The end of the year, 2013 and holidays

I’ve been sitting on this post for months, mostly because I’m trying to find time to restructure my site’s multilingual portion, trim plugins and figure out AWS. But more on that in a later post. Now, on with the original post!

And just like that, 2012 is over and done with and I’ve been in this country for a almost 10 months now. During those months I’ve experienced a majority of the US’ national holidays. In short, most of these have been really…odd. The commercial overlap where holidays are barely over(if at all) when decorations for the next one appears is nothing new to me. It happens in the Netherlands as well between Sinterklaas and Christmas.

Most of the oddness probably comes from the images that film and television have drawn. Especially Halloween and Thanksgiving, which are covered in generous amounts with Halloween parties and awkward Thanksgiving dinners with family.

4th of July, or, independence day

Fireworks + Springsteen = Patriotism, apparently.

Starting out the series is the 4th of July, Independence day. While I can appreciate this as a day of celebration, some aspects have been strange to me. We spent part of the day making a pie for a dinner we were invited for. The dinner itself, whilst delicious, wasn’t very out of the ordinary(burgers, chicken, baked beans, corn and such).

Afterwards, we went up to the lake at Lakefront Park to watch the fireworks display. Something pretty special, because it turns out that a lot of fireworks that we’re used to in the Netherlands(bottle rockets/skyrockets, roman candles, and even firecrackers) is illegal to light without a permit. Funnily enough, you can still legally buy the stuff if you wanted to.

Additionally, I’ve never heard this much Springsteen in one place ever before.Born in the US-A indeed.

The above comments regarding the legality of certain fireworks in this state made lighting our own fireworks afterwards a bit dull. Though the neighbours did manage to obtain some roman candles and it’s also the first time I’ve seen people lighting fireworks off the back of a moving pick-up truck. Either way, it all felt like an excuse to get drunk and act like idiots.

Halloweeeeeeeen

Halloween in downtown Orlando: “Where’s Waldo” Easy mode.

Halloween celebrations have been filled with new experiences for me. It all started out with Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando. This is basically a massive training camp for queuing that would even make a Brit question his queuing skills. I think we spent more time in queue trying to get into the houses and rides than actually on the rides.

Needless to say though, it was a pretty cool night and they did a pretty good job making the haunted houses. Shame a lot of time had been wasted queuing, but that’s something to take into consideration for next time.

This year, I’ve also carved my first pumpkin and put a nice and simple design on it. But really, that stuff is pretty disgusting.

Lastly, on Halloween night itself, we went to downtown Orlando all dressed up in our costumes. The most ridiculous about this was the fact that some of the clubs expected you to pay after paying to get into the street party thing that was going on.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday

If you mute the right side, you’ll hear what Black Friday madness reminds me of. http://youtubedoubler.com/5TXt

Thanksgiving wasn’t much what I expected it to be. My experience with it is mostly influenced by television and so I expected a lot more stress, a lot more family and a lot more bickering. None of that actually happened. Visitors for dinner were very limited and it was all really very calm. Also had Thanksgiving turkey for the first time and it kind of reminds me of pork “rollade” with a crispy chicken skin. I guess in many ways that’s because the preparation is very similar.

Lack of Sinterklaas

My Sinterklaas gifts. Awesome wife is awesome <3. http://twitpic.com/bjest8

Sinterklaas isn’t celebrated here. We did find out that Aldi does provide in some of the seasonal foods that I know and love. No pepernoten though, bummer.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve

I’m at Regal The Loop Stadium 16 & RPX for Django Unchained (Kissimmee, FL) w/ 12 others http://4sq.com/TWBs7f

Christmas and New Year weren’t very new for me. I had been here with these holidays before. We exchanged gifts the night before, almost around midnight because everyone was out doing stuff. Then on Christmas Day we went to see Django Unchained with the whole family and just had a lazy day otherwise.

New Year was pretty similar, sitting around waiting for midnight. More weak fireworks and no “oliebollen” or “appelflappen”. Double bummer. :<

The story so far…

So I’ve now long passed the 6 month mark in my new home country America and there have been a number of changes since my last post about obtaining my SSN and bank account and getting married.

