Generation X, if you don’t know, is the collective name of those Americans born roughly between the early 60’s and early 70’s – the generation directly following the baby boomers. Born in 1970 with three older siblings, I fit into the tail end of that category.

Those of us Gen X’ers who are Catholic were the first children to experience the Church post-Vatican II.  It was a time of confusion for our parents regarding the Mass.  They might deny it, but how could it be otherwise?  There were (and still are) a lot of bad interpretations of what Vatican II was all about. For the first time in 1500 years, the liturgy was not spoken in Latin, and it became just like any other town hall meeting.   My family used to go to the Tulane University Catholic Center in the 70’s where the barefoot students in the band would play Cat Stevens’ songs and cheesy folk hymns like Day By Day and I Am The Resurrection – a far cry from the beauty of the liturgy that had been developed over centuries.

So it’s no wonder that so many people my age who were raised Catholic are part of the “Nones,” professing no religion at all.  It was just plain goofy back then.

In our childhood, the new churches being built were horrendous. The meaningful architecture that focused on God first got replaced with “communal spaces,” ugly brick monstrosities with altars and crucifixes that were some post-modern interpretation of Calvary. Uggh. What happened to the cathedrals of old and the dark, silent places that are conducive to just sitting quietly and listening to the Lord?  Like the “new math” that led America into substandard math aptitude, we were given the new Catholicism, which has been a major factor in the emptying of pews.

World Youth Day didn’t hit the United States until 1993 in Denver, and by that time I was 23 – most Gen X’ers were older than I.  Up until that time there were no vigorous Catholic youth groups (as there are today) to speak of, at least none that I really knew about except for maybe a tiny club in high school I participated in.

We were the last generation to have lived in a world without answering machines and the last to go to college without the Internet.  We still have one foot in the past, but unlike our parents’ generation are very adept in the uses of digital technologies. We have experiential wisdom but also energy and life ahead of us to help transform the world.

I do not speak for a whole generation, but Generation X is a demographic mostly still absent from and forgotten by the Church.  For those of us who have children, which I do not, I suppose there are educational resources for kids, but very little to address us personally. Most parishes these days have some sort of young adult ministry, which the cynic in me assesses to be merely a way to spark the promotion of new Catholic families, but for this still very active although mellowed time in our lives, especially if one is single, there are not very many ways that collectively address our experiences.

So for now, I look for opportunities on my own to serve or to create beautiful things on my own that hopefully give glory to God.  Perhaps you have thoughts of your own on this subject – please feel free to comment below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful room last night at @trinityhousecafe

A post shared by Burke Ingraffia (@burkeingraffia) on

Earlier this evening I drove about 40 miles westward to Leesburg, VA where I played a solo gig at a place named Trinity House Cafe. It is a renovated, two-story, beautiful old house  with a lot of books on theology and spirituality on the walls.  They have a kitchen and serve food and drinks (and ice cream during the summer months). The crowd was fairly light but well-engaged with my songs, and overall I had a good time. I feel most alive and happiest when I am singing and playing guitar.

However, I don’t enjoy solo gigs as much as I enjoy playing with one or two other musicians.  Before I moved to Northern Virginia, I had a fun little trio in New Orleans with whom I would play brunches and wine bars and the like. New Orleans audiences do not really listen to carefully crafted lyrics as much as they want percussive music to socialize to, so my style changed during those years to accommodate people’s hips instead of their minds.  My guitar playing began to change too.  Instead of focusing so much on carrying all of the music with my one guitar, I learned how to play a part that fit into the whole, leaving space for the other instruments.

Now that I am back playing solo again, I am still playing a guitar style that is a part of a bigger whole, and it doesn’t always work for every song.  I miss having those other players contribute to a larger whole.

I think there is a parallel there with having gone through a divorce and annulment.

In a marriage there is usually a delegation and distribution of specific daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.  One spouse might take care of the bills while the other spouse takes care of the groceries.  One spouse might be better at house cleaning while the other keeps the lawn mowed. And in social situations like parties and family events, one spouse might be better at talking while the other is better at just being present.  You get the idea.

