Latest Writing & Things of Interest

Elie Wiesel's Night

December 3, 2017

I finished reading Elie Wiesel’s Night last night. I don’t say this often about books, but it was profoundly moving. I’ve read other accounts of the Holocaust before, but none so visceral as his. The honesty with which he rights is exceptional for any author, but becomes astounding when given its context. To read someone grappling with something so inhumane, questioning his faith in the process, and owning up to his own feelings of guilt around his father’s murder is something that will undoubtedly stick with me forever.

I’m glad that it will. The book is massively important in exposing the cruelty which humans can unleash on each other and is a lesson which everyone should read. Especially given today’s political climate and our regression towards barbaric ideologies. We’re in a dangerous place as a country and as a world and only by openly discussing the mistakes of the past and moving beyond them can we remove ourselves from the dangerous cycle of history.

Oddly enough, the one section that stands out the most to me was not written by Elie Wiesel himself, but his son, Elisha. In an address given on November 30, 2016, at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, he says:

When Syrian refugees need our help, we must help them.

When Muslims in our midst are made to feel they won’t have the same rights as the rest of us, we must embrace them.

When children of hardworking and law-abiding undocumented immigrants fear deportation, we must insist on adding compassion into the equation.

When women are made to feel that they are objects rather than people, when our daughters are diminished in any way, we must protest.

When African American citizens feel they are strangers in the eyes of the law, and policemen feel estranged from the communities they serve, we must seek to rebuild that trust in both directions.

When the LGBTQ community feel they are at risk of being terrorized we must let them know we stand with them.

And when the State of Israel is singled out by the United Nations and BDS activists and treated as the world’s villain simply for making sure that Jews will never again be without a homeland—we must let Israel know she is not a stranger in foreign affairs but an essential partner in the global struggle for democracy.

Words to remember as 2017 draws to a close and we still face so many issues testing our principles and our resolve.

HTML Email and Accessibility

November 22, 2017

I just got published on CSS-Tricks and I’m thrilled. It’s my first article for them, but hopefully not my last. Head over to their site to get some tips for making HTML email campaigns more accessible using code, defensive design, and some plain common sense.

Read the article

The Better Email on Design

October 31, 2017

After months of hard work and one too many late nights, the wait is over. The Better Email on Design is now available for purchase.

the better email book cover

The Better Email on Design is the ultimate guide to understanding HTML email design and development. It teaches you how to build robust, responsive, and interactive HTML email campaigns that your subscribers will devour. Both the book and videos dive into topics like email structure, typography and accessibility, using images, responsive design, and even adding animation and interactivity to your email campaigns.

If you want a handbook to quickly reference when you’re building your own emails, the 225-page PDF book will be your best friend. If you want your own, personal email development workshop, there are over 6 hours of step-by-step video tutorials available, too. Combined, they create the only email design and development course you’ll ever need.

Buy & Start Learning Now

Rethinking My Workshop Approach

October 8, 2017

workshops illustration

I ran my first workshop in 2014. Since then, I’ve taught over a dozen more. All of them have been about email marketing, design, and development, and they have mostly followed the same format. Most workshops have gone something like this:

  1. Housekeeping and introductions
  2. Lecture
  3. Show some code
  4. Student exercises
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 as needed
  6. Open Q&A session
  7. Point to extra learning resources
  8. Go home and get some sleep

As far as I can tell, this is a fairly standardized approach for tech workshops. I’ve only attended a few as a student, but they all used some variation on the pattern above.

Feedback from students has always been positive, with the biggest criticism being either, “The content was too basic” or, “The content was too complex”. Which goes to show you can’t please everyone. Running a workshop with a mix of skill levels is always a risky proposition. But I’ve never received any complaints about the format.

Yet, here I sit—the day after my last workshop of the year—wanting to blow up and completely rethink that workshop format. I’m not exactly what my new approach will consist of, but there’s a few reasons why I’m rethinking things.

It’s a Workshop, Not a Talk

My biggest complaint with the typical workshop format is that it’s more like a lecture than a workshop. Most of the time is spent talking at students instead of working with them and encouraging them to get their hands dirty.

Think of the typical workshop of a carpenter: tools at the ready, scraps of wood strewn about the ground, a half-finished project sitting on a bench, sawdust covering it all. It’s a place where someone can get a little sweaty, scratch up their knuckles but leave at the end of the day knowing that good work was done. That’s the kind of workshop I want to spend time in. I imagine most students would feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong: every workshop will consist of some lecturing, and slides likely can’t be avoided. But when it’s two, three, or four hours or more of talking, things get rough. Try as I might to keep students engaged, I can only assume that a lot of them space out, play online, and work on other things after hour two. There has got to be a better format for a workshop. One that is more engaging and interactive. Less talk from me and more from the students. I want to figure out what that looks like.

People Learn in Different Ways

Not everyone learns the same way. Some people can follow along with a lecture and get what they need, some can look at code samples and understand concepts, and some can do both. Some people struggle doing any of the above. Some people prefer text. Some video. Some need strong visual cues or even music or sound to solidify ideas.

The format described above cannot possibly be ideal for everyone. So why do we stick to it?

There has to be a way to merge different learning techniques, types of media, and exercises to improve comprehension for students. My hunch is that it’s going to require a lot of research, experimentation, and iteration to hit on what works, but I aim to figure it out.

Boredom

The last reason I want to rethink the workshop format is that, after three years of running multiple workshops a year, I’m getting bored of it. It’s nice following that format from a logistical standing since it makes prep relatively easy, but it’s getting boring presenting the same variations over and over again.

I want to design and build a workshop format that engages not only the students, but myself as well. I think if I can make that happen, we’ll all learn something and workshops will be hugely rewarding for everyone.

Again, I don’t know what any of this will look like, but I want to spend the time to figure it out and see what I can come up with. I know that it will be a long process to test out. Yet I’m certain that it will be completely worth the energy, effort, and time.

I’m curious… If you’ve attended or run workshops in the past, how successful were they? What did they do well? What sucked? Email me using the link below and let me know.

Tell me about your experiences