In Pursuit of Accessibility

I’m presently on my way to Logan, UT to attend WebAIM’s accessibility training. I’m not a web developer or designer, and I have lots of issues to fix on my own website. But I do help make websites for my career, so I’m excited to get an in-depth look at how to make the web better for folks of all abilities.

I’ve performed audits using automated tools and consulting some WCAG documentation, but my hope is this training will help me to develop a holistic practice of producing accessible sites, from sales and requirements through delivery.

Time Away, Time Together

A roof with a view

Earlier this month my wife and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. On the anniversary date itself we had a babysitter watch the kids, ate a modest dinner, played fancy indoor miniature golf, and finished up with a few of Richmond’s best cocktails. It was nice, but it was really only a precursor to the proper celebration.

We’ve had kids around for just over 6 years now, and in that time we’ve only been away overnight without them once. When our daughter was almost 2 and we didn’t yet know we were expecting her brother, we left her with some close friends while we travelled to a wedding for a weekend. That was over 4 years ago so, while we love traveling with our children, we both needed a bit of time as husband and wife instead of mom and dad.

So this past weekend we took the kids to my aunt and uncle’s home in New Jersey where they had a total blast while Valerie and I had time for us in NYC. The thrill of leaving Toms River without the kids in the car, knowing that we had a weekend ahead without complaints and demands, without having to accommodate any tastes but our own, without having to worry about the crankiness that comes from a tired 3-year-old…well I hadn’t been so excited in ages. Traveling with my wife is one of my great joys, and Valerie and I haven’t taken a trip the way we like since 2012.

We stayed in Little Italy, right across the street from Ferrara. Our room was magnificent. The hotel had a rooftop accessible to all guests with couches and a killer view (see above). The weather was better than we could have hoped. We had fun checking out new and familiar stuff over the course of a couple of days. We saw The Vessel at Hudson Yards (but didn’t go up since we didn’t have tickets). We watched Colin Huggins play his grand piano in Washington Square Park.

And something else…you see, when you grow up close to New York City, you visit the place a million times. I saw plenty of big sights in my youth (Bronx Zoo, Ellis Island, the dinosaur bones in the Museum of Natural History). I couldn’t tell you how many more times I’ve been to Manhattan since my teen and adult years, and I had plenty more memorable experiences in turn. But New York is a city that’s so rich in history, culture, architecture, and just…everything, so there’s always something you haven’t done before, even if it’s a broadly popular tourist attraction.

Valerie and I had planned to grab some slices from Prince Street Pizza, but we were already looking at a late lunch after schlepping everything into the city, so the line was a bit longer than we could take (I’ve been before and the line is worth it—if you’re not already starving). So back-up plan? We walked back a couple of blocks to, of all places, Lombardi’s Pizza! That early 20th century, coal-fired-oven, pizza legend. It’s hard to be a pizza mega-fan on the east coast without having at least heard of Lombardi’s. I’d always figured it was an overrated tourist spot, but my hunger made me willing to try it for the first time, and it was really good! It seemed rather like a distinctly American take on the pizza margherita, at once an ancestor to both the modern New York pie and the crispy tavern pizzas I enjoy over in Jersey.

And then there was the ding-dang Brooklyn Bridge. On Sunday Valerie wanted to at least walk partially across, but we ended up walking all the way to Brooklyn. I resisted because I was already wiped out, but I’m so glad we did it. The views were spectacular, the bridge is of course beautiful, and the experience of strolling with a flowing mass of people across the East River was something I’ll always remember. I can’t wait to see the film shots I took from the trek.

We got up early Monday morning to head back to Toms River and collect our children. The time apart was just what we needed, and it was great to get all the hugs and snuggles. I’m still kinda tired after the drive back, but the emotional and mental reset of the weekend still leaves me feeling refreshed.

This is what happens when you meet a stranger in the park

 Ty in repose. Digital.
Ty in repose. Digital.

Taking pictures of strangers is a pretty stressful hurdle for a lot of photographers to clear. What if they say no? What if they get mad? What if they think you’re a creep?

Well it’s certainly a lot easier when a stranger asks you to take his photo. I was walking through Smale Riverfront Park in Cincinnati on Saturday when Ty asked me to take his picture. “Sure!” I said. I don’t know why he asked, but I was happy to oblige. It kinda reminds me of a high school senior portrait, but he was already sitting like this, so it’s real and in-the-moment. I dig.

Road Trip Meat Treat

 The delicious remains of the day
The delicious remains of the day

My family is on the road to Wisconsin to meet a new baby niece. We packed plenty of snacks, but lunch on the road was fast food. Our hotel last night was in Harrison, Ohio, a small town outside of Cincinnati and a mile from the Indiana border. Dinner expectations were low – just hoping for something simple the kids would eat.

Valerie was doing research on her phone as we approached our hotel, and the front-runner was Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers. I have honestly never heard of this rapidly expanding chain, but it seems to be somewhere between Culver’s and Steak ‘n Shake. After checking in, I asked the fella behind the counter whether he’d eaten at Freddy’s. Was it good or gross? He suggested if we were familiar with Culver’s, Freddy’s wouldn’t be a surprise. And then he asked if we like barbecue.

“Oh, thanks, but we’re from Virginia…” I started, trying to gently waive aside the suggestion of barbecue in southwest Ohio. Living in the South has spoiled me for barbecue the way that growing up in the North spoiled me for pizza and bagels.

“Well these folks are award-winning, and were invited to…” I don’t remember where he said they were invited, but then he said four magic words: “They do burnt ends”.

Change of plans. Valerie and I were taking the kids to Velvet Smoke.

