How I Build Websites (A loose manifesto)

Here’s some loose and evolving thoughts about how I build websites. I’m mainly writing this for my own use and something I can point potential clients to about what I believe in. It may be of help to others as well. I’ll continue to update this post as other ideas/thoughts/statements/beliefs come up.

  • I believe in simple, clean, fast, purpose built websites. I will not be clogging up the pipes with vapid stock photos or meaningless cruft. The websites I build have one purpose — information delivery. I build and design them to fulfill that goal. If you want fancy, you can find that everywhere and pay a price far higher than I charge for it. I don’t do that and those that hire me hire me because I don’t do that.

  • Before I even begin to build a website for a client, I engage in a deep conversation around two simple questions: Who is coming here and what are they looking for? I design the entire site around the answers to those two questions.

  • Anyone coming to a business website is looking for information. With the answers to those two questions in mind, I build for the purpose of delivering that information to those people with as few clicks as possible (preferably none).

  • Every time you add a page you add work for the visitor. One more barrier between them and what they want. One more thing they have to look for. One more thing they have to click. One more opportunity for them to just give up and leave. Therefore, make it as few pages as is possible and sensible.

  • An example of the above that I often give to clients during our initial conversation is restaurant websites. Almost every restaurant website could be two pages. Home page: Hours, location, number to call for a reservation or further info. Page two: Menu (In HTML, not PDF, with prices!). Thats it. I can’t think of a single restaurant website that I’ve seen that needs more than that. Yet, almost every restaurant website I visit is way more complex than it needs to be.

  • These days, almost everyone is coming to your site from a mobile device. This is especially true if your visitors are from outside of the United States. Build with that in mind (not only mobile friendly/responsive but especially choice of font types and sizes). Test everything — every page, every link, etc. — on a smartphone. Make it look good there.

  • Most businesses should hire a copywriter and editor long before hiring a web designer/builder. In fact, most should worry far less about the design of the website. People are coming for information, not how pretty it is. Focus on the words first.

  • Towards that end, I’m not building a custom theme or messing around with some premium framework. I build using one of the WordPress default themes and making customized modifications to that using a child theme (Additional CSS, FTW!!!). The advantages being that it is always kept up to date and compatible with the latest versions of WordPress and can be easily fixed if there’s an issue without blowing things up. That also makes it easy for any other web person you might hire after me. Future proof is a feature.

  • Remember, design is not how it looks. Design is how it works.

If you’d like to see a site I built that incorporates most (if not all) of these principles, check out: Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism – We make the case for Moral Capitalism.

A Reading Plan for 2019

Last year, I publicized my reading plan for the year. Overall, I’m very happy with the number of books I managed to read (20) and the quality of what I read. There are some aspects of the plan I wish I’d been better at but that’s a small regret. I enjoyed almost everything I picked up with few exceptions. So, instead of changing that plan, I’m expanding it. Here’s the things I’m adding…

  • Read what I have. No buying new books and, any that happen that come in, ignore them. Go to the books on my bookshelf instead. I have so many good books hanging around unread. Such a backlog of things I wanted to read “someday”. Well, that someday has come! All the books on my Amazon Wishlist have been removed in service of this cause and I will add none to it, lest new ones show up unexpectedly.

  • Reading is reading. Magazines, newspapers, Instapaper, etc. all count towards the goal of reading more. Especially long form articles, features, and stories. I have a backlog there as well and aim to dig through it. I also aim to figure out a way to account for those things on the list.

And, as with last year’s plan…

  • Read more paperback books, specifically mass-market sized ones. The books you read are the books you can easily bring with you. And, especially in the winter months here, every coat I own has large enough pockets to easily slip one in.

  • Replace boredom with books. In the check out line, in the waiting room, while my daughter is in her classes. Assuming I’m good about having a book within easy reach per above, I’ll fill these sorts of times with reading one.

  • Bias towards fiction. If you look over my reading list of the past several years, you’ll notice I tend to bias towards non-fiction. The reason is that I’m a curious learner and reading non-fiction fuels that. That said, every time I do read a fiction book for escape and entertainment, I always feel like i should do so more often but then fall back into my habits. The truth is, I read fiction a lot faster and enjoy the escape when I allow it. Therefore, I’m going to intentionally bias towards it and see what happens.

