Archive for the ‘Comic’ Category

Burnout, Part 1: Labor

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Disclaimer: Once upon a time I worked for a web development company that no longer exists. Several years of my life and career involved that company. This comic, and some more to come, will involve parts of my life during that time, and as a result involves the actions of others that worked there. I want to state clearly: these are not meant to be posts about them. They aren’t attacks. They’re posts about me, and defining moments that impacted my life, which just happen to involve them. Humans are complex shades of grey, a mixture of good and bad decisions. I’m not trying to paint anyone as a villain. Please bear that in mind.

CSSquirrel #109: Burnout, Part 1: Labor

The reasons that CSSquirrel ground to a halt over the years are legion. Like everything in life, it came from a recipe with many ingredients. But the comic above describes the nexus of those reasons. The intentional exploitation and the lack of a *single* word of thanks, never mind remuneration, hurt. It hurt so much that I have tried and failed to write about it over a dozen times in the past two years, each time deleting it for fear of “causing drama”, while simultaneously trying to dig the burning embers out of my gut. It became a logjam, standing in the way between the part of my mind that was motivated to make comics and write blog posts, and the rest of the world.

Labor Day weekend, 2013, was the single worst experience I’d ever had as an employee. It was worse than working in a call center. It was worse than having a hamburger thrown at me by an angry customer when working in fast food. It was worse than arriving for my shift at the grocery store that was my first job only to learn that more than half of the store’s employees, including myself, were laid off without notice.

In old tweets at the time I referred to the incident as my own personal road to Damascus, and to Angular (which I first learned in that fateful project) as my personal Ananias. I wasn’t converted to the faith of a framework, mind you. This is a conversation for another time, but I’ve always had an uncomfortable tension with Angular, which seems to me to enjoy complexity for its own sake. Instead my eyes were opened onto financial conflicts of interest between myself and my employers involving my career trajectory. I was pushed into a 90 hour week for the sake of making a client project easier to sell while making a profit. Worst yet, they were hoping to have me do that for them more often.

It was the first time that I thought “Maybe these people don’t have my best interests at heart”.

That loss of faith, that loss of innocence, was never recovered. It was also the key moment where my hair literally went overnight from a largely brown mass with a few silver rogues to something strongly entering the “salt and pepper” category. And with that was lost a large portion of the joy that I experienced as a developer. The joy that comes from staring at a screen for hours as I wrote code that made cool interactions and fascinating experiences that non-coders equated to magic.

I’ve been programming since I was twelve. That’s over two decades of coding, as either a hobby, or a job, or both. Other people play Frisbee golf or carve bears out of trees with chainsaws to relieve the stress of life. I would make a video game or build a website.

And then that sense of fun was gone. It was just a job. And I had to fight for respect in that job. For my self-worth. Every moment of coding became solely an exercise in self-improvement and proving my right to be in this career.

There was no place for a comic about a squirrel, or humorous quips about browser standards, when I was in that place. I still deeply cared about web development. I cared about my career. But I didn’t have the luxury of having fun with it anymore. I’d go through the motions. Quips on Twitter. I would open Photoshop and move around shapes. I would make a note of a development in the field and say “I really need to make a comic about that.” And nothing came of it.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. It’s a stupid saying. But it does heal some. The joy of coding, the sense of fun has rejuvenated as I’ve joined new teams, had new experiences, and even been lucky enough to travel internationally for conferences related to web development. There is a renewed sense of whimsy. And I can’t think of a better balm for this oft-harsh world than whimsy.

The truth is, I miss the squirrel. The little fuzzy guy is an avatar of excited energy that represented the frenetic, irrational excitement I have about being part of this community of developers and designers. The crazy things we can do, and the esoteric disagreements we can have trying to do them, and the amazing, life-changing people I’ve met here.

And, for reasons that never fail to amaze me, there’s others out there that seem to be missing the squirrel as well.

So, clearly when put to a vote, the answer is “A world with the squirrel is better than one without one.” Who am I to argue with that?


Sunday, February 16th, 2014
CSSquirrel #108: Unicorny

Unicorn has become something of a loaded term, especially when “UX” joins forces with it, creating a web design Ubermensch that rivals the Jackalopian ‘designelopers’ of yore.

For me, the UX Unicorn has been the phrase used to refer to a rare combination of coding, design, and UX skills that somehow creates a generalist whom also possesses deep knowledge in each of these fields, a sort of super expert that the rest of us can only look at with sunglasses and despair.

In short, its a myth. It’s up there with “social media expert”, “seo expert”, and “real estate salesman” on the list of job titles that seem to attract the kind of people that aren’t afraid to sell you a jar of snake piss, claim it’s actually a curative tonic devised originally by Solomon, complete with instructions to rub it into your scalp nightly to cure your psoriasis and raise your IQ by 20 points.

So we’re clear: I’m not harping on the field of UX, and legitimate practitioners of that science. I am, in fact, down with the UX, do my best to learn its ways, and have a coworker I hold in high esteem whom is entirely embedded deep in that field of research.

But when it comes to self-declared snooty “unicorns”, there’s been a high noise to signal ratio that is muddying up the airwaves.

