Hear me out. I'm a UX designer by trade; while not a developer, I do understand software and technology very well. I spend a lot of time testing and tinkering with ideas by trying to hack them together the best I can. My goal is to build a small but real feeling version of my idea to understand and test if there's actually value. I continually hit the wall or spend hours getting caught up on something trivial (I understand this is part of the learning process). Like for most people, time is an issue for me and I'm really looking for something to help me prototype quickly. I consider Ruby and Python too big for that (am I wrong)? What should I focus on, a Javascript framework, just jQuery, something like Haskell, etc.? 

First, it's admirable to want to learn something new.  Programming is a tough discipline to master.  In spite of every startup CEO telling you they themselves coded their launch project, and that you should just learn to code it all yourself, this is not a practical approach.  The statistic we don't have is how many of those startups continue to be a success without having their code re-written by competent programmers.

That said... there's a big different between prototyping and building for production.  I'm glad that's clear to you.  The trick is that - and if you're a UX designer by trade, you should already know this, so I have some skepticism - prototyping is pretty easy to do on paper.  In most cases, it's probably easier than trying to iterate code through a design review process.  Sure, it's not clicking buttons on a screen, giving you the feel, but you should at least be able to determine if your idea has value from paper prototypes.

I think the bottom line is this:

You shouldn't be programming anything.

There are many questions remaining in your request.  What type of app are you building?  Is it for desktop?  Web?  Mobile?  What platform, Windows, Mac, or Linux?  Are there collaborative features?  Realtime updates?  All of these questions lend toward choosing the best language for the project.  But if all you want to do is prototype, use paper.  Or get a copy of Axure.

After you prove out your ideas on paper, pay a developer to build your live prototype for you.  They'll know what they're doing and do it faster and better than you will, even if you learned a programming language.  Not only will you see a result faster than you would if you have to learn to code while you go, but if your developer is worth his salt, you'll have a prototype that can be used to help move your product forward to production.  Ultimately, you will have saved money.

Sadly, you'll probably get a bunch of responses like, "Use jQuery," or worse, "Use Ruby!"  These recommendations coming without any questions about what you're trying to build are most likely from novice fans of a particular language.  I can't blame anyone for being a fan of the language they love, but all too many times I've heard (especially with Ruby) things like, "Oh, I never understood programming until I tried X language.  It'll be perfect for you, too."  Don't be fooled by this.  There is no perfect language for your application, especially when nobody's even heard what the application is!

I'm a big proponent of the best tool for the job, wielded by the best craftsman.  Get a recommendation from someone who knows how the different languages compare, has used all of them, and is qualified to make a recommendation.

Today is the first day of a new year.  In years past, I've set aside the whole concept of resolutions.  Resolutions are stupid.  To me, it implies that making significant changes in life can only happen one time of the year, as if there's some magic about the new year that allows these changes to effortlessly happen.  We all know that's not true.  What it might be is more drawing a line in the sand, and saying this day is the day I start, and having some hard line to observe rather than some random date along the way.

On Needing a Plan

The trick with the new year "resolution" (a word that I will no longer use here), is that things like "eating better" and particularly things like "waking up with the alarm" are really hard to do on the day that follows staying up partying to late hours.  We've still got guests in our house as I write this, and Berta is off work making pancakes and sausage for breakfast, and I've already slept in until 10am, and it's looking like I've already tread off the path I've set myself for the new year before even locating the trailhead!

A theme that I hope to continue with throughout the new year (the new, revised Owen!) is looking at these outlying situations and making them part of the plan, rather than saying, "Oops, guess we broke it." The end result should be more success and an ability to easily return to the plan when before it might have been foiled by a bad day.

Budget Up

Something that should be but is not (yet?) part of the plan for the new year is budgeting.  I've been looking at this app called You Need A Budget, which is highly recommended.  Budgeting issues aside, one of the basic concepts of this software is something that I think will come in huge use with my planning for the unplannable: Plan only for the future.

You can look at past spending to predict for the future, but ideally, the concept is to take the money you know you have on hand and spend it on bills you know you have now.  Do not plan for beyond this current unit of time.  It's not so much living check to check, but bases its method on getting the current bills paid.

With that, if I miss a day of what changes I've intended here or there, I shouldn't look back.  I should plan to continue the next day and get back on track.  No making up for the miss, no eating less today to make up for yesterday's Twinkie.  Just plowing forward with it.

