DQuinn.net https://dquinn.net Boston-based freelance web designer Daniel Quinn specializes in fully custom WordPress development for small businesses, startups, and established brands. Thu, 23 Aug 2018 00:22:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 62283947 Impact Radius https://dquinn.net/portfolio/impact-radius/ Fri, 16 Mar 2018 02:12:07 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?post_type=portfolio&p=7765 Impact Radius streamlines its product suite with a powerfully modular new WordPress theme.

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Impact rebrands with highly modular new WordPress build.

Aaron Scott of Symbolic Design approached me to help digital marketing platform Impact (formerly Impact Radius) relaunch their site. Aaron provided the visual design, and I built the website on WordPress. The challenge for Impact was providing their in-house marketing director tools so she could manage the site structure herself, without having to get her hands in the code.

I built a modular theme that equips its editors with highly customizable blocks featuring drag and drop and form-fill functionalities. I also developed a handful of Marketo templates, to integrate the look and feel of the public website with the company’s external marketing efforts. As a result, the new Impact website has a cohesive design across multiple marketing channels.

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Cure Alzheimer’s Fund https://dquinn.net/portfolio/cure-alzheimers-fund/ Fri, 02 Mar 2018 03:21:41 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?post_type=portfolio&p=7779 The Cure Alzheimer's Fund ditches Drupal for a visually compelling, brand new WordPress install.

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Cure Alzheimer's Fund relaunches with stunning new look in the fight against Alzheimer's.

Barbara Chambers, Chief Marketing Officer of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, approached me to assist in the relaunch of the organization’s website. I worked with boutique ad agency Proper Villains, who provided the visual design, to create a new WordPress install that would house the organization’s extensive research catalog.

The challenge in Cure ALZ was twofold: we needed to make the website highly modular, so editors could build new layout structures in pages without resorting to custom development. Add to this that there were thousands of pieces of data to port over from the site’s old Drupal install that required massaging to fit with the new theme’s look and feel. We also needed to provide some integration for their donations platform, which was powered by Blackbaud CRM software, The Raiser’s Edge.

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TEDxBeaconStreet https://dquinn.net/portfolio/tedxbeaconstreet/ Fri, 16 Feb 2018 02:59:41 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?post_type=portfolio&p=7753 TEDxBeaconStreet relaunches their talks portfolio on a fresh new WordPress platform that allows staff to showcase their full library of inspiring videos.

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TEDxBeaconStreet's does video curation in style with their new redesign.

Small Army approached me to rebuild TEDxBeaconStreet’s website, a world-renowned TEDx event featuring international speakers for a cross-generational audience as young as the second grade. Small Army provided the design, and I handled development. TEDx needed to clean up their video library, which was hosted on YouTube, and make it easy to manage the library in WordPress.

We created an easy-to-use WordPress installation that allowed TEDx staff to import video and speaker data directly from spreadsheets, as well as maintain the imported videos in WordPress after the migration. TEDx editors are able to curate videos by various taxonomies, teams, and speakers, resulting in a versatile search experience for visitors.

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Country Bank https://dquinn.net/portfolio/country-bank/ Sat, 20 Jan 2018 23:10:45 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?post_type=portfolio&p=7699 The goal in the Country Bank redesign was to create a website that looked fun and engaging, while remaining accessible, easy for site editors to administrate, and secure on the WordPress platform.

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Country Bank takes its website into 2018 with a brand new WordPress install.

Small Army tasked me with the redesign of Country Bank, a state-chartered, mutual savings bank headquartered here in Massachusetts. Small Army created the visual design, and I handled the back-end development in WordPress. The goal was to create a website that looked fun and engaging, while remaining accessible, easy for site editors to administrate, and secure on the WordPress platform.

The approach I took to building Country Bank involved stepping away from templates and jumping into reconfigurable modules, so site editors could construct pages as they saw fit and depending on the content needs of each particular section of the website. We also needed to make it straightforward for site editors to manage complex tables in a responsive environment. Thanks to the flexibility of the WordPress Dashboard, site editors are able to enter content without any technical expertise.

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Take Care https://dquinn.net/portfolio/take-care/ Tue, 12 Dec 2017 00:28:40 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?post_type=portfolio&p=7723 Take Care Home Health, a private duty home healthcare network headquartered in Sarasota, FL was one of my very first clients, way back in 2010.

