Expanding my comfort zone, part 2: 2012 personal reflections

NOTE: This is the second, and far more personal, part of my 2012 reflections. If you’d rather hear about my experience with coding class, read Part 1.

Aside from taking my first coding class, this year I dealt with several more personal excursions outside my comfort zone.

The biggest one was triggered by the abrupt and painful ending of a three-year relationship I’d treasured, which happened this summer — just a couple weeks after I moved from Oakland back home to Boulder.

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Expanding my comfort zone, part 1: 2012 reflections on life and code

My motto for 2012. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt!

My motto for 2012. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt!

I know it, you know it: the obligatory end-of-2012-reflections blog meme is coming. So I might as well get a jump on it. It’s partly geeky, partly personal. And it’s not at all professional. Roll with it.

For me, 2012 has been a year of expanding my comfort zone by stepping outside it. Sometimes by being booted unceremoniously beyond it. I’ve walked the talk of one of my favorite pithy t-shirts of the year: “Comfort zone = dead zone.” At the ripe old age of 46, I’m finally learning how to be more at peace with being uncomfortable or uncertain, even for extended periods of time; and how to temper this discomfort with the kind of comfort that feeds my soul and keeps me sane.

One uncomfortable but important advance I made this year was to knuckle down and really start to learn how to code.

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Coding lesson 1: The tiniest things will drive you batty

comfort zone shirt

First off: As I writing this it’s about 5:30 am. I’ve been up since about 1:30 am. Welcome to Codeville.

Wednesday I attended my first Da Vinci Coders class in web front-end development skills. I started a little behind; I missed the real first class on Monday because I was away giving a presentation in Chicago.

Right away I was in over my head. But I expected that. Hence, the motivational t-shirt.

Our instructor, Richard Jones, did a pretty good job of catching me up on what was covered in the first class. I like his approach — he sets the context with the higher-level concepts so we first learn to think like developers, to think very carefully about the nature and purpose of content on a page, and make our decisions about how to use HTML5 and CSS based on that assessment.

For our first assignment he gave us a PDF file exported from a webpage that was a very textbook-like discussion of the Pacific Temperate Rainforest. The topic doesn’t really matter, though. I was really only paying attention to the structure of the content. I do a lot of writing and editing work, so it was somewhat of a relief not to have to consider whether the content made any sense. I only had to pay attention to the structure of the content — what sections, figures, and other major elements it comprised.

That relief didn’t last long….

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Learning to code: My next adventure

It’s been a very busy summer since I moved back to Boulder, which is why I haven’t posted here in a while. (All my writing energy has gone to client projects.) But I’m excited to announce that I’m about to embark on a new adventure that I will be blogging on Contentious.com:

I’m learning to code.

Took me long enough to get around to it, I know.

Specifically, starting next week I’m taking an intensive 3-month full immersion course offered by the Da Vinci Institute in nearby Louisville, CO in front-end development skills: HTML5, cascading stylesheets, and Javascript. It’s part of their Da Vinci Coders program, aimed at bringing beginners quickly up to speed with useful, in-demand tech skills. (They also offer Ruby on Rails training.)

The training isn’t cheap. But serendipity struck: Local tech startup Callisto.fm offered two full scholarships for women, to encourage more diversity in the Front Range tech scene. And I won!

I’m deeply grateful for this opportunity, since (because my move from CA back to CO this year ate the lion’s share of my discretionary budget for Major Life Changes) I otherwise would’ve had to wait until next year to do this course. And I feel like I’ve put off learning to code long enough.

Financing is also available for Da Vinci Coders. Had I not won this scholarship, I would have gone that route next year. But this time I got lucky.

Admittedly this adventure involves seriously stepping outside my comfort zone. While I know a lot about technology and know many coders, I’ve no prior programming experience. But I’m sick of getting tech ideas that require coding, and then having to either let them go or else beg a developer to help me even start to test out my idea. Both of those options frustrate me.

My goal is to learn enough front-end technology to be able to build simple, functional mobile web apps — that is, interactive app-like functionality delivered through the web browser on a phone or tablet.

Why mobile web apps? Because I’m passionate about mobile technology and what it can do for people’s lives. But I think the current overwhelming focus on platform-specific “native” apps (which users must find in an app market, download and install, and remember to run) is complete overkill for many of the interactive things people want to do on their phones and tablets. To back this up, research shows one in four mobile apps never get opened more than once, and 75% never get used more than 10 times.

