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Blog of Front-End Developer/UX Engineer Ivan Wilson

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  • Fragile Creatures

    [Movie scene:]

    Midwest, no specific location. Motel on the side of the road, someplace where Route 66 might have gone through, but got superceded by The Interstate Highway. Instead of a two lane highway, it got the choice placement of being right next to a highway turnoff.

    Early hours (3-4AM). Sunrise is still a good hour or so away. Even with at this location, nothing is really moving. Quiet. Seems like the highway is asleep, just getting ready for the next work shift.

    In a room. Nothing unpacked. Double beds with a clean bathroom. Little decoration, at least the ones that could distinguish one room from another. I’m lying on a bed, writing pad open but haven’t written anything for about two hours. Laptop open, no files open.

    Changed positions in the bed, head facing the TV, remote control ready. Flip through the analog channels, then the digital. Evangelists/Salespeople working hard tonight. Gotta get their quota. Pitchmen are working hard too. Here, everything is for the buying, even if you don’t need it.

    [Start of background/scene music – Beth Orton’s “Don’t Need a Reason” from Trailer Park]

    Picked up a pen.

    Just write.

     

    If things had happen on course and on plan, I should have been writing this blog entry in a hotel room in Vancouver, Canada. 2011 was the year that I did so many things and traveled to so many places. It was also the year that I found how little it was in an instant.

    Historically, second year in every decade has always been the toughest for me, personally and otherwise. By November, I thought that I had escaped “the curse.”

    Then, a family member underwent surgery, removing a tumor from the colon. Thankfully, it was beign and little of the large intestine had to be taken out. She is recovering nicely and running around again. She is thankful to the Creator because it could have been worse. I am not so religious but I am just as thankful.

    But I’ve spent the remainder of the year having something I don’t have much need for: regrets. Just the “what if’s” and the “what would happen if’s.” I’ve done so much, only to realized that maybe I’ve done so little. In the middle of all this, I tweeted “Human beings are such fragile little creatures.”

    Yes, we are fragile creatures. We are these small, flimsy, little things, easily overwhelmed by a virus or a predator or an ice cream truck. Yet we do what we do. Living without much though of what might happen next minute, next hour, or even next decade.

    Carl Sagan had a quote from one of his books about human beings being capable of such wonderful dreams and horrible nightmares. One day, my world went from global to the size of a hospital room. And in some ways, it became even smaller, to the size of my own frame.

    In all this, I found out that I am the most fragile of all creatures.

    If form holds, this will be the worst of it this decade. Which means 2012 could be a big year and it looks like it could be one of the biggest years, work and personal. However, I have lots of questions. I’m a problem solver with the type of questions that can’t be solved with pen and paper. Not with the simple equation. Certainly, not with the wave of the magic wand I once had.

    A friend told me during this tough time to take everything one moment at a time. I could say that I readily took his advice. But I can’t lie. I’m the child of the five-year plan. And when that didn’t work, I reworked it and call it the next five year plan and so on. This time, I have nothing. At the point where I could have some of my greatest success, I have no plan and nothing to adjust. I was the Russian who had the plan for everything. Now, I am just a human being.

    Well, on New Year’s Eve, I’m here. At home. Not alone. With family and friends nearby. If there was one question that was solved, it was the quality of friends I have – better than I could have imagined.

    So, 2011 ends. 2012 start tomorrow.

     

    [End of movie scene:]

    Finish the scribbles and close the pad.

    In an instant, I’m in motion. Clean up a bit, collect my things, and turn off the TV. Step out and close the door. Quietly, as if a single squeak from the joints could shatter the windows.

    Get in the car. Don’t worry about waking anyone up. If they were awake, nothing you need to know about. Still quiet on the highway overpass. The only light sources are those from the highway and from the restaurants. It’s an alien world, as if the aliens took the 1960’s American tourists as a starting point and went from there.

    Close the door, twist the key, rev the motor. Then, just step on the gas and move. Not fast (who’s going to notice), just keeping the car in motion. A minute, I’m off tarmac and on asphalt, moving down the road. Passing the lights and signs, quietly without fanfare, slowly passing everything. Soon, I’m away from the light source, like a satellite heading for deep space.

