Category Archives: Art

Kansas City

Kansas City skyline at dusk

Kansas City has some amazing views.

When I was growing up, going to Kansas City was a Big Deal™.

I was raised in a small town in southeast Kansas called Baxter Springs. With a population of around 5,000 then, it was a typical small town. I did a lot of my early exploring in the city on my bicycle. If you had a car (and a driver’s license), you would cruise the main street on the weekends. “Dragging main” entailed driving up and down and then back again until you got tired of doing it. I’m not even sure kids do that anymore.

I remember coming to Kansas City for my senior trip, where the high school seniors came up and stayed in a hotel. We went to a Royals game and did … what else, I can’t remember. I do remember a couple of my fellow classmates getting high/drunk (called Roba-dosing) by drinking a large amount of Robitussin cough syrup. Sadly, the trip did not end well for me. I had fun, but while at the Royals game people were asking this one girl to borrow some sunscreen, not realizing we were actually applying sun tan accelerator instead. I turned my Irish-blood legs beat red; for days I could only sleep on my back.

Good times.

In July of 2015, I said goodbye to Lawrence, Kansas, my home of 16 years. It seemed like the logical thing to do. I had been commuting to Kansas City since the end of 2012, and commuting 50 minutes each way was sucking the life out of my soul.

It has turned out to be an excellent decision. I love the pulse of a big city. There are ebbs and flows of activity, not unlike the rise and fall of an ocean tide. The mornings and evenings are blissfully quiet, but the daytime activity in the downtown area where I work brings great satisfaction to me. I love seeing the different types of people, the large buildings as they reflect the sun’s magnificent rays, and the culture of art and style that weaves through the city.

I am certainly a long way from my small Kansas hometown.

When we lived in Lawrence, coming to Kansas City for the day was still quite an event. I live on the Missouri side, in an area called the Northland, and I’m around 20 minutes from anything I would want to do. As I drive to work each morning, my first automotive hurdle is to crest the top of a hill. When I pass over, I can see downtown Kansas City’s skyscrapers looking like mountains in the distance. As I draw near, my eyes tend to fixate on these wonderful buildings. Kansas City has a lot of character, and I love almost everything I see (even the parts that need some love and attention).

There once was some artwork in the gallery at my work that said, “I love KC well so far.”

I think that sums it up perfectly.

Kansas City and art go well together.

A photo posted by Eric J Gruber (@ericjgruber) on

In KC: Austin Kleon and The Minimalists

Wednesday turned out to be author night in Kansas City.

I’m not sure how I missed it until Wednesday morning, but I found out Austin Kleon (as he puts it, he’s an author who draws) was speaking at the Middle of the Map Fest. I jetted down to OfficePort and enjoyed hearing him speak. I’ve read two of his books — Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work — and if you consider yourself a creative type, I highly recommend them.

It was great seeing him talk (and draw) live. By the time I discovered Kleon, it was past the point he had come to Kansas City to speak at TEDx. I’d say this made up for it.

austin-kleon

Austin Kleon speaks at Middle of the Map Fest at OfficePort in downtown Kansas City. Man, I take a crappy picture.

Admittedly, Kleon wasn’t my first pick for the evening. For months I’ve had arrangements to hear The Minimalists speak, and I wasn’t disappointed last night. After listening to Kleon, I bolted north of the river to a nice little event space called Black on Burlington to check these guys out.

The Minimalists are two best friends: Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Together with their vagabonding friend Colin Wright, they spoke about their journey to minimalism, how the audience could get there, and what to expect from the journey.

I’ve followed their writing on their blog for awhile now off and on. The message of the minimalist philosophy is appealing. Imagine what your life would look like if you had less things in your life. Would you have more experiences? Better relationships? More personal satisfaction with life? Would your mind be more free with less?

I like to joke that I struggle with what I call sentimental attachment disorder. There are these things from my past that hold great sentimental value to me, but I haven’t let go of them. Their artifacts of the past, mementos of a live already played out,  yet I hold onto them. Why?

One of the oft-repeated messages of the night was this: When you go to purchase something, ask yourself: “Will this thing add value to my life?” If the answer is no, then don’t buy it. It’s because we don’t say “no” enough, we get all this crap. What happens when we cut out the stuff? Will we be willing to live with what remains?

I had the pleasure of speaking with all three of the aforementioned men after the show. I was chatting a bit before I got in line and ended up being dead last. They insisted on greeting me with a hug (as they did everyone else) and I obliged. It was … nice. Excellent, really. We talked. I talked. And actually, it seemed as though they listened. They were not simply waiting for their turn to speak. I’m guilty of that. How about you?

Their message was convincing, enough so that I think I’ll try their 21-day challenge. And I’ve already started asking myself the question quite a few times, just today: Will this thing add value to my life?

