A Sickroom With a View

CHICAGO is a dynamite town, but it may not be the best place to recover from a cold. Since I arrived, my virus has gone from a 4 to an 11. There’s a spectacular view out my hotel window, which I’ve spent the day ignoring by sleeping. I have several nice friends in this town who I’m similarly ignoring, having canceled plans with them today because of this fershlugginer cold. I was flat on my back, sleeping, my phone like a cat on my chest, when my dad called this afternoon to recommend gargling with a three percent peroxide solution. My trainer texted a moment later to ixnay the peroxide. She recommended going back to bed to finish sweating it out, and that looks like my plan for the next twelve hours, give or take a hot bath.

I brought a heap of work with me to Chicago, planning to tackle it between visits with Chicagoland friends, but the cold has pushed all chance of work aside. I got one sentence written for an Ask Dr Web column—the easiest task on my plate—and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t so much write that sentence as copy and paste it from a reader’s email. Come to think of it, it wasn’t even a sentence. It was a question, which the column I was going to write was supposed to answer. So the sum total of my work today consisted of selecting and copying a question and pasting it into a blank piece of digital paper. Also answering the phone, and removing the Do Not Disturb sign from my door just long enough to admit Room Service.

I get colds a lot. My daughter brings them home from school to visit, and when they see my lungs they move in for the winter. And who can blame them? I’ve got great lungs. All the years I smoked cigarettes, I never caught colds, go figure. There’s a message in that, or maybe not. Maybe I just never caught cold when I was young and had no kid, but time has corrected both of those things.

It’s nice to be awake for a few minutes, listening to the inane chatter that passes for my consciousness and sharing it with you. Thank you for reading. And thank you, Chicago, for your marathon winds. I thought New York was a tough town. New York ain’t nothing to this.

Afternoon Pages

SLEPT much of yesterday. Slept till 1 PM today. Whatever this bug is I’ve got, it lets me work and care for my child during the week, then flattens me all weekend. Fortunately my daughter can amuse herself for hours, as I could at her age. I hope she will not be as lonely as I was. Am.

One Hug

JUST WEEKS ago, my daughter’s mother moved out of state. The kid’s been having a tough time with it, and with school, and with her upcoming tenth birthday, which won’t work out the way she hoped. And then, over the weekend, her laptop and mine both broke—hers by cat-and-ginger-ale misfortune, mine by gravity abetted by my stupidity.

To lighten the mood, this morning broke grey, pounding rain. We pulled on our hoodies, scooped up our bodega umbrellas, and shrugged on our backpacks—hers heavy with school books, mine with gym clothes, a camera, and two busted laptops.

We were standing by the elevator when an apartment door burst open and Ava’s best friend in the world sprinted down the hall to hug her good morning. The two girls embraced until the elevator arrived.

The whole dark wet walk to school, my child hummed happily to herself.

#1hug

I Cry Inside

MY DAUGHTER cries and begs me not to leave on my business trip. I hold her and tell her I will return soon.

My grandfather died in a plane crash between New York and California. My mother, who was eleven, had begged him not to leave. He lied and told her he would cancel the trip. I never lie to my daughter.

I always thought my grandfather died on a business trip. Two years ago I finally learned he was actually flying to California to divorce my grandmother. My mother never told me.

My grandmother never told her children their father was dead. They figured it out gradually.

When my mother was a young adult, her fiancée died in a plane crash.

My mother was never able to be happy, to feel safe, to trust the world.

One of my jobs is to help my daughter learn to be happy, to feel safe, to trust the world.

It is hard for any parent. Harder when you are divorced. My daughter is sensitive, creative, and has a learning disability. She feels different from other kids. Family is everything to her.

My daughter is everything to me. To support her, I do several jobs. Jobs I love, working with people I love and trust. One of my jobs requires me to travel frequently, staying away for up to a week at a time.

My father worked twelve hours a day to support his family. We grew up in his absence and long shadow.

I am grateful for my daughter’s life and my ability to spend so much time with her. She knows her parents love her and will always be there for her.

But when I leave, she cries, and I cry inside.

The maker makes: on design, community, and personal empowerment

THE FIRST THING I got about the web was its ability to empower the maker. The year was 1995, and I was tinkering at my first website. The medium was raw and ugly, like a forceps baby; yet even in its blind, howling state, it made me a writer, a designer, and a publisher — ambitions which had eluded me during more than a decade of underachieving desert wanderings.

I say “it made me” but I made it, too. You get the power by using it. Nobody confers it on you.

