You're reading Sentences, etc., a design and development blog by Justin Michael.

Having Fun

November 29, 2017 • Link to this Entry

Being laid off sucks, but it’s also an opportunity. Being my own boss means I get to do whatever I want (as long as whatever I want ends up making a living). Having the freedom to make fun choices when it comes to work is important, especially in my situation. Given what’s happened it would be easy for me to fall into the depths of despair, but if I’m sad and downtrodden it will bleed into everything I do, and that’s the last thing I want.

The WP { CSS } course I’m working on needs a WordPress install to use for the examples and screenshots. I run several WordPress sites, but none of them would be appropriate to use in the course, so I had to create a new one. What better opportunity to have a bit of fun?

So, if you’ve ever wondered about what’s on the mind of a Lego brick, check out The Red Brick Blog and wonder no more.

I had the idea for this blog a couple weeks ago. I set up the WordPress install a few days ago, and I’ve been jotting down post ideas when they’ve come to me, but today was the day to finally sit down and make it happen. I spent the day writing a bunch of silly blog posts (with an the about page to match), and it was a blast (all but the most recent post have fake dates).

While fun, this project is not without its practical upsides. Having whimsical example material helps keep the course material from getting stale, and the examples I create will be more memorable than traditional (read: boring) examples, which helps students retain what they’re learning a bit better.

Another benefit is that this blog (and the overall concept of a sentient Lego brick that’s active on the internet) can easily be reused or extended whenever I need examples in the future. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself spending way too much time trying to come up with a good concept for examples. One less thing to waste time on going forward!

All that, and the domain is pretty cool, too.

The Plan

November 28, 2017 • Link to this Entry

In my last post I talked about being laid off. When I wrote that post I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I had no plan.

Now I have a plan.

First, I’ve decided to be radically transparent and document what I’m up to here on this blog. Doing so will provide clarity by forcing me to think deliberately and articulate what I’m doing as I do it. I’m also hoping I can build a bit of an audience, because shipping things to crickets sucks.

Keeping a written record will also allow Future Me to reflect on what went right and what went wrong. Time has a tendency to distort what really happened; the more detail I record here the better.

Most of all, though, I’m hoping that sharing my journey will help you. One of the things I’ve been working on since being laid off is coming up with my own personal mission statement. I’m still tinkering with it, but here’s what I have so far:

Help people succeed using the power of technology and design.

Hoarding what I learn as I go through all of this won’t help anyone. If even a single person learns something, avoids a painful mistake, or makes a better choice because I took the time to share it will all have been worth it.

Second, I realize the most valuable things I have are my knowledge, skills, and experience. I’ve spent years making a living on the web, so I’m going to start this new chapter of my life by teaching people about the foundation of every web page: HTML and CSS. HTML and CSS are the core technologies that power the web, and learning them well opens up a world of opportunities and possibilities.

Specifically, I’m going to start by creating three courses.

The first course is going to be called WP { CSS }, with the tagline, “Bend any WordPress theme to your will with the power of CSS.” If you’ve ever used a theme with limited or no customization options, this course will show you how to make the changes you want using custom CSS (which is a feature built in to every WordPress install since version 4.7, and also available on paid plans). I’m targeting WordPress with this course because it powers 29% of the web, and I want to avoid having the material be too general. However, even if you don’t use WordPress, you’ll still be able to adapt the material to any system that lets you define custom CSS, like Squarespace.

WP { CSS } will be a free email course, and will serve these four purposes:

  1. Make sure potential customers are compatible with my teaching style before they purchase a paid course.
  2. Demonstrate the value and quality of my work.
  3. Help build my audience.
  4. Provide value to everyone, including those who can’t afford a paid product.

At the end of WP { CSS } I’ll invite people to check out my two paid courses, which will cover both HTML and CSS.

My HTML course will be shorter and cost less than my CSS course, but both will be video courses with full transcripts. I’m also planning to offer them together at a special bundle price. My goal is to have the HTML and CSS courses be very high quality, extremely practical, and easy to digest.

I’m going to do all of this under my existing business name: Core Assistance. I’ve set up a quick-and-dirty coming soon page where you can sign up to be among the first to know when all this stuff launches.

