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Advocacy Archiving Browsers Community Design glamorous HTML industry javascript launches links Off My Lawn! people Publications Responsive Web Design Standards State of the Web Stories The Profession W3C Web Design Web Design History Web Standards Websites

He Built This City: The Return of Glenn Davis

You may not know his name, but he played a huge part in creating the web you take for granted today. 

As the first person to realize, way back in 1994, that the emerging web could be a playground, he created Cool Site of the Day as a single-focused blog dedicated to surfacing interesting sites, thereby demonstrating the web’s potential while creating its first viral content. (As an example, traffic from his followers, or, as we called them back then, readers, brought NASA’s web server to its knees.)

He co-founded The Web Standards Project, which succeeded in bringing standards to our browsers at a time when browser makers saw the web as a software market to be dominated, and not a precious commons to be nurtured.

He anticipated responsive web design by more than 20 years with his formulation of Liquid, Ice, and Jello as the three possible ways a designer could negotiate the need for meaningful layout vis-a-vis the unknowns of the user’s browsing environment.

He taught the web DHTML through his educational Project Cool Site. 

And then, like a handful of other vital contributors to the early web (e.g. Todd Fahrner and Dean Allen), he vanished from the scene he’d played so large a role in creating.

He’s ba-ack

Glenn Davis wasn’t always missed. Like many other creators of culture, he is autistic and can be abrasive and socially unclueful without realizing it. Before he was diagnosed, some people said Glenn was an a**hole—and some no doubt still will say that. I think of him as too big for any room that would have him. And I’m talking about him here because he is talking about himself (and the history of the early web) on his new website, Verevolf.

If you go there, start with the introduction, and, if it speaks to you, read his stories and consider sharing your own. That’s how we did it in the early days, and it’s still a fine way to do it—maybe even the best way.

I knew Glenn, I worked with him and a lot of other talented people on The Web Standards Project (you’re welcome!), and it’s my opinion that—if you’re interested in how the web got to be the web, or if you were around at the time and are curious about a fellow survivor—you might enjoy yourself.

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Education glamorous

Education is its own privilege

When I think back to my college friends and me, what a beautiful bubble we lived in! Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a fancy college—it was state school, and we were all from out of state. And we certainly weren’t rich kids: my friend J came from a Lower East Side single parent family, back when the Lower East Side was the Lower East Side. 

The most comfortable of us came from middle class homes with a single professional breadwinner (engineer, dentist). Some of us had been caught in the American legal system as teenagers—although, as white teenagers, we’d had it comparatively easy. 

We’d all experienced prejudice, not only witnessing bigotry against friends, but coming up against it ourselves due to our ethnicity, or sexuality, or religion, or looks, or weight, or height, or comparative lack of athletic prowess, or disability, or the way we thought, or the way we talked, or what part of our town we lived in, or because we did well on tests, or because we did poorly on tests, or because of some other thing, or (usually) some multiple of the above. 

In Pittsburgh, where Cadillacs were called Jew canoes, the kids who tolerated me in ninth grade called me Mini Kosher, and I was subjected to daily humiliations until I proved myself by getting arrested and becoming a low-level pot dealer. But I digress.

We weren’t rich or cheerleaders or jocks (not that those kids don’t have problems of their own), and we weren’t the kind of white kids White America approved of, but we were privileged as hell not only by skin color, but also because we were educated. 


Education should be a right and American public school was initially set up, however imperfectly and even accounting for the racial segregation and deep unfairness of the time, to make sure everybody, at least in principle, would be educated enough to read books, understand political issues sufficiently to participate in America’s representative democracy, take care of their children, earn a living, grill hot dogs in summer, and pay taxes—the good life. 

For the luckiest, those whose families cherished learning, those whose parents read to them, those who looked forward to a Saturday library visit to pick out new books to read (novels and history books and science books and science fiction novels and fantasy stories and books about insects and books about reptiles and books that shed at least some light on the thrilling secret mysteries of adult relationships)…

Those who understood how to take tests so as to do well in school (which is a completely different thing from learning and retaining information), those whose parents encouraged reading and learning and cared and asked about grades and teachers, those with parents at least one of whom had time to spend with them, making them feel loved and safe, those who came from cultures where learning was cherished, so that their aunts and uncles talked about art and science and politics, and not just ball games and recipes…

Those whose families strenuously opposed all racial and religious bigotry, who taught their kids to stand up for the underdog, those who taught their children to approach all others with love and respect (even when, in reality, approaching everyone with love and respect means you sometimes get bullied and ridiculed, because some people are damaged and hateful and will see your humanity as a weakness)…

Those whose families (like all families) were far from perfect, but who somehow, despite failings and tragedies, instilled a love of learning or blew on a spark that was already present…

…So that their kids could do well enough in high school to attend a college, even if they really wanted to run away and join a rock and roll band…

And whether or not it was the most expensive or most competitive college in the land (it wasn’t), it was a place where they’d encounter other smart kids from different backgrounds and discover Truffaut and Bergman and stay up all night enthralled by great ideas or ridiculing them, cracking each other up, sleeping together, experiencing new levels of romance and heartbreak, discovering possibilities.

