Spam poetry

Ran across an unexpected bit of zen amongst the spam in the database of a client I won’t name.

Some fishes become extinct, but Herrings go on forever. Herrings spawn at all times and places and nothing will induce them to change their ways. They have no fish control. Herrings congregate in schools, where they learn nothing at all. They move in vast numbers in May and October. Herrings subsist upon Copepods and Copepods subsist upon Diatoms and Diatoms just float around and reproduce. Young Herrings or Sperling or Whitebait are rather cute. They have serrated abdomens.

The Black Dog

I don’t do a lot of strictly personal blogging on this site, but this is one of those exceptions that I simply have to make.

I spent a lot of this summer fighting off the worst depression I’ve dealt with in several years. I’m not sure what exactly kicked it off: for me, it’s always a combination of factors (money, work, health, assorted flavors of burnout) landing at once rather than any one incident. But what I can now say with absolute certainty is that depression in the tech freelancing world is different. Not in good ways, either.

  • We have a strong tendency (born of the economics of the gig) to work through our sick days and even brag about it. There’s this dumb macho attitude about how many hours you work, how busy you are, how incredibly hard you’re hustling all the damn time.
  • And anyway, if we don’t work, we don’t get paid.
  • A lot of us (in the US) either live without health insurance, or have the crappy catastrophic-only kind where you have to pay full price for the first several thousand dollars of care. That’s certainly better than nothing for an acute illness or a car wreck, but it’s a strong disincentive to seek treatment for something non-deadly that could require years of ongoing treatment. And (as above) if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.1
  • We spend a hell of a lot of time alone. Even if you have a family, you’re probably spending whole days without seeing anyone; if you have dead time between jobs — and you absolutely will, because all those helpful blog posts about how you should be working on marketing every second you’re not coding mean shit once the reality-distortion field descends and your brain starts eating your will from the inside out — you stop having the incredibly loose structure of a project to make you check in with reality every once in a while.

But in the end, I’m still here, and I’m too damned stubborn not to be. I’m doing a lot better than I was a month or so ago; my bouts of depression don’t ever stick around forever. I dropped the ball on a couple of things and I’m still dealing with the aftermath, but I still have a husband and friends and work and a house. And even though I’ve never said it until now, an important part of getting past this latest mess has been all of you, my friends, my community. For pushing me to keep learning all the time, for believing in what I can do, and sometimes just for being around at whatever crazy hour I happen to not be sleeping. As dangerous as the isolation and tenuousness of freelancing can be for depression, the flip side is that the nonstop challenge and the sheer joy of having found my people is the way back out.

I’ve been sitting on this in draft form for a while, and then I was reminded that today is World Suicide Prevention Day, so there’s the excuse I’ve been looking for to dig this out of my saved drafts and finally dig up the guts to hit “publish”. I’m not (and have never been) at serious risk of suicide, but I’m far too familiar with its effects. My mother and grandmother both died by suicide2; both of them had both bipolar disease and addiction and I don’t, which in an incredibly sick way makes me the “lucky” one.

I’m not stronger or better than they were — I think they were incredibly strong to make it as long as they did with comorbidities (not to mention some frankly shitty circumstances). But I am lucky, in part because I’ve known for as long as I can remember to take this stuff seriously, to look for help, to listen to others who need help themselves.

If you’re facing down the black dog, or you know someone who is, please reach out for help. Our community may be spread out all over the place geographically, but there are people who care about you, no matter how hard it may be to believe right now.

  1. At least there’s parity now. It really sucked when even the good kind of insurance could get away with not covering any mental health conditions at all. You’ll just have to trust me on that one.
  2. I really dislike the term “commit suicide”: it casts suicide in the language of crime or at least of weakness, when in fact it’s almost always the end of a serious and progressive episode of mental illness.

