Category Archives: Life

<3 Adaptive Path

Ten years ago I asked my manager if we could go on a walk. I was working as a front-end developer for a tiny web development shop in Bend, Oregon. I was young, talented, and a bit of a shit.

My manager sensed something was up, so instead of a walk he recommended we go to the bar. Over a couple of pours of Deschutes’ finest I told him that in three months I was going to leave the company to go work as a wilderness guide in northern Minnesota.

I didn’t know how he would take it, but my manager, a dear friend and mentor to this day, slapped me on the back, said “Fuck yeah, man!” and bought us a second round. He spent his twenties gallivanting around and guiding rafting trips, you see, and he wanted the same for me.

I was angry and burned out on web development. It was the dawn of the standards-based web design movement, and I had spent the last year slicing and dicing visual design comps into HTML and CSS. Some of them were gorgeous templates produced by talented print designers, but after I painstakingly turned them into sites they would sit forlorn on the web for months, empty of content. Our team was hard at work building a content management system our clients never used, to power websites their customers never visited.

We had all-company meetings every Friday, where I would often drink a Sparks and yell at the founders that they were doing everything wrong. I had no answers to our problems, only strongly held beliefs, which is what you do when you’re in your twenties.

It was 2004. Blogging was the rage and I kept up with all the heavyweight web designers of the day, Jeffrey Zeldman, Jason Santa Maria, Dave Shea and Doug Bowman, to name a few. This was pre-Twitter, and most people had little link lists or sidebars or whatever on their blogs where they shared hyperlinks to interesting things going on in and around the interwebs. Micro-blogging, before that was a thing.

That fall, I noticed that people kept posting about an upcoming two-day design workshop hosted by a little design company in San Francisco. I kept it in my periphery, but in the days leading up to the workshop the mentions got more and more hysterical. The week before the workshop I crossed my fingers and emailed my manager, asking if I could skip out a few days next week and travel to San Francisco.

Screenshot of Adaptive Path's 2004 San Francisco Workshop

(Let’s be honest… the whole reason I did any of this was because of a picture of a trolley)

He didn’t owe me anything. I had told him weeks before that I would leave the company in January.

Miraculously and fatefully, he said yes.

He gave me the time off for the trip, but said I would have to foot the bill myself. Not a problem. I was ecstatic. It was more than a fair trade.

I plotted a route in MapQuest, filled up the Subaru, and after work on Friday aimed south and started my journey from Bend to San Francisco. I hit Weed in the spooky dark. Near Castle Crags I pulled off the road and slept in the back of my car.

Morning, Castle Crags

I awoke to low clouds settled in the pines, and oaks yellowing with the season. I wound down through the mountains back to the freeway, and inched closer to the Bay Area. Later, while crossing the Carquinez Bridge into East Bay, I remember keeping up with traffic at eighty miles per hour as sports cars weaved through us as though we were standing still. I spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express in San Pablo for $60.

The next day I set out to find the “Ashley” BART station (as I wrote it in my notes) but got lost instead and ended up in a six-lane traffic jam. I stumbled blindly through Berkeley until I found my quarry, and hopped BART into San Francisco. I transferred at MacArthur and our train broke down at Embarcadero. For a child of the Minneapolis suburbs the entire experience was like traveling in a foreign country, and if you had told me that in six years I would be living here I would have told you you were nuts. If you told me I would move here to work at Adaptive Path, I would have told you you were insane.

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I found my way to Union Square and a kind homeless fellow named Benny helped me find my hotel, the Kensington Park. I checked into my room, gorgeous and a steal at $119 a night, and then met up with one of my freelance clients. We had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. We ate out on the balcony. A pigeon shit all over him.

The two-day Adaptive Path workshop kicked off the next morning at the Hotel Monaco. It was November 8, 2004, exactly ten years ago today.

