So, I guess you’re all wondering where I’ve been of late? I mentioned in my last post about 2007 being a good year – well, it’s certainly started off well! November 5th has grown up!
As I have now been officially welcomed, I’m very pleased to announce that I’m working as interface and application developer for Grow Collective, a Web design co-operative based in Bristol. Thanks for the warm welcome guys!
I’m stoked to be working with Jon, Paul and Charlie. Ever since first bumping into Jon on Accessify Forum, I’ve admired Grow’s work, and now it’s my work too! Mwah, ha, ha!
Working with Grow on projects over the last few months has kept me busy, but I’ve found it inspiring and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been particularly good because I’ve been able to concentrate on working in areas I am good at and enjoy. It’s great to feel recognised for a skill and to be given the opportunity to develop those areas of my work.
So, it’s been busy lately – and it’s still busy. There’s a blog redesign I’ve contributed topreparing for launch , a stationery company’s redesign in the final stages, and a shiny new Web application on the way – we’ve got lots of exciting things to get cracking on with! And, with some of the load of self-employment lifted by my colleagues at Grow, I’m going to have more time to spend here – aren’t you lucky?!
Several discussions with my new work-buddies have brought light to some interesting ideas and technical tidbits that others may find useful. So, armed with a few ideas floating around on the breeze and a pocketful of draft blog posts, expect to see a bit more natter and a bit less… silence.
Some of you already know about the little Cats in York website we set up, others won’t, so here’s a quick intro.
Mad Cat People
Well, I wouldn’t say I’m mad about cats, but Jo and I got fascinated by the cat statuettes around York during the summer when we spotted one of them on a walk. We had recently decided that we were going to be moving away from York, so we thought we’d try to find as many as we could. A few of the photos from our cat hunt ended up on Flickr, but we knew there were more of them.
We couldn’t find much about these critters online, and chatting to the York Reference Library, we found there was interest in them, but there was no collection of information on them. We decided to do a little research and build a website. End result: CatsinYork.org.uk.
We’ve had quite a bit of interest since the site launched mid-December. We’ve had several e-mails about the cats, a couple of mentions in the York Evening Press this month, and even a query about being featured on TV. We don’t actually know if we were on it or not, but if anyone saw the cats featured on Derek Acorah’s Ghost Towns live on LivingTV this weekend, please let me know!
Bug in Internet Explorer
While I think of it, if anyone recognises the bug IE6 has on the site, please let me know. Try resizing the window when you’re on the site – the main content window jumps over, but it jumps back when you roll over a link. I’m sure it’s one I’ve come across with using negative margins in float layouts, but can’t find the fix.
Update 02.02.2006 21:52
We found out this afternoon that Tom Adams, the architect responsible for many of the cat statuettes featured on the Cats in York website, passed away at the weekend.
Tom was a lovely man, and we were fortunate enough to have gotten to know him a little in recent months. He will be missed. Please do take a look at our tribute to Tom Adams over on the Cats in York website.
Keeping an eye on Google’s Holiday Doodle – I love the oodles of doodles that Dennis Hwang churns out – but what on Earth’s going on?! A plug? A socket? Guessing Christmas Lights next… is this the start of a competition for the “best dressed” website?
Those bureaucratic, money-grabbing halfwits have missed the point again and have started making excuses.
For those who haven’t read my Too Conscious of Colour? rant, I visited my home town back at the beginning of April and got lumbered with a parking ticket. Nobody likes getting fined for stuff, but this was ridiculous. Sunday evening in a car park that’s always been free in the evenings with no apparent signage to tell me otherwise. I went back the next day after being told there was a blatant sign and found a small, white sign on the corner by the car park entrance.
The council have written back to me saying that the “small sign [I] refer to is in fact 1200mm x 1200mm and 2100mm high facing the entrance road in yellow, blue and orange. It is not insignificant and is a permanent fixture.” Well, that’s nice, but I was talking about the small sign and not the 2-metre-high sign. The sign that they’re on about doesn’t even mention the evening charges, so I guess I should be let off?
They also mention that the lighting in the car park meets with BSI standards, which is nice. However, you still don’t see the sign which tells you about the car park charges do you?
Anyway, I’m fed up with the bureaucracy and the excuses. Maybe it’s time to let this one go.
I ended up writing back to these people and made a further complaint to the council about the guy who I was handling my complaints. I received a letter back saying that they believed the signs were visible and adequate and that I was not entitled to my money back.
