Tags: chicago



August in America, day twenty-six

My last day in Chicago was short and uneventful. After a late check-out from the hotel, Jessica and I wandered down to Intelligentsia, had some coffee, wandered off for some lunch, wandered back to Intelligentsia for even more coffee, before wandering back to the hotel to kill time before leaving.

Brad was leaving around the same time so we shared a ride out to the airport, which went pretty smoothly considering Chicago’s infamous traffic. We made it to O’Hare in plenty of time, breezed through security and hung out in the lounge until our flight was ready for boarding.

Thus endeth my August in America.

I’m pleased that I was able to live out of a medium-sized suitcase for such an extended period.

I’m pleased that I didn’t use a byte of data on my phone for the whole trip—the trick with the offline maps helped a lot.

I’m pleased that I was able to keep my promise to myself to document the trip by writing a journal entry every day I was in America …well, except for this one, which I’m writing from my home in Brighton. But hey, 25 out of 26 ain’t bad.

August in America, day twenty-five

Today was the second day of An Event Apart Chicago and I kicked things off with my talk The Long Web. But this time I introduced a new variable into the mix—I played a bit of mandolin.

A Man and His Music: Jeremy Keith at An Event Apart Chicago 2013

It was relevant …honest. I was talking about the redesign and relaunch of The Session, which involved giving a bit of background on traditional Irish music, so it seemed appropriate to demonstrate with a hornpipe. I screwed it up a little bit, but people didn’t seem to mind.

Jeremy Keith at An Event Apart Chicago 2013

Once I was done with my talk, I was able to relax and enjoy an excellent presentation by Adrian on interface details; lots of great food for thought in there.

Once the day was done, myself, Jessica, Jason, Ethan, Brad, Kristina, and Karen made our way to The Purple Pig, where we proceeded to eat all the food. Excellent food and excellent company; a good way to spend my last night in Chicago …and indeed, the United States.

Tomorrow I begin the journey home.

August in America, day twenty-four

Today was the opening day of An Event Apart Chicago so I spent the whole day at the back of the room absorbing the knowledge bombs being dropped.

As usual, the quality of the talks was excellent, and quite a few of them set me up nicely for my talk tomorrow. I’ll be reiterating a lot of what Ethan said about progressive enhancement—no surprise there.

I’m on first thing tomorrow. That’s the hangover slot (thanks for booze, Media Temple). I’m kind of nervous about the talk. Now that I’ve given it once already—at An Event Apart DC earlier this month—I shouldn’t be worried, but I’m going to attempt something a bit new tomorrow. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be left with egg on my face.

Wish me luck.

August in America, day twenty-three

Powers Of Ten is a remarkable short film created by Charles and Ray Eames in 1968. It deals with scale, going out to the distance of our galactic neighbourhood and down to the Planck measurement.

It all begins in a park in Chicago.

Ever since first seeing the film I thought it would be fun to find the exact spot around which the universe is explored by the Eameses. I also thought I probably wasn’t the first geek to think that. But my preliminary googling didn’t turn up any prior art. So I put the call out on Twitter:

Within minutes, Matthew came through for me:

Although, as Dan pointed out, that opening shot was actually filmed in LA:

The actual live action of the picnic scene was filmed in Los Angeles, where Charles and Ray could oversee all aspects of production for the critical opening moments.

Nonetheless, armed with latitude and longitude coordinates, Jessica and I set out to find the one metre square patch of Chicago that’s used as the starting point for the film. We began the trek from our riverside hotel, stopping for an Intelligentsia coffee along the way, passing by the bean to take obligatory mirror shots, and through Millenium Park down to the Field Museum and the Schedd Aquarium, the perfect spot to stop for a Chicago-style hot dog.

With a bit more walking, we made it to the lat/lon coordinates—a more arboreal location now than it was back when Powers Of Ten was filmed. I did what any self-respecting nerd in my situation would do: I made a new spot on Foursquare.

Mission accomplished. After that, we hopped on a water taxi back up to Navy Pier. This short boat ride made Jessica inordinately happy. It certainly was a lovely day to be out on the water. ‘Though I had to keep reminding myself that we were on a lake, not an ocean.