But after a divorce, if you are single, getting through life requires more than just playing a part.  You have to do everything, and there are certain situations in which you feel incomplete.  Being single does mean there is a lot more freedom for improvisation and spontaneity, but you still might just be playing a part of a whole – when it might be necessary for you to carry the whole experience by yourself.  That can be difficult, as it was for me for the first couple of years.

I can happily say that I am whole as a single person again.  Now I just need to either work on my solo guitar chops or find some band mates.

Harvard Law School University came together around the challenge of artificial intelligence and its governance. Over four months, they took part in a rigorous two week design thinking and team building sprint, participated in a spring term course—the Ethics of AI—co-taught by Jonathan Zittrain and Joi Ito, and developed their projects throughout the three month development period.

 https://h2o.law.harvard.edu/playlists/53282

This course will pursue a cross-disciplinary investigation of the implications of emerging technologies, with an emphasis on the development and deployment of Artificial Intelligence. We will cover a variety of issues, including the complex interaction between governance organizations and sovereign states, the proliferation of algorithmic decision making, autonomous systems, machine learning and explanation, the search for balance between regulation and innovation, and the effects of AI on the dissemination of information, along with questions related to individual rights, discrimination, and architectures of control. The course will entail an intense array of learning and teaching methods. Students will be expected to participate in a variety of activities. May include Media Lab and Berkman Klein Center fellows and affiliates.

Have you ever been on a mobile website, filling out a form, being asked for your email address, and much to your annoyance the keyboard being shown on your phone doesn’t have a “@” or a “.” on it? So you switch to an alternate keyboard display, but it would be so much nicer if the web developer knew that you were going to need those keys.

There is an easy way to fix this.  Take a look at the image below of web forms on three separate iPhone screenshots.  Notice how in the middle screen the focus is on the Email field and the primary keyboard shows the “@” and the “.”  Notice how when the Telephone field is selected that the keyboard switches to numbers.

three iphone mobile forms

This is a very simple thing to do in the HTML code of your web forms.  For each field, just be sure to set the type attribute accurately.  For example:

<input type="email" placeholder="Enter your email address">

Just by adding type=”email” the mobile device will know which keyboard to present. The same goes for your telephone number.

<input type="tel" placeholder="Enter your phone number">

The full list of these HTML5  input field type attributes is:

  • color
  • date
  • datetime-local
  • email
  • month
  • number
  • range
  • search
  • tel
  • time
  • url
  • week

It’s just one simple thing you can do to improve the user experience of your website or application, especially on a mobile device.  Subconsciously, the end user will be more at ease and think more highly of you.

You have to keep the look and feel of all of your business’s branded web assets consistent with one another.  It is wise to create a document that defines how this branding will continue to stabilize as your business offering change and as your staff (i.e. your graphic designer) turn over.

Related to this need, you might have heard of a “style guide.”  Even in literary fields there are guides such as the MLA Handbook or the Chicago Manual of Style.  There is something analogous to this in the web design world called a style guide, examples of which you can find on this post from Canva.

So What’s a Pattern Library?

A pattern library is like a style guide, but instead of it defining the elements which are outwardly facing, a pattern library is a repository of the way code should be written with consistency.  A couple of pattern libraries I like (oddly enough called Style Guides) have been created by AirBnB.  They describe, respectfully, how their programmers should write CSS and Javascript.  They are both available on GitHub at:

https://github.com/airbnb/css

https://github.com/airbnb/javascript

A pattern library is great because it allows developers working with you to reuse code without having to slow down to make these types of decisions all on their own. MailChimp has theirs, a much more visually useful pattern library here:

https://ux.mailchimp.com/patterns

Very nice.

If you are serious about UX, you will want to start collecting all of your code snippets, primarily from those pieces of your web assets that are the cleanest and most compatible with the other development tools you are using.  Start organizing them, and create a living document that might change over time but at least will keep you on track as your business grows.

To plan and execute a good UX strategy, there are multiple concepts, steps, and deliverables that you have to consider.  There is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for every project.  Instead, you have to use your best judgement based on your own experiences as to how to proceed.  Here I am going to briefly list many of the options you have to consider for your UX strategy.

Describe the End Goal

If you are creating a user experience for business customers, you have to first ask yourself, “What problem am I solving for the customer?” and “What do I intend to accomplish?”  Are you trying to make money?  The answer in business is usually yes, but not always.  You might be trying to provide a social service or organize people for a cause.

