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  1. We, Who Are Web Designers

    What do you do?

    In 2003, my wife Lowri and I went to a christening party. We were friends of the hosts but we knew almost no-one else there. Sitting next to me was a thirty-something woman and her husband, both dressed in the corporate ‘smart casual’ uniform: Jersey, knitwear, and ready-faded jeans for her, formal shoes and tucked-in formal shirt for him (plus the jeans of course; that’s the casual bit). Both appeared polite, neutral, and neat in every respect.

    I smiled and said hello, and asked how they knew our hosts. The conversation stalled pretty quickly the way all conversations will when only one participant is engaged. I persevered, asked about their children who they mentioned, trying to be a good friend to our hosts by being friendly to other guests. It must have prompted her to reciprocate. With reluctant interest she asked the default question: ‘What do you do?’ I paused, uncertain for a second. ‘I’m a web designer’ I managed after a bit of nervous confusion at what exactly it was that I did. Her face managed to drop even as she smiled condescendingly. ‘Oh. White backgrounds!’ she replied with a mixture of scorn and delight. I paused. ‘Much of the time’, I nodded with an attempt at a self-deprecating smile, trying to maintain the camaraderie of the occasion. ‘What do you do?’ I asked, curious to see where her dismissal was coming from. ‘I’m the creative director for … agency’ she said smugly, overbearingly confident in the knowledge that she had a trump card, and had played it. The conversation was over.

    I’d like to say her reaction didn’t matter to me, but it did. It stung to be regarded so disdainfully by someone who I would naturally have considered a colleague. I thought to try and explain. To mention how I started in print, too. To find out why she had such little respect for web design, but that was me wanting to be understood. I already knew why. Anything I said would sound defensive. She may have been rude, but at least she was honest.

    I am a web designer. I neither concentrate on the party venue, food, music, guest list, or entertainment, but on it all. On the feeling people enter with and walk away remembering. That’s my job. It’s probably yours too.

    I’m self-actualised, without the stamp of approval from any guild, curriculum authority, or academic institution. I’m web taught. Colleague taught. Empirically taught. Tempered by over fifteen years of failed experiments on late nights with misbehaving browsers. I learnt how to create venues because none existed. I learnt what music to play for the people I wanted at the event, and how to keep them entertained when they arrived. I empathised, failed, re-empathised, and did it again. I make sites that work. That’s my certificate. That’s my validation.

    I try, just like you, to imbue my practice with an abiding sense of responsibility for the universality of the Web as Tim Berners-Lee described it. After all, it’s that very universality that’s allowed our profession and the Web to thrive. From the founding of the W3C in 1994, to Mosaic shipping with <img> tag support in 1993, to the Web Standards Project in 1998, and the CSS Zen Garden in 2003, those who care have been instrumental in shaping the Web. Web designers included. In more recent times I look to the web type revolution, driven and curated by both web designers, developers, and the typography community. Again, we’re teaching ourselves. The venues are open to all, and getting more amazing by the day.

    Apart from the sites we’ve built, all the best peripheral resources that support our work are made by us. We’ve contributed vast amounts of code to our collective toolkit. We’ve created inspirational conferences like Brooklyn Beta, New Adventures, Web Directions, Build, An Event Apart, dConstruct, and Webstock. As a group, we’ve produced, written-for, and supported forward-thinking magazines like A List Apart, 8 Faces, Smashing Mag, and The Manual. We’ve written the books that distill our knowledge either independently or with publishers from our own community like Five Simple Steps and A Book Apart. We’ve created services and tools like jQuery, Fontdeck, Typekit, Hashgrid, Teuxdeux, and Firebug. That’s just a sample. There’s so many I haven’t mentioned. We did these things. What an extraordinary industry.

    I know I flushed with anger and embarrassment that day at the christening party. Afterwards, I started to look a little deeper into what I do. I started to ask what exactly it means to be a web designer. I started to realise how extraordinary our community is. How extraordinary this profession is that we’ve created. How good the work is that we do. How delightful it is when it does work; for audiences, clients, and us. How fantastic it is that I help build the Web. Long may that feeling last. May it never go away. There’s so much still to learn, create, and make. This is my our party. Hi, I’m Jon; my friends and I are making Mapalong, and I’m a web designer.

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  2. Ampersand, the Aftermath

    The first Ampersand web typography conference took place in Brighton last Friday. Ampersand was ace. I’m going to say that again with emphasis: Ampersand was ace! Like the Ready Brek kid from the 80s TV ads I’m glowing with good vibes.

    Imagine you’d just met some of the musicians that created the soundtrack to your life. That’s pretty much how I feel.

    Nerves and all…

    Photo by Ben Mitchell.

    Jon Tan at Ampersand by Ben Mitchell

    For a long, long time I’ve gazed across at the typography community with something akin to awe at the work they do. I’ve lurked quietly on the ATypI mailing list, in the Typophile forum, and behind the glass dividing my eyes from the blogs, portfolios, and galleries.

    I always had a sneaking suspicion the web and type design communities had much in common: Excellence born from actual client work; techniques and skills refined by practice, not in a lab or classroom; a willingness to share and disseminate, most clearly demonstrated at Typophile and through web designer’s own blogs. The people of both professions have a very diverse set of backgrounds from graphic design all the way through to engineering, to accidentally working in a print shop. We’ve been apprenticed to our work, and Ampersand was a celebration of what we’ve achieved so far and what’s yet to come.

    Of course, web design is a new profession. Type design has a history that spans hundreds of years. Nevertheless, both professions are self-actualising. Few courses exist of any real merit. There is no qualifications authority. The work from both arenas succeeds or fails based on whether it works or not.

    Ampersand was the first event of its kind. Folks from both communities came together around the mutal fascination, frustration, challenge and opportunity of web type.

    Like Brooklyn Beta, the audience was as fantastic as the line up. I met folks like Yves Peters of the FontFeed, Mike Duggan of Microsoft Typography, Jason Smith, Phil Garnham, Fernando Mello, and Emanuela Conidi of Fontsmith, Veronica Burian of TypeTogether, Adam Twardoch of Fontlab and MyFonts, Nick Sherman of of Webtype, Mandy Brown of A Book Apart and Typekit, and many, many others. (Sorry for stopping there, but wow, it would be a huge list.)

    Rich Rutter

    Rich Rutter opens Ampersand.

    Rich Rutter opened the day on behalf of Clearleft and Fontdeck at the Brighton Dome. Rich and I had talked about a web typography conference before. He just went out and did it. Hats off to him, and people like Sophie Barrett at Clearleft who helped make the day run so smoothly.

    Others have written comprehensive, insightful summaries of the day and the talks. Much better than I could, sitting there on the day, rapt, taking no notes. What follows are a few snippets my memory threw out when prodded.

    Vincent Connare

    Vincent Connare at Ampersand.