Employment and things

First of all, I’m finally able to work legally in this country. It took almost 3 months to finally get the Employment Authorization Card(EAD) approved and in hand. I’ve been looking for a job since then as well as spending some time on personal projects to learn things and building my online resume to at least have something to show that I’ve built all by myself. About 3 months later(ie. November first) I had my first work day at Highforge as a front-end developer.

In the time that I’ve been working, I’ve already learnt quite a lot about WordPress and more specifically how to work with it properly. Additionally, I’m getting more acquainted with responsive design and building sites for mobile. I’ll eventually use my experiences to update my site and WordPress theme and make things more awesome.

Driving

With a social security number and newly acquired semi-status in the form of the EAD it becomes possible to obtain a driving licence or permit. And so I did, and the test to obtain the permit is really, really, really stupid. You’re in line longer than the actual test. Hell, you’re in line to pay longer than the actual test. It’s two 20 question tests, where one focuses on general rules and the other on signs. Most of the questions are the exact same as on the practice tests and so it was easy peasy. I got two rule questions wrong, one about how much you should slow down relative to the speed limit when passing an accident and ambulance and such and the other asked what the safe distance between two freight trucks is. I’m not really sure what that last one has to do with anything.

All in all, I got done with the test before the lady at the counter was done helping the next guy in line and while it was easy, there was still a guy struggling with it next to me. He was still there, doing the test, while I paid the fee and left.

Green Card

There’s absolutely no news on the green card situation. My case was transferred to the California Service Center forfast processing. This happened in back in June. Needless to say, it hasn’t gotten much faster. There is a positive side to this transfer and that is that I most likely don’t have to come in for an interview.

TLDR: Everything’s going fine. I have a job and soon will be able to drive. I do not have a green card yet, however.

Cheffism: Now with more sass

Recently I’ve been becoming more and more exposed to different development frameworks and techniques. One of them is the Sass CSS pre-processor, which has been nothing but lovely.

In an attempt to learn and use this practical tool, I’ve converted all of my theme’s CSS to work with Compass/Sass and configured Compass to minify the
CSS output. It’s also easier to change my own CSS code as well as updating the HTML5 Boilerplate code, because these are now more neatly separated in their own partials. Similarly, media queries for responsive design and print have been placed in their own partial as well.

This separation was the first step in my transition to Sass. I may have been too enthusiastic in the way I separated them, but we’ll see how it all pans out.

The next step was to try and use some of Sass’ biggest strengths: variables and mixins.

I personally feel I’ve not used variables to their maximum potential, simply because I don’t really have all that much that would be useful to turn into a variable. As such, there’s currently only four variables in my theme and they all involve colours:

$background-colour: #F7F7F7;
$base-link-colour: #333333; // Note: also used for text-selection
$base-font-colour: #444444;
$border-colour: #d2d2d2;

Perhaps I can make other colours variable based on these using the various functions available to me.

Mixins have probably had more use for me, specifically in adding the few CSS3 effects that I use, like gradients and box shadows. These mixins look like this:

// Prefixer mixin, adds browser vendor prefixes automatically
// Defaults to webkit, moz and spec
@mixin prefixer ($property, $value, $webkit: true, $moz: true, $ms: false, $o: false, $spec: true) {
    @if $webkit { -webkit-#{$property}: $value; }
    @if $moz    {    -moz-#{$property}: $value; }
    @if $ms     {     -ms-#{$property}: $value; }
    @if $o      {      -o-#{$property}: $value; }
    @if $spec   {         #{$property}: $value; }
}

// Adds CSS3 box shadow
@mixin shadow($h-shadow: 0px, $v-shadow: 0px, $blur: 15px, $colour: rgba(0,0,0,0.1)) {
    @include prefixer(box-shadow, $h-shadow $v-shadow $blur $colour);
}

// Simple linear gradient mixin with solid fallback
@mixin linear-gradient($angle: top, $from: #fff, $to: #000) {
    background: $from;
    background: linear-gradient($angle, $from, $to);
    background: -moz-linear-gradient($angle, $from, $to);
    background: -webkit-linear-gradient($angle, $from, $to);	
}

At first glance, mixins look very similar to functions in, for example, JavaScript. You can pass arguments to them(and assign default values to them) and even have access to simple so called control directives like @if, @for, @while and @each.