Interviews

If you know some of the people who will be using this application, let’s say an internal website for a company, then take the time to get to know them.  It doesn’t have to be a big formal production – it can even just be over a cup of coffee. Ask good questions and get a feel for their technical abilities.

Competitive Research and Analysis

You want to see if anyone has already done what you are trying to do and if anyone else is currently doing it.  Do not fear them, but be aware of their presence. The word “respect” means “to look again” (re-spect).  Keep an eye on them.

If you can use their products with a free trial or a small fee, it is worth your time and money to do so.

Personas

Who are the users?  Answering this will help you craft an experience fit for them.  You should make up a few documents that contain the demographic profiles of imaginary people who might be using the application.  The details of these personas might be:

  • Name
  • A somewhat accurate stock photo
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Education level
  • Family details
  • Employment
  • Salary
  • Behaviors
  • Needs and Goals

Having these imaginary users helps you to develop the product for them, before you have an actual user base.

Storyboarding

flow chartUse the personas to create a series of narratives describing the possible scenarios as the personas visit your website, use your service, or want to communicate with you during the process.

This should be some sort of flow chart, identifying all of the nouns and verbs involved in the process from the moment the user finds the site on his or her computer until the end goal that you have created for them to accomplish has been completed.

Wireframing

Sketch up a visual representation, with no colors or graphics yet, of what the architecture of your web application will look like.  It can be a simple as putting pencil to paper.  However there are quite a few digital tools you can use to make your wireframes look professional and consistent.

Some of these tools are

Mockups

different size devices

Once your wireframes are done, you can start to add color, images, and more emotionally charged content to your idea for a user interface.  This is also the time you want to hone in on the fonts and typography of the site, as that is one of the most important elements of the tone of the site.

There are a lot of tools out there with which you can make a mockup.  These include:

For color choices, if you don’t already have an established branding color palette, you might want to visit one of these sites:

Technological Frameworks and Tools

What the site looks like is one thing, but what it does is even more important.  Whether you are building a brochure-style site or a full-fledged site with login authentication and user accounts, you want to be able to pick the best frameworks and technological tools as possible.

Will your application be primarily used on smart phones, or is for another medium like desktop, smart watches, or virtual reality (VR)?

If you are unfamiliar with all of your choices, please subscribe to this blog in the right sidebar.

Technology is what we will focus on the most.

Prototyping

Once you have the look and the user flow of the web app ready, you then must build a prototype, one that not only looks like the final product but also feels and acts like it to.  Your prototype does things.  It doesn’t have to have all of the production data – you can use dummy data.  The idea is that you want to simulate a real life experience.

Sometimes the prototype is called a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).  This means that it has the bare bones features of the application to see how it works.

Usability Testing

After the application is built you will want to test it out on some real live users. And you want to observe them while they are using it. There are several ways you can do this.

  • Watching them in person
  • Remote observance via camera
  • Recording the screen while they are using it
  • Surveys

Summary

Know that these are just general concepts.  It is an outline of a plan, a plan that sometimes requires ongoing iterations and adjustments.  Just remember to put the human being using your application first and to have empathy for him or her.

You might be into blogs and blogging, but what if you want to start building your own web applications?  How do you get started?  There are a ton of resources online, but I have made a little video to give you a head start by showing you three free products you should put on your computer.

These three products…

Visual Studio Code – https://code.visualstudio.com/

Git – https://git-scm.com/

Node –  https://nodejs.org/en/

…are used by just about everyone these days.  Note: VS Code is just one of many options out there for an integrated development environment (IDE), but it’s one of the better free choices out there.

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions in the comments box below.  If you are just getting started I can point you toward some other resources.

 

I have been a little creeped out by Google ads following me online.  They track what you search for, sites you visit on Chrome, and the contents of your emails. They’re even putting targeted ads in my email on newsletters I subscribe to.  Of course, Google doesn’t charge me for anything – Gmail, Google Drive, Google Analytics, and the rest are all free.  So I did some research, and I have found some better alternatives to Google products, some paid and some free, so that I can slowly work my way out of the Google ecosystem and have a little more freedom, flexibility, and privacy.