More on “Premium Themes” are a lie

Ever since I started digging into the WP theme world, I’ve suspected that “premium” means one or both of:

  • It has an options panel bigger than WP itself, which may or many not be secure
  • I suspect that you, the buyer, will believe that “premium” makes it better. Also, there’s this nice bridge in Brooklyn…

Technically, it doesn’t even really apply to paid themes: when I start to type “free premium” into Google, the first auto-complete result is “… WordPress themes”. Sigh.

Evan Solomon has a terrific post up called “Premium Themes” are a lie full of actual data and stuff that this here post lacks. I think the point he makes at the end is terrifically important: way up on the list of the people who really stand to lose from this mess are the makers of good commercial themes. They’re out there, and they do some great work that I happily recommend, and wouldn’t hesitate to use myself (whenever I’m not mucking around in the guts of my beloved _s, anyway), and most important, they back it up with solid support and real transparency.

You know, the way businesses are supposed to act.

Diversity Statement

While it’s not my main distro, I have friends on that side and I like to keep an eye on the project. Debian’s Diversity Statement is damn near perfect.

The Debian Project welcomes and encourages participation by everyone.

No matter how you identify yourself or how others perceive you: we welcome you. We welcome contributions from everyone as long as they interact constructively with our community.

While much of the work for our project is technical in nature, we value and encourage contributions from those with expertise in other areas, and welcome them into our community.


I just killed all those buttons, or, as I sometimes think of them, zits on the face of the internet. I’ve felt for a while that they weren’t actually doing anything for me, but we all had a moment there where the conventional wisdom was that every damn page on the internet had to have a row of buttons for twitter and facebook and g+ (and pinterest and dribbble and digg and reddit and stumbleupon and seriously? are we done yet? does anyone really seriously believe that a dozen or twenty different buttons looks like anything but junk to be skimmed past as quickly as possible on the way to where you’re really going?)

The vague noise in the back of my head crystallized with this:

Which was followed shortly by this post from iA. A few highlights:

If you provide excellent content, social media users will take the time to read and talk about it in their networks. That’s what you really want. You don’t want a cheap thumbs up, you want your readers to talk about your content with their own voice.

and especially this

Social media buttons are not a social media strategy, even though they’re often sold that way. Excellent content, serious networking and constant human engagement is the way to build your profile. Adding those sleazy buttons won’t achieve anything. Social media is not easy — there is no simple trick. Usually, what most people do is not the winning strategy but the safe strategy, and safe rarely wins.

Go read the whole post. It’s excellent. And then come back when you’re done; I’ll wait.

The thing that gets overlooked amidst the hype about their bold move to get rid of social buttons is that neither of those sites is doing anything to get rid of either engagement with their readers or spreading the word about their posts — Smashing has a link to Twitter on each post, just a link, like this: Share on Twitter (only theirs works). And the thing is, given their audience of web nerds, I’ll bet that’s more effective for them than any of those other twenty networks (that, let’s be honest, everyone totally ignores), and it loads a heck of a lot faster than the button and all the associated slimy tracking scripts that come with it. And the iA post goes further, incorporating the best of their reactions into the post.

Neither of them is static or dead or remotely like a ghost town. Unlike, say, these:

Which is what all those “17 people shared this” buttons start to look like after a while.

Here’s the thing

I tweet and retweet stuff. Enthusiastically. But it’s not because of any strategy: it’s because my twitter world, which consists of my own stream, a bunch of my best and chattiest friends from several mostly-separate circles, random drop-ins from their friends who often become mine, and… you get the picture — that extended circle lives and feeds on conversation. That’s what social sharing actually means. (I do much the same thing with facebook, but less often.)

That guy over there who followed you four times in a row because he’s using some tool that shows him everyone who hasn’t followed him back? Whose every tweet is a link, no conversation, and the link obviously comes from a button because they’re all formatted exactly the same? Who probably has “strategist” somewhere in his bio? Yeah, that guy. He followed you too (four times). He’s not part of the conversation. He’s creepy as hell and we all secretly kinda hate him.