The first mixin is a generic “helper” that will help set browser vendor prefixes for certain CSS3 functions, so that I don’t have to myself. I had more use for this due to border-radius, but as it turns out vendor prefixes aren’t necessary for it anymore. Using a mixin for border-radius(@include border-radius(10px);) is just as much work as assigning it manually, if not more(border-radius: 10px;).

Unfortunately, this prefixer mixin won’t work for gradients, because the prefixes for that are set to the value of the background attribute. Which is unfortunate, but it will have to do.

As I get more comfortable using Sass and mixins, I’ll probably make more passes over my current CSS to see what else I can simplify. The first candidate will probably be the current selection code(::selection and ::-moz-selection both apply the same style…).

My Sass efforts can be found on Github. :)

So, Sass has been an awesome tool for me so far and I’ll no doubt keep using it. If you’re looking to get started with using Sass and don’t really know where to start, take a look at these two tutorials on TheSassWay.com and Sass-lang.com.

Cheffism Episode IV: A new look

While having nothing to do seems nice, and it was the first month or two, watching TV all day gets boring very quickly. Especially with HBO showing The Green Lantern multiple times a day and week. So things had to be done, not only to entertain me but also to hone my skills further and keep them from rusting shut.

I’ve started reading more(Currently reading Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services by Kim Goodwin, very insightful book!) and I’ve built my own WordPress theme(Which can be found on Github, feel free to “steal” or comment on it :)). I’ve opted for a minimalistic approach for this new theme, because it appeals to me most and is the easiest to read and get around.

As a starting point the theme uses the Handcrafted theme, which is a bare naked HTML5 theme. This theme uses HTML5 and the HTML5shiv to support older, less-capable browsers and seemed like a great place to start. In the process of building my theme I’ve learnt a lot more about how WordPress works(and doesn’t work, for that matter) and how to properly use some of the new tags in HTML5(Specifically article and section tags).

Features of the new look include:

A new homepage that will show my most recent post and the content of a page

The process of building the new homepage shows my limited experience with WordPress. It relies on having the static page setting enabled and having two pages(One for Home, one for the Blog). I wanted to do more with the homepage than simply showing page content, I made a page-template for it. I named this home.php. As it turns out, that was a bad idea. Little did I know, WordPress has a Template Hierarchy that basically works as follows:

If a visitor goes to your home page at http://example.com/blog/, the following happens:

  1. WordPress first determines whether it has a static front page. If a static front page has been set, then WordPress loads that page according to the page template hierarchy.
  2. If a static front page has not been set, then WordPress looks for a template file called home.php and uses it to generate the requested page.
  3. If home.php is missing, WordPress looks for a file called index.php in the active theme’s directory, and uses that template to generate the page.

This basically meant that my front and blog pages were loading off the same template. Bit of a RTFM issue right there and I don’t mind admitting it.

The page template itself is pretty straightforward. It uses WP_Query('showposts=1') to retrieve the most recent post and a simple bit of code to retrieve the page content set as “front page”(Thanks to David of Limoen for showing me setup_postdata!).

$frontpage_id = get_option('page_on_front');
setup_postdata(get_page($frontpage_id)); 
the_content();

A separate blog page

The blog page is now listing all my blog posts until the beginning of time. I use a WordPress plugin called “Infinite Scroll” to automatically load the next page of posts until you reach the end. I’ve also gone ahead and used Chris Spooner’s tutorial to create CSS calendar icons for each blog post in the list. It uses CSS3 techniques like gradientsbox shadows, and border radius. I’ve still got to do stuff about the comment form though, see if I can manage to make something spiffy out of those.

An archive page

As I had removed the sidebar altogether from this theme(I’ve never really had a use for it, even with the old theme), I had to make at least the option to search available. A very simple get_search_form(); and it’s done. I’ve also personalised the page somewhat and added some translations by checking the qTranslate language.

One thing I have noticed when working on this page is the inconsistency in the ways to show the post counts for each month and category. To show the post count when using wp_get_archives(); (for months), you need to set show_post_count to true. Like so: wp_get_archives( 'show_post_count=true' );

However, the same is not true when using wp_list_categories();, which uses show_count=1 to enable the post count. A minor inconvenience, but it makes me wonder why they’re different. There certainly is no reason for them to be, as far as I know anyway.