    Who knew the original letterforms for Comic Sans were inspired by a copy of The Watchmen Vincent Connare had in his office? Or that Vincent, who also designed Trebuchet, considers himself an engineer rather than type designer, and is working at the moment on the Ubuntu fonts with colleagues at Dalton Maag.

    Jason Santa Maria declared himself a type nerd, and gave a supremely detailed talk about selecting, setting, and understanding web type. Wonderful stuff.

    Jason Santa Maria

    Jason Santa Maria at Ampersand.

    Jonathan Hoefler talked in rapid, articulate, and precise terms about the work behind upcoming release of pretty-much all of H&FJ’s typefaces as web fonts. (Hooray!) He clearly and wonderfully explained how they took the idea behind their typefaces, and moved them through a design process to produce a final form for a specific purpose. In this case, the web, as a distinct and different environment from print.

    Jonathan Hoefler

    Photo by Sean Johnson.

    Jonathan Hoefler at Ampersand.

    I spoke between Jason and Jonathan. Gulp. After staying up until 4am the night before, anxiously working on slides, I was carried along by the privilege and joy of being there, hopefully without too much mumbling or squinting with bleary eyes.

    After lunch, David Berlow continued the story of web fonts, taking us on a journey through his own trials and tribulations at Font Bureau when re-producing typefaces for the web crude media. His dry, droll, richly-flavoured delivery was a humorous counterpoint to some controversial asides.

    David Berlow

    Photo by Jeremy Keith.

    David Berlow at Ampersand by Ben Mitchell

    John Daggett of Mozilla, editor of the CSS3 Fonts Module, talked with great empathy for web designers about the amazing typographic advances we’re about to see in browsers.

    Tim Brown of Typekit followed. Tim calmly and thoroughly advocated the extension of modular scales to all aspects of a web interface, taking values from the body type and building all elements with those values as the common denominator.

    Finally, Mark Boulton wrapped up the day brilliantly, describing the designer’s role as the mitigator of entropy, reversing the natural trend for things to move from order to chaos, and a theme he’s exploring at the moment: designing from the content out.

    Mark Boulton

    Mark Boulton at Ampersand.

    The tone of the day was fun, thoughtful, articulate, and exacting. All the talks were a mix of anecdotal and observational humour, type nerdery, and most of all an overwhelming commitment to excellence in web typography. It was a journey in itself. Decades of experience from plate and press, screen, and web was being distilled into 45-minute presentations. I loved it.

    As always, one of the most enjoyable bits for me was the hallway track. I talked to heaps of people both in the pre- and after-party, and in between the talks on the day itself. I heard stories, ideas, and opinions from print designers, web designers, type designers, font developers, and writers. We talked late into the night. We talked more the next day.

    Now the talking has paused for a while, my thoughts are manifold. I can honestly say, I’ve never been so filled with positivity about where we are, and where we’re going. Web typography is here, it works, it’s better all the time, and one day web and type designers everywhere will wonder, perplexed, as they try to imagine what the web was like before.

    Here’s to another Ampersand next year! I’m now going to see if Rich needs any encouragement to do it again. I’m guessing not, but if he does, I aim to provide it, vigorously. I hope I see you there!

    Furthermore

    Last but not least, did I mention that Rich Rutter, Mark Boulton, and I are writing a book? We are! More on that another time, but until then, follow @webtypography for intermittent updates.

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  3. Design Festival, The Setup, and Upcoming Posts

    Wow, this has been a busy period. I’m just back from the Ampersand web typography conference in Brighton, and having a catch-up day in Mild Bunch HQ. Just before that I’ve been working flat out. First on Mapalong which was a grass-roots sponsor of Ampersand, and is going great guns. Then on an article for The Manual which is being published soon, and on 8 Faces #3 which is in progress right now. Not to mention the new talk for Ampersand which left me scratching my head and wondering if I was making any sense at all. More on that in a subsequent post.

    In the meantime two previous events deserve a mention. (This is me starting more of a journalistic blog. :)

    The Setup screenshot

    First of all, an interview with Simon Pascal Klien, the typographer and designer who’s curating the Design Festival podcast at the moment. We talked about all things web typography. Pascal cheekily left in a bit of noise from me in the prelude, and that rant pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. Thanks for your time, Pascal! If anyone reading this would care to listen in, the podcast can be downloaded or played from here:

    Secondly, Daniel Bogan of The Setup sent me a few questions about my own tools. My answers are pretty clipped because of time, but you may find it interesting to compare this designer’s setup with your own:

    I should note that in the meantime I’ve started writing with Writer, and discovered the great joy of keeping a journal and notes with a Midori Traveler’s Notebook. The latter is part of an on-going search I’m having to find Tools for Life. More on that, too at some point. Here’s my current list of topics I want to write about shortly:

    • Ampersand, the aftermath
    • Marrying a FujiFilm X100
    • No-www
    • Tools for life
    • Paper versus pixels

    There, I’ve written it!

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  4. Ides of March

    My friend and colleague, Chris, has shared a spiffing idea, the Ideas of March. He suggests: ‘If we all blog a little more than we normally would this month, maybe we can be reminded of all of the reasons blogs are great.’

    But wait, this post is called the Ides of March? Right. As soon as I read what Chris had posted, a twist on the phrase echoed in my memory. The Ides of March is a Roman festival dedicated to the god of war, Mars. Some say it’s on the 15th of March (today). I can’t find a reference that this is accurate relative to the Julian or current Gregorian calendars, so I will use the first full moon instead. This year it will be on Saturday, 19th of March, in four days time. Wikipedia has more:

    The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held. In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date that Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C.

    Dramatic stuff. Appropriate in these times, too. Mars may have been the god of war, based on the anarchistic Greek god, Ares, but he represented the pursuit of peace through military strength. A thoroghly debunked method if you ask me, but a pretty neat rationalisation still used today. The military pursues Gaddafi’s version of peace in Libya. Mubarak tried it, and failed, in Egypt. The Ben Ali regime collapsed under protests in Tunisia. Saleh is on his way in Yemen. Right now, Saudi soldiers are deployed in Bahrain to quell protestors fighting for democratic freedom.

    Whatever you think about the current strife, one thing is true: Tyrants never last. I’ve been an advocate of Twitter, and its ambient intimacy for almost four years. In that time I’ve seen it buoyed by the innovations of its users. Smart folks using @replies, and retweets that became a part of the fabric, coded into links and threads (sort-of). Other smart people building clients with new ways of looking at the graph. I’ve seen Twitter take the good ideas and do good things with them. Yet now, Twitter isn’t just the platform any longer, it wants to be the clients too. From URL shortening and tracking, to changes in who can make clients, and how they work. People don’t like it. The same kind of smart people who helped it be successful. The same kind of people who permit benevolent dictators to exist until they become tyrants.