However, they were in agreement that the language and tone of the correspondence I received was inappropriate and not up to standard. I got a written apology and was told that a series of professional training programs had been propsed to improve correspondence skills. Whether this training will ever happen or not, I guess I’ll never know.
The Lycos Mail (UK) front page currently boasts the following testimonial for its free 300 Mb e-mail accounts: Lycos Free Email is the best designed Free email out there. Period. Well, not in my experience it isn’t.
Of course, now none of this really matters as I host my own e-mail accounts, which I can access via the Web if needed. However, my girlfriend still uses Lycos Mail and I don’t think there’s ever a time I don’t hear cursing when she’s checking her Lycos accounts. Where did it all go wrong, Lycos?
Those in the UK will know how cold it's been over the last few days. It's been threatening to snow for the last couple of days and last night it really did.
OK, so it's not as bad as you might get in your part of the world, but York doesn't really get snow easily, even when the rest of Yorkshire seems to be snowed in. This is what it looked like outside this morning…
It's a nice reminder of our trip to the Grand Canyon over New Year. But oddly, part of me is really lethargic and unmotivated at the moment. I haven't been able to work properly for the last week. Maybe the last month or so of playing catch-up has worn me out.
I think I need a new project to get me enthused again. I've said before that I've got lots of ideas and lots of things I could be doing, but I think I'm stuck between plodding on with something technical and engaging my brain in doing something really creative – neither of which seem all that appealing right now. What the hell's wrong with me?!
Here’s the final part of my traveller’s tales. Having covered Christmas and our time in Phoenix, it’s time to tell you about the Grand Canyon and the holiday aftermath. Then, I think it’s about time for some proper Web Design ramblings after this one! Anyway, my manic month has passed and I’m just about caught up with things. And so, I am now officially…
Back to Reality
We drove up to the Grand Canyon on the Friday of our stay in Arizona – it was New Year’s Eve. There were seven of us and a shit-load of luggage in our 8-seater Chevy! We visited Sedona on the way north. You’re getting into real red rock country around there, so we stopped and went for a walk around with the bears and the coyotes. We also tried to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross, an amazing looking place with a cross design set right into the gap between these two rocks. The place had closed an hour earlier than advertised for New Year, so there we were trying to figure out how to open the electronic gates leading up to the place. We didn’t feel quite so stupid after a convoy of other families came to visit and someone came out to tell us it was closed.
It started snowing as we headed further north. It was so fine in places, like white dust blowing across the road – I’d never seen anything like it. We got up to the town where we were staying, just a couple of miles from the south rim. We found our hotel, settled in and were nearly too late for dinner. After our meal, we wanted to go sit in a bar or something and see what was happening in the way of New Year celebrations. The bar, appropriately called the “Wintergarten”, was closed for the winter. Marvellous. We were told at reception that a hotel down the road still had its bar open and that another hotel was running something at $20 a head.
With a party of seven, we decided we’d try our luck at this other bar… where we doubled the number of people already there! By 11pm, we began to out-number the other people in the bar, so we decided we’d head back to our hotel, get some champagne or something, and celebrate ourselves. Asking at the reception, we were told that we couldn’t get any alcohol because the rest of the staff had gone home for New Year. In fact, we couldn’t get anything at all. Just when we thought all was lost and our faith in the famous American hospitality had let us down, we met a lovely couple who’d come from another state (I forget where) for a holiday. They too were looking for something to do to celebrate the New Year. We went outside and threw some snowballs around for a bit, but soon headed back in because it was so cold! The couple were staying a few doors down from us, and when we all went back to our rooms to watch the New Year in on the tele, the guy came around with one of two bottles of wine he had brought with him for us to share. Our New Year was saved! We thanked him and toasted in the New Year with the wine. My girlfriend and I had been together for two years on that evening, so we had a double celebration.
The next day, we headed to the south rim of the Grand Canyon hoping to take a hike down a little way, but the snow the night before had made it unsafe for even experienced hikers to go. We had to settle for a walk along the south rim path and take in some of the awesome sites! It also gave us another chance to visit some gift shops for presents to bring back. At one shop, we met the guy who’d given us the bottle of wine for New Year and thanked him again, but we never got to repay him or anything – we intended to send a bottle of wine over to their table at dinner, but we never saw them again.
It was quite an experience walking along an incredibly icey path so close to the edge of an 8000 foot drop! Some people were having snowball fights, which was quite scary to watch at times. The view down the canyon was incredible though – little trees and bushes covered in snow for the first few hundred feet and then the red rock appeared, broke and twisted right down to the black rock where the Colorado flows. On our way back to the van we saw some elk amongst the trees, and we stopped at one of the viewpoints to watch the sunset before heading back to the hotel.