When we got back to our hotel, we asked at reception if there might be a riverside view that we could move to. There was and we did. Now when we look out of our hotel window, we can see the stunning architecture of downtown Chicago in all its glory.

August in America, day twenty-two

I’m back from a lovely evening out with Jared and Jessica, unwinding in my Chicago hotel room after a day of travel.

It began with a journey on the BART to San Francisco airport. Figuring out how to operate the BART ticket machines is always an interesting exercise in bizarro world interface design. But figure it out we did, and Jessica and I made it to the airport in plenty of time …which is just as well, because it took the TSA quite a while to find someone to give me my pat-down when I opted out of using the millimetre wave scanner.

The four hour Virgin America flight to Chicago passed without incident. We had bulkhead seats which meant we could stretch our legs out a little bit more. We ate some snacks. We watched some bad comedies: Identity Thief and The Hangover Part III.

When we arrived in Chicago, there was a car waiting to take us to our hotel: one of the excellent perks provided to speakers at An Event Apart. In mere hours, we made it through rush-hour Chicago traffic to the Westin hotel.

When we were checking in, there was a notice to guests that things might get a little noisy in the early hours of Sunday night and Monday morning. They’re planning to do some helicopter-shot filming for two movies currently in production: Michael Bay’s Transformers 4 and the Wachowski siblings’ Jupiter Ascending. Guests are requested to keep their windows shut.

From Chicago to Brighton

I was in the States last week for An Event Apart Chicago. I had a most excellent time. Partly, that’s because An Event Apart is always excellent, and partly because Chicago is such a great city.

I took pictures.

I did the Architecture Foundation’s river cruise (again), which I would highly recommend to anyone with the vaguest interest in either architecture or just cruising down rivers in boats.

Canyons of stone and glass Jessica

I also went to my the second bases-ball game of my life. The first one was at Fenway Park, so going to Wrigley Field feels like the logical next step—maybe I should work my way through all the bases-ball field diamond pitches in chronological order.

Chicago dog in Wrigley Field On the bleachers

To balance out such sportsness, I made sure to spend plenty of time in the Art Institute Of Chicago, taking full advantage of the Lichtenstein exhibition that’s currently running there.

Lichtenlips Lichtendog

I had the opportunity to meet some of the hard-working web geeks of Chicago. I had a look around the Obama campaign HQ, thanks to Daniel Ryan. I also got a tour of the whacky Tribune Tower, thanks to Chris Courtney, and I got to see first-hand how the web team at The Chicago Tribune are doing some very cool stuff with data.

On the Tribune roof Journalism is serious business

Now I’m back in Brighton, which is turning into geek central with the Brighton Digital Festival. It kicked off last night with Seb’s fantastic PixelPyros digital fireworks.

PixelPyros PixelPyros are go!

Reasons To Be Creative starts today. I’ll be popping in out to hear some of the talks, but things are getting pretty busy here at Clearleft Towers, what with this being dConstruct week.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve started having dConstruct dreams this week. I have to remind myself to actually enjoy myself and not spend the whole time stressing out. I think it should be fairly easy to enjoy myself, what with that kick-ass lineup.

That’ll be on Friday. Before that, there’s Brighton SF on Thursday. That’s going to be a lot of fun too, and a total geekfest with Jeff Noon, Lauren Beukes, and Brian Aldiss.

Grab a ticket if you haven’t already. See you there.

Drupalcon in Chi-town

The last time I was in Chicago the weather was rather lovely. I spent some time walking around, gaping up at the skyscrapers and exploring the city.

This time the weather has been a bit chillier. My attempts to venture out and explore the city on foot ended in defeat as I was beaten back to the warmer confines of the hotel playing host to Drupalcon.

My first day, as anticipated, was spent hunting down a mythical FedEx/Kinkos so I could print out workshop materials—paper-based exercises and HTML5 pocketbooks. With that task achieved—at no minor expense; charging for ink on paper is clearly a lucrative business model—imagine my surprise when I turned up the next day for my workshop and I was handed the printouts of my workshop exercises; the same materials I had been told I would have to print out for myself. Clearly, I didn’t get the memo …possibly because said memo was never conjured into existence.

