Coding from scratch

It ain’t the prettiest site, but for my first effort, I’m proud of how well it works.

I’m proud to show off my full-fledged attempt at creating a website from scratch.

It’s my variation on my Multimedia Planning and Design assignment to create a “Welcome to the SEC” website based on some of the content from the Columbia Missourian’s terrific Road to the SEC special section, put together in advance of MU’s inaugural football season in the Southeastern Conference.

Check it out, the site is live.

It’s my first foray into building from a blank slate to a fully-functional website with inside pages, media and CSS styling. We were given content for two schools, LSU and Florida, and an introduction story, then told to create something that follows HTML/CSS and journalistic design rules.

The whole thing was a real challenge, from storyboarding to execution, and it was crucial that I pace myself and work within my own limits. This design was born of a compromise between my coding capabilities and my desire to do this great content justice.

My favorite part of the site is an old-school HTML technique, called an image map, that I used as navigation to the individual schools’ profiles from the splash page. Basically, the code identifies certain areas of an image file (this time a map of SEC schools I created) clickable. By identifying the X and Y coordinates of the LSU Tiger and UF Gator logos, I was able to create a circular area with a radius of 50 pixels that essentially makes each logo a button to link you to each profile.

A look at the code associated with my image map with the “Inspect Element” feature on Google Chrome.

It’s pretty simple, but it was a cool effect for a rookie like me.

On the inside pages I made sure to play up a large lead photo and let the story flow underneath the important fast facts info. Plus, the school’s logos appear again as navigation from profile page to profile page.

The project was a good start and I had fun working through the kinks and bouncing ideas off my classmates and friends. Despite the headaches, I’m starting to feel comfortable with HTML, stylesheets and thoughtful web design.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll ditch this WordPress CMS for my own from-scratch site.

Clay Shirky, open source and democracy

Every time Clay Shirky talks, I’m riveted. And this is an absolutely fascinating TEDTalk about why the way open source programmers operate will eventually change the way democracy works.

He says the open source method of building software and programs is creating communities using the new tools of the web and computer science. A technique, Shirky argues, that could be applied to government and law.

To cap off the presentation, he says:

A new form of arguing has been invented in our lifetimes. It’s large, it’s disriputed, its’ low cost. And it’s compatible with the ideals of democracy. The question for us now is, are we going to let the programers keep it to themselves? Or are we going to try to take it and press it into service for society at large?

I know it’s long, but it’s very much worth 20 minutes of your time.

Firsts and -ests

I’ve undoubtedly broken a record for -est’s in a week.

My first assignment was to visit the tallest public bridge observatory and then I went to the biggest whirlpool in the western hemisphere. All this just days after the longest road trip I’ve ever taken to the farthest I’ve ever lived from home.

But my first few days as an intern for The Ellsworth American have been great and the area is gorgeous. I’ll be spending almost all of my time producing content for The American’s special summer section, Out & About, which means I’ll be reporting, writing and photographing all of my assignments. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m excited to see what this summer brings.

Did I mention that I’m my own photographer now? I’ve had virtually no experience with photography, but here are a few of my shots from my first week:

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So far, the thing I’ve struggled with the most has been juggling everything at once, on the micro and the macro levels.

The micro: Working on more than one story at the same time is nothing new — thanks to Liz Brixey busting my chops — but being my own photographer and first editor while reporting is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. Even at the most basic level, I don’t know when to switch from reporter to photographer when I’m out on an assignment (though I’m quickly learning there shouldn’t be a switch, and that’s something I just have to become more comfortable with).

The macro: I’m lost in a big, new state spending every minute of every day learning about where I am now. I don’t know where the roads go or what towns they cut through. I don’t even know which way is north half the time, let alone the differences between a schooner and a dory (those are types of boats, Midwestern folks).

But in the end, that learning phase is the whole point I came out here. It’s not easy, but if it were, this wouldn’t be any fun.

Learning the balance is taking — and will continue to take — some getting used to, but it should get easier soon. On Sunday, my friend and former Missourian colleague Abby Eisenberg joins me here at The American after a spring semester stint in Ireland.

Then we’ve got a jam-packed few weeks to fill the July special section of Out & About. I hope to keep writing about it and posting the pictures I take right here on the blog and on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

Road Trip Photo Gallery

Now that my trip is over, I thought I might share the pictures I took along the way.