    I’m still a fan of the idea of short messages. They are neat, by their nature, but lest Twitter forgets, they also exist elsewhere, too. They’re a snack between meals. Signposts to feasts. The real banquets are blog posts, though. I’ve learnt more from them in the last ten years than I ever will from 140 characters. That’s why blogs are something to be treasured. Blogs and RSS may be dead according to some, but I like that I disagree. After all, even with this rambling post, you’ve probably learnt something, just like I have writing it. Thanks for the prompt, Chris.

    Don’t procrastinate, fire up your editor and share your own ideas of March. Drew, Lorna, and Sean already have. Go on, you know it’s been far too long!

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  5. 2010 in Retrospect

    Analog, Mapalong, more tries at trans-Atlantic sleep, Cuba, Fontdeck, and my youngest son entering school; it all happened in the last year. At the end of 2007, I wrote up the year very differently. After skipping a couple of years, this is a different wrap-up. To tell the truth I put this together for me, being the very worst of diarists. It meant searching through calendars, Aperture, and elsewhere. I hope it prompts me to keep a better diary. I give you: 2010 in pictures and words:

    January

    Albany Green, Bristol.

    Albany Green” width=

    Analog.coop is still fresh after launching in December. We’re still a bit blown away by the response but decide not to do client work, but to make Mapalong instead. We jump through all kinds of hoops trying to make it happen, but ultimately it comes down to our friend and colleague, Chris Shiflett. He gets us going. It snows a lot in Bristol. The snow turns to ice. I slip around, occasionally grumpy, but mostly grinning like an idiot.

    February

    Morón, Cuba.

    Morón, Cuba” width=

    My family and I go to Cuba on our first ever all inclusive ‘package’ holiday. It’s a wonderful escape from winter, tempered by surreptitious trips out of the surreal, tourist-only island, to the other Cuba with an unofficial local guide. My boys love the jacuzzi, and sneaking into the gym. Z shoots his first arrow. Just after we return, he turns 4 years old. Now, he wants to go back.

    March

    DUMBO from the men’s loo at 10 Jay St. — home of Analog NY in Studio 612a.

    DUMBO, Brooklyn, NY” width=

    I visit Chris in Brooklyn to work on Mapalong. We play football. Well, Chris plays. I cripple myself, and limp around a lot. At the same time I meet the irrepressible, Cameron Koczon. We all get drunk on good beer at Beer Table. Life is good. Cameron comes up with the Brooklyn Beta name. It starts to move from idea to action.

    Just before Brooklyn, a discussion about First Things First opens during a talk at BathCamp. The follow-ups become passionate with posts like this straw man argument and a vociferous rejoinder.

    April and May

    In the garden, at home.

    Lowri in our garden” width=

    The sun comes out. The garden becomes the new studio. Alan Colville and Jon Gibbins stop by as we work on Mapalong. The hunt starts for a co-working space in Bristol. I write pieces about self-promotion and reversed type. Worn out from the sudden burst, I go quiet again.

    June

    Mild Bunch HQ!

    My desk in the new studio” width=

    We find a place for our Bristol co-working studio studio. Mild Bunch HQ is born! I design desks for the first time. Our first co-workers are Adam Robertson, Kester Limb, Eugene Getov, and Ben Coleman. Chris and I meet again across the Atlantic; he makes a flying visit to Bristol. The gentle pressure mounts on fellow Analogger, Jon Gibbins to come to Bristol, too. Something special begins. Beer Fridays have started.

    Fontdeck!

    Fontdeck website” width=

    Fontdeck comes out of private beta! Almost 17 months after Rich Rutter and I talked about a web fonts service in Brighton for the first time, the site was live thanks to the hard work of Clearleft and OmniTI. Now it features thousands of fonts prepared for the Web, and many of the best type designers and foundries in the world.

    The Ulster Festival programme.

    Ulster Festival of Art and Design programme” width=

    For the first time in around 15 years I visit Belfast. At the invitation of the Standardistas, Chris and Nik, Elliot Stocks and I talk typography at the Ulster Festival of Art and Design. We’re working on the Brooklyn Beta branding, so talk about that with a bit of neuroscience thrown in as food for thought. Belfast truly is a wonderful place with fantastic people. It made it hard to miss Build for the second time later in the year.

    June was busier than it felt. :)

    July

    Mild Bunch summer; Pieminister, Ginger beer, and Milk Stout.

    Pies and beer” width=

    Summer arrived in earnest. X has a blast at his school sports day. I do, too. Mild Bunch HQ is liberally dosed with shared lunches from Herbert’s bakery and Licata’s deli, and beers on balmy evenings outside The Canteen with friends. That’s all the Mild Bunch is, a group of friends with a name that made us laugh; everyone of friendly disposition is welcome!

    August

    8Faces and .Net magazine.

    8 Faces and .Net magazines” width=

    8 Faces number 1 is published and sells out in a couple of hours. I was lucky enough to be interviewed, and to sweat over trying to narrow my choices. The .Net interview was me answering a few questions thrown my way from folks on Twitter. Great fun. Elliot, Samantha Cliffe, and I had spent a great day wandering around Montpelier taking pictures in the sun earlier in the year. One of her portraits of me appeared in both magazines. Later that month, I write about Web Fonts, Dingbats, Icons, and Unicode. It’s only my fourth post of the year.

    Birthday cake made by my wife, Lowri.

    Pies and beer” width=

    Sometimes, some things strip me of words. Thank you.

    September

    East River Sunrise from 20 stories up at the home of Jessi and Creighton of Workshop.

    Sunrise from 20 stories above the East River” width=

    The whole of Analog heads to Brooklyn for a Mapalong hack week with the Fictive Kin guys. We start to show it to friends and Brooklyn studio mates like Tina (Swiss Miss) who help us heaps. It’s a frantic week. I get to spend a bit of time with my Analog friend Andrei Zmievski who I haven’t seen in the flesh since 2009. Everyone works and plays hard, and we stay in some fantastic places thanks to Cameron and AirBnB.

    Cameron Koczon (front), Larry Legend (middle) and Jon Gibbins (far back with funky glove) in Studio 612a during hack week.

    In Studio 612a during hack week” width=

    Just before I head to NY, Z starts big school. He looks too small to start. He’s 4. How did time pass so fast? I’m still wondering that after I get back.

    October

    Brooklyn Beta poster.

    Brooklyn Beta poster” width=

    The whole of Analog, the Mild Bunch HQ and many others from Bristol, and as far away as Australia and India, head to New York for Brooklyn Beta! A poster whipped together my me, printed in a rush by Rik at Ripe, and transported to NY by Adam Robertson, is given as one of the souvenirs to everyone who comes.

    Meanwhile, Jon Gibbins works frantically to get Mapalong ready to give BB an early glimpse of what we’re up to. Two thousand people reserve their usernames before we even go to private beta!

