Archive for 2006

Reasons I Enjoy Flying

# The roominess of it all.
# The food.
# The idle time while standing upright.
# Duty-free shopping (clue me in here, does anyone actually take advantage of this?)
# Pre-completed Sudoku puzzles.
# “The elbow room”:http://www.simplebits.com/notebook/2005/04/18/elbow.html
# Month-old episodes of 60 Minutes.
# The comforting feeling of being in complete control.
# Free airport wi-fi.
# Adjustable air nozzles.
# Watching someone attempt to close the overhead bin at least 15 times before giving up and letting the attendant deal with it.
# Ear-popping fun.
# Cab rides.
# Quality reflection time.
# Fumes.

London(e)

About an hour into the flight to London from Boston, I spilled a full glass of cranberry juice in my lap. There are several reasons why this was unpleasant, and they all include the words “embarrassed”, “sticky” and “no, I didn’t just pee my pants”.

I’ve now returned from @media on Father’s Day. It was a great trip despite the soggy flight out, and it’s really good to be back home with the family.

Many thanks to Patrick for inviting me to speak. I think it went just fine, and I especially enjoyed the questions at the end of the talk. We watched England win the World Cup match the previous night, so I knew there’d at least be smiling faces in the audience. For those that attended the session, I’ve posted the presentation slides (20MB PDF). Warning: they won’t be of much use without the commentary.

It’s always fun meeting new faces for the first time at these conferences, and @media was no exception. It’s the genuine friendliness of the people in this community that never seems to wear out. Fun times are a given. Wish I had the time/energy to list them all here, but it’s late. I also wish I had taken more photos, but what I did take are now up on Flickr.

*Update:* I forgot to mention, I successfully spent the torn note at a hotel pub after the @media party. Either my taping job was superb, or it was dark enough to go unnoticeable. Whew.

Torn

Tomorrow night I’ll board a plane for London, where I’ll be presenting Bulletproof Web Design on the second day of @media 2006. I’m pretty excited about the trip, depite being terrified of leaving Jack and Kerry. They’ll be fine, of course. But it feels weird to be leaving, even though I haven’t left yet.

Anyhow, it’ll be great to see some friends I haven’t seen in a long while, and I’m really looking forward to meeting new ones. I don’t get out much these days. If you’re heading to the conference, be sure to say “hi”.

Coincidentally, my talk is the first of the morning after the England vs. Trinadad & Tobago World Cup match. Will anyone show up if they win? If they lose? Will I get swept up into all of this? Probably. And then my session should be even more interesting.

Also, for the past eight years I’ve been carrying around a British £5 note in my wallet from our first trip to England. I have fond memories of the trip, where Kerry and I (not yet married at the time) visited my parents who were staying in Oxford for the summer. My grandfather (on my Dad’s side) made the trip out with us, and I can remember we tired him out with walking tours of Oxford, London and the Cotswolds. I’d been saving this 5 pounds for the day I returned to the UK, to plunk it down in a pub, and tip my glass to my late grandfather, and the great memories of our first trip to Europe.

Last week, while cleaning out my wallet of old receipts, I accidentally ripped the £5 note into four pieces along with the unwanted receipts. Argh. I’ve taped it back together, and just hope it’ll be accepted somewhere. For eight years, it’s happily lived in my wallet (several wallets, actually), and then I had to go and do this, just a week before returning. Ah well.

Pairing Wine and Microformats

While working on Cork’d, I realized this was a perfectly fine excuse to implement some microformats. What goes great with a nice 2003 Pinot Noir? Meaningful markup, naturally.

We’re currently using three microformats on Cork’d:

  • hCard (for member profiles)
  • hReview (for wine reviews or “tasting notes”)
  • rel-tag (for indicating tag links)

Our implementations aren’t perfect, but it’s a start. The rest of this article will talk about how we implemented hReview for member-entered tasting notes (example) and specifically how I used CSS to style the markup.


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Cork’d Update #2

I’m going to try not to post general Cork’d news here, instead saving it for the Cork’d Blog, but we’ve just rolled out some new features that are too big and exciting not to talk about. I’m looking forward to sharing more design-specific stuff here at SimpleBits, but I’m not looking to bore those that aren’t interested in wine (and/or wine web sites).

