Monday, March 31, 2008

I've Given A Lot of Blood over the Last Nine Years

When I went to the blood bank on Friday, I saw my total and I was pretty surprised. It seems I have a lifetime total of 7.6 gallons. That's not including the eight times I donated with the Red Cross while living in California.

I've donated a total of 61 times with the two Blood and Tissue Centers, 20 times here in Austin. Now if that number seems inflated, well it sort of is. I've been doing platelet donations for the past couple of years and you can do that 24 times each year compared to the 6-7 times annually with whole blood. You could actually do both if you planned it out but I haven't done that yet. Essentially you'd have to first figure out all the whole blood donations, put those 56 days apart then factor in the 24 platelet donations within 10 days of each other or the whole blood donations.

I haven't gone as often as I should have so far this year, mainly because of work and meetings. The good thing, though, is that when I do go, they have free wireless and I'm able to work while I donate. Then I usually go home early!

If you are not currently a blood donor, I urge you to become one. Fewer than 5% of adults who could be regular blood donors donate at all. Commit to once a quarter. Locate your local blood bank and schedule an appointment.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My First South By: A SXSW Interactive 2008 N00b Write-Up


Believe it or not, I’ve lived in Austin during the last three SXSW festivals and in San Antonio during the three previous to those but had never attended until this year (though my sources say Interactive only really got cool and more Web-related about four years ago). When I went to pick up my registration badge on Friday, 7 March, my first impression was one of holy crap, there are a lot of people here! And a lot of iPhones and Macbooks! Come to find out, more than seven thousand people were in attendance for Interactive (SXSWi) alone.

I was quite excited to be there because honestly, I feel as if I’m in some kind of developer vacuum most days; I don’t get exposure to other Web developer or designers through any face-to-face means so I set out to not only learn what others are doing with the Web but make some local connections for the other 360 days of the year. I’m happy to say I did meet a few people, despite my usually quiet and reserved demeanor (I’ll relate the arm wrestling incident later on).

SXSWi has something of a reputation for being just one big party. It’s actually nicknamed “Spring Break for Geeks.” Testament to this is that the various parties are listed on the conference schedule. But it also had a tremendous load of quality and engaging content. I got to see so many Internet Famous people whose work I’ve admired and whose books or blogs I’ve read. In total, I attended 22 hour-long sessions over four and half days, some of which I’ll detail next:

Friday, 7 March

  • How to Rawk SXSW: The Basics (15:30)
  • Respect! (17:00)
Saturday, 8 March
  • Catching up with Accessibility: The Basics Quickly (10:00)
  • The Contextual Web (11:30)
  • Opening Remarks with Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson (14:00)
  • 10 Things We've Learned at 37signals (15:30)
  • What Women Need to Succeed (16:00)
Sunday, 9 March
  • Wireframing in a Web 2.0 World (10:00)
  • Sponsored Panel: Responsible Web Design (11:30)
  • Keynote Interview with Mark Zuckerberg (14:00)
  • Core Conversation: Global Design: Web Sites for the World (15:30)
  • LOLWUT? Why Do I Keep Coming Back to This Website? (16:00)
Monday, 10 March
  • Lost in Translation? Top Website Internationalization Lessons (10:00)
  • Core Conversation: Design Metrics: Better Than 'Because I Said So' (11:30)
  • Browser Wars: Deja Vu All Over Again? (14:00)
  • Client-Side Code and Internationalization (15:30)
  • WaSP Annual Meeting: Don't Break the Web (16:00)
Tuesday, 11 March
  • Future of Corporate Blogs (10:00)
  • How to Rawk After SXSW: Staying Inspired (11:30)
  • Tuesday Keynote: Jane McGonigal (14:00) – my top pick of the conference
  • Take Municipal WiFi Back (15:30)
  • Is Your Machinima Ready for Hollywood? (16:00)
Whew! And let me just say, the Austin Convention center is a very large, very spread out place. You need that 30 minutes between sessions because at times you’ll be at the far south end of level one and need to get to the far north end of level four and the placement of escalators and which floors they actually go to is suspect. That said I’m pretty sure I walked at least three miles just back and forth from sessions and the parking garage, which wouldn’t have been so bad without my laptop backpack and the books I kept forgetting to take out of it.

My Thoughts on Some of the Sessions I Attended

I’ve come to realize after the fact that I didn’t take good enough notes. I guess I didn’t think about the sheer volume of coolness I would be exposed to. I mean, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect. Being a planner and all organized and stuff, I really wanted a comprehensive schedule matrix before going to the conference and getting the pretty directory so that I could plan ahead of time what I wanted to attend. The reality: I pretty much had to just plan it out as I went because there was so much awesomeness occurring simultaneously that I just couldn’t see it all. Following are my general thoughts and impressions on what I heard and experienced. I’ve provided lots of links for further reading and more in-depth study of the topics. I’ve also included a link to each session’s summary on the SXSWi site.

How to Rawk SXSW: The Basics

Where should you go? What parties are cool? How can I meet those people that are *gasp* Internet FAMOUS!… – Full Summary

This seemed like a good place to start on my new journey in a confusing land, surrounded by geeks and nerds of all types. It was a fun session where the panelists managed to finish a fifth of something in a paper bag during the course of the hour. Some panelists gave tips on how to approach and meet those Internet famous people. Others insisted there wasn’t enough making-out at SXSW. I took away that very few people at this conference actually take themselves seriously and that made most anyone you felt like talking to at least seem approachable. With that in mind, I stayed in the same room for the next session and talked to the person I sat down next to. All these new people and the crazy amount of activity also gave me cause to reassess the usefulness of Twitter.