Better usable on mobile devices

This turned out to be a bit tricky. This is the first time I’ve used media queries and while the concept is simple, it ended up taking more time than anticipated. Mainly due to the fact that the browsers on my Android phone(Chrome, Firefox and Web) showed things differently from the User Agent/Device metrics overrides in the Chrome developer toolbar.

The toolbar suggests a screen resolution of 720 by 1280, and while there’s nothing wrong with that this is not the width an element(say, the body or html elements) will get when it’s set to 100%. Instead, the width will be set to 320. When overflow is not set to hidden, this will ensure that, when zoomed out, the elements that you’d like to span the full width only reach to about halfway. Not a pretty sight indeed.

I would never have figured this out were it not for the remote debugging that’s part of the Android SDK. That being said, I’ve no idea how this website runs on iPhones or tablets. I’d assume that it will work fine on iPhones at the very least, considering those set the viewport to 320 as well when using:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

Tablets I'm not too sure about however...

So with that said and done, those are the highlights of my theme and some of the problems I've come across in developing it. Certainly a nice learning experience to keep me from getting bored. Should you spot any inconsistencies, bugs, weirdness anywhere on the site(or in the code on github) or feel I could've done things simpler(mostly the coding part) do let me know. :)

Next stop will likely either be learning Python using a combination of Learn Python the Hard WayPython from Scratch, and The Django Book or dive deeper into PHP and spend some time with Zend. Because, stuff.

The ceremonial wedding

I really need to get back into the habit of updating this more often. In my defense though, I’ve been waiting for the pro wedding pictures but they’re taking some time to get done. And because we still don’t have them yet, I’ll just go ahead and write this post and show pictures separately.

This post will also be “special” in that I’ll have a co-writer to tell you all about her side of the story of that particular day in May. Mostly because my side of the story is really, really boring.

May 23rd, from the groom’s perspective

So, basically, I pretty much got up lazily. Anais had already gone to get her hair done and make sure last-minute things get done. My morning started with a sense of dread. Not because I was about to get married, but mostly because I had to wear a tux in Florida. I’m really bad with heat and the idea of wearing not one, but two long-sleeved tops and a vest was killing me.

Once I got over this sense of dread(Breakfast and a shower helped, I might add), I put my tux on. Now, I’ve never worn one of these, let alone know what to do with the studs and cuff links. The fact that the tie came pre-tied was a bit of a saving grace. So I actually spent some time on Youtube to find out what those studs were and how to use them, and how to properly use cuff links. As it turns out, I apparently did the cuff links wrong regardless because I had folded the sleeve before putting on the cuff links, like they did in this video. No matter, I’m told I still looked good. To keep some of my sanity I also put on my spiffy Star Wars Empire tie clip(Would’ve gotten the Mass Effect Mass Relay clip, but it wasn’t available anymore :(. The Empire clip actually matched the rest of my studs/cuff links better too, as those were black as well).

Now that I was all dressed and ready, all I really had to do is wait for my then-not-yet-sister-in-law to be ready to take me over to Paradise Cove. On the way over we stopped by my other then-not-yet-sister-in-law to drop off some stuff for the reception at her house, as it was a lot closer to the reception hall, as well as picking up my friend and best man and his girlfriend.

When we got to Paradise Cove, the waiting game started. Even though we were a bit early, there were already some people there. Luckily, there was quite a bit of a breeze to keep people cool a bit. We set up our ghetto-fabulous taped boombox for the two tracks of music that we were going to play(Two Jason Mraz tracks, one for the entrance walks of the best man, maid of honour and bridesmaids and one for Anais’ entrance).

After a while, and a bit late, Anais arrived and everyone got into position for the ceremony. Which was lovely, albeit a bit windy. Actually, a bit is probably an understatement. Anyway, when the ceremony was done(We’ll have a video of this up at some point, no worries), photos were taken and while people were supposed to stick around some to drink the warm drinks we brought(Forgot the ice, d’oh!) they already started to head out to the reception hall that we had to arrange at the last minute. Good thing the bridesmaids managed to control them fairly well as they were setting up the tables.

Also, I’m just going to go ahead and plug Reverend Steve Swan for a moment there. He has been very helpful in putting together the ceremony and generally a great person throughout our dealings with him(Learning names and pronunciations and the late start of our ceremony, for example). So, if you’re in the Orlando area and looking for a reverend to marry you, recommendations for this guy from me.

