Is all my stuff gone?

Excerpt from a brief conversation with a co-worker today:

HER: Hi Terry
ME: Hi
HER: You gotta help me. My daughter started our computer this morning and we got an error message, loud beeping, and a blue screen. What does that mean?
ME: Nothing good.
HER: Really?
ME: Sorry, afraid so.

[just seconds later]

HER: Is all of my stuff gone?
ME: No [Yes]
HER: What should I do?
ME: Grieve the loss of all of your stuff, (literally) throw your computer out of an open window, several metres above the ground, and buy a Mac.

Josh Ritter

Five or six years ago, Sarah Harmer came to St. John’s. She was touring with a brand new cd and played a pile of dates across Canada before ending here in town. This was delightful news until I realized that the concert date was just 2 days after I was to leave for Canada’s North.

I was disappointed to have missed an opportunity to see Sarah Harmer, but even more dismayed months later, when I realized that her opening act was then unknown Josh Ritter. Just on spec, I decided to give him a listen, figuring if he was good enough for Sarah, he was good enough for me. It turned out that Ritter’s Hello Starling and Golden Age of Radio became the soundtrack for an incredible trip, and a largely formative period in my life.

The process of becoming the person that you are happens only once. It feels really nice to have a collection of songs to remind you of all the little steps in the middle.

Even listening to Josh’s new record, though it wasn’t with me at the time, takes me back to the same place.

Face tomorrow together

When Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin in 1928, many declared the war against infections and harmful microorganisms to be over. No longer, they thought, would people needlessly die from curable infections now that they had a secret weapon at their sides. But of course it was not to be so. Researchers discovered the first penicillin resistant organisms just a little more than a decade later, and within two decades, resistance to penicillin was widespread. In the five or more decades leading up to today, every single antibiotic that has been produced and consumed by humans has had described cases of resistance. Even the brand new ones; even the really ‘strong’ ones.

Over at infectionNet we wanted to help do something about this, so we’ve been working hard on a contribution of our own. Yesterday we launched a global inventory of projects that promote proper use of antimicrobials. Our goal over the next few months is to highlight the work of people around the world, give them a voice for their ideas, and applaud them for their efforts in combating a global problem.

Sure, the web is a huge place, and this is just one small corner of it. But that’s where you need to start: small. All of the world’s big ideas started the exact same way.

Typography for lawyers

This is an excellent resource for lawyers or almost anyone else who spends part of their day writing.

Take this examination of the em dash—my absolute favourite character—as an example:

The em dash is a versatile mark used to signal a break between sentence phrases. Use it when
a comma is not quite enough, but a colon, semicolon or set of parentheses is a little too much.

Em dashes put a nice pause in the text—they are underused in legal writing.

Far beyond legal writing, the em dash is almost criminally underused in all forms of writing.

A guide to hiring developers

Do yourself a favour and google: “St. John’s web design” (obviously, remove St. John’s and insert your own small town). You’ll be surprised with what you see.

When I looked yesterday, I found about 10 local design shops offering web services. Some of them claimed to do “design”, some focused on “database driven” sites, and others focused on niche markets – musicians, BnBs, small volunteer organizations, etc. All of the sites I looked at were table-based, many used inline CSS and at least half of the sites were Flash based. In general, while all of the shops offered something different, they all offered something very much the same – low quality.

If your organization is looking at getting a website developed, you need to ask about things like this:

1. Web Standards

Web Standards are relatively new, under-adhered to, and often thought to be a waste of time. They are not. Ensuring that your site adheres to proper standards ensures that it will be readable on most modern browsers, on most computers and on most smartphones. Further, web standards will make your redesign easier and cheaper in 2-3 years when you look for a new coat of paint.

As has been the official recommendation since 2002, websites [should not](http://www.w3.org/2002/03/csslayout-howto) be made with tables anymore. If your developer is still laying out websites with tables, they have not taken the time to learn how to do it the proper way.

2. Custom CMS

If your developer says that they are going to put your content into a custom CMS that they built themselves, start to run. Run as fast as you can for as long as you can until you are out of harm’s way. A content management system is a broody, complex, and often vengeful animal. If you need software to manage your content, then get a proper, modern CMS. Drupal, WordPress, Joomla!, and Plone are a tiny number of examples of these. I use and recommend Drupal: it’s open source, it’s developed by thousands of developers, is very secure, and is a way better choice than any custom CMS.

3. Do not pay for “search engine optimization” (SEO)

Google has a lot of very bright, hardworking engineers. These men and women work tirelessly to ensure that web content is easily findable. To make your content “findable” on Google, all you need is a modern CMS (see #2 above). The thousands of people who work on Drupal and WordPress know lots about SEO, so you can sleep soundly at night.

The days of adding keywords and metatags to the HEAD section of your website are, thankfully, over. Anyone who tries to charge you for optimizing your Google search results are likely stealing your money.

4. Say no to Flash

My thoughts on Flash are not a secret – I have them well spelled out in several places on this site. Flash used to be the only way to get dynamic (moving) content on the web. It has since become the only way for people who used to make websites in 1998 to continue to make them today without having to re-train. Instead of learning modern tools like HTML and CSS, they continue to build their sites in Flash.

If designed well, very very very few websites need Flash. If you decide to go with Flash, you are signing yourself up for expensive ride. In a Flash site, for example, changing your phone number on the contact page is like changing a single subtitle in a 2 hour movie. You don’t need it.

The web is shifting at lightspeed away from Flash. Just ask Youtube, Vimeo, Apple, or Facebook. Further, there isn’t a single smartphone in the world that Flash currently plays on. Not iPhone, not iPad, not Blackberry, and not Andriod.

Parting thoughts

Even after several years now, the web is still a wild west. If you don’t really know about how the web is put together, then you need to bring questions like these to the first meeting with your potential developer. How they answer questions about web standards, content management, and Flash should tell you lots about what sort of product they will deliver for you. It might take you months to realize it, but asking these questions up front will save you sleep, gray hair, and and certainly truckloads of money in the long run.

Wedding Invites

After a lengthy design process, the invites are printed, stamped, and mostly mailed out. Keep an eye on your mailbox!