Apart from that breakdown in communication, the HTML5 workshop went smoothly. Better than smoothly. The attendees were asking excellent questions and some great discussions emerged. Running a workshop can be very tiring but it can also be very rewarding.

The next morning I attended Dries’s pep-talk keynote. It was like experiencing a milder, kinder more collaborative version of Scientology (I kid, I kid; ‘twas a lovely State of the Union address).

Part of the keynote was a compilation of answers to the question “What is Drupal?” put to a backing track of a suitably schmaltzy motivational song (David Brent would’ve been jealous). As I watched the quotes appear on screen, I noticed that one of them was attributed to me. Except… I have no recollection of ever saying or writing something along the lines of:

Drupal makes complex things easy and easy things complex.

Sure enough, it turns out that the quote was misattributed to me.

I guess it sounds like something I could have said. In fact, I could justify the paraphrased quote thusly: If you want to get a database-driven site up and running quickly, you can do that with Drupal simply by pressing a few buttons and pulling the software equivalent of levers. However, if you want to edit, for example, the way that a particular form field has been marked up, or you’d like to remove some superfluous div elements …well, for that you need to really know what you’re doing.

Hence, Drupal makes complex things (like setting up a website) easy and easy things (like editing some markup) complex.

I had quite a few conversations with people about the nature of frameworks and Drupal in particular. Personally, it doesn’t appeal to me, not just because it doesn’t output the kind of markup that I’d like. It doesn’t appeal to me simply because it outputs any markup at all. I prefer something more like Django that takes care of abstracting away all that server-side complexity and database work, but leaves it entirely up to you to create the front-end (well, except for the admin interface).

But that’s just me. And I totally understand that for other people, that just isn’t a priority and Drupal’s ability to deliver an entire site, front-end included, is a godsend. Different frameworks will appeal to different people—the trick is in finding a framework that matches the way that you approach a problem. A framework is, after all, supposed to be a tool to help you get work done faster. No one framework is suitable for all projects and no one framework can possibly hope to appeal to everyone.

Yet, at Drupalcon, I got the impression that Drupal might be attempting to do just that. Rather than focusing on the kind of sites for which Drupal is particularly well-suited, the goal appears to be nothing less than total domination of the web. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. If you try to please literally everybody, I think you’ll probably end up pleasing nobody.

I did hear rumblings of the possibility of changing Drupal so that there would be no markup in its core release. Rather, different distributions (built on top of core) could be used to create the right kind of site; one distribution for news sites, another distribution for company websites, and so on. I like that idea. It would also make it easier for Drupal to adapt its output to different devices—something that Dries touched on his keynote.

Meanwhile Jen is spearheading an effort to update Drupal’s output to include HTML5 additions—new input types for forms, sectioning elements for content, and so on. She’s beginning by proposing some design principles. I believe this is a thoroughly excellent approach. At Jen’s Drupalcon core conversation I offered my feedback (and encouragement) on how the design principles are shaping up.

For the rest of Drupalcon, I found plenty to keep my interest. There was a significant design portion to the proceedings so even a non-Drupal person like me could find some great talks, like Samantha’s superb round-up of design techniques—I’ll be bringing some of those gems back to the Clearlefties.

My final night in Chicago was nigh-on perfect. Adrian had been in touch to let me know that his band would be playing in the historic Green Mill. I rustled up a little posse of designers and we spent the evening listening to superb gypsy jazz in an amazing venue that was once a favourite haunt of Al Capone (rumour has it that the grumpy doorman is related). A nightcap of beer and cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger at The Billy Goat Tavern was the coup de grace.

Now I bid farewell to Chicago and hello to Austin, where the weather is significantly warmer.

American Odyssey

I’ve been back in Brighton for just a couple of days and now I’m about to embark on a fairly lengthy trip away to the States.

Tomorrow I’m flying to a somewhat chilly Chicago. I’ve only been there once before, but I absolutely loved it. The architecture! The hot dogs! Cheeseborger! Cheeseborger! Cheeseborger!