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(If you’re into historical artifacts, you can download the slides from the Blogger redesign workshop or grab a zip file of all the materials they shared with us that day)

The entire Adaptive Path crew was super nice and welcoming. Doug Bowman and Jeff Veen shared the story of their Blogger redesign project, which promptly blew my mind. I had long suspected that there was a better way to design and build things for the web, but I had never heard of “user experience” before. In short order Jeff taught us about ethnographic research, personas, task flows, usage metrics and usability testing, among other things, and Doug revealed the magic behind the HTML and CSS that brought his designs to life.

I was elated. Here were my people. Matt Mullenweg was there in the audience, the author of a little tool called WordPress that some people used instead of Movable Type and Greymatter to author their blogs. He had just moved to San Francisco. Like, that weekend.

It was a pivotal time for many of us.

In a matter of hours, I had gone from wanting to move to the woods and give up on the web entirely to being one of the most passionate UX converts ever. I learned that it wasn’t just me who was dissatisfied with the status quo of development-focused product design, followed by a thin film of superficial visual design. In fact, there was a whole practice dedicated to the belief that the best way to build great websites and software for people was to empathize with them, deeply understand their needs, and craft a product that addresses them at a fundamental level. I can’t emphasize enough how much this discovery revolutionized my worldview.

Doug and Jeff’s workshop was a truly life-changing experience for me, and it happened all again the following day, when the guys from 37signals got up and talked about building Basecamp. DHH demoed Ruby on Rails, building a to-do list application right there before our eyes. I was positively drunk on inspiration, on the infinite abilities of humankind to do smart things and build kind experiences for each other.

This, this is what I knew I wanted to do with myself, and I owed it all to two days with Adaptive Path.

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(So young. So obviously in love with 20th Street)

The workshop wrapped. I took the Muni to Dolores Park, and caught up with a music friend who was living in San Francisco. Her friend was wearing a backpack with a seatbelt, which seemed kind of weird at the time. I hauled my ass back to East Bay, grabbed my Subaru from “Ashley” BART, and aimed north.

I slept in my car again at Castle Crags.

And arrived home in Bend the following day.

Everything was still the same, but somehow, different.

So thank you, Adaptive Path, for all of that.

Introducing Another Website For You To Check On A Regular Basis In Addition To Twitter And Flickr And Kate’s Blog

It’s called thegreatsunra.com.

From 2001 to 2006 I maintained a weblog on a fairly regular basis. In those early years it was new and exciting to be “publishing” to the “internet” to “people” who may or may not be there; who you may or may not even know.

I started losing steam in 2005. My online publishing became downright anemic by 2006. For the last four years, my online identity has been wildly fragmented, publishing across the Twitters and Flickrs and Facebooks (for a spell) and Vimeos and Brainside Outs and Daneomatics and Tumblrs and even some super-secret projects that you don’t even know about, which I started and ended quietly in an attempt to rekindle that original flame.

For four years I feel I have expended far more energy trying to pull these disparate identities together into some cohesive whole, than I have actually contributing to the ether. You know, writing. Or publishing. Or making. The whole reason I started down this path in the first place. The technology was never meant to be an end, the packaging never the focus, but merely the mechanism by which I communicate with the world, externally processing my thoughts while simultaneously getting them out there in the world.

As such, I’m trying something new. Perhaps this too will fail, but I prefer to let time be the judge of that.

In 2001 my original website, by the ostentatious name of “Cromlech”, was built in Adobe GoLive. Then, it was built in Dreamweaver. Then in Notepad for a spell. Then Greymatter, if any of you whipper-snappers remember that (I’m pretty sure Zosia Blue does).

Greymatter was instrumental to supporting my blogging efforts during the summer of 2002, when I worked at Camp Ihduhapi. It was the first time I could update my website from any computer whatsoever, without needing to FTP into the server.

It was also the reason I learned HTML.

Cromlech became “Dane’s Bored” which became “Brainside Out” which I eventually migrated to Movable Type. Upon Movable Type it remained until 2006, when I launched Daneomatic on WordPress. The weblog portion of Brainside Out, complete with archives from 2001 to 2006, is still available on the internet at siskiwit.brainsideout.com, where it remains in stasis.