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Take Care Home Health comes back to DQuinn.net for a full redesign after 8 years.

Take Care Home Health, a private duty home healthcare network headquartered in Sarasota, FL was one of my very first clients, way back in 2010. We built a very simple WordPress site that ran for nearly eight years before Take Care returned to me for a redesign. Since then, they’ve expanded to multiple locations across Florida.

The new website needed to not only catch up with the times as far as the web was concerned, but reflect the capabilities and reach of the company, which had come to dominate the region with its private duty service and through its reputation for care. With the help of visual designer Catherine Bergen, who provided the new look and feel, I rebuilt the website from the ground up. The new site is responsive, more engaging, and remains easy-to-manage for the company’s staff.

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Web Design at Work: Interview with Digital Producer Annie Truong https://dquinn.net/web-design-at-work-interview-with-digital-producer-annie-truong/ https://dquinn.net/web-design-at-work-interview-with-digital-producer-annie-truong/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 15:59:24 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?p=7556 Annie Truong is a veteran digital producer whose freelance experience spans across (most of!) the big advertising agencies in Boston.

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Annie Truong is a veteran digital producer whose freelance experience spans across (most of!) the big advertising agencies in Boston.

Posted on September 29, 2017 in Freelance

Freelancing can be a solitary enterprise, even for creatives who work in shared spaces. The strategies we use to survive, however, are common. In this series Web Design at Work, I interview my colleagues in marketing and advertising to learn how they live, work, and thrive in this constantly changing field.

Annie Truong and her pupper, Sonny.

Today we talk to Annie Truong, Freelance Senior Digital Producer and Program Manager. Annie’s breadth of experience at advertising agencies across the city of Boston gives her a veteran knowledge of life in the industry. She adopted her favorite office mate (Sonny, in photo) during the blizzard of 2015. He had a sister named Cher, who ended up with a lovely family in Newton.

Tell me about your journey into a freelancing career. What training did you start with, and how did you end up doing the work you do today? Were there any surprises along the way? How long did it take to get your first paying client?

After many years of working 12 to 14 hour days in highly intense and, in some cases, highly political environments, I was burned out, crispier than strips of bacon from a greasy spoon. I was ready to leave the agency world behind and often fantasized about getting a job at the check-out desk in my neighborhood library.

One day I had brunch with a couple of friends (who are also former coworkers). They were both freelancing at the time and encouraged me to try it out too, rather than giving up on agencies altogether. Over the next few weeks, I continued to meet up with colleagues who had left full-time jobs to freelance. Where there was anxiety and angst before, I now saw serenity and happiness. These are all smart, talented people who all felt at one point what I was feeling then, and took back control of their lives and emotions.

I took their advice and decided to take the plunge. And by plunge, I mean waded in on tip-toes. You see, I’m a Digital Producer/Project Manager by trade and a risk-adverse planner by trait. I need to know exactly what the next steps are so I can plan ahead and anticipate pitfalls. Freelancing does not fit this model and it was (is) scary as hell for me. But sometimes you just have to step out of your comfort zone, as the saying goes.

In my case I got extremely lucky. I was badgered into attending an informal reunion with a group of former coworkers of a much-beloved ad agency. I was a few sips of beer in when our copywriter breezed in, gave me a hug, and told me to come work at her current agency. I told her I was a little gun-shy about joining as a full-time employee, but would love to freelance. The next day (Saturday) I sent her my resume. On Monday, I got a call, and on Tuesday, I went in to meet with the team. The stars aligned and I started my gig the next Monday.

Do you have to put on pants to work?

Bahahaha, every job should have a pant-less option! Because of my role, my assignments have always required me to be on site, so sadly pajamas are not an option. The company where I’ve been contracting for the past 15 months does allow me to work from home occasionally, but it’s a big video conference culture, so yeah, pants.

I still go into the office every day, so in this way it’s not any different from a “regular” job. What is different is my mindset. For me, no matter what the day brings and how stressful it may get, knowing in the back of my mind that there is relief in sight at the end of the contract makes a huge difference for my psyche. Whereas before I would let things (mainly politics) eat at me and keep me up at night, as a freelancer, I’m more inclined to let things roll off. My maxim has become “you can handle just about anything for a few months.” It helps me approach my work and coworkers much more positively.

What’s your “rig” look like? If you’re a developer, tell me about your technical setup. If you’re a designer, tell me about what design tools you like. If you’re a barbarian and just use spreadsheets, tell me about your favorite Excel formula.

