Posts in the Personal Category

So Full of Fire

Published 1 week ago

I was recently at a conference where someone thanked me for my openness about Rebecca and grieving, and expressed their condolences.  And then they said, “She was obviously very sweet—” to which I must’ve pulled a face, because they said stumbled to a stop and then said, “No?”

I reflected for a few moments.  Eventually I said something to the effect of her being more sassy than sweet.  I believe the words “a real firecracker” were used.  She was never malicious.  She was usually laughing.  She had her sweet side.  But it was just one of many sides.

I was reminded of this today when I came across a post by Elizabeth K., who has worked for years at the kids’ preschool.

I witnessed [Rebecca’s] defiance more than once.  But especially this one time, when Kat, never losing her temper and never wavering on the rules, amazingly sat calmly on the couch in our office as Becca refused to say “please” for a lollipop.  There were many “NO!s” when countlessly reminded all she needed to do was utter a simple word.  She never gave in.  She left without a lollipop.  She held her ground.  She was three.

You might say that every kid does that sometimes, but with Rebecca, it was pretty common.  She wanted things her way, and she was incredibly tenacious about it, willing to forfeit the thing she wanted rather than yield.  Filled with fire and determination, practically vibrating with the force of her will.  We had occasional fears about what she’d be like as a teenager, never suspecting.  We’d already quarter-jokingly agreed with her best friend’s parents that, when we eventually had to bail the two of them out of juvenile detention, neither of us would blame the others.

It’s incredible to think what I’d have given to have that experience.  And how angry and unthinkingly ungrateful I’d have been, had that come to pass.

Elizabeth’s post ends:

…I love to visit the Kindergarten classes because many of the students are children who were in our Early Childhood Center and Daycare program the year before.  So I was welcomed with lots of “Lizzy!”s and “Look what I made!”s.  I was looking at Ruthie’s art project when Becca and I caught each other’s eye.  I told Ruthie how great her picture was and then said to Becca “You know what today is?” to which I got the famous side-eye.  “It’s no-hug day.  There are no hugs allowed today.”

She thought about it for a second and then leapt into my arms.  One of those great big hugs.  She loosened her grip, turned her head and whispered into my ear, “You were fooling.”  Sharp as whip.

“Yep.  But I got a hug.”  She gave me another classic Becca face, [smiled], and went back to her friends.

I count myself lucky to have been witness to her spark and her sparkling personality.  To say she will be missed does not cover it – not at all.


Half a Decade

Published 1 week, 4 days ago

Rebecca has been dead for half a decade now.

I feel like I’ve run out of words.  How many times, how many ways can I say that nothing is quite right, nor ever will be?  That I miss the girl she would be today, eleven years old?  That I’ve learned to hear around the void she left, but it’s always there in quiet moments, omnipresent, like tinnitus of the soul?

Five years gone.  It will never be okay.  I will never be okay, no matter what I answer when asked how I’m doing.  I lie, all the time, to strangers and friends.  To customer service reps.  Librarians.  Other parents at school.  Myself.

“Hey, how are you?”

“I’m all right.”  Liar.  But better that than dropping a tragedy bomb on an unsuspecting soul.

A cashier asked me this morning how I was doing today, and I didn’t answer, because the words froze in my heart and I doubted that they cared all that much anyway.  I waited a beat or two, silent, and then said, “How ’bout you?”

“Doin’ okay,” they said, as if I’d answered them.  Maybe it was true.  Maybe they were lying.  Or maybe they didn’t have any particular reason to think about what they said and whether or not it was true, or false, or not even wrong.

I’ve said I’m used to it, and that was the truth.  I’m not over it, will never be over it so long as I live, but I’m used to it.

Being used to this hurts, when I think about it.  So I try not to think about it, and that hurts too.  Not like a sword through the heart, not like unending fire, more like a dull ache.  My aging body is starting to produce more and more of those.  I resent it for living years beyond what Rebecca got.  Snarl at reality for offering no way to give my years to her.