And so, I wish to introduce thegreatsunra.com, a Tumblr blog which may (or may not) support my contributions to the intertubes. This space is getting hella-crowded and writing for the web isn’t nearly as much fun as it was once before, but I do still have “ideas” that I need to get “out” so that I can continue having “more” ideas.

So, for the five of you who read this, you now have another place you need to check in order to keep tabs on me. And for that, I apologize. I fully realize it’s poor user experience, and I can only hope it is forgivable.

More often than not, my day resembles a modern art exhibit.

Someone applied a taxonomy to the sandwich.

The fellow in the turkey hat was not amused.

The lifeguard gave me a weird look, before dancing off in a jig.

The crazed man sat in the middle of the sidewalk, glowering at the legal pad still in its packaging.

The man in the sleeping bag shouted at himself, as the can of Budweiser rolled lazily back and forth.

The West

Gracious Living

I may be honing in on part of why I find the American West, not only the landscape but also its people and history, so interesting. And history not necessarily in the wars fought or the great leaders and historic influencers and such, but in the everyday sense. What did people, regular people, do out here? What was their lifeworld? What was their intersubjectivity?

In a way, it’s a manner to defamiliarize myself with my own lifeworld, my own values and needs and hopes and dreams and goals and aspirations and fears… to try on someone else’s to render more explicit to my own consciousness my own silently-held assumptions, biases and predispositions. And if I understand mine better, I can come to know those of others better. I can better empathize with them, knowing that my own convictions and beliefs are sourced in something, sourced in experiences I have had that have influenced my values and thinking, rather than some innate characteristic of mankind that others may or may not have discovered yet.

Indeed, this thought experiment allows me to reject the notion that I have attained some kind of objective, universal, transcendent truth or enlightenment. In some ways I have found my own enlightenment, yes. I have discovered, and continue to hammer out, a personal framework for meaning. But this is not a guarantor. It is something that frames, that helps me make sense of human life, but not something that determines life.

Transactions for Saturday October 25th, 1884

And so, I look to the West, and the ephemera of the 1800s, yes, that era of westward expansion and exploration and such, and I find it fascinating to see what people, what ordinary people, did in those circumstances. What they were forced to do. What they chose to do. How they went about doing it, and why, and what they did once they got there.

And I’m figuring that a lot of the style of the West, artifacts and such that we inescapably associate with the West, are not necessarily by design… but that they were the only resources available from which to craft things. So yes, they were designed, if not in an aesthetic sense, but in that there were strict constraints of materials available to build, and those in turn determined the styles of things, of buildings, of main street in boom towns… indeed, the stark reality of building a town out of nothing, yes, that’s positively fascinating.

Wallpaper Strata

But also, what luxuries did we chose to bring along? From alcohol to prostitutes to sourdough bread to chandeliers in barrooms to player pianos to ornate ceiling tiles to framed art to wainscoting to wallpaper… these things didn’t just come from nowhere. In a lawless land such as the historic American West, it likely ended up there because someone decided they could make a buck by doing it. A piano is heavy and delicate and difficult to transport, but man just as with any bumpin’ night club, I’m sure it could bring the crowds if you were the only saloon that had one.

But also, I’m interested in the West from an art direction standpoint, from the way the western films, with their spurs and pointed-toe cowboy boots and electric guitars and whistles and harmonicas and such, the way Sergio Leone has basically mediated the portrayal of the West, and given us these vast tools of shared meaning with which we can craft and express a certain experience. And, in the case of diagetic sound, that can be pretty authentic, from the sounds of insects to wind to trotting horses, but also the electric guitars and whoops and hollers of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, how the non-diagetic sound has become a resource for emotional connection and, yes, designed experience.

So there’s West as nature, which I love. There’s West as life, historically, which I find interesting. There’s West as a shared cultural cinematic medium, the experience design of the West, which I find awesome.