Seems pretty simplistic, but I think it's an interesting psychological shift.

Habit Change

I read a good portion of this book, The Power of Habit, which talks all about how stopping bad habits is harder than creating new habits to replace them.  I'm looking for a key habit to create that will help affect the rest of my bad habits and start to create the set of good habits I'm looking for.

After doing no research at all, I've decided that the key habit I need to change is waking up earlier.  I think this will give me time to focus my mental energies, get myself together, get done miscellaneous things I keep wanting to do but not making time for, get better rest (since I'll want/have to go to bed earlier), and a bunch of other cascading things.

So that's the simple plan, such as it is: Get Up Earlier.

You see portfolio sites all over the web from web designers showcasing the sites that they've designed.  And now and then you see web developers posting a portfolio including a few sites they've managed the HTML coding for.  But you never see a portfolio of a developer showing the site architecture that they've rocked.

Here's a weird paradox:  I want to showcase the work I've done for clients.  The work I do is primarily writing site-specific code to enable a certain unique feature on a site, or assembling the parts to produce that feature.  But often I can't realistically use a screenshot of the site to characterize that work, since the screenshot is of the graphic design, which is something I had nothing to do with.

Consider a simple example of configuring a Drupal (urg) site to manage an email newsletter.  I can assemble and configure all of the parts to achieve this goal.  It is not uncomplicated, since it has many moving parts and often involves some server knowledge to ensure email deliverability.  Often, the only point to the site is to provide a few static pages and this mail feature, so it's a pretty significant item for the project.  But I can't very well take a screenshot of "managing/sending email subscriptions" like I can the graphic design of the site, can I?

This is a topic that has perplexed me for a long time, since I am not (primarily) an HTML guy.  People never hired me explicitly to convert their graphic designs into HTML.  Primarily, I'm an architecture guy.  I write the platforms that drive your sites.  I write the plugins, modules, and apps that the HTML-writing folks use to build your site.  So how do I put my code portfolio on display?

I was recently reminded of this portfolio issue by Geri's Credits and Recognition article at 24 Ways.  She presents many good thoughts on creating a portfolio and properly crediting those who are involved for the parts in which they are involved.  All too often I feel like designers take credit for the entire work of a website with their credit links, when the site wouldn't actually function without the behind-the-scenes work of the developers -- the work that can't actually be seen by a visitor.

It's gotten so bad in my head that I don't like to show a screenshot of sites I've worked on at all because I don't want people who view my portfolio to think that I do graphic design, and I want people to understand that it's the functionality that I produce, not the pretty design parts.  (Yes, yes, UXers, I know, just shut up.)  It's hard to convey what work is done with an image, and it's hard to call a thing a "web site portfolio" without an image.  So hard, in fact, that I don't really bother.

Some might say that my GitHub page (or something like it) serves as a better portfolio of work.  To a degree I think that's true.  But man, wouldn't it be nice to have a pretty graphic portfolio that characterizes what I have accomplished in images, rather than having to explain code to people that, by definition if they're hiring me, don't understand what I do?

A couple of notes on the lightning adapter which I received last week and installed into my Elevation Dock:

First, the build quality of the adapter is just as good as the Elevation Dock itself.  I had no trouble installing the adapter.  The adapter came with two allen wrenches for the screws that hold everything together.

But beyond that, things go south...

The "adapter" is a metal clamp that holds your *existing* Apple lightning cable in place within the Elevation Dock.  The adapter does not include any electronic components like the original dock parts.  You must use the lightning cable that came with your phone or buy one aftermarket, and it MUST be an Apple-brand $17+ cord, or it won't fit in the clamp properly.  (Oh, if you find a brand of lightning cord that both fits in the adapter and doesn't set off the "unofficial product" warnings on the phone, let me know.)  Do not buy a $3 cord and expect it to fit in this adapter properly.

When I dock my iPhone 5s into the port, the rubber support no longer supports the phone like it did with the 4 and 4s.  In fact, I can't insert the 5s with case (a thin iFrogz case) into the dock without removing the rubber support.  What I'm left with is the entire phone resting on the lightning connector that extends from the base of the dock.  There is nothing supporting the phone but the lightning plug.