Alternative to Gmail

I am choosing to go with ProtonMail.  This is a company whose servers are physically in Switzerland where the privacy laws are stricter.  You can even send encrypted emails with password protection. They have a free tier, but I decided to go with the lowest paid tier so that I could use my own domain name.  I bundle the mail service with their ProtonVPN which I find to be a more secure way to be online, especially when in public places.  I pay $12/month for the bundle, and with how much I rely on email, the added privacy and encryption are well worth the cost.

protonmail

Alternative to Google Drive

Here I am going with Mega.nz for cloud storage.  This company stays so much out of your business, that they don’t even store your password to have a ‘forgot password’ feature.  I like it so far, and it has all of the syncing features you might find on DropBox and others.  And your files are encrypted.

MEGA: The Privacy Company

Alternative to Google Analytics

Google Analytics (GA) has about Google analytics market share of the market share of analytics code on the web.  It’s a good product, but why should I give them my data when there are alternatives.  On my websites I will be using Matomo (formerly Piwik).  This is an analytics tool that is easy to set up on your own server.  I have mine sitting on a subdomain.  I own all of the data.  It doesn’t have all of the features of GA, but I don’t need all of the features.  There is a marketplace where developers can create and sell add-ons with various features that I look forward to checking out as I need them.

Matomo

Alternative to Google Chrome

At my job I use Google Chrome because of the Chrome DevTools which help me debug and build better web applications. But personally, I don’t like the way that I have to log into a Chrome account to have my browsing history persist between sessions.  It is a little too heavy-handed.  So what I have decided to use is Brave. Brave has built-in ad blockers and because of that I have greater privacy and the page load times are much faster.

screenshot of brave.com

Alternative to Google Search

I use Google search as a last resort, because their algorithm has become so good.  But I really don’t want them tracking and storing my search.  So I set my default search to DuckDuckGo.  DuckDuckGo does not track what you search for, does not store your personal information, and the quality of its results is good for the most part.

DuckDuckGo homepage screenshot: We don't store your personal information. Ever.

So take a look at all of these, and see if any of them suit your needs.

If you know of any other good products, feel free to share in the comment section below.

Google is doing something good here.  If a website isn’t using SSL (i.e. https://), it is easily hackable.  It’s not something I do, but there is even freeware like the Beef Project that gives someone a UI to exploit non-secure http sites.

In the latest post from the Google Security Blog, Google let us all know that if a site is not secure with https that it is being put in a queue to tell Chrome users to beware. If your site is not secure, it will affect your business and/or readership.

Google has provided some help on how to secure your site at: https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/security/encrypt-in-transit/why-https

You also might want to check out https://letsencrypt.org/ on how to get a free SSL certificate.

SSL adoption has increased greatly over the past year, and the post states:

    • Over 68% of Chrome traffic on both Android and Windows is now protected
    • Over 78% of Chrome traffic on both Chrome OS and Mac is now protected
    • 81 of the top 100 sites on the web use HTTPS by default

 

Read the full article at: https://security.googleblog.com/2018/02/a-secure-web-is-here-to-stay.html

I have friends who are religious (either culturally or in practice), friends who identify as agnostic, and friends who identify as atheist.  I enjoy the company of each one of them for various reasons specific to the individual person, and each of them is more or less benevolent.

My friends who enjoy philosophy, religious or not, are constantly asking the harder questions, and if I asked them why they want to be good people then that would spark a very thoughtful and stimulating conversation.

Then there are other friends who don’t dig beneath the surface.  They don’t spend a lot of time examining their own existence, and if you ask the question “Why Be Good?” then they might just say something like “Because it feels good” or toss in a cursory comment about karma.

My religious friends turn the conversation toward God and a justice based on the belief that the creator of the universe, although incomprehensibly infinite, has personal qualities (i.e. God can make and has made choices) which need to be added into the equation for a system of ethics to be complete.

My friends who profess atheism bring up concepts like social contracts and pragmatism as the bedrock of ethics.  So my question is: Does ethics need God?

The followup questions might be: Is ethics something objectively true? Does it require some permanent standard? If not, then what value does it have and why should anyone come to an agreement on justice and right behavior?

I ask these things because I am seriously interested in a friendly conversation with people who are at peace after giving this some thought.  I’d be interested in your comments below.