A Charitable Tradition

During the holidays, there is naturally a lot of talk of gifts and giving in our household. Kate and I also talk a good deal about the traditions we grew up with as kids and which ones we want our family to continue. We also talk about creating new traditions that are unique to our growing family. Well, unique in the sense that neither Kate or I grew up with them.

Last year we decided that it was important to include charitable giving into our holiday rituals. There are so many good charitable organizations out there, and we just can’t afford to give all the money that we would like to all of them (no, becoming a platinum member of the Hokie Club does not qualify as “charity”). So we decided to do a charitable lottery, of sorts.

Before Christmas day, each person in our family gives some thought to the charities to which they would like to donate. On Christmas morning, before any gifts are opened, we write down the names of the charities, put them in a hat, and each person gets to pull out one charity. We then send a donation to each charity that gets pulled. Once a charity has been selected, they are omitted from the drawing the next year.

In addition to being a fun tradition (everybody gets to kind of “root” for their charities to get picked), it’s also an attempt to mitigate the three ring circus that Christmas has become. I won’t be so hypocritical as to say we don’t enjoy giving and receiving gifts, but I want to try to help my kids understand that there are folks who need gifts that are so much more important than a Wii. Or a bicycle. Or a book.

I don’t mean this to be a “look at us we’re so great” post. Please don’t, because we certainly aren’t. I mainly wanted to ask for additional ideas for charitable giving. Anything is up for grabs. Get creative. List your favorite charity in the comments, and they just might make it into this year’s hat. I’ll get the ball rolling with our three charities from last year, and those that are in the hat so far this year.

2006 Winners:

2007 “Nominees” so far:

Website Redesign – Part 4: Mocking up the Archives and Contact Pages

Part 4 of the Music-Slave.com 2007/2008 Redesign Series

Designing the Archive and Contact pages was challenging because of the limited content those pages will hold. Normally the challenge is to take a bunch of information and cram it into a limited amount of space in a way that it is usable and easily accessible. In this case, my challenge was to take a small amount of information and present it in a manner that was attractive without looking stark, while retaining the aforementioned usability and accessibility.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Let’s start with the archives. When I had initially thought about this page, I wanted to provide a calendar-like interface that the user could use to select posts from individual days. Then I thought about how I use blog archives. How often do I look at a specific day to find a post? Never. Chronologically, do I post
often enough to justify having archives go down to a daily level? Not really. Would a monthly archive be sufficient? Absolutely.

I have seen some effectively implemented monthly archives, and I particularly liked the way that the archives are laid out on Veerle’s site. I decided to use a form of that, although without the “show all content” and with the more recent dates on the right, as if to emulate a time line. While this navigation will work fine for a little while, I will need to find a way to let users browse posts further back than 4 years ago. As it stands, that’s not currently an issue. Talk to me at this time next year. While it was easy to generate this mockup, dynamically generating this content through WordPress may be a challenge.

In addition to accessing archives chronologically, I also want to be able to access posts grouped by tags. Right now, this is a simple list on the right hand side of the page, but eventually may become the “tag cloud” that has become popular. We’ll see.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Finally, there is the contact page. I want to provide a way for users to contact me via my Web site. I’ll provide my email address (taking care to hide it from spammers), as well as a form that users can use that will drop a note in my inbox. I may eventually need to put a CAPTCHA on the page to prevent spammers from using the form. I also felt that it was important to have a photo of me on this page, so people could actually see who they were contacting. I feel like it helps people connect a little better. I’m not a fan of posting my picture, so it took me a while to find one that was acceptable. I picked one that had a nice distraction in it, too. So hopefully people will look more at Simon than they do at me.I’ve got all the mockups for the new site complete and have started work on the HTML/CSS templates. I’ve also secured the domain name and hosting through DreamHost.com. I hope to have the new site ready and running by the new year, but with the holidays and all the traveling that I have planned, I think that may be overly ambitious. Look for the new site sometime in January.

