Faster, pussycat

Have you ever bought clothes while traveling, and been unable to fit everything in your suitcase when it was time to go home? That suitcase is what my days are like now. For starters, The Wife and I are buying an apartment—or at least we are attending all the meetings, filling out all the paperwork, hiring all the attorneys and assessors and brokers and fixers, faxing and messengering and hand-delivering all the documents, auditing all the books, returning all the missed calls, sending all the e-mails, digging through spam traps for all the missed e-mails, rescheduling all the appointments, raising all the money, applying to borrow all the much more money, digging and refilling all the holes, and running up and down all the staircases that are supposed to lead to us owning a place.

Timing is the secret of comedy and an ungovernable variable in life. Our first-time homebuying marathon comes during one of The Wife’s busiest weeks at The Library, and amid a frenzy of new client activity at Happy Cog and the planning of next year’s An Event Apart conferences. In my idiocy, I agreed to speak at other people’s conferences, which means I need to create the content for those engagements. I am days behind in everything because completing the Findings From the Web Design Survey sucked nights, days, and dollars. It was our Apocalypse Now. The dog is sick and requires constant watching. The Girl must be taken to preschool and picked up and played with and loved and taught and put to bed.

My life is like everybody’s. I’m too busy and I’m grateful for everything, but I worry that I will miss some detail, forget some essential, give less than everything to some e-mail or document review or design.

I intended to write about the Findings From the Web Design Survey on the night we finally published them, but there was nothing left inside. I intended to write about them this morning, but instead I have written this excuse for not writing about them. During my next break between brokers, I will clear up one area of confusion as to the motivation behind the survey’s undertaking.

Meantime, Eric Meyer, the survey’s co-author and co-sponsor, has written nice pieces about practical problems overcome in the survey’s creation, and how to keep probing the data for new answers and new questions.

[tags]aneventapart, alistapart, webdesignsurvey, design, survey, happycog, homeownership, NYC, newyorkcity, newyork[/tags]

God Knocks

“It’s becoming a bedroom community for people who work on Wall Street,” the Wife says of our beloved Manhattan. While the housing market everywhere else incurs gangrene, prices here are sky-high and climbing. A new condo goes up every three seconds and an angel does not get his wings.

When I moved to New York City in 1988, it was possible to find a rent-stabilized apartment in the East Village, Kips Bay, and plenty of other places—to live an artist’s life, or a drunkard’s, while securing a semblance of middle class security and stability. People moved here to pursue music careers, acting careers, writing careers, anything that didn’t pay. Some even painted. They could live here indefinitely while the market ignored their talent.

Today the city is cleaner and safer, but a small one-bedroom in an indifferent neighborhood costs over a million dollars. It’s not just the poor and the old who are getting priced out. Not just the working class. Not even just the middle class. New York is still a melting pot, but its ingredients are changing as the city squeezes out all but the richest rich.

Brooklyn is where many families have moved and many creative people with or without families are moving, but Brooklyn’s prices are no better. You get a little more space for the same obscene truckload of cash, and you pay for it in subway mileage.

Any reasonable person who does not already own a place and is not fabulously wealthy would catch the first bus out of town and not look back. But if Osama bin Laden could not chase us off this island, neither will the lesser abomination of insanely high and continuously escalating housing prices.

Throwing our first stake in the ground, we have enrolled our daughter in a fine preschool. And when the newly-out-of-rent-stabilization but still-below-market rental lease I have ridden since 1990 finally ends next year, we intend to buy. Don’t ask me how we’ll do it. I only know that we will.

Which brings me to God and the knocking sound.

I awoke this morning to a quiet, insistent, knocking, high-pitched and hollowly wooden—as if a tiny woodpecker were signaling from the back of our bedroom’s bookshelves.

(I actually awoke to our little dog’s barking, something he never does. He also peed twice on the floor, something else he never does. And threw up all over our gorgeous white Flokati rug. But that isn’t part of the God story.)

When a person who has not been particularly spiritual enters a spiritual program, odd things begin happening. Atheists call these things coincidences. For instance, an addict in a big city fearfully attends his first Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Chairing the meeting is the guy with whom he first bought dope. Programs like NA and AA are rife with such incidents.

The Wife is in a very different sort of program, but it is spiritual, and it concerns really living your life. Yesterday in that program, she and a friend focused on the notion of our owning a home, even though it seems impossible here. Before bed last night, she said we could start the process of finding a home by taking an action as simple as reading Home Buying For Dummies.

