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Dean Allen, R.I.P.

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Dean Cameron Allen, a 50-ish writer, designer, web-guy, and an all-around rascal, died this weekend in London, U.K. He leaves behind his parents, a former girlfriend and a lot of friends. If the universe feels a little hollow this week, now you know why.Jason Hoffman, founder of Joyent and a close friend, called out of the blue. He has just moved back from Stockholm, back to the Bay Area after a stint at Ericsson. “Dean is no more,” Jason said. He was fighting to hold back his tears, his voice shaking. I think I heard Jason say that Dean gave up on the struggle.

I couldn’t hear anything after — just the sound of blood pumping into my head. My veins were throbbing, and a foggy silence enveloped me. It has been a few days — the tears, like a delayed rainy season, are still not here. I am going about my week as if nothing has happened. The profound sadness of loss is not on the horizon. All I feel is a deep sense of gloom. Even music, usually a source of joy, has lost a note. I have woken up in the middle of the night — only to feel something, anything.

How can Dean be gone? I keep asking that question again and again and again!

***

Who was Dean? There are so many ways to answer that question. You could call him a text designer, who loved the web and wanted to make it beautiful, long before others thought of making typography an essential part of the online reading experience. You could call him a Canadian, even though he spent a large part of his life in Avignon, South of France, with his partner. A writer whose prose could make your soul ache who stopped writing, because, it didn’t matter. Or you could think of him as like an Old-Fashioned: sweet, bitter and strong, who left you intoxicated because of his friendship.

I met Dean at a time when you met like-minded people online. I was frustrated by the recurring problems with Moveable Type, an early blog hosting software. It was written in CGI, and often crashed the server, due to many people trying to leave a comment at the same time. It was slow and kludgy. I used to read Dean’s blog — Textism –, and he had announced an idea for a CMS: TextPattern. I emailed him volunteering my time to write the manual, FAQs and everything except the code. All I needed was TextPattern to exist.

And like all things Dean did, it became a pursuit of perfection, and a long drawn out project. The software was a work in progress and never finished. But during that process I came across WordPress, a fork of a (long gone) open source software project, bPress. I emailed Matt Mullenweg, downloaded an alpha version of WP and rest is life. Matt and I became best friends. Dean became an online buddy, whose presence was more real online than in person. (Today, TextPattern exists as an open source project.)

When his Textdrive was acquired, Dean became part of Joyent. And one day, Jason (Hoffman) and John Gruber, invited me to dinner in San Francisco at Umbria, a since-closed Italian restaurant at the corner of 2nd and Howard Street. Over many bottles of wine, a pack or two of Dunhills and gargantuan portions of pasta, a lifelong friendship had formed.

We were kindred spirits — more alike in our love for the finer things in life, in our sardonic, one eyebrow always raised attitude in the world. Dean wasn’t surprised by selfishness. However, he was overjoyed by the success of others. A generous, gentle giant — who hid hid behind a bonhomie and clownish exterior. He was good at hiding his self — and I often told him that. He brushed me away.

***

Dean taught me a lot in life. A rare email from him would often have a recommendation for me — sometimes a book, sometimes a new pair of shoes and sometimes a new place to eat. It was from him I learned about the remarkable comfort of suspenders (vs. belts), the joy of great Crockett and Jones boots, and it was with him I found a tailor in the backstreets of Paris, who makes my shirts. Dean is the one who pointed me to that John Smedley cardigan is going to last three times longer than anything from say a J.Crew. That conversation put me on track towards developing an excel spreadsheet where I compare the daily usage value of a garment — think clothing return on investment. We had many adventures together — many of them included fashion, food and of course wine.

In December 2012, Matt and I went to Paris for Le Web and with a group of friends and ended up at a Michelin star restaurant. Dean, in his corduroys and blue blazer. He towered over all of us, and he spoke French like a native. His hand gestures, the shrug of the shoulder and his chortles would make any Frenchman proud. And within twenty minutes, he was running circles around the sommelier at this restaurant, ordering wines that weren’t fancy or expensive, except they were fantastic. It was a memorable evening — one of the best of my life.

