The Rock Collection

On my office desk sits a jar filled with rocks, none of which are rare or have any monetary value. Whenever my wife and I travel, we find a pocket-sized rock, tote it back home, and add it to our stockpile. For us, these random bits of earth represent life outside of work and remind us of our journeys together. I wholeheartedly encourage you to start your own worthless collection of priceless memories.

rock collection

Choose Your Role Models Wisely

I’m a proud husband and father, two roles I gladly devote a lot of my time to. I’m a homeowner and self-proclaimed mechanic as well—another way of saying I’m always fixing something. My family and I live in a beautiful New Hampshire vacation town surrounded by mountains and lakes but not much else. Simple errands, like doing groceries, require fairly long road trips. I also have many interests outside of work, including carpentry, photography, and enjoying the outdoors. All of these responsibilities take considerable time and commitment.

The work/life balance requires constant fine-tuning and part of that involves choosing realistic role models. It’s easy to be impressed by others in your industry who crank out work at an unreal pace (front-page Dribbblers, I’m looking at you). It can also be tempting to imagine how much more you could get done by working around the clock, but at what expense? Would you be neglecting other interests and people in your life? I respect anyone not afraid of hard work; the trouble is when determination turns into obsession.

If you do find yourself following someone else’s footsteps, take a moment to learn more about that person (and I’m not talking about just their work). Compare their lifestyle to yours and ask, “Are they a well-rounded individual? Do they share a similar amount of responsibilities as you do?” If the answer is no, then perhaps they’re not a good role model for you. Be inspired, always do your best possible work, but keep your priorities in mind.

More Navigation, Less Hamburgers

hamburglar likes your navigation

Hello. I’m one of your coveted website users and I have a secret to share with you: I still use a desktop! (*gasp*) Please, I beg you, stop punishing me for not always browsing the web on a mobile device.

If I’m viewing your website on a large screen, show me the navigation. Don’t hide essential links behind a hamburger icon on my 27-inch iMac; there’s no need and you’re requiring an extra click for me to use your website. Furthermore, navigation is a small but useful clue that helps users quickly recognize the purpose of a given website. For example, if your main navigation contains a “Store” link, I can generally assume you have products for sale. This is valuable information that should not be hidden and required to dig for when there is ample room to display it.

As the mobile web audience grows at an incredible rate, web designers have diligently and impressively crafted new techniques (e.g. Responsive Web Design). “Mobile first” is the new way of thinking, and rightfully so. However, let’s remember that the goal should be to accommodate as many devices as possible and that includes your old friend, the desktop.

A Beginner’s Guide to Coding Websites

When I first taught myself to code a website, it involved a lot of back and forth to my local bookstore. The computer section was literally a few small shelves with just a handful of books, only enough to get my feet wet. Today, learning to code has become increasingly easier, thanks to a plethora of in-depth online resources.

The following is, by no means, a complete list but should be more than enough to get any beginner started.

Interactive Lessons

Codeacademy

Codeacademy offers a really easy way to interactively learn coding basics. The lessons are hands-on and allow you to code directly in the browser. While the examples are fairly limited, they’re also free and cover many important building blocks.

Cost: Free.
Lessons: Websites and web apps.
Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate.

Treehouse

Treehouse is unique in that it has an authentic classroom feel. You’ll learn by watching videos that guide you through each lesson and taking quizzes at certain stages. Similar to Codeacademy, there are also challenges for you to solve by coding in the browser. Treehouse does require you to sign up for a paid plan to access all lessons but, if you’re serious about learning to code, they have an extensive amount of information available. This service is great for beginners and even experts who want to expand their skill set.

Cost: Some lessons are free, then a monthly subscription is required.
Lessons: Websites and web apps, iOS and Android development, general business lessons.
Difficulty: Everything from Beginner to Expert.