Fun in the Snow

A Winter WonderlandI went to take the trash out this evening, and the “1-2” inches of snow that the forecasters had predicted was at least 2-3 inches high, and coming down harder than it had all day. It was dark out, and very nearly past his bedtime, but I decided I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take Simon out for some fun in the snow.

We tromped around for 10 or 15 minutes, just walking and making snowballs. Well, I would make snowballs, then he would have fun throwing them and watching them break. Once I got Simon to the point where he was plenty cold (yet still a couple stages away from frostbite), we gave up for the evening. We were greeted by Kate with a nice warm mug of hot chocolate for Simon and a couple of doughnut holes as his dessert.

As mundane as it sounds, this will be one of my lasting memories from Simon’s childhood. At least, I think it will. You never do know what will stick in this noggin of mine. Here’s hoping I manage to hold onto this one.

Hot Chocolate

ACC Champs!

VT LogoI briefly interrupt the current series about the redesign to bring you this late-breaking news. The Hokies are the ACC Champs! Huzzah!

The last minute loss to BC back in October is that much more galling now. If the Hokies pull out that win, they might very well be playing for the National Championship. However, there is a possibility that I’m headed to FL for the Orange Bowl, so that will be fun times with the old roommate and a couple of other friends, if we land the tickets. Go Hokies! Beat Kansas!

Website Redesign – Part 3: Do I Really Like These Colors?

Part 3 of the Music-Slave.com 2007/2008 Redesign Series

After stepping away from the first design for a few days, I came back to the project and took a look at what I’d put together. I liked it, but it was just too. . . dark. I was tired of the browns and tans. As much as I like the guitar masthead, I think it’s time to move on. It may return one day in another form, but for now it’s scrapped.

I looked around for a bit through my photo archives and found a shot that I liked. I ended up going with a shot I took of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (longest name of a church ever?). I’m not a photographer, so it’s not quite the quality I would like. But I think it is a nice shot. I want to occasionally swap out the photo that is displayed in this section of the site, so this isn’t permanent. I used a few select colors from that photo to create the theme for this mockup.

Some of the other items that stood out to me as “needs fixing” were:

  • What’s in a name? Music-Slave.com has gotten me more than a few eyebrow raises over the years, and the hyphen in the domain name is annoying as well. I think the time has come to move on. Solution: When this design goes live, it will relaunch as the more mundane, if somewhat more vain, PatCampbell.net.
  • A bit more whitespace was needed around the photos and RSS subscription center. That area was cramped. Solution: Add more white space. Painfully obvious. Except in this case the whitespace is blue.

View Mockup With These Fixes

  • Also relating to whitespace, the faux page appearance of the main content area (where posts would appear) wasn’t giving me warm fuzzies, and I thought it would look awkward for users who had resolutions greater than 800×600. Solution: I eliminated that visual effect and went for a simpler (and I think more effective) white area for both the content and the sidebar information. I also added a small gradient to the blue top to ease the transition to the main content portion of the page.
  • I really wanted the information in the post information box to be prominent and easily accessible. Floating it to the right of the post text struck me as being problematic in two ways. First, it was a bit TOO visually prominent. The text jumped out and took away from the post once you started reading. Secondly, I occassionally include an interest image with my posts, and having both the information box and the image off to the right seemed to be a bit too busy to me. Solution: I decided to take the box and span it across the width of the post text. Since the title of the post is really “post information”, I threw it into the box as well. I’m pretty happy with the results. In order to mug for comments on longer articles, I added some “please comment on this” text to the bottom of the post.

View Mockup With These Fixes

  • Finally, I wanted to tighten up the sidebar a bit and make those clearly delineated from the rest of the content on the page. Solution: I added a sort of “bracket” to link the descriptive titles “Links” and “Friends” to the content they apply to. I wasn’t sure about using the vertical text at first, but I think this small element ties the titles to the content and sets off the sidebar nicely. The drawback here is that it may be a bit tricky to implement in HTML/CSS.

View the FINAL Mockup
Next: Part 4 – Archives and Contact Pages