Deconstructing and Reconstructing Part 3: Market, Meetup, Jazz, And Personal Site Improv

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Despite the previous evening's liquid fueled lateness, somehow I woke up refreshed. It was as if some things were resolved that I didn't know needed to be. For the first time since I'd left home, I managed to do a half hour of yoga.

After a quick grapefruit, coffee, and apricot juice breakfast, Hannah and I went to the local farmer's market and picked up some vegetables, fresh bread, a spinach quiche, and a slice of apple pie.

The spinach quiche kept us going while we each took care of a few things, bills, various random tasks, and last minute organization of a pub meetup later that night, detailed on Plancast and announced via Twitter naturally.

The Crown Tavern

We arrived about 15 minutes early at The Crown Tavern and started sampling their drinks. One or a few at a time, various London friends started showing up, some I'd seen a couple of days ago, some I hadn't seen in over two years.

As geeks often tend to, we compared and discussed cameras while waiting for our food. Despite the limitations of their Sunday menu, there were several vegetarian choices. I started with the tomato mozzarella basil salad and mini crabcakes, and had the lentil veggie burger for my main. It was all quite delicious, far beyond what I would've expected from a tavern. They even made a proper ristretto espresso with Illy coffee, served in a small eponymously branded cup.

Canals And Jazz

We were quite stuffed and the pleasant evening called for a walk. A few folks headed home but the rest of us walked along a long canal where we saw quite the variety of small cafes, street art, new developments, as well as houseboats docked to the sides.

Eventually we found ourselves in Dalston where Matt, Hannah, RJ, and I would make our stand for the rest of the evening.

Never before had I seen such a mixed hive of sharp dressers, a spectrum of hipsters, and the oddly out of place chav clusters. Fortunately we arrived early and managed to grab a couple of small tables. As the place filled up it was far too easy (and tempting) to snap over-the-shoulder shots of the amazing array of individuals.

The band was quite good. As relaxed as the day had started out, a bit of live jazz was the perfect closer.

Scrambles And Site Updates

Hannah and Jamie were wonderful hosts and I finally had the opportunity to repay them just a bit for their hospitality. With ingredients we'd picked up from the farmer's market and some fresh eggs, I made a mixed vegetable scramble for brunch that seemed to go over quite well.

Since I first attended SXSW in 2002, I've noticed that web conferences tend to be a bit like balls, the kind you dress-up for. Especially if you're speaking, but even if you're just attending, you know that lots of new people will be inevitably asking you for your site and taking a look. Conferences provide perhaps the necessary impetus to finally make progress on personal site updates that we've been procrastinating.

Both Hannah and I were feeling this; she didn't really have much at her own domain, and my site was far too cluttered since I'd started rebuilding it at the beginning of the year. Her challenges were mostly around coding and configuration, and mine were clearly design and layout. It was a perfect opportunity to do some pair web development, on both our personal sites, in parallel.

No Plan, Just Improv

We didn't really have a plan, we just knew that together we had the skills to accomplish what each of us wanted to accomplish, and that if we just started riffing on our existing work, together we might each actually get to where we each of us wanted to be.

As I cleaned up bits and pieces of my markup in preparation for a redesign, Hannah worked on a visual design for her site. Pressed for time, rather than create a brand new site from scratch, or take the time hassling with WordPress install, setup, configuration, theme authoring, she decided to go with using Tumblr for her "content management", though she had concerns about design and layout flexibility. I'd done enough Tumblr theme hacking to assure her that it would be no problem to convert her Photoshop visual designs into Tumblr template HTML + CSS.

This is something I'm seeing more and more designers do (e.g. Dan Cederholm, Timoni West) - that is, switch from either blogging software like WordPress or their own custom site code, to using Tumblr for their content (served at their own domain names - a nice Tumblr feature), with a hand crafted template to their liking.

Hannah and I worked late into the night. She gave me a simple grid to implement, then I got stuck on site headers/footers which she quickly addressed. She created the various images for her overall design, and I helped her put them in all the right places with CSS: backgrounds, fixed position elements, little cute affordances.

Things wouldn't look quite right, so Hannah measured precise pixels in her designs, which I helped translate to CSS rules on the respective elements. Our absence of a precise plan provided just the freedom of expressivity/creativity that we apparently needed, and everything just flowed from one thing to the next.

We successfully completed client-side bits of our respective redesigns (as much as any web design can be "complete" as opposed to a state of constant iterative improvement).

Of Domain Names And Propagation Magic

Just one thing remained, which was setting up the necessary A-record and C-name (yes, exactly, the whats?) for Hannah's personal domain to show her nicely styled Tumblr content, without doing any redirects. We tried following the Tumblr directions and couldn't quite get things working. Likely something to do with DNS propagation, or her hosting provider, or her domain name provider.

Server configuration is definitely much more of a pain than any front-end work. So many fragile moving parts, where the slightest mistake in any of them can break something, or leave open a security flaw, or both. Not exactly a paragon of usability.

We decided to call it a night. Over the next 24 hours I read up on some of the more ridiculous details of A-names etc. (which, if you want to understand some of the more arcane aspects of how domain names work at all, you might consider doing), propagation times, timeouts etc., and figured out a series of steps that should help us accomplish our goals.

That next night, from my hotel in Brighton (more on that transition in part 4), I IM'd with Hannah who was still in London, and we walked through the steps necessary to setup her site to serve her content, and in addition, a way to use her own hosting provider to quickly serve static content such as her style sheets and stylistic images. We got it working as best we could and waited for all the necessary bits to propagate (something nearly any DNS related change requires). By the next morning, with just 24 hours to go til dConstruct, it all worked.

Site reconstruction, complete.