Archive for 2006

Way #24

For the second year in-a-row, Drew McLellan has put together another excellent 24 Ways — an advent calendar of helpful web articles written by fine folks from all over the web.

To cap off this year’s set, I’ve contributed Gravity-Defying Page Corners, a simple little trick for adding dimension to a plain ol’ box. It also might the first (and after reading you’ll probably be thinking “hopefully last“) web tutorial written in verse. It’s corny for sure, but fun to write and hopefully read. Many thanks to Drew for wrapping up 48 presents to us all.

Cheers, Interwebizens

2006 was an amazing life-changing year, and largely because of stuff that has nothing to do with the web or business. But as I lock up the BitCave until 2007, I just wanted to write a quick thank you to all the clients, icon/t-shirt customers and readers of SimpleBits. You’ve made it possible for me to focus on the stuff that really matters, and for that I’m grateful.

So, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (in case I ignore blogging until then)! Cheers indeed, interwebizens.

Reasons I Like Twitter

  • I am a sporadic IM’r. At times, I find it incredibly distracting. Twitter is like the lazy-person’s IM. Post if you want to, listen if you want to. Or not.
  • The character limit. For SMS of course — but limitations can often nurture creativity.
  • Learning things about your pals that you otherwise would never hear. As mundane as they might be.
  • Half conversations: “@dude55: you are so totally right on, and I believe what you just said was the most poignant, important, compelling sentence that has ever been posted to the internets.” I sure wish I had a friend named dude55.
  • It’s lucky enough to have an “e”.
  • It’s simple, focused and immediate.
  • Because blogging requires too much time and thought.
  • Yes damnit, I do want to know when you go to bed, or when you’re eating a burrito.

Microformats for Designers

In a little less than two months, I’ll be heading to Vancouver to speak about “microformats for designers” at Web Directions North. It’ll be a fun topic, and I’m starting to put together the material. I’m looking forward to talking about microformats from a designer’s perspective, including a little bit about the logo development, the implementations over at Cork’d (and the unexpected cool things that came out of that), as well as applying CSS to microformats.

But I’m also looking for help. What are some interesting things happening with microformats and design? Know of any great examples, visual experiments, etc.? Here are a few to get started:

I know there’s a lot happening out there, so let’s hear about it. And thanks!

Re-Brand New

For the first time ever, SimpleBits has a logo! Roughly six years ago, I took a stab at creating an isometric set of three boxes (cardboard, to be specific). It was really an icon — and one that sat in the header alongside my personal site at the time, the now-defunct Over the years, it’s always been there, and I’ve probably overdone it in terms of branding: I put the boxes everywhere. It became the brand. But it was always awkward, and highly inflexible. It worked terrible in print, where at small sizes, the pixelated blocks looked more like botched clip art.

Several months ago, I finally started on a new logo design — something I’d been meaning to do for years. It went rather quickly, playing with four curly brackets set in Avenir that created a frame around a hand-drawn cube (vector this time!). I finally had something I didn’t hate the next day. I’m excited to have a mark that’ll be flexible going forward, and it was crucial for me to create one that could be any size, or color (even looking intact using a single color).

(fig). old and new logos
I owe Greg Storey (Airbag Industries) thanks for suggesting Whitney for the logo’s type, after I realized that the previously-utilized Triplex just wasn’t working.

It was the logo refresh that forced me to rework the site design as well. I’m not one to change things for the sake of changing things, but the new logo was a good excuse to update the templates as well. And what you see now is the result of several weeks of tinkering.

Much of the structure and layout of the site remain the same. Nothing earth-shattering here. This time around, I’m trying out an elastic (Elastic Design) em-based layout. If you’re unfamiliar, try resizing the text in your browser to see what happens. For this particular site, I think it works well. If I had the need/desire/requirement for an additional column, then I would’ve explored other fluid or variable fixed-width (clagnut: Variable fixed width layout) options. But for this simple, two-column set-up, I thought it’d be interesting to try something with ems.

I’m hoping the revised logo will help swing the rest of the company forward. I have a lot of ideas and things in mind for the future, and this is merely step #1. Here goes nothing. But first, new business cards need ordering.

An Event Apart Boston

An Event Apart is coming to Boston in 2007! And they’ve super-sized it into a two-day conference with an amazing lineup of speakers including some dude named Dean Cedarhouse or something. He will be speaking about something great (have any fantastic topic ideas? Comments welcomed).

Here’s your hCalendar hookup:

The awesomeness at this gathering will be inescapable. I’m really looking forward to it, and I hope you can make it. There are even post-show beer plans already in the works.

Workshopp’d (and a break)

I’ll start off by mentioning that the Carsons (Gillian and Ryan) are two of the nicest people you’ll meet in the business. I’m grateful to them for setting up Thursday’s “workshop”: at Boston’s Museum of Science.
I think it went well, and I’ve received some good, positive feedback. As with anything, I’ll now be focusing on the parts that I thought could’ve been presented better — but all-in-all I had a _great_ time, managed to still have a voice after talking for eight hours, and those that attended (suprisingly many from outside of New England) brought along great questions. It’s clear that the majority of people attending conferences and workshops are gaining more and more knowledge about CSS, standards, semantic markup, etc. So much so, that I wonder what the heck I should speak about in the future. Hrm.
So thanks to all who came out to the workshop, and again to the “Carsons”: (they have this stuff down to a science). It capped off the busiest few months I’ve had in years, and in two days we’ll board a plane for Florida to visit family for a week. A much needed unplugging.
While I’m away, “Rael Dornfest and company”: will be presenting “Stikkit”: on the “Launch Pad”: at the “Web 2.0 conference”: Stikkits are “little yellow notes that think”, and I’ve been helping with the design. Keep an eye out for it!


