I’ve Got The Design Bug

I said, as I always do, it’s a technical thing. He said it’s more artistic. Maybe there’s no difference? Maybe true artistry is just the ability to be the master of the technical aspects of a project?

Color Scheme Designer 3_1266571455224.pngOK, this is really sad. Helaine is out in SoCal with Stef. I’m home alone. So what am I doing? Reading a book about creating WordPress themes… and I just stopped and said “that’s really cool” to myself.

I am a sad human being. This is what gets me excited.

Last week’s website creation was a lot of fun. Yes, it was tedious from time-to-time, but when it was finished… when I could step back there was a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

I was on the phone today with a technically oriented friend the discussion turned to web design. I said (I always do) it’s a technical thing. He said it’s more artistic.

Maybe there’s no difference? Maybe true artistry is just the ability to be the master of the technical aspects of a project?

Tonight’s book is WordPress 2.8 Theme Design by Tessa Blakely Silver. It’s as compelling as anything Grisham’s written–well it is to me.

Though I’d gone pretty far restyling this blog for WordPress (it’s currently running on Moveabltype) I’m going to start over! This time the design will be built by me from the ground up.

It’s like designing anything else I suppose. I need to think about the physical form. How many columns? How much white space will I maintain to make it readable?

There are sites to help choose color schemes. Think of the big rack of paint chips at Home Depot or Lowes. The idea is similar but done online! You can even upload an image and get a color scheme that’s compatible.

Typetester – Compare fonts for the screen_1266571692455.pngThe website will be designed within a framework–probably the 960 Grid System. The best analogy is designing on graph paper. This makes it much easier to control spacing and keep columns and sections proportional.

Selecting the typography is a little more daunting to me. Sans serif fonts work well for text, but I’m partial to serif fonts for headlines. I’d like the look of the type to be bold but clean. I’m not sure I’ve got the knowledge to pull this off. I’ve been trying to Google sites to use as crutches, but without much success.

I know what I like. I’m just not sure how to get there.

The funny thing is the deeper into the book I get the less worried I am about the actual code that will fill my template. Maybe it’s my naivety?

This is uncharted territory for me and, judging by conversations I’ve had with others, uncharted territory for everyone I know! It’s geekily thrilling.

Helping Stef Get Settled

Wow! What a day. We are doing our best to get Stef off on the right foot.

Wow! What a day. We are doing our best to get Stef off on the right foot. That translates to an “I can’t remember when I did as much physical work–ever” day!

At least the weather cooperated. We were well into the 70s with crystal clear blue skies. There was a little morning haze in the valley, but it burned off.

Kudos to Helaine for figuring out we needed a mom-mobile and not a sedan. We’ve got a Dodge Grand Caravan. Four seats have been folded into the carpeting. The space is huge. We needed it.

ikea in burbank california.jpgFirst stop Ikea in Burbank. Helaine and Stef had already scoped out what they wanted. We double checked, marked it down and plucked the boxes from the shelves.

I have volunteered to assemble the furniture. I’m in over my head, right?

geoff with california doggies.jpgSince Stef has Roxie with her we went to arrange ‘daycare’ should it be necessary. This was really cool because as the owner of the place took us to her backyard today’s dogs poured out.

Nice doggies. I spent some quality tush time with them.

Next we got paint at Home Depot. I’ll let Helaine and Stef handle that while I drive to my friend’s house to pick up the ten large boxes shipped here.

Finally we bought a mattress. We went to one store which didn’t have what we wanted and sent us to see his friend at a different store down the block. The mattress arrives in the morning.

We’re taking my secretive friend to dinner tonight. It’s warm. We’re going to a restaurant with a patio so we can bring Roxie.

The End Of Local. This Is Depressing

We used to have regional chains–stores like Caldor and Ames and Rickel. They’re all gone now.

When I moved to Connecticut in 1984 all the banks&#185 were Connecticut banks. Our phone company was Connecticut’s phone company. My local electric company was local too. None of them are any more.