I also got that the power was not for me alone: it was conferred in equal measure on everyone with whom I worked, although not everyone would have the time or desire to use the power fully.

The luckiest makers

Empowerment and desire. It takes extraordinary commitment, luck, and talent to become a maker in, say, music or film, because the production and distribution costs and risks in these fields almost always demand rich outside investors and tightly controlling corporate structures. (Film has held up better than music under these conditions.)

Music and film fill my life, and, from afar, I love many artists involved in these enterprises. But they are mostly closed to you and me, where the web is wide open, and always has been. We all know gifted, hard working musicians who deserve wide acclaim but do not receive it, even after decades of toil. The web is far kinder to makers.

To care is to share

Not only does the web make publishers of those willing to put in the work, it also makes most of us free sharers of our hard-won trade, craft, and business secrets. The minute we grab hold of a new angle on design, interaction, code, or content, we share it with a friend — or with friends we haven’t met yet. This sharing started in news groups and message boards, and flowered on what came to be called blogs, but it can also slip the bounds of its containing medium, empowering makers to create books, meet-ups, magazines, conferences, products, you name it. It is tough to break into traditional book publishing the normal way but comparatively easy to do it from the web, provided you have put in the early work of community building.

The beauty is that the community building doesn’t feel like work; it feels like goofing off with your friends (because, mostly, it is). You don’t have to turn your readers into customers. Indeed, if you feel like you’re turning your readers into customers, you’re doing it wrong.

If you see a chance, take it

The corollary to all this empowerment is that it’s up to each of us to do something positive with it. I sometimes become impatient when members of our community spend their energy publicly lamenting that a website about cats isn’t about dogs. Their energy would be so much better spent starting bow-wow.com. The feeling that something is missing from a beloved online resource (or conference, or product) can be a wonderful motivator to start your own. I created A List Apart because I felt that webmonkey.com wasn’t enough about design and highfive.com was too much about it. If this porridge is too hot and that porridge is too cold, I better make some fresh, eh?

I apologize if I sometimes seem snippy with whiners. My goal is never to make anyone feel bad, especially not anyone in this community. My message to my peers since the days of “Ask Dr Web” has always been: “you can do this! Go do it.” That is still what I say to you all.

Icon: For Love of Barbie

When I was twenty, Barbie was a symbol of oppression with obvious food issues. No way would a future child of mine identify with that.

When I was twenty, “princess” was another word for “child of oppressor.” Monarchs went with pogroms and capitalists.

If I ever had a daughter, she would be one of the people. Or a leader of the people. Or an anarchist. Or most probably an artist. Art was problematic because it also went with corporate capitalism (when not going steady with poverty) but at least the few artists who made money disdained it, if only publicly.

Twenty wasn’t easy.


When I was twenty, when I considered bringing a child into this world of wrong, I pictured her enjoying organic produce and healthy ethnic cuisines.

Decades and chameleon lives later, I was married and we were expecting.

After our daughter was born, I suggested raising her vegetarian. It seemed wrong to feed an angel on the blood and limbs of slaughtered animals. Her mother said she’d go along with the vegetarian angle as long as I did the research and committed to preparing fresh, nutritionally balanced meals that supplied every nutrient our child would need.

So she eats meat.

Mostly she eats french fries.

She sometimes eats at McDonald’s. Also she eats candy and plays with Barbies. She says she is Barbie’s biggest fan. Soon after learning to say Dada and Mama, she asked if she was a princess. We said yes.


What used to be my elegant teakwood dining table is now the staging area for a Barbie apartment. The Barbie pool, Barbie camping van, and Barbie salon that comprise the “apartment” barely leave room for the Barbies, Stacies, and Kellys who make use of these facilities.

The princess turns six in September. She’s working on the party guest list and we’ve already decided on her birthday present: a Barbie house.

Barbie is now fifty. But fifty is the new 49. There’s a reason she’s stuck around all these decades. Turns out it has nothing to do with theory and everything to do with girls.


P.S. Hint to my people: when you go to barbie.com, enable Flash.


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.”