I’ve said all these things before, one way or another.

Five years.

No words.


D-Day

Published 1 week, 5 days ago

Today was D-Day for our family.  I mean, yes, three generations ago, the Allied invasion of Europe commenced, and that’s a moment of which to take note.

But for us, this was an entirely different D-Day: Driving Day.

Carolyn passed the test and was granted a Learner’s Permit from the State of Ohio.  She is now legally allowed, under certain conditions, to drive on public and private roads.  Just as she’s wanted pretty much since the day she realized driving was a thing she’d be allowed to do someday.  So, a decade or more.

Before anyone asks, no, I am not terrified.  I’ve already done some basic winter-driving lessons with her in parking lots, back when things were icy, and what I observed told me what I’d always expected—that she’ll be a capable, confident driver.  There will always be fear in the back of my brain, but that was going to be true regardless.  More than anything, I’m grateful that she’ll have this opportunity.  I expect dings and dents and scrapes.  I expect she’ll learn quickly, as she usually does.  And I expect that, after a time, I’ll entrust her to drive her little brother to and from his activities.

Just like I expected, and rightly so, that she’d be one of the few people on this Earth with a legitimately good-looking license photo.  It’s a gift.

Happy D-Day to you, Carolyn.  May the road always rise to meet you.


The Broken Physics of “The Umbrella Academy” Finale

Published 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Not long ago, Kat and I got around to watching The Umbrella Academy’s first season on Netflix.  I thought it was pretty good!  It was a decent mix of good decisions and bad decisions by people in the story, I liked most of the characters and their portrayals, and I thought the narrative arcs came to good places. Not perfect, but good.

Except.  I have to talk about the finale, people.  I have to get into why the ending, the very last few minutes of season one, just didn’t work for me.  And in order to do that, I’m going to deploy, for the first time ever, a WordPress Spoiler Cut™ on this here blog o’ mine, because this post is spoilerrific.  Ready?  Here we go.

Massive, massive spoilers and a fair amount of science ahead!

CSS4 Color Keyword Distribution Visualization

Published 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Long, long ago—not quite seven years ago, in fact—I built a canvas-based visualization of the distribution of CSS3/SVG color keywords and released it.  And there it’s sat, static and inert (despite being drawn with a whooooole lotta JS) ever since.

I’ve always meant to get back to it and make it more interactive.  So over the past several evenings, I’ve rebuilt it as an SVG-based visualization.  The main point of doing this was so that when you hover the mouse pointer over one of the little color boxes, it will fill the center of the color wheel with the hovered color and tell you its name and HSL values.  Which it does, now.  It even tries to guess whether the text should be white or black, in order to contrast with the underlying color.  Current success rate on that is about 90%, I think.  Calculating perceived visual brightness turns out to be pretty hard!

Other things I either discovered, or want to do better in the future:

  • Very nearly half the CSS4 (and also CSS3/SVG) color keywords are in the first 90 degrees of hue.  More than half are in the first 120 degrees.
  • There are a lot of light/medium/dark variant names in the green and blue areas of the color space.
  • I wish I could make the color swatches bigger, but when I do that the adjacent swatches overlap each other and one of them gets obscured.
  • Therefore, being able to zoom in on parts of the visualization is high on my priority list.  All I need is a bit of event monitoring and some viewbox manipulation.  Well, that and a bit more time. Done, at least for mouse scroll wheels.
  • I’d like to add a feature at some point where you type text, and a list is dynamically filtered to show keywords containing what you typed.  And each such keyword has a line connecting it to the actual color swatch in the visualization.  I have some ideas for how to make that work.
  • I’d love to create a visualization that placed the color swatches in a 3D cylindrical space summarizing hue, lightness. and saturation.  Not this week, though.
  • I’m almost certain it needs accessibility work, which is also high on my priority list.
  • SVG needs conic gradients.  Or the ability to wrap a linear gradient along/inside/around a shape like a circle, that would work too.  Having to build a conic gradient out of 360 individual <path>s is faintly ridiculous, even if you can automate it with JS.
  • And also z-index awareness.  C’mon, SVG, get it together.