We’re (Still) Listening

Member feedback has been enormously valuable since we popped Cork’d (now just 2 weeks ago). We’ve been listening to what you guys want to see implemented, evaluating what makes sense, and acting on it. So far, every new feature we’ve added has been a direct response to member feedback. Dan B. has been working feverishly on turning “it would be really cool if…” into reality. And that’s been really fun. A true wine community has been born.

There’s a real difference between being a hired hand on a project for a specific amount of time and someone who has ownership as well as passion for what they’re working on (ownership and passion can be exclusive as well, but combined, they pack quite a punch). The short-term, part-time attention of a freelance designer or developer can often lead to clunky, duct-taped solutions after the contract is over and the site is actually being used by real people. Cork’d has been the complete opposite situation, where we’ve been able to launch a product that would be considered “done” under most circumstances and then react to member feedback using the same attention to detail that went into the initial construction.

Now, on to the brand-new features that we’ve just rolled out to help make Cork’d even better.

Browsing and Advanced Search

Many members requested an easier way to browse wine on Cork’d. Now you can find wine by category, varietal, region, winery, year, price and more. If you want to look under the hood to see all the great wines being added and reviewed on Cork’d, here’s the place to start.

Speaking of finding wine, there’s now a brand new advanced search that allows searching a term in addition to refining by any of the categories mentioned above, and sorting the results as well.

Buddy Messaging

messages tabAnother frequent request was the ability for members to communicate with each other. Now they can with the new buddy messaging, built right into the site. Send messages to your buddies or other Cork’d members. Tell them you love them. Tell them often.

Bottle Quantities

Own more than one bottle of the same wine? Then you’ll probably want to denote and keep track of that in your Wine Cellar (a list of wines that you own). Now you can add and edit quantities for wines both in your Wine Cellar and Shopping List (a list of wines you want to buy). Managing your wine collection just got a whole lot easier.

Etc.

As with our first update, there was also more than a handful of other tweaks and improvements, like showing more information in wine lists, suggesting related wines on wine review pages and more.

A sustained “thank you” to all the members for continued feedback and suggestions. You’re helping us make Cork’d better and we think that’s pretty cool (plus, we like making Cork’d better). Stay tuned here for more nuts-and-bolts thoughts on the design of the site, and be sure to subscribe to the Cork’d Blog RSS feed for future updates and other cool news.

Introducing Cork’d

I like wine. I’ve even touted it’s ability to act as a design enhancer. The problem with wine (for me, and for many) is knowing what’s good. There are infinite choices out there. It’s overwhelming. Oftentimes, I lean on the suggestions from friends — people that probably know more about wine than I do.

When I finally find a wine that I like, it’s always impossible to remember it for the next trip to the store. Some people keep a journal, writing down what they thought about the wine in a notebook. But wouldn’t it be great if you could do this online? And wouldn’t it be also great if we could share those lists with our friends through a simple, free interface? And while we’re at it, wouldn’t it be the bomb.com if this same interface allowed you to review the wine, tag it, and set up lists for wines that you want to buy or that you own in your cellar?

Cork'dIntroducing Cork’d. A brand-spanking new site devoted to reviewing and sharing wine created by Dan Benjamin and myself. We’ve been working on this for quite some time. Just the two of us. Call us the Bartles & Jaymes of the wine web world (wait, no, don’t do that).

What is Cork’d?

Cork'd screenshotThe basic gist of Cork’d is this: after painlessly creating a free account, you’re able to keep track of wines you’ve tried in your Wine Jounal. You can rate, review and tag wines (more on that below), and these “tasting notes” end up attatched as comments to each wine in our database. You can also build a Shopping List of wines you’d like to buy (think of this like you would a Netflix queue), and a Wine Cellar for wines that you own. Keeping track of what your friends are tasting is as easy as adding them as a Drinking Buddy. You can also recommend wines to your buddies after you’ve rated and reviewed a bottle.

We have a partnership set up through wine.com, where a selection of their bottles have seeded the Cork’d database with about 1200 wines (which will grow as members add their own bottles), each with a link to buy that wine right away. But we can also see other cross-promotional opportunities by getting involved in the meat-space wine community. There are endless ideas flowing about connecting with wineries and vineyards, other wine blogs and podcasts. We’re really looking forward to watching it all grow.