  • Read more classics (including ones I’ve read and would like to read again). Not the least of the reason being that many of these are easily available in a smaller, mass-market size where recent paperback are less so (in general, these are trade-sized).

So, there it is. I’ll reference this throughout my reading year. As always, you can see what I’m currently reading on my Now page. I also regularly update the list of the books I’ve read as I finish them going back to 2012 (!).

Why Subscribe to One More Thing?

A reader of my newsletter (Hi Minnow!) recently asked me the following question:

This is off topic, but i have this immense inertia to start a newsletter. Yours is inspiring in the sense that you’ve taken away the agenda and just made it a place where you can share your heart. What’s been the benefit of this for you both personally and professionally?

I thought about this a long time (over a month) before I sent my answer but I feel like what I said sums up why anyone might want to subscribe to it…

The benefit is that I feel this best honors the reason why people might subscribe to my newsletter versus simply and solely reading my other work (books, blogs, etc.) I started by asking myself what makes “one more thing” from me worth the time and attention? How can I give people any more than what I already give elsewhere?

The answer to this question was to go deeper and more personal. A person’s inbox is a private space where relationships are formed. Therefore, people only invite in people they trust, respect, and wish a deeper level of engagement. People they’d like to get to know better. This is what I try to deliver with my newsletter.

Because of that, I reciprocate by giving those who read it the same level of respect, trust, and engaged relationship readers give to me. I respond to every reply I receive (even if it sometimes takes me a while) and consider those that read my newsletter friends.

So, I guess that’s the best answer I have. It helps me form, maintain, and cultivate friendship with all that subscribe. And, in that way, it helps me both personally and professionally because in my line of work there is little hard distinction between the two.

So, if that’s something that resonates with you, I invite you to read the archives to get a further sense of what I offer there or to go ahead and subscribe.

Lowepro GearUp Camera Box — A Brief Review

I’ve been looking for a nice small case for my Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera kit. One that I could easily drop into my GORUCK GR1 or Echo and give me just enough space for the camera, a couple of lenses, my Peak Design Capture Clip, and a small accessory or two. I’d been using a GORUCK GR1 Field Pocket for a while but, not being designed for a camera specifically, it was never quite right and felt awkward. After looking at many options that were either too big or not quite right in other ways, I recently ordered up the Lowepro GearUp Camera Box. I dare say. it’s perfect.

It’s about the size, shape, and look of a soft sided lunchbox. It has an outside zip pocket on one face, a two-way double zipper to open the main compartment, four removable and reconfigurable padded dividers on the inside, as well as a large pocket with a mini one for memory cards.

It is just large enough to hold exactly what I needed it to hold and nothing more. The design seems sturdy and just enough padding to keep everything safe. The bright orange handle on top will allow it to be easily found inside of a dark bag. I could not have designed a more perfect case for my needs.

I’ve got a fair amount of travel coming up over the next few months and I’m glad to finally have a good solution for my camera.

 

Another Case for Minimalism

My wife’s father passed away at the end of August. It came quickly. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer at the end of June. Two months later he was gone.

I originally wrote a long, yet only partial, list of some of the items we’ve had to dispose, recycle, give away, etc. and the time we’ve had to spend doing so here. The truth is, the amount of items and dissertations on the needs/wants/don’t needs of each doesn’t matter. Stuff is stuff. Someone will have to deal with it regardless.

All of this stuff we own and save and think is so very important to have… It’s also what we will leave behind when we die. And those we purport to love and care about will be the ones left to clean up our mess. In what will in all likelihood be a time of grief, they’ll be cleaning. In their loss, they’ll be organizing. In a time of darkness, they’ll be digging out of our mountain of stuff trying to find the light.

The thing is, if he knew he had six months, 12 months, 18 months left, maybe he would have done something about all of the stuff. maybe he would have thought to whittle it down and spare us of some of this burden. Or not. Who knows? But, the truth is that, most of us don’t have that. Death comes quickly, suddenly, without warning. Therefore, it behooves us to prepare for it to happen anytime. To treat everything we buy and every choice we make as something that may have a permanence that will outlast us.

This is yet another case for being intentional about our possessions and doing our best to practice living with only as much as we need. The truth is that when we go, all the things that may be of benefit to you will become a burden for those we leave behind. The things you keep around to be used someday become the things that have to go today. Even the things one generally needs like the food in the refrigerator, cups in the cupboard, and clothes in the closet will have to be dealt with by someone — likely someone you love. Most of it will have to go somewhere, likely not with them. Especially if they are trying to save such a burden for the ones they love.

