ChrisLee

.is


web design rage

Sometimes web design is such a balanced mix of infuriating and mind-numbing that it’s strangely easy to throw endless hours at the task at hand: you’re always angry, but you’re too lethargic to do anything about it.

The gif below shows 2 days’ progress on this website.

Site comparison

Superficially this makes me look like an inept goon, as all that’s changed is font, spacing, and image width.

It’s incredibly easy to focus on the superficial when you’re being raged into a web design lull. “Why am I so shit at this”, you ask.

Looking below the surface is when you realise the whole exercise isn’t futile. In the 2 days of coding and tinkering, I actually managed to:

  • Create my first responsive webpage
  • Secure new hosting that’s ~£20 cheaper per year
  • Set up my site’s DNS (after learning what DNS was)
  • Set up my first SQL database
  • Install WordPress manually
  • Uninstall WordPress manually after realising I’d done it wrong
  • Reinstalled WordPress manually
  • Rejigged the PHP files in WordPress to create a (basic!) custom theme
  • Shift the code for my site from JSFiddle to the actual site itself
  • Change the styling of the site from one location rather than having to do each page individually
  • Use Javascript to customise links on a page if they match the current URL
  • Use a WordPress extension to password protect the entire website so no one sees it in its current shambolic form

Not too shabby, really. The rage subsided when I realised, although I was still pretty tired.


principles

Some successful people live by a set of principles they’ve arrived at over the years. Some publish these for others to learn from.

Three great examples:

  • Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues: concise, overarching
  • Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: reflective account of lessons learned
  • Ray Dalio’s Principles: longer, explores reasons for having principles and outlines his

Ray says “I want you to think for yourself – to decide what you want, what is true and what to do about it“, highlighting the importance of reading such documents as informational rather than instructional.

I.e., don’t look to them to dictate to you how to lead your life, instead take guidance from them in an attempt to arrive at your own.

If the term ‘principles’ is off-putting, remember these aren’t intended as concrete rules you can never deviate from. Just guidelines that influence your behaviour and thought processes, informed by previous experiences and analyses.

A few things I’d add to my list:

  • Go outside first thing in the morning and breathe some fresh air
  • No screens before breakfast
  • Drink a pint of water with breakfast (before coffee / tea)
  • Tidy for 5-10 minutes each morning to set a productive tone for the day

the design trap

I have the audacity to call myself a web designer even though the sum total of my tinkering amounts to less than one complete website.

This is mainly due to taking the tinkering approach, teaching myself various bits as I go along, and hoping a website will come out the other end.

What actually happens though is I see one interesting feature or functionality on another website and spend ages learning that, then feel the need to rejig my whole site design to fit that. Cue boredom and lethargy and, ultimately, giving up again for a while until another feature piques my interest.

I’m going to call this the design trap and pretend to have coined the term/concept without checking if it already exists.

Definitely highlights the need for a solid plan, especially if charging for the process / product. Which I do!


Day 1:
Toronto to Lindsay

In which:

  • We hit the road!
  • Our first attempt to find accommodation goes less smoothly than planned
  • We camp in a ditch beside a cycle trail, and I spend most of the night worrying about bears

This morning we tarried a lot longer than planned and didn’t leave Aaron’s until 1ish – much later than the original plan of “11 latest!”. We also realised as we were leaving that we hadn’t printed any maps and had to rushedly print Google’s route for the first couple of days: a haphazard actualisation of something that was actually planned quite well. You can see below what we were working with (admittedly worse for wear after getting wet several times) – I think the fact we made it to our destination is testament to Alex’s excellent map reading skills:

Map

Our hopes of getting an early train were further dashed by a series of weird problems in the station:

Lifts that went to seemingly random floors without stopping at the ones in between: we were on a floor without a lift and needed to be on one with a lift, but stairs (which we were trying to avoid) stood in the way whether we went up or down. This ended with us testing a security guard’s theory that carrying heavily laden bikes down numerous stairs “isn’t that hard” (he was wrong), and my opinion of security guards decreasing further (after the charade at the airport).

A quasi-soap opera unfolding in the (huge) queue: one guy was constantly protesting about how his fare cost “EIGHT, DOLLARS?!”, which apparently didn’t meet his approval considering the huge profits generated by the company. Maybe a fair complaint, but trying to rile a crowd of bored commuters into revolution probably isn’t the best way to go about voicing it.

Lack of knowledge among station employees of whether bikes are allowed on trains at this time of day, perhaps stemming from the overly elaborate regulations involving bikes on trains in peak periods between certain stations in certain weather conditions during certain phases of the moon etc etc (click ‘bikes on trains’ on this page to see the full rules)

On the trainAlex captures the mood well

The 1418 train was the one we managed to get, but as we sat down to enjoy the ride an announcement told us that this train would terminate half way to where we actually wanted to be, and that a replacement bus service would go the rest of the way. This helpful information added further to the feeling of control and confidence we were sporting at this time. Usually buses are fine but with bikes they present a bit of a problem, although all credit to Toronto’s transport system the replacement bus had a bike rack mounted to the front which, after a scramble to unattach all our stuff, the driver was happy to store our bikes in.