    Brooklyn Beta!

    Simon Collison giving his Analytical Design workshop on day 1.

    Simon Collison giving his Analytical Design workshop” width=

    Chris and Cameron work tirelessly. Many, many fine people lend a hand. We add some last minute touches to the site, like listing all the crew and attendees as well as the speakers. Cameron shows off Gimme Bar with an hilarious voice-over from Bedrich Rios. Alan narrates Mapalong and we introduce our mapping app to our peers and friends!

    Day 2: Chris does technical fixes, Cameron tells jokes, and Cameron Moll waits with great poise for his talk to start.

    Chris, Cameron, and Cameron on stage at Brooklyn Beta” width=

    It’s something we hoped, but never expected: Brooklyn Beta goes down as one of the best conferences ever in the eyes of veteran conference speakers and attendees. ‘Are you sure you’ve not done this before?’ I hear Jonathan Hoefler of Hoefler Frere-Jones ask Cameron. It makes me smile. The fact one of our sponsors asked this question in admiration of Chris and Cameron’s work meant a lot to me. I was proud of them, and grateful to everyone who helped it be something truly friendly, open, smart, and special.

    Aftermath: Cameron (blury in action centre left) regales us at Mission Delores; Pat Lauke (left), Lisa Herod (back centre right), Nicholas Sloan (right).

    Cameron speaks” width=

    The BB Flickr group has a lot of pictures and links to blog posts. Brooklyn Beta will return again in 2011!

    November

    Legoland, Windsor.

    Legoland” width=

    X turns 7. I realise he really isn’t such a toddler anymore. It took me a while even though he amazes me constantly with his vocabulary and eloquence. His birthday party ensues with a trip to Legoland on the last weekend of the season to watch fireworks and get into trouble. Fun times finding Yoda and the rest of the Star Wars posse battling each other below the Space Shuttle exhibit.

    8 Faces

    8 Faces number 2” width=

    8 Faces number two is published after being announced at Build. Much of the month was spent juggling Mapalong work, and having a great time typesetting the selections spreads for each of the eight faces chosen by the interviewees. That, and worrying with Elliot how it might print with litho. It all turned out OK. I think.

    The .Net Awards take place in London. Christened the ‘nutmeg’ awards thanks to iPhone auto-correction, I’m one of millions of judges. We use it as an excuse for a party. At the end of the month, lots of the Mild Bunch go to see Caribou at The Thekla. Good times.

    December

    Mapalong!

    Mapalong logo and screenshot” width=

    Mapalong goes into private beta! We start inviting many of the Brooklyn Beta folks, and others who’ve reserved their usernames. Lots of placemarks get added. Lots of feedback comes our way. Bug hunting starts. Next design steps start. We push frequently and add people as we go. Big things are planned for the new year!

    Clove heart from Lowri.

    Tangerine with a heart” width=

    The Mild Bunch Christmas do goes off with a bang thanks to Adam Robertson making sure it happened. Folks come from far and wide for a great party in The Big Chill Bar in Bristol. Lowri sneaks shots of Sambuca for the girls onto my tab, and we drink all the Innis and Gunn they have.

    A few parties later, and the year draws to a close with a very traditional family Christmas in our house. Wood fires, music, the Christmas tree, and two small boys doing what kids do at Christmas. It’s just about perfect; A tonic to the background strife of the month, with a personal tragedy for me, and illness in my close family. Everything worked out OK. Steam-powered fairground rides, dressing up as dinosaurs, and detox follows with a bit of reflection. New Year’s Eve probably means staying in. Babysitters are like gold dust, but I just found we have one for tonight, so it looks like our celebration is coming early!

    2011

    In the new year, I’ll be mostly trying to do the best I can for my family, my colleagues, and myself. The only goals I have are to help my children be everything they can be, make Mapalong everything we wish it to be, and feel that calm, quiet sense of peace in the evening that only comes from a day well done. Other than that I’ll keep my mind open to serendipity. (…and do something about some bits of my site and the typesetting that’s bugging me after writing this. :)

    If you made it this far, thank you, and here’s to you and yours in 2011; may the best of your past be the worst of your future!

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  6. Seven Things

    Stylized 7

    Meme is a funny word. I remember interrogating the hive mind of Google to understand what it meant not that long ago. Participating in one (or rather, perpetuating one) is something that always escaped me, but it seems I’ve been stitched up by my mate, Chris Shiflett, and new colleague, Rob Treat. When infected with this meme, you post seven things people might not already know about you. There’s no penalty for not doing it, but apparently you get props for passing it on to seven other people after you’ve done your bit. I’m going to pick on designers!

    Meme: ‘A cultural item that is transmitted by repetition in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes’ — a term created by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene.

    An Internet meme is an evolved term. Cough — neologism — cough.

    Before I get to picking on anyone, I’d better get to the meat of this memetical sandwich:

    1. I once had a farm in Af-ree-ka. No, well, sort-of. I once helped to run a guest house and restaurant in The Seychelles. We did grow things. We used the radical method of throwing papaya seeds out of the kitchen door and being swamped by saplings a few weeks later. There were no lions. The guest house was in a place called Anse Volbert or the Cote D’Or (gold coast) — a seven kilometre strip of white coral sand on the island of Praslin.
    2. I once MCd with drum and bass DJs at a full moon party in Haad Rin, on Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand. It was an accident. The DJ box was open, Sang Som (sugarcane whiskey) was flowing freely, and Bob’s your uncle (or Jon’s your MC). The DJs were happy to oblige after cresting the anxiety curve and realising the dude who looks at least partly farang wasn’t completely awful. It was fun. I think.
    3. Wellington harbour in New Zealand has a shipping lane. You can hire Kayaks, too. When hiring a kayak they warn you explicitly not wander into the shipping lane because the ships will not stop (and probably can’t). The problem is that Wellington harbour is so stunning that it’s easy to spend your time rubber-necking rather than looking out for ferries. The shipping lane is not marked. The slightly-less-than-ambient signifiers that one might be doing it all wrong is a fog horn and the sight of a large ship’s bow heading towards you. I once did a cartoon-style, arm-flailing kayak-sprint in Wellington harbour.
    4. I love the water. I dream of living on a boat one day. For a while, I hunted octopus for food and trade. I’d go out with fins, mask, and the masters of Indian Ocean small boat fishing. While they practiced their craft with mercenary grace, I would flounder, spike in hand, barely making the bottom to chase the octopods before bursting to the surface gulping air. The best bit was hunting in the dive areas. While we hunted, the tourists observed, often slightly wild-eyed and with a disapproving air. Tenderise octopi by boiling them for three hours. The skin falls off and all rubberiness evaporates. Chop, mix with salad and a classic dressing and it’s heavenly grub.
    5. Once upon a time I wrote a book. It was never published, but had fans who used to sit at my mother’s kitchen table and read the lastest chapter. It was a tale of dashing up and down motorways in the dark from weekend to weekend, and occassionally from gig to gig, DJing. An autobiographical coming-of-age story, wrapped in a raw dose of youthful mischief and carnage. Sometimes I revisit it, smile indulgently at the sparse, brutal journalistic prose, and really wish it was indeed an improvement on the style of Ernest Hemingway, or Dale A Dye in Citadel, rather than a bad facsimile.
    6. My father is Singaporean Chinese. My mother is a bit of a mixture. You may have guessed this already. I love all sides of my heritage equally which may also be an obvious thing to say, but it’s not: When I grew up in what felt like a deeply racist place during the 70s and 80s my tendency was to fight the bigots with an exaggerated pride in my Chinese heritage. Things have changed since then. Now I’m just quietly proud of both. I like being from Blighty just as much as I like eating eating Singaporean food. I could sum it up in a sentence: Keep calm and carry on eating prawn sambal on toast.
    7. Eating a Granny Smith apple makes unmentioned parts of my anatomy itch. True story. I have no idea why. Some things are beyond explanation. If that reads like too much information, you have a dirty mind. :)