On the Sunday morning, our last day at the Grand Canyon, I had one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’d never been up in a helicopter before and I was really looking forward to going for a flight over the Grand Canyon in one. And that’s what we did. It was a strange feeling at first – almost like being in a tin can in the sky. The amazing thing was when we flew over the south rim and the canyon opened up below us. Of course, you don’t actually change altitude at all, but your stomach disagrees with you no matter what you say to it. One second you’re over luscious green forest, the next there’s an 8000 foot gorge opened up below you. We were taken all the way over the canyon, saw a few points of interest, flew over the north side of the canyon (which was closed for winter) and then back to the airport. What a way to start our last day there!
We spent that afternoon on a bit of a trek on a path which was now safe to go down. Of course, this would have been absolutely fine if my trainers actually had any grip whatsoever. But they didn’t. Parts of the path were still covered in slush from the snow, so I didn’t feel like going too fast! My girlfriend had hurt her ankle the day before, so by the time we had reached two-thirds of the way down to where we were headed, the rest of us were on the way back up. We headed back up too, but in taking our time we had managed to get some nice photos. A chill-out in the hot tub and a nice meal rounded off our time in the Grand Canyon quite nicely.
We spent Monday driving back south to Phoenix for our flight in the evening. We managed to find time to stop off in Sedona again, and actually managed to make a visit to the chapel we’d seen on the way up. We got back to Phoenix, returned the van and checked-in for our flight. Nothing much to note about the airport – we were quite unimpressed with the duty-free really. We cunningly grabbed some grub at the airport so that we didn’t have to eat too much of the food on the plane. I intended to spend most of the flight sleeping, but it just wasn’t happening. Flying back from America is so much harder – I must’ve got a grand total of two hours sleep. Still, I managed to watch a couple of films I hadn’t yet seen.
Well, that’s the end of our American adventure. I’ve got a few souvenirs, which included a bag of Oreo cookies but I’ve eaten them. And I also got some mixed fruit mentos. A friend sent me over some from Canada once and I loved them, so I had to get a few packs to bring back. I know you can get them in Europe, but I’ve never found them here in the UK! There are still some of them left. No, you can’t have one. Can anyone tell me why Americans buy Hershey’s chocolate? It’s disgusting! I don’t know why we brought any of that back. Of course, we brought back some less edible souvenirs too!
Upon return to London, we stayed there again for a couple of days to try to get over jet lag before heading back up to York. News reports about the tsunami hit home. As we were in Phoenix for a holiday, the newspapers were all we knew of the tsunami and its impact. Back home watching BBC News 24 really helped us to understand the extent of the devastation and how it had affected the whole world.
A couple of days rest and we were heading back to York. But the manic month didn’t end there for me. After a few days in York, it was time to head down to spend some time with my family – it was my Dad’s 80th birthday. You wouldn’t know it, y’know! Anyway, a bit of a break at home was just what I needed. I was still not over the jet lag and up until gone three in morning. Unlike most geeks, I’m in bed by midnight most nights now. Which is strange, because I normally get my best work done in the wee hours of the morning.
Anyway, I’m now back in York again, and it’s back to the grind! I’ve slowly been catching up on e-mails, blogs, forum postings and the backlog of work. I’m hoping to clear as much as I can in the next two or three weeks so that I can make a start on a couple of new projects I have in mind. But more on those another time.
In the previous part of this multi-part posting I wrote about our Christmas lead-up to our holiday in the States. And so, the next instalment is here, taking us on board a Boeing 474 to Phoenix for eight days in Arizona. We managed to cram quite a lot into those eight days, so for now I’ll tell you all about our time in Phoenix and leave telling you about our time in the Grand Canyon for the third and final part.
Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Nights
They can’t have much liked the look of the seven of us at Heathrow – we got taken aside for a thorough search through our luggage before we were allowed to check-in. Still, good to know that extra precautions were being taken – better than being sent back home again mid-way through the flight.
News of the earthquake and tsunami in South-East Asia reached us soon after take-off while flicking through the channels of on-board entertainment. The impact of the disaster didn’t really sink in when reading the newspapers in Phoenix, the death tolls reported on the front page rising with each day. I actually felt quite cut off while in Phoenix. The USA Today newspaper at the hotel was about our only source of news – we didn’t turn on the television at all while there.