Despite the early japes and delays, all went smoothly after we got the bus, and our arrival at Lincolnville marked the official start of our tour.

Champs

The roads at the start of the ride were some of the most parabolic I’ve ever cycled, to the point where it felt like we were cycling along a sine wave for parts of it (a nod to our mathematically-minded readership, there). It was nice though – a good introduction to the road and a good warm-up for the various hills we were going to face later in the ride.

After cycling past two houses which we didn’t realise was the town we planned to have a quick break at we found the Trans Canada Trail, which would be our friend and guide for most of the rest of today. Though the entrance to the section was somewhat less spectacular than I expected, it really is an amazing trail. I’ll let a passage from its Wikipedia page do the talking:

The Trans Canada Trail is the world’s longest network of recreational trails. When fully connected, the Trail will stretch 23,000 kilometres (14,000 mi) from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic oceans. More than 16,800 kilometres (10,400 mi) of trail are currently usable, making it approximately 73% complete in 2012.

Pretty impressive. It was a pleasure to cycle along, too – we took it for around 30 miles once we’d joined and if I recall correctly it took us straight into Lindsay, the town we planned to sleep in. The first section turned out to be quite representative of our overall experience of trails, too: massively varying surfaces (everything from gravel (shallow and deep) to mud to tarmac to sand), minimal traffic allowing for side-by-side riding, and a cloud of horseflies and/or mosquitoes following each of us (mad, persistent bastards).

Lindsay

We hit the town of Lindsay an hour or so before dark and headed straight to the supermarket for snacks to accompany the box of lentil dhal Alex prepared yesterday, then found a bench to dine at. As we were eating and discussing options for accommodation, a guy who I’d seen cycling past us as we entered the town came to talk to us. He told us about the adventures of his youth, driving to Idaho and picking up hitch-hikers on the way (he seemed to suggest they were mainly female), and asked us what we were up to. When we told him, he asked if we wanted to camp in his garden, which is almost exactly what we were hoping to find in terms of accommodation (he also asked us why we were eating a box of shit, and when we told him it was curry, said “wow, you boys aren’t that low are ya’?” – not really sure what to take from that).

We accepted his offer and followed him to his house, a journey which was filled with repetitive questions and stories from him, suggesting to us that he may be drunker than he initially seemed. This suggestion was reinforced when we arrived at ‘his’ house and his house mate said flatly that she didn’t want us to camp. Fine with us – we’d rather respect a definitive no than a drunken yes, even with his offer to camp on a piece of private land next to the house that he may or may not have owned (“it’s private property, the police can’t touch ya!”). We thanked him and told him we’d look elsewhere, but he was insisting that it would be OK (regarding his house mate, he kept saying “don’t mind her, she’s just a bitch!”). His attempts to persuade us to camp weren’t helped by nature calling louder than ever, and my pannier falling completely off as we cycled urgently away so I could get to a toilet before situation-critical occurred.

As I sat on the toilet in a bar despairing and wondering what the hell I’d signed up for, imagining a month of drunks insisting that we camp in their gardens despite their inevitably bitchy house mates’ naysaying, the following thought struck me: “Stop being such a wuss. This is worst case scenario, and aside from a vague feeling of awkwardness, it ended perfectly fine. Now go get a pint, ask the barmaid if she knows anywhere around here that would be good to camp, and get ready to enjoy the month of adventures that almost certainly won’t feature any other situations like this”. I actioned the thought, got a pint, got directions to a likely wild camping spot a few miles out of town (in the right direction for tomorrow’s route) from a barmaid who was happy to help, then went to share this empowering information with Alex. It was nice to be able to overcome our collective despair so easily, and we turned out to be right in thinking that no other situations like this would arise on the ride.

In retrospect, the guy (we’ve named him Lindsay in our reminiscences) was nice and definitely not a threat to us at all. I imagine he saw in us the adventurous self of his youth and wanted to help out, only to be told no by his house mate (whose stance I can also completely respect) and have his desire to help be temporarily misinterpreted as vaguely creepy insistence. It’s easy when you’re in that kind of situation to remember all the ingrained attitudes in our culture that all strangers are dangerous, all offers that seem generous or just kind should be met with scepticism, and feel worried as a result. Based on what we’ve seen so far on the road, though, everyone is actually lovely. No one gave us any problems on the entire trip, often going out of their way to do exactly the opposite, so in a way I’m glad we had an experience that seemed ‘negative’ at first, because it allowed me to contextualise everything quite well. If you’re reading this Lindsay, thanks again for the offer.