My Plans for Three Days Off

I have the next three days off, with today being the MLK (Martin Luther King Jr.) holiday. Then Wednesday being the Inauguration, I decided to take Tuesday off too to have a five day weekend.

So I plan to use the three days like a workday and spending eight hours doing things for my projects and learning. It might be broken up more than a workday, but that’s fine.

Video Learning

Each of the days, I plan to spend an hour or two watching my Wes Bos “Beginner JavaScript” video tutorials. During that time, I  will be taking notes and attempting the code examples to get used to coding the syntax.

I plan to spend an hour or two watching and taking notes of Penn and Teller’s Masterclass “Penn & Teller Teach the Art of Magic”.

I’m not necessarily watching Penn and Teller to learn magic, but to learn about storytelling and presentation. If I learn a magic trick or two in the process, all the better.

In the evening, there will be some watching of YouTube videos.  The subjects I want to learn more about are cooking/baking, farming/gardening, tiny houses, etc.

Book Reading

I will finish reading Heydon Pickering’s “Inclusive Components – Accessible Web Interfaces, Piece by Piece”. I need to go back to his other book and Adam Silver’s book to work through the examples a bit more. Below are the other two other books I’m referring to.

Form Design Patterns – A Practical Guide to Designing and Coding simple and Inclusive Forms for the Web by Adam Silver

Inclusive Design Patterns – Coding Accessibility Into Web Design by Heydon Pickering

My next book to start reading is “Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything” by BJ Fogg.

Blog Posts

I need to start outlining a few more blog posts and maybe even start the first draft.

My more significant issue is figuring out the best way to link to all the books I read last year. I don’t want to link to Amazon. But I know money is tight for some, so the lower prices and free shipping with having Amazon Prime will help. If I would I need to figure out a code for an organization/charity, I would like the earned money would help them. So need to figure that out before posting that post.

More research is needed. Any suggestion would be appreciated.

Odds and Ends

Other things that need to get done over the three days are:

  • Sending out some bills
  • Daily walks
  • Laundry
  • Cleaning the house, especially the kitchen, to make room for new spices and other utensils
  • Etc.

I might even start some sorting or items that I no longer use to donate them or get rid of them. I know where I want to donate all the clothes and the like, to Martha’s Table in DC.

Someone from the DC Code and Coffee group mentioned they are willing to come to Northern Virginia to pick things up with their car. Since they live near Martha’s Table, it wouldn’t be hard to drop them off for me.

Lots to Due but Not Enough Time

That’s a lot to get done while also relaxing some, but at least I have a game plan. If I don’t start on things, I won’t get any of it started or any of it done. Here’s to slow and steady work at the list above.

Any suggestions to help with any of this, please leave a comment.

Veggie Stew

Over the weekend (Saturday), I made a veggie stew. It might even be vegan, but I would have to check the ingredients on a few labels.

Let the Chopping Begin

I started out dicing up three medium-sized onions and got them cooking down in my cast iron skillet. I used two good olive oils to help soften them up. While the softening up was happening, I peeled and chopped up a head of garlic from the farmer’s market.

Ingredients

Once the garlic was in the pan, I added some salt, pepper, and spices. The spices were curry powder, cayenne, chipotle, smoked Spanish paprika, and Ancho chili powder. I then added dried basil, thyme, and oregano along with many turns of finely ground Szechuan peppercorns.

I let the spices cook a bit to intensify the flavor. Before adding the pound of Rancho Gordo heirloom Classic Cranberry Beans to my large stainless steel pot (16 quarts?).

Soaking Beans and Wild Rice

The dry Rancho Gordo beans started soaking three-hours before I started chopping my vegetables. I also soaked half a pound of Trader Joe’s wild rice separately.

Okay, it was probably between 14 and 15 ounces of bean because I put 50 of them in a small envelope in my wine cooler. The reason being I wanted to see at some point if I could grow my own beans.

Slow Cooking

I added the beans and then made sure they boiled for five minutes. Then turned them down to a simmer. I then went to read some more, lying on my sofa. About every twenty minutes or so got up to check on the beans and other vegetables and stir them. After about an hour, I added the soaked wild rice and it’s water to the pot.

Stirring While Reading and Writing Blog Posts

More reading, and I think outlining a blog post or two along with more stirring.  After another hour or so, I added in a 12-ounce package of Anson Mills Slow Roasted Farro. Before adding the farro, I made sure to presoak it for an hour or more.

Over the next hour or more, I let the beans, the wild rice, and the farro slowly cooking. I added the following a 4 ounce can of Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted Diced Green Chiles. Then I added a 13.75-ounce jar of Trader Joe’s Corm and Cile tomato-less Salsa. Followed later by a one 15.25 ounce can of Wegmans No Salt Added Whole Kernel Crisp’ N Sweet Corn.