    I pointed the car down the road, away from the highway, No signs. Just two yellow lines. If I’m lucky, I will get some direction from the sunrise.

    I’m going somewhere.

    That direction.

    [Last notes of the song fading out as the car fades into the dwindling night.]

  • Today, I’m Blowing Up My Code

    Seriously. http://twitter.com/#!/iwilsonjr/status/124622801914171392

    This is not a joke.

    If you are laughing at this, I understand. It still won’t change anything.

    Let me explain.

    In 2009, through contact with interaction designers, I saw the coming wave that we now call mobile. That wave moved so fast that it took everyone by surprise. Today, designers and developers are dealing with this via responsive design and other techniques.

    Now, what does it have to do with me. One day recently, I was tasked to revised some code I made in late 2009. Now, it was good by those standards but it has a few faults. Not perfect but usable and everyone was satisified.

    At the time, it was "Job done. Go to sleep."

    But I didn’t.

    (more…)

  • On Business Casual/Leisure Dress Days…

    Friday morning.

    I woke up, did a mile plus on the treadmill, got ready for work. Nice sunny day, last day of the work week and need to score some low-fat yogurt after work. Anyways, I got dressed in shorts, plaid short-sleeved shirt and (closed-toed) sandals. No fencing tonight – which means I can use the bike today.

    I got to the bus stop on my bike and another bus rider walked up to me. He was wearing black sneakers and mentioned that today was his company’s “Leisure Dress” day. Of course, he saw my sandals and mentions that it seems everyday, at least from his perspective, is business casual for me.

    Well actually it’s true, but I digress…

    This is when I replied with the following line:

    “I may dress leisurely for work. I just don’t work leisurely. Big difference.”

    Of course, I added some additional emphasis with the “Issac from The Love Boat” double finger point on “Big difference.”

    Now, he could have perceived that statement with some “attitude” but it wasn’t. We both had a nice smile and laugh afterwards.

    And it was so true…damn right.

  • And Now This Message From The Author…

    Sorry for the three month delay. Usually reasons: work, personal, and fencing. I would say that nothing has changed but that would be a bold-faced lie. As a matter of fact, more things will be changing in the next six months than the last year.

    Writing

    • Finally starting work on The Information Layer, with the first part ready Saturday, August 6th.
    • Writing a few more blog entries for CDG, one this month
    • One very important blog entry for TWP this month, currently writing now

    Conferences

    Going to a number of events during the last couple of months of this year. Two of the most important are in the month of October:

    Exhibitions

    In short, been really too busy to go any art exhibitions in the last couple of months. However, there are a few that I am trying to get to before they close in September.

    Work

    As I mentioned before, many things will change. How much/what kind will be detailed more in the next TWP blog entry, called “A Love Letter.”

    Indirectly, eventhough Project Charles ended in April, the Delta version of this site will be completed by the end of the year (if nothing else drops from the sky…).

    Fencing

    Well, fencing will be…fencing. Practice three times per week, one competition per month. Still working out the schedule for 2011-2012 season.

    Music

    Due to my work schedule, missed out on attending Met’s performance of Berg’s Wozzeck. However, looking at the 2011-2012 schedule, will be marking my calendar for the following operas:

    • Satyagraha – Philip Glass opera about Ganhdi (November 2011)
    • The Makropulos Case – Leoš Janáček opera, based on a story by Karel Čapek (May 2012)

    Apart from the classical scene – Elbow comes to DC in September (Yeah!!!)

    That is that I have for the next couple of months…

    And yes, I will be taking a vacation. Back to the PNW (Portland, OR/Vancouver, Canada) for my birthday.

    What’s that sound? That’s the sound of my Google Calendar crying like a baby…

  • (How) Geocaching Taught Me To Visualize Information

    (Originally published on CDG Interactive/Innate blog)

    Earlier this year I attended the IxDA Interaction 11 conference in Boulder, Colorado, one of most important in the field of interaction design. At this conference, I’m both an observer of the field and a student, gleaning ideas I can use to improve my own skills.