We used to have regional chains–stores like Caldor and Ames and Rickel. They’re all gone now. Their business models were ineffective in the face of strong national competition.

To a national company Connecticut is a small state they’d rather not have to make exceptions for. We have become small fish in a big pond.

When local gives way to national we lose lots of peripheral benefits. With less in-state autonomy the managers here are at a lower level than their regionally governed predecessors. National companies taking advantage of economies of scale need fewer employees to accomplish the same job.

I’d like to think operators who live here are more responsive to local community needs too.

When business becomes national advertising dollars can bypass local outlets partially or entirely. Maybe you don’t miss that dumb Rickel jingle, but radio and TV stations sure do!

In this economic equation the lower cost structure of a national company is the leading indicator while reduced local employment and lower standard of living both lag behind. I think some of the economic malaise we’re seeing today relates to the nationwide placement of previously local business.

Where is the long term benefit to me and my neighbors as local disappears in favor of national?

I can’t imagine this turning around naturally. Who would ever start a mom and pop store or regional chain to compete with a national category killer like Home Depot or Walmart?

In the meantime it continues to get more and more difficult for businesses that used to thrive servicing regional operators. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s not over yet.

&#185 – There were a very few exceptions to this rule.

It’s My Dad’s 83rd

My father is the Bill Gates of Boynton Beach. He teaches weekly computer classes to people in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. “Harold, you’re so smart,” is a common student-teacher comment. They’re right.

It’s my dad’s birthday. He is 83.

“I look in the mirror and see an old guy,” he said on the phone today, “but I don’t feel old.” Life has not passed my father by.

He only has one working eye. He wears hearing aids with varying success. Often his hands quiver like the paint mixer at Home Depot. With daily drugs coursing through his rebuilt circulatory system he is a miracle of medical science.

My father is the Bill Gates of Boynton Beach. He teaches weekly computer classes to people in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. “Harold, you’re so smart,” is a common student-teacher comment. They’re right.

We were kidding around on the phone when I said, “This is the most important birthday.”

“No,” said my dad. “The next one is always the most important.”

Hospitals – Never A Pleasure Trip

I called my friend Kevin yesterday. His wife, Melanee, answered the cellphone. They were at Yale/New Haven Hospital, on their way to get some tests.

Kevin’s got pancreatic cancer. Tests are a large part of his life. I didn’t think twice until he called back later.

On Monday, Kevin wasn’t feeling right. There was shortness of breath. Who knows what else? He’d just been through a round of chemo. The reaction to that is never totally predictable. Melanee, his wife, brought him to Yale and he was admitted.

It looks like he suffered a very minor heart attack (if such a thing is possible) and has a blood clot in his lungs. All this is in addition to the cancer he’s been fighting since last summer.

I drove over to visit before heading to work today.

Yale/New Haven is to hospitals I remember as a child, as Home Depot is to Willie’s Hardware in Flushing. People are scurrying everywhere. It’s immense and confusing. I many ways, it’s the workings of a major teaching hospital are undecipherable to anyone but staff…. and even they only understand a few pieces of the puzzle.

On my way up the elevator, a young woman (my guess is a medical professional of some sort) slumped against the back of the car. She was the poster child for chronic exhaustion.

Kevin’s on the 9th floor of the hospital’s East Wing. He’s on the left, down the hall, well past the nurses station.

As I walked toward the room, I passed two nurses pushing rolling ‘podiums’ containing computers. Why carry a one pound chart when you can push a four foot tall podium?

Kevin’s room was bright and clean. It’s a double, though Kevin is the only resident right now. Melanee sat in a comfortably overstuffed chair. It’s a hospital chair, built to never wear out. Kevin was on his back in bed.

His skin is more ashen than pink. His face is a little puffy. His hair more gray than ever.

He smiled. We chatted. He’s eternally positive.

When he was brought in, Kevin was asked to quantify the pain. He was at 9. Now he’s a 5. That’s good as a trend, though 5 doesn’t seem like a number to aim for.

