The Job PDX
The Job PDX
25. Dan Manchester

Dan Manchester is a husband, parent, Portlander, and one hell of a good developer. Needmore is lucky enough in fact to call him our Lead Developer.

Show Notes

Recorded Monday, August 12th, 2013, and this is episode number 25. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!

The Interview

Hi Dan!
Hi Ray!
Hey, thanks for joining us this week on the show.
Thank you!  It’s a pleasure to be here.
Why don’t we start at the beginning, where are you from?
I’m from Warwick, Rhode Island.  Or “Warrick,” if I still lived there.  It would be “Warrick.”
Oh.  Are you not going to say “Wilamette” when you move away from here?
Well, that’s just a pronunciation thing, that’s not an accent.
Oh, okay.
“Warrick” is the accent, I think.
Warwick, Rhode Island.
Even that?
Oh, yeah.
Is that near the ocean?
It is near the ocean, it’s right on Narragansett Bay at the north end of the bay.  Narragansett Bay runs up the middle of the state.  It’s just south of Providence, the capital of our fair state.
Do you have fond memories of Rhode Island?
I like beaches, and I like water.  We could … My parents don’t live on the water, but we were really close.  We were within a quarter of a mile of the shore.
Oh, okay.
So I could hear the water when I was going to bed.
I kind of always miss that.  So I grew up in the mid-west.  I swear I could hear the ocean from Portland, but.
When I was in graduate school I wrote a lot of poems about the water, in Indiana.  Landlocked.
Yeah?  Okay, whoa, Indiana, hold on now, how did you get from Rhode Island to Indiana?  Fill in the blanks here.
After my junior year in High School in Warwick, I went to prep school in Connecticut for two years, a boarding school called Pomfret, which is in the northeastern corner of Connecticut, the “quiet corner,” as it’s known.  I don’t know why or by whom.  It’s south of Springfield sort of, or south of Worcester.  Then went to Skidmore College in upstate New York in Saratoga Springs, which turns into a tourist town when the horse tracks open in August.  It’s a great little town.  And then my wife, who is now my wife, who was at the time my girlfriend, she had graduated before me, and she moved to Indiana to start a PhD program.  And after I graduated, I drove all of my things out there.
And then ended up doing a number of things, working at a bookstore, primary among them, for that first year.  And then didn’t like it, and needed something to do.  So I had applied to a bunch of creative writing programs, and Indiana would have been on the list anyway.  And I ended up getting in there, and just stuck around.
Okay.  So how long were you in Indiana?
Five years.  Moved there in 2000 on the day Bobby Knight got fired, the head coach of the basketball team.  There was rioting in the streets and on campus, and I drove through on the way to our house, and left in the summer of 2005.
Okay.  Wow, so you were in and out of academia, those circles, a lot.  How did you ever get into … So, you have a background in creative writing, first of all.
How did you get into that?
I think the honest answer is, it seemed easy.  When I was in boarding school, there was a guy there named Brad Davis who is a poet, he’s a published poet.  And he was also the Chaplain at Pomfret, but he taught creative writing classes, and I took all of them because I needed art credits.  And I liked it.  And it seemed easy in the way that there are a few boundaries when you’re in a poetry workshop.  As long as you’re putting in the effort, handing words in.
And then I got beyond that and actually enjoyed it, so, didn’t know what to do with myself when I got to college.  And there was a creative writing focus in the English department, so did that.  Didn’t know what to do with myself when I got out of college, so went into an MFA program.
Do you write pen on paper?  Do you write on a computer nowadays?
Both.  I was just at lunch writing … I have a little project that I’m working on that’s just couplets, like I’m just writing self-contained couplets.
And I’ve been writing those longhand, as a way of sort of like … Because I sit at a computer all day.
It’s nice to have a little something to do on pen and paper.  But I also … That project has a Git repository, on GitHub that I’ve been pushing, too.  So, and as I revise, I have commits and stuff, I look at difs of these poems.  So, it’s a bit of both.
Wow. Cyber-poetry!  I wonder how many poets use Git.  That’s like a Venn diagram with no intersection.  Just a “U” lonely in the middle there!
I remember a Cory Doctorow, who obviously skews well toward the geeky end of writers.
But you know, he’s a writer.  And he had someone write him a word processing program that had revisions baked into it, like five, six years ago.  And I thought that was crazy.  But now I’m like, “Hmm, that’s genius!”  So he can look at his revisions as he goes without writing … I don’t know if he still uses this … I don’t even remember what it was.
Couldn’t he just use Word?
Well, you have to save out.
I just had to say it.  I had to say it.
I think his was built on top of Open Office, probably.  It being Cory Doctorow and all.
Probably.  Yeah.  Open Office.  Do you have a preference for having … And this was a question from a listener, having grown up on … Having spent time on both coasts, do you have a favorite?  And why.  Please explain.
Oh.  I like beaches on the East Cost a little bit better.  The warm water and sand is kind of nice.  But I also like spending time on the coast here, for sure, they’re gorgeous, those cliffs and rock outcrops.  But I like being in Portland.  I like Portland more than just about anywhere I’ve lived, I think, so.
