A new parish website


In my continuing effort to fill up every spare moment, I spent the last few months on a pro-bono redesign of the website for St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Nashua.

The old site hadn’t been updated in at least 7 years. It had been originally designed for old 4:3 monitors, and was static.  The new version is mobile- and tablet-friendly, and hopefully is a lot more user-friendly as well.

It was a good coding exercise for me. I used the Bootstrap framework for responsive design, and there’s some simple PHP and Javascript functionality in there as well.

Check it out at stjoenash.org


Airports by the numbers

404 airport numbers

I had a little time to kill one afternoon at the office, so I started poking around online looking for statistics about airports in New Hampshire.  (Don’t ask me why. Maybe jets were departing from MHT over the building at the time.)  A few more research sessions, a couple of spreadsheets and an hour or so in inDesign later, out popped the first in what will probably become a series of “New Hampshire Numbers” infographics for the Union Leader.  Gotta have a project.


A Super summary

Pats SB summaryAfter the historic comeback the Patriots staged in Super Bowl LI, putting this page together the next day for the Union Leader was a good way to make sure I actually saw what I thought I saw.

This was as close as I’ve come to sportswriting (the craft for which  I spent 4+ quality years at UNH) in 30 years.

It got pretty good reviews. (High-resolution prints of this and other Super Bowl pages are available at UnionLeader.com/patriots.)


Don’t be afraid of ‘me’

And the answer is? (Courtesy Merriam-Webster)
And the answer is?                                                                                                               (Merriam-Webster.com)

What is it about “me” that confuses people?

Most people know better than to say or write something like “Mike and me are going to a hockey game tonight.” They know that “me” is the wrong pronoun to use when it’s the subject of a sentence.

But it’s funny how so many people get tripped up on the other end of a sentence, when the pronoun is the object.

All too often, I see posts on blogs and especially on social media in which the writer says something like “Joe came to the hockey game with Mike and I.” Or, the writer cops out with “Mike and myself.”

Many very smart, well educated people do it. In a debate the other night, our incumbent U.S. senator referred to an issue that she said illustrated the difference “between my opponent and I.” Immediately, a colleague and I yelled “ME!”

If you ever worry about whether you’re using the right pronoun, here’s the simple test: If you’re writing about two people, test by leaving out the other person.

As the subject:
WHICH IS IT:”Joe and ___ are going to the game”.
WOULD YOU SAY: “Me is going”? I hope not. Nor would you say “Him (or her) is going.”
SO THEN: “Joe and I (or ‘he’ or ‘she’) are going.”

Same thing on the other end, as the object:
WHICH IS IT:”Come to the game with Mary and ____.”.
WOULD YOU SAY: “Come to the game with I”? Doubt it.
SO THEN: “Come to the game with Mary and me.”

I think as kids, most of us were corrected (maybe fairly strenuously) for misusing “me” as the subject — “Larry and me were hunting for frogs down by the creek” — which left us insecure about whether it was ever safe to use it.

Well, it is. Time to rise above the trauma of third-grade English class!

Oh, and take a stab at the question in the image at the top of the post. Don’t be bashful;  it’ll be just between you and me.


Digging out the tools

Doing some deck repairs at the lake with Dad and little Mike, circa 1999.
Doing some deck repairs at the lake with Dad and little Mike, circa 1999.

My table saw is under a pile of laundry.

It’s been at least five years since I’ve engaged in one of my true loves, woodworking and carpentry. One thing or another has taken precedence, and aside from a few weeks last summer when I was busy getting my family’s lakeside camp ready to be sold, I’ve been far more connected to my laptop than to my tools.

But this past weekend, my wife and I finally agreed that it was time to get started on at least one of the projects on the growing to-do list for our 25-year-old home.

We decided to tackle the den. The project scope isn’t exotic; I just need to replace the original contractor-grade woodwork — door and window casings, crown moulding, baseboards — with something a little nicer, and then paint.  Still, it’s a start, and I’m excited to finally dig my tools out of the piles of crap in the basement and put them to use.

Truth is, in those years I’ve been away, I’ve discovered that it’s just as much of a creative rush to make something out of bits and bytes —  a Photoshop project, an InDesign page, or a website — as out of a pile of lumber.

Now, I’m nowhere near as good at coding as I am at carpentry, but that’s a matter of practice. I’ve been working in the digital arts in one form or another for probably 20 years, but I’ve been building stuff since I was a kid.

