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The Story of One New Bathroom Fan

Okay, I get it. A blog post about a bathroom fan lacks the excitement you might be looking for in your reading on the web. But I promise the story of how this bathroom fan ended up looking just right has a few twists and turns.

It started one Sunday afternoon while I was on vacation. After some research, I decided I wanted to tackle replacing the semi-functional fan in our master bathroom. I say semi-functional because it worked, but didn’t do a good job of lifting the moisture out of the room.

I tracked down a fan at Home Depot made by the same vender as the current mode. It also fit perfectly in my current hole, about a nine inch by nine inch space. So far so good.

I started to take the old one out, and began running into problems as soon as I pulled out the old motor, unhooked the electrical wiring and had nothing left but the metal housing. I couldn’t get the thing out no matter how hard I tried. I didn’t see any screws either. So I did what anyone else would do. I started bending the heck out of the housing, to try and see what I was dealing with behind it. After fighting with it for about an hour, I gave up for the day.

The next day, I came at it with a fresh perspective. After bending the metal housing up more, I could see the problem. It was nailed to the joists in multiple spots, instead of screwed. That posed a problem because I couldn’t get anything in the space with enough leverage to pry out the nails. Plus, one corner of the housing sat between two joists, fastened with a nail. That made it near impossible to get this thing out.

After yet more research, and a chat with my dad, I decided to saw it out. To Lowes I went in search for a hacksaw small enough to fit in the space and cut through metal and nails. I found one and a few hours later I had the housing out. Success!

Disassembled bathroom fan, badly damaged
The old fan.

You might think I was close to done. You’d be wrong. Once I examined the duct work in the ceiling, I discovered it was three inches in diameter, not the four inches in diameter needed for the new fan. That meant I had to buy an adapter or “reducer” to make the everything fit. I did. Twice. First a plastic one, then a metal one. The plastic one proved impossible to make fit. The metal one fit, after I learned how to crimp it. However, it wouldn’t stay once I tried to attach the fan to it.

At this point I nearly gave up. I’d fought with trying to install this new fan for the better part of a week. I called it quits for almost another full week as I debated my next move. My wife showed incredible patience while we had a giant hole in the ceiling, used flashlights to find stuff and dealt with my indecision. She kept encouraging me though, saying I could finish it.

I believed her. And decided to replace the existing duct work for an easier fit, thanks to more advise from my dad and family. The old stuff turned out to be flume pipe, not flexible and not great for connecting to the fan. I had the old duct work out and the new stuff in in less than an hour. I finished that same day! Better yet, it worked perfectly!

Bathroom fan, installed in ceiling
The new fan – working!

Now, I’m plotting my next home improvement project with more experience and confidence.

Jan. 20, 2017

So this happened. Plus, a lot more since, of course.

I’ve gone through my own set of feelings after Donald Trump’s election. Sadness. Anger. Fear. Apathy. But right now, I’m somewhere between resilience and hope.

Why, you ask? History tells me that we, as a country, have overcome many extraordinary challenges. Having electoral power shift from one end of the spectrum to the other from time to time can be a good thing. And I do believe that people possess more good in them than bad. Somewhere in there exists a path to find common ground.

I’m not going to lie, I have my reservations. Many of them. I don’t believe anything Trump says. He hasn’t given me a reason to do so. His rhetoric carries much hate and falsities. His actions back this up. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where climate change is real and addressed. Where basic healthcare is a right. Where people look at her for her ideas and contributions, not her body. Where, no matter her sexual orientation, she’s treated with dignity and respect. He doesn’t support any of those values.

All that said, I realize that being white and a man, I’m not in real danger of losing any of my own rights. All the more reason for me do more of what needs to be done in a world where Trump commands the highest office in the land. Engage with people. Listen to them. Take action. Show empathy.

That last piece may be the most important. I believe it’s what many Americans have forgotten. Regardless of your political leanings, showing empathy matters. Its nature requires displaying respect for others and acknowledging differences. Those differences give our democracy strength. The thing that fuels my resilience and hope hasn’t changed because of the election. I still want to help accomplish the same ideals for all of us. Now, I just need to be more vigilant and work harder to help get there.

Is Accessibility Hard?

Well, no. And yes. Let me explain.

Every now and then, I see something like this from someone in the web community:

But I’m just gonna be honest here… for most developers, coding for #a11y (especially screen readers) is might as well be voodoo

I get it. I still remember the first time I turned on a screen reader. What a foreign experience! I felt so lost. But remember, when users visit a site that isn’t as accessible as they need it to be, that’s how they feel too. I’m not trying to guilt you into accessibility, but show you that we can all have similar experiences that fuel empathy.

The entire Web can feel like voodoo at times. A blur of fast-paced, “what should I learn next?” – “oh no, I feel so left behind” – “I don’t know this all that well” pile of voodoo. Accessibility is no different than learning anything else. Like responsive design, Sass, React or whatever comes next. You can learn accessibility. That’s the “no” part of my answer to “Is accessibility hard?”

So what’s the “yes” part? Accessibility is hard because you have to take that first step. You have to be willing to try. Feel lost. Make mistakes. And of course, like anything else, the deeper you go – the more complex it all becomes. But then you remember, you know a little voodoo, and you’ve got this.

Experiment: I Quit Coffee

Okay, so that’s not entirely true. I just drink decaf now.

I wrote recently about wanting to experiment more in 2017, and this turned into the first one. I started this late last year, and have stuck to it so far.

I had help. My wife, Joeleen, quit regular coffee when she found out she was pregnant with our daughter. I wanted to follow her, but never had the guts to take the leap. Two-plus years later, I hated how I felt when I missed getting my regular coffee. I got headaches, and felt horrible – all expected when you’re hooked on caffeine.