I don’t like flights much and I had never been on a flight quite that long before. It was a smooth flight though and the in-flight entertainment helped the ten hours pass quite quickly. We landed late afternoon on a warm-enough Phoenix Sunday for our four days at Tapatio Cliffs – nice! We were all tired on that first extended day, but one night’s sleep is all that was needed to sort out the jet lag (although the trip back was a different story).
One of the first things I noticed (well, being my first time in America) was the hospitality – everyone’s really nice to you, especially in restaurants. Of course, one of the next things I noticed was the automatic service charges – mind you, I heard that they generally add a tip to the bill in the States for large parties, which we were. Also noted was how much saltier foods seemed while over there – an American taste? Funnily enough, I noticed a lot of “lo-carb” foods while I was out there, which I had never seen much of at home in the UK, only to find ads on TV and products in Tesco upon my return.
We spent our first couple of days settling in and figuring out what we were going to do for the rest of our stay. We spent some of the first day walking the desert tracks on the outskirts of Phoenix, while others went playing golf – the real reason for choosing Phoenix I think. We also spent some time chilling in the hot tub. One girl told us how she liked our accents. Actually, we had a few people tell us that over the course of the holiday. Not sure that we were the ones with the accents though!
On our second day, we went to the Heard Museum of Native American art (passing a ““Shea”:http://www.mezzoblue.com/ Boulevard” on the way), while others played more golf. It was an interesting museum with a lot of atmosphere. Some of the exhibits told some poignant stories of how badly the Native American peoples were treated by the government – taking their land and interfering with their cultures. There was some amazing art on display. After going all the way around, we spent quite a while in the museum shop picking out souvenirs and presents to take back home. There were some absolutely beautiful things in there – art, textiles and baskets, jewelry, pottery, music and books… I think this was one of the only shops we went to where everything was authentic Native American art and craft – no “Made in China” stuff as we found up nearer the Grand Canyon.
Back at the hotel, we had a really nice meal in a French-Italian-Mediterranean restaurant called Different Point of View. It was up on top of this huge hill and had a great view of Phoenix. While we were there, I noticed this really odd display of red lights on the skyline which would fade in and out. I had noticed it when we left the airport a couple of days earlier, so I thought it must have been something to do with the air traffic control. We never actually figured out what it was though – if anyone knows, please do tell.
Of course, while we were in a big American city, we went to a mall for the compulsory shopping experience – another chance to get presents and souvenirs! We noticed a lot of cars, big cars, and hardly anyone walking in down-town Phoenix. We thought it a little wasteful – a bit like the towels in our room getting replaced every single day despite our following the hotel’s “towels on the floor get taken away” policy.
Our final day in Phoenix had to be the best. We were picked up at 7am from our hotel and taken just outside Phoenix to the Sonoran Desert for a ride in a hot-air balloon before breakfast. Due to the cloud cover, it took us a while to find somewhere to launch from, but it was so worth the wait! We had such a great view of the desert, the mountains and of parts of Phoenix. It’s a bizarre feeling, being up in a hot-air balloon. I could hardly feel it as we took off – you could just see the ground drop away from you! At one point, an ascending balloon below us forced us up into the cloud. It was absolutely amazing. You couldn’t see anything but pure white in any direction. After an hour or so up in the air, our pilot landed us in the desert for a champagne breakfast! So, now I’ve been up in a hot air balloon… and I’ve got a Certificate of Aerostatic Ascension to prove it!
After that fantastic experience, we headed back to the hotel to relax. I chilled in the pool while the girls went for some spa treatments and the others went to play yet more golf! I’m not one for golf really… and I’m pretty enough as it is! Our last evening in Phoenix took us on another trip out into the desert. The night before, we had booked a trip out in a Hummer to go star-gazing, but it had to be cancelled due to cloud cover. So we went on that last night instead and it was great. The Hummer is an amazing vehicle and a lot of fun I’d imagine. Our driver took us over some land just outside Phoenix that had been set aside for off-roading. We stopped and an astronomer was there with a telescope set up to show us a few things: we saw Saturn, the Seven Sisters (Pleiades) and the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to our own. Our driver also had night vision goggles so that we could see the desert flora and fauna, but it was the wrong time of year to see much of the wildlife.
So, that brings me to the end of our time in Phoenix. In the next final part I’ll tell you about almost plummeting to my death down the Grand Canyon, our surprisingly quiet New Year celebrations and the trip back to reality.
I'm a digital accessibility and sustainability consultant helping organisations to make their websites and mobile apps accessible to people with disabilities by establishing sustainable approaches to digital accessibility and inclusion.