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I’m no photographer, but I wish I was. There were a lot of awesome photo opportunities along the way to Maine but I didn’t take advantage of them the way I should have (or the way a well-rounded, talented journalist would).

Even though I’ve only got my iPhone for a camera, maybe this summer I’ll make more of an effort to take good photos.

Who knows, maybe I’ll post some more when The American sends me out to someplace beautiful.

And I will drive 2,000 miles and then I will stop in Ellsworth, Maine

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American at**

There is no humidity, and it is glorious. One look at the weather from Missouri and I couldn’t be more excited to be 2,000 miles from the heat and humidity after my first night in Ellsworth following that crazy, exhausting four-day trip across half the country.

In all, we traveled approximately 2,000 miles with all of our stops and spent I’m-not-telling-because-it-makes-me-sad-how-much in gas. Of course, I owe a ton of the fun to my traveling partner and girlfriend, Beth, who helped me sneak into not one, but two elite universities (see “Another day, another town” and “To the class of ’87“) and gave me my first taste of Chicago.

The road trip was a great time and was as stressfully relaxing a vacation as I could have asked for, but now it’s on to the good stuff.

Tuesday I start work as an intern at The Ellsworth American and who knows what they’ll have me out doing by the end of the week. By Wednesday, I could be anywhere from the beautiful Acadia National Park to lost at sea in a tiny kayak — who knows, maybe I’ll just get to review all the lobster joints in town (note to Midwestern readers: up here, it’s colloquially referred to as “lawbstah”).

Even better, today’s not just Memorial Day, it’s my 21st birthday. So I’ll toast my first legal drink to the men and women who have put their lives on the line, whether it was 60 years ago in Korea or right now in the Middle East.

For now, the blog will slow down but I’ll continue to post about my stories from The American throughout the summer. As always, stick with me on Twitter for pictures and stories and notes from around town at @zach_murdock.

Oh, and the title — it’s an ode to the class How I Met Your Mother road trip episode. Check out the clip below:

To the class of ’87

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American at**

Looking back on it, Beth and I probably should have made a toast to the class of 1987 last night. We wouldn’t have had much to say, but it would have made a great blog post, after our late Saturday evening tour of Yale University’s campus turned in to more than we originally hoped.

Hanging around old campus was cool, but crashing the various class reunion’s was even better. And it wasn’t long before we happened along the class of ’87s celebration.

I showed up for Yale’s class of ’87 reunion wearing my nicest Kansas City Royals t-shirt and new Nike tennis shoes. No, I wasn’t quite the best dressed.

We didn’t cause any trouble (like making that toast), but who would have thought I’d ever be able to say I’d attended a Yale class reunion? Before I forget, we got some of Frank Pepe’s famous thin crust, Connecticut pizza.

But with our stop in New Haven under our belts, Beth and I are off to Manchester, N.H., where Beth will board a plan for home and I’ll continue on up the beautiful coast to my cozy spot in Ellsworth. After four days in a car together we could use a couple months apart (I’m kidding, I’m kidding, I swear. The trip wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much without my partner in crime and on-the-road entertainment).

Of course, I’ll finish blogging the trip when I hit Maine and get settled in and I hope to keep blogging regularly throughout the summer with more adventures served with a little journalism on the side. Plus you can always follow the trip and my summer on Twitter at @zach_murdock.

Another day, another town

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American at**

UPDATE: My buddy Zach Welch notes that, in fact, the Yankees game is in Oakland, Calif., and therefore shouldn’t cause many traffic issues in the Bronx (Oakland and the Bronx aren’t very close at all).

After day two, we’ve made it through two more states and need to make the big trip across Pennsylvania and through New York City today. Here are our driving stats from day two:

  • Two tanks of gas over more than 450 miles through three different states all afternoon and evening.

Plus, the trip gave us a chance to make a couple of cool stops, including South Bend, Ind., the home of the Fighting Irish. Of course, the University of Notre Dame is a private school, so it took a bit of accidental cheating to get around some security gates to make our personal little campus tour happen (no laws were broken in said visit, but we may or may not have violated a few campus parking rules).