I don’t really have a standard set-up, though I always have to ask for MS Project to be installed in order to build schedules. I also use PowerPoint and Excel quite a bit. Otherwise, I use whatever the company wants me to follow for workflow and reporting.

Annie Truong is a true barbarian: all she needs is MS Project and Excel to storm the gates.

How do you manage your time? Do you use any specific tools or services to help control your workflow?

Because I’m on site, I typically work the company’s standard operating hours, more as needed. I’m hyper cognizant of how I spend my time in the office and try to be as efficient as possible. Companies are paying me by the hour to work, not socialize, and so I only bill the hours that I work. Timesheets have always been the bane of my existence, but I force myself to be disciplined about tracking my time. I use Excel for this, thus making me a filthy barbarian.

Newbie freelancers often have two major questions when it comes to freelancing: How do you get attract clients to get started, and How do you afford to pay your bills without a regular paycheck?

Network to get started. Work your ass off to attract and retain. As I mentioned at the beginning, I owe everything to my friends and former coworkers for putting the freelance fire in my belly. The word “network” may sound daunting to some and douche-y to others. I’m not saying that you should go to any and every networking event. Go to a few within your ilk/industry. If they’re not helpful, then leave, but you never know from where your next opportunity may come. More importantly, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out to your personal and professional network for advice. The people I talked to were beyond generous with sharing their experiences and sometimes they will make introductions to someone within their own networks.

Throughout my career I’ve been truly fortunate to have worked with many extraordinary people. I’m grateful that they trust me and my quality of work to hire or recommend me. All of my freelance assignments so far have come through from former coworkers, and with each new assignment, my relationships and network grow a little bit more. As a result, jobs have been steady, so thankfully I haven’t had to worry about being able to pay my bills so far. Still, the unknown is disquieting at times: not having something else lined up at the end of a contract can be unnerving for a worrier like me. Some people are able to embrace the in-between periods and take vacations. After 5+ years at this, I’m still not quite there, but definitely more “there” than before.

Can you share a story about your favorite (or least favorite) client experience? What can freelancers and/or clients do to make working together better for everyone?

Good question! There was one particularly challenging assignment during which they laid off my boss three months after I joined, and shortly thereafter he was replaced by someone based in another state. Within a couple months, he was also fired. A few weeks after that, the sole account person on the team quit. I (the contractor) was left to wear their hats in addition to my own for one of the agency’s largest clients. It was a long seven months. I went home and curled up into fetal position at least twice a week.

It sounds like a big bunch of hooey, but every engagement has been a positive experience for me (yes, even the aforementioned one), certainly some more than others. There isn’t a single company for whom I’ve freelanced and wouldn’t go back again. With every job there will always be good and not-so-good aspects. Maybe the work isn’t super creative, but the team is amazing. Or maybe the process and tools the company uses are antiquated, but the work is stellar. For me, it’s about the experience viewed as a whole. Just like with any full-time job, as long as the people are supportive, value my work, respect my opinions, and I can learn something new to grow even a little bit, it is worthwhile. No company is perfect. And neither am I, but I am adaptable.

Lastly, this series is meant to give neophytes insight into the experiences of freelancers who’ve been around the block once or twice. What are three things you wish you knew when you started as a freelancer?

I started with three but ended up with five:

  1. Not to be afraid to reach out to contacts. Even if they don’t have leads, they might know someone who does.
  2. When you’re a freelancer, you don’t have the luxury of a long ramp-up period. Be prepared to learn and adapt to new people/styles/cultures/processes/tools/environments at warp speed.
  3. How liberating it is not to have to do self-evaluations.
  4. How much less fleeting sleep is now.
  5. Everything will work out in the end. (I hope)

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Web Design at Work: Interview with Creative Developer Yurij Lojko https://dquinn.net/interview-with-creative-developer-yurij-lojko/ https://dquinn.net/interview-with-creative-developer-yurij-lojko/#respond Wed, 23 Aug 2017 16:00:32 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?p=7524 Yurij Lojko is a part-time web developer at WuXi NextCODE who also runs his own freelance web development studio at Lojko & Co.

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Yurij Lojko is a part-time web developer at WuXi NextCODE who also runs his own freelance web development studio at Lojko & Co.

