And so today in personal growth: front-end web development

Front-End Web Development and I are going on a date tomorrow night and I’m cautiously optimistic that it’s going to lead to several more and be the start of something enduring.
In a bid to just be a bit more technically on it, I’m enrolled in General Assembly’s Front-End Development course and will be learning the following: HTML5, CSS and Javascript. It’s the Javascript in particular that floats my boat because it can be used in both front and back end. Maybe now I can build those pipe dream projects that sometimes keep me awake at night? Projects that include, but are not limited to:

  • the email nostalgia project

wherein I design something that will access older email and messaging platforms to compile all messages from one person, say, your lover or best friend, and then store, arrange and present these messages in a uniform, readable way. Perhaps something like the look of the Medium site, which is an utter pleasure to write in and read, for example. I could even transcribe the letters in episctolar novels or, you know, real life, to better present letters/messages on screens. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre for example…

  • produce a beautiful site to honour the universe created by Frederic Clemens in The Merchant of Marvels and Peddler of Dreams.

I’d need some serious coding chops for this, but it would be deeply satisfying to try and at least work in this way. I also have a short story that I have written about a finch, that could benefit from this sort of story format. Hmmmm.

  • design cards for Google Now

This is due to selfish reasons, but, as a New York City resident I’m often caught out by changes to the rubbish and recycling collection schedule.

“Oh, there’s a full moon and an ‘r’ in the month? No rubbish collection tomorrow then!”

(me, repeatedly over the last seven years)

Also, the whole concept of alternate side street parking rules makes me clammy with anxiety. I’d like to build a card that integrates with the city’s API, alerting me of service changes, reminding me of scheduled pick-ups and the like. It could save a fair amount of anxiety. If only I could do it, if only, if only.

  • build an email plugin that recognizes pre-approved names and automatically sends those emails to your inbox, not your junk folders.

This issue might resolve itself but sometimes I find that formerly-approved contacts, when writing from another email address, whether personal or a new business account, can sometimes get relegated to spam folders in yahoo mail and gmail. I’d like to build a plugin that accesses old email names and addresses to more accurately sift emails, to avoid missing anything pivotal.

  • artist-identification software to be used by galleries and auction houses alike

This is born out of my frustration with the habit, in the art world, of making cataloguing information available only once, people spend hours loading items into their software for auction but all of that effort and information rarely goes anywhere. There is a paying service, Artnet, that allows both auction houses to list their results and art buyers to access this database. They have the advantage of time, but as auction houses are, by default, public sales, there must be an easier way. It may come after Artnet’s business model but if Google decide to move into this realm, it’s as good as over for them anyway. In my dreamy utopia, auction results for every single auction house will all be accessible via a google search. The idea of the plugin I’d design is that it would identify the artist and correctly attribute it, no more typos coming between sellers and buyers. As the secondary market thrives on obscurity this new transparency might not be welcome but… the art world is ripe for some “disruption”, much as I think that term is over-used.

It is clear that I have ideas, some better than others, I’d simply like to challenge myself to start getting involved with the making and building of them. This front-end web development course is just the starting point.


Busy behind the scenes

My last post was in May, however I have been working like a whirling dervish elsewhere on the internets, all with a view to improving my working knowledge and understanding.

The Honest Account Project

One mini project is featured here my flirtation with the Timeline opensourced javascript. This first attempt is really coding-by-numbers, almost remedial in efforts, but it was done in a quest to start somewhere so I could then start experimenting with the other, more customisable code variants out there. All in a bid to get more with it.

Honest Account of my Life - a snapshot of one of the Timeline features.

Honest Account of my Life – a snapshot of one of the Timeline features.

Understanding Media by Understanding Google

The second project is a recent Coursera course I completed. It was a well-curated collection of articles, essays, videos and discussion, designed to enhance the student’s understanding and knowledge of Google’s impressive reach. The course was free, it lasted six weeks and there were short assignments and quizzes to submit almost every week. The number of enrolled students, somewhere around 40,000 I believe, is impressive and one component of the course involves you grading the work of your peers. I liked this element of it in theory, however as some of the participants don’t speak very good English (at present, the only language in which the course is available) it made grading poorly-written responses rather disheartening at times, but this is a small ‘gripe’, a gripe-ette really, because in general, I like the hive-mind approach.
The course details can be found here .

What Next in This Summer o’ Love?

I’m looking at Coding Courses in the ‘hood, to really cement this burgeoning area of my life. I believe that I would find tremendous enjoyment in just being able to create something that matched the vision in my head. But we shall see, as I’m some way off. The journey is the destination and all that though, so I’m bubbling at where this could lead.

There’s also the small matter of ongoing freelance projects to keep body and soul on speaking terms and a holiday to Switzerland and Italy.

The New York Times’ Leaked Report and industrial-era legacy issues.

Myles Tanzer’s article on Buzzfeed, summarising the leaked New York Times Report, reminded me of something the delightfully-clever Frank Rose wrote in his article last year for the Milken Report.

Societies tend to resemble the technologies that define them.