The ultimate privilege: having a sufficiently educated background to discover possibilities and think for yourself.

If only we all had that.

For Judith

Categories
glamorous

Walking Through Fear

I used to medicate my anxiety by drinking, but that was not good for me, my friends, girlfriends, family, coworkers, liver, or wives, so I stopped.

One way I manage anxiety today is by avoiding or delaying indefinitely the tiny tasks that stress me out—tasks other people do without blinking. Like checking my postal mail. The mail carrier used to think I was away from home, traveling. Nope, just scared to open the mailbox.

Today, I will tackle a series of important tasks I must get done before nightfall. I cannot avoid or postpone them. I’ve already tried bargaining, rationalizing, and pleading with myself, but was unable to find a loophole. What’s gotta be, gotta be.

By the end of this day, I will have done it all.

Categories
Code Community Diversity Education

Gender Bias and Reputation on Stack Overflow

This paper concludes that women are not disadvantaged by their own actions; they are penalised by a scoring structure which conceals sexism and disregarded by a masculine-majority userbase. Far from programmers’ paradise, gender-biases dictate the sharing and recognition of technical knowledge on SO.

Trouble in programmer’s paradise: gender-biases in sharing and recognising technical knowledge on Stack Overflow by S. J. Brooke

Hat tip: Shannon Smith (@cafenoirdesign).

Categories
Advertising client services Design glamorous industry

Fear of getting noticed

Back when I was in advertising, one of my team’s clients was a well-known Irish Airline. They could only afford an 1/8th-page ad in the travel section of the paper. But my partners and I didn’t think creativity was dependent on budget. We were determined to deliver great ads for them—ads that would make a viewer look, even though the ad was tiny and was surrounded by other ads.

So we created a standout campaign for them—the kind that would not simply be noticed, but would also make travel-focused consumers smile and encourage them to buy tickets.

We blew up our tiny layouts and mounted the enlargements on illustration board, for an impactful creative presentation when we met to show the client the work.

The great day came. The work was good, and we had rehearsed our presentation to perfection. We booked the conference room, had the client’s favorite snacks and beverages spread out when they arrived, and sold our little hearts out as we presented.

Silence.

The lead client blinked, cleared his throat, and finally said, in a thick Irish brogue:

“I’m afraid it’s far too clever for our needs. It calls too much attention to itself on the page,” he explained—as if getting a distracted newspaper reader to notice his company’s message was a bad thing.

The lead client asked us to set “Ireland $399” in bold type, stick a shamrock in one of the 9s, and call it a day.



Fear of getting noticed is a terrible thing. It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Clickbait headlines get a deservedly bad rap in digital marketing, but you know what else should get a bad rap? Blind, boring, infinitely ignorable links and titles, that’s what.

Crafting messages that get noticed and acted upon by their intended audience—the people for whom you create your company’s digital products in the first place—isn’t a crime. It’s your job.


Hat tip to Mark Mazut and Tim Irwin, my fellow passengers on the above disaster. Bit o’ nostalgia for those who remember The Ad Graveyard.

Categories
art art direction creativity Design Designers experience Illustration industry New York City NYC people Portfolios Startups Stories Web Design

Looking Back, Looking Ahead: artist Dan Licht

Illustration by Dan Licht: a scary cowboy smoking a stogie and sloshing his drink. His eyes are red and he looks like he's itching for a fight.
Illustration by Dan Licht
Illustration by Dan Licht.

In 1999, I had the good fortune to work alongside Dan Licht at an NYC digital startup called SenseNet, RIP. Back then, although still in his early 20s, Dan was already an accomplished art director and digital designer. Today he’s a fantastic comics illustrator, artist, and creative director. Check his recent art on Instagram and his client work at Daniel V. Licht dot com.

A heroic letter carrier is pictured sending letters on their way in this illustration by Dan Licht. The picture has a great deal of energy, and the action is all flying toward you, the viewer.
“Protect the U.S. Postal Service,” a 2020 illustration by Dan Licht.
Categories
glamorous work Working

My First Job

I was a teenage telemarketer. Reading from a script, I attempted to raise money for St. Jude’s Hospital for Leukemia-Stricken Children. I was fired after three days for departing from the script. 

We were supposed to hard-sell, no matter what the person on the other end of the line said. But when the people I cold-called talked about their financial hardships, I sympathized, asked questions, and didn’t try to force a donation.

Our boss listened in on the calls. My empathy toward the people I called was not appreciated. 

My boss failed to see any irony in the job’s requiring psychopathically cold-hearted behavior toward some needy people in order to raise money for others.

Probably he could not allow himself to see it.

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Advocacy automattic Blogs and Blogging Brands Community Design industry Own your content software Standards Web Design Web Standards wordpress

Enabling Folks to Express Themselves on the Web: State of the Word 2021

Screenshot of slide highlighting the four phases of WordPress Gutenberg.

Not only are we enabling folks to express themselves uniquely on the web, unlike the cookie cutter looks that all the social sites try to put you into. We’re doing it in a way which is standards-based, interoperable, based on open source, and increases the amount of freedom on the web.