We talked a little about his pain meds and I kidded him about how he now knows what he missed by walking the straight and narrow in college.

Last night his speech was slurred. Probably a byproduct of the drugs. Today he was much more distinct as he spoke, but you could see he was a little doped up.

I’m not saying anything Kevin doesn’t know. He is very much the realist. Very much cognizant of what’s going on around and to him.

He is not ready to die. He didn’t tell me that, but I know it. He is sick, but not near death just yet. There is still too much for him to live for. He’s making plans you don’t make if you’re about to die. You can’t convince me that doesn’t enter into the whole sickness, wellness scenario.

It takes nothing away from my other friends to say, Kevin is the nicest, kindest, most giving friend I have. I’ve never known his actions to have a subtext or ulterior motive. He truly would give you the shirt off his back. No one I know has had a more consistently positive attitude.

What’s going on now should not have happened to him. My first thought was, the whole thing is a mistake. I’m still not convinced it’s not.

When a friend is ill, it’s easy to visualize your own mortality through him. I think some people withdraw from sick friends for just that reason – I totally understand. I am just not ready to give up on Kevin.

No one wants to see him this way.

Hooked On Consumerist

When it comes to customer/retailer disputes, the customer isn’t always right. Unfortunately, often times he is, after the sale, when consumers have almost no leverage.

Maybe that’s why I’ve become hooked on reading consumerist.com. It’s a guilty pleasure, like reading about Paris Hilton or sneaking a candy bar from the bag left over from Halloween (you think this is a surprise to anyone in the Fox house?).

I am often amazed by the reported (not verified) outlandishly bad behavior of America’s big merchants. And believe me, some of this is pretty mean.

On the other hand, I also see consumer weasels trying to game the system and then getting upset when they don’t succeed. Reading their letters of complaint makes my blood boil. Consumerist often treats them as legitimate complainers, though I wouldn’t.

Business weasels seem to outnumber consumer weasels. Again, remember where the leverage is after the sale.

I am curious how big business looks at sites like this? All of a sudden, the Internet has made one person’s word-of-mouth louder and opened up publishing to nearly anyone. Bad customer experiences trying to cancel AOL’s service, get a cable TV problem fixed, or expose customer neglect by airlines have been well documented with pictures and sound.

Do big businesses weigh the cost of this bad publicity and if so, how much weight is given to sites like this? Is someone from Cingular or Home Depot or any one of the sites often mentioned reading Consumerist as part of their job?

I can tell you from experience, no official has ever responded when I’ve written about a product or service I was dissatisfied with – but this blog gets minimal traffic.

‘Buzz’ has created today’s celebrities. It’s also responsible for web hits like YouTube, Craigslist and MySpace, which seemingly grew without organized promotion (at best with minimal promotion). Can buzz injure established brick and mortar companies too?

Read at your own peril. The site is addictive.

JetBlue’s Problems

jetBlue is in the midst of a meltdown. They’ve scrubbed a boatload of flights tomorrow, the fifth consecutive day of cancellations following a Northeast ice storm. Passengers are up in arms.

There was a call for congressional hearings after a recent debacle by American Airlines in Austin, TX. Whether hearings accomplish anything or not, I see them as certain now.

I don’t know much about the airline business, but I can tell you why jetBlue is having the problems they’re having. To a large extent, it’s because there is no jetBlue!

I look upon jetBlue as a virtual company. It doesn’t own its planes. It doesn’t do most of its maintenance (much of which is performed in El Salvador). Its telephone reservation system is based in Salt Lake City and mostly staffed by women working from home.

Is jetBlue the top priority of any of their contractors?

jetBlue is perfectly staffed… as long as nothing goes wrong. In real life, things go wrong.

Unfortunately, what has happened to jetBlue will happen in more and more places with more and more companies. Since passengers won’t be locked in place for ten or twelve hours we won’t hear as much about them.

Companies are cutting away as much cost as they can and that certainly extends to any protection against unusual failure. There is no profit in standby contingencies.

