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Dead Milkmen Power

I want to talk about last Saturday night, and it has nothing to do with Daylight Saving Time.  Well, almost nothing, except very tangentially, right at the end.

First, a bit of back story: at the very first An Event Apart, way back at the end of 2005, one of the attendees introduced himself to me.  I didn’t recognize his name, Dean Sabatino, at first, but then he told me his stage name: Dean Clean.  As in, the drummer for The Dead Milkmen.

I may have squeeed a bit.

Later on, I was able to catch a show of theirs right before An Event Apart Chicago 2009 and meet the band.  My hair was even properly rock-n-roll for the occasion.  It was a great time.  And then, this summer, Dean came with Kimberly Blessing to visit us while we were still in-patient at CHOP with Rebecca.

So when I found out The Dead Milkmen were headlining WCSB’s fifth annual Masquerade Ball, I knew I had to be there.  I’ll admit that, on the actual day, I felt pretty tired and thought about staying home, but I sucked it up and pushed myself to the west side, because how often would I get a chance to see them in my hometown?  And, more to the point, be able to give each band member a signed copy of CSS: The Definitive Guide, 3rd Edition in exchange for having them sign my old Dead Milkmen CDs?  After all, three of the four of them are web designers and/or developers, and the fourth is getting back into the field.

I know, right?

So anyway, I went and got to hang out with the band backstage, in the small hallway endpoint that served as a dressing room.  And there, I found out that Howard Kramer, who is Curatorial Director at the Rock Hall, lives a block away from us, and is the father of one of my daughter’s good friends, used to work with the Dead Milkmen back in the day.  I found this out because he was there.  I also found out that when Howard moved to Cleveland in the mid-1990s, he used to call in requests to my Big Band radio show.  Howard in Cleveland Heights, who loved Louis Jordan.  I remember!

Okay, so yet again we discover that the world is not so large as it seems.  That by itself was enough to make the evening pretty memorable.

But then…

I helped the band get their gear to the stage (roadie time!) and watched them perform their final checks.  I was standing offstage with Dean, telling him I’d probably duck out partway through the set—it was midnight by then—when all the lights went out and the crowd roared.  Time for the big show!  Except, no, it wasn’t that at all: the power had gone out.

Eventually, it was determined that the power wouldn’t be coming back for a while.  So the Milkmen lined up at the front of the stage, Dean with just his snare and nobody with any amplification, and belted out five songs by cell phone and flashlight.  Guitar solos were sung and the vocals backed by a rowdy chorus of audience members.  After “Punk Rock Girl”, Rodney Anonymous jumped off the stage and walked through the audience to lead them onto the sidewalk, thus helping clear the still powerless hall.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  How many bands would have said that without power, there was no way they could play?  How many bands would have shrugged and said that the crowd situation wasn’t their problem?  Instead, they hit the stage and gave everything they could to give the fans a show, however abbreviated, and to help bring the evening to a close without incident.  Way beyond class, all the way.

With the hall mostly cleared, I shone my iPhone’s flash on Dean’s setup so he could pack up, and then helped the band load up their van.  That’s when I heard a guy in the rigging call out, “WE HAVE A PROBLEM!  That guy is having a seizure!”

That guy totally was having a seizure.  I was the closest to him, so I ran over and slipped a foot under his head to keep it from being bashed against the floor as he convulsed.  Someone else shouted they were calling 911.  The rigging guy got there half a minute after I did and told us that his friend was epileptic and sometimes just went into seizure.  I could tell he had done this before and knew how to guide his friend through the seizure, so I cleared the area to give them both space and went back to helping with the loadout, head spinning a little bit from the piled-up hyper-reality of it all.

With the van finally loaded up, I said good night to the band and headed home to get a few hours’ sleep.  They, on the other hand, drove down to the WCSB studio to play a live show on-air, encore and all.  That’s right, they played a full show anyway, in the wee hours of Sunday morning, time change and all.

The point of chronicling all of this is to serve up a reminder, both to me and to you, that it’s easy to decide you’re too tired or busy or whatever—we are geniuses at finding pretexts—and not get out there to experience life, in all its never-ending weirdness.  When you have an opportunity, take it.  You never know what might happen and who you might be able to help out.