—Matt Mullenweg, State of the Word 

In a live address, Automattic’s Matt Mullenweg

  • Introduces Openverse (an opt-in content commons);
  • Announces that WordPress’s beginner-friendly Learn.Wordpress.org is now available in 21 languages;
  • Philosophizes about Web3 and the “decentralized web” —which, despite big company colonization attempts, is really what the web has always been;
  • Extols the virtues of Open Source;
  • And more. 

Watch the 2021 #StateoftheWord annual keynote address on YouTube. It’s two hours long, so bring popcorn.

Selected Additional Reactions & Commentary

Hat tips to Chenda Ngak, Reyes Martínez, and Josepha Haden.

Categories
democracy

“Like a school bus teetering on the guardrail of a bridge over a roaring river.”

“[We are] like a school bus teetering on the guardrail of a bridge over a roaring river. The bus driver is trying to coax the children to move calmly and carefully to an exit door in the portion of the bus that is still on the bridge, but some of the children are running and jumping around because the exasperated expressions of the driver amuses them.” – Lawrence Zajac

Categories
Design

#SpotifyWrapped

She’s Got It by The Leonard Simpson Duo; Mittrom by Mach-Hommy & Earl Sweatshirt; Open the Brain by Quelle Chris; Snake Oil Scientist by Marlowe; and Aunties Steak & Rice Hold the Cabbage by Camoflauge Monk (from Chopin Prelude in E Minor by Les Baxter). #SpotifyWrapped

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Accessibility Best practices Blue Beanie Day Design W3C Web Design Web Standards

Blue Beanie Day 2021

Photo of astronaut David Bowman from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 wearing a blue beanie in support of web standards.

Blue Beanie Day in support of web standards is celebrated around the world on November 30. Hey, that’s today.

So how can you help? Glad you asked! Take a self-portrait wearing a blue beanie (toque, tuque, cap) and post it to your website and social media channels with the hashtag #BlueBeanieDay.

And for that extra extra, slap a blue beanie on your web and social media avatars, as well.

Do this on November 30 as a reminder to design accessible, web-standards-based websites 365 days a year. Thank you. Love you.

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MF DOOM

DOOMSDAY

R.I.P. MF DOOM

One year to the day since he left us.

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An Event Apart Appearances art direction better-know-a-speaker books Career conferences Design Designers Education events Genius glamorous Illustration industry Interviews New York City NYC Off My Lawn! speaking Stories Surviving Teaching The Profession UX Web Design Web Design History work

My Night With Essl

Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio.
Mike Essl and I discuss his portfolio on Night 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit.

Herewith, a scene from last night’s interview with legendary web & book designer (and Dean of The Cooper Union School of Art) Mike Essl, who shared his portfolio, career highlights, early web design history, and more. Fun!

If you get a chance to meet, work with, or learn from Mike, take it. He’s brilliant, hilarious, warmly human, and one of the most creative people you’ll ever have the good fortune to know. 

Mike Essl

So ended Day 2 of An Event Apart Online Together Fall Summit 2021. Day 3 begins in less than two hours. You can still join us … or watch later On Demand.

Categories
glamorous Health

A little vitreous humor

Vitreous humor lines the backs of our eyeballs. We are born with a full supply of the stuff, but as we age, it begins to dry out or evaporate or some damn thing—the ophthalmologist shining a beam into my eye wasn’t overly explicit on this point. 

Sometimes the stuff detaches and comes to the front of the eye. It can be discolored, particularly if the detached part used to be close to the optic nerve. The result is a vitreous floater, which is like having a microscopic slide of an insect’s leg in front of one of your eyes. One eye sees the world. The other eye sees the world but also sees the microscopic slide of the insect’s leg. 

At times the “slide” moves around. At night there can also be white flashes that go off every two minutes or so—spaced just far enough apart to work like Chinese water torture.

The ophthalmologist told me it’s caused by aging, it happens to most people eventually, and there’s nothing doctors can do about it, other than monitor the situation to make sure it doesn’t get worse—because if it gets worse, that could be a sign of something more serious.

The ophthalmologist at the space-age eye hospital told me that over time I would see less of it, or learn to ignore it, or something—he wasn’t overly explicit on this point.

I’m to go back and see him again in a month.

Categories
Design

Not one of us

Even people who didn’t get deathly ill. Who aren’t still struggling to recover. Who didn’t lose a loved one—or more than one. Who didn’t bear the brunt of it because of their race and class. Who didn’t lose a job because of it. 

Those who didn’t miss out on senior year. Or the play. Or the prom, quinceanera, or bat mitzvah. Those who didn’t sit alone for months. Didn’t shutter their family’s business. Didn’t die of a curable disease because the hospital was full. 

Even those who had enough to eat and someone to talk to. Who did not lose their homes. Those whose animals survived. 

Even the lucky ones who had internet access and books and music. And who, when a vaccine came along, had access to it, and were not dissuaded by madness.

Even the most privileged among us are living with trauma.

Not one of us has escaped. Not one is unchanged.

Take a moment to be gentle with yourself, and with all whom you encounter. Even the monsters are crying inside.

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