You see this all the time in stores, with fewer staff members or less competent staff. Here’s what Floyd Norris of the Times said in his blog about the former chairman of Home Depot, Bob Nardelli.

He was a man who thought he was worth unlimited amounts, and yet messed up the company by a desire to slash compensation expenses. He pushed out experienced store workers, figuring part-timers were cheaper, and did not realize in time that those knowledgeable workers were critical to the willingness of amateurs to shop there&#185

In some ways, we bring this on ourselves. We’re willing to shop entirely on price. I’m guilty myself, even though it’s often bad in the long run.

Years ago, when most stores were closed on Sunday’s, my father used to say, “If you don’t want to work Sunday, don’t shop Sunday.” The same applies today. If you don’t want to suffer bad service, don’t shop where service is not a priority.

Easier said than done, I’m sure.

&#185 – When he was drummed out, Nardelli received a king’s ransom in severance. Norris added, “Perhaps Lowe

How Do They Know?

I’m not giving away a security secret here, but we don’t use keys at home. Don’t rush to my house, all the doors are locked and alarmed. We just always come in through the garage and we don’t carry keys.

That’s totally weird, isn’t it? It is, however, true.

It’s never been a problem. In 16 years, we’ve never come home and found the power out and the garage door inoperable. We’ve been very lucky.

While we were on vacation in October, we needed to have our next door neighbor get something from our place. She has a key. It didn’t work!

Today, finally, I went to Home Depot to get a new lock to replace our keyless wonder. Since the lockset comes with two keys, Helaine suggested I get another two made.

No problem. I found the key guy… and then I made my mistake.

Holding the new doorknob in my hand, I asked him if they were all the same size (in other words, could I pull out the old one and replace it with this)? Why not just ask if he had a smoke shifter or left handed wrench?

He looked at me over his nose and asked if I had a screwdriver?

Damn. How did he know? Is it that obvious I’m ‘tool challenged?’ Maybe some chip was secretly implanted in me to let everyone know I grew up in a building with a super!

My screwdriver and I installed the new lock as soon as we got home. It’s probably as complicated a home repair as I’m capable of… and he knew it.

The Trauma Continues

We are coming to the end of the dumpster entries. It is due to get picked up tomorrow morning, leaving for parts unknown.

On the phone this afternoon, my dad asked what I’d write about? It’s been my obsession for two weeks now.

I don’t have a clue.

I went shopping today in support of the dumpster campaign. Seriously. Having a dumpster means throwing things away and also making a commitment to properly store the things you keep.

I’m not good at shopping. To me, shopping is a traumatic experience. On my list of things to do, shopping is very close to my upcoming colonoscopy.

First stop was Home Depot. I had to return some utility shelving and desiccant (don’t ask) and pick up a few oddball light bulbs. As I got to the returns register, the clerk was being hassled by two (seemingly drunk) men, both with full beards, also returning something.

Next stop, BJ’s. Helaine said they’d have the storage bins I wanted for my office. I wanted six. They had three. While waiting in line, I noticed one of the tops was cracked.

I wheeled them back where they had been stored, walked to the car and drove back to Home Depot.

Home Depot had lots of bins in two sizes – too big and too small. I sensed my deodorant was beginning to fail.

I consulted Helaine on the phone. Target had some bins, she thought, and then she proceeded to tell me where they were in the store and how to get there (enter on the right side).

Whatever I am as a shopper, Helaine is the opposite. She is the master. She has no idea how much I respect her mad shopping skills.

Sure enough I got to Target and there was a plethora of bins just where she said they would be. In fact, there were so many, I freaked and couldn’t figure which size would be right.

In a flash I was back on the phone to Helaine, who was now questioning her 23+ year old decision to marry me.

I drove home with five 66 quart plastic storage bins and their attendant lids and spent much of the rest of the afternoon going at my office. Why five and not the six I’d planned for? Again, I’m clueless.

If shopping can be traumatic, it was for me today.

How Men And Women Are Different

Helaine took a look in the guest room sometime last week and decided the sheets and bedspread were old. Time for a change.

