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James Baker

Another Fine Homemade Parachute Page, Crafted With Love

James Baker

XHTML CSS design Drupal IA txt img PHP MySQL UX JS strategy SEO laffs…

and, you know, all the other things that make the web groovy. Like content.

the radio edit version

2011 +   Signals Design Group
Drupal. And cake! And WordPress. And then more Drupal. Fun and functional websites for Providence Health Care, Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Cancer, and BC Children’s Hospital among many, many others. Work included full site setup, design integration, custom modules and plugins, theming, QA and site deployment. Quite a bit of custom content integration with APIs both known and unknown, as it were. Many, many database queries. Also the occasional HTML email template, to kick it old school.
2005 — 2011   Tugboat Group
Many websites, many lines of HTML, CSS, PHP, and many, many pixels designed, rethought, moved, shifted, corrected, tested, and deployed. Not as much coffee consumed as you'd think.
2001 +   Homemade Parachute
Websites, interactives, teaching, making the transition from cd-roms and games to web and web applications.
1998 — 2001   Basis Applied Technology
The kidz game years. Pokémon, Little Bear, Madeline, a wrestling game, Mickey Mouse, and some other amusements for the younger set. Lots and lots of Lingo, graphics production, animations, sprites, tool development, and way too many nights sleeping on the desk. And maybe the first ever minus-two score in Half-Life....
1994 — 1998   Emily Carr College Institute University of Art + Design
Electronic Communication Design. Who knew? An exciting time, for sure, with the web just going public, and everyone scrambling to figure out this HTML thing, and hexadecimal, and what's this “Netscape” thing over here....
1988 — 1993  
I'm looking at you, Mr. Pynchon.... Well, not literally, obviously....

the side-long prog rock conceptual masterpiece version

What do you like to do, exactly?

I like to make websites work.

I like to make websites that make people feel smart, so I do everything I can to facilitate design and functionality that gets noticed but gets out of the visitor's way, and lets them do what they need to do. As Lead Developer, I have been responsible for developing functional requirements, implementing website configuration and CMS setup, writing custom modules and plugins, as well as full design integration through to server setup and site deployment (“Making it live,” as they say in the biz...). Also known as “full stack”. I often have to figure out custom APIs and integrations, and develop tools for content migrations across sites (from, say, Sitefinity to Drupal 8).

For the last ten years I've been focused on developing extensible websites in, and strong opinions on, Drupal and WordPress, and have successfully lead the deployment of small-, medium-, and large-ish scale websites ranging from brochure-site level to full e-commerce, multiple user role complex sites.

There’s nothing better than a happy client, of course, so post-launch, I try to save their bacon regularly with fast, responsive updates and support, so they know they’re well taken care of. It’s always nice to get feedback at 4:30 on a Friday like “You’re a life-saver!”

Coder, programmer, developer, or engineer?

I think I like “builder” the most, although “developer” will do as well. Site building is so much more than just writing code, it’s thinking about where things should go and how they should work, and can involve a lot of work without writing a single line of code*. Sometimes it’s just knowing which tool to use, or not use.

It’s actually quite possible, of course, to put together a pretty good looking (and working!) site with WordPress and SquareSpace (maybe admittedly less so Drupal) without writing code at all, just by configuring options. Working along side a WordPress developer once, we noticed that while he was writing writing writing a lot of code, I was configuring a lot of options, and placing elements visually within a Drupal UI to layout a page. Same end result, different process.

When did you start all this?

My first actual HTML was probably written — badly — in 1996 or so, and has gone through tables, CSS, hand-coding, custom CMS development, and then with open-source, portable tools like Drupal and WordPress.

What do you like most about Drupal?

Boring, but the batch API: it’s an incredibly powerful tool for content migration (which almost everyone forgets about in the planning stage) and clean up. There’s a sense of great satisfaction to seeing a progress bar tick across hundreds or thousands of operations, and build out a website at the end of it. Plus, there’s time for coffee!

And least?

Media/file handling… Although I do like the built-in private file system, and improvements to the media library in Drupal 8, uploading and managing files still seems like way more of a headache than it should be in 2020.

What do you like most about WordPress?

Gotta be the Media Library and asset integration. It doesn’t always scale so well, but because it handles everything you could throw at it, everyone kind of “gets it”, and it’s shocking to me that, as of 2020, Drupal is still barely competing in the media management space. High hopes for D9, though…

Gutenberg looks promising, too: there are lots of possibilities for richer content management here, although finding the balance that works for individual clients and projects will still be the challenge, between (advanced) custom fields, regular blog-style text areas, Gutenberg, and custom post types.

And, to be fair, least?

Shortcodes. No way those can go wrong, no sir… Fortunately that era seems to be over, and any relying on a human being to layout content is mitigated by a better UI.

Also, though, custom post types could really stand a re-think, and better organization/integration with the rest of the site…

Got a favourite typeface?

Georgia. It’s everywhere, sure, but it’s really nice on screen at 12px, obviously loads fast, and has a surprising amount of character.

What was your first text editor?

SimpleText and/or Notepad on Windows; BBEdit has been the go-to since, man, maybe 2000? 2002?

Favourite Rush album?

Permanent Waves, let’s not even joke about this.

Tabs or spaces?

I was a tabs guy for years, but I think I’m coming around… Maybe .editorconfig will finally end this great schism.

What is often overlooked in web development?

The editing experience. Any website that’s hard to use, won’t be, simple as that. I’ve been fortunate to work with some very, very smart clients, who can do a lot of things, but not always manage a website. So a huge part of my satisfaction comes from developing a system, from form fields and element types to labels and relationships that makes sense to them, so when we hand it over, they can really run with it.

I do like, as much as possible, to develop a back-end which offers only the tools someone will need for the task at hand (ok, second favourite item for Drupal: the permissions grid!), so, and this is important, they can proceed knowing that they can’t damage or break anything, because they don’t have access to it. Considering the content manager as a primary user isn’t my idea, but it’s a pretty good one, because likely they will be spending the most time with a website, so their experience must be considered as much as anyone else’s.

Anything else?

Content migration is somehow often forgotten about. If it’s a new website, where is it coming from, and how will it get into the site? If it’s a replacement for an existing site, how does it get moved, parsed, understood, tagged, and re-linked in the new framework? Hence the beauty of the Drupal batch API: something deeply

What does the web need more of?

Cowboy typography.

Did you remember to spellcheck this?

Lord, I hopp so…

I once billed an hour and half to a project for deleting a line of code. It took a while to know which was the right line, of course… ↩︎