WordCamp YYT

There were dozens and dozens of WordCamps all over the world last year. But as far as I know, there wasn’t one here in St. John’s. I’ve got a site almost finished to see if there’s any interest around town.

In the meantime, tweet widely and see if we can drum up a crowd for a day-long WordPress love-in this summer. Here’s a small corner of what I’ve got started:


Fighting your way through the crap

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.

And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

—Ira Glass talking about storytelling.

This advice is as useful for storytelling as it is for any type of creative work. Sifting through the mess of ideas and directions in your head and actually producing something—anything—is extremely challenging. The amount of crap you need to make before you make something good is truly frustrating when you have a good sense of what you like and what you know is good work.

If I could build on Glass’s advice, I would add that style and aesthetic are your two most important elements—perhaps these are the only two that even matter. As designers, we constantly get caught up with tools: WordPress, Drupal, Tumblr, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc. We (or at least I) often think that we’re a tool away from this great thing or that great thing, but we’re not.

The key ingredient of your next great thing isn’t a tool. It’s an idea, fueled by your style and aesthetic. With practice, your hands can be trained to use any of the tools to help you translate your idea into something you can actually show people. Defining, developing, and refining the aesthetic that sets you apart as a designer is the real trick.


DHH on Risk

The act of putting yourself in a position where you’re not forced to take on all this risk and bet everything is the hallmark of running things well.

—DHH, Co-founder of 37Signals on the notion of risk

Even Mom

The benchmark for a product’s acceptance has always been its adoption by our parents’ generation:

—Even Mom is on Facebook.

is something you hear all time. As more and more Moms are getting on Facebook and buying iPhones and setting PVRs to record the Golden Girls, or whatever it is they watch, I wonder what products our kids are going to fill in the blanks with. I wonder what my kids will say in 20 years:

—Even dad uses ________.

It’s really kind of exciting to think about a future revolving around something that you can’t even really imagine yet. Just picture this conversation with the 20 year old version of your Mom:

YOU: I sent you a link to a Youtube video. It’s the one of the dog on the turtle’s back. Hilarious!
MOM: What’s ‘you-tube’
Y: Youtube, b’y. The website with all the videos.
M: What’s a website?
Y: Websites are what the internet is made up of. There’s billions and billions and billions of them.
M: What’s the internet?
Y: The internet is a whole pile of computers connected together that enable the sharing around of all these websites
M: Aaaah……sure. That’s all grand. Now, what do you want to have for supper?

And that’s the exciting part. Replace all the words you know from above (computer, internet, website, youtube), with blanks, because those blanks haven’t even been invented yet.

Notes on Shopping at Sears

I shop at Sears now. [There, I’ve said it.]

This is a sentence I wasn’t sure I’d ever write or speak publicly, though I’m not exactly sure why that is. Since I started shopping at Sears, probably two years or more ago, I would typically walk to the men’s area, somewhere near the back, and start sorting through racks of pleated Arnold Palmer golf pants and argyle-printed sweater-vests until I found an armload of clothes to take to the dressing room to try on. Always while rifling, I’d keep my back to the main aisle, and always keep an eye over my shoulder to see if I recognized any passersby. Or, more importantly, to see if they recognized me.

It isn’t that Sears is some evil place. I mean, I’m talking about Sears here, not Walmart. But still I had fairly strong reservations about becoming one of their regular patrons. I would often hide in the back of the clothing racks, discretely buy things and try them on when I got home, coolly walk through the men’s area on the way to the appliance and tool area [these are at opposite ends of the store, fyi], casually grabbing a shirt or two as I went.

But all of this is absurd behavior, right? It isn’t normal to be ashamed of being seen in a store? Is it? Maybe it is a little crazy, but it is also a lot explainable: Growing up in a small town just barely within reach of a Christmas Wishbook catalog, results in you showing up to school and other social gatherings looking a lot like your peers. By a lot, I mean, identically.

—I wanted to get the blue, button-up one too, but mom said only the green pullover was on sale.

Was a sentence I heard more often than once between two people, sitting awkwardly and similarly dressed at a dance or birthday party. Hence, Sears became a bane. It stripped us of our individuality, and reduced us all to life-less drones — teal-coloured-silk-shirt-with-bolo-tie-wearing drones. Sure they sold quality, comfortable clothing at moderate prices, but when has that ever mattered to anyone other than Mom?

In recent years, however, all that negative perception has melted away to reveal what was really there all along: a sobering realization that Sears really isn’t that bad a place to shop. We have four notes today to support this realization. These are:

  1. Sales

    It doesn’t matter where you shop, a sale is a sale. Any time a store offers to save you money on something you would have bought anyway is a good time. And in the land of sales, Sears is king: White sales, Weekend sales, Super Saver Saturday sales, Sears Days sales, Appliance and Home Furnishings sales, Winter sales, Spring sales, Summer sales, Back to School sales, just-because-it’s-Tuesday sales. Pick any random date and I can personally guarantee that there’ll be a sale on at Sears.

  2. Dire Straights

    I’m not sure why, but Sears plays a lot music from Dire Straights. I presume it’s to appeal to a broad a spectrum of people in the easiest way, and honestly, I can’t think of a better band to do this than Dire Straights. And I’m not talking about just repeating Sultans of Swing, either—just yesterday, for example, I heard Walk of Life coming through loud and clear on the store’s PA system. Walk of Life for God’s sake! I love that song.

  3. Comfort fit

    I don’t want to delve too far into this one for fear of incrimination. I just want to draw to the readers’ attention that there exists in this cold, cruel, skinny world, pants that expand to fit virtually any waistline, even as it may change on an hourly basis (like in the hour following a buffet dinner, for example). And that’s all I want to say about that.

  4. Meat slicer demos

    That’s right, meat slicer demos. Find me another store where you can have your boring shopping experience delightfully interrupted by a large man with a megaphone, standing atop a milk crate asking for audience volunteers to come up and help him verify that his meat slicer is better than all the competitors. Go ahead, just try and find it. If you don’t believe that this happens, all I can do is beg you to trust that this is not something I would either make up, or lie about.

None of these, of course, are enticing enough reasons to visit Sears on their own, but when coupled with the fact that Sears has become the only store in town with clothes to fit my 6’3” frame, I think you’ll admit that I’ve really struck gold here.

But what to say now of my past perceptions? My former opinions? What to make of the fact that not long ago I had made merciless fun of the seemingly un-ending litany of sales, of the largely dull pastel-nature of the Arnold Palmer collection of summer leisure suits? What can I say about all that now?

At this stage, I’m not entirely sure what to say about it all. But, as I sit here and write in a pair of dress pants that stretch past my ankles, with a sweater on that’s long enough to cover my belt, and a pair of soft, Grandfather-esque, brown leather shoes (double E wide) on my warm, dry feet, I can tell you that I’ll happily take back all of what I said.

You got the last laugh, Sears.