I’ve got a few months of runway to get all of this off the ground. It’s going to be an interesting ride no matter how it turns out. If you want follow along subscribe to this blog using the feed, or get new posts delivered directly to your inbox. I already have a number of articles planned that will cover pricing, marketing, productivity, and more.

If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover in a future post, just send an email to Justin at this domain. I want to be as accessible and forthcoming as I can be during all of this, so please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

Let’s do this.

What's Next?

November 21, 2017 • Link to this Entry

On Saturday I learned that my last day at work will be this Friday. The company ran out of money, and simply can’t afford my salary any more.

It was a great job. I was working on some really great stuff with some truly outstanding people. Suddenly it’s all stopping. It’s a very strange feeling.

I’m still processing what happened and coming to terms with this new situation. I have a lot of feelings about a lot of things. There are things to mourn, things I’m angry about, things I’m sad about, things I’m frustrated about, and then there are all the feelings I don’t quite have words for. I’ve been pretty calm about the whole thing, but I am a very calm person.

Honestly, I’m kind of looking forward to the possibilities and the adventure. Don’t get me wrong; if it was up to me, the company wouldn’t have run out of money, and I’d still be working there.

I’m giving myself a few days to wrap my head around all of it. I need to examine the situation, learn whatever lessons this experience has to teach me, feel the feelings, and move on. This stuff needs to be worked out at some point; best to do it now. I’m going to need a clear head to figure out what’s next.

I don’t have much of a plan yet, but I know this: I need to take as much control of my own destiny as possible. I’ve been in too many situations where my life has been forced down a different path because of factors outside my control. I know that there will always be factors outside my control, of course, but I need to reduce them to an absolute minimum.

I need to be my own boss. I need to run my own company, generate my own revenue, and have that revenue come from as many tiny sources as possible. I’m not quite sure what that looks like yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be some mix of teaching, services, and apps (with maybe some products thrown in here and there).

Losing my job wasn’t up to me, but what’s next is up to me. This is a chance to shape my future and build a better life.

Who knows, I might even start blogging again.

Friday Links

February 17, 2017 • Link to this Entry

🗣 Five-and-a-half powerful minutes of black parents telling their kids how to deal with police. If you only look at one thing here, please make it this one.

🔍 Claire Lew pens a fantastic piece about why a company’s vision matters, and how to figure out what your vision is.

🍰 Carl Erik Fisher writes a thought provoking piece about willpower.

🌐 Dan Luu shows us exactly how much the web sucks on a slow connection (and reminds us that millions of people around the world are still stuck with very slow connections).

📱 Mark Stanton provides a surprisingly interesting deep dive on the nuances of rounded corners. Now I know what a curvature comb is!

🎛 Jason Fried writes a case study that shows how complexity can creep in and cause problems.

🌈 Alex Denisov decides to alter the Stickies app that comes with macOS in order to change the colors. A fantastic look at reverse engineering.

🔴 Ken Segall shares an entertaining look behind the scenes of Apple’s HAL ads from 1999.

🖥 Stephen Hackett talks about some of his favorite Apple displays. That 17-inch ADC Apple Studio Display is quite the looker.

🗺 Apple announced WWDC pretty early this year due to a change of venue from San Francisco to San Jose. John Gruber has a nice writeup about it.

🏊‍♀️ Jason Kottke shares and writes about a delightful short film by Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson called Ten Meter Tower.

🍽 And, finally, Sarah Kay talks about Table Games.


February 14, 2017 • Link to this Entry

What was the last thing you did that challenged you? What was your last struggle? Are you struggling now?

Struggling, believe it or not, is often a good sign. Struggling means you’re pushing yourself. Struggling means you’re not resting on your laurels. Struggling fuels growth.

If you haven’t felt challenged recently take it as a warning that stagnation is setting in. You might be making progress, but you’re not growing. You don’t have to grow all the time, but you should be a bit outside your comfort zone on a regular basis.

Success feels great, but if that’s all you feel it will provide diminishing returns. You need challenge and accomplishment in equal measure, as the former enhances the latter. A hard-fought victory is more rewarding than an easy win. Easy accomplishment lacks substance, but challenges have lessons to teach.

Bring challenge and accomplishment into balance. Too much struggle will drag you down into a dark place. Too many easy wins will hollow you out. Harmony and happiness are found, as usual, somewhere in the middle.