These are thoughts I would never have. On the other hand, Helaine would never think to defrag a hard drive. We each have our strengths.

She found the linens she wanted, bought them and took a long, hard look at the guest room. It’s a room we use 5-10 times a year.

The wall color just won’t do – not with the new look on the bed.

Saturday it was off to Home Depot where, with my expert help, she picked out a new wall color&#185. I can’t describe the color, except to say it’s nice. The room was blueish. Now it will be yellowish.

A gallon of paint, a gallon of primer, roller refills, drop cloth, paint tray, masking tape. We were good to go.

Sunday, Helaine started with the primer. She spent Monday thinking about how every muscle and joint in her body were hurting. Today, she’s covering the primer with the paint. The room will look great and match the bedspread and sheets.

I am happy, because this will make her happy. But I am puzzled why none of this would ever register on any guy’s radar – certainly not mine? It just wouldn’t.

Is this environmental or is there some part of our brains which work differently?

&#185 – The world would be a better place if there were about 10% as many paint chips to look at. Is there really a difference between 320A and 330A? And, more importantly, think of the burden for the person who has to name each one!

I’m Not The Super

We’ve already established the story of my youth as an apartment dweller in Queens. 65-43 Parsons Blvd was half of a double 6-story building with 37 units. The first 36 were on floors one through six. The 37th was in the basement. It belonged to the ‘super.’

I am guessing ‘super’ is a New York City term. In case you’re an out-of-towner, it’s short for superintendent and most moderate to large buildings have one or more.

The super took care of getting the trash out from the incinerator, watching the boiler and keeping the building in shape. If we had a problem in the apartment, it was the super (or someone else assigned to maintenance in this immense apartment complex) who would come to make the repair.

Because I know about supers, I don’t know about hammers or screwdrivers or any of the other tools adult males should understand. I never used tools – I didn’t have too.

Obviously, in our little apartment, there was no woodshop or work bench. I am deprived in that classically city way.

Now I’m an adult (hold your comments). I live in a house. We have a basement, but no super. I’ve checked. He’s not there!

That brings me to today and the beheaded mailbox I wrote about yesterday. It was my job to reattach everything, but I’m an idiot as far as handiwork is concerned.

I headed to Home Depot last night between newscasts. One of our anchors chides me for going, in a suit. You do stick out in Home Depot wearing a suit. I have little hardware store experience.

I needed the rectangular plastic piece that sits between the post and the mailbox.

I walked the aisles of Home Depot, marveling at all the neat things they have, whose purpose is lost on me. My prey was hiding in aisle 11.

I’m sure it has a name, this piece of plastic… and surely a super would know it. I do not.

Today, as Rudy the mailman drove down our block, I went to the curb. I was in pajamas, a coat and work boots. I carried a Black and Decker cordless drill.

While driving one screw with the drill, the bit fell out. I’m sure the super would have a done a better job tightening it. In my case, it fell through the snow pile like a “Daisy Cuter” into a mountain at Tora Bora.

Maybe in the spring the bit will show up. Right now, it’s MIA.

Getting the old plastic off was easy. Getting the new plastic piece on was also easy. That’s probably because I put it in the wrong spot!

Once the plastic was properly in place, I attached the mailbox. By now Rudy had come by to watch me work and to tell me, even though he had passed my mailbox-less house, he was coming back to drop it off at my front door. I hope so.

I attached the left side of the mailbox, walked around to the right and realized I had positioned it too far over. Back to loosen the first screws, then insert the others.

For a super, this is a two minute job. For me, a guy who came perilously close to failing 7th grade shop (and who had to find a piece of Ponderosa Pine when I ‘planed’ through the one the school had given me) the job lasted over 20 minutes.

So, tomorrow when Rudy drives our block, he’ll have a place to put the mail. And, of course, next time it snows, there will be a new target for the plow.

At this moment, I really miss having a super.

Beheaded

We’ve already established, it snowed this weekend. It snowed a lot. When you have a snowfall and use the word “feet,” you know there’s trouble.