Yeah.  I have heard that about the beaches on the East Coast for sure, I could see that.  I also heard they’re more polluted though, is that true?
Okay.  Yeah.  So, getting back to your poetry.  Is that something you do a lot?  Just a personal project to keep you going?
Like giving myself actual projects to write into?
Yeah, at some point after I left graduate school, I realized that I couldn’t just sit down and write a poem that was sort of unattached to anything else.  It lacked … That disconnect from anything else, I would leave them and never come back to them.  Had trouble … One of the things I had trouble with, and a lot of it is switching gears.  If it’s just a free-floating poem, there’s nothing really to switch to for me, there’s words.  But if it’s in a project, I can think in terms of the project and move from writing PHP to writing that, writing into that project.
For a while I was writing what I was calling “cover songs,” where I was taking other people’s poems, like canonical poems like Dickinson poems, or passages from “Song of Myself,” or something, and rewriting them like you would as cover poems.  And it was easy to just sort of take that text and think about it in that context, whereas I’ve never been much of an autobiographical, like “here’s what I did today” kind of poet.  So it’s easier for me to think that way, in bigger projects.
Yeah.  I wish I … You know, I was into poetry.  A little about me, Dan.  Just after high school I was into writing poetry a lot.  But what I did, I was really into the beat poetry, and how they put out those little booklets of, you know, City Lights?
City Lights?  Yeah.
Everyone recognized the cover of “Howl” or one of those, you know.
And so I would organize them as if they were an album, 12 little poems and group those.  And then I had them all on my computer at the time, which may have been an Atari, and I’d print them out with a Dot Matrix printer.
Had them in a binder, and unfortunately, one time when I was probably “on acid,” or something, I burned them all.  But you know, if they had been in GitHub, I’d still have them.  So lesson learned.
Yeah.  That’s fantastic, I guess!
I was not the Homecoming King.  I will tell you that much!  So, how long have you lived in Portland?  When did you move out here?
Just over two years ago.
We got here on July 4th, 2011.
And was this from Indiana?
No.  I was actually back in Providence.  I had been living in Providence.  After Indiana, my wife and I moved to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the capital city in Kyrgyzstan, which is a former Soviet State, borders China.
You were probably running into people from Indiana all over the place.  It’s like, what is this, like a suburb?
Oddly, we were both working at the American University of Central Asia, which is in Bishkek, and Indiana University is one of their sister schools.
Oh, okay.
So there were a bunch of IU people around.
Okay.  Oh!
There’s a lot of NGO’s in Bishkek, and a lot of Peace Corps volunteers around.  So there’s a huge expat community, oddly.  But yeah, we were there for a while.  We moved back, let’s see, left in 2005, came back at the end of 2006.  And moved to Providence then.  And we were there until 2011.  Then moved here.
Okay.  How was it living there?
It was great.  Well, my wife is an archaeologist, and she was there as part of a state department grant setting up rural museum exhibits that traveled around.  Let her talk about that, I guess, at some point.  I think I would do it injustice.  But I was mostly in Bishkek, I was working in the communications office at the University, translating things with a translator, and editing things, and writing press releases and articles and stuff.  And working with the President of the University for certain things.  So it was a lot like vacation for an extended period of time.  Wrote a terrible novel while I was there, twice.  Wrote a couple of chat books, poems, and traveled around.  So it was a pretty good existence for me.
And for Erin as well.  My wife as well, it was nice.  It’s a great city.
So you have traveled to other places, too.  Where else have you … Every once in a while you just throw out this crazy story of some place you’ve lived or been.
Well, there’s the Europe, “The Europe,” the things that one does, I guess.
Asia, though?
Asia.  When we were in Bishkek, or Kyrgyzstan borders Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China.  I don’t think I’m leaving any out.  But we got into … Crossed borders into places.
Borders China?
Mm-hmm.  Yeah, it does.
I’ve got to look at a map, man.
The western edge of China borders the eastern part of Kyrgyzstan.
Okay.  Wow.  So let’s change gears a little bit.  You are a Web developer.  How did you ever get involved in that, from what sounds like none of that?
Poetry.  Literally.
Really?  I’d love to hear that story.
Well, I had been mucking around with HTML and whatnot from my college, basically.  At some point in the ’90s had started writing horrible tables and things like that, like you did in the ’90s.  And then while I was in graduate school, I started co-directing a residential writing program for high school kids in Connecticut, and at some point, which was every summer we would get a group of kids in, it started as just poets and then it’s like poets and fiction writers, and six years later there was an acting class, and a screenwriter, playwright class and musicians and stuff.