    In my three years of attendance, I’ve learned that interaction design is not just about building products — it’s also about how to visualize information. One of my jobs is taking HTML/CSS code and making the content not only visible but easily accessible to the user. At a time when massive amounts of data are freely available, finding ways to making information not only understandable but also easier to use and manage has become its own field of study.

    Making Information Visual

    So what does “visualizing information” mean? For example, take a basic weather map we see on the local evening news. Apart from the physical location and geographical borders, information about air pressure and temperature are shown in graphics, instead of a straight list of numbers and statistics. This same information is given some sort of context (work, travel, agriculture) for viewing. From this, we make judgments about what activities we want to do at a certain time period (going to work, growing crops, flying on vacation).

    We can use maps to overlay any information we want, depending on what we need or want to do. But one use of a map is something that we have been doing since childhood: using a map with information to find something.

    And that’s just what I did at IxDA in Boulder. Each year’s conference has a different twist, depending on the location. Home to The University of Colorado, Celestial Teas and a growing tech/design area, Boulder is nestled near the Rockies and has a reputation as being eco-friendly. Well, when looking at the list of Friday activities, I found one that caught my attention: Geocaching: Treasure Hunt.

    The “Treasure Hunt”

    Geocaching is a hide-and-seek game where finders use GPS units or GPS-enable mobile phones to find caches. These caches are containers that have various items inside. They can be as large a small Tupperware case. Or they could be micro caches, which can be as small as a 35mm film canister. Either one, these are located in publicly accessible areas and are hidden from view. However, the owner of a cache will leave some clues (text, title name, or images) for the finder to locate it. Of course, having a GPS unit does not mean it will be easy to find. If you have ever used one, you know that there is a certain range of accuracy depending on the signal and location.

    Occasionally, these caches will have a travel bug, a type of GPS-enabled tag with a unique ID that the finder/owner can move to any location and place inside another cache. Once the cache has been found, the finder must leave something of equal/higher value in the cache, especially if something is taken from it. The finder marks that she/he found the cache via paper/app/website and replaces the cache in the exact spot for others to find.

    Hmmm. Hide and seek with GPS tools. Exercise with actual pay off. Sign me up!

    Following lunch on Friday, the group got together. I was matched up with Jill, one of the advisors, due to the fact that we both we the only ones in the group who had Android phones. (BTW…interaction designers luv iPhones. Just an observation… ) I downloaded an app (there are a number of apps for iPhone and Android) beforehand and played around prior to the trip. It also helps if you have the latest upgrade of Google Maps on your phone with navigation abilities.

    We traveled to an area in Boulder where we separated into three groups. The group I was in located a micro cache about 0.7 miles north and we walked down some streets to the location. This was located in a parking lot (caches need to be in a public place). The GPS trackers got to about a couple of feet nearby. However, it had snowed a few days prior and the parking lot was covered in snow mounds about a few feet thick. I tried digging with gloves to see if I could find it but to no avail. Everyone searched around the area but no luck. Considering the area was still snowbound and we were finding a small micro cache, we decided to search for another one.

    Looking at the geocaching app, we found another micro cache only a few meters away north. Unfortunately, we came up empty again – a snowbound area with little clue to finding it.

    We decided to move to another one, this time a regular sized cache. This one was about 0.3mi west from our present location. Crossing streets and more parking lots later, we finally got to the location. Many of us recognized the location because of the clue given in the title. Like I mentioned before, the GPS only gives you a close proximity to the location; you still have to figure out where it actually is. Another clue pointed to its actual location. That’s easy enough.

    Well, almost. Now, you have to try to get it out. Remember, these caches were not meant to be easy to find in the first place…

    Finding the Prize

    The tallest of the group reached in and pulled out the prize – one round metal candy tin. After a few hours of searching and coming up with the third choice, needless to say we were all ecstatic (judging from the group picture afterwards). Then we opened our prize.

    Caches contain any sort of object left over from the previous finders or owner. (There are rules to what can or cannot be put there). This one had a simple log book, with list of names and dates, referring when the cache was discovered. One of the more interesting items is a small tale/story in two small pieces of paper, folded in the cache. It also had a squashed penny. This cache had a travel bug, which was taken by our advisor to be placed in another cache. As the custom, we had to put something back into the cache. A few items were put into the cache from other but someone shouted out “Does anyone have a coin?” I had some Canadian coins on me and threw in a “toonie” or a 2-dollar Canadian coin into the cache.