So this morning, there is this knocking sound. It’s not coming from the bureau. It’s not coming from the desk. It’s not electrical. There’s no big truck out on the street causing the windowpanes to rattle. The sound is insistent. We cannot localize its source or account for it logically.

Doors cover part of a bookshelf. Searching for the source of the sound, the Wife opens the doors. Out falls a book: Home Buying For Dummies.

And as she picks up the book, we both notice that the sound has stopped.

Bang!

Had I known that there was an explosion in midtown Manhattan near where my wife works, and that my wife and daughter were out in the ensuing chaos, I would have been far more anxious during my train ride home from Philadelphia last night.

I had gone to the city of brotherly love on business. One of our party misplaced her iPhone, discovering the loss as we were about to board the train back to New York. The odds against her recovering it would kill a game in Vegas. But it is her only phone and she is about to leave the country, so she stayed behind in hopes of locating it. Anxiety on her account, and some guilt at having boarded the train without her, kept me plenty busy on the ride home.

Like The New York Public Library, the old Pennsylvania Station was a Beaux-Arts masterpiece (photos: concourse and entrance in 1962, two years prior to demolition). An abomination replaced it. Outrage over this desecration gave us laws supporting historic preservation and preventing future desecrations, making the old Pennsylvania Station the Jesus of buildings.

One emerges from the current Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom.

On emerging from Penn Station as from a none-too-clean public bathroom, I overheard people discussing 9/11. That seemed odd. New Yorkers don’t talk about 9/11; we leave that to politicians. When I reached home, fifteen minutes’ humid walk later, my doorman was also muttering about 9/11. Odder still.

I expected to find my daughter asleep. Not so.

“Can you tell something happened?” my wife asked.

She had seen the explosion while standing about a mile north of it (just as, on September 11th, 2001, she had seen the twin towers on fire from a position on Fifth Avenue about two miles north of the disaster) and asked two firefighters who were also gazing in its direction if the intersection where it had occurred was known. 41st Street, they said. Reassured that our home had not blown up, she went on to the rendezvous where she was to pick up our daughter from her baby-sitter. Our daughter and her baby-sitter were not there. I can imagine my wife’s reaction to that absence. (I knew nothing about it, sitting in a crowded Amtrak car, discussing a client project, and worrying about a missing iPhone.)

Finally our daughter arrived; her baby-sitter was put in a cab; and my wife and daughter attended a birthday party for one of our daughter’s friends—a younger girl who had just turned two. Pizza and cupcakes were served.

At seven, the party ended, and, as at all children’s parties in New York, the guests were shooed out.

Philadelphia is 100 miles from New York. I made it in an hour. It took my wife and daughter two hours to traverse the single mile home. The subways were out, two avenues were closed, the whole world was taking buses or walking north, away from the disaster. Just below the cutoff and oblivious to it, I walked home knowing nothing except that I had had a good meeting in Philadelphia, and had perhaps overdone it on the huevos rancheros at Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat Restaurant.

Here’s how it looks in a newspaper:

A steam pipe installed in 1924 ruptured in a thunderous explosion shortly before 6 p.m. today, sending steam, water and debris shooting outward and sending clouds of smoke and dust billowing through Midtown Manhattan at the height of the evening rush. One person died of cardiac arrest, and more than 20 others were injured. The authorities ruled out any criminal activity, saying the explosion was apparently caused by a failure of antiquated infrastructure.

How was it for you?

[tags]steampipe, explosion, nyc, newyork, newyorkcity, myglamorouslife[/tags]

Austin Power

As snow falls prettily on the island of Manhattan, Mrs Zeldman and I prepare for our annual junket to sun-baked, star-studded Austin, Texas, accompanied by the keynote speaker of 2025 and cradling the blessed StarTAC. Most of Happy Cog and the A List Apart staff will be there as well, many with speaking roles. Here are a few panels I found (with more to come):

Writing, Better

Ballroom F
Saturday, March 10th
10:00 am – 11:00 am (same time as “A Decade of Style,” below)

If content is king, why don’t designers talk about it? Panelists will discuss what makes for good writing, what each person does to keep fit with verbs and vowels, and what the future might hold for the written word in a world that is being inundated with podcasts and video.

Moderator: Greg Storey

Greg Storey Principal/Creative Dir, Airbag Industries LLC
Bronwyn Jones Mktg Comms, Apple Computer
Erin Kissane Editor, Happy Cog
Ethan Marcotte Vertua Studios

A Decade of Style

Room 19AB
Saturday, March 10th
10:00 am – 11:00 am (same time as “Writing, Better,” above)

A small group of grizzled veterans reflects on a decade of successes, triumphs, failures, disappointments, reversals of fortune, and just plain fun in the world of CSS and web design.