And I started setting up sites for the kids to share stuff after they left.  Because it was anyone, it was over the summer, so it was kids who were going to be freshmen in high school to kids who were going to be freshmen in college, and the whole gambit.  And they were coming from all over the country.  And it was the sort of program where they got close really fast.  You know, teenagers living together with one single focus.

Choosing to be at poetry camp for the summer.  So they got together, they got close really fast.  But it was right when Blogger started happening, early 2000’s.  So I started setting up sites for them.  And then started, just kept going, basically realized I liked it.  And when we came back from Bishkek, I was teaching for a little while, and then wasn’t.  So I had a lot of time on my hands again.
And built an online literary journal with WordPress, and started doing that to publish poetry, primarily, and interviews with poets.
And spent so much time on that, because I wanted to, and really enjoyed.  So around 2007 started really working with WordPress more.  And from that site, started building literary journals for other people as a result.  And it went from there.
Okay.  Is this … I know you’ve done a lot of freelance, and I’ve seen your work and stuff.  Is this your first actual job-job, doing Web development?
Totally lied on your resume!  I’m just kidding.
I had longer contract positions while I was freelancing, but this is definitely the first time in an agency.
And we definitely favor WordPress, and that does seem to make sense as someone who has a literary background.  But is there … Was that your first sort of content management system that you worked with?  Was there something before that, like some horrible Joomla period or something, that we could talk about?
No.  I’ve actually, I’ve never touched Joomla. Knock on wood.
No, you won’t. I can promise you that!
I can’t remember if it was before or after that, but there was definitely a Squarespace site.  We were in Squarespace really young, when it first started out.  There’s less control, obviously, in getting it to do what you wanted it to do was a little difficult.
Yeah.  Okay.  What is it that you’re most interested in trying, besides WordPress?
Right now I’m a little obsessed with Node on the server and every one of, it seems like all of the 93,000 job script templating systems, the front end.  Primarily I’ve been looking at Angular and Backbone a lot lately, and playing with them.  I enjoy JavaScript, and these things just make it easier, it’s really fun.
I mean, JavaScript is like, for whatever flaws it has, it’s so ubiquitous.  That’s what makes it fun, I think, it’s as close to a universal language as there is, nowadays.
There’s probably refrigerators of JavaScript run times on them!  So as a developer of modern standards compliant, responsive retina-friendly Web sites, is there a favorite project we’ve done?  Or a favorite part of the process, or what’s the most interesting thing about that stuff?  A trick question there, huh?
I think the site that we made for Loyly in here last year was the first mobile-first site, and the first site, I think, that I wrote not using straight CSS.  I think less, probably is on there.  And it worked, it went pretty smoothly.  That one I like.  I just updated it today.  The design is lovely, and it works, which is always nice.  But that one was sort of a first for me in a lot of ways.  I think fondly of that site.
Yeah, I remember that was an early win.
That’s like, yeah, I think Mobile First we always strive for, I don’t know if it’s always possible, but yeah.  Using a pre-processor is something that’s really hard to go back from using, where you can write something that’s just so concise.  Yeah, I was working on our site for Frank Wine & Flower a little bit today, which you had built I think using SaaS, which is similar.  But it’s kind of also built on a foundation framework.  I mean, we build on lots of frameworks now.  And it was just so nice and clear, there was just this little CSS that was not more than a page that did all of this crazy fancy stuff, like fading in and fading out, and all this, that was nice.