At some point in all of this, I cooked up 10-ounces of Impossible Burger in my cast iron to then added to the pot too.

Oops, I forgot I chopped up a medium-sized head of fennel and cooked in my cast iron pan, and added it in at some point to my veggie stew.

All this needed time to meld together and get tasty.

Extra Notes

For the spices, I probably put in two tablespoons of each, give or take in a very large pot. I learned over time; I can add hot sauce for added flavor and heat later. Instead of putting n to many hot spices in, that got hotter as the water evaporated.

Leftovers

So now I’m eating it most days for one meal. I need to put some in the freer for later if there is any room.

Here’s to more large batch cooking on a slow Saturday to have good food and lots of leftovers.

How to Improve Your Search Usability

Doing searches on websites is a pain when you are using assistive technology. There are ways to improve how you get to the results.

Why not add an HREF anchor like #maincontent, which we used for the “Skip Navigation” article to your “Search Results URL” so those using screen readers, other assistive technologies, keyboards only, or other non desktop web browsers to skip right to the results section of the page skipping all the header, primary navigation links, and secondary navigation, etc.

You also need to make sure you have a LABEL connected to your search box for screen reader and other assistive technology users to know what they are looking at. Below is some sample code you can use as a starting point, along with some CSS to hide the search LABEL visually off screen if your design calls for that kind of things.

Search Form Code

<div class=”SEARCH“>
<form name=”Skills_Search” action=”searchResults.html#MAINCONTENT“>
<label for=”search2“>Search</label>
<input type=”text” name=”search2″ id=”search2” />
<input type=”submit” value=”Search” />
</form>
</div>

Results of Search Code



To hide the word “Search“ just add to the hide class used for the skip navigation blog post this can be done easily by adding “.search label” to the CSS.

Here’s a live example of the search box and search results example page.

Hope this little change to your website was helpful to you and it will make accessing the internet for those using assistive technologies better.

If you have any questions or ways to improve this, please leave a comment or get in touch with me.

Anton Peck Made Me Write This!

Anton Peck did not really make me write this article, it was after reading his blog post the yesterday about “Beating Writer’s Block that got me thinking about my lack of writing blog posts too. Anton has been having trouble being able to write blog posts as of late. In his post he goes on to say how he was working to get around the problem. I like his analogy of blog post writing to taking a road trip. Sometimes when going on a road trip at first your not completely sure where your going, but all you know is you need to be going somewhere. Which means sometimes when writing you just have to start writing something and the idea or an article will come to you once you have begun.

My Problem

Part of my problem is not the same, as Anton’s with not knowing what to write. I seem to have the opposite problem in that I have some great blog posts and ideas for them, I just don’t have the drive or ambition to do them. I have about six to eight blog posts started, that I began last year. I usually create the article by coming up with subject (title) and then put a bunch of summary information about it into WordPress, that I go back to later create the post with.

My problem with getting my blog posts done is that normally they are more technical in nature and usually end up needing some kind of technical code example. These examples take time and I’m also trying to make sure the articles are written correctly, since I’m not an English major as I have always said, I’m a developer/coder.

The other thing that slows me down is once I get writing an post it tends to be long and verbose. I never seem to write short blog post like my friend Justin Thorp. He usually writes posts that are three to five paragraphs that get right to the point, with a few sentences in each one (his last few seem to be bit longer than normal). His are still much shorter than mine.

Mine on the other hand, end up having a dozen or so long paragraphs with really long sentences. I might have to work on being more succinct with my writing for the readers sake and my own.

I believe this is part of the same reason I have been fiddling with a few web application ideas/prototypes off and on for like almost two years. I tend to get them started and then find a better way to do them, by making them more accessible or more efficient from new techniques I have learned. I have even started to re-write one so I can start to learn PHP, being that I have been a classic ASP developer that uses XHTML, CSS, and bit of JavaScript for the first attempt at them.

My Burnout

Another thing that might be putting a damper on my blog post writing and enthusiasm for doing other web work after hours was also brought to my attention again from the A List Aparts article about “Burnout” by Scott Boms. Over the course of my technology career, I think I have been burned out or at least darn close, probably a good half dozen times. This is not something to be proud of at all. It first started while I was in college trying to finish large school projects while working 20 to 40 hours a week.

It also happened a few other times over the last 20+ years while working on projects for work and being responsible for making sure the production mainframe nightly jobs worked and ran smoothly. Because of this I now believe I try and spend more time away from the computer after work, besides checking e-mail and twitter, so I have a better life balance.

