penn Station.

The result was a work of pure modern genius, coming soon to an iPad near you. (Profits from the sale will be used to support Smashing Magazine’s footer and sidebar elements.)

Gone was the fusty old title. Gone were the cobwebbed wedding cake and other dare I say emo images. It was goodbye to outdated characters like Joe the blacksmith and the beautiful Estella, farewell to the love story and the whole careful parallel between that thing and that other thing.

Gone too was the tired old indictment of the Victorian class system, and by implication of all economic and social systems that separate man from his brothers in Christ, yada yada. As more than one of my young test subjects volunteered in a follow-up survey, “Heard it.”

In place of these obsolete narrative elements, the students and the prioritized Google searches created, or dare I say curated, a tale as fresh as today’s algorithmically generated headlines.

The results are summarized in the table below.

Old Great Expectations New Great Expectations
On Christmas Eve, Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister, encounters the convict Magwitch on the marshes. n/a
The convict compels Pip to steal food from his sister’s table, and a file from her husband the blacksmith’s shop. Pip thereby shares the convict’s guilt and sin—but his kindness warms the convict’s heart. Guy on girl
Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, abuses him. Her husband loves Pip but is unable to protect him or offer him a future beyond blacksmithing. Girl on girl (multiple entries)
Pip meets Miss Havisham, an old woman abandoned on her wedding day, who sits in her decrepit house, wearing a yellowing wedding gown, her only companion the beautiful and mysterious girl Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella, but Miss Havisham has trained the girl to break men’s hearts. Guy on guy
Pip visits Miss Havisham until his apprenticeship with Joe the blacksmith begins. Pip hates being a blacksmith and worries that Estella will see him as common. Two girls, one guy
Mrs Joe suffers a heart attack that leaves her mute. A kind girl named Biddy comes to take care of Mrs Joe. After Mrs Joe’s death, Biddy and Joe will marry. Meanwhile, Pip comes into an unexpected inheritance and moves to London, where he studies with a tutor and lives with his friend Herbert. Dragons
Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor and that she intends him to marry Estella, whom he still adores. Day by day, Estella grows more cruel. Pip never tells her of his love for her. Wizards
One stormy night, Pip discovers that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham but the convict Magwitch. The news crushes Pip, but he dutifully allows Magwitch to live with him—worrying, all the while, because Magwitch is a wanted man who will be hanged if discovered. Explosions
Miss Havisham repents having wasted her life and perverted Estella. She is caught in a fire. Pip heroically saves her but she later dies from her burns. Soon afterwards, Pip and Herbert try to help Magwitch escape, but Magwitch’s old enemy Compeyson—who happens to be the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar—betrays Magwitch to the authorities. Magwitch and Compeyson struggle. Compeyson dies and Magwitch is taken to prison. Gunfights
Pip now realizes that Magwitch is a decent man and tries to make Magwitch’s last years happy ones. He also discovers that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Magwitch dies in prison shortly before he was to be executed. Pip tells the dying Magwitch of his love for Estella. Fistfights
Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by Joe, whom Pip recognizes as a good man in spite of his lack of education and “class.” Pip goes into business overseas with Herbert. Eventually he returns to England and visits Joe, who has married Biddy. They have a child named Pip. As the book ends, the middle-aged Pip makes one last visit to Miss Havisham’s house, where he discovers an older and wiser Estella. There is the implication that Pip and Estella may finally be together. Anal

The First Time

A friend’s young son had just used the toilet and wiped himself for the first time.

She congratulated him on being a big boy.

To which he replied:

“Mother. Surely you don’t expect me to do this for the rest of my life.”