Shauna Gordon

Code Is My Art

Ways to Keep Going (When You’re Going Through Hell)

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When in the throes of a depressive episode (or on the edge of an anxiety attack or any other such motivation killer), it can be hard to maintain motivation and productivity. This can be detrimental when other people rely on you, or when you have a job to hold down.

Over the years, I’ve found a number of things that have helped keep me motivated through low times, and have decided to share them. Unlike other articles giving advice on “cheering up,” the items here may or may not actually lift your mood. That’s not the point of them, and anyone who’s dealt with depression will tell you that most of the time, things designed to “cheer you up” don’t really work. If it does lift your mood, then that’s a positive side effect, but as Winston Churchill put it, “when you’re going through hell, keep going.” These items are intended to do that — help you keep going.

An Open Letter to Recruiters

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Dear Third Party Recruiters,

Due to the high volume of contact requests I’ve received, I have decided to write this open letter in order to improve the quality of my network.

The Greater Columbus Area is home to a very large number of third party recruiting companies. This means you have a lot of competition. Competition should mean improved quality. Unfortunately, what I generally see is rather disappointing.

We tech folks are generally a merit-based people. We’ll respect you if we have reason to do so. You can earn that respect by demonstrating that you respect us and what we do (and no, saying that you do doesn’t cut it; show, don’t tell). Here are some ways to do that.

You’re Not Alone

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I’ve been torn over how open I should be with this, particularly in my professional life. My first instinct has been for it to be on a very need to know basis.

Then I met Greg Baugues.

Greg is a developer evangelist (devangelist) for Twilio, who speaks at conferences about his ADHD and Type II Bipolar, and he gets well-deserved standing ovations pretty much wherever he speaks. I still fight tearing up just thinking about the talk I attended at Laracon, back in mid-May, where he even took his Bipolar medication on stage.

If you ever have the opportunity, attend this man’s talk. Even if you’ve seen the videos of it.

He’s the driving force behind this entry. Until now, I’ve kept my professional image away from my more personal parts. I’ve compartmentalized my identity, basically. Tech and business here, mental and physical health over there, homesteading over there (insert gestures to different directions here). But the truth is, my having Autism and Depression are part of what shapes me as a person and affects my professional life, whether I want them to or not. And just like I have started looking up to Greg as a role model for someone who has seen success with his ADHD and Bipolar out in the open, the others out there need more people to look up to, as well. We all need people to understand us and our differences, so that they can see us as strengths to be embraced, instead of liabilities to be feared. And, as Robin Williams’ death has shown so vividly, we need to be able to talk about these things openly and not be ashamed of them.

Lodging With AirBnb

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Last week, I had the pleasure of going to New York City for Laracon US. It was a phenomenal experience, but there was one problem — New York City is bloody expensive. At $250 a night for the group rate, the hotel was no exception, and the disadvantage of being a female in a male-dominated industry is that finding a roommate to share a room with is damn near impossible. So, I was on my own for finding a way to save a little money on lodging. Unfortunately, the traditional booking agencies didn’t really have anything that were much of a savings and near to the conference venue.

Enter AirBnb

Some of the guys who were involved with last year’s Laracon EU introduced me to AirBnb. It’s an interesting concept — people rent out a room in their home for a given price per night. Generally, this results in a cost savings for the guest, and helps defray the host’s cost of their home. AirBnb works like a booking agency, helping guests find and book places to stay; an escrow service, holding the money in the event a refund is needed and ensuring the host gets paid for services rendered; and housekeeping, making sure the room is ready for the guest and in good shape between guests.

I decided to check it out to see what I could find, and I lucked into an opening just a couple of blocks away, for about a third of the cost of a stay at the hotel. So, I put in a booking request (hosts can approve or refuse booking requests), and a short while later, my request was approved.

Project - Raze West Virginia

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The Client, and a Little History

While working at Fahlgren Mortine, I had the opportunity to work with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) on the new website for their teen anti-tobacco campaign, Raze West Virgina.

I’m already familiar with teen anti-tobacco campaigns, having been involved in Pennsylvania’s for a time when I was a teen, myself, but I found out that what makes West Virginia’s somewhat unique – and very important – is that West Virginia ranks as the highest, or second highest (in some subcategories), of tobacco users nearly across the board, from adults, to pregnant women, to teens. When nearly a third of everyone around you, no matter the demographic, uses tobacco, that’s a lot of peer pressure.