Posted on August 23, 2017 in Freelance

Freelancing can be a solitary enterprise, even for creatives who work in shared spaces. The strategies we use to survive, however, are common. In this series Web Design at Work, I interview my colleagues in marketing and advertising to learn how they live, work, and thrive in this constantly changing field.

Today we talk to Yurij Lojko, Creative Developer and Owner of Lojko & Co, based out of Medford, MA. Yurij studied Magazine Journalism at Boston University. He’s an avid bicyclist and the host of Riding the Norse Horse at WMBR when he’s not writing code.

First, send me a picture of your office setup. No—stop! Don’t clean up your desk, just take it as is.

Yurij loves funky ergonomic keyboards: check out the Kinesis Freestyle split keyboard on his desk.

Tell me about your journey into a freelancing career. What training did you start with, and how did you end up doing the work you do today? Were there any surprises along the way? How long did it take to get your first paying client?

I started freelancing way before leaving my first full-time job. It was tough back then because I’d work at work then I’d go home and work some more. Not to mention my first real client paid me in hamburgers and burritos—but it was worth it. Word of mouth recommendations ever since meant I’ve never had to hunt for projects. These days they kind of just fall in my lap. I didn’t even have my own website or business card until a few weeks ago.

I have a full-time job at a genomics company called WuXi NextCODE, but I have a special arrangement—I have to be in the office 40 hours a week, but they only expect me to put in 20 hours per week towards their projects. This way they have access to a highly experienced web developer and I get full benefits! We came to this arrangement back when they were still a full startup and couldn’t pay me a true, full-time salary. They thought correctly that I’d make up the difference with freelance projects. Here I am three years later with my own LLC on the side and a never-ending list of projects to work on. Even though NextCODE is no longer a startup, they still honor our original, forward-thinking relationship.

Do you have to put on pants to work?

Comfort in work apparel is a necessity for me. If I wasn’t allowed to wear a T-shirt and jeans or shorts to work every day, I don’t think my relationship with NextCODE would have ever worked out.

How do you manage your time? Do you use any specific tools or services to help control your workflow?

I use several tools to organize and manage my projects, as well as working with other teams. A few I absolutely love using are: Asana, Trello, Basecamp, Slack, Microsoft Sticky Notes, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Gmail, Zoom Meeting, and Google Chat.

What’s your “rig” look like? If you’re a developer, tell me about your technical setup. If you’re a designer, tell me about what design tools you like. If you’re a barbarian and just use spreadsheets, tell me about your favorite Excel formula.

I use a Kinesis Freestyle split keyboard, a Dell Touchscreen Monitor, a MX Master Mouse, and a Logitech Touch Pad Mouse with a Surface Pro 4. The touchpad allows me to avoid super repetitious movement, which has led to pain for me.

Newbie freelancers often have two major questions when it comes to freelancing: How do you get attract clients to get started, and How do you afford to pay your bills without a regular paycheck?

I don’t recommend starting to freelance without first establishing a relationship with at least one decent client. Like I said before, gradually easing into it could be a painful 1 to 2 years but once you get the ball rolling, you’ll be all set.

Can you share a story about your favorite (or least favorite) client experience? What can freelancers and/or clients do to make working together better for everyone?

One client couldn’t believe how much better the experience was working with me than with her previous developers. She rants and raves about it pretty much in every email she writes to me. All I do is explain to her the options, give my recommendations, and do the work on time. I guess she used to have low expectations… but man, it makes me feel good to know my opinion and work is appreciated!

Lastly, this series is meant to give neophytes insight into the experiences of freelancers who’ve been around the block once or twice. What are three things you wish you knew when you started as a freelancer?

  1. Being my own boss is not necessarily as fulfilling as I always wished it would be, but it’s still awesome.
  2. It’s important to get someone to help you with your taxes as soon as you start making consistent $ or else you’ll be paying more taxes than you’d expect.
  3. Working with no-budget startups is a massive pain—make sure you really love what they’re doing. Otherwise… it’s. not. worth it.

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Pentecostal Tabernacle https://dquinn.net/portfolio/pentecostal-tabernacle-cambridge/ Fri, 18 Aug 2017 11:54:29 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?post_type=portfolio&p=7503 Pentecostal Tabernacle contacted me to undertake a redesign of the organization's website, which included a full rebranding of their web presence, print materials, and outdoor signage.

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Pentecostal Tabernacle undergoes a full re-branding, including web, print, and outdoor signage.

