Author Archives: kbs

Bewildering Barcelona

The day after Christmas, I went to Barcelona on a whim. More or less. (Wait, Some background.) As an architecture student in the late sixties, when I discovered Antoni Gaudi, I was in awe. He was unbelievable. What a genius. In the sixties, the “Less is more” International Style was dominant and de rigor at my school–the University of Minnesota. As I recall, I found Gaudi outside the classroom. This made him more personal, more astonishing and maybe a bit forbidden. In August of 1967, I was in Spain as a midshipman. We were docked in Valencia and with the weekend free, I was looking forward to going to Barcelona and Gaudi. But the trains were completely full that day, so I went to Madrid instead and that lost opportunity lingered.

There are other reasons for choosing Barcelona on the last week of the year, but let’s move forward: Barcelona was marvelous. Though I did some homework, I was unprepared for my eight days in BCN. Have you been there? My friends who had been there were unanimously positive. In many ways I was lucky. A friend of a friend of a friend (I’ll explain later) offered to show me around. But, my luck aside, the city’s uniqueness and charm is exceptional, far more stimulating than I had imagined. When I came back, I found New York dirty, aggressive and mundane. That too was unexpected. (Could it be something about the Mediterranean?)

I didn’t have an agenda in Barcelona, other than to see Gaudi’s church — the Sagrada Familia — and some of his residential projects.

Hanoch-PivenWhere to stay? What to prepare for? (Everybody kept talking about pickpockets.) I knew one person in Barcelona, the masterful illustrator/artist, Hanoch Piven. He was going to be out of town, but he did point me to a hotel in the Old Town or Ciutat Vella, aka Gothic. (Names might get confusing here as somethings are referred to in English, Spanish or Catalan. I would explain, but let’s not make this longer than necessary.) Gothic is about one mile by one and a quarter mile, the size of the Financial District in Manhattan below Chambers Street. (see maps above) It was built by the Romans and defined by a protective wall that expanded into the middle ages. The Gothic area is ad hoc, organic town planning. I don’t know why that has always appealed to me. Maybe because it has its own intrinsic logic or because in my Midwest, it is unimaginable. The streets and squares just seem to happen. Most streets are quite narrow. This area still contains the city government but it is also a busy tourist destination. The best way to describe things is by comparison but Barcelona is different from anything I had experienced, notably Rome or Paris. Maybe that is why I was so impressed. I am still trying to understand what I experienced. I am no expert on Barcelona, nor intend to be, so I am doing some research now in an attempt to be somewhat accurate in this post and add to my limited knowledge.

kbs1563drawing900*Here is a page that talks about the walls of Barcelona. Fascinating. I realize one reason why I like the ad hoc streets so much, they exude history. Also, unlike the grid, your experience is always unfolding as you walk. And you do have to walk. I think all but a few streets are closed to cars in Gothic. I never took a taxi. BTW, the Metro (subway) was excellent.

While the Gothic was impressive, it was the Modernisme architecture that was most arresting. There must be an equivalent to Stendhal Syndrome for BCN. Yes, I went to see Gaudi, and he did not disappoint, but it was only a small part of what I saw and cherished. There are a limited number of Modernisme buildings in the Gothic. With the industrial revolution, Barcelona became wealthy in the late 19th century and the walls were torn down. The city expanded. I read that the name for one prominent Modernisme district – Eixample, means expansion. This is where I found three of Gaudi projects below.

“Modernisme is equivalent to a number of other fin de siècle art movements going by the names of Art Nouveau in France and Belgium, Jugendstil in Germany, Sezession in Austria-Hungary, Liberty style in Italy and Modern or Glasgow Style in Scotland, and roughly began in 1888 (the First Barcelona World Fair)” -taken from

Is that too much background for looking at some photos? It may be foolish to write this blog post in an attempt to understand and share my experience in Barcelona. The more I write, the more questions I have. So be it. Bear with me, dear reader.

Mother and Sliders

081704-10am1200 The page Mother is a gallery of images of, well, you know who–Emily. When talking with my friend Roslyn last week, she mentioned that she was taking a new drawing class and asked me some questions about line drawing. I told her I had once done some drawings with pencils of  multi-colored lead. Also some with bright or florescent ink pens. I sent her a few lo-res files I had but was very unhappy with the scans. The color just did not pop as I thought it should. I took another look at the Photoshop files and  felt I could improve on them. I think I did.