Enter Raze

Raze is one of several youth anti-tobacco campaigns in West Virginia. It’s a little different from many others, because it’s not just conferences. Rather, it’s groups of teens at the school and community levels (“crews”), sponsored by an adult, that help create a grassroots anti-tobacco movement. They do this by organizing what they call “commotions,” or micro-events to help raise awareness and “tear down tobacco lies.” These commotions can be as simple as handing out fliers, or as large as holding an assembly.

As an added incentive, organizing commotions earns the crew a certain number of points. At various thresholds, the crew then earns gear, ranging from pens to backpacks, emblazoned with the Raze logo.

Vagrant - Initial Thoughts

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So, I finally did it. I finally started playing with Vagrant. I have to say, I quite like it.

At the moment, I just have a generic Ubuntu box that I downloaded from Vagrentboxes and then used a script to download the dependencies needed to run Octopress and my blog. Add a little port-forwarding magic, and I no longer have to deal with RVM, Ruby versions, and what-have-you on my MacBook Pro (this is a very good thing, as I’ve found OSX to be surprisingly hostile to developers in its attempt to be “helpful”). This is great, but quite cumbersome, because it involves updating apt-get, installing a bunch of things that have a laundry list of dependencies out of apt-get, then installing the Ruby gems needed, then, finally, running rake preview. Once it’s up and running, it’s great, but that process takes somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes.

Come on now, we can do better than that.

So, now, my next project with Vagrant will be to create a box that already has the necessary prerequisites for Octopress. Then, at some point, I think I’ll make one for other development projects, too. I suspect it will save me – and some of my coworkers – quite a bit of headache when it comes to dealing with different development environments (I know at least one coworker who has to support legacy 5.3 applications, and help with our new Laravel apps that require 5.4+ due to our heavy usage of array literal notation).

Box-sizing: Border-box and Changes in How We Use the Box Model

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Back in the days when Internet Explorer 6 reigned supreme, when Firefox was just getting its foothold and taking shares from IE, and Chrome was barely a Googler’s pet project, the browsers followed different box models.

Firefox (as well as the then little-known browsers Opera and Safari) followed the W3C standard box model, what is now known as “content-box”. Internet Explorer, on the other hand, followed its own box model, what we now call “border-box”. As Firefox began to rise and threatened IE’s market share, Web developers were singing the praises of the content-box style box model (which was one of the many W3C standards that IE ignored, and Firefox implemented), to the point that when Microsoft finally released Internet Explorer 7, it implemented the standard box model.

Project: Octopress Theme Toytown

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As part of yet another redesign and blog migration, I needed to create a theme that wasn’t so stock. I migrated my site to Octopress, a blogging platform that runs on GitHub’s Jekyll static site generator. It’s a great platform, as anyone who follows my Twitter or Google+ accounts is aware, but the vast majority of sites that run on Octopress use the default theme, or some slight variation thereof. As good and nice as the default theme is, it’s become very generic. I needed something different.

Anatomy of an Octopress Theme

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As you can probably see, I’ve updated my theme to something a little less Octopress. I still have a few changes to make, such as getting a background image that fits a larger viewport. It probably also needs some polishing for things that I haven’t run across yet, and deal with IE8 and below’s lack of support for RGBA and media queries, and I might toy around with how it responds to different sizes (oh yeah, and tweak how lists in the content are laid out), but other than that, it’s pretty much done.

I’m by no means a designer, so I doubt anyone but me will really like it, and if my history has anything to say, I probably won’t like it myself in six months, but for the time being, at least, it’s not the very generic, default theme. It also adds a base theme to the (currently insanely small) pool of Octopress themes.

Yes, Yes, I Know

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I know, I need to put a new theme on this thing. It’s funny how you start seeing something everywhere once you find out about it for the first time.

I’m not totally sure when, but I fully plan on building a new theme. I’d like to play around with responsive design, so this should be interesting.

I’ll also be looking into a sort of “tag cloud” for the sidebar, and a way to list the “tags” (or, as Octopress calls them, “categories”). I find it hard to believe that you can put categories into your posts and not be able to make use of them.

Oh, and your tip for the day – I never remember to use “rake” for doing Octopress tasks. I always want to run “octopress [task]”, so I added to my ~/.bashrc the line:

alias octopress="rake"

To use it right away, just run source ~/.bashrc. :)