Life Balance

To have more life balance, I seem to spend more time watching mindless TV, keeping up with friends on Twitter, and just a lot of time reading others blog posts, instead of spending my time DOING real work and getting things done. As of late I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking about ways to help myself get over these issues so I can get back to building and creating more blog posts and finishing my web applications.

The sooner I can do this the more likely I will be able to help others with them and maybe if I’m lucky make some money to at least pay for themselves (hosting costs). And if they really get going I might be able to do one or all of them full time. My other big issue is which web application should I build first or at all, instead of trying to work on all of them and not making any real progress.

Conclusion

If you have any suggestions on ways to help me or others with any of these issues I would be glad to hear about them. Here’s hoping others will help you write that much needed blog post or build the next big thing.

Thanks, Anton Peck for making me write this blog post!

More General Information about the OLPC

There are a few things that I have noticed over the course of the day using the OLPC, the XO Laptop, or the $100 Laptop. One of the big ones is that if you take it to a coffee shop people will look at you and then the laptop and look at the laptop some more.

I had a lot of people come up to me and ask if it really worked. I said “Yes, it does and you can get one for yourself even” and went into how they can order the OLPC themselves from OLPCs Give 1 Get 1 website.

I had a lot of people ask “Is that one of those green laptops”, or “Is that one of those $100 laptop”.  I got the most questions from older people asking “Isn’t that the laptop we saw them talking about one CBS”? I assume they saw the “60 Minutes” piece on the OLPC. Each time I would stop reading about the laptop and offered them a chance to use it.

One lady I guess was going to order one for someone or she already had, so she wanted to see it and touch it. She had a young girl who was eleven if I remember correctly use it. The young girl said it was easy for her to type on. Of course she tried to go to one of the Disney websites, which asked for the latest Flash plug-in to see most of the website, not that accessible of a website. A Disney website is probably not the first place someone from third world country would go or at least it shouldn’t be.

Another gentleman asked what kind of software you could put on it, since someone he knew or he was going to a third world country and wanted get a few to let people there use it if it could do a bunch of activities.

One women I know asked if you could look up porn on the laptop. I told I figured you could, since I had not heard that they had software to stop it. Really wanted to know if kids could look up porn. So when she got hold of the OLPC she went to the Playboy website and started laughing when she got to their home page. I grab the OLPC back from her to get rid of it, since we were sitting the middle of the coffee shop with a lot of little kids and older adults.

I did get some reading done about the OLPC on how to get started, how it works, and what activities the OLPC has on it. They even have a wiki, which contains information about hardware, software, content, testing, educators, developers, and a whole lot more. They have some cool rollovers explaining what certain parts of the machine are for. One of the ones I just found was the page that has information on what the keyboard does. They also have a page that shows which features the OLPC has.

With all the question and people playing with it I did not get to do as much as I wanted today on learning about the activities on the OLPC. It was like three different “Tam Tam” activities. They are:

  • Tam Tam mini” – an application that allows for people to perform music and play instruments.
  • “Tam Tam Edit” – an application allows you to generate music using a colorful and intuitive graphical interface.
  • “TamTam Jam” – the music performance activity. Sounds are played by striking individual keys on the keyboard. This is designed more for younger children.

Other activities that the OLPC has are: (this information was mostly taken from the activities webpage)

  • Chat“ -simple environment for discussion, whether it is between two individuals or an entire classroom.
  • Memorize“ – is the classic memory game of finding and matching pairs with a twist: a pair can consist of any multimedia object, such as images, sounds,and text.
  • Record” – provides a simple way for children to take pictures, view slideshows, and record video and audio all content that can be shared via the mesh network.
  • Journal“ – is an automated diary of everything a child does with his or her laptop.
  • Draw“ – provides a canvas for a child or a group of children to express themselves creatively.
  • Pippy“ – a simple and fun introduction to programming in Python, the dynamic programming language underlying much of the software on the laptop.
  • and a whole lot more

The final cool thing on the activities page is the last item, which  is the part about downloads for the OLPC. The download page has like 50+ items to download and use like (some is games others is source code):

  • Domino“ – classic space game
  • Image Quiz“ – a simple concept: one question, one image, one click
  • 3D Pong“ – three dimensional wireframe arcade game
  • SimCity“ – construct and maintain your own city
  • Block Party“ – Tetris-inspired game
  • and a whole bunch of other things

The woman across the table from me at Murky Coffee in Arlington said, “I should bring the OLPC out with me, it might actually be better than having a puppy or a baby with me for getting people to stop and talk to me”.

Hopefully this blog post is usefully for those that do not have their OLPCs yet, are waiting until Christmas to open with their kids, want to read up on what it has, what is being developed, or what you can do with it.