Pentecostal Tabernacle in Cambridge, MA contacted me to undertake a redesign of the organization’s website, which included a full rebranding of their web presence, print materials, and outdoor signage. I teamed up with stellar art director Bonnie Brunner, who provided the visual design direction of the website and created the new logo. With a suite of new visual assets in hand, I rebuilt their website on WordPress so that the staff and volunteers could easily maintain the organization’s marketing activities from a single Dashboard.

Pentecostal Tabernacle stored their event and group data in Church Community Builder (CCB), so I used the CCBPress API to write a custom bridge between WordPress and their CRM. Now whenever staff create events in CCB, they appear on the website styled to fit. We also created a space for the staff to feature sermons hosted on YouTube, as well as a live video stream of the Sunday congregations.

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IdentityForce https://dquinn.net/portfolio/identityforce/ Mon, 07 Aug 2017 04:23:25 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?post_type=portfolio&p=7483 IdentityForce needed an installation with enough flexibility that the marketing team could deploy hundreds of pages in a wide variety of layouts with little technical expertise. To this end, I created a dozen layout modules, so that the team could build pages to suit their content marketing with simple drag and drop functionality.

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IdentityForce chooses WordPress to be the engine that drives its product marketing.

Small Army enlisted me to develop the redesign for IdentityForce, a global provider of identity theft and credit security solutions. Small Army created the visual designs, and I built the platform on WordPress.

IdentityForce needed an installation with enough flexibility that the marketing team could deploy hundreds of pages in a wide variety of layouts with little technical expertise. This included blog posts, events, team profiles, products, a library of widgets, and many different kinds of pages. To this end, I created a dozen layout modules, so that the team could build pages to suit their purposes by simply dragging and dropping them into the desired order and filling out form elements in the Dashboard, all without the use of a monstrous drag-and-drop builder (such as Visual Composer). We also employed Gravity Forms with Hubspot integration to collect leads throughout the site.

 

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Will Advanced Website Builders Steal Our Jobs? https://dquinn.net/will-advanced-website-builders-steal-jobs/ https://dquinn.net/will-advanced-website-builders-steal-jobs/#respond Wed, 14 Jun 2017 13:00:18 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?p=7395 "Aren't you afraid sites like these will make your job obsolete?"

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"Aren't you afraid sites like these will make your job obsolete?"

Posted on June 14, 2017 in Freelance

Check it out: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/06/advanced-website-builders/

The question of whether automation will steal our (developers’) jobs often comes up in shop talk: indicating Squarespace, a designer might ask, “Aren’t you afraid sites like these will make your job obsolete?”

Smashing Magazine does a good job covering the function of “advanced website builders”—drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG providers that allow individuals and businesses to create websites with zero technical expertise, some copy, and some photos.

My answer? Let’s not confuse automation with innovation. Advanced website builders (robots) emulate what developers (humans) initially figured out how to do. Yes, programs like Sketch can render designs into intelligible CSS these days. But neither Sketch nor Squarespace can reason their way out of a difficult design problem, and that’s something you’re always going to need developers to do.

That is, of course, until Skynet goes online. But then we’re all fucked, so who cares.

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Check Out Segura’s Terse Work Contract https://dquinn.net/check-seguras-terse-work-contract/ https://dquinn.net/check-seguras-terse-work-contract/#respond Tue, 13 Jun 2017 13:00:44 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?p=7389 I don't think a work contract gets more straightforward than this.

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I don't think a work contract gets more straightforward than this.

Posted on June 13, 2017 in Freelance

Courtesy of Jason Fried, Founder & CEO of Basecamp:

You give me money, I’ll give you creative.
I’ll start when the check clears.
Time is money. More time is more money.
I’ll listen to you. You listen to me.
You tell me what you want, I’ll tell you what you need.
You want me to be on time, I want you to be on time.
What you use is yours, what you don’t is mine.
I can’t give you stuff I don’t own.
I’ll try not to be an ass, you should do the same.
If you want something that’s been done before, use that.

PRO BONO

If you want your way, you have to pay.
If you don’t pay, I have final say.

Let’s create something great together.

I think I saw something like this in my graduate days at Emerson from a major magazine publisher (a contract for obtaining print rights for stories). So much for legalese.