May 23rd, from the bride’s perspective

I woke up anxious and stressed around 6 am, because I still had a lot to do that day. I debated whether to get up right there and do the rest of the flower arrangements we had started the night before. I actually ended up getting up an hour later or so. It took quite some time to do these floral arrangements, because it’s actually ridiculously difficult to figure out all kinds of stuff like how many flowers per vase, how to arrange them and such so it didn’t look too thinly spread. I also had to make more than we actually needed because people wanted to own some of them due to the pretty flowers we had chosen.

While I was working on these, I realised that I hadn’t done my bouquet or the men’s corsages either. So I threw the flowers for those at my mom to make, which also took a while. Once she was done with that I made her do my bouquet while I was building the bridesmaid’s bouquets with her help because those damn ribbons didn’t want to stick. By the time all the flowers were done it was already 1 and I rushed my mom to make my veil. I had poked her for months to do this, but she hadn’t and so that was another last-minute thing that had to be done.

I then hopped into a car and went up to the Millenia mall to David’s Bridals to go save the dresses from their steamy cleansing. Had to check all the dresses to see if everything was there and correct and such. From there I went to get my hair done. It took me quite some time to get to the salon, because of an accident causing busy traffic and the longest train holding up even more traffic and making me take a detour around the tracks.

Due to my tardiness I was lectured because I should’ve been there hours earlier and I should’ve put my bridesmaids to work. All of these delays made sure I wasn’t able to pick up my dad’s picture from Walgreens, so I called one of my friends to go do that after he got done getting ready at my sister’s house and get the bridesmaid’s dresses from me because I had no time to bring those to them either.

As it turns out the original hairstyle I had picked was going to take much longer than the 30 minutes that I had, so the stylist decided to put it into a loose bun with pins that would fall out during the course of the night and make my hair fall down naturally in curls. It actually took about an hour.

Then my friend came in to grab the stuff I had called him for(the dresses) and he had also already picked up the photo from Walgreens. I was wished luck and headed back home through a quicker back-way.

I realised people were being more nice when they saw I was wearing my veil and got out of my way as I drove home. Finally got home and my family had already gotten ready too, which was nice to see. Usually they’re not as timely. I ran into my mom’s room to rush my dress on and that took a while because of the corset on the dress. Took a while because you have to criss-cross the ribbon thing through the hoops.

With my dress on, all that was left was redoing my make-up and putting on my jewelry and I was ready to go. Grabbed me a chicken sandwich to eat, because I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. By now it’s 6pm, so basically I had gone the whole day without any food.

Took a bunch of photos and then we headed out. We had to rush because we were already running very late. Made my mom drive, because I couldn’t possibly manage with my dress. She actually drove a lot faster than she usually does, though I sometimes had to poke her because she was reverting back to her regular slow pace of driving.

When I finally got to Paradise Cove, hopped out of the car quickly and tried to stay out of sight as best I could as I got into position. Signaled my girls that I had arrived and got them to get everyone ready and cue the music and we were finally ready to begin!

I was very anxious about this whole walking down the aisle, even looking down for the most part. Got more comfortable once I reached the end and stood next to Jeff.

May 23rd, the reception


(In the video above, don’t mind the weird flashy shake thing it does, Youtube offered to “fix” the shaking and that’s the result, I’m not sure which is better, to be honest)

So the reception went pretty well. The food was totally awesome and so was the cake. Apparently it’s tradition to keep part of the cake in the freezer for a year to eat at the first anniversary. I can’t wait, it’s going to be amazing. After dinner came the (dreaded?) first dance. I’m not a dancer. And it shows, I was actually expected to dance to merengue(after our official first dance, which didn’t go too badly I suppose). I mean, I’m white and I can’t dance, I’m sure you can imagine what that looked like :<.

The wife didn’t like the DJ much, he had a lower price and all because he’s a friend of mom’s, but didn’t really do well following directions as far as playing music goes. We had both compiled a list of music, with my music being mostly metal/rock oriented and he played a whole two tracks off this list and started out playing stuff from his own list.

She was also very happy getting out of the wedding dress and into her purple, more comfy, dress. The wedding dress made it fairly difficult to walk and she has even tripped a few times in it. Also loved the speeches from the best man and the maid of honour, they both did very well on them.

And now without further ado, a video of the ceremony!