go west, young liam

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Even in the spirit of updating a blog only semiannually, I suppose it’s now past time to mention that I’ve moved out to sunny southern California. Why the move? Mostly because I had to see about a girl, who was awarded a fellowship in Los Angeles. The move itself was pretty amazing: because my car is relatively new, it made sense to drive it instead of selling it, and the drive from Boston to Los Angeles has the potential for wonder.

The trip started November 2nd, the day after my birthday, right as the flakes of the first snowfall were starting to come down in Massachusetts. The trip had a bit of an “America, the Beautiful” theme to it: I wanted to see landscapes, vistas, and National Parks. I drove down Massachusetts’ scenic Mohawk Trail; through the Finger Lakes of NY, stopping at Taughannock Falls and Niagara Falls; through Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and on to St. Louis. If you’re ever in St. Louis, the City Museum is perhaps the coolest place I’ve ever been to, and functions as a kind of dual art project/theme park (an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.”). From there, I drove across the rolling plains of Kansas, making a stop for the world’s largest ball of twine; on to Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The drive across the Rockies took me through Wolf Creek Pass, which felt like a live version of a racing video game, a la Gran Turismo. I also stopped at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, which was breathtaking.

I took this picture an hour ago. Now, I'm eating at Sonic.

Posted by Liam Morley on Saturday, November 8, 2014

From there, I drove into New Mexico and Arizona, stopping at the Four Corners, and on to Flagstaff, where I picked up my girlfriend who had flown in so that we could experience the Grand Canyon together. We did a little bit of hiking and sight seeing before we spent one last day driving into southern California and Los Angeles.

Altogether, this was without comparison the most amazing road trip I’ve been on, where other trips include rides down both the Atlantic and Pacific coast lines. It was an incredibly surreal experience to take in all within a single week. AirBnB made the lodging issue pretty palatable, and it was also wonderful to see family and friends in different parts of the country. Most of all, though, it was an experience in the full sense of the word, and the fact that it was coupled with a move across the country (with a bunch of my stuff in the back of the car) made it all that more meaningful. Before the move, I had never lived outside of New England; now, I live two blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Thoreau went into the woods of Concord, Massachusetts to live deliberately, and for much the same purpose, I’ve traveled out of those woods and into the second largest city in the country. We’ll see just where this takes me.

Is today the day Marty McFly arrives when he travels to the future?

It probably definitely is.
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I recently implemented a quick hack (using image sprites/JS) to make every day Future Day, the day that Marty McFly arrives in the future. The JavaScript and CSS was pretty easy, although the Photoshop took me a little while. I threw it all up on GitHub, including the PSD file, so you’re welcome to toy around with it.

As it turns out, I wasn’t the first person to do this: someone implemented virtually the same thing about a year ago. Ah well, it was fun to put together, and I’m happy that I was able to build the PSD file without flattening the text layers, so that anybody else can fiddle with the filters/effects. Fork away!

The "I want to know stuff" board

better learning outcomes through public declarations of interest
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I was talking with a co-worker a few weeks ago about the process for learning new technologies that are on the fringe of what we know now… say, for example, what new Backbone.js-based frameworks are out there (Chaplin, Thorax, Marionette – which to choose?). I was thinking it’d be great if there was some board somewhere where we could write what we’re interested in learning, and other people could tag on their name as if to say “I want to know that too!”, and then anybody else who already knew about these things could put themselves down as a source for the information, or could get in touch with the people who wanted to know stuff. This would be a public declaration that you’re trying to learn a technology, which would hopefully help spur the would-be learner, as well as perhaps spur other people to learn more as well.

Immediately after coming up with the idea, we turned it into action by taking the nearest whiteboard (right next to my desk in our lab) and turning it into the official department-wide “I want to know stuff” board. So far, about five people have added something they’d like to learn more about. I’m currently marked down as wanting to learn more about Google Chrome Workspaces and Ember.js, and that last one has sparked a “Me too!” from one of our interns. This triggered the possibility of her working on an Ember proof-of-concept with me in a few weeks, which is exactly what the board was designed to produce: better learning outcomes through public declarations of interest.

This is a social experiment, there are no rules, and it’s probably too early to say if it’ll continue to be successful. That being said, I think it helps emphasize a culture of learning and furthering one’s personal professional development goals, and I’m happy to see where this goes for as long as it lasts.

What’s going on in 2013?

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I’ve been known to make resolutions before. Sometimes they pan out, and sometimes, in the case of 2012’s cooking expedition, they’re a bit mixed in their success. But that shouldn’t stop me from trying! With that in mind, here’s what I plan to be up to in 2013:

  • Learn something new, every day. Seriously. Sometimes, you might say, “you learn something new every day,” but often times, a day (or weeks) might go by where you don’t learn anything, or you don’t retain what you’ve learned. I’m making an effort to be consciously aware of my learning, as well as seek out knowledge on a daily basis. Part of the idea is that awareness of learning will help spark knowledge retention. The only rule to this is that I can’t seek out knowledge for the sole purpose of filling my daily knowledge quota. Hopefully this will also force me to be more engaging in seeking out knowledge for general purposes.
  • Focus on fitness, activity, and diet. These all go hand in hand. I want 2013 to be a seriously active year. In August of 2012, I got back into running as well as rock climbing. Since then, I’ve won a (really really small) 5k, I’ve become an intermediate climber, and I’m considering training for a triathlon. I also was given an inflatable kayak for Christmas, which promises to be an excellent workout. I don’t want to turn back now! I’m going to need to learn how to eat better if I want to get more out of my body, and I’m probably going to need to learn how to sleep better too. Hopefully, 2013 will see me visiting Acadia National Park, climbing the best rock climbing routes in New England, and perhaps even completing my first triathlon. Maybe somewhere on the horizon is a marathon, who knows what the limits are.

Side goals include writing and performing more music, making new friends, and if I’m lucky, getting back into the swing of cooking, continuing where I left off in 2012. Hopefully my band The Colors Run will be putting an album together in the March-April timeframe, so that’s one goal that’s looking pretty realizable. Here’s to an accomplished and fulfilling 2013!

Moving to Jekyll

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I had been using Rails to run my site for a few years now. I love Rails. I use it daily. I even wrote a blogging gem for it, which has attracted a small to moderate number of users, largely due to a mention on the Ruby5 podcast 2 years ago during RailsConf. At the time, I thought it was really important that Rails developers use Rails tools.

But I’m not a Rails developer: I’m a full-stack developer. I still love Rails–I still use it daily–but I use JavaScript and a host of other tools on a daily basis as well, and as much fun as it would be to port a blogging gem to node.js… actually, I don’t think I’d enjoy that at all. Sure, it might be an interesting exercise, but there are much more interesting things to use node for, and much more interesting things to do with my time. So when Rails 3.1 came out, and my blog app broke, I couldn’t bring myself to invest time in upgrading it… I wasn’t even sure if it made sense in the Rails ecosystem anymore. And, as it turns out, there are much simpler systems I can use.

Jekyll is such a system. Rather than running on top of Rails, it’s a static site generator that accepts blog posts written in markdown/textile. Which suits me fine, because the blog aspect of my site was the only dynamic part of it. Everything else was done through JavaScript and web services.

So for the time being, all of my old articles are missing. Soon, I hope to import my old articles into Jekyll. I’m hoping though that the flexibility of being able to edit articles in an offline editor will allow me to write more often as well. We’ll see how it goes.