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On Trickle-Down Workaholism in Startups https://dquinn.net/trickle-workaholism-startups/ https://dquinn.net/trickle-workaholism-startups/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 13:00:41 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?p=7374 Workaholism in startups is part of a VC mythology that's neither healthy nor sustainable. Some words of wisdom from the founder of Basecamp and creator of Ruby on Rails.

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Workaholism in startups is part of a VC mythology that's neither healthy nor sustainable. Some words of wisdom from the founder of Basecamp and creator of Ruby on Rails.

Posted on June 12, 2017 in Freelance

Check it out: https://m.signalvnoise.com/trickle-down-workaholism-in-startups-a90ceac76426

Something to think about when you’re grinding away at your 9-to-5 or your solo enterprise:

So don’t tell me that there’s something uniquely demanding about building yet another fucking startup that dwarfs the accomplishments of The Origin of Species or winning five championship rings. It’s bullshit. Extractive, counterproductive bullshit peddled by people who either need a narrative to explain their personal sacrifices and regrets or who are in a position to treat the lives and wellbeing of others like cannon fodder.

My motto has always been work to live, not live to work.

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Al Franken’s Giant of the Senate https://dquinn.net/al-frankens-giant-senate/ https://dquinn.net/al-frankens-giant-senate/#respond Fri, 09 Jun 2017 13:00:14 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?p=7386 If you're looking for a fun read amidst the nightmarish political cycle of 2017, pick up Al Franken's Giant of the Senate to learn how he became a giant phony.

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If you're looking for a fun read amidst the nightmarish political cycle of 2017, pick up Al Franken's Giant of the Senate to learn how he became a giant phony.

Posted on June 9, 2017 in Pop Culture

View the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MAEVD27zfs

Though he’s just hawking his new book, I’ve been digging listening to Al Franken on NPR junket lately. His discussion on All Things Considered went over the history of his battle to earn his status as a politician as well as his coming to terms with the state of comedy in the political sphere.

Maybe it’s just more publishing crud, but Giant of the Senate might be some refreshing reading to pick up in this harrowing political climate…

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WordPress Core Contributors & the React vs. Vue JS Framework Debate https://dquinn.net/wordpress-core-contributors-react-vs-vue-js-framework-debate/ https://dquinn.net/wordpress-core-contributors-react-vs-vue-js-framework-debate/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 13:00:14 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?p=7379 I rarely see Make WordPress Core summaries mince words, but the newsletter from May 30 was getting heated.

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I rarely see Make WordPress Core summaries mince words, but the newsletter from May 30 was getting heated.

Posted on June 8, 2017 in Web Design

Check it out: https://make.wordpress.org/core/2017/05/24/javascript-chat-summary-for-may-23rd/

The front end landscape is in constant flux these days as the battle of the JS frameworks continues. The latest tug of war is React vs. Vue, and the WordPress core contributors are debating what to wrangle with as WordPress evolves. Remember way back when things were still jQuery vs. MooTools vs. Prototype? HD DVD vs. Blu-ray? Betamax vs VHS? Yeah, it’s like that but for web nerds.

I rarely see Make WordPress Core summaries mince words, but the newsletter from May 30 was getting heated.

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On Racial Adversaries in Silicon Valley https://dquinn.net/on-racial-adversaries-in-silicon-valley/ https://dquinn.net/on-racial-adversaries-in-silicon-valley/#respond Wed, 07 Jun 2017 13:00:47 +0000 https://dquinn.net/?p=7393 Silicon Valley is something out of a Jack Vance novel, where the doctrine of rational egotism is a law of nature.

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Silicon Valley is something out of a Jack Vance novel, where the doctrine of rational egotism is a law of nature.

Posted on June 7, 2017 in Pop Culture

I should start this by noting that I encountered Inkoo Kang’s article “It’s Time for Silicon Valley to Disrupt Its Toxic Asian Stereotypes” via Hacker News, the social news tentacle of the real Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator, which in my experience tends to be inhabited by lots of libertarian reactionaries who use the acronym “SJW” with impunity. I call attention to this because I don’t like the hivemind’s eagerness to dismiss social justice issues, their penchant for misogyny, or their tone-deaf comments against diversity. But on this particular opinion piece, I think their side-eye is warranted.