Let the games begin!

I went to sleep around 4:30 AM this morning. As I snuggled close to Helaine, the sound began – “beep, beep, beeep, beep.” It was rhythmic, probably a beep every three quarters of a second. It was a plow.

At 4:30 AM plow drivers make the NBA minimum, give or take a few cents. His truck was pushing and then backing up the full length of my street. Helaine counted. He did it four times.

“Beep, beep, beeep, beep.”

You know, I shouldn’t care. In fact, I should be happy. My street was nicely plowed. But that doesn’t end the saga.

I walked out this morning and saw the carnage. My mailbox had become a casualty in the annual “Snowplow Olympics.”

And really, I’ll have to take the blame. After all, it was I who put it on my lawn, close enough for the postman to reach from his truck. How could I have been so careless?

Steven Wright used to tell a joke about owning the ax George Washington had used to cut down the cherry tree… except he had replaced the blade… and the handle… but it occupied the same space. In that same way, this is my one and only original mailbox.

It looked so sad, sitting there in the freshly compacted and plowed snow pile.

This morning our mailman obediently put the mail in the decapitated box. It’s nearly the same height as the poll. Will he do this as the snow melts and the box heads toward the curb below?

I’ll stop at Home Depot later today. There are kits made for losers like me. The mailbox will be back in on its stand in the next day or two.

I’ll still worry. Once a plow blade gets a taste of mailbox, it’s tough to get it out of its system. They’ve been known to attack again.

I Got The Poster – Sweet

My 16×24″ ‘self made’ poster has arrived from the printer. I am very pleased. It is everything I hoped it would be.

I wrote Scott Kelby, author of the book where I found the technique I used, to thank him for the idea. No response.

Now it’s time to frame it and the two panoramas I received earlier in the week.

I went to Michael’s, the crafts store, last night between newscasts. Talk about being a stranger in a strange land! They just don’t get a lot of male customers, without a woman dragging them in.

Since my panos are unusual sizes, I went to ‘build’ frames using the kits they sell. They had one, but not two, 8″ pieces. Stock should be in today and I’ll try and pick it up.

Of course they don’t sell the glass. Neither does Home Depot, across the street. You’d think this would be something home Depot would do, wouldn’t you?

There is a glazier pretty close to me, so I called this afternoon. They don’t have the proper thickness glass (1/8″ – but they could have told me anything), but can have it tomorrow. Last time I bought glass it was more expensive than anticipated. It’s still made from sand, right?

Hopefully, by sometime tomorrow afternoon, my first three pieces of photographic artistry will be ready for wall hanging. There is a pure, pristine, virginal wall (the right side of the hallway to our bedroom) which will become my gallery. I suppose I’ll go through my older photos, looking for more shots to print.

As much as I enjoy photography, I hardly ever print my work. Often, I’ll work on a photo in Photoshop just to see what transpires and then discard the finished product, holding onto the original photo file, but doing nothing with it.

Now I can change all that.

I’m Jealous Of Dogs

As I approached Sydney to take today’s picture, she was licking her paws. I would guess this is the dog equivalent of biting one’s nails. This is the only vaguely bad behavior I’ve seen from Sydney.

Has she been with us long enough for me to call her Syd?

When she heard me nearby she lifted her head and looked at me. That was the moment captured in this photo. It looks like she’s saying, “Enough with the pictures already.”

I did notice something I had noticed earlier with Ivy. Notice in the photo, only part of Sydney’s body is on the mattress. It’s not like she fell off – this is how she positioned herself.

For a human, wouldn’t this be incredibly uncomfortable? Dogs couldn’t give a damn. I wonder why? It can’t be as comfy as having your whole body on the mattress.

Sydney does another thing I noticed with Ivy. Because of the way her body is designed and articulated, she can lay flat, with her ‘chin’ flat on the surface.

It looks comfortable for her, but I couldn’t attempt it without going to Home Depot and installing hinges on my neck.