Quickie redesign

What you’re looking at right now is a one-afternoon redesign. I’ve been running Twenty Eleven on this site for a while, and while I love it, you can’t really escape the fact that it’s pretty much everywhere. That’s what being the default theme gets you. And in the mean time, as I’ve been busy building other sites, I’ve been squirreling away a list of neat tricks that I’ve seen, or maybe even used in various places but never all in one place; not to mention a few ideas that I’ve been wanting to try out where I’m the only one who can get into trouble with it. It’s my tech blog and I’ll cry if I want to!


  • Forge is incredibly cool, except for the parts of it I didn’t like. It’s a toolkit for bootstrapping theme development, and uses LESS or SASS (whichever you prefer. It switches automagically. It’s that kind of cool.), CoffeeScript, and all the new hotness. Better yet, it’s an amazeballs packaging tool: As you develop, you can watch (and optionally live reload) in multiple test environments, and package everything to a zip file when you’re done. As a test for both Forge and my own OCD, I packaged, uploaded, and activated on a live site while resisting the urge to zip, unzip, go back into the generated stylesheet to tweak by hand, run theme check three times over, etc. etc. etc. You’re looking at it. It worked.
  • Speaking of bootstrapping, of course, Bootstrap. I know I’m late to the game on this one, but it has some amazing stuff in it, and it took pretty minimal changes to make it look not totally like a Bootstrap site (but check out the nice glowy blue borders around any active form field. Huge Bootstrap giveaway!) Because learning twelve whole new systems in a day was a little too much even for me, I’ve been playing with this SASS port of Bootstrap. The original framework is written in LESS, which many people like, but for today, I wanted to use the way of writing mix-ins and variables and such that I already know. For what I was doing, it didn’t make much difference, or rather, I didn’t run into anything that I wasn’t able to do just the way it seemed like it should work.
  • Underscores (_s), which I’ve been using for all my new themes lately. My one big gripe with Forge was that it fires up a blank starter theme with templates I didn’t like; it turns out that you can dump whatever files you want into your working directory and get all the live-previewing and packaging goodness, so I just swapped in the ones I like instead. Easy-peasy. But if I keep combining these three (and I will), I’ll have to come up with some less kludgey ways of launching things just the way I like them.
  • Others: Google Webfonts. Subtle Patterns. C8H10N4O2


  • Zeldman wrote a Design Manifesto the other day. Aside from the fact that, yes, he knows, his type is really really REALLY big, it’s got some great thoughts about designing for content and readers (not to mention about the importance playing around with your own site just for the hell of it).
  • Mark’s post on How I Built Have Baby, Need Stuff is really excellent: he goes far beyond playing with front-end goodies to some neat tricks beneath the surface, including some that I’d never even heard of. Plus, unlike me, he actually documents it all.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Mobile views are passable but hardly awesome: on the iPhone, it’s squishing even narrower than it needs to be – but out of the box and with literally no attention to mobile browsers, it’s readable and looks like itself. I blame the tools. The Kindle Fire has a different set of issues: the whole sidebar is bumped to the bottom, which says “box model weirdness” to me. And I miss my goofy fonts. Still, again, better than a lot of sites out there, with no extra effort. The fact that it bothers me so much is a good sign of how much we really are moving to a default assumption that mobile will be used, a lot, on all sites.
  • I didn’t bother with an editor.css in this theme, and typing this post without matching styles is seriously bugging me. It’s another one of those WordPress things that seems like a small thing until you miss it.
  • I’ve been realizing lately how much I’ve come to dislike 960px fixed width designs even as I’ve continued to use them because they’re easy enough to drop into certain uses. Opening up to fluid, 1140, and percentage-based while still keeping an eye on readable measures, proportions, and plenty of leading and padding for breathing room? Plain old fun.
  • Most importantly, I’ve had it on my list to redesign my main site for, oh, months now. Sometimes, tossing something off as fast as possible is the best thing going.