Why not adjust the connector down into the dock so that the phone can sit flush, you ask?  Because to put the lightning connector into the dock in the first place, you need to practically crimp the cord at the stress relief sleeve just to get it to fit into the adapter.  Simply looking at the strain on the cord at this point makes me cringe.  I'm sure it's fine, because it's locked in, but it's really bent, and there's no room for movement.

The extra cash I spent on the Elevation Dock with audio support?  Wasted.  There is no audio connection on the adapter.  There is also no 1/8" headphone jack on the adapter to pass through audio.  Thankfully the one audio dock (of the three I backed) will serve my wife's iPhone 4s well enough.

One of the big selling points of the Elevation Dock was that you didn't need to push down on the Dock to remove the phone.  Since the lightning adapter uses a standard connector, and the connector is designed to remain fastened to the phone unless using some force, the weight of the dock is no longer sufficient to hold the dock down when removing the phone.  A Nanopad sticker is included in the package to affix the Dock to a surface.

I applied the Nanopad to the bottom of the Dock, then placed the dock back in its original location.  The Nanopad was successful in suctioning the Dock to this surface -- too successful.  I had great difficulty removing the Dock after it stuck to reposition it.  I was finally able to pry it up, but it is still disconcerting that this behaves so much like adhesive, which is what I was trying to avoid with the Elevation Dock in the first place!

Also, finally, the adapter is red.  No idea why.  Not really an issue, but somehow unnerves me to know that it's in there... Being red.

Generally, I like the look and build quality of the Elevation Dock, but I think some significant effort needs to be undertaken to update the lightning adapter to bring it in line with the quality expectation of the rest of the Dock.  Hopefully Elevation Lab's got something good up their sleeves for the future, because this adapter alone is insufficient.

Back in June, I noticed a Kickstarter project for the FluxFluxmob Boltmob Bolt, and decided that it would be worth a pledge. The Bolt is a combination wall charger and battery backup for USB devices. 

The first thing you would notice about the Bolt is that it is very small and attractive-looking. It comes in multiple colors, of which I chose blue. The finish of the device has a nice quality tacky/rubbery feeling, not the slick plastic of similar devices.

The size is pretty remarkable for what the device offers. The small box includes a fold-out wall plug, the transformer required to convert outlet power (90-240V) down to USB's 5V, a 3000mAh battery, and the standard USB port. There are other similar batteries on the market, but they do not include all of these components, often leaving out the transformer and plug features.

Fluxmob BoltOn the facing side of the device are five LED lights and a button. My favorite feature of the Bolt is using the button to turn the USB power on and off. If you hold the button in for five seconds, it toggles the USB power. Simply tapping the button lights up the other four LEDs to indicate the charge status of the battery.

Although the power toggle is my favorite feature, I wish that the duration of the button push was shorter. This seems like a trivial thing, but I wonder how many support requests Fluxmob has had to field about their USB port being non-functional because the button requires a longer press than what one might expect.

Fluxmob BoltCharging is simple and fast, but leads to my second issue with the Bolt. While charging, the LEDs flicker to indicate... well... something, I guess. I suppose if I stared at the flickering lights for long enough I could suss it out, but let's just say that the lights blink. A lot. And they're bright.  In a dark room like a hotel, where you would most likely want the features of the Bolt, exposure to the blinkenlights could keep you awake. Another small quibble, but it's there.

Hooking devices to the Bolt is as easy as plugging them into the USB port on the bottom. Charging a device from the wall or via battery works the same as long as the USB power is toggled on. The USB power toggles itself off as when you unplug the Bolt, which is an important note.  You could easily think you're charging a device, then unplug in the Bolt, expecting the battery power to take over, but in reality the USB power was automatically toggled off.

The power pack seems to have enough juice to charge my iPhone 5s fully. The LED status indicators seem like a complete waste, though. They will frequently report 2/4 lights, and then the Bolt battery will go completely dead. I have also seen the Bolt report only one light's worth of power, to then have it increase to two lights without having plugged it in. It's pretty inconsistent as a gauge, but if you use the lights merely to determine whether it has been fully charged, it should be ok.

On the whole, I like the Fluxmob Bolt. In the market for devices like this one, the build quality is a level above the others, in spite of its small flaws, which are rampant and more severe in the competition. I would love to see revisions to the design in the future that made the LEDs more useful and the power toggle more consistent. As it stands though, the Bolt will likely permanently replace my Zagg Sparq for portable USB power, simply due to its capability and size in my laptop bag.