Anyway, here it is: CSS4 Color Keyword Distribution.  I hope you  like it!


“Stacked ‘Borders’” Published at CSS-Tricks

Published 3 months ago

I toyed with the idea of nesting elements with borders and some negative margins to pull one border on top of another, or nesting a border inside an outline and then using negative margins to keep from throwing off the layout. But none of that felt satisfying.

It turns out there are a number of tricks to create the effect of stacking one border atop another by combining a border with some other CSS effects, or even without actually requiring the use of any borders at all. Let’s explore, shall we?

That’s from the introduction to my article “Stacked ‘Borders’”, which marks the first time I’ve ever been published at the venerable upstart CSS-Tricks.  (I’m old, so I can call things both venerable and an upstart.  You kids today!)  In it, I explore ways to simulate the effect of stacking multiple element borders atop on another, including combining box shadows and outlines, borders and backgrounds, and even using border images, which have a much wider support base than you might have realized.

And yes, as per my usual, the images in the piece are all double-dpi :screenshot captures directly from Firefox.

Many thanks to Chris Coyier for accepting the piece, and Geoff Graham for his editorial assistance.  I hope you’ll find at least some part of it useful, or better still, interesting.  Share and enjoy!


Breaking Silence

Published 3 months, 4 days ago

So it’s been (checks watch) half a year since I last blogged, yeah, okay, been a while.  I took a break, not that you would’ve been able to tell from the sporadic nature of updates before I did so, but a break I took nonetheless.  Well, break’s over.

One of things I plan to do is fill in a post I missed writing at the beginning of December: the 25th anniversary of my working with the web.  I’ll tell the story in that post, but suffice to say it involves a laptop, a printout of the HTML specification, Microsoft Word 5.1a, a snagged Usenet post, and Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Keep circulating the tags!

Before that happens, I’ll be posting a review of the return of a very old, very faithful assistant.  I also have an article coming on a site where I’ve never been published before, so that’s exciting—look for an announcement here as soon as it’s public.  Stay tuned!


The China Anniversary

Published 11 months ago

It was twenty years ago today, under the wide-spreading boughs of a tree in the front yard of a house on Long Island, that Kat and I exchanged our wedding vows before a small crowd of friends and family.  Immediately after, we all moved to the tent in the back yard to celebrate.

The twentieth anniversary is, traditionally, the china anniversary.  Kat’s immediate reaction upon hearing this was that it makes total sense, since by 20 years you’ve probably broken most of your wedding china and need replacements.  For us, though, the resonance is a little different, since our honeymoon was a trip to China.  And therein hangs an origin story.

At some point in the late 1997, Kat and I were at a Meyer family gathering, probably Thanksgiving, at my paternal grandparents’ house in Cincinnati.  As was my wont, I was perusing the stacks of National Geographics they had always lying around.  Not like in a dentist’s office; no, these were always up to date.  But there were always many of them, interleaved with many similarly contemporary Readers’ Digests.

I picked up one with a cover shot and title about China’s Three GorgesNational Geographic, September 1997 issue , and started leafing through it, eventually reaching the cover story.  It chronicled the incredible landscapes of the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, soaring cliff faces and ancient villages.  I was immediately captivated by the story and especially the photography.  I decided that I wanted to see the Gorges before they were submerged by the Three Gorges Dam Project, which is the sort of snap decision I almost never make.  Usually I take time to analyze an idea and game out scenarios before reaching a conclusion, but not this time.  I was immediately certain.  I was certain enough to say it out loud to other people, like Kat and my parents and, who knows, probably a bunch of my extended family.

Now, fast forward a bit.  At the end of that same year, Kat and I were with my parents for Christmas.  We went out to dinner at Mom’s favorite spot for her birthday (also Boxing Day) and my parents said they had presents for me and my sister.  We each got an envelope.

