Monthly Archives: December 2006

My New Year’s Resolution

I hate the idea of New Year’s resolutions. And yet, I think I have to make one.

I rarely (if ever) talk about work on this blog. And that’s by design. But I want to talk about what I do rather than just where I work. For years, I’ve hidden behind the adage that I’m a “generalist” as far as working the web goes. In fact, I’m pretty much a generalist at everything. I’m curious about everything and very easily distracted. I have a million hobbies and interests, and my spare time is very easily filled up.

But this year, I want to focus a bit more on my work as a web designer. I’m not a designer, or a programmer. I often just call myself a “web guy” and that’s true. But the truth is that most web guys know much more about the web than I do. I recently read Jeff Croft’s entry on being a professional web designer and it really struck home. I’m one of those guys who learned HTML in the 90s. I’ve kept up, barely, with most new developments as far as markup (ie. not programming) and the general “zeitgeist” of the web. I know the right buzzwords, and am genuinely interested in where the web is headed. But my technical skills and knowledge have lagged.

My current job started in 2003 when I had to build a site from the ground up for a wine-importing agency. It’s gone through a few cosmetic changes since then, but nothing serious, and it is crying out for a proper database back end and a CMS. These are at present beyond the scope of my abililities. I’ve bought the right books, and bookmarked the right sites. But my current responsibilities have gradually expanded to the point where I can’t immerse myself enough to learn how to do these things.

Each year I come back from SXSW inspired and motivated to make the necessary changes, and each year, I fail to make them. I’m frustrated. Part of the problem is the fact that I do much more than just maintain the web site now. And part of it is just inertia. No one complains about the site, but I know what’s wrong with it. As the only web guy in a small company, I’m also very isolated from the web design community. Though I know several people and get together pretty regularly for drinks with them, I’ve assumed they’re too busy to help with my questions. I’ve wanted to get more involved in the local web design community, but have lost the confidence that I’ll be able to contribute anything of worth to the discussion. Same goes for SXSW, where I hang out with bloggers and journalists and other “content” types instead of trying to learn from people whose work I admire online.

It may be true that in the long run, I’ll always be more comfortable as a content guy. My real passion is for writing and for using the web in innovative ways. But that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of learning a few new tricks. In 2007, I’m going to try very hard to make space for that to happen.

Goodbye Leslie

The sad news around the web this morning is that longtime blogger and web pioneer Leslie Harpold has passed away. I remember enjoying her blog at hoopla.com before some domain scammer stole it from her. Over the years, her online Advent calendar has been a yearly tradition as well. But what I remember the most about Leslie is that I started receiving a lot of referrals sometime back in 2001 from a set of blog templates that she gave away for free. The set of default links (which I suppose was her “recommended reading” list) contains just 25 weblogs. I was incredibly surprised and proud to be among them, and I sent her an email to thank her. I don’t have her response anymore, but I do remember her being extremely nice. I never did get to meet her, but just today I’m discovering all the nice things she did for so many other people, few of whom she actually met face-to-face.

The world has lost a really good person, and I’ve lost someone who, in that still-odd parlance, was an “online friend.”

The Book Meme

Gord done gone and book-memed me! Here are the rules:

  1. Grab the book closest to you
  2. Open to page 123, go down to the fifth sentence
  3. Post the text of next 3 sentences on your blog
  4. Name of the book and the author
  5. Tag three people

Here’s mine:

“I had built a reputation for preaching and writing , both at the local level and beyond. I had done everything I knew how to do to draw as near to the heart of God as I could, only to find myself out of gas on a lonely road, filled with bitterness and self-pity. To suppose that I had ended up in such a place by the grace of God required a significant leap of faith.”

Barbara Brown Taylor — “Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith”

Wow. Neat.

I am tagging Brad, Kevin, and Jay.

One Punk Under God

One Punk Under God

Beginning December 13, the Sundance Channel (unfortunately, unavailable here in Canada) will be airing a new 6-part series called One Punk Under God. It’s a documentary that follows Jay Bakker, the only son of former PTL Club founders Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, as he tries to deal with the pressures of pastoring his own “alternative” Revolution Church.

Jay certainly didn’t intend to enter the ministry. After his parents’ ministry collapsed in the late 1980s after charges of financial impropriety and his father’s affair, Jay abandoned the church and the faith and plunged into a lifestyle of substance abuse, punk rock, and tattoos. He’s left the drugs and alcohol behind, but the do-it-yourself ethic of punk (and more than 60 tattoos) remain at the heart of his ministry. He calls Revolution a church “for people who have given up on church” and “those who feel rejected by religion.” Part of the revolution plays out in front of the camera and involves his embrace of the gay and lesbian communities, which causes rifts with some of his original backers.

Jay is a tremendously likeable character trying to escape the lengthy shadow of his parents’ legacy, and though there are still a few moments that make me cringe, I find myself rooting for him. In the first episode (available free at the iTunes store), he revisits Heritage U.S.A., the “Christian retreat center” (theme park) founded by his parents. Now abandoned and overgrown, the site seems like a metaphor for the ministry of Jim and Tammy Faye, who, despite their obvious faults, come across as basically decent people. Jay is trying to follow Christ as authentically as possible, with the added burden of feeling somehow responsible for his parents’ many sins.

The show is extremely compelling to me personally. As someone who has had a rocky relationship with the (admittedly milder Canadian version of) evangelical subculture, this speaks to me deeply about wanting to keep Christ while ditching so much of what passes for organized religion today. Sure, the appeal of Jay Bakker’s church to younger people might appear trendy and shallow. But it might just be an expression of the sort of unconditional love that the gospel is all about.

Unfortunately, the screener DVD I was sent only contained the first four episodes, and by some horrible twist of fate, episode 2 was repeated twice while episode 3 was missing entirely. So, until I can download these for myself, I’ll just have to assume that the rest of the series is as interesting as the first hour.

Good article about Jay Bakker from Radar Magazine

One from the New Yorker and another from New York magazine.

P.S. Make sure you click the Heritage U.S.A. link. There are some really great photos of what the park looks like now, and no matter how you might feel about Christian theme parks, there is something sort of sad in these pictures.

P.P.S. How annoying that the Apple Store in Canada doesn’t have the free episode, and any attempt to set up an account at the U.S. Apple Store fails because my credit card has a billing address in Canada. I can’t even download free stuff. Bad Apple!!

Sufjan = Christmas!

Sufjan Stevens' Christmas EPs

I picked up the set of Christmas EPs by Sufjan Stevens tonight and so far it’s awesome. Most of this guy’s music sounds like Christmas to me anyway, but this is the perfect way to make this jaded old soul think about the stuff buried under all the tinsel and shopping.

These EPs were previously unreleased, but a few songs appeared on some file sharing networks. Basically, every year since 2001 (except 2004), SS has recorded a mix of traditional carols and original Christmas songs (with great titles like “Get Behind Me, Santa!” and “Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!”) and sent it out to friends. Now we’re all his friends. For only $20!

Seriously, this is good!