So, this is another reason to live as lightly as we can. To put some serious thought into what we need, what we don’t, what is our “enough”. Because, whether it matters or not, we will leave it all behind one day.

Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown — A Review

Do you remember the movie Purple Rain? Yes? Well, let’s be honest — on paper, it’s not a very good movie. The direction is too earnest, it’s narrative is more a collection of vignettes loosely strung together by a soundtrack, and it is mostly populated with musicians, not actors, trying way too hard to act. But, somehow, despite all of that, it works. It’s electric. The musical performances thrilling. And the whole time one has the feeling they are on the cusp of something big. Because they are. A defining moment in the career of an artist and, some may argue, music itself. It’s an experience more than it is a movie. But, that’s what makes it great.

On paper, Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown shouldn’t be a great book. It’s a collection of morning pages, loosely-joined notes, poetry, quotes, interviews, ideas not fully formed, and fan-non-fict of sci-fi author and visionary Octavia Butler. The author tells you up front that she doesn’t have any of this figured out and invites you along to help her do so, so don’t expect any answers at the end. In fact, the hidden secret is that the idea of Emergent Strategy itself has no hard boundaries (“answers” are boundaries) and depends on mass participation driven both e intentionally and organically by individual action. The book, is the author’s action and she’s suggesting ways that others may take theirs.

But, the whole time I was reading it, it was thrilling. Every few sentences I’d run into an idea that was electric. And the whole time I had the feeling the author is on the cusp of something big. That the idea of Emergent Strategy, once we collectively figure it out, could be the answer to so many things. That it could reshape lives and movements in fundamental ways. And, even if that’s not the case it was such fun to be a part of that energy that it’s easily the best book I’ve read this year (and, perhaps, in many years). One that I’ve marked up furiously (and that my wife marked up as she read it before me) and that we will be talking about, referencing, revisiting, and using as a guide for years to come.

Snippets of a conversation I picked up between two college aged women overheard at the coffee shop as I purposefully tried to avoid today’s hearings that was just as heartbreaking and as reflective of the world we live in because it laid bare the fact that we can no longer escape the truths our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, coworkers, and fellow citizens have been trying to tell us because these stories have always been here but we have not been listening, as I happened to be trying not to today, but could not help it because these conversations are happening all around us and have been for a very long time…

“There’s just, like, no one else to talk to and, like, the school can’t really do anything because, well, it’s not like anything, like, happened.”

“Well, I think there are, like, support groups or something I’ve heard about. You know, like, so you can talk to other people, like, besides me of course.”

“I know, I’ve heard of those too… I just feel so alone.” The young lady begins to cry and, her friend, moves her chair over to embrace her and is now beginning to cry too.

“You know it’s not your fault…”, one says to the other as they are now sitting side by side crying and hugging each other.

“We were just having a conversation and then, suddenly, he just reaches over and starts feeling me up. I was like, ‘Wait, what?!?’”

“That’s just totally not cool. You have a right to feel safe, comfortable… I’m so sorry… OK, enough of this. Tell me something good.”

“Yesterday was, like, really good.”

“Tell me why?”

“I don’t know, it was just, like, I didn’t feel sad. I don’t know why. I just didn’t think about it.”

You are going to die.

We all are. As I stated in my guide Mindfulness for Mere Mortals:

Right now, you are both living and dying. Everything that is living is, with each passing moment, also progressing towards death. As such, every moment more you live you also move closer to death. Each moment you are both living and dying. Both are active states within you and all living things.

With this being the case, perhaps the only universal truth, why do we suck at planning for it.

It’s coming. For each and every one of us. We don’t know when or how or where we will be. Yet, it is certain.

Forget about “getting hit by a bus” or any other proverbial sudden fatality. What about that routine doctor’s visit that leads to a biopsy which leads to someone telling you you have not months but weeks or days? Happens more often than you think. Not just to the old. I know of someone who passed at age 27 feeling in perfect health less than a month before.

I’ve stated before, Dying is about you. Death is about those you leave behind. When it comes and you have not prepared, those you love are left to clean up the mess. No will? Well, your spouse/partner/children/next-of-kin are in for a lesson in probate law and a fair amount of legal expenses. Have a bunch of debt? Well, those you leave may be on the hook for it if your estate has not been properly planned. All of this burden on top of the grief and pain they must work through. Do you really want that?