Notacon: Not to be Missed

In just under a couple of weeks, the fifth annual NOTACON will be held right here in beautiful Cleveland, Ohio.  You’re going, I know; you’re super-über-cool like that, and you don’t need to be reminded of your coolness.  But I’d like to mention the show here for posterity, so that our descendants will know just how completely they missed out.

Notacon straddles, like a Colossus built entirely out of recycled motherboards, backtech chips, and loops of soldering wire, the middle ground between regular conferences and BarCamps (though Notacon predates BarCamp by a couple of years).  It’s not free to attend, but it is very inexpensive.  What it lacks in slick advertising and corporate sponsors, it makes up ten times over in raw, unfiltered geekiness and fascinating material.  This is the kind of event where presenters will hold forth on the depths of digital security, the physics of wireless networking, homebrew chip architecture, the coolness of HyperCard, online society dynamics, and more.  There’s a running contest called Anything but Ethernet, where you get bonus points for having one of the links in your network architecture incorporate barbed wire.

Yeah.  It’s like that.

The speakers will be as wildly diverse as the audience.  The lead engineer for the C64 Direct-to-TV (a C64 in a joystick!); the man behind The Daily WTF; some of the folks putting out 2600 magazine; the woman behind CrochetMe.com; and many more.  I’ll be there as well, talking about the bleeding edge of CSS and web design, ripping apart some recent projects of mine at top speed while discussing where I think we’ll be in three years.  Plus Drew Curtis of FARK fame will be back, as he always is, this year sponsoring a FARK party.  The mind fairly boggles.  Boggles!

As you’re no doubt gathering by now, it’s hard to describe Notacon in a quick, concise summary—and that’s a big part of what makes it so awesome.  For my contemporaries: see you there!  To you future historians: okay, you missed out, but drop everything right now to find out when the next one is and I’ll see you there!

Cleveland Web Standards Association

Ladies and gentlemen, the Cleveland Web Standards Association.  Specifically, its brand-new web site, courtesy a small band of association members who worked together to design and develop it.  It’s a lovely little semantic number, chock full of microformats and member content aggregators.

In case you hadn’t heard about the CWSA yet and are wondering what the group is like, allow me to quote the About page:

The CWSA is an organization grounded on the premise of sharing information in a relaxed atmosphere. We hold monthly gatherings that include presentations on best practices in web development. The gatherings are open to any person interested in web design/development, no matter what their current skill level is.

This isn’t just a social club, though.  We’re not just sharing our skills with each other, but are also working to use those skills in the service of helping others.  I don’t want to steal any thunder, so if you want to find out the details, you’ll just have to come find out for yourself.

We’ll be having our next meeting in a week, 5 February 2008, in our usual space at Tri-C (and many thanks to the college for giving us a home!).  This is definitely a meeting to make, because the topic will be the current and future direction of the association, including deciding the topics on which we want to have presentations and figuring out how best to use the raw talent and enthusiasm of the group for maximal good.  If you’re in the area, you should absolutely come check things out.  If you know someone in the area, kindly pass the word on to them.

Odd Seating Arrangments

This evening, we decided to cap off the weekend with dinner out.  Carolyn was in the mood for french fries, and the rest of us were looking for decent dinner fare, so we decided to hit Brennan’s Colony.  This is one of the more fascinating restaurants on our side of town.  From both the outside and the inside, it looks like a low- to middle-rent bar, all uncushioned wood benches and odd angles and dimmish lighting.  The baseline menu is burgers and fried food at very affordable prices.

And then you get the dinner menu, and you wonder from which other restaurant they swiped their menu.  Chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese in a bearnaise reduction, or words to that effect.  Mint-crusted New Zealand rack of lamb.  Et cetera.  It is, to use a word I picked up on my last trip to Ye Jolly Olde Englande, a gastropub, only with really good food.

We hadn’t gone for a while because, being a bar, smoking was permitted, and while they had an area labeled “No Smoking” it was about as effective as setting up a ring of buoys just offshore and marking that area “No Water”.  We used to go every now and again in olden days, but after Carolyn’s arrival, it was stricken from our dining list for the obvious health reasons.  However, Ohio voters passed an indoor smoking ban late last year, so we could once again eat and breathe.  Everybody woohoo!