Of course, he could be frustratingly obstinate and a terrible drunk. On yet another trip to Paris for yet another Le Web, we decided to get an Airbnb together. He would come up from Avignon, and I would meet him in Paris. Our other friends canceled at the last minute, and we were alone in a six bedroom apartment on Rue Saint-Sauveur in the 2nd Arrondissement.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him humming and ironing his shirts, and deciding to make a big breakfast. But it was also pretty likely that he would get a bottle of bourbon and polish it off. One such evening, while I was away for dinner with friends including Tony Conrad, he decided to stay at home, have a drink (or many drinks), put earplugs and go to sleep. And to make the situation more comical, he left the key on the inside of the front door. Upon returning from the dinner, I found I was locked out. No amount of yelling, banging on the door or inserting the key would help.

After two hours of waiting out in the cold, multiple phone calls and a trillion curses later, a little sense of panic started to set in. I didn’t speak the language and most importantly didn’t have my passport, to check into another hotel. I didn’t have my insulin, and I was starting to fill decidedly uneasy. Had it not been for Tony who used his connections to find me a room in low rent hotel, I would have been left in the cold. It was one of those rare days when I got mad. Of course, when I came back in the morning — 6 am — Dean’s response: sorry, got drunk. Like the rascal that he could be, he forgot the misery, made me breakfast and expounded on the merits of cheap bourbon. As always, I couldn’t be mad at him. No one could. To me that in essence was Dean.

***

We would meet every single time I was in Europe. Amsterdam, Stockholm, London or Paris — Dean was there and it was so much fun to spend time with him. Along with Matt (Mullenweg) and Hanni Ross, we created many happy memories. Those happy times, were a balm for the scars of the reality of his life. Others who knew him better — Hanni and Jason — knew his reality more closely.

Our last meeting was over six months ago when he visited San Francisco. He was subdued but cheerful about the future, pushing me to write more often and not forget the purpose of my life. I had no idea that was going to be the last time I would see him. Even today it feels, I will get a snarky text and a pronouncement of being in town.

Hey buddy, order me a Bordeaux for when I am up there, we gotta talk about this Italian shoemaker I met.

January 18, 2018, San Francisco

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emdot
3 days ago
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What a tribute. Beautiful writing.
San Luis Obispo, CA
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2016 Election Map

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I like the idea of cartograms (distorted population maps), but I feel like in practice they often end up being the worst of both worlds—not great for showing geography OR counting people. And on top of that, they have all the problems of a chloro... chorophl... chloropet... map with areas colored in.
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emdot
13 days ago
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accurate
San Luis Obispo, CA
acdha
14 days ago
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Washington, DC
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1 public comment
zippy72
13 days ago
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More easily distinguishable colours would have been nice but this is cool
FourSquare, qv

Mountain Gorillas at Home (20 photos)

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According to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2016, the total population of mountain gorillas living in the wild is about 880. These remaining critically endangered gorillas live within four national parks in the central African countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For decades, the survival of mountain gorillas has been threatened by human activity—by habitat loss due to farming, by war and unrest that can cause both physical harm and habitat loss, and by poaching—either intentional trapping, or unintentional harm caused by traps set for other animals. Conservation efforts in recent years appear to have encouraging results, as the mountain gorilla population has grown from a low point in the early 1980s, when only about 254 were counted in the Virunga Mountains. The work to protect the gorillas involves a combination of supporting the neighboring communities, the promotion of responsible tourism, and active protection against poaching.

A baby mountain gorilla sits on a branch inside Virunga National Park, the oldest national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (LMspencer / Shutterstock)
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emdot
14 days ago
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I wish humans were better stewards of this earth. Lovely, beautiful gorillas. We need to protect and help them (and all animals).
San Luis Obispo, CA
acdha
14 days ago
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Washington, DC
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Look back in anchor tags

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NEW YEARS bring thoughts of old years, and, to a designer and veteran “blogger,” thoughts of old work. My personal site, begun in 1994, was many things: an interview zine (my first web client, Donald Buckley, named it: 15 Minutes), a newfangled GIF animation playground, a freeware icon factory, an Advertising Graveyard, and more. But eventually, before it was forgotten entirely, it became best known as a blog.