Listen, I know it’s a pain and you have no idea where to start. It’s easy. We live in an age with search engines. Most of the information out there is good enough. For instance, Nolo.com has a good primer on writing a will and Lifehacker, of all places, has a good guide on preparing for death.

Seriously, make this a priority. Properly planning for death will make the life of everyone you love that much easier.

Note: Roger Bennett wrote to me after reading this to add: Recently retired from the practice of law, focusing on Elder Law. Over age 60 or disabled (assuming U.S.), one should consider consulting a member of NAELA, (get a CELA for extra assurance), for estate planning.

The I of The Storm

A couple of days before we left for vacation, Bethany’s Father went in to the doctor. He’d been experiencing some severe and often debilitating back pain for several months and he finally decided (or, more specifically, was goaded by his daughter, friends, and I) to go to the doctor to get it checked out. Once there, they detected some worrisome vital signs so they sent him to the ER. A scan there detected a mass in his lungs. They suspected cancer. So, they checked him into the hospital overnight to do a biopsy and get his vitals level. A couple of days later, he was released and immediately started radiation treatment.

We left, as scheduled months before, for Iceland.

A few days later, while still in Iceland, the results came back. Stage 4 lung cancer which had spread to the lymph nodes and bones. Not good.

It’s been a whirlwind since we returned. My wife and I getting him to his radiation treatments for a couple of weeks was followed by his breaking his arm and being in too much pain to move (he lives alone) even to get to the bathroom or his bed. We got him to the hospital a week ago and he’s been there since. Daily visits there for my wife and/or I. My wife has been deep in the administrivia of trying to navigate what the next few final months for him hold. I’ve been slowly cleaning his house (which, due to his condition he’s not been able to do for months).

It’s also what we call “Summer Show Season” at Circus Juventas where I’m the Lead Volunteer Rigger. That means, I’ve also been spending several hours (usually 6 to 8) at Circus for rehearsals since we got back and will be spending 20-30 hours a week for the next few weeks while the show is running. Yes, this is in addition to the above.

Of course, life goes on. Beatrix has day camps and music classes and other things to get to. Bethany remains over scheduled with a full work load. And, in true rains/pours serendipity, my client workload has also ticked up.

Then, a childhood friend of my wife’s took his own life a couple of days back. Fuck The Piggyback Guy.

And, yesterday, I came down with a nasty cold/virus/crud. Stuffed up, sneezing, mild fever, sore throat, and general blah. Not unusual this time of year when I’m over worked, under rested, and spending close proximity high-touch time around several dozen circus performers, riggers, and coaches. But, I feel like crap.

More than a few folks have compassionately checked in on me. They’ve asked how I’m doing. How I’m handling all of this.

There’s a phrase folks that know me will often here me say, “It is what it is”. As I wrote in my guide, Mindfulness for Mere Mortals:

“Things are what they are. Life goes the way it goes. People are the way they are. No amount of complaining about it, worrying about it, or being upset about it is going to change it. Even if we can change it in the next moment we must first identify and recognize it right now. All we can do is accept what it is — whatever it is.”

I really do believe this even if, as I preach it, I sometimes fail to practice it. Even when life seems to be an overwhelming torrent and hurricane of hurt, peace is always found by returning my focus to the center — to the “I”. Let me try to explain. Warning: This may break your brain a little (but in a good way).

Let’s start with the declarative phrase, “I am”. I am happy. I am sad. I am angry.

Who (or what) is? Who (or what) is “I”?

You see, “I” is separate from the action. I is not the action. I is not happy or sad or angry in and of itself. It exists before and apart from those emotions or actions. In order to be happy or angry or sad “I” must first exist.

I is pure awareness. Pure consciousness. And, that being the case, it means that I is none of those things. I is simply aware of those things. Therefore, when one says I am happy or I am sad or I am angry one is checking in with that awareness and making an assessment of and giving a label to the emotions they feel arising at that time. But, “I” is not those emotions. I is simply aware of them. And, if I is separate from them, then I is not them. I does not have to be them. I can be aware of other emotions that could also arise, I can choose a different path.

So, how am I in the midst of all that is going on in my world (not to mention the World) right now?

It is what it is.

I am OK.