    I’m done! Ah, now who to tag? Well, as promised, some erudites from the design community. I’m late to the party as usual (the meme is dying if not dead) but what the hell. These guys are appearing on the SxSW panel, Quit Bitchin’ and Get Your Glyph On with me this coming Saturday, so finding out more about them if they have time would be great:

    Do your best, guys! Also being tagged are a few folks from around my way (type and geography):

    • John D. Boardley because he loves typography and lives in Japan
    • Rick Hurst who skates and rides, but what does he do when he arrives?
    • Joe Leech for his UX super brain and tales of adventure

    Oh yeah, and last but not least I’m supposed to post the rules:

    1. Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
    2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post — some random, some weird.
    3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
    4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter. (JT note: Referrer stings do this for you mister rule-writer.)

    So, that’s the lot. A random post, I realise, but I hope it gave a little insight into yours truly. In mitigation I should say I have been threatening to write it for something like two months. If anyone has a spare day a week to lend me I’d be very grateful!

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  7. Happy Birthday, Son!

    Dear Xen, you’re five today. Five years old! You left for school this morning and I was reminded, without the prompting of sentiment, but by the eloquence of your words, and the agility of your thoughts, and the serenity of your actions at such a young age, of why I am so proud of you and the young person that you are becoming.

    Every time a birthday passes I think back to how much has changed since you were born, and I look forward to how much will change in your lifetime, and hope I will be around long enough to give you the tools you need to navigate the world and grow into yourself. So, it seems apt that on the day that Guy Fawkes tried to spark a revolution in 1605, and on the day that Barack Obama won an election in 2008 to become the first black president of the United States, I share some of his words with you in the hope that when you’re ready to read them they might be useful:

    Re-affirm that fundamental truth: Out of many we are one, that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can.

    Happy birthday, son. I love you.

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  8. Twitter :focus

    Tiled background using the letters of 'twitter' to make up different words.

    The preceeding image contains words formed from some of the letters in, ‘Twitter’. They’re not anagrams because not all the letters are used in every word, but it was fun. It’s a seamless tile. If you have a use for it, please feel free under the usual licence. Just out of interest, the typeface seems to be a bespoke variant of Chickens by David Buck (SparkyType).

    I like Twitter because…

    It reminds me is that human beings are still tribal. As an example, if you check your own address book, or think about your family and friends, they probably number no more than two hundred people. We may have more in the book, but it’s rare for our intimates to be greater than two hundred people. Our networks are geographically dispersed these days. Even if your network is mostly in one location, people are so busy living that it can be difficult to stay in touch. Twitter is a facsimile of living and working in proximity for me, and provides something unique, too:

    Friends
    It may often be prosaic, but I like reading about the daily lives of people I know. The small details of peoples’ lives are often the most poignant. The ambient intimacy is priceless. Working alone in my office, mild doses of cabin fever are inevitable. I miss being around people. I miss being around people I like even more. Twitter brings them to me. If we like people for their good qualities, but love them for their frailties, Twitter helps us do both. Everyday it adds texture to the picture I have of my friends.
    Acquaintances
    It also introduces people to me I would not have met, and enriches relationships with people I’ve only met briefly. This can’t be understated in developing relationships with people. In many ways, it’s even better than geographic intimacy because I can turn it on and off. Rather than subjecting my followers to every detail of my day which would be painful if we were in the same room, I can moderate what I share. The same is true in reverse. If used judiciously, Twitter is priceless for getting to know people without being intrusive.
    Discourse
    Information comes my way that I’d otherwise miss. The things that are fascinating or important to people I care about or respect are delivered in short bursts. I can’t count how many interesting snippets have come my way through the fingers of those I’m following or followers’ direct replies. It’s akin to hearing people think out loud. There’s a freedom I think we all feel using Twitter that enables us to throw random thoughts and links out to the world. The fact they don’t impose unless the recipient wants them to might be something to do with it. It’s unobtrusive soap-boxing at its best.
    Narrowcasting
    If people have taken the time to follow a person or organisation, the chances are they are interested in what they have to say. However, the intent behind the content is important: There’s a fine balance between self-promotion and self-aggrandisement. One is the personal delight we take in sharing what we’ve done, the other is giving it the ‘big Billy Graham’ to encourage obeisance or be commercially manipulative. I appreciate it when people make announcements or share links that are relevant to me, or a delight to them. The same goes for organisations. But, if it feels like they wish to use me as a witness to their greatness, I always shy away.

    I’d like it more if it had…

    1. UK inbound SMS, again. The recent loss of SMS notifications was a blow. Like many people, I only used inbound SMS for direct message notifications. In the UK, the sender pays for SMS delivery, not the sender and the recipient like in the USA. Twitter had to bear the brunt of all charges; UK companies were too short-sighted to give a decent deal to a service that was extending SMS usage. Hey, it’s not like SMS is their most profitable service, or anything. Consider the amount of data in a single text message and how much they charge for it. For the same cost you probably get about a minute of call time transferring much more data. See what I mean? SMS equals huge profits.
    2. Friend filters. I’d like to be able to add many more people to my list of friends if I could. The truth is, when I’m head down with work, I struggle to keep up with those I follow right now. Allowing me to asign friends to groups and filter groups would enable me to track colleagues and close friends when I’m swamped but also dip into the lives of acquaintances better when I have a spare moment. Another filter in a similar vein is one all Twitter users miss: followers filters to be able to organise follows alphabetically, or chronologically, if nothing else.
    3. Hashtag filters. Hashtags are supremely useful in tracking topics — automatic linking would be good — but they could also be useful in ignoring them, too. Especially around conference time when the chatter can get overwhelming as people organise social stuff and live-tweet the talks. This is not rudeness, just signal versus noise filtering when I’m tethered to my desk.
    4. Link filters. I admit it, sometimes I’m only interested in the links people share. That would make me the hyperlink version of a gold digger, or you could say I love some people for their brain, more than their breakfast.
    5. Full archiving: I use Twitter like a narrowcast journal. The events and moments are worth remembering. Recently the archive got extended to 820 tweets, or 41 pages, but I’m pretty certain the rest are in the database; we just need a way of getting at them.
    6. (Last but not least:) Better use of :focus. Currently, the improved interface has no styles on :focus, and much more seriously, the reply, favourite and delete icons for each tweet are not available at all via the keyboard.

    Today and everyday

    I get more from Twitter than any other social web service. Take today for instance: I found out that Chris broke his toe playing football, Tim got clotted-cream fudge from a colleague, Paulo posted about his transsiberian journey, and Paul and John were spammed. ‘Eureka!’ moments they are not, and I’ve only met two of those folks in the flesh, but that’s exactly why the tweets are so valuable. I feel like I already know a little about people I’ve never met because of Twitter. Everyday life happens all the time, not just in the momentous or unique moments you remember to blog about. Perhaps that’s what Twitter is: the everyday social network.

    With a lot of help from Jon Gibbins my tweets also appear in the asides.

    I use it to watch friends’ lives unfold, and share the events of the day with colleagues. I guess I should say I’m jontangerine on Twitter. Feel free to follow, but I can’t promise to always give you the perfect signal. That’s the beautiful imperfection of Twitter posts though. If nothing else, they’re very honest, and everyone has a different voice. If you haven’t already, you should try it! If you’ve come across it already, how do you find it?

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  9. OSCON 2008, the Year of the Butterfly

    Writing this is my way of remembering my first OSCON. It’s also a good way of taking a break from the research I’m doing into the next web typography post. I’m also a little frazzled by moving house, and a recent period of sleep depravation after my eldest son’s operation. This is my therapy.

    The stage

    Sometime in the very early hours of Monday 21st July, after leaving New York nine hours earlier and being tortured by JetBlue and JFK, Chris and I arrived at the Doubletree in Portland. It was balmy. After the tropical heat of New York, to be cool was a treat.

    The next morning I got chance to explore a little. The center of Portland is a good place. The free tram is a great idea. Tree-lined avenues break up what would otherwise be a sterile business district into human-friendly spaces. You can walk around the city. That might sound like a strange statement to make but, in my experience of the States so far, a walkable city is exceptional enough to highlight. OSCON takes place for a week at the Oregon Convention Center which sits on the Willamette River’s east bank. A pair of glass pyramids and spires call the faithful to prayer from above the main entrance. Architectural comparisons with cathedrals and palaces are hard to resist. The pyramids reminded me of the Louvre in miniature. On closer look, the spires almost seem like an afterthought. OSCON only took up the south end of the centre. In the eery quiet of the other empty concourses a dragon boat and pendulum wait in patient suspense for admiring glances.

    Players & acts

    I’m averse to some of the more negative aspects of professional conferences. Sometimes, I get a sense of some people’s innate self-consciousness that can go one of two ways in the social mælstrom: Quiet humility that should be treasured, or competitive haughtiness attempting to mask insecurity. The latter is suboptimal. OSCON has almost none of it. Thanks to Chris, from the moment I stepped through the door, to the last night, I seemed to meet a whole bunch of people who were comfortable in their own skin, and with their own proclivities. They even accepted mine. There’s nothing so pleasant than having good things to say about people one meets. These of just a few of the characters:

    The mighty Wez Furlong was possibly the busiest man at OSCON, giving three talks, and sharing his PHP / Cocoa explorations with the world. His obscure cultural reference library is almost as smart as his code, which is saying something. Andrei Zmievski has rightly been called the social director of OSCON before now. He has a unique ability to organise dispersed techies into a night out, and find the best food and drink. Like Wez, he’s also a core developer of PHP; multi-talented like most of the folks I met.

    It was great to meet the Funkatron (Ed Finkler) too; security dude, publisher of a rather fine blog, and Spaz developer (for all of the Twitter fans out there). The Chay, first name Terry, arrived late during a great Tuesday evening at the Doug Fir. Another person who, like Ed, I’d only known via the Metaverse before. Watching Terry in live debate around Rails and PHP was a gift, flavoured with some choice vitriol, and prepended with some Physics.

    Ben Ramsey also contributed his fair share of choice phrases to that particular evening, too. He went from custard to goats to communism, all within the space of two mis-interpretations, and the unique Ramsey filter that emerges to great effect when the sun goes down. Elizabeth Naramore of PHP Women and the forthcoming PHP Appalachia conference also kept me company one Thursday night in the Vault. We put the world to rights, and lamented the joy and pain of younglings. The Vault was also the place of more Ramsey mayhem and obscure cocktails. They included a strange take on the Mojito with lemon grass, a favourite of the beatific Marcus Boerger of Google.

    Mint Restaurant, Portland, Oregon.

    The person who starred in my best picture of OSCON, was security and PHP guru, Damien Seguy. On a mis-guided first attempt to find Mint, the best restaurant in Portland (truly), Damien brought his elephant along. Arguably, his elephant had more directional smarts than us that night. I visited Mint three times during OSCON. Andrei took us there the first time (hence his accolade for finding good food.) Chris and I also dragged his royal amusing contrariness, Theo Schlossnagle there as he flew into town, assaulted the world with his brain (and huge velcro-covered lens) then departed. The third visit topped them all with an en-mass invasion after a glorious afternoon at Brewfest on the Friday. Apart from the strange Brewfest wave of sound — a cheer that started nowhere and undulated around the tents — and the excellent beer, the evian-esque gigantic atomiser was a person favourite. Who would of thought to put an urgency-inducing sprinkler system just before the queue for the loo?

    I also got to spend a bit of time on Friday with those excellent equestrians and technical authors, Luke Welling and Laura Thompson of OmniTI and Mozilla, respectively. Earlier that day, Luke and I shared the affirming experience of donating to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. For me, this was partly to support the EFF’s help for people like Luke, who’s currently dealing with a ridiculous attempt by confirmed spammer, Jim Mirkalami, to sue Luke after he re-published information on his blog that was already in the public domain. Anyway, we got the tshirt, and it was good. After such great company, great food, and drinks, Mint is definitely in my top two Stateside restaurants so far, along with Gen in Brooklyn (it has incredible Japanese-Rastafari sushi). Later that night, Chris and I said a fond farewell to Mint, jumped in a cab and headed to the airport via the Doubletree to soar back to Brooklyn on the red eye. An apt name, for sleep was not forthcoming. After a few hours rest in Chris’s place on Saturday morning, I dragged my bags into town for present shopping. I fell into another flight that evening and landed back in Bristol and the beautiful embrace of my tribe on Sunday morning. Knackered is an understatement. Then we moved house four days later.