I’m going there for Drupalcon. I’ll be leading an HTML5 workshop on Monday. I’d love to try to Abe Froman my way into the Web Science Workshop the day before, but I’ll probably be too busy finding somewhere to print off workshop materials (a service the conference organisers are unwilling to provide …it’s like the opposite of how Sophie runs UX London).

Right about the time that Drupalcon is wrapping up, I’ll head down to Austin for the annual geek pilgrimage to South By Southwest Interactive. I should really pay close attention Tantek’s SXSW packing and check list.

This year, I’m not giving a presentation or speaking on a panel so I can relax and enjoy myself. If you’re heading to Southby, I look forward to sharing a Shiner Bock or three—one of the reasons I like going is not just to see people I haven’t seen in ages, but also to meet new people who equally geeky about the web.

After the craziness of Austin, I’m going to unwind for a while with the in-laws down in Saint Augustine, Florida, which should be nice and relaxing.

After that, I’m off to Portland, Oregon; a place to which I’ve never been but about which I’ve heard plenty of good things. There’s geek meet up planned for March 24th. Come along for a beer and a chat.

Finally, I’ll finish up in Seattle for the first Event Apart of the year. I have no doubt that the conference will be excellent, as usual. I just hope that the presentation I’ve got planned can meet the high standards set by the other speakers.

If you’re going to be in any of those places—Chicago, Austin, Saint Augustine, Portland, or Seattle—I look forward to seeing you there.

She car go

As befits a place known as The Windy City, my visit was something of a whirlwind.

I got into Chicago with a day to spare before An Event Apart kicked off. I made the most of that blessedly sunny day; walking out to Navy Pier, down Lake Shore to the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, stopping for a typical specimen of the Chicago hot dog on the way. By the time I walked back to my hotel—stopping for an obligatory mirror shot at the bean—I was fairly knackered and happy to spend the evening relaxing in the company of my fellow speakers.

The conference itself was great. From Eric’s mind-blowing opening talk to Jim’s relaxed film-filled closing, the quality remained consistently high although it dipped a little at the start of the second day when I took to the stage and made the audience mimic Eric’s patented devil horns.

As great as the speakers were, the crowd were the real stars. I had some great conversations with the smart standards-savvy folk who came to the conference and followed on to the post-presentation drinkipoos. The opening night party was lubricated by the generous and dangerous guys at Media Temple. I’ll be seeing them again next week at the dConstruct pre-party.

An Event Apart wrapped up yesterday. Today I had some time to kill before heading for home. I spent it taking in the wonderful architecture from the vantage point of a river boat tour followed by a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. They were both gratifying cultural experiences but I don’t think they could quite compare to the late-night visits I had already paid to Chicago’s true cultural icon, the Billy Goat Tavern.

It feels like I just got here but here I am, back at the airport. Having experienced most of Chicago’s tourist attractions—art, architecture, hot dogs, pizza and cheezborger—I am currently engaged in the one activity that every visitor to Chicago really can’t avoid: sitting in O’Hare for hours, waiting for a delayed flight.

Illinois apart

Things are busy, busy, busy at Clearleft. As well as the regular client work, we’re on the home stretch for dConstruct 2007. I’ve been slacking off with the podcast and I really need to knuckle down and hammer out the format for the upcoming microformats workshop. The food blog and DOM Scripting blog have been sorely neglected too but that’s nothing new.

I really shouldn’t be taking any time out right now but I can’t resist the lure of a few days in Chicago. I have the great honour of being asked to speak at An Event Apart, the traveling roadshow for people who make websites. Tomorrow morning I’ll be getting the bus to Heathrow where a plane awaits, ready to whisk me across the pond.

I’ve never been to Chicago before. I hear the skyline is breathtaking. I’ve been reading up on the local attractions on offer and before the conference kicks off I’m hoping to make it to the aquarium and the Field Museum (where a Darwin exhibition is currently running).

Most of all, I’m determined to sample and . My explorations will, of course, be documented on Flickr.