Both of them contained checks for several thousand dollars, windfall of an inheritance distribution that Mom had insisted be passed on to us.  In mine, with the check, were a number of brochures for tours of China.

I was speechless.  Kat asked what it was a couple of times, a little bewildered by the look on my face.

And here I must take a side trip.  Kat and I had been on a trip to California a few weeks prior, just the two of us.  We spent a couple of nights at Ragged Point, a spot I’d stumbled over on a previous solo trip, back in the days when the rooms intentionally had no TVs or phones.  The restaurant was booked by a large group, so we ate dinner alone on the open patio under a heat umbrella, looking at the stars and enjoying the fantastic food; the chef at the time was a genius.  Music played softly through hidden speakers, and although we were literally sitting outside it felt as quiet and private as any candlelit back room.

The Christmas Song”, generally better known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”, started playing.  Kat, smiling, asked me if I would like to dance.  So we stood and danced close together, slowly shuffling around the open space the way untrained dancers do, just us and the song and the stars.

Kat swears I drew breath and opened my mouth to ask her to marry me.  Maybe she’s right.  But I didn’t, then.  Nor the next day.  Nor on Christmas Day.  Which caused Kat to start thinking that maybe it wasn’t going to happen at all.  She was feeling disappointed and hurt by this, as you can probably imagine, but keeping it to herself because she wasn’t sure yet if she was right or wrong.

So: back to Mom’s birthday dinner in Mansfield, Ohio, and me sitting stunned by the check and the China brochures and this unexpected, unprecedented windfall.

“Eric, what is it?” Kat asked again, with some concern starting to color her words.

“We’re going to China!” I finally blurted out.

“No, you’re going to China,” she replied a little tartly.

“No, we’re going to China,” I repeated.

Because in that moment, right there, I knew that this trip I wanted to take, the things I wanted to see so badly before they were gone—I couldn’t imagine doing and seeing all that without Kat.

That’s when I knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I wanted to marry her.

I didn’t propose that night either, because I had to explain this all to her in halting, still-new words and help her (and me!) understand what had happened.  She got it, as I think I knew she would.  We went shopping for rings just after the New Year.  I formally proposed to her, shivering on an ice-crusted deck by the Chagrin Falls, on her birthday in March.

And on July 19th, 1998, we stood underneath the spreading boughs of the tree in the front yard of her childhood home, and exchanged our wedding vows.  A short time later, in a backyard tent in the heat of a mid-July afternoon on Long Island, we stood on the compact dance floor and danced to “The Christmas Song”, baffling half the attendees and bemusing the other half.

The next very day, we flew to China, and saw so much together over the next seventeen days: the Three Gorges, yes, but much more.  Suzhou, Dazu, and Guilin stand out in particular for being a little more remote and not so overrun by tourists, the kinds of spots we always find inherently more interesting than large cities and glitzed-up, polished destinations.  We still want to go back to Guilin some day.

In the two decades since we vowed to love and honor and respect and amuse each other, we’ve had many adventures together.  Some were incredible, some were stressful, and some I would have spared us both.  Picking out a card was difficult, with so many of them written as if 20 years together could never be anything but an unbroken stretch of bliss and good fortune.  We’ve been through too much to respond well to such bromides; we’ve had fortune great and terrible, difficulty and ease, endless joy and boundless grief.

Every one of those days and weeks and months and years, we’ve supported and shared with each other.  Kat’s been so strong, and so selfless, and I’ve tried to be the same for her.  Neither of us did so perfectly, but we always tried—and we always understood when the other had to nurse a weakness, or look inward for a while.  We have always been honest with each other, and accepted each other.  That, more than anything, is what’s allowed us to travel together these two decades and still love each other.

I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in life and death than Kat, and I hope she’s even half as proud of and grateful for me as I am for her.

Happy China Anniversary, my love.

On a train to Amsterdam, June 2018