    Apropos

    If this post is packed with names, that’s because OSCON was all about the people for me. I haven’t mentioned everyone I met (just those I spent most time with), and didn’t manage to attend many talks, but the atmosphere alone was worth the trip. Chris Shiflett and I gave a talk on experience-driven development which took place on Thursday. A good thing, because some of our best ideas dropped into slides on Wednesday afternoon. It was fun, but still a little raw in its first outing. We got some great feedback—almost all positive—so hopefully it will have more meat and equal amounts of fun the next time around.

    OSCON was a blast. Here’s my OSCON ’08 Flickr photoset if you’d like to see a bit more. It was superbly organised, at a great venue, with some of the best developers in the world exchanging mental energy for a conference pass. Details make big ripples when it comes to conferences. Details like the fantastic help of Shirley Bailes — O’Reilly’s conference speaker manager — who even offered to send me this year’s butterfly t-shirt after I forgot to grab one while I was there. If you wondered at the title of this post, there’s your answer. I only met a handful of people out of the three thousand or so who attended, but they made it great for me. I encourage everyone to consider going in years to come. With luck, I’ll see you next year!

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  10. No. 172

    Number 172 on the wall outside the front door.

    When I woke this morning it seemed like any other day. The sun was shining. I liked that. The boys were mischievous. I liked that too. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Then I remembered: Today we get the keys to our new house.

    Our new house is on a narrow street in Montpelier. When we arrived it felt like coming home, which it is in a way. The area’s old streets are more suited to horses and people than cars, regardless of the lines on the roads. Montpelier undulates up a hillside, at the top of which Cromwell once stood directing cannon fire onto the city during the civil war. It was market gardens then. It was, according to local legend, given its name by prisoners of the Napoleonic wars who said it reminded them of Montpellier in France. In Bristolian Montpelier, sandstone-faced Georgian houses sit next to ancient cottages and Victorian terrace town houses. Our house is one of the latter. More square than usual, on one of the lower streets, with a grape vine, a pear tree, and a passion fruit bush in the garden.

    Looking out of the back door at no. 172.

    Number 172 is special for a few reasons. It’s the first house we’ve bought. Years ago, when friends were busy being career super-heros and I was busy being a itinerant vagabond I wondered if I would ever put down roots . They were buying houses. I was off to Australia on a whim, or living in The Seychelles, or running a stall on Brixton market for the summer playing French hip-hop and selling sunglasses. Until today I’ve always rented places. I fell in love with some. I fell out with others. I was always moving around and moving on. No longer!

    Another reason is that this marks a return to Montpelier. An area I fell in love with when I first came to Bristol in 2000. Artists, musicians, film-makers all paint the walls, eat a lot of organic food, smile a lot, and generally act as a band-aid on the wound of capitalism lest the world forget that life is much, much more than paying bills and buying Apple gear. Architects, hippies, designers and fiends also live here. It’s an oasis of difference: From Herbert’s Bakery to Saj’s grocers; from veggie breakfasts at The Bristolian to the friendly smell of weed in The Cadbury garden and deli feasts from Licata’s; Montpelier is special. I’m glad to be home.

    The final reason, and most important of all to me, is the most prosaic. This is ours. A family home that we own. It feels different. A calm kind of contentment.

    As I sit writing this, the day is quickly coming to a close, and I wanted to mark the moment. As the States celebrate their independence, we’ve celebrated our own in a small way. I took some pictures. It was a wonderful day.

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  11. Reflecting on Acceptance

    Caffe Gusto on Bristol harbour

    You might already know that my entries are mostly about design with a few personal perspectives that peep out between the lines of prose. Sometimes the personal might take over. Today is one of those times. Apologies if you’re used to seeing more professional material in my feed, this is an indulgence: I’m celebrating!

    Summer has arrived with a smile the last few days in Bristol. It’s humid and bright, and somehow calm in the city. This morning was no exception. Just after rush hour, and before the shops opened for business, I swung my backpack on my shoulders, hitched into my flip-flops and walked through the old town to the harbour. I headed for the Watershed, but it wasn’t opening its doors until ten-thirty, so I wondered along the river with my camera, looking for some inspiration.

    The city noise fell away as I walked around a bend past the famous Lloyds TSB building; the only sounds were an occasional river boat chugging by, and people talking on their ’phones as they sat in the sun and smoked. I walked under an avenue of young trees in front of new office buildings and came to Caffe Gusto, nestled at the end of a grassy divide between tall office and apartment blocks called Cathedral Walk. The tables reach out towards the river at the edge of the dock. The wifi extends to the river like the rippled reflections of the morning sun on the water. I sat for a while in the shade then moved out under a parasol. That’s where I’m sitting now. A ferry just passed by, gently bubbling the River Avon with its velvet diesels.

    There are some changes in the air; as gentle as this moment, but no less significant. They might take me away from this city where I’ve lived for the last eight years to a different country. It’s an exciting time; all for the good. So, if I seem a little whimsical, forgive me: The breeze of change is blowing.

    I would like to share one important event with you: Last Thursday, I got a great email. It was from Freda Sack, type designer, co-founder of The Foundry, and President of the International Society of Typographic Designers. The opening line simply said:

    “Welcome to ISTD”

    I grinned so much I almost swallowed my ears. I had spoken to Freda on Monday last week to ask about submitting web specimens for consideration. She told me that was fine, the board was meeting the next day, and it would be considering applications if I could submit in time. To do so, I built a web page that mimicked the PDF application form and submitted it that night. I really wasn’t sure I would be accepted. Web typography is volatile: The paper is inconsistent, the printing imprecise, and the opportunities to make a mess of it are manifold. I looked at my specimens the next day (not to mention some of my rushed copy) and winced.

    ISTD logo

    The ISTD started life as the Guild of Typographers in 1928. It is acknowledged as the authority on typography in the UK, and has international standing. Applicants submit six specimens of work that are reviewed by the voluntary board. Acceptance is by merit, and understandably geared towards print typography, so submitting six examples of web typopgraphy was a slightly nervous experience. The standard required is high. In some ways I felt like I shouldn’t apply; to be accepted was a genuine surprise. It still feels very much like a seminal moment.