To close the night, Millburn gave a little thought to take with us. I’ve illustrated it below.

the-minimalists

The Minimalists and Colin Wright speaking at Black on Burlington in Kansas City.

The bookshelf

One of the benefits of living in an age where manufactured goods proliferate is that the cost of things goes down while their availability goes up. Unfortunately, that can also be a curse.

It’s not a big secret, but a lot of the “easy-to-assemble” furniture you can buy in a store isn’t of great quality. I’d love to purchase more high-end furniture, but it’s often out of a price range I’m willing to pay. But for those times when I did spend the extra cash, I’ve been pleased with the purchase.

shelf-crap

The old bookshelf is falling apart. Note the sides of each shelf where the sides are pulling away. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

My girls have tons of books. After fixing their particle-board bookshelf to keep it from falling apart late last year, I decided that would be the last time. I would build them a bookshelf. I put it on my list of goals for 2014. In the evening of Jan. 17, the start of a three-day weekend for me, I started the work.

My goal was to work hard and fast and get it completed no later than the following Monday on Jan. 20. You see, I’m a great starter but not a great finisher, and I wanted to prove to myself I could beat my own bad processes.

As I got going, I found myself giving in to my temptations. This was for my girls, so it had to be perfect. I kept finding imperfections in the wood that I would keep sanding away at. That process was exacerbated by my refusal to buy an electric hand sander. After buying all the wood, brass screws, and paper and a few other things, I didn’t want to shell out another $30 plus for a sander.

The refusal to buy a sander proved to be the most idiotic decision of this build. At first it seemed almost romantic. The sandpaper in my hand, I caressed the wood. It seemed to talk to me, telling me how it wanted to be shaped. I examined every detail, and when I found an imperfection I’d spend minutes on that one area making it absolutely perfect.

Eventually I needed a break. Covered in sawdust, my hand cramping, losing time, I told my wife why it was taking so long.

She asked, “You think $30 is too much for an electric hand sander?”

“I don’t now,” I said.

I didn’t finish by Jan. 20. My minimum viable product hadn’t been achieved, and I ended my three-day weekend with the project undone.

Then the cold hit. The snow came. Weeks upon weeks of frigid temperatures  made it undesirable to work in my garage. The bookshelf sat there until we had a break in the weather. I propped open the garage door and worked more on it one weekend. Things were looking good.

And then more cold came, with more snow. More delays. My dad gave me a saw I needed to finish the back. Finally last weekend the weather was great enough for the final stage: a few coats of clear lacquer.

My desire was to put on one more coat before I attached the back and called it done. But this week, the shelf my girls’ room began to deteriorate very quickly. It was the end of the road. I needed to finish the shelf. I needed to ship.

After breakfast today, I made coffee and headed to the garage. I nailed in the backing, and carried it inside.

The finished bookshelf. It's rock solid.

The finished bookshelf. It’s rock solid.

The bookshelf has some imperfections. This is not the build of a master craftsman. There are some pencil marks I didn’t get fully sanded out. The backing has some uneven cuts in places. The lacquer isn’t perfectly smooth. And I would have really liked to put on one more coat.

But all of that really doesn’t matter. Done is better than perfect.

It is done.

A quick review of local campaign websites

Campaign season never truly ends.

Even more so, on Tuesday there will be a primary election for our City Commission here in Lawrence, Kansas. I thought I’d take some time to review the candidates’ web presence. Please note, I’m not reviewing the candidates or their stances, just their web communications.

And thanks to the joy of advanced voting, I’m already done.

All of this information was found from our local Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 City Commission Candidate Q&A page. Let’s get started.

Mike Amyx, Facebook fan page

  • Desktop experience: Amyx doesn’t have a website, but he does have a Facebook fan page which is viewable to the public without logging in. I don’t particularly care for this approach: I think social media should be a tool in your communications strategy toolbox, not the only tool. Although, he is an incumbent, which makes his effort to get re-elected easier.
  • Mobile experience: It’s really as good as Facebook makes it. Your mileage may vary.

One thing to note: I don’t see anywhere on Amyx’s fan page a “Paid for by” wording, as directed by the Kansas Ethics Commission, which states:

Question: Do websites, e-mails and other Internet communications require a “Paid for by” or “Sponsored by” attribution statement?
Answer: If the website, e-mail or other Internet communication expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for state or local office, then a “Paid for by” or “Sponsored by” statement must be provided if the communication is disseminated to 25 or more individuals. This requirement only applies to any email or other type of Internet communication which is made by the candidate, the candidate’s committee, PAC or party committee.

This could cause him potential issues should anyone decide to file a complaint with the Kansas Ethics Commission (unless I’m just missing it).

