Archive for ‘life’ category

Beautiful Accidents

It must be 12 years ago now. I was living in Allston “Rock City”, playing guitar in a shoe-gazing instrumental indie rock trio. My G string broke. No, not that G string (not that kind of band). Out of extra strings, I managed to find a D string lying on the rehearsal room floor. I strung it on and kept playing. See, a D string is wound steel, and thicker than a G string, which is a single strand. But winding it tighter and tighter, I was able to tune it back up to a G.

From that day on, I exclusively played with two D strings (one tuned to G) instead of a normal set of guitar strings. It changed the way I played, changed the sound and timbre of my setup. It became a part of the DNA that made up whatever it was we were creating.

It’s been happening throughout history, of course. Beautiful accidents. Unintentional intentions. We can’t plan these mistakes, but wish we could. What seems like disaster, turns into the spark that ignites what we perceive later as “rightly so”.

And it happens all the time when I’m designing. Oops, I dumped a white paint can where color used to be. Wait. That’s nice. It’s become a part of my process. A part I can’t anticipate, or account for, but a part nonetheless.

I’ve been thinking about ways to facilitate these accidents. Make them happen more often. I haven’t come up with anything yet. Too much coffee, not enough coffee, time of day, etc.—are they really accidents, or our subconscious guiding the way?

Until I figure out, I’ll keep adapting, accepting and discovering.

Tokyo Express

I returned from Tokyo on Monday. I gave a talk at the Web Directions East conference. I’ve never had a simultaneous translation of a presentation before. I hope it went OK. I’ll be forever grateful to John Allsopp, Satoshi Kukichi and the rest of the WDE team for inviting me to speak, being incredibly gracious hosts and generally being awesome people. I’ll never get tired of traveling to faraway places, where (without fail) the quality of people in this industry inspire, impress and humble me. I feel lucky.

I don’t think I’ll travel that distance again without the rest of my family.
I’ll never forget walking through customs after spending the entire Election Day in the air. CNN was on in the airport lobby. ‘Barrack Obama Elected President of the United States’ it said. Twenty seconds later, John McCain started his concession speech. Relief after 14 hours of nail-biting anticipation.

I took a lot of photos. I tried packing as much into a few days as possible. I was amazed by the giganticness of the city. I caught a view of the cityscape at night, at the top of the hotel where Lost in Translation was filmed. They wanted a $20 cover charge, so we left.

I loved that every train station in Tokyo has it’s own unique short little melody (hear them all). I love how this aids accessibility with audio. I’m thinking we need more unique audible melodies for events that happen on the web or desktop. I was also impressed with the grooved sidewalk path found throughout the entire city, which would direct a blind person from station to station, uninterrupted.
I probably didn’t bow enough.

I sang Don’t Stop Believing in a karaoke bar in Shinjuku along with friends old and new. I’ve never sang karaoke before. I had the best doughnut I’ve had in my life in Harajuku, at Tamagotchi Donuts. I was amazed by the depth of the character culture in Japan. It permeates everything and everyone — not just for kids, but a part of general communication throughout the city.

I tried the eel (unagi) and ‘chicken knuckles’, but was less adventurous with the raw horsemeat. I loved the simplicity of the food in Japan. I have a new favorite snack in ‘onigiri‘, a triangle of sushi rice, seaweed, and (in my case) teriyaki-soaked seaweed inside. I’ll have to hunt for those here at home.

I learned two Japanese phrases. I should’ve learned more.

Tenley Murphy Cederholm


Kerry and I welcomed the birth of our daughter yesterday. Tenley Murphy Cederholm was born June 25th at 1:22pm. Six pounds, eleven ounces of pure joy.

Where our 2 1/2 year old son Jack came six weeks early, Tenley decided to do it her own way, arriving 3 days late. Everyone’s doing wonderfully though, and Mom and baby will be coming home tomorrow.

I’ll be taking the next month off as much as possible as we adjust to newborn status once again. See you in a bit.


I just returned from New Zealand, where I spoke at Webstock. I am tired. I had a tremendous time. I was amazed at the quality of the organization of the conference. I loved the branding that was found on everything from the t-shirt to the speakers’ dinner menus. I saw many old friends and met new ones. I think my talk went over pretty well. I missed out on a lot of the talks due to being obsessive about my slides. I found out I’m not the only one that does that.

I took a lot of pictures. I rented a car and drove up through the center of the North Island and back. I was scared to drive on the opposite side of the road. I loved the espresso in Wellington, in particular People’s Coffee which was free throughout the conference. I’d like to attend more conferences that dispense free, high-quality espresso. I wish I could’ve visited the South Island. I really should’ve enabled mobile roaming before I left the country. I think kiwis are extremely friendly people. I found out that the term kiwi comes from the bird and not the fruit.

I never had a February 11, 2008. I missed my family terribly. I’m calling New Zealand “earth concentrate”, where a two-hour drive can take you through 10 different landscapes. I saw a few movie stars at the hotel in Wellington. I left my iPhone USB cable at a motel near Lake Taupo. I paid $39NZ for a new iPhone USB cable. I am thankful and honored for having to the opportunity to travel so far to talk about web design. I’ll be forever grateful to the hard-working Webstock organizers, in particular Natasha Hall and Mike Brown.

I think I’ll post this, just as it is.

80 Percenter

Last week, I gave my More “Wow”, Please talk at Web Design World Boston. During the talk I mentioned a fantastic book: Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. Yvon founded the expensive-but-awesome clothing company, Patagonia. I’ve long been a fan of Patagonia’s stuff, and their dedication as a company to environmental causes (they co-founded One Percent For The Planet, of which SimpleBits is a member) , and so when Josh Porter recommended the book a while back, I ordered immediately.

book coverThe book covers the history of the company, Yvon’s philosophy on design, and being a reluctant business owner. It’s a great read, with a lot of insightful head-nodding.