Along with Dylan Wilbanks, who is a real life person in the UX field, I had some misgivings about the Unicorn Institute that’s been making the rounds with its Kickstarter Campaign. We took to our mighty podcast, Squirrel and Moose, to discuss the whole “UX Unicorn” mythos in full detail on not only one, but two long episodes.

We had feels. We had opinions.

Opinions I stand by.

…but, we just might have had an incorrect understanding of the Unicorn Institute’s true nature, created in part by a sparsity of details on the Unicorn Institute’s site at the time of our recording, and in part due to a lack of… well… asking those involved directly.

My high school journalism teacher would be mortified. My apologies, Ms. Bickley.

Last week, none other than Jared Spool himself contacted Dylan and I, mentioned that he’d listened to our podcasts about the topic, and asked if he could come onto our next episode to talk about the project.

After I finished dancing around and squeeing like a fanboi at a [insert applicable current Disney teen heartthrob here] concert, I of course said “YES PLEASE”.

What resulted was the longest podcast in Squoose history, where Spool corrected our misunderstandings and offered some deep, detailed information about what the Unicorn Institute, actually called the Center Centre, really is.

Short version: It’s amazing. A trade school for UX professionals that’s built in a fashion entirely different from any other institution of higher learning that I’ve seen.

I’m jealous of those entering the field in the years ahead, to have an institution like this to attend. They didn’t have them in my day.

It clocks in at over an hour, but I think everyone should take the time to listen to Jared’s discussion about the genesis of the Unicorn Institute, and the research and thought that went behind it. I learned a lot talking with him.

Imagine how much more you’d learn actually attending it.

If you like what he says, please consider taking the time to back the institute on Kickstarter. They’ve got five days left, and the hope is that they do well enough with the Kickstarter to offer scholarships for those that couldn’t normally afford an opportunity like this.

I still don’t believe in the UX Unicorn, instead seeing us all as variations of Dylan’s chimeras. But the Unicorn Institute isn’t trying to make those unicorns. They’re making something different.

And I am a big fan of that.

Venn diagram of my work week

Thursday, March 21st, 2013
CSSquirrel #107: Venn diagram of my work week

It’s been a hell of a week.

In addition to the Kobayashi Maru situation that has become “Donglegate“, and all the other random crap that’s existed in tech culture and the world at large this week, it’s been a pretty horrid work week for me personally as well.

Today’s comic is a pair of Venn diagrams that illustrate this. Short version: I had a week scheduled out with pure, unadulterated awesome. The kind of project that excites me and makes me enjoy and love what I do. Instead, a number of typical work emergencies piled up and I was the one trapped with a number obnoxious debug tasks that were outside of my specialty and that resulted in a very long slog of poking sticks at a website in the hopes that somehow I’d be granted wisdom.

Oh, and I had a rather unexpected case of kidney stones cause me the 2nd most excruciating pain of my life on Sunday and Monday. (The greatest pain I’ve ever experienced was an abscessed tooth. You never, ever in your life want that. Trust me.)

So this week can go shoot itself in the face.

However, life goes on. And another week is around the corner (also, hey, it’s spring now in the Northern Hemisphere!)


Friday, November 16th, 2012
CSSquirrel #106: Bonerfart

I’m about to say something I never thought I’d ever say: I’m going to let Kanye West speak for me.

Let’s have a toast for the douchebags,
Let’s have a toast for the assholes,
Let’s have a toast for the scumbags,
Every one of them that I know

Or, in the immortal words of Sir Hammerlock:

Screw it, let’s just call them bonerfarts.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher, the less farty of today’s two guest stars, wrote one of the most important articles ever posted on A List Apart, entitled Universal Design IRL. In it, she speaks to the value of inclusivity in our industry, in our conferences, and in our lives. It’s well thought and well-spoken, engaging without being confrontational. It’s a timely message that we need to hear. And it got the critical reaction it deserved, with a wide and respectable section of the web design community doing fist-bumps and congratulating Sara on her piece.

Oh, and Andy Rutledge (today’s less erudite guest star) took the opportunity to show his colors as a troll by trying to roll back the march towards an inclusive culture with shameless, well-spoken but intellectually empty flamebait.

When the community collectively and decisively stepped up to counter his hollow rhetoric, the best he could manage was passive-aggressive counterattacks that amount to the following:

1. We’re the bigots by hating on white males. Not him. (Note: I’m a white male, not a red squirrel)

2. Everyone is born equal, so what the hell are we whining for?

3. Racism and sexism have been fixed, so everything is peachy.

4. I’ve got a wife and a bi-racial son, so I’m cool.

As a quick note: Men who were trying to suppress universal suffrage had wives. They probably even loved them. That didn’t make their words and actions less sexist.

Before I continue, I want to publicly apologize for a grave error I made yesterday. While tweeting about Andy, I called him a “great designer” while still noting he’s a bigot. On further reflection, I realize that’s the “great designer” part isn’t remotely close to true. We can’t compartmentalize someone, where we say “Oh, he’s terribly racist, but not too bad a fellow”. Andy’s shown his colors enough times that we can safely say “great” doesn’t reflect what he is.