Earlier this month I asked for advice regarding phones that can send and receieve email. Only two people in the comments mentioned the BlackBerry Pearl, but that’s what I ended up purchasing and have had it now for about 24 hours. What follows is a mini review of the device, this coming from someone who is new to the BlackBerry, new to the mobile web, and new to sending and receiving email using tiny keys. The short version: loving it so far.

BlackBerry PearlThere’s several reasons I ended going with the Pearl, rather than the other great suggestions (like the Palm Treo, or Nokia e62, for example).

  • I realized I needed to stay with T-Mobile as a provider. I have a pretty great, grandfather’d plan that was too good to give up going somewhere else. Isn’t a shame that devices and providers are so locked together?
  • T-Mobile’s unlimited web and email BlackBerry plans are cheaper than their normal internet plans. You don’t get access to HotSpots, but I figure as long as there’s carrier service, that won’t be difficult to miss.
  • The Pearl is _tiny_ for a phone that packs a decent screen and 1.3 MP camera. I knew if it was bulky, I wouldn’t enjoy using it as often. It had to fit in a pocket.
  • I’m left-handed, so the normal-sized BlackBerry’s would’ve probably been awkward to navigate with the scroll wheel on the right side. The Pearl’s trackball works great, and it’s in the middle for either thumb.
  • My mobile phone is my business phone, so the call quality has to be good. It’s been fine so far — in fact audio coming in has been clearer and louder than previous phones I’ve owned. I’m not sure how I sound on the other end. I’ll have to call myself (wow, what should I say?!).

It took me a bit to get used to how Push email works. I have my main IMAP account set up and assumed I’d see everything in my inbox. Instead, it’ll push emails to the BlackBerry, where they’ll be until you delete them. You have the option of the delete also removing them from your mail account. But there’s a cool feature that lets you “Delete Prior” messages from your inbox. It’ll make them disappear from your BlackBerry but not your main IMAP account. Handy if you want a clean slate, and want to only see new incoming messages when you’re away from your desk.

As far as the keyboard on the Pearl goes, well that’s the tradeoff for the tiny, candybar form factor. It has what BlackBerry calls a “SureType” keyboard setup. There’s two letters per key, but they’re set up in a QWERTY formation. It really works quite a bit better than I thought it would. If you ignore what’s happening on screen while you type, it’ll get the right word nearly every time based on the letter combinations. I’m impressed. It’s not like typing on a normal keyboard, of course. But short replies will be no problem — something I’d never attempt on a normal phone keypad.

Finally having a decent web-enabled phone to really play with has been eye-opening. Seeing what sites have a @media=”handheld”@ stylesheet, or which sites sniff and serve a mobile-friendly version of their site automatically. From my limited time playing with it, it’s clear that there’s so many different methods for handling mobile content. One thing’s for sure, lean, unstyled markup sure is helpful, even when there’s not specifically a mobile version of the same site. We really need Cameron’s book.

So all in all, I’m quite pleased with the Pearl. It’ll take some getting used to, but it’s certainly a helpful improvement. And will hopefully help me work less, stay away longer, etc.

During my tenure at a failed dot com in early 2000, in between margarita parties, all the VPs where saying “the mobile web is going to change the world!”. This was 6 years ago. Everyone believed them of course, and dumped millions into mobile products that weren’t ready for primetime. But now (and I’m admitedly late to the game) it really feels like there’s momentum here — real stuff happening, “affordable” access, etc. Interesting times.

More Workshop Details

Amidst a flurry of client activity over here at SimpleBits HQ, I’m also lovingly crafting what I hope to be a great Carson Workshop: Bulletproof Design with XHTML & CSS on November 2nd in Boston. The venue is now booked, and it’ll be a fun one: Boston’s Museum of Science — a place anyone who’s grown up in the area knows very well. Perhaps between sessions we can chill out in the planetarium or IMAX theatre. Anyhow, I think it’ll be a great setting, and I can only hope I’m able to make the day helpful, fun, inspiring and interesting.

I should also note I’ll be handing out stickers, t-shirts and books to attendees in scheduled bursts of shameless self-promotion. I haven’t yet determined the criteria for receiving the goods — but we’ll think of something interesting.

Hope to see you there.

Mobile Email?

So I’ve been thinking of getting a mobile device suitable for sending and retrieving electronic mail. Here’s how I imagine it’ll help me work less: simply knowing that I don’t have an important email sitting in my inbox while I’m away. I don’t plan on reading email everywhere I am, but rather just having the ability to put out any fires, or attend to urgent stuff from time to time might allow me to stay away longer. Maybe there’d be some peace of mind knowing I don’t have to hurry back to my inbox — then again, maybe it’d drive me nuts.

So I wonder what your experience is with mobile email. I’m looking into something that:

  • Can connect to IMAP
  • Is a decent phone as well
  • Has a QWERTY keyboard (tiny tiny of course)
  • Isn’t gigantic

Blackberry? Treo? Sidekick? Nothing? Let us know, o’ untethered ones.