During the few hours that Beth drove yesterday, I found myself plugged back into the world of the Missourian, catching up on press release emails and the most recent local issues. For two semesters I reported on higher education in Columbia, Mo., and I’ve found it hard to ween myself off of the constant news that’s come out of my regular beat.

Then by the time I’ve gone through it all, Beth’s already angry at me — she says I’m not nearly as entertaining a passenger as she is, and I’m an admittedly bad back seat driver. Eventually, we made it (almost) to the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania and camped out (in a Holiday Inn) before the big trip through New York City.

To what seems to be everyone-I’ve-talked-to’s horror, I’ve managed to time things just terribly so that Beth and I will be venturing through Bronx just as the Yankees are done beating up on the Oakland A’s. That means that we won’t just be dealing with Saturday night, Memorial Day weekend New York City traffic — we’ll get to add the flood of Yankees fans leaving the game to the mix too. Whoops.

If I make it through New York, I’ll be posting right here and you can follow the trip on my Twitter at @zach_murdock.

I mean, I don’t think we actually did anything wrong when we made it to campus. We just went the “creative” route.

One day down

Chicago was beautiful (I mean, just look at that skyline) and we had one helluva day.

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American at**

What a first day on the road! Beth and I made it to Chicago in one piece and learned a few things about each other along the way — like Beth’s refusal to discriminate, she has a lead foot on both the gas and the brake. Here are our driving stats from the first day:

  • 1.5 tanks of gas for more than 550 miles through two states over seven hours. Not too shabby.

But that’s just the beginning, because once we got to Chicago it was a whirlwind of Beth’s family and a wee bit of tourism on the side (t’was my first time in Chicago). Here’s the lightning round version of what we saw/did in eight hours in Chicago:

We … saw Beth’s mom, toured her house, visited Beth’s grandma, saw her great aunt, fawned over how sweet they are, rode the L train, met Beth’s sister, drank tea with her sister, laughed with her sister, rode the L again, (deeeeeep breath) saw Millennium Park, saw Crown Fountain, tried to see Cloud Gate (aka The Bean), were stopped short of The Bean because they were filming a fashion commercial, finally walked around The Bean, (deeeeeep breath) visited the Chicago Cultural Center, walked down Michigan Avenue, craned our necks at the Tribune Tower AND made it back to the L and then the car all in time to make it to dinner across town at a beautiful restaurant with Beth’s other sister and parents. Phew, long day.

Then after a much-needed night’s sleep, we snagged some home-cooked breakfast before getting out the door to head east. I couldn’t have asked for a better first day, so here’s to hoping we can top all that today.

As often as I can, I’ll be posting right here and you can follow the trip on my Twitter at @zach_murdock.

We’re going east, the long way

**A version of this post was published for The Ellsworth American**

By the time you’re reading this, I’m already gone. Maybe somewhere in the middle of Illinois, but hopefully not stuck trying to change a flat on a lonely stretch of Interstate 55.

This summer I’ve packed my bags and I’m shipping out of my apartment in Columbia, Mo., at the Missouri School of Journalism for a (prettier, less humid) northeast summer.

My journey’s a long one. It’s starts from my home in the middle of Missouri and takes me through 10 states over four days to a finish line in beautiful Hancock County, where I’ll be living and working in Ellsworth, Maine, as an intern for The Ellsworth American.

This whole summer is one great big opportunity. In Ellsworth I’ll get to experience life in the northeast (which means loads of lobster for this land-locked Kansas City native) and I’ll get to continue developing as a journalist by putting the reporting tools I’ve learned at the University of Missouri to work for the American.

Plus, what better excuse to take my girlfriend Beth — another reporter and MU journalism student — on a road trip across the country, through cities and countryside neither of us have ever even considered passing through (I’m looking at you, rural Pennsylvania).

Our first stop will be to see Beth’s family Thursday night in her hometown of Chicago. Then Friday morning we’ll hit I-80 and won’t look back until we’re all the way to Pennsylvania.

I’ll be blogging my way across the country, so follow along right here and on Twitter at @zach_murdock to learn more about me and read stories from our cross-country adventure.

Much to my father’s dismay, my own 1999 Honda Odyssey minivan (fully equipped with VHS player) wouldn’t have the stamina to make the long trip out to Ellsworth. So with a knot in his stomach, he handed me the keys to his new Hyundai Santa Fe for the summer.