Only when we arrived and asked for a table on their newly opened outdoor patio, we were told Carolyn wasn’t old enough to be seated there.  We could eat indoors, but the patio was off-limits to anyone under the age of eighteen.  This baffled us just a little all by itself, and then we turned around to behold a pre-teen boy sitting at the bar, eating a sandwich and drinking a Coke.  At least we hoped it was a Coke.

We brought this oddity (and, if I’m not mistaken, violation of Ohio state law) to the staff’s attention, and were told that he was seated there because they were so busy.  But no kids on the patio!  No no!  That would be, um, whatever they feared would come of allowing children to eat at an outdoor table.  The apocalypse, no doubt.

So we ate at The Tavern Company a little way down the street, where they were more than happy to have us sit wherever we liked, indoors or out—the presence of a smallish, well-behaved child notwithstanding.

I think we’ll keep to that seating arrangement for as long as the policy at Brennan’s remains.

Staging The World Over

Despite my best efforts to cut back on travel, the 2007 world tour seems to be continuing apace.  In addition to my sessions at An Event Apart in San Francisco at the beginning of October, I’m due to hit (at least) three four other stages before the year is out.  Here’s the skinny:

  • I’ll be doing a short bit on microformats at the Cleveland Web Standards Meetup.  If you’re in the area and interested, please do sign up for the group!  We’ve been growing quickly and, having shifted our meeting place to the Tri-C West campus, now have room for a lot more growth.  We’re also moving beyond simple gathering, with some great ideas for helping out local organizations and sharing knowledge and skills.  Even if you can’t make this month’s gathering, you should still join up so you’re in the loop.

  • I’ll be delivering the keynote at the first annual CIW Partner Conference in Destin, Florida, at the end of September.  No official title for the talk as yet, but the general theme will be how we’ve gotten to where we are, what I see as the best ways to train the next generation of web designers and developers, and the best tools currently available to current designers/developers.  I may also participate in a panel, depending on exact scheduling.

  • In mid-October, I’ll be on stage at the first Voices That Matter: Web Design conference in San Francisco (which will make my second trip to the city in the space of three weeks).  We’re looking to do sort of an open “Conversation With…” format with lots of audience questions and commentary, which is a little unusual for me.  Jeffrey and I did a conversational session with Brian Alvey at ‘Meet the Makers’ back in the day, but I haven’t really done a Merv Griffin since.  Should be fun!

  • Then, in mid-December, I’ll be doing three hours of CSS at Web Design World Boston.  It will pretty much be like it was last year: a mix of deep dives into obscure (yet important) corners of CSS, assessments of current trends, fun with cutting-edge techniques, and open-format Q&A.  We’ll have three hours (with breaks) to play around, so that’ll leave plenty of time to wander into the weeds and come back mostly intact.

I’m starting to do some rework on the sidebar here on meyerweb, and a “coming soon” list is one of the things I have in mind.  Those of you who actually do drop by the site will probably notice the sidebar mutating over time, since I’m going to do my reworking live and in public.  That sounds so much more grandiose than the reality of fiddling with markup and making mistakes, doesn’t it?  It’s editing 2.0!

Come Tuesday

Some news for folks in London (UK) and Cleveland (US).  If you don’t fit either of those descriptions, well, I don’t know what I can do.

For those of you in or near London, I’ll be at a Geekminidinner the evening of Tuesday, 14 August 2007, which you can read a bit more about over here.  (Apparently, I need to print out an article I wrote a while back and staple it to Ian‘s forehead.)  Come on ’round and join us!

About four and a half hours after that starts, I’ll be missing (in both senses of the word) the Cleveland area Web Standards/Web Design Meetup.  Once left for dead, this group has come roaring back thanks to the tireless efforts of a COBOL dude who is much less scary than his profile photo would seem to indicate.  He does run the Ubuntu Satanic Edition, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.  Seriously, he’s a great guy.  I have never once heard him say “SATAN!” in a deep growly voice, no matter how many times I ask.

The point being, 18 people have already said they’ll be at the Meetup, and you should absolutely add yourself to that list.  Assuming you will actually be there, of course.

As for London, I don’t know how many will be there, but probably not as many as the Cleveland gathering.  Hey, it’s okay, folks.  Don’t feel down about it.  Not everyone can be as cool as Cleveland.  We’ll do our best to have a good time regardless.