Moderator: Eric Meyer

Molly Holzschlag Pres, Molly.com Inc
Eric Meyer Principal, Complex Spiral Consulting
Chris Wilson IE Platform Architect, Microsoft
Douglas Bowman Visual Design Lead, Google

After the Brief: A Field Guide to Design Inspiration

Room 18ABCD
Saturday, March 10th
11:30 am – 12:30 pm

You’ve received the creative brief; now what? Learn how to draw creative inspiration for your web design projects from a number of likely and unlikely sources.

Moderator: Jason Santa Maria

Jason Santa Maria Creative Dir, Happy Cog Studios
Cameron Moll cameronmoll.com
Rob Weychert Art Dir, Happy Cog Studios

Ruining the User Experience: When JavaScript and Ajax Go Bad

Room 18ABCD
Saturday, March 10th
4:05 pm – 4:30 pm

With the exploding popularity of DOM Scripting, Ajax and JavaScript in general, it’s important to know what to do—and what not to do—when dealing with these technologies.This session will walk you through several real-world examples, pointing out common mistakes that hinder usability, accessibility, and searchwhile teaching you ways to avoid them altogether, either programmatically or simply by altering the way you think about JavaScript-based interactivity.

Aaron Gustafson Sr Web designer/Developer, Easy! Designs LLC
Sarah Nelson Design Strategist, Adaptive Path

Book Signing

SUNDAY, MARCH 11
3:00 pm

I’ll be signing Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition in the SXSW Bookstore, located in the Trade Show + Exhibition.

Robert Hoekman Jr. Designing the Obvious
Jeffrey Zeldman Designing With Web Standards, 2nd Edition
Brendan Dawes Analog In, Digital Out
Phil Torrone MAKE Magazine
John Jantsch Duct Tape Marketing-The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide
Marrit Ingman Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out With the Diapers
Gina Trapani Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tips
Elliot McGucken Own the Risk: The 45Surf.com Guide to Hero’s Journey Entrepreneurship

Get Unstuck: Moving From 1.0 to 2.0

Room 18ABCD
Monday, March 12th
10:00 am – 11:00 am

Is your team mired in the goo and muck of old-school thinking? Are your designers and developers divided on their approach and about to throw in the towel? This panel features formerly stuck experts as well as those who have helped clients get out of the muck.

Moderator: Liz Danzico

Liz Danzico Director, experience strategy, Daylife
Kristian Bengtsson Creative Dir, FutureLab
Chris Messina Co-founder, Citizen Agency
Luke Wroblewski Principal Designer, Yahoo!
Jeffrey Zeldman Founder and Executive Creative Director, Happy Cog

Preserving our Digital Legacy and the Individual Collector

Room 8ABC
Tuesday, March 13th
11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Many great art, book and manuscript collections survive because an individual had the foresight or good luck to save the good stuff. Libraries and museums owe a debt to individual dealers, collectors and packrats for saving illustrated Czarist plate books from the Soviets, and WWII letters from the trash-heap. Who are today’s collectors? What are they preserving? How will they manage fragile born-digital collections long enough share with future generations?

Moderator: Carrie Bickner (aka Mrs Zeldman)

Carrie Bickner, Director of Education Outreach, The New York Public Library
Josh Greenberg Assoc Dir Research Projects, Center for History & New Media
William Stingone Curator of Manuscripts, The New York Public Library
Megan Winget Professor, UT at Austin

[tags]sxsw, sxswi, austin, texas, mrszeldman, alistapart, happycog[/tags]

Near-death, non-birth

My wife Carrie, in “Things I Learned the Hard Way,” writes about two traumas our family underwent during the final months of 2006. A miscarriage and the near-death of a loved parent do not a happy holiday make. Other intense events—another seriously ill parent, for instance—also colored the period. Both parents have recovered. I haven’t written about any of it. I’m glad Carrie did, and I’m glad it’s behind us.

Comments off. But feel free to comment on Carrie’s site.

Birth Announcement

The Missus (aka the Rogue Librarian) has been laboring for some time on a new community site. Today it launched.

Things I Learned the Hard Way is a place where women can share life lessons about home, family, friendship and work. Our contributors write well and they want to share their experience with others.

The new site is a place for women of different ages, situations, and life experiences to share hard-won knowledge, from the maternal to the Machiavellian (how do some female bosses use “advice” and “compliments” to keep female employees down?), the silly to the sublime. Participation is encouraged; writers are sought.

[tags]thingsilearnedthehardway, roguelibrarian, publishing, blogs, women[/tags]