Several more experienced members of the community who have seen Andy’s tirades say he’s not worth engaging. They suggest that we shouldn’t feed trolls. They’re right in one thing: Andy is a lost cause. He’s a relic that represents a time and culture that promoted and sustained racism and sexism, that hid their policies of hate or race superiority under false claims that “Everything’s fine and if they’re suffering it’s their own fault for not trying harder.”

Screw them.

Despite that, we do need to speak out and publicly shame the trolls when they come out of their fetid, subterranean lairs. Here’s two concrete examples why:

#1: A young white male developer, in response to yesterday’s discussion of diversity in tech.

I’m saying difft cultures & genders favor different things. I don’t care for Pinterest or knitting. Are you upset by this?

I’m saying if white dudes like IT or CS and women don’t, people of color don’t, you are imagining barriers that don’t exist.

#2: A young woman developer, in discussion about the same issues that she faces daily when dealing with “inclusion” in the community:

I wish they’d get emails like this in their inbox every day. – It’s a mental barrier that chips away at confidence.

Andy is a lost cause. He’s just bad gas in the room. But this young man, and this young woman, represent two problems. The first feels emboldened to defend barriers in the workplace because unchallenged garbage from “established” designers like Andy supports his (observably, provably false) world view that there’s no problem. The latter feels intimidated to the point that she’s afraid to call people out when they objectify and imply rape for fear of retribution.

When you, or I, or anyone in the field takes the time to publicly call Andy a bonerfart, we help men realize that douchebaggery is just that, and we help young women realize they have allies and can speak out. We don’t need to treat bonerfarts with respect, we don’t need to take them seriously. But we need to seriously ensure that the conversations that happen aren’t being dominated by the same old, tired, ol’ fashion bigots. So when others look at what’s going on, they see that there isn’t a consensus that is hostile to diversity in our culture.

At Mindfly, three of the five developers/designers are women. They’re good at their jobs, and can kick my ass at design any day of the week. They should never have to accept lower pay, glass ceilings, unwelcome advances or be demeaned because of their gender. Here at Mindfly they aren’t. I’m proud of that.

But I want to be proud of the whole industry. And the only way to do that is call out the bonerfarts when they happen, so everyone knows that it’s not the whole industry that stinks. It’s just the ostracized assholes.

(For more on this topic, you can check out Dylan Wilbanks and I dismantling Andy’s relevancy in our newest podcast here.)

Goggles Are In

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
CSSquirrel #105: Goggles Are In

October 16th is Ada Lovelace Day, where we get to celebrate and support the presence of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I’m reliably informed that web development falls in there somewhere, so today’s comic features three STEM ladies: Brighton developer and console browser expert Anna Debenham, Greek CSS superstar Lea Verou, and Bellingham web designer (from my very own Mindfly Studio) Janae Cram (in her chinchilla alter-ego, Naepalm. Because a CSSquirrel comic wouldn’t be right without a rodent somewhere).

The Countess of Lovelace is traditionally considered the world’s first computer programmer, having been credited with writing the first program for Charles Babbage’s incomplete Analytical Engine. Today, in her honor, people are encouraged to “create role models for girls and women in these male-dominated fields by raising the profile of other women in STEM.”

As anyone who’s been to a web dev conference can tell you, our field has a habit of being a sausage-fest. As someone working in a studio with a very heavy ratio of women to men (3 women to 2 men in our “production” team), I can tell you that this is a low down dirty shame. Women like Anna, Janae and Lea have a great deal to offer to our industry. It bothers me to know that a sizable (although hopefully shrinking) percentage of the men in our field don’t see the industry’s gender discrepancy as a problem, or believe measures made to make women more welcome is somehow an attack on men.


I doubt any readers of this blog are so backwards. If you are, feel free to just stop reading me, because I’m not interested in catering to dickwads. Sure, I could use traffic, but not that badly.

To those who do care, I’m sure you’ve seen much of this, but let’s point out how these three contribute.

Anna’s becoming the go-to expert on the impact of console browsers on your designs. She’s written a well-received article in ALA on the topic.

Janae is an integral part of the Mindfly team, responsible for many of our designs and a surprising amount of our code (she’s far better than I am with databases despite my having a good five year head start on her with them). She’s also been involved in developing several web apps for our local gamer community.

Lea seems to have an annoying habit of producing awesome, useful tools for web designers that she’s constantly putting online for everyone to benefit from. Just a couple days back she put out this nifty contrast ratio tool.

That’s just three women. There’s tons more in the field contributing to our industry every day, and millions more yet to enter the field who need to be inspired to join. Our species isn’t going to be getting any less involved with technology as we progress forward, each gender should have a strong role in what our future looks like.

Know any women in the field that inspire you? Please share their story. Tell me about them via one of the methods below, or tell people on your own website. And don’t wait for October 16th every year to bother telling people.

Oh, and Tesla coils? They rock. Miss Naepalm and I saw one in action last weekend.

Tesla Coil

That sphere on the right? It’s a cage big enough for up to four people to stand in. Which gives you a clue how big that coil on the left was. It’s blasts weren’t quite as deafening as lightning… but it was pretty damn close.