    [By mentioning this, everyone here in the Innate office will automatically reply “Of course, he has one!” Needless to say, I take a lot of trips to Canada.]

    Well after the celebration and signing of the small log book, everything was sealed up and the cache was place back in the same location before. The adviser marked the find on the site, along with the items that we placed in the cache.

    Mission completed. Smiles but tired walking back to the bus and then back to the hotel. For me, the day was complete.

    Now, when I work with information and its display, I’ll remember the connections between data and discovery that are made when geocaching.

    P.S. I mentioned the travel bug earlier. Beforehand, it was revealed that one of goals, besides finding the caches, was to have at least one of the travel bugs moved bit-by-bit to the location of the next conference – Interaction 12 in Dublin, Ireland in February 2012. If this one makes it, it will no doubt be very well received.

    For more information

    Your turn:

    • Have you ever been geocaching?
    • What are your favorite examples of interaction design?
    • How about visualization of information?
  • Wanderlust : February 2011

    Sorry for the month delay in blog entries but it’s been a non-stop rollercoaster of travel and events.

    Here is the shortlist of what happened in after the last blog entry and a few important things happening this month:

    WordPress DC Town Hall with founder Matt Mullenweg

    1.31.2001 – Washington, DC

    This event happened at Fathom Creative, down the road from CDG Interactive.  It was well attended and the sponsor even got an internet stream for online viewing and questions.  Matt was really relaxed, calm guest who talked about how WordPress was started (at the heart, WordPress started as a image gallery) and answered plenty of questions about it, running a business, some things in the works/future as well as what could be better. I asked about how it was doing in the mobile world and got the surprising answer (700% in two years! – with apps in almost every mobile platform).

    IxDA Interaction 11

    2.9-12.2011 – Boulder, CO

    Decided to arrive early to this conference (third time for me) to relax in Boulder and get to a workshop for the first time. However, I fell ill Tuesday morning and spent the following 24-48 hours in bed.  Missed the workshop but attended the full conference. I even got to attend an after-party on the first night (it was definitely an experience, especially the music and its location inside the Boulder Theatre). This conference was well attended and did not disappoint, concluding with the keynote speech from Bruce Sterling (design critic as well as sci-fi writer).

    All the keynotes as well as the individual lightning lectures were all interesting in one way or another.  However, the tone, in my perspective as a developer, was different in that were was more of a focus internally than the last two years. Whereas I was more in sync in the last two (especially with mobile coming up big during this duration), this was more internal than anything else.

    One of new additions to this conference was a day for design-related activities. In my case, it was geocaching, where I spend a few hours in the streets of Boulder playing hide-and-go-seek for hidden treasures. (Thankfully, I was well by then!)

    I will be doing a CDG blog entry on my geocaching adventure later on this month.

    Oh, BTW…it snowed 3-5” and went from single digits (Tuesday) to 60s (Sunday) in one week.

    You thought DC had crazy weather!

    Nixon in China

    2/19-20, 2011 – NYC, NY

    I packed bags again the following weekend, for a trip to NYC for The Met’s presentation of John Adams’ 1987 opera Nixon in China. I last heard this opera on CD a decade ago in college but the performance did not disappoint. Well sung by all the performers and John Adams (who conducted his own work) got a standing ovation.

    What was interesting about the opera, apart from the music, was the whole scenery. As a person who grew up during the last glimmer of the Cold War, some of the scenes were familiar from all the news broadcasts during this time (you know, when you only had TV and print).  The opening scene of the Nixons stepping out of the plane matched the videotape footage to a point where it was eerie.  Of course, the big irony, particularly those in the audience, is how much has changed in the almost 30 years that meeting.  As a point, during a scene in the second act, Pat Nixon was presented with a jade elephant. The official near her remarked "We can make hundreds of them cheaply!", which was followed with laughter (with a tinge of irony) from the audience.