I like these drawings. And it was a good chance to connect with mom. It will be ten years since she passed in June of 2005. That seems like a long time. But then… that is another blog post. I see the last drawings were done in January. I can feel her decline. Just looking at the images brings her and those moments back. They were all done in the Bethesda Homes for assisted living in Aberdeen. Drawing, water color and photography were a great way to pass the time with her in those last years. My sister and I alternated going to visit. I was driving to see mom on the morning of September 11, 2001.

This also gave me the opportunity to test sliders –the coding which makes fancy web slideshows– not New England sandwiches. First is Word Press Slider Plugin which I discovered while making some graphics for A Way to Garden. There are many slider plugins. Finding the best one will be an on going search. This one has many features my previous plugin did not. Coding the page to be responsive has been successful so far and given me a good test for managing retina images. I will post updates here as I explore other changes.

UPDATE: 01.29.15 Checking with WPMU, I found Meta Slider has great ratings. I will take it for a test.

Return to Geddes, SD

me mom cornBennett-sisters600My mother grew up with four sisters and a brother on a farm near Geddes, South Dakota. We spent many holidays and vacations on that farm with Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt Lois, Uncle Mel and cousin Wally. Aunt Mary and Uncle Albert lived nine miles north in Geddes. Their daughter, cousin Betty and her husband, Babe, are there now. I had not been back since my mother’s funeral in 2005. I should say, I had not been back physically because my memories take me back quite often. America in the 1950’s was a very special time. Childhood makes everything rosier. My rosy memories were not milking cows, collecting eggs, riding horses to count cattle, opening gates or pitching hay. I was not cut out to be a farmer. My cousin Wally was. He and his son Jay, still run the family farm, aka “The Farm.”

ruby-wally600thefarm-bybessie600What is special about The Farm, aside from the people, is the place. It is very productive farm land that becomes more rolling as you near the Missouri River. The farm is about five miles from the river, where we fished, swam, boated and where I learned to water ski. In South Dakota you really experience nature (yes, hunting) and the seasons. When growing up there, that all seemed inevitable, but now that I have lived in a New York City apartment for thirty years, I know it is not.

My mother’s generation is all gone. I am the youngest of my cousins. In the spring, Ruby–the wife of my cousin Wally–was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was a shock. She was in her 70’s, but this was much too soon. Ruby was so vibrant. She made this world a better place.

It was time to return. I wanted to see everyone again and see how the place that loomed so large in my memories had changed or remained as I remembered.

When I was in college, I had learned that the time to visit was over Memorial Day weekend. Geddes, like most small towns, continues to come together on this holiday and honor those who have served in the U. S. military. It is a tradition that just doesn’t exist in larger towns. I have done this about four times. Families gather. The women provide food at the school or community center. People return, like myself, from all over America. It is very Norman Rockwell. Lots of memories. Or as we say in SoDak, a great time to “swap lies.”

Unexpectedly, the best part of this trip was meeting the next generation–my cousins’ children, grandchildren and their families. I have the skeptical eye of one from Gotham, but I feel a real connection to this place and these people. It might be that everyone has those feelings about their childhood home and roots, but that is grist for another blog post.

I didn’t do any drawing. I took photos and video. I have been using my iPod Touch for making photos and video. It is a style I want to develop. Fast and impromptu. I wouldn’t say this has been all that successful. The time was so short– four days. And connecting with my family was more important. But I do want to share and express it. But how?

This page using  Flickr Albums is my first solution. This is because you can embed both photo and video in the Flickr albums. But I don’t think this solution will stick. Check back. I will post notice here of my other attempts.


Web Sites on All Devices with Responsive Design

before and afterSmart phones and tablets now account for an increasing percentage of all internet traffic. Oh, you knew that. Do we agree that your site should be optimized for all devices? In this post, I will discuss one design response to this web access evolution.