The Foundation especially, just looking at the variables file in Foundation, is mind-boggling to me.  Like, what they’ve done with just variables is fantastic!
That’s a rather big file, is it?
It is.  It’s one of the bigger files in that framework.
The way they’re being passed around.  It’s just so much nicer!
So when you’re … I know we’ve talked about our favorite Web sites in general.  When you’re just, say, recreationally, casually or whatever, browsing the Web, is there something that you see and it just strikes you?  Is there a certain … How would you describe a really well-done Web site?
I like sites that sort of get out of their own way and present whatever it is that they’re presenting in a clear and helpful way, and the development of the site sort of works in tandem with that.
So whether it’s like little subtle animations that are highlighting something, and doing it well, working well.  But at the same time, when a site loads really fast and does something cool at the same time, I’m like, that’s a nice feature.
And then of course because I like responsive sites, I have to grab the side of the browser and start moving things around.
And smile when good things happen.
Mmm.  I find it so crazy sometimes that I have to … I mean, it’s part of pitching to clients.  We have to explain in pitch responsive.  I am amazed just myself, and this has nothing to do with me being a geek, it’s just I have a phone, and it happens to be an iPhone but it could be an Android.  But most people have these types of phones.  And I would expect that if someone sat down, a potential client or whatever, and counted up the time they spent browsing the web on their phone, especially if you consider that a lot of the quote-unquote “apps” that they use are Twitter, or Facebook, are really largely just Web sites.

I feel like people spend a lot more time than they think browsing, and taking advantage of responsive sites, and do get frustrated without realizing it, when they see something that isn’t responsive.  I mea, I’m excited when I see a Web site that looks good on my phone, because still in this day and age, it’s surprisingly rare to find one that just, you know.

I think the thing, like when it looks good on your phone, when you can tell the details, like they’ve paid attention to the really minute stuff, at the different sizes, that’s where I get excited.
Even if it’s just animation, or transitions between those sizes, or the way that they’ve positioned an element is kind of fun, but it’s only happening at that size.  I love seeing stuff like that.  That’s what gets me excited.
I think a lot of it is, if you’re into any industry or something that involves design, which most things do, really, if you’re really into nice cars, or into fashion, I think you notices things, like you, the viewer, much like you, Dan, notices the details of a site looking good on a phone, and having its own unique characteristics different from that same site on a big desktop, it’s a lot to me like a really well-designed garment.  Takes into account all sorts of nuance of anatomy and stuff like that, that you don’t necessarily think about.

And the way that, visually, you react to it at first glance, as well as how it wears over time.  People fetishize about all sorts of design things.  But I think it’s kind of the same across all industries.  There’s certain things you’ll notice if you’re really into that, or you’ll be like, “Oh, that is sublime,” “That car really should be worth $100,000,” or something, you know?