 

Judy Bellomejudybellomeforcommission.com

  • Desktop experience: While not incredibly appealing visually, it does have the basic information about Bellome: quotes about her, how to donate, links to news articles about her campaign, resume, platform and her supports, along with links to her social media efforts.
  • Mobile experience: About the same as her desktop experience, but using a responsive design that is well-suited for mobile. Big globs of text on some pages make the reading experience a little daunting on a smartphone.

 

Rob Chestnutchestnutforcommission.com

  • Desktop experience: Branding is consistent with Chestnut’s signs around the city, and playing upon his previous experience on the commission – “Re-elect Rob Chestnut” will help his overall message. The design is minimal, but clean. The About Rob page’s URL should be changed to something other than “sample-page.” No links to a social media presence and an email address that’s not a hyperlink on the Contact page are negatives.
  • Mobile experience: Pretty poor. There is no mobile-optimized version of this website, making it hard to read from a phone.

 

Scott Criquiscottcriqui.com

  • Desktop experience: Branding is consistent with Criqui’s signs around the city. Pictures are of excellent quality and the design is OK. However, the front page image isn’t text, just an image. No links to social media and underlined words that aren’t links on the Vision page are negatives. On one of his news pages, the menu gets wonky.
  • Mobile experience: Pretty poor. There is no mobile-optimized version of this website, making it hard to read from a phone. The menu is a little hard to use on a phone because the links are small, a consequence of not having touch targets optimized for small screens.

 

Jeremy Farmer, voteyourselfafarmer.com

  • Desktop experience: Branding is consistent with Farmer’s signs around the city. The site is visually appealing, although I’d slow down the slideshow timing if it were me. Clearly, Farmer has spent money on this website, and in his favor, it shows. Some of the links could be a darker color to give better contrast against the light background.
  • Mobile experience: Pretty poor. There is no mobile-optimized version of this website, making it hard to read from a phone. The menu is a little hard to use on a phone because the links are small, a consequence of not having touch targets optimized for small screens.

 

Reese Haysreesehays.com

  • Desktop experience: Clean design, easy to read front page text, and high-quality images are all positives. Negatives include font sizes different on Contact Info and My Views pages (different from the front), no links to social media, no hyperlinked email address on the  Contact Info page. The URLs for the Contact Info and My Views pages are “style-demo” and “full-width,” respectively. That’s just poor basic SEO. I’m not a fan of the center-aligned text on the home page.
  • Mobile experience: Pretty good. The site is responsive, so it looks decent on a phone. I just wish the font sizes were all the same size as the home page. The images on the Contact Info and My Views pages cause the text to break funky, because they’re not optimized for a phone’s breakpoints (at least, not the one I’m using).

 

Michael A. Rost, Facebook fan page

  • Desktop experience: Rost doesn’t have a website, but he does have a Facebook fan page. But, I can’t view it because his fan page settings are set to you have to log in to Facebook to see it. I recently closed my Facebook account, so I can’t see it. Obviously a negative.
  • Mobile experience: Beats me. As good as Facebook allows, I guess.

 

Leslie Sodenlesliesoden.wordpress.com

  • Desktop experience: This uses the default WordPress theme from WordPress.com called Twenty Ten. Every website that is built by anyone who doesn’t have a lot of web knowledge uses this theme, and I’m sick of seeing it. The few images she has could be better quality. She does have all the relevant content you’d need to have to learn about Soden, although a negative is having an email that’s not hyperlinked on the Contact Me page.
  • Mobile experience: Pretty … OK. Viewing on a mobile device kicks it into the mobile version of the Twenty Ten theme. I hate it, but it’s usable. Man, I hate this theme.

 

Terry Riordan, riordanforlawrence.com

  • Desktop experience: I haven’t seen many of his signs around town, so I couldn’t tell you if his branding is consistent or not. Pictures are of excellent quality, but the design is blasé. No links to social media is a negative. At least his email is a hyperlink on his Contact page.
  • Mobile experience: Pretty poor. There is no mobile-optimized version of this website, making it hard to read from a phone. The menu is hard to use on a phone because the links are small, a consequence of not having touch targets optimized for small screens.

 

Nicholas Eugene Marlo, no information available

 

William R. Olson, no information available

In Conclusion

As a web developer, I’m pretty biased. I’m too close to the metal to make an unbiased assessment. I want all of these pages to be excellent.

That’s not to say my opinions can’t be based upon some sort of logic. How we interact with websites, social media and other forms of communications effectively is because of a plethora of factors. Aesthetics, usability, word choices, these things all matter at a subconscious level. There’s a reason the Obama and Romney campaign websites were excellent – the people behind those campaigns understand these principals. It’s time our local officials do too.

And in the end, who did I chose? Amyx, Farmer, and Soden. I chose our officials because of who they are and what they stand for, (and how that fits my values) not their websites.

Call me a hypocrite.

