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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Start of a New Website, Part 1

The Start of a New Website, Part 1

I revel in the start of a new website.

I only get to do this once, maybe twice a year. Starting a new website from scratch is a long project, at least for me. But it has a New Year kind of feel to it. Doing it so infrequently requires me to brush up on my HTML and CSS standards. What DTD should I use? What has been deprecated? What version of HTML is most current? How do I link to a stylesheet?

Writing code for a new website requires some basic research, but it also has a liberating, fresh feel to it. I feel like I'll be able to right some wrongs I committed the last time I wrote. Sometimes a stubborn coding problem causes me to crudely smash tags and routines together in a desperate, clumsy way, not caring about standards, not regarding accessability, not wanting to make it clean and elegant...I just want to get it to work. And it bothers me, giving me an uneasy feeling of incompleteness and mediocrity.

So, the chance to write a completely new website lifts me to an excited, hopeful, idealistic mood. I can design a new graphic, learn some new Javascript, and perhaps gain Google's undivided attention!

A local civic organization has asked for a volunteer to help design, create, and manage their new website. I met with their communication committee today and it went well. We all seemed comfortable with each other, and their expectations seem to fit well with my experience level (limited) and expertise (shakey). I'll put together a sample page based on their initial descriptions and goals and email them a prototype next week. I'm excited.

Here's my first steps for those who are in a similar situation:

I met with my clients (Wow! That sure sounds professional! I have clients! I wonder if they know that?) and got paper copies of their latest newsletter and a screenshots of another group's organization that seemed to be what they were thinking of. A friend accompanied me, and offered some good suggestions during the meeting that I hope to incorporate. One of the representatives will be emailing me a PDF version of a MS Word document he created, a model or example of what he envisioned. This will give me some starting content and graphics.

As soon as I got home I fired up Chrome and went to World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This seems to be the center of website design standards and practices. I know that lots of changes have undoubtedly been made during the last year or so since I've created a website. It's important to adhere to global standards...it will affect how the page shows up on search engines, and how compatible it will be on all the major browsers. Every website, every smart phone, every computer, and every program that accesses the World Wide Web must decide what programming language to use, what version of that language to use, and what particular conventions it will follow. The people who adhere to the standard are the ones who enjoy wider access, better compatibility, and more popularity.

As I look (wade, stumble, puzzle) through the standards, I gradually pick up some the major criteria that I need to follow. I copy specific lines of code that they recommend and paste them into a blank document that I will use later as a template. This will make it much easier to create successive pages that are standards-compliant and user-friendly.

After creating a template, I want to go into creative-artist mode. I close my laptop and put away my iPod and grab the artist's favorite, always-dependable tools: paper and pencil. I also grab a handful of my granddaughter's crayons.

Grab your first blank piece of paper and jot down, in random, fluffy-cloud-like manner, goals or topics that this new website might include. Write down things like, Products, Contact Information, Customer Service, Features, Benefits, FAQ's, Photos, Volunteers, Prices, How-To's, and whatever else the organization might be concerned with.

Switch to analytical mode: What topics can be combined? What needs to be front-and-center? What can be buried? What is most important?

You might have to do these two exercises more than once. Don't try to be neat and tidy...no one but you will ever see these pages. You're using both sides of your brain, working together and separately, creating some possiblities.

Now, be the artist.

Here is a great way to open the mind up to effective, attractive, creative websites. Sketch out a possible layout of the home page. What should be most prominent? Does a two-column design look good? What will the title look like? What color combinations enhance the website's mission or goal? Draw some simple images. Don't try to make it detailed and don't try to make it perfect. Stick figures work fine. The goal here is to simply try different ideas. Expect to make at least three different designs. Try for a conservative, simple version. Then try for a wild, crazy, way-far-out design. Then make one that might fit in the middle...not too plain, and not too crazy. Make several versions. Try different colors, different shapes, different style of lettering, different sizes, different focal points.

Switch to analytical mode. What sketches seem to be likely candidates? Choose three and write a simple home page based on each sketch. These will become the rough draft pages that you can take back to your clients and get their feedback. Expect to make changes, and expect more questions.

But most of all, expect more ideas!

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence: A social crisis that is out of control, growing exponentially, but largely unreported because of fear, embarrassment, lack of trust and lack of support.

A recent article in the Hermiston Herald highlights the devastation and trauma of violence and sexual abuse within families and relationships. The article is interesting and informative, but disturbing.

Here is a summary of the article:

The Hermiston Domestic Violence Services Center hosted a discussion panel last Friday, including members of law enforcement, victims of domestic violence and students from the alternative high school, the Hermiston Pathfinders.

The attempt to leave a violent or abusive relationship carries the highest risk of death for most victims of domestic violence. A safe and confidential place of shelter is essential for the victim's protection.

In Oregon, the crime of sexual assault is considered to be cruel and unusual punishment, but the penalty does not require the death sentence, no matter how violent or horrible the act. The offender is sick mentally, or addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Sexual assaulters often target young victims, especially those in situations like alternative education, because they are viewed as breaking away from family and least likely to be believed as victims.