Rose elaborates:

Industrial production depends on large numbers of people taking orders from the top as they engage in repetitive tasks that yield only a small portion of the whole. Nearly everyone is a cog in the machine. Industrial-age companies  – including newspaper publishers, movie studios and television networks – tend to operate accordingly, on a command-and-control model that relies on hierarchical thinking and strict categorization….

Lines are drawn between author and audience, entertainment and advertising (or “church” and “state” in the case of journalism), fiction and reality…

This description feels very apt for The Times which, in the report admits ‘that we [The Times] are not moving with enough urgency’.

The New York Times is not the only large, legacy publisher to suffer from a complicated backend system. One wire/publisher service I have worked with has similar issues and didn’t have the stomach/energy/budget (delete as appropriate) to address these issues. This paves the way for new, leaner, more agile startups to jump in.

Rose also described these newer, internet-based companies in a way that is jargon-free and makes sense:

Digital societies are more fluid, with net-worked structures and a sense-and-respect mentality. In terms of organization, effective digital-age companies (for example, Apple) tend to resemble the Internet – decentralized and interconnected – while their less successful brethren (like Microsoft and Sony) remain hierarchical and disjointed. Control still exists at the successful companies, of course, but it’s not exercised through layers of middle management.

(bolding my own)


It looks like we’re all seeing the same patterns, it’s just a question of how to solve these problems. The New York Times’ site redesign was supposed to tidy up the backend to help the paper evolve at a quicker rate as new platforms and technologies inevitably emerge. (See my earlier article about the redesign as a reminder). However this report suggests that even this big step is not sufficient to bridge the gap between their legacy system and the new wave of newcomers: Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Vox et al.

The remarkable part is that we can now digest the article in full, much of it will be reassuring to other publishers in the short term (‘they haven’t figured it out yet either’) but the log-term predicament is rather grim.

It is also worth noting that Frank Rose appears to be ahead of the masses in his insights, clearly someone who knows his way around the digital landscape better than most.

The leaked report, now available in full, in colour via Mashable and embedded below.

The Full New York Times Innovation Report

The LA Times’ site redesign: Twitter front and centre. Facebook is also there.

The LA Times has, this very morning, released a site update. We were given some idea what to expect from Eddy Hartenstein’s email, detailing responsive design, image-centric journalism. So far, so now, so what?

Happily, the new site looks good. Slick, cool, and of the time, which, as shallow as it sounds, does mean something to users. Outdated websites are just a bit depressing to use and also reflect badly on the company. So this is good. I will discuss each of the features in more detail, but the first glaring, searing observation is the dominance of Twitter over Facebook, or other social networks on article pages.

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Words Matter: 60 words that define US foreign policy (via Radiolab)

Radiolab’s recent podcast examine 60 words, one sentence, written on 14th September 2001 that have been the basis for America’s foreign policy ever since. Extraordinary rendition, Guantanomo, drone strikes: everything has been hung on this one sentence, a rather vague, dry sentence at that. As ever, with anything fiercely controversial, the language is deliberately muted and legal, to mitigate the drama that lies just beneath the surface.

This one sentence, signed into law by Bush called the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

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Words Matter: Huffington Post’s poor word choice.

Today I was surprised by a crass gaffe courtesy of the Huffinton Post.
As a user, I expect content to be edited, researched, thought-out and interesting. I like to stick to trusted sources for this reason, so there’s a fair chance that what I’m reading is at least factually correct.

I received an email from the Technology editor of the Huffington Post with the juicy, irresistible article title, If You Have A Mac, Memorize These 13 Keyboard Tricks. Eager for more mac keyboard MAGIC, I did what was expected of me, what any rational person would do in this instance, I clicked the link and started reading.

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Writing up the Clickz conference in NY for State of Digital


Whilst I neglect this blog like a fool, I have at least been busy writing up the ClickZ conference for State of Digital.

The conference itself was a mixed bag in terms of quality speakers, some were more forthcoming with actionable information than others. Two of my favourite presentations, one about the success of Amazon and the other about were embarrassingly useful. The ideas shared in those two sessions will influence my thinking for some time to come. Besides, I’ve always wanted to get a client to implement Schema but always struggled to make a compelling business case, as it turns out there is very little data out there. Until now. Brilliant!

The posts can be found as follows:

Uncovering the Secrets of Mobile Video

Reputation Roadkill: Learning from brands’ biggest ‘OMG’ moments

Randi Zuckerberg’s Tips on 10 Digital Trends Shaping the Lives of Modern Consumers

The posts on Amazon and Schema markup will be going live shortly and I will add links when they are alive.


I’ve had a couple of posts to write for le works recently, which has rather consumed my attentions, well, that and Sherlock.

Here’s one I wrote on Moz, detailing what publishers are doing for growth in 2014 and what I’d like them to be doing.

The second was a wee one for the work blog, covering in scant detail the state of TV right now, to set up the work of my colleagues, many and varied, and the great work they have done on the future of TV.

These are just a couple of small steps that I’ve taken, in an attempt to fill this odd creative frustration.