We create the web. Yet twelve years and two bubbles into its history, we get no respect as a profession. And nobody understands what we do…Full Summary

Coming into the conference, I was most excited to attend this session because it was going to be led by my “Internet Hero,” Jeffrey Zeldman. Anyone who knows anything about web standards knows about Zeldman and his revolutionary book, Designing with Web Standards. This is the book that changed my professional life because it gave me a clear, straightforward look at the why and the how for separating markup (content) and design through standards-based use of CSS and HTML. It was inspiring to be in a room of other Web Professionals who also feel the frustration of getting little respect for what we do. Zeldman polled the audience to see in which departments we all work (IT, Marketing, Production, Communications, etc.) but no one worked in a dedicated Web Department. We’re all spokes on the wheels of other departments when, for the most part, we work for Internet-based companies who rely on selling to the Web or creating software and applications for the Web. I’d like to see some re-thinking of that organization strategy.

Catching up with Accessibility: The Basics Quickly

Accessibility is a key aspect of high-quality websites. Accessibility is about real people using and creating the Web...Full Summary

I’ve done a fair bit of research on accessibility and the web but I’m always trying to learn more, especially from those people who get to work directly with people using assistive technologies. This session was pretty cool because I got to finally see a screen reader in action and have a live person demo how people with different disabilities try to use the web. And it not only touched on those using assistive technologies but made the point that this is about making the web accessible to everyone, including those with low-speed connections, those using mobile devices, those with aging eyes (I’m really beginning to feel this one!) or even those who don’t have good use of their hands. I think it’s a shame that accessibility is so frequently overlooked or ignored by organizations. Accessibility is about making the web and its content available anywhere, on any device. So often, the business gets caught up with making a site look cool and pretty but that site needs to work equally well if the user has nothing but the content available. This means using proper markup, especially heading tags, and laying out the content in logical order. Visual design is a secondary medium to getting across the point of the content. See complete guidelines and a checklist from the Web Accessibility Institute.


I really intended to write a summary of each session I attended but that proved to be too overwhelming! Next year (oh yes, I plan to attend next year), I will do a day-by-day recap instead. I will also attend more parties and meet more people. There was just so much cool stuff that I know I'm leaving out. One of my favorite parts was the "Web Standards Confessional Booth" where I confessed my sins of not making forms accessible because it's, well, hard. The conference has to be the best value anywhere; it’s dirt cheap for five days of awesomeness. I had one weird thought though – I’ll be 30 when next year’s Interactive starts.

I'll end with Jane McGonigal's four measurements for human happiness:

  1. Satisfying work to do
  2. The experience of being good at something
  3. Time spent with people we like
  4. The chance to be a part of something bigger

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Trying Out New Browsers Today

I decided to track down IE8 Beta as well as try out the new Opera - version 9.26 for Windows. The latter I have not used in years, not even to test with, (well except on the Wii) but was intrigued when I saw the latest version at SXSWi and noticed it has tabs. I love tabs, can't do without them now.

IE8 Initial Thoughts

  • It's interesting how it makes the domain name stand out with black text and everything else in the URL is gray text.
  • I was working with an accessible form and noticed that the tag legend for fieldsets renders completely within the fieldset. Opera and Firefox render it at the top of the fieldset within the border, but I don't know which is correct, if either.
  • Wow, so uh, I just looked at several sites I work on that render fine in Firefox but are now exploded apart by IE8. It's not clearing my floats and it's putting extra padding on some menu list items :( I guess I shouldn't feel too badly when has the meta tag to make it render as IE7.

Opera 9.26 Initial Thoughts

  • It was a bit difficult to import my bookmarks and then get them to show up on the "Personal Toolbar"; also had to turn on the status bar.
  • I like the "Speed Dial" option when you open a new, blank tab. Reminds me of the launch page on the Wii version.
  • Kept looking for the security icon in the status bar area. Took awhile to realize, it's in the address bar along with other indications usually found in the status bar like page load progress.
  • The Voice option seems cool but it was a little difficult to get it to respond. The reading voice is relatively clear and easy to understand. (Did you know Acrobat Reader can read PDFs aloud?)
On a side note, why doesn't Blogger have quick buttons for heading tags? *checks WordPress* Bah, none there either. I'd think there would be some backlash for not having these blog tools be easy to format text using standards-based markup. Honestly, the fact that it uses a double line break instead of p tags annoys me to no end. Not to mention wrapping bold elements in a span instead of using strong tags. I've tried just using the code view but that kinda defeats the purpose of this nice content entry screen. Oy just tried putting in encoded characters for greater than/less than brackets and no dice.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On Turning Twenty-Nine

Spelling out 29 makes it look so grown-up. I've been joking that this is my "last" birthday since women seem to say they're 29 for more than a few years (well at least she did on The Nanny). Anyway, as with most recent birthdays, I did not feel any different today. No golden light from the sky as I stepped out of bed; certainly no barrage of phone calls or happy greetings; no pile of presents on the kitchen table or birthday pancake breakfast. I think that will change next year for the big three-oh. I've never really had a big birthday party as an adult, make that since I was about 10.

I did get to go out for an awesome sushi dinner. (Yes, there is good sushi in Austin; I say this to you, snotty girl from San Francisco at SXSWi.) I was even greeted at the door with flowers when I got home. I don't feel older or wiser or any of that crap. Maybe if anything, just a little sad that my mom has resorted to text messaging me a birthday greeting.