It’s all those little details and the big-picture thought process.  You end up with a car that looks like it was sculpted so finely, but really something had to engineer all that.  Someone put all that time … I’m just ranting.
I love that you’re talking about cars, knowing how much you love cars!  You’re covered in grease right now!
It’s like a good football game, yeah.  Yeah.  So, do you have any favorite Web sites to keep up on the Web?  This fast-changing industry?
I look at CSS-Tricks with regularity, Chris Coyier’s site.
He’s usually talking about something interesting.
Does he … Is that still … that’s like a blog that he maintains?
Doesn’t he have a job?  A full time job?
I think his full-time job now is CodePen.
And before that he used to work for Wufoo for a while.
That and, I’m drawing a blank here, but there are people who I always will read, like Lea Verou.  Harry Roberts, who is CSS Wizardry, who’s behind the Inuit framework, or Nicole Sullivan.  A lot of front end developers, I will read what they write because I’m usually learning from them.  They’re usually doing pretty cool stuff.  Then there’s some WordPress folk, like Pippin Williamson and Tom McFarlin.
You just follow them on Twitter?
Oh, I’m on Twitter, and I’ll read their blogs, I’ll go to their blogs and see what’s up.
Very cool.  I know you haven’t been in Portland that long, but do you have a favorite place to go, or a favorite restaurant right now?
I’m a little bit obsessed with Mi Mero Mole right now, for a while.  It’s at 50th and Division, southeast, Mexican, fantastic.  They specialize in something I can’t remember the name of, but it’s mostly stews.  And you can get them in various ways.
They’re up north?
Yeah, it’s right next door.  Or there’s a bike shop in between.  It’s in that same batch of shops.
Okay.  I go by there all the time.  It’s good, huh?
Oh, it’s really good.
I’ve been going to Chico, I think it’s called.
It’s good.
A little harder to take a three-year-old to Chico.
But Mi Mero Mole a little bit more casual.
Okay.  And there used to be this kind of divey breakfast joint, and it just sort of went off my radar.  And now, what do you know?  Apparently, it’s a great Mexican.
Oh, where that is, was … ?
It was some Blue Turtle, I don’t know what it was called, but it was one of those places where you’d order biscuits and gravy and it would come in this 64-oz. bowl, and it was like, oh boy!  But kid-friendly.  It’s probably the exact interior.
Does it have like a main room with a counter, and then a separate room?
Yeah, it’s the same.  Same floor plan.  Well, I’ll try that, yeah.
It’s delicious.
We took our four-year-old to Country Cat.  She was in heaven!  Finally!  She was just fetching to us, like, “You haven’t taken me here since Greta was born.”  Come on!  You know?  We’re taking you camping and stuff.  Go easy!
Wow!  Guilt trip from a four-year-old, that’s rough!
Mm-hmm.  So when you moved to Portland, you had a one-year-old then?
Yeah.  She turned one, and then two weeks later we left Rhode Island.  Much to my mother’s chagrin, as you might imagine.
I’m sure, yeah.
Yeah.  She was one when we moved here.
Why did you move to Portland?
We wanted to leave Rhode Island.  When we moved there, it was with the intent that we’d be there for about a year.  And that dragged out to five.  Or four.
And then my daughter was born, and we’re like, “All right, we need to get out of here.”  So we started sort of casting around looking for a place.
To land.  And my sister-in-law lives here, my wife’s only sister had been living here for a while, so we visited, always liked it.  It kept popping up to the top of the list, when we were making those lists, during that year, somewhere to go.
And it won.
Get to the top of the list enough times, you kind of have to … You can’t ignore it anymore.
Yeah.  It’s a good place for kids.
It really is.  It’s shocking.  You feel like there’s something to do with kids.
No matter what time of day it is.  Where you are, how rainy it is, you can almost always find something to do.
Yeah.  Are you going back to visit, going back East to visit anytime soon?
In two weeks I am.
Oh, yeah, really?
That’s exciting!
A  week from Friday!  Taking a red eye with our daughter for the first time, which hopefully, that works out.
But yeah, we’re going to be there for about a week.  Visit some family and friends, hopefully settle in on a beach for a bit.
Yeah, definitely.  It’ll still be warm, right?
Yeah.  Yeah, the water will just be warming up.  August is usually when it starts getting nice.
Oh, that’s good timing, then.
Cool.  All right, Dan, thanks for chatting with me!
We’ll be right back with Dan.