Tasting Tags

The idea of tagging a wine may sound absurd — but when we started to realize the benefits, it became a must-have. We call them tasting tags, and by applying keywords like “oak, pepper, vanilla, berry” to a wine, we’re then making it easy to find similar wines based on those flavors. If you like oaky wines, for instance, then it should be easy to find them.

Why and How

What’s funny about Cork’d when looking at it for the first time, is that it’s pulling in many of the current technologies that have been brewing out there, and applies them to… wine. And why not? This is something Dan B. and I built quite simply because we wanted to use it. We’d been trading favorite bottles, realizing there would be an incredible benefit to keep track of things through a web interface, building a community around it, and making it easy to subscribe to buddies and wine lists. It had to be.

It’ll also be interesting to continue to talk about what we learned by building a web application with a team of 2. Working with Dan B. is a natural fit, as our areas of expertise overlap only slightly (design/ui/development), and where they do overlap actually made things run all the smoother. I was continually amazed by the way Dan approached building the app in Ruby on Rails, the speed, the structure, the way he thinks about a problem for a while, then takes all of about 3 minutes to write the working code — he’s a developer who designs in code. And I’m sure he’ll have much to write about regarding the process, including his already-published thoughts on the launch over at Hivelogic (far more thorough than mine).

This was a giant learning experience for me in terms of dipping my toes in Rails, becoming more familiar with Subversion (more on this later), and in using these tools as a collaborative and iterative way of building a web application. It’s a gratifying way for a designer to work on a large project, chipping away at things in real time, using real data — it’s a bit like sculpting. An evolution.

Go Forth and Uncork

I’m excited to share much more about the site over the coming weeks and months, and we’ll be rolling out some additional features and tweaks. But until then, if you dig wine (or want to start digging wine), then head on over and, um … uncorkCork’d.

The Only Song You’ll Need to Learn on the Ukulele

Esteemed readers that haven’t left while I’ve found little to write about lately, may remember the time that I listed out the Reasons I’ve Purchased a Ukulele. I can report that it’s still the best $39.99 I’ve ever spent. Little Jack goes into a hypnotic trance whenever I bust it out, and it’s so light and portable, it’s easy to juggle it with whatever else you’re doing.
But the main reason I return to this fascinating topic, is that I’ve found the one and only song you need to learn in order to sound like a soprano ukulele pro. One song only: I’ll Follow the Sun by the Beatles (perhaps you’ve heard of them).
Once you learn C – C7, D7 – G7, and F – Fm transitions. You can start mixing and matching these to instantly sound like a Hawaiian ragtime virtuoso. Seriously! Also, by learning this one song, you can play others, like Proud Mary, Ring of Fire or Puff the Magic Dragon (I know, I know… but Jack loves ‘em).
So that’s it. If you’re a recent or future ukulele owner, learn this one song, and off you go into 4-string stardom.
My Odeo PodcastUpdate: I’ve recorded a little tune I like to call “Jackulele” over at Odeo. My first podcast, and hopefully not my last. The song uses all the chords from the aforementioned Beatles selection, with a few other experimentations. It’s a bit rough, but is always a crowd pleaser (to a crowd of one. One that is 5 months old).

Fence Riding Once Again

screenshotApparently the fixed/fluid-width toggle feature here at SimpleBits was a popular one. The latest realign bid farewell to the option, instead settling on a centered, fluid-width layout with a conservative max-width applied. For those that requested it, the ability to toggle between fixed and fluid is now back. There are a few reasons I decided to add it back in:

  1. Well, you asked. Actually, I don’t usually cave in to reader demands, hence my recent useless-but-riveting articles regarding oatmeal cookies and (of all things) the weather.
  2. It’s so dead-simple to implement. Well, after reading this it should be.
  3. Choice can be nice. Since max-width isn’t currently supported by all browsers, giving those readers an easy option for readable line-length seems to me a Good Thing.
  4. It’s fun to play with. Along the same lines as twirling a pencil in your fingers like the drumstick of a spandex-wearing drummer from the 80s.