One part stood out in particular, when Chouinard talks about how he sees himself as an “80 percenter”:

I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession and degree of specialization that doesn’t appeal to me.

I didn’t know it before reading that quote, but I think I’m an 80 percenter as well. For people that love to create things, whether it be a website or a t-shirt or even a beer coaster (ahem) — the web seems to tie all these things together quite nicely. And it’s reaching 80% proficiency (but not 100%) that I think makes it possible to handle all of that at one time.

Ever try talking to (or working with) someone who is 100% obsessed with a single task? The danger is that they’ll get bogged down in details. Every detail. Whereas an 80 percenter might eventually learn to know which details to focus on. And determining which details are important can be just as useful as knowing them all.

At least that’s my interpretation. Regardless, I recommend the book highly.


We arrived at the bed & breakfast in the Berkshires and my headache had worsened. Forgot to pack some Advil. Damn. I went in the front door of the inn and an old man asked if I needed help.

“Hi, I was wondering if you had any aspirin?”

“Well I dunno. Let’s see what she has!”

Well that’s odd, I thought, assuming there was a little store inside — or at least those little individual packets for sale. Must be the owner of the inn. Maybe “she” runs the shop in the lobby. He led me to a large living room where an old woman sat in a chair by the fireplace.

“This gentlemen is looking for some aspirin.”

“Hmm, lemme see,” she said, as she plunged her left hand deep into her left pants pocket. She must’ve fished around in there for a good 20 seconds.

“Ah ha! I found one,” pulling something out. She then carefully tipped her hand so the pill would softly fall into the old man’s palm (so that he could walk over to me and do the same).

pillI looked down at a single white pill in my hand. *U-489* was imprinted on it (or something like that), with no other clue that this was indeed an over-the-counter pain reliever.

I clenched my fist around it and said, “Thanks”.

“Come prepared!” the old man shouted as I walked down the steps outside, firing the mysterious pill into the bushes.
I’ll never leave home without aspirin again.

Gone Fishing

We’re packing up over here for a little trip to San Francisco for @media followed by a few days of vacation. The whole family is coming with me, and we’re excited about everything, save the 6+ hour flight. Snacks? Check. Sesame Street? Check. Non-noisy toys? Check.

I’m posting this primarily to warn anyone of a delay in email response that’ll begin shortly. Well, there’s always a delay these days, but it’ll be even worse for the next little while.

See you on the left coast, or when we return.

One Hundred

Maybe it was the antique car show we drove by this past weekend, but something got me thinking: what would I be working on _100 years ago_? In other words, today I design web sites and other related web things for a living. In 1906, I doubt I’d be doing the same (and if I was I’d be insane).

One hundred years ago, radio was in it’s infancy, so there’s an obvious parallel there: a new, exciting technology that increases communication. But really what we’re doing is _creating_ stuff, and I’m not sure I’d be building radios or telegraph equipment. I’m not smart enough for that.

Typesetting? That could be closer than radio, but typesetting was far from being something _new_ in 1906. So maybe it’d be something less obvious, like a “Wheelwright” or a “Confectioner” or even a “Newsagent” — actual professional titles for the early 20th century. And don’t they sound cool?

Regardless, it’s interesting to look back and draw similarities, especially if you do the same looking _forward_. Will anyone be designing web sites in another 100 years? Will I be doing this in 10 or 20? Who knows.

Webvisions 2006

I’ve returned from Portland, successfully capping off the little Summer Tour. It feels really good to be back, save for the immediate dive into a pile of work. I had a great time at Webvisions — my first time attending the conference (and the state of Oregon).

It was a fun event, and one that feels more intimate despite the full schedule over several tracks. I left feeling like I missed a lot in terms of the panels and presentations, but am looking forward to the podcasts.

My own presentation went well, I think. It was early on Day 2 (8:30am), but the turnout was excellent, and I felt _slightly_ more relaxed this time around. For those that attended, the Bulletproof Web Design slides are available (18MB PDF). They are slightly cryptic without the commentary, but possibly interesting if you’re feeling adventurous. Thanks to those that came out and listened.

The Design Panel (the actual title, which I love) went well, too, in lieu of myself being a bit drained after the morning’s session. There was a great turnout, many of whom brought interesting questions. For instance, after talking about the importance of good copy (a rareity) as interface design, one attendee pimped her own copywriting business (multiple times). Now normally this would be bad practice — but she managed to pull it off humorously. Bryan Veloso did a bang-up job as moderator (excellent meeting him for the first time) and Mike and Keith were spot on.

As with any post-conference rambling, you’ll often hear that the social aspect is just as (or more) important than the program. Very true for Webvisions as well, where it was fun to meet many folks that I hadn’t met before. And it being a smaller conference, that gave way for more time to chat in-depth on things.

Non-Webvisions highlights of visiting Portland included:

* The amazing Japanese Garden (with a free bonus view of the city and Mt. Hood). I was really blown away by it, and the location way up in a rolling hill above the city gave more of a hint at Oregon’s landscape.
* Stumptown Coffee. I had the best mocha I’ve ever tasted here, complete with marked foam.
* The Doug Fir Lounge. Like a pancake house that was turned ultra-hip and cool by the use of giant fir logs, fur-lined walls and crystal moose heads.
* Greek Cuisina. This is where the wrap-up party was, and I’ll let the photographic (and probably videographic) evidence speak for itself. Crazy place.
More photos of Portland (and mostly the Japanese Garden) are over at my Flickr stream. Thanks to Brad Smith and Nick Finck for the invite — they and the rest of the team put on a great show.