It’s been a little while since I did one of these, but some big things happened in 2019 in my tiny little world, so here we go.
Starting with the biggest thing first, I started a new job this year. I’m on the frontend dev team at MRI Technologies working on projects for NASA. So far it’s been great. One interesting challenge is that I went from being the resident expert at my previous job to being a n00b. I don’t shy away from learning new things, though, so the challenge has been fun despite being difficult at times.
In 2019, Mississippi saw its first web development conference, MagnoliaJS. I gave my first ever conference talk based on my guest post for CSS-Tricks, Empower Through Web Development. I enjoyed giving the talk as well as seeing the other talks. Despite a tornado warning right in the middle of the conference, I think everyone had a great time. A lot of cool, talented people gave some fun and insightful talks. I definitely plan to attend again and I’m interested in giving another talk if it’s in the cards.
Hack Ability Camp
My sister-in-law, Anna Wan, had this great idea for a STEM camp for students with disabilities called Hack Ability. It was held at her maker space on the campus of Southern Miss. My brother and I had the opportunity to give a “Create your own webpage” workshop and it was a lot of fun. It really took me back to my early days of learning HTML and CSS. We centered our material around the idea of the magic of the refresh button. How you can make small changes in code and then flip over to your browser, hit Refresh and see your changes applied right before your eyes. It worked out better than we could have imagined. I absolutely loved seeing the kids’ eyes light up when we showed them how to change background and text colors, add images, and publish their site to the internet.
There are already big plans in the works for Hack Ability Camp in 2020. I’m really looking forward to it.
A Fine Start, version 2
I originally made A Fine Start as an accessibility tool for myself. I have difficulty typing due to my disability, so I wanted an efficient, mouse-based, yet typographically nice new tab page that would present me with my frequently-visited web destinations (so I could avoid typing searches and URLs). It was called Start and it was a single file that you could replace your new tab page with that would save bookmarks in your browser’s
In 2017, I added the ability to sync bookmarks through an account and rebranded it into a freemium SaaS. It’s been chugging along ever since. It doesn’t make a ton of money (enough to cover its server costs, with a little to spare) but it continues to be an indispensable tool for myself and I hope to my handful of customers and free users as well. It did receive a great shout out in 2018 from Chris Coyier.
I started work a year ago on rewriting the frontend code so that I could use the same code base to power the web version, the Chrome extension, and a new Firefox add-on. Unfortunately, with everything going on (and general laziness) I didn’t get around to finishing it until December! But I’m happy to say that version 2 is out as well as the new Firefox add-on. Everything basically works the same way. The big new user-facing feature is dark mode. I also gave the marketing site a little bit of a redesign.
Toward the end of 2018 I came across an interesting piece of software called Talon. Talon is for “hands-free input” and has become increasingly useful to me. So much so that I’ve covered it twice on this website—once regarding writing and coding by voice and once regarding playing Minecraft by voice.
In fact, the article you’re reading now was dictated using Talon. I haven’t switched to using voice exclusively as I still find the macOS Accessibility Keyboard useful. It really all depends on where and how I’m positioned as to which method of input I find more comfortable. But I really love Talon, I am passionate about getting people to try it, and I really hope to cover it better in a conference talk sometime.
The new blakewatson.com
Last, and probably also least, I redesigned this site back in the summer and transitioned it from a static site to a WordPress-powered one. I noted how this seemed to be against the trend of JAMstack sites. Chris Coyier made a good point, though, that static site generators can use WordPress as a data source, so they aren’t necessarily at odds.
The design was inspired by the synthwave music genre and aesthetic. As a little treat, I added an option for switching between light and dark themes.
Happy New Year
Things are looking up for 2020 from my view. I hope they are from yours, too.