Shipping

Real artists ship.” – Steve Jobs

Where you decide to put your time and attention says a lot about who you are. It says a lot about you as a human being.” – Merlin Mann

It was 2009 when I first heard about Merlin Mann. I somehow stumbled across the audio of Merlin and John Gruber (no relation) giving a talk called HOWTO: 149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog with Credibility!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to that podcast (I really can’t remember it’s been so numerous). It’s hilarious. It’s spot on. If you work on the web and have an ounce of desire to a.) not suck at it, and b.) not be a jerkface about money while trying to create something, it’s worth a listen.

intentions

Image from Seth Godin's book, Linchpin.

Fast-forward to 2011. I’m still a Merlin Mann fan and listen regularly to his podcast, Back to Work. There are quite a few nuggets of insight from Merlin’s podcasts and I wanted to keep them around for a good kick-in-the-pants. The problem is, they’re audio – scrubbing through hours of podcasts isn’t the easiest way to access them. So I had an idea: why not transcribe my favorite quotes and stick them on a website?

That idea came in June. I purchased a domain name.

And then I did absolutely nothing.

I have this friend at work, John Williams, who likes to write in his spare time. He’s actually written quite a bit but not many have read his work. Why not? Because John and I had a lot in common. We had these ideas, perhaps we had even worked on them a bit, but we never “shipped” them. They never got out the door for anyone to see.

On Aug. 23, after telling John about my idea for a website of Merlin’s quotes, he challenged me to have it online by Sept. 14. I challenged him to something similar: get your work out in the world on the same day.

The Shipping Challenge was born.

Along the way, we picked up one other “contestant,” my friend, David Eldridge. David has gotten into designing bumper stickers as of late. He’s into politics and history, and threw together some designs that speak to the current political climate. Not many people have seen him and he’d be the first to admit that he wasn’t really shipping. He joined us with the challenge to have something released to the world on Sept. 14.

I’m happy to announce that we all reached our goal.

John Williams

John has made three short stories available at his website, Off Yer Rocker.

David Eldridge

David’s website, socklint.com, has his origin designs of philo-political bumper stickers. David also designed the website.

Yours Truly

That’s Fine for Merlin …, the curation quotes of Merlin Mann, developed (and transcribed) by me.

The great thing about each of these projects is that it doesn’t matter if you like them. It doesn’t matter that you hate them.

What matters is that we each shipped. We each had an idea, we set a date and then we shipped.

There are loads of reasons of reasons we could not have shipped. John hurt his back two days ago. My sewer line broke last week, causing me to spend thousands of dollars on repair, time off from work, and tons of stress. David’s at the beginning of a transition from one job to the next.

But with that deadline looming, and encouragement, and the understanding that nothing needed to be “perfect” to ship, we all met our goals. What a fantastic example of Parkinson’s Law in full effect.

And now we’re dreaming of the next Shipping Challenge. We’re thinking Oct. 25 as the deadline.

Want in?

Far Beyond Drivel

Last Saturday I recorded some ramblings with a friend of mine, David Eldridge, where we discussed some web-related wingdings and other rants.

It’s here if you’re interested: ericjgruber.com/podcast

There are far better things to waste your time on. You probably shouldn’t even listen to it. Forget I brought it up.

Audio post: The Last Five Minutes

On Friday, I mentioned my  song writing experiences with my old roommate, Alex Kissel.

Today I have another recording that Alex and I did, with one twist: this recording was done open air using only the built-in microphone on my Apple iBook.

As with I Build Airplanes, I wrote the guitar parts and sang background vocals, while Alex wrote the lyrics and sang the lead vocal part.

The recording of the this song, The Last Five Minutes, is in mp3 format. Right click to save to your computer if you like, or play it in your browser depending on your connection.

The Last Five Minutes (mp3, 5.39 MB)

Audio post: I Build Airplanes

Before I got married, I lived with three incredible guys from 2001 until 2003.

We were all musicians, so the opportunity often arose to write and play music in our rental house at 2215 Ohio (which, at this writing, is for sale). The main room had a hardwood floor that had the most incredible reverb that we loved to play and record in.

My “brother from another mother,” Alex Kissel, wrote songs with me on occasion. I don’t play much anymore, but Alex went on to get married and move to Massachusetts. He plays in a band there called The Resurrectionists.

One of the songs we wrote and recorded was called I Build Airplanes (taken from a line in the movie, Singles). I wrote the guitar parts and did some background vocals, while Alex wrote the lyrics and did the main vocal track. The recording isn’t perfect – I certainly could have mixed it better – but I was pleased with how it came out. I look back at that time of my life with incredible fondness, which makes a recording from that era even more special to me.

The recording of the aforementioned song is linked below. It’s in mp3 format. Right click to save to your computer if you like, or play it in your browser depending on your connection.

I Build Airplanes (mp3, 4.4 MB)