Incidents of sexual assault are increasing, but it seems to having nothing to do with a depressed economy. Money has little or no influence on who is the assaulter or who is the victim. One of the panel members, an Oregon State police officer, described it as a society getting sicker.

Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault never fully recover, according to several of the panel members who have experienced such trauma. Memory triggers can bring the emotion and fear back at any time, although counseling can help victims cope.

Forgiveness can help a victim regain a sense of health and security. The assailant can never be forgiven for the assault, but the victim can understand that the offender was under the influence of mental illness or addiction

However, forgiveness does not mean letting the assaulter back into the victim's life.

Reference Links

hermistonherald.com, Hermiston Herald, April 7, 2010

voluntary-rewards.blogspot.com/2010/01

voluntary-rewards.blogspot.com/2009/10

Monday, April 19, 2010

During an Emergency

During an Emergency

I'm an armchair Boy Scout (although I advanced only to the level of a Cub Scout.) I'm never without a pocketknife, and I'm famous at work for hanging way too much equipment on my utility belt. I know several ways of starting a fire without matches, and I can tie a bowline knot blindfolded.

However, I've neglected one of the most important aspects of being always prepared: The Emergency Kit.

Here's a typical kit based on recommendations from an article posted by the Oregon Emergency Management Preparedness And Disaster Blog. It seems so practical and easy to assemble that I just may put together several...one for the house, one for the car, and a simple one for work.

Emergency Kit

During an emergency, you may not be able to get food or water for days or weeks, and your electricity may not be working. The following items should be part of your emergency kit and kept in a container that can be easily carried if you need to leave home:

  • Water: a three-day supply, one gallon of water per person per day
  • Food (canned or dried): a three-day supply of non-perishable food per person.
  • Can opener: manual...don't rely on an electric opener
  • Radio: battery-powered with weather channel
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries: extra batteries for the radio and flashlight
  • Medications: list of prescription medications
  • Pets: don't forget food, water, medications, and leash or carrier for each pet
  • First-aid kit
  • Telephone: corded, NOT wireless or cellular. Corded landline phones can sometimes operate even during a power outage.
  • Blankets: Keep a few blankets or sleeping bags close to your emergency kit, whether at home or in the car.
  • Clothing: A change of clothing, including sturdy shoes or boots, for each person
  • Money: Include some cash in your kit to avoid having to depend upon a bank or ATM.
  • Reference Links

    Oregon Emergency Management Preparedness And Disaster Blog

    http://www.scouting.org

    http://72hours.org

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    The Math Test

    The Test

    I took a test today.

    Math and Physics. Basic math and basic physics. Actually, just the math portion was on the test. Next month will be the physics test.

    Only a few of you will shrug your shoulders and look at me quizically, not really understanding the big deal.

    Most of you will easily sympathize with me...you know exactly what a big deal that was.

    The most recent math test I've taken was about three years ago. The hiring process for my job required a basic chemistry test, which involved basic math. I passed, after a month of diligent home study.

    Before that, the last math test I took was probably during college, in the late 1970's. Basic math. Math for teachers. Math for teachers of first-graders.

    In high school I was part of the moderately popular group. I found most of my academic success in the literary arts. I was a mediocre, trumpet-playing band member. I was president of our student body assembly for one year and I lettered in tennis.

    But I stunk at math.

    I think my first, and only, sense of accomplishment as a mathemetician came during my second year of school. I was seven years old, I think. We were taking the yearly achievement tests and I breezed through the geometry section. I really knew my squares and triangles!

    Ten long years later, I still was looking for that sense of accomplishment.

    My eighth grade teacher recommended that for my first year of high school, I take the General Math class, rather than Algebra I. Anguish filled my soul as I imagined the shame I would endure as my friends advanced to real math classes: Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Physics, Trigonometry...while I struggled through Math for Dummies.

    When I did qualify for algebra, I found myself placed in the class taught by our school's athletic director...the toughest, most intimidating man I had ever known and feared...the football coach. The lessons flew past my timid eyes like a vapor. The homework seemed to be an obscure secret language. I understood little, and what little I thought I understood turned out to be riddled with confusing, hard-to-remember shortcuts and rules.

    That was the last math class I took for about six years.

    In college I vacillated for three years, switching my major three times, from journalism to biology to art. Near the end of my junior year, seeing my options running out, I switched one last time, pinning my future career aspirations onto Elementary Education.

    It was like release from prison.

    I found the education classes intellectually challenging and socially relevant. I adored the attention and affection of the children in the classroom. I excelled in lesson planning, classroom management, public speaking, and I reveled in the latest technology (mimeograph machines, IBM Selectrics, overhead projectors, and wonders of wonders...the OPAQUE PROJECTOR!

    One snag, however...the college required teachers to know how to teach math.

    My college level, education-focused math class was team-taught by two honest-to-goodness classroom teachers who believed that no math dummies should be left behind. They had written their own textbook, filled with games, diagrams, puzzles and challenges that started at the very beginning of math and helped me dance right through to algebra and trigonometry. They were math-teacher geniuses with down-to-earth attitudes and patient reliance upon knowing the why of everything we did. No more memorizing rules. No more blindly following magical shortcuts. We could do no operation of which we did not know the concrete, rock-solic mathematical reason for doing. It changed my life, mathematically.