Inspired by Dori Smith’s recent Facebook post about old-school blogging and the possibility of a “20th Anniversary of Blogging” unconference/relaxacon, I thought it might be fun to poke through the old blog a bit with you, gentle reader. My blog began in 1995, but, for now, you can only page through the entries as far back as August, 1997, as I seem to have neglected to build “previous” page links before that, and may also have overwritten my earliest entries (not realizing, at the time, that you and I might ever want to look back at any of this).

Below, I begin the retrospective in 2004 and work backwards to 1997. (After 2004, I stopped hand-coding each entry and began using WordPress, resulting in this sort of thing. Also after 2004, I stopped redesigning the site every few months, partly, but not exclusively, because I got busier designing other people’s sites. I also stopped redesigning the site every few months because I had become more strategic about design—more interested in design as problem solving, less as making pretty pages. Say, remember when we designed “pages”? But I digress.)

Here, for your pleasure, are some pages from the past:

 

Silence and Noise — “Now that some of us have helped bring standards into the mainstream, wouldn’t it be best to keep them there?” — 12 August 2004 (the iconic green design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0804b.shtml

Typical blog entries — on web performance and “the new Samaritans” (designers who recode other people’s sites to be standards-compliant) — 28 July 2004 (the iconic green design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0704e.shtml

CSS Validator is Broken — 5 February 2004 (the creme design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0204b.shtml

Don’t Design on Spec — 26 January 2004 (the creme design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0104h.shtml

Chip Kidd & Alfred Hitchcock — 20 January 2004 (the creme design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0104f.shtml

Tears for Istanbul — 26 November 2003 (rooster design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/1103a.shtml

Ladies and gentlemen, A List Apart 3.0–22 October 2003 (rooster design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/1003a.shtml

“Jeffrey Zeldman is good enough for me.” 2 November 2002 (teal swap design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/1002d.shtml

Typical blog entries — 16 October2002 (the iconic red design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/1002a.html

Typical blog entries — super secret Charlotte Gray style guide (now offline) — 26 August 2002 (HTML fist, red design) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0802c.html

Typical blog entries — in the middle of writing Designing With Web Standards, then titled Forward Compatibility — 30 July 2002 (the iconic red design)

“The heartbreak of sizing small text with ems” — 21 May 2002 http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0502c.html

Typical blog entries, 25 January 2002 (the iconic red design — liquid variant) http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0102d.html

Daily Report 31 August 1999, liquid orange design (unfinished) http://www.zeldman.com/com0899.html

Daily Report 14 October 1998, liquid orange design (unfinished) with Web Standards Project banner ad at the top of the page http://www.zeldman.com/com1098.html

“Previous Reports” 31 August 1997, ugly yellow bacon strip style, http://www.zeldman.com/came2.html

 

Also published in Medium.

studio.zeldman is open for business. Follow me @zeldman.

The post Look back in anchor tags appeared first on Zeldman on Web & Interaction Design.

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emdot
19 days ago
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I love Zeldman.
San Luis Obispo, CA
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To do in NYC: David Byrne's Reasons to Be Cheerful

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Talking Heads frontman and all-round hammy mutant hero David Byrne's "Reasons to be Cheerful" project seeks out "encouraging things that are happening anywhere, and if they have been tested, if they have been proven to work, if they can be transferred and adopted in other places, if they can scale up." (more…)

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emdot
20 days ago
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San Luis Obispo, CA
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A Remarkable Timelapse of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launch

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Last Friday SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket that illuminated the sky above Southern California in a spectacularly unusual way, leaving many unsuspecting people to wonder if they were witnessing a comet, an attack, or the end of days. SpaceX founder Elon Musk acknowledged the bizzare atmospheric effect but didn’t help clarify things much.

Photographer Jesse Watson was in nearby Yuma, Arizona to film a timelapse of the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Having never filmed a rocket before he wasn’t sure quite what to expect, but this 40 seconds of footage was well worth the effort. PetaPixel has some additional details about how Watson managed to get the shot.

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emdot
20 days ago
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This is beautiful AND I think Elon Musk and Co should have been required to tell us beforehand because it was a strange thing to experience.
San Luis Obispo, CA
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