Code School

Code School is nearly identical to Treehouse, also using video walkthroughs and interactive lessons. However, there are a couple key differences. First off, Code School appears to be a little more aimed at programmers with existing experience. Secondly, Code School has uniquely designed courses that some users may find more engaging (i.e. “Rails for Zombies”).

Cost: Some lessons are free, then a monthly subscription is required.
Lessons: Websites and web apps, iOS and Android development.
Difficulty: Some Beginner lessons but mostly Intermediate to Expert.

View Source

Another very effective way to learn how to code is to reverse engineer an existing website. Simply find a website you like, view source, and study the code. Just about every modern browser now includes a web inspector, which makes it even easier to poke around a website’s source.

There are also many websites that showcase interesting code examples, such as CodePen. A lot of the examples are fairly complex but it is still a valuable tool for learning what’s possible, regardless of your coding level.

Reference Sites

Remembering proper syntax for any web language can take time, especially when first starting out. Thankfully, there is a wide array of reference sites that are great for quickly looking up tags, browser support, and more. Find a reference site that appeals to you and bookmark it; you’re going to need it at some point. A few of my favorites are:

Keeping Up to Date

The internet changes incredibly fast, as do web development standards. The philosophies and techniques for building a website are vastly different from one year to the next. More often than not, I rely on Twitter to keep informed on the latest web news but there are many useful blogs and online magazines as well.

Books

Last but not least, you can still buy books. I would, however, recommend purchasing them as electronic copies if you can. The main benefit is access across multiple devices and you may receive book updates if the author makes revisions.

What I Learned From Blind Camp

fish-on-the-line-2

In the summer of 2002, I was a counselor at a camp for children who were blind or visually impaired. My mother, Patty, helped form the organization and was also camp chef (affectionately known by all the kids as “Patty Cakes” because of her excellent breakfast). The children’s ages ranged from 8 to 15 and I was in charge of the younger boys.

Camp ran for one week and was located on a beautiful dirt backroad with rustic cabins tucked into the woods, an athletic field, and access to a small lake. Unfortunately, all of this was situated on the side of a fairly large mountain with a massive incline. Did I mention these kids were blind? I really expected more problems but, to my amazement, the campers quickly memorized the walking paths and were not the least bit bothered.

The schedule varied each day and the kids rotated between playing beeper baseball (yep, it works just like it sounds), crafts, swimming, and paddling around in kayaks. Most campers had never had the opportunity to do these kind of activities and it was inspiring to see how quickly they adapted. None of them let their impairment get in the way of having fun.

However, not all of the activities were completely thought out, such as fishing. Imagine a handful of visually impaired kids standing on a crowded dock, wielding fishing poles for the first time. I don’t know what was caught more that day, the fish or my skin. There were some advantages, though. For the kids having no luck, I would ask to borrow their pole, quickly catch a fish, then hand it back and say, “Hmm, I’m not having luck either, maybe you should try again.” Wouldn’t you know it, they always caught something soon after that.

The most memorable part of camp for me was during the evenings when the kids were getting ready for bed. It was a chance for them to talk about their day, unwind, and enjoy the camaraderie of camping. As part of my responsibilities, I had to make sure everyone got enough sleep and the hardest part was keeping their books away! Note to self: you can read braille any time, day or night.

At the end of the week, the campers had one last hurrah by hiking the mountain that camp was based on (again, one of those activities you question afterward, but the kids were excited to go). The trail was a little under 4 miles roundtrip and some of the terrain was quite rocky and steep. Personally, if you had put a blindfold over my eyes and told me to do the same, I would have walked at a snail’s pace. Not these brave explorers! Eventually, I had to take the walking stick from one of the more rambunctious campers so that I could tether it to his backpack and keep him from running.

More than a decade later, I still cherish my memories from that summer. I witnessed true perseverance in those kids and was reminded to enjoy every day to the fullest. I’ll also never forget the night one of my campers flossed between his toes, immediately before flossing his teeth.

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