And. There’s West as a raw portrayal of what we find quintessentially valuable as Americans. Or even, as humans. As people. I don’t want to draw too many universals independent of American culture, but there’s something telling to the West, the rawness of the hardscrabble life its history afforded, that tells a story of what we truly, truly value, yes as historic Americans, as a culture, but perhaps even as humans, when we have nothing and are presented with the rawest of living.

If we were to carve out an existence where there is nothing (taking on the perspective of a period-era pioneer, for a moment, and blindly ignoring the existing indigenous cultures we oh-so-ravaged, which already had indescribable “meanings” associated with all that we considered wide open “nothing” in the West), what are we going to carry with ourselves on our backs as we make our way westward? What are we going to build once we get there? What are we going to seek out, either from nature, or from others, in the hope that a loose regional society can provide what essentials we cannot provide for ourselves?

Entertainment District

What do we value, above all else, such that we will go through such pains to carry it with us, or build it, or seek it out? Shelter, water, food, fame, fortune, power, sex, liquor, the sublime, art, culture, music, the church, tobacco, opium… what motivates us, as a people, even at the fringes of civilization? What remains constant? What do we carry in our hearts, wherever we travel, whatever our society, whatever its wickedness and lawlessness?

In a way, I find the West a fascinating experiment in what we truly find most valuable as a culture, a society, a people, perhaps even a species… a perfected laboratory where, if given an opportunity to start it all over, with limited resources, how we would desire to remake ourselves. The scarcity of resources and obvious constraints and harshness of life in the Old West fascinates me as a designer, perhaps even moreso than the aesthetics of Western life, and I feel I’m beginning to understand that the aesthetics we associate with the West are inexplicably tied to something that was very real, and very raw, for some people’s existence.

The stories of other people’s lives, and how they lived them from day to day, fascinate me as a writer and a storyteller. I continue my attempts to unravel the stories of the West, for I feel as though they hold some kind of truth as to what dwells in the hearts of humankind.

A Modest Update

Hello all. A lot has happened since we last spoke.

We now live in Berkeley, a great little town where the people seem to not like much of anything.

I now work as an experience designer for Adaptive Path in their San Francisco office. It is truly awesome. We have our own unique culture. We fight over belt buckles.

Sometimes I write for the Adaptive Path weblog. Sometimes famous authors call me out. This is a beautiful thing.

Kate is teaching geology field research in the Tobacco Root Mountains of southwestern Montana for the summer.

Spry lives again, and yesterday delivered me safely to Lake Merritt and back.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

These are all true statements.

We are done with graduate school.

We are moving to San Francisco.

We are road tripping across the country.

We are currently in Moab, Utah.

The best way to keep track of us is through Twitter.

Or through Kate’s blog.

Slippery Slope

Tonight, Kate and I are playing a game. It is called the Don’t Drink the Bacon Grease game. The first person to drink the bacon grease loses the game.

So far we’re both winning.

But I think Kate might be pulling ahead.

Setlist, 08/10/09 – 08/22/09

San Francisco CA > Minneapolis MN > Grand Island NE > Sidney NE > Fort Collins CO > Estes Park CO > Rocky Mountain National Park > Fort Collins CO > Cheyenne WY > Kearney NE > Des Moines IA > Minneapolis MN > Madison WI > Bloomington IL > Bloomington IN

It’s been a long two weeks.

Directions to Mark’s Work

Out to vine. Cross vine, straight to welding. Right side of welding. Two-track entry to nature. Entry behind. Natural area. Straight. Between ponds. Fenced-in area. Right of chain link fence. Straight. Little hill. Up it. On top of berm along river. Left on dirt single track, fifty feet to railroad tracks. Left to get on rails, cross river on rails. Immediately to right is Mark’s building.

After a lovely summer…

Tomorrow is my last day at Adaptive Path.

Tomorrow is the last day I ride Spry through San Francisco.

I’m gonna try real hard not to cry.