Winter Drifts

By current standards, the winter storm we’ve just weathered was pretty severe: two feet of snow blanketed our local environs in the course of 24 hours, give or take.  I put a few pictures up on Flickr, for those who’d like to see some of the aftereffects.  The broad nature of the storm meant that everyone got about the same snowfalls; lake effect seemed to play a minor or nonexistent role.

I’ve heard some people are comparing this storm to the Blizzard of ’77, and a few with a slightly better sense of proportion have recalled the storm that hit the area in November of 1996.  Both strike me as rather specious comparisons.  The ’77 storm was near to epic in scope and intensity, dropping four or five feet and stranding a whole lot of travelers.  My paternal grandparents had dropped by to visit the day before it started and ended up staying several days longer than they’d planned; the snow on our roofed patio was three or four feet deep, and many drifts throughout our area were a dozen feet or more tall.  For 1996, we had four or five days of constantly falling dense, wet snow, and tornadoes and thunderstorms to boot.  This week’s storm mostly dumped the light fluffy snow you can clear away with a broom, assuming it’s not too deep.

The truth is that this week’s storm wouldn’t have been very remarkable twenty years ago.  It might have been one of the heaviest individual falls of a given season, and certainly would have caused some problems, but it wouldn’t have triggered historical comparisons.  I remember days with ambient air temperatures of -20°F (-29°C) and stiff winds, which drove the effective temperature down to -50°F (-45°C) or lower.  I remember snow feet thick on the ground which stayed on for weeks.  I remember tunneling through roadside snowbanks and building elaborate snowforts with the neighbor kids, snowy bus stops, sledding parties and ice skating.

Yeah, yeah, okay: “when I was your age…”.  That’s not actually my point.  What I’m trying to say is that for last couple of decades, we’ve had some very mild winters, and it made us complacent.  I don’t own boots, because it’s literally been years since I needed them.  I had cause to regret that as I cleared snow from our walks in my regular shoes.  Thankfully, we do have access to a snow blower, so I didn’t have to shovel, but that didn’t stop the snow from getting into my shoes.  Oh, that’s a cold feeling.

I stayed far away from any conventional media yesterday, mostly to spare myself the histrionics of local news forecasters and avoid the depressingly repetitive comment, “I guess so much for global warming, haw haw haw!”.  There’s only so much moronity I can stomach in a day.  Instead, we all stayed home (Carolyn’s preschool and Kat’s office both being closed, along with nearly everything else in the city) and played games, read books, and went outside for short periods to make snow angels, get cold-rosy cheeks, and eat a few mittenfuls of snow.  Then we came back in to sip hot drinks in front of the fireplace.

People sometimes ask me why I stay in Cleveland when I could find work no matter where I moved.  In response, I can only point out my window to the drifts of snow sparkling in today’s clear-sky sun and the bare brown trees that will, in a month or two, begin to bud green shoots and tiny flowers; the same trees that will be silhouetted against a lightning-torn sky and will roar as autumn winds rip through their branches and brilliant leaves.

While that is not the only reason I stay, I need no other.

Localized Content

There’s the World Tour, which is exciting and all that, but then there’s the fun of hometown gigs.  It just so happens that I have two coming up in the near future.  Here they are, along with some brief information on what I’ll be talking about.

NOTACON 2

Conference dates: 8-10 April 2005.  Both my talks will be the morning of Saturday, 9 April.

  • The Construction of S5; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the DOM — a look at where S5 started, why it grew, how its growth was accomplished, what kinds of design decisions had to be made, and where it’s headed in the future.
  • Humanely Wielding a Clue By Four: Reflections on Managing a Massive Mailing List — a look back at three-plus years of managing css-discuss, this will be an unvarnished peek into the life of a list administrator who actually cares about the list.

Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Usability Professionals’ Association (NEOUPA)

Metting date: Tuesday, 24 May 2005.

  • Rapid UI Prototyping and Easy A/B Usability Testing with CSS — an updated version of the short talk Molly Holzschlag and I gave last year at User Interface 9, this will look at ways to use CSS and standards-oriented design to quickly develop UI designs and to do comparison testing of different designs.

Neither event is free, but then, neither event is terribly expensive, either.  So come on down!  They should be a peck o’ fun.

I’m also speaking at the NASA Glenn Research Center this afternoon, but that’s an internal gathering, not a public event, which is why I didn’t mention it before.  I haven’t been there since the late 1980s, so it’ll be interesting to see if anything’s really different.

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