I don’t have direct experience with the real Silicon Valley—that is, working for morally bankrupt tech startups on the West Coast—but I have been exposed to the personalities at those kind of startups due to my years working as a cog at digital agencies here in Boston. And OH MY GOD does Silicon Valley capture the ego of the people involved: the soulless VC suits, the vapid digital visionaries, the pernicious tech executives, all thanks in no small part to the army of consultants the show hires to keep its subject matter accurate. Silicon Valley exists in a kind of parallel universe we hope isn’t actually our own: something out of a Jack Vance novel (I’m partial to Cugel’s Saga), where the doctrine of rational egotism is a law of nature, and all those who fail to follow it face economic or spiritual ruin.

As POC in the tech industry myself, I was looking forward to reading Silicon Valley through a social justice lens, as I always thought the show did an honest job depicting the cultural insensitivity of the real Silicon Valley. But by the end of Kang’s opine, I felt like s/he missed the forest for the trees. Kang is worried that Silicon Valley relies too heavily “on racial overtones that reinforce pernicious stereotypes about Asians in tech and other industries.” S/he tries to make the case that “Dinesh and Jian-Yang might be just as brilliant as their counterparts, but Silicon Valley never shows it.” The problem is Kang seems to play favorites with textual evidence.

Dinesh is one of the show’s main characters: he’s an emotionally needy Pakistani programmer whose competence is matched only by his white, self-assured counterpart, who is an emotionally withholding Satanist named Gilfoyle. Kang casts Gilfoyle as a racial adversary of Dinesh, but the two are paired as an odd couple because they share the same insecurities, even though neither will admit to it. The reason why Richard—the show’s resident genius and the founder of Pied Piper—cedes control of the company to Dinesh is because Dinesh’s video app was more successful than Richard’s platform, a fact that undermines the claim that Silicon Valley never shows its minorities succeeding. Moreover, Dinesh’s inevitable fall as CEO is no less graceful than any of the other characters’, and has more to do with his insecurities blossoming into arrogance when he’s placed in the limelight than his status as a minority.

Dinesh Chugtai of Silicon Valley

I think what really struck a nerve for Kang is a recent episode in Season 4 titled “Intellectual Property,” where sleazy, white incubator-slumlord Erlich Bachman learns Chinese immigrant programmer Jian-Yang is developing an app about octopus recipes and not Oculus VR, just before he has to go into a pitch meeting to sell the product. As a character, Jian Yang is cut from the same cloth as his incompetent white counterpart “Big Head” Bighetti, both of whom are young but inept developers who represent the over-eagerness of VCs to cash in on stupid ideas (and both of whom make out with millions because of that stupidity). After a series of ridiculous racist exchanges, Erlich manages to convince a bunch of white, male VC morons that the app is actually “Shazam for food,” and thus hi-jinks ensue. Needless to say, Kang sees the relationship between Jian-Yang and Erlich steeped in racial antagonism (and it sure is), claiming that “its Asian characters, who represent the quarter of Valley workers who are Asian or Asian American, are shuttled into the same little boxes society has kept for Asians for centuries.”

Hollywood seems loath to relinquish the ethnic jokes of the past, and so its new favorite thing is wrapping those racial gags in plausible deniability by having a heinous (or otherwise unpleasant) character utter them.

What Kang interprets as “plausible deniability,” however, I interpret as intentional verisimilitude, given the nature of the egotistic universe that Silicon Valley‘s characters inhabit. Mike Judge and company are not shying away from the racist epithets, they’re laying them on thick, and they mean to. This is not comedy that drops the N-word “accidentally”: the writing in Silicon Valley uses stereotypes to cast light on the very culture that uses those stereotypes humorlessly.

What’s laudable about Silicon Valley is that it portrays racist sleazeballs like Erlich Bachman and misogynists like Russ Hanneman and psychopaths like Gavin Belson with uncanny accuracy, and we laugh at their portrayals not just because we like seeing these assholes get their comeuppance (everyone eventually gets theirs in this sort of universe), but because depicting them as “heinous character[s]” exposes the real Silicon Valley for what it is: ruled by rich, racist, misogynist assholes. In “Intellectual Property,” if we subtract race from the equation, we’ve got a failed entrepreneur who has a history of exploiting immigrants trying to sell total nonsense to a bunch of clueless, VC douche-bags. And if we add race back, we’ve got a blatant, racist stereotype of Jian-Yang as the “cunning” Chinese sidekick who outwits his white slumlord at every turn. This is not commentary-as-accomplice to what should be, which is what a less-than-conscious execution of these tropes would accomplish, but a commentary-against what is, of the culture that it parodies.

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