    Note: My deteriorating memory prevents me from recalling the names of these two teachers who radically changed my understanding of math. I've got a call out on Facebook to all the old-timers at the college. If I can get help recalling their names before this post publishes, I'll edit this and give them the credit that is due them. Otherwise, wherever these two men are, I wish them well and I am tremendously appreciative of their educational integrity and help!

    Update: a good friend from my college days has helped me remember the name of one of these fine instructors: Dr. Dewight Lippe. Thank you, Dr. Lippe, from the depth of my math-enriched heart!

    I left college feeling like I understood at least the basics of math, and sure that I could teach children to understand, appreciate, and even enjoy math. And I did.

    It's now about thirty years later. I hope to qualify for a job at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, which requires me to demonstrate adequate skills in Basic Math and Physics. The class I'm taking accomodates my rotating, 12-hour, night/day/graveyard/swingshift work schedule, so it has been condensed into 52 hours, spread over eight days: four days this month, and four days next month. The pace is ridiculously rapid, with a quiz every day and two comprehensive exams. If I pass, my employer will reimburse the $600 tuition fee. I want to pass.

    But, more than simply passing the class, I want to excel. I want to so thoroughly understand the math and science in this class that I could teach it myself. My belief is that math is more than just shortcuts and rules. I believe math can relate directly to the physical life around us...that every rule has a solid basis in something we can grab or see, or at least imagine. Just passing this class, just learning enough to get through the test, means defaulting on my commitment to the reality, and importance, of education in general, and of math in particular.

    But it's hard. This class is not designed to enlighten or educate. It is designed simply to help the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant get an adequately skilled workforce in order to process nuclear waste. The class emphasizes shortcuts and rules. It demands memorization rather than understanding. There is little time for discussion or debate, or even questions, much less doubt or confusion.

    It almost makes me nostalgic for my old football coach.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Badger Mountain

    Badger Mountain

    I hiked to the top of Badger Mountain last week.

    Latitude: 46.233468
    Longitude: -119.318352
    

    Only about 10 minutes from West Richland, Washington, the hill rises to an altitude of about 1,565 feet above sea level and provides a wonderful vista of all the Tri-City region. The Columbia River winds a sweeping ribbon north, past Handford. Vineyards give a frilly edge to the west side, just starting to turn a light green with the coming of our spring weather.

    About halfway up the hill an engraved granite rock perches on the edge of the trail. It marks the highest level reached by prehistoric floods, creating an ancient, long-gone lake, now called Lake Lewis. The lake slowly ebbed away, the melting chunks of ice leaving behind huge boulders knows as "erratics". These erratic boulders can be seen on mountain slopes in the area.

    Cheerful yellow flowers brighten the slopes with a few surprises. I've never seen blooming sagebrush before! Balsamroot is a old favorite of mine, and I'm hoping to learn what the others are.

    Beautiful weather, although quite windy at the summit, made the hike quite pleasureable. The longer, gentler trail is about 2.2 miles long...took us about an hour with all our oohing and ahhing over the flowers. The walk down is faster if you follow the access road that straddles the spine of the hill. Plenty of parking at the trailhead, too.

    We didn't see any badgers, although the hill is named after them. Must have been plentiful in the past. Lots of little ground squirrels along the gravel road leading to the trailhead.

    Badger Mountain is a little gem in the midst of our high desert plateau. I'd recommend it for a great day trip.

    TRAILHEAD FOR CANYON TRAIL:

    1. Take Exit #5A onto WA-240 East.
    2. After 1.3 miles, take the exit for Columbia Park Trail. Head west on Columbia Park Trail.
    3. After 1.1 miles, turn left onto Leslie Road.
    4. After 1.1 miles, turn right onto Gage Road.
    5. After 0.2 miles (just beyond Starbucks/Albertons), turn right onto Keene Road.
    6. After 1.7 miles, turn left onto Shockley Road.
    7. Follow Shockley Road to its end. Turn left onto Queensgate Road.
    8. Go up the hill. Follow the brown-colored directional sign(s). Park in the parking lot, next to the cinder-block pumphouse.
    9. Start hiking along the trail around Westcliffe Park for 0.15 miles, until reaching the base of the mountain and the official "hiker's only" trailhead.

    TRAILHEAD FOR SKYLINE TRAIL:

    1. On I-82, take Exit #102 to Pasco/Richland.
    2. Take Exit #3B. Turn right onto Queensgate Drive.
    3. After 0.2 miles, turn left onto Duportail Street.
    4. After 0.4 miles, turn left onto Kennedy Road.
    5. After 1.4 miles, turn left onto N. Dallas Road.
    6. Follow N. Dallas Road south, going under the I-182 overpass and continuing to the top of a hill.
    7. Turn left onto 210 PR, a gravel road. Follow for 0.1 miles to the parking area for Skyline Trail.

    Reference Links

    http://www.friendsofbadger.org

    http://www.mountainzone.com

    http://www.summitpost.org

    http://www.iafi.org

    http://www.peakbagger.com