    The second act ended with the agitprop play (the music the basis for a Adams’ stand-alone work The Chairman Dance), which really reminds someone of my age about the old Socialist/Communist displays in the 80’s, or more recently, in North Korea. Of course, the big irony is that so much of that change would start two years later.

    Leaving memory lane, I spent a quiet following day listening to three Shostakovich quartet (11th, 12th, and 15th) and Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, Op. 133 at Bargemusic with the St.Petersburg Quartet. Back home on Monday (President’s Day).

    And that was my month of February.

    Will be returning to NYC for two concerts:

    • March 26 – NY Philharmonic/Avery Fisher Hall for Bartok’s 1st Piano Concerto
      — I will be able to say that I have heard all three concertos live – 3rd in DC/NSO (2005) and 2nd in Boston/BSO (2007)
    • April 16 – Met Opera for Berg’s Wozzeck
      — Heard Berg’s other opera Lulu last year

    Hopefully, things will slightly quieter further in the year.

    Later (multiple crossing of digits…)

  • EOY

    Early morning from hotel window, Vancouver, Canada - 12/31/2010

    As I am writing this, I am looking at a fabulous view from my hotel room in what some of my friends call my second home of Vancouver, Canada. Part of me needed to get away to here do some end-of-the-year evaluation and some focused thinking about 2011. Then again, I allowed myself to relax a bit during these last days of 2010 (and I watched the Canucks beat the Flyers 6-2 Tuesday night at the home area…)

    But there are some things that occurred during the year that I need to mention before the final ball drop closes the year 2010:

    Fencing

    If you had asked me at the start of the year if I was going to start fencing again, it would have been a firm “NO.” There was no motivation to start again and no one was really asking to do so. And all the focus that I had with fencing went into my work, which paid off big. Irony, the only people who ever asked about me starting up again were my co-workers at CDG.

    Well, after two years, I decided to try fencing again. It has been the only sport that I have some liking to. Not to mention, the least likely to get bored at.

    Another bit of irony is that I restarted with Olde Town Fencing, the club I left almost four years ago. Despite that, the warming response made the comeback easier. Definitely a reminder of why I fence in the first place.

    Despite dealing with various injuries the last month, I am determined to continue my progress and actually compete again after a 2+ year absence.

    Travel

    This year:

    • Savannah, Georgia (IxDA Interaction 10)
    • NYC for opera (The Nose and Lulu) and design (Cooper-Hewitt)
    • Seattle/Canada (Victoria and Vancouver I)
    • For my first time, travel outside the Americas with FOWA/London
    • Of course, Vancouver for end-of-the-year

    For next year:

    • Boulder, Colorado for IxDA Interaction 11 (February 9-12, 2011)
    • NYC for opera with Nixon in China (Adams) and Wozzeck (Berg)

    Project Charles

    Basically, stops and starts. At one point, it was dead in the water. At one point, I almost considered ending the project. However, I caught a break (and some motivation from Tame Impala’s InnerSpeaker album) and did the complete site mockups. Started to work on the HTML templates but delayed due to technical review from the last two conferences I went to. Both made me think about what I was doing and in the end, the decision to make some more substantial changes in my work.

    Restarting work on templates in early 2011 and hopefully finishing the new site by The Wilson Project’s 10th anniversary in April.

    Work

    High point was three conferences:

    • IxDA Interaction 10 in Savannah, Georgia
    • An Event Apart a few blocks from my office in Washington, DC
    • FOWA in London, UK

    Lots of work, punctuated with four blog entries and some other minor additions to the blog.

    However, lots of reflection on my work process, especially considering many of the changes that affected my position as a UI/Front-end developer.

    But more about that in the next entry in this blog…

    Epilogue

    In the end, I remember about ten years ago that I started what would become a 20-month unemployment period. Now, at the end of 2010, thing have changed so much. A number of things that I first experimented with such as XHTML and building pages without table layouts are now not only accepted; they have become the gold standard.

    Now, with Project Charles heading for the finish line (?) in April 2011, more changes are in the pipeline for the next couple of years. Hopefully, 2011 will be a good one, not only for me, but for my family, friends, and especially my co-workers at CDG.

    Happy New Year 2011 from Vancouver, Canada!