My dad was an “avid do-it-yourselfer,” we said in his obituary. In part, he became that because he found himself responsible for keeping up the ramshackle, rambling former rooming house we called home. (Until then, his mother used to say, “he couldn’t tie the dog to the fence.”)  But he also loved building the 1970s-style woodworking projects he’d find in Popular Mechanics, Family Handyman or some of the Reader’s Digest DIY books. Then there was the lakeside deck that just kept growing; I think every time he went out in the car he came back with another load of lumber for that one.

I would always help, sometimes actually contributing something useful, sometimes just getting in the way, but always learning something by watching or doing. As time went on and Dad got older and my skills improved, I started taking over the lead role, and he became more of the helper.

Then I became a homeowner. I always tell people “You don’t buy a house, you buy a hobby.” Our little hunk of the American dream was an “expansion” Cape, which we bought with three rooms and a bath downstairs and an unfinished upstairs. In planning the upstairs space, we decided we needed more windows, so I designed three dormers for the front of the house.

Within a year of moving in, I was cutting three huge holes in our roof for the dormers. That was probably the biggest job I have ever tackled; certainly, it was the most traumatic for my wife. But it went off without a hitch, thanks to the experience I had gained working with Dad (and watching all the pre-HGTV shows like “Hometime” and “This Old House”).

After that, I finished the upstairs, built a deck, converted it into a porch, remodeled the kitchen, replaced a bathroom, built a shed, and assorted other less significant projects.

Then I stopped. I got a laptop. And my table saw got buried by laundry.

Now it’s time to get back to work.

It took starting up again to realize how much I missed it.


#FITN flashback

GOP faces puzzle

Fun times, this presidential nominating process. We ran this  candidate-matching puzzle on the front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader back in July 2015, when the Republican field was overflowing with 15 major candidates.

But things were going to change.

The candidate who would finish second in New Hampshire, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, wasn’t even in the picture yet, and eight of the 15 — Graham, Huckabee, Jindal, Pataki, Paul, Perry, Santorum and Walker — would drop out before (some long before) the first votes were cast in Dixville Notch at midnight on Feb. 9. Two more, Christie and Fiorina, dropped out the day after Granite Staters voted.  And Bush hung it up two weeks later in South Carolina.

Part of that winnowing was the result of national polls that meant virtually nothing in reality, since few of the candidates were pitching their messages to national audiences, but which the networks were using to exclude candidates from the endless string of debates that seemed to have supplanted reality shows and infomercials as the airtime-filling content of choice.

But part of it, indeed, was the result of the response the candidates got from real, live voters in the two earliest states.  Which just emphasizes  the privilege we have in New Hampshire to see and hear these people who would lead our country and to be the first in the nation to let them know what we think.


Prepositional problems


From a  major New England newspaper (OK, from its website): “A man was injured Monday after a crash on I-95”.

Therein is one of those writing errors found far too often in news stories and headlines these days: problematic prepositions.

The man wasn’t injured AFTER the crash, unless by some horrible stroke of bad luck he managed to get out of his mangled car, only to get smacked by another vehicle, or, less dramatically, to trip over a hunk of crash debris.

No, sadly, he was injured IN the crash. “After” implies a delay, and in 99 percent of the stories in which this construction is found, the injury is caused by the accident, not by a subsequent event.

Same thing with “killed”: The victim might have died after the crash, but he probably wasn’t killed after it.


Training on the fly


One of my jobs with the Dining du Jour startup project was to develop training materials for the application. One quick and easy solution was a series of screen-grab videos I put together with PowerPoint, SoundCloud and a screen-capture application called ScreenCast-o-Matic.

It was fun to learn the process, and my technique and our production values got better with each installment. Learning can be just as much fun as teaching.

Sadly, diningdujour.com has been taken down, but you can still find the links to the videos on the DDJ page on YouTube.


Open to criticism

Don’t need to be edited? Think again. As New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff says, “the difference between an amateur and a professional is that an amateur really likes everything they do.”

Mankoff may be talking about cartoonists, but the principle applies in most every field. To be your best, you’ve got to be open to constructive criticism.

The best writers I’ve worked with over the years have also been the ones who welcome questions and feedback from editors. And the best editors are the ones who respect the writer’s skills and know how to tune up a story without nitpicking it to death.

It’s not just writers and editors. How many dysfunctional websites — heck, how many dysfunctional companies — are that way because somebody in charge thinks they’ve got all the answers?

When you think you know better than everybody else — especially your users — you’re only setting yourself up to have somebody prove you wrong.

Find the Bob Mankoff interview in the New York Times here.