In-Box Twenty

Found in my in-box on this gloriously muggy morning:


  • E-mail from a neighborhood mom interested in hiring our child’s nanny in September, when the girl enters kindergarten. Would our nanny work part-time? (No, she would not.)
  • Invitation to speak.
  • Account status message from American Express, freezing my business account.
  • Personal letter from a co-author of CSS.
  • Correspondence from one half of a feud, demanding that A List Apart delete “libelous” comments made by the other half.
  • QA correspondence on Brighter Planet beta.
  • Photo of kid on general store porch-front rocking horse, sent by ex, from mini-vacation they’re taking together.
  • Responses from speakers selected to present at An Event Apart in 2010.
  • Discussion of “send to friend” links in context of COPPA compliance.
  • Raw personal truth from my dear sponsee.
  • Notes from a developer whose web fonts platform I’m beta testing.
  • Query from a mom whose friend is expecting: what do we pay our nanny? Would she take less? (I hope not.)
  • Basecamp notifications concerning Chapters 7, 9, 2, and 4 of Designing With Web Standards, 3rd Edition.
  • Invitation from a social media network’s director of strategic relationships.
  • Milestone reminder.
  • Note from my brother about the release of his CD.
  • Case study for review.
  • Notice of Credit Limit Reduction on my personal account from American Express. “In this difficult economic environment, we all need to make choices about how we spend and save.”
  • Discussions of Happy Cog new business activities in various stages of ripeness.
  • Note about a magic berry that will make me look like a princess.

Typical day.

Time Warner Cable canceling Noggin?

I have a full day’s work to do, but I’m home watching my four-year-old. Thus, this morning, Noggin was on.

“Daddy, what’s that black?” my daughter asked, pointing to the TV.

A black crawl eating 20% of the screen announced that Time Warner Cable, New York City’s virtual monopoly cable provider, will stop broadcasting Noggin at midnight tonight.

Comedy Central (home of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show), MTV, and other Viacom-owned channels will also be lost, the crawl said. But as the parent of a child under five, you’re asleep before The Daily Show comes on, and you haven’t cared about MTV since Run DMC walked this way with Aerosmith.

Time Warner Cable can do what it likes where your personal entertainment needs are concerned. But if they stop broadcasting Noggin, your four-year-old won’t shrug it off. It will be like when great grandma died.

Your mission is clear. You have to save Noggin.

The crawl and the websites of the soon-to-be-cancelled channels list a toll-free 800 number where customers can demand that Time Warner Cable keep Noggin on.

When you call the number, Time Warner announces that it cannot take your call due to “technical difficulties” and hangs up on you.

In its way, it’s kind of brilliant. By not answering their customer feedback number, Time Warner can claim not to have heard from their customers.

Although I subscribe to their overpriced service, I’m no fan. Since I described my frustrations with their fast, high-speed access, Time Warner Cable’s RoadRunner Turbo has continued to pile on the incompetence. This month they sent me a new modem and told me I needed to manually replace my old one. Beside the fact that nothing’s wrong with my old one, the new one isn’t compatible with my set-up, which is wireless.

Time Warner set up the wireless network using their wireless modem, and charges a monthly surcharge for the wireless activity they provide. But they sent me a non-wireless modem as a replacement. A two-man shop in Kazakhstan’s smallest town would not send a non-wireless modem to replace a wireless one. But Time Warner Cable does, because they are a monopoly and under no pressure to offer competent service.

And yet, although Time Warner Cable’s uncountable levels of existential suckage could induce vomiting in a giraffe, reality is never as clear-cut as a crawl on Noggin.

It is obvious that Time Warner Cable and Viacom are playing hardball in a price negotiation. Time Warner wants the Viacom channels cheaper than Viacom wants to sell them. Instead of working out a deal like mensches, the companies are taking their impasse to the public, and playing on the anxieties of parents with young children. Indeed, Viacom appears the guiltier company, since it is Viacom that is running crawls on its channels and popups on its websites, using the kind of language and typography more properly reserved for fake terror threat alerts.

Although Time Warner doesn’t answer its customer feedback number, some of the company’s phone numbers still work, and if you loop your way through a sufficient number of audio menus, you soon hear the company’s claim to be negotiating with Viacom.

If it were only about me, both companies could stuff it.

Will no one think of the children?

[tags]Viacom, Time Warner Cable, Noggin, high-speed access[/tags]

Kids say the darnedest things. Say the darnedest things. Say the darnedest things.

“Daddy, let’s play dinosaur. You can be the daddy dinosaur, mommy can be the mommy dinosaur, I can be the baby dinosaur, and doggy can be the doggy dinosaur.”

“Okay.”

“Daddy, let’s play leprechaun. You can be the daddy leprechaun, mommy can be the mommy leprechaun, I can be the baby leprechaun, and doggy can be the doggy leprechaun.”

“Okay.”

“Daddy, let’s play vampire. You can be the daddy vampire, mommy can be the mommy vampire, I can be the baby vampire, and doggy can be the doggy vampire.”

“Okay.”

Parenting a four-year-old is like living with Rain Man.

[tags]myglamorouslife[/tags]