You probably have a smartphone. You may have a tablet. I bought an iPod Touch three years ago and an iPad in November 2010. When clients and friends question my fascination, I ask, “Do you know anybody who says they regret getting one?” I have written about my adoration here. Top of the list: I prefer to read from my iPad than from my desktop or laptop. (Writing is the reverse.) I expect that we have all adapted to surfing the internet on mobile devices. My client’s websites are all accessible (no Flash here), they are just reduced in size. There could be designs for each device but that would increase the design costs. For the past three years, I don’t think one client has asked about this. When I bring it up, adding a mobile design has been nixed for budgetary reasons.
Now there is a solution and that solution is referred to in the web development community as Responsive Web Design (RWD). Much has been written about it lately. An excellent overview, The Ultimate Responsive Web Design Roundup from Wed Designer Depot, should get you started. I will update this post with pro and con links as I find them.

While there seems to be a huge upside, experience has taught us that there are rarely any Silver Bullets. Will it really be low cost once integrated into my design approach? Does it dictate design or branding solutions? The only way for me to judge this is to dig in. I am starting my first two sites with this approach. I will add updates here as we progress.

Pro RWD Links: Experimenting With Responsive Web Design, Less RWD Framework, WebDesignShock Explains RWD, Responsive Print Styles, Responsive Images
Responsive Ads

Responsive Web Redefined

Responsive Web Graphics with SVG

Con RWD Links: Responsive Web Design is Boring

Note: I have not redesigned my own site because I have not had the time. I know I should (bad) and I have started a redesign but clients have keep me that busy (good).

Backup Your Website on Bluehost

Database diagramI have my prejudices. I like to use WordPress to build websites and I like to host those sites on Bluehost. WordPress uses a database to store most of the website information. I use a plugin to backup that database information once a week. This is a safety measure and it is important to backup the database whenever you upgrade WordPress. If something were to go wrong, like a digital hiccup, the database backup would be there to rebuild your pages and posts.

Now I should point out that in four years of building more than one hundred sites, this has never happened to me. (Thank you Deity of Your Choice! Mine is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.) But what if the hosting server were to malfunction in some horrible way? This has come up in discussions we have had at the New York WordPress MeetUp Group I belong to. Buried in the fine print (which I rarely read) of almost all the hosting plans for small sites, it says that they are not responsible. They, being most web hosts. Again, this has never happened to me, but when someone tells you about how it happened to them, it is very scary as you think of all the hours it would take to rebuild a site. It would be a nightmare on those sites where I have the design on my computer, the client has the photos on his/her computer and we have to use the database to retrieve the blog and page text.

Blue Host Site BackupFear not! This Spring Bluehost remedied that by offering a site backup service called Site Backup Pro. It sounded very promising so I first searched to see what opinions others had with Site Backup and found this excellent article by Don Campbell: Backup and Restore Your Website with Bluehost. It even includes a video tutorial by Don.

I was convinced. I signed up and am recommending it to all my clients. Hopefully we will never need to use it, but $13/year is a bargain for this insurance.

The NY Times Puts Up a Pay Fence

fenceYesterday The New York Times Business Section published an excellent article about the ever expanding internet: In a New Web World, No Application Is an Island. It may seem very geeky, but it is a  good overview and one that I recommend. Desktops, laptops, smart-phones and tablets are all evolving. Do you disagree that we are becoming digitally dependent? (insert video of 4 year old granddaughter working the iPad here)

Today, March 28th, The New York Times will start charging for on-line access. In The Newsonomics of The New York Times’ Pay Fence, Harvard’s Nieman Foundation outlines and evaluates this pay system. I have subscribed to the print version for some thirty years, so it will not affect my access as the print subscription includes it all…for now. Every morning I go to my apartment door thinking what a privilege it is to find the Times on my doorstep. Now with the iPad, sometimes I take an early peek if I wake up before the usual 6 AM arrival. Unfortunately, the New York Times iPad app is a frustrating mystery to me (see post.) I hope a major app update is coming with the new pay model.

It seems there are many ways to access the Times. is the most obvious. But there is also the NY Times Reader. And in the biz article published yesterday, I learned about the NY Times HTML5 reader called Skimmer.  Take a look. The Skimmer really has my interest. There is a lot to be sorted out in the new publishing world. Think frontier, where Steve Jobs is the cattle baron and we are the locals.