Let me tell you, this place would do just fine in the South. I had some incredible burnt ends with creamy and delicious mac and cheese. Valerie loved her pulled pork so much that she did the unthinkable and saved her leftovers. On a road trip. Even Maddie loved the pulled pork. And the dang sauce! A sweet, tomato-based sauce that was a little zippy and quite good. I didn’t even try the medium or hot because the mild was so tasty.

If you ever find yourself in or around Cincinnati, or driving toward Indianapolis, stop by this cue joint attached to a gas station. It’s right off Interstate 74, and worth every minute you spend there. If the timing works out on the return trip, we may try to stop there again and try some ribs or smoked wings.

Giving it all Away

 That crazy notebook
That crazy notebook

In November 2012 I was part of a special, fun little event in Richmond, Virginia: the inaugural Bill Conference. This was an “un-conference”, an event with few, simple rules and no starting agenda. Some speakers (including myself) were approached ahead of time to seed the field, but most of the speaking slots were volunteers that day. Some attendees were prepared, others signed up in the moment and spoke extemporaneously. It was raw and pure and wonderful.

Bill Conference was created in response to the peak popularity of TED talks at the time, whose slogan is “ideas worth spreading”. Bill Conference, on the other hand, proclaimed “Ideas are easy. Making stuff is hard.” So I decided to stick with “ideas” and talk about how I could keep them from getting in the way of making stuff.

My whole talk outline is below:

Talking at BILL Conference

Giving Away My Ideas

1. Show video (if possible) from Coudal Partners about hobbies…

2. That’s me – totally unfocused, interests all over the map.

Typography?

Paleontology?

Local history?

Web design?

Cooking?

Music?

Making lists of stuff?

3. This lack of focus means a lot of ideas all over the place. Now I’m going to share some with you – and I’m not afraid to give these ideas away because I haven’t done anything with them. In most cases it’s been about a year since I first wrote these down. Here’s a sample:

a. llustrations:

// “I don’t own a TV dinner” or “The Hipster Happy Meal”

// “Now that’s a Hoff of a different color” – Traced/watercolor illustration of Dustin Hoffman with those words in the foreground

// Zen Cone – traffic or ice cream cone accompanied by some profound statement about traffic or ice cream.

b. Audio:

// Write a hard-core rap called “Luxury Car Entitlement Syndrome” from the perspective of a reckless Mercedes driver taunting other people on the road.

// Create three music samples

// Make a short audio clip of the phrase “I love you” but replace the word “love” with a dubstep bass drop

c. Writing:

// A parody book of creepy baby shower games

// An essay about the value of spending my money on travel vs. my house and possessions

// A blog post about how not being a genre fan, or something…

4. I write all of these down in this little notebook that I keep in my pocket. I do this to get ideas out of my head and make room for the ideas to keep flowing. Not only does it help me stop wasting mental energy on things I’m not doing, but FOR ME, it increases the chances of getting to an idea worth grabbing on to. And I’ve actually completed a some, like:

a. Writing and delivering a talk about shooting film photography

b. Develop, record, edit, and publish a new podcast.

The whole point of my talk was that I wanted to give away these ideas because they weren’t precious to me. I get ideas all the time, and I was writing them in this notebook to get them out of my head. Making space for more ideas. Maybe I’d act on them, but probably I wouldn’t. In the case of the ideas I shared that day, I hadn’t acted on any of them in at least a year.

But a curious thing happened when I was done, and it haunts me a little to this day to the point where I wish I could go back and give better responses. Most of the people in the audience completely missed the point. I mean, it was probably the fault of my own amateur writing and delivery. I recall the majority of questions and comments revolving around better ways to collect/catalog ideas for later rather than how to get out from under the weight of ideas and move closer to doing something. Delivering the talk was deeply satisfying and exhilarating, but the response left me bewildered.

I don’t really write my ideas down these days because a year after that talk I had my first child, and I barely have time for one hobby, let alone extra ideas. But I still believe in the concept. I suspect as my children grow up and I have a little more of my own voice back in my head that the ideas will return. I’m still going to want them out of my head so I don’t get hung up on them. I’m still probably going to give them away after a while.

We’ll Always Find a Way

Tonight I finished watching Steven Universe. I cried because it was the end of something magnificent, beautiful, and original. I started watching the series only a few weeks ago with my kindergartner daughter and we promised not to watch any of it without the other. This quickly became a personal challenge, because I fell hard for this little work of visual and narrative art, told 11.5 minutes at a time. But I kept my end of the bargain, and it became a wonderful shared piece of culture for my kid and myself.

My 3-year-old son fell for it because, well, it’s a cartoon with sight gags, action, wonderfully catchy music, and a striking visual style that’s more detailed than it looks. My wife fell for the show for reasons that many adults (and me) surely do: the characters are richly developed and experience change over the course of five seasons. The overarching story and many smaller plots deal with complex emotional situations, evolving relationships, and heavy existential questions.

I love that Steven seeks to resolve conflict by also seeking to understand his opponents. I love the occasional homage to other TV shows (particularly some animated classics). I love the love-personified that is Garnet. I love that while most of the Crystal Gems have weapons, Steven has a shield. I love Connie, and Lion, and yeah, eventually Lars, too. I love the way music and dance are woven into the fabric of the show and its imaginative world. I love that such a deep, artful piece of entertainment could survive for five seasons on the Cartoon Network.

There’s supposed to be a made-for-TV movie this fall, and I will try to be optimistic about it. I’m not sure what story is left to tell after the finale of season five, but I’m so into Steven Universe after inhaling it that I’ll trust show creator Rebecca Sugar to deliver something meaningful. After all, she’s why the people of this world believe in Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl…

…and Steven.