I’ve been on decaf for a month now, tapering off slowly by mixing decaf with my regular blend when grinding beans each morning. I don’t miss it because I still get that ritual of drinking coffee. Plus, I’m drinking less coffee, and trying out tea occasionally too.

This isn’t the biggest or most ground-breaking personal experiment. But it has given me the freedom to try other beverages, and feel better if I miss my morning cup of joe. I’m hoping to stick with it.

Theme Team in Barcelona, 2016

So I’m posting these photos late. 🙂 Last November the Theme Team, my team at Automattic, spent the week in Barcelona. We worked on Components and saw a few sites: La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell.

Contributing to Twenty Seventeen

Sami Keijonen shared his experience as a first-time contributor to WordPress default themes on Post Status. It’s an excellent read, especially if you’re interested in getting involved in WordPress Core or default themes.

Twenty Seventeen wouldn’t be the same without Sami’s work. His experience provides a good example of how to watch an open source community, learn from it, find a niche within it and attack when see a way to give back. My favorite advice is this:

Once you start contributing, you shouldn’t just disappear with no explanation. If you’re running low on time or have other obligations, it’s totally understandable, but be sure to politely inform others you can’t continue anymore, so they can pick up where you left off.

The Power of the Web

The Web has never been a place of purity. Yet people often want to turn it into that.

In The Case Against Progressive Enhancement’s Flimsy Moral Foundation, Josh Korr lays out his case that progressive enhancement has a giant flaw. “Progressive enhancement is a philosophical, moral argument disguised as a practical approach to web development,” he says. He goes onto to poke holes in the moral case for progressive enhancement, saying that those advocating for progressive enhancement are: “Pushing an incoherent moral philosophy in the guise of a practical discussion, and kinda being a jerk about it.”

Korr has also wrote a follow-up post, clarifying his tone snd points. He says:

“The purpose of my post was not to assess progressive enhancement as an approach to web development. (Hence my not-a-dev-disclaimer.) And yes, PE is undeniably a practical approach to web development.

The purpose was to offer an explanation for the PE discussion’s dynamic: how it’s highly combustible and seems to go around in frustrating circles.”

I can understand why Korr makes his main point. The discussion around some topics in the web world do go in circles, and get contentious. This happens in the accessibility community too.

Progressive enhancement, like most principles on the Web doesn’t have an always-optimal approach. To succeed with it depends on your users and your project. A site can have okay accessibility and still deliver a passable experience to users with disabilities. A project can do a decent job with performance, and still be production ready. The Web is messy. It moves fast and slow. Think of how fast responsive design took hold. Now, remember what a monumental change happened when images hit the Web in Mosaic. But we’re still trying to figure out to best deliver those images responsibly today. The Web is a fragile environment. The entire thing relies on connections, which can be broken, interrupted or suboptimal. Progressive enhancement just helps you think critically about how to handle the variables. That way, your users don’t have to worry about them.

The power of the Web lies in its millions of different connections. All powered by people somewhere in the world. That provides all the fuel needed for a difference of opinion now and then. The circular conversations don’t matter as much as the acknowledgment that many paths to success exist when we hear each other out. We just need to stay open to new ideas and not get too caught up in semantics.

2017

A new year starts tomorrow so I’m thinking about where I’ve been and what’s ahead.

Like the last few years, I’m focusing on personal focuses rather than work ones. But this year has turned out amazing at work, getting commit access for themes for WordPress and helping release Twenty Seventeen. Plus, lots of work on Components, a new project from the Automattic Theme Team.

Last Year

I had three main goals last year:

Schedule two hours a week of thinking time for myself. I kept up with this for most of the year. According to Habit List, I completed both 95 percent of the time, on average. Usually, I thought through things after my morning coffee or before bed. The habit has made me more mindful of my reactions and my mistakes throughout the week, meaning I’m more apt to course correct when necessary.

Listen more. I don’t think I made the type of progress I wanted to on this one. Some things helped here, like the month or so I spent without Facebook and Twitter on my phone or the general simplifying I’ve done in my life. But I think I could still be more present in conversations and life. It’s subjective, but I’m trying to be honest with myself. Hopefully, the awareness leads to further incremental improvement.

Make progress on a book about accessibility. I didn’t make progress here either. However, I did keep an accessibility newsletter going on and off throughout the year. I started that as a way to get writing more about the topic and it worked. I also received good feedback on the newsletter when it was active so I have a base to keep building on for the future.

Next Year

I wouldn’t call these resolutions or goals, but focuses. Because I don’t want to make a giant goal that I struggle to break down into actionable steps as in the past. Instead, I want to focus on my personal passions and let them help lead me to a better place.

Writing: I’ve always loved writing, and I always feel more productive with my web development work when I write more. So I want to focus on it this year. That means returning more to my blog, where I wrote for 80-plus days in 2015. It also means relaunching Accessibility Weekly and keeping it going strong with original writing and curation.

Experiments: I moved twice this year, so I naturally simplified my life, jettisoning a lot of needless stuff. I’ve started to embrace minimalism and productivity, looking for ways I can do more with less. In reading a few new blogs and listening to some new podcasts, I like the idea of doing small experiments in life to make yourself uncomfortable. Just last week, I kicked regular coffee. It’s freeing to try something different to alter your perspective. In 2017, I want to try as many experiments as I can, especially a 30-day minimalist challenge and starting a bodyweight-only exercise program.

See you in the new year!

Previous years: 20162015201420122011.