Since mobile users are so fickle (and, let’s be honest, most mobile interactive features are things you’d only want to use a handful of times anyway), why not deliver more of this functionality via the mobile web? It’s low-overhead, inherently cross-platform, cheaper to develop, and — thanks to newer browsers and the growing penetration of smartphones (by the end of this year, half of all cell phones in use in the US will be smartphones) — pretty damn nifty.

My goal is not to become a full-time programmer. I’m a good journalist, writer, and editor, and I think that will always be my mainstay. But I realize that coding has become a key literacy skill, and I’m sick of being illiterate. I don’t expect to do anything fancy or impressive with coding, but I think it will give me more options and allow me to work on even more cool projects.

Plus, when I go to hackathons, I’ll be able to really pitch in and help. I hate standing on the sidelines.

And if Lisa Williams can learn to code, I can do it too. Seriously, she’s one of my best friends and mentors, and I’m inspired by her example.

Wish me luck! And watch Contentious.com for my observations, frustrations, and triumphs from this project.

I’m not alone in this: reflections on social media and digital connection

Social media, digital communication channels, and cell phones often get accused of alienating people, enabling bullies, and breaking down the human ties which are the foundation of society.

Bullshit. Personally, I am far happier on a day-to-day basis thanks to these technological tools. They have added considerable love, meaning, joy, and value to my life. With their help, I’ve been able to offer nurturing and support to far more people I care about than ever would have been possible otherwise.

So I wasn’t surprised when a recent Pew study found that 85% of adult who use social networking sites say that people are mostly kind. Also, 68% reported they’d had a experience on social media that made them feel good about themselves, and 61% had experiences that made them feel closer to another person.

I know I’m not alone in this…

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Not tall enough to ride this attraction

Making some lemonade here. Had a rather unpleasant interpersonal experience lately, and decided I needed to set some clear entry requirements (emotional maturity and communication skills) for people I let very far into my life. So instead of just chalking it up to “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt,” I actually GOT THE T-SHIRT! A friend is working on a better line art version which I’ll be selling online. But for now, here’s the concept. Whadya think?

You must be at least this tall to ride this attraction. Custom ordered from Zazzle.com. Better line art version to follow.

I can haz Android root! And it was easy!

This morning I finally rooted my Droid Incredible! One-handed, even! (Dislocated finger hidden by massive splint.)

This morning, before I even had my tea, I finally jumped off a cliff I’d been avoiding: I rooted my Android phone (Droid Incredible).

I’ve had this phone for a year. Generally I like it, but the things I don’t like about it mostly seemed to be fixable if I rooted my phone.

Rooting means undoing the controls that the carrier and manufacturer place on how my phone operates…

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The inevitable mid-life birthday reflection post

Me atop Twin Sisters peak yesterday, Estes Park, CO. Geez, I hope it's not ALL downhill from here!... (Click to enlarge)

I’ve always said that my one true goal in life is to be a crotchety old bitch, sitting on the deck of my mountain cabin, a cup of tea or jug of wine and a plate of smoked salmon or trout at my side. I’ll have a shotgun across my knee, ready to cock it at anyone coming down the driveway and yell, “You from the gummint?”

I’m actually not kidding.

I’m not saying I’ll shoot anyone (necessarily), but crotchety old bitches tend to be able to get away with stuff like that, so why not?

The good thing about having this kind of life goal is that simply by continuing to exist, I’m progressing toward it. Today is my 45th birthday, and I’m starting it right — sitting on the deck of my cabin in the Rockies, still shaded by aspen…

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ONAcamp Denver, June 23: Resources for my mobile journalism session

I’m back in Colorado for a few days, and in a few minutes I’m heading over to ONAcamp Denver — a daylong event with training and workshops in digital journalism. My session runs 9-10am MT. Here’s the info, if you’re going:

Adirondacks (Tivoli 440/540): Mobile Reporting
As more and more users turn to mobile devices for news and information, journalists should be including the platform in their news gathering and delivery. But how? This session will take a big-picture look at trends in the mobile industry, the differences between mobile and the web, the significance of having a mobile presence and the best tools to use in the mobile space.

Here are some things I’ll be mentioning…
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Mobile in low-income communities: My March 2011 talk at USC Annenberg

Earlier this year I spoke at several events during Mobile News Week at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This is the video from that event — a Director’s Forum session for USC Annenberg faculty and students.

First, my colleague Jason Da Ponte gives an excellent overview of the current and evolving mobile landscape, and the role of journalism in an increasingly mobile media environment.

My part starts around 21 minutes in. Afterward, Jason & I answered questions.