    I confess, sometimes when I read what others so generously write about my work, I feel like a fake. Such generosity is truly heart-warming to read, but I can’t help feeling sometimes that it’s undeserved. It would be ungracious to say so and detract from the gesture, so I just say thank you, and mean it. The same is true of my application. It might sound like insecurity, but I’m always conscious of how much I don’t know. I’m also deeply aware of my own impatience with false modesty so even writing this is a little tricky for me. The main issue is that I am mostly self-taught, spending time researching my craft alone. There are benefits to this accidental approach, but I never experienced the (presumably) reassuring consensus of formal learning, especially around typography. I never served my time, so to speak, like so many of the incredibly talented people who’s work inspires me every day. However, I believe in my own work, and how I approach my craft. That’s a problem itself: My pedantry precludes me from believing that any piece of work is truly complete. That’s why being accepted into the ISTD is both a cause for celebration and reflection.

    Navel-gazing aside, I am honoured to be a part of the ISTD. It’s driven by volunteer members, and I feel privileged to be a part of it. Hopefully, I can learn, and contribute too. Web typography is flourishing. Print designers are discovering the tools to bring their paper skills to the Web. Web designers are re-discovering the elegant beauty of type on the screen. Discussions around the CSS3 fonts and web-fonts modules are in full swing. Sites like I Love Typography are bridging the gap between traditional typographers and web designers. It’s an exciting time!

    I’m about to step away from Caffe Gusto, and take a slow walk back to my office. Hopefully this side note in my life has been an interesting read. For me, I’m just happy to be able to share the moment. Hopefully there’ll be more to come!

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  12. Gong Xi Fa Cai (Happy New Year!)

    Rats rejoice, this is your year! I include my father amongst that number, and have a bottle of fine Cognac around here someplace to prove it.

    It’s 4706 according to the Chinese calendar. I find myself musing today that the Western new year is so arbitrary, having no relationship to either solar or lunar cycles and yet it still looms larger in my mind than the Chinese version. If we were going to get truly pedantic, new year celebrations would either be at one of the solstices for obvious reasons. Or would they be calculated on a lunisolar basis anyway, as with many South East Asian calendars? I forget, but my main thought was how arbitrary the Western New Year is in comparison.

    Maybe we’ve taken a few backward steps: The Sumerians would celebrate their new year around the Vernal Equinox (or the first new moon following,) and the Mayans had a logical calendar of 13 months based on lunar cycles.

    Whatever your opinions on my random thoughts for this season, may you and yours have a great new (Chinese) year!

    Normal bulletins will resume shortly after the weight of work shifts to a more comfortable position in the next few weeks. On the cards soon: Hybrid, sliding layouts in CSS, more on narrative, experience design and typography, in no particular order.

    I know I’ve been a little slack in 2008, but I’d rather have quality over quantity every time, a bit like Ratatoille.

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  13. Thinking my way in to 2008

    On the 15th of November, 2005 in Washington DC, the Dalai Lama said:

    “I believe the twenty-first century can become the most important century of human history. I think a new reality is emerging. Whether this view is realistic or not, there is no harm in making an effort.”

    Thanks to Kim Stanley Robinson for introducing me to those words in his book, Sixty Days and Counting.

    As we move into the eighth year of the new century, that’s what I’ll be trying to do in my own way with some small projects that I’d like to think can contribute. They are not the paradigm shift the Dalai Lama refers to, but you’re welcome to join me anyway.

    Earlier today I took a break from the consumer carnage of the sales with Starbuck (unfortunately not the one from Battlestar Galatica). I sipped my chai tea latte, smoked a coconut ciggi and wondered what 2008 might bring. Eight is a lucky number for Chinese folks. When my father first heard I’d moved to house number 88, he told me to get a lottery ticket straight away. I didn’t win but it was fun to engage with the superstition for a moment. Maybe 2008 will be a lucky year for humanity but my first thought wasn’t that, it was wondering if it will be a good year, period.

    I was hoping I might be able to do everything I want to in the coming months, and not kill the planet while I’m about it. A thought struck me though: The tension between “us” and “I” is always there; between what we’d like to do for each other and what we feel we have to do for ourselves and our loved ones. As the earth moves towards rapid climate change with 100 million new humans are added to the tribe every year and the whisper of science is still drowned by the cacophony of war the pressures of our own lives loom larger still. The need to buy the right home, to educate our children, to secure our personal futures all make us compete. Having said that, with a little perspective I try and hold on to the common, human aspirations we all share, whether they are realistic or not. After all, there’s no harm making an effort, is there?

    If I was an overly-cool, cynical man perhaps I’d sarcastically say “utopia for the win!” Perhaps that persona and the altruist that I’d like to think I’d be without the other pressures can compromise though. So, instead I’ll just say: Thanks for taking the journey with me, and all the best to you and yours for 2008, no matter how or where your efforts lie!

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  14. Happy Birthday Son

    Today my eldest son is four years old. As he disappeared out of the door to nursery just now, he ran back to me as he does every day when I’m around to see him off, for a kiss and cuddle.

    Often times, in the middle of playing with Lego or, like this morning, watching him figure out a Transformer, I’ll be drawn into moments of quiet happiness. A spiritual kind of clarity where the presence of him close to me washes away all else. Of course, the next minute, I’m being assaulted by a laughing maelstrom of mischief, complete with our own language like “meatsies” for feet, and “shmambling” for climbing (usually on me.)

    As his great–grandmother said not so long ago, kindness is the most precious of human characteristics. He has it in bags. No matter what else I do in this life, I doubt that anything could make me feel more proud or at peace than him, or his little brother. I’m the audience and stage hand to them, and nothing makes me more happy. As Kahil Gilbran said in The Prophet:

    “Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you, but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

    I’m honoured to be your guide, son. Happy birthday!

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  15. Starting a Flickr Journey

    New desk and machines.

    There’s been a few changes recently. New desk, new site, new tools for the coalface, and a sudden urge to drag my late–adopter self into the world a little more.

    So, today I posted my first ever picture to Flickr. I feel pleased. I got over–excited with notes which you’ll have to visit the site to see, part inspired by Terry Chay’s office picture. His notes were like the narrative in the margins, giving the photo some context. I love a good story. Notes made it so.

    I've long admired Flickr, and used it as a lurker, even to the point of having an account (sans images.) Anyway, today the lovely new Apple cinema screen arrived with a man in brown. UPS have the best corporate palette of any couriers, and a courageous one at that. It’s not every company that has the vision to use brown and gold in their identity. It’s almost timeless. Long after the bubble–wrapped sheen of so–called Web 2.0 design has become as tired as Microsoft blue, UPS delivery dudes and dames will still look classic, and hopefully feel it too.

    The arrival of the screen seemed like a good time to post a pic. Technically and artistically it has little merit, but as a snapshot into my life, hopefully it has more weight. Especially with the notes. I’ve been waiting for my desk to look like this for a year. Totally worth the wait, and it feels good to celebrate it with folks I know. Thanks Chris for greasing the wheels, I hope you like your handywork!

    Feel free to add me, comment, deride or lurk as you see fit. Let’s see where this journey goes, it might even be surprisingly good fun. :)

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