What I’ve been doing in 2015 and 2016

I’ve been lax in maintaining this blog during the last two years; an update is long overdue. So, what have I been up to?

Work

In May 2015, the University of Warwick (my employer) launched its new brand designed by Frank, Bright & Abel. I’ve spent most of my time working with web editors, web developers, academics and marketing staff to update departmental websites to reflect the new brand.

My part involved:

  • Guiding departments through site redesign projects
  • Implementing responsive page layouts, particularly with Bootstrap
  • Refactoring custom page layouts and functionality to take advantage of modern web standards
  • Content migrations
  • Information architecture planning and restructures
  • Testing, quality assurance and launches
  • Providing dedicated support for queries on the CMS, layouts, responsive design, SEO, navigation, graphic design, copy and launches
  • Summarising digital branding decisions into a practical description of the University’s website template

The last of Warwick’s many (1,000+) websites moved to the new brand in September 2016, bringing a busy summer to a close before the start of a new academic year. It’s been an enjoyable, interesting and demanding two years.

There were two particularly enjoyable parts for me personally.

With Bootstrap and Font Awesome now rolled into the University’s template, I’ve been hand-coding designs again, creating responsive layouts with HTML, CSS and LESS. After several years in the WordPress domain, and shoehorning layouts into an inflexible CMS, it’s incredibly satisfying to make professional designs with clean, semantic markup. Doing so by hand, with a text editor and a browser, feels, um, ‘proper’ – a welcome return to a valuable craft. (I’m also lucky to be able to ask for help from a phenomenally capable in-house web team.)

Secondly, I now feel as if I know the University, and those who work there, better. It’s huge – a large town in reality. While the nature of the work has been digital, I’ve welcomed stronger relationships with people. I have a better understanding of the pressures other people face.

Home

My partner and I have refurbished our house. For three months in 2015, we lived upstairs – with two cats and a dog – while builders extended the ground floor. Blimey, that tested us! The building work is complete and the remaining decoration is down to us to finish.

Music

After two and half years playing guitar with Rhino & The Ranters, I decided to bow out at the end of 2015. That year was a blast with a real swell of support for the band. Highlights were performing at Lunar Festival in Warwickshire, opening for The Twang and The Wonder Stuff at Wolverhampton’s Wulfrun Hall, and contributing guitar parts to the Half Quixote EP.

Early in 2016, I challenged myself to learn digital recording and production. (My previous recording and live production experience is all analogue: tube amps, microphones and tape!) Since April, I’ve been learning Logic Pro X, sequencing, loops, software instruments and MIDI, amp simulators, compression and mixing. It’s fantastic to find software that I feel so at home in.

In parallel, I’m writing new music for an instrumental album tentatively titled Brinkmann Flag. It’s about a time- and space-jumping superhero with great hair, shoes and martial arts skills. When it’s time to release the album, the description will be much more serious and arty. Currently, I have eight tracks in the works. After sharing with close muso mates, I’m now focused on finessing the writing and arrangements. Here’s an early version of Spaghetti Northern:

Volunteering

Being honest, I’ve been lazy in sharing my time and skills with others. I will change this in 2017. The shock of the Brexit vote, and the non-shock of the subsequent government leadership vacuum filled by cruel Tory ideologues has given me a much-needed kick up the proverbial.

2016 has been a terrible year for many people and central government are making things worse through deliberate policy and ignorance. In my local neighbourhood and the wider city of Birmingham, the effects of the former coalition and current government’s austerity policies are in plain sight. Neighbourhood advice offices, children’s centres, social care provision, a police station open to the public, parking enforcement… these are either gone entirely or scaled back drastically.

Birmingham City Council was “forced to remove about £590 million from [its] budget as a direct result of unprecedented cuts in the amount of grant the Government has awarded Birmingham City Council. This equates to a 34 per cent reduction in grant since 2010.” They have also had to “reduce the number of staff working for the council by about 40 per cent.”

The vitriol of popular online culture and surfeit of misery in the mainstream press has caused me to tune out, particularly from Twitter, in 2016. I’m genuinely fearful for democratic and liberal values at home and around the world.

But, enough ranting! Time to go outside and do something useful. There are things I can do, even if they are small, to help others – and I will do stuff for Steph.

This year I’ve reconnected with the Kings Heath Residents’ Forum, supporting them with web content editing, WordPress maintenance and occasional social media updates. I could, and would like to, do more though.

Writing this post reminded me of the three company values of my former employer, Podnosh: “think; make a difference; give a fuck.” I needed a reminder and I think all three values stand up as good reasons to get better – at work, at home, in songwriting, in learning new technology, in volunteering, in talking with others and in helping my neighbourhood. Watch out 2017.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *