Giles Van Gruisen

(jy  • uhlz  van  gry • sin)

I lovingly handcraft websites and other delightful bits.


Sailing Stories [throwback]

Written January ’12

Having grown up around boats since the early days of my childhood, Iʼve had a lot of time to learn and enhance my ability to sail. That said, the skill has not been and will not be perfected, simply due to the very nature of the sailing, with few rules and many variables. As a sport, sailing becomes almost impossibly technical, requiring incredible coaching and experience to be the best. As a leisurely activity, however, sailing becomes something entirely different. My years of racing and coaching means that not all moments on the water have been good ones. The following are four short stories, learning experiences which have consequentially grown into my love for sailing. When I step aboard to begin a sail, I forget about everything else.

My early days of learning to sail consisted of not only many “Aha!” moments but also many “I think Iʼm about to die.” moments involving lots of water in the boat and capsizes galore. In 2003, I was sailing Optimists, small boats roughly eight feet in length with gaff-like rigs, in the intermediate class. Toward the end of a two-week session, we began learning to race against each other. The first race, I was in the lead across the start line, and sailing swiftly toward the first mark. As I looked behind, I saw my best friend in third place but gaining on me quickly. I rounded the mark, and he had already gained to places, rounding just behind me. I was bursting with anxiety to sail faster, but he overtook me and I was left speechless. I began shouting playfully and wishing for some sort of intervention. In the midst of his celebration, he forgot to pull up the daggerboard, slowing him slightly on the downwind leg. I didnʼt make the same mistake, and was able to pass him on the inside of the next buoy rounding. Needless to say he was filled with contempt by this point. Nearing the finish, I was bursting with joy. I crossed the line in first place and celebrated. My friend was right behind in second, enraged by his mistake and my win. I jibed, and before I knew it, I was smacked upside the head by the metal boom during my jibe. My instructor noticed and immediately told me to begin sailing toward the dock, which wasnʼt very close. The very same friend followed closely behind me to comfort and support me. Another coach boat came out to meet us and help me in. I felt fine, but this was part of the process. I met with Vinny, the Head Instructor and one of my favorite coaches. He took a look and my head was bleeding only slightly. We went over to the hose, gave my head a good washing, then I held ice on the wound until lunch. Thankfully, they decided it wasnʼt bad enough to require medical attention, but I was furious not being able to continue racing. After lunch, I went right back on the water, though we unfortunately decided to end the racing for that day. This taught me to suppress the cockiness when winning, or else karma will come right back and hit you where it hurts.

During the summer of 2005, I participated in “Monday Night Madness,” a youth dinghy racing series. I was sailing an Optimist and the first night of this series was no nice day. It was cold, dark, and cloudy, with winds blowing about 20 knots consistently, and gusting up to 30. As the first race of the night was starting, I was on port-tack headed on a crash course for the rest of the fleet. I was able to make a sudden tack in my favor and dodge the fleet. This put me on the opposite tack of everyone else, though we all were sailing for the same buoy. I wondered why none of the others decided to take my route, though my choice wasnʼt exactly an educated one. I didnʼt bother trying to get back to the popular course for it would surely put me in last place. That decision, however, would have saved me from the mess that was about to ensue. I was getting closer to the first buoy in one direction, but the current was forcing me sideways. Then things went quite literally awry. As I began the roll-tack to get back on course, my boat, “Fly,” decided to tip and gain water. I had to think quickly to stabilize the boat before I capsized, and fortunately I didnʼt go all the way over. My plight had left me about 100 yards from the buoy and my boat filled with water. I realized then that my bailer had fallen out during my close encounter with the chilly bay. I thought for sure I was doomed. Drifting ever closer to Goat Island, with little control of my boat, I was in panic and utterly afraid. Race Committee was tending to other boats in closer proximity to the course, while I was miserably standing in my boat, shouting at the top of my lungs. “Help! Iʼll give you a million dollars.” I said. Of course I had nowhere near that money, but by that point I was totally okay with making false promises in order to receive help. Then I was struck with a welcomed noise. I heard the beautiful sound of a Race Committee Whaler getting louder and louder. They helped tow me and others back, and the race was called off. Later I found out that my father had called the main office at Sail Newport, giving word of a sailboat veered off course. Little did he know, that sailor was his kid.

On a beautiful, serene summerʼs night, I decided to join my father in the Tuesday night J-22 racing series. A J-22 is a small, dinghy-like keelboat with a mainsail, jib, and spinnaker. This night, we were sailing with simply a mainsail and jib, so only two of us were required. We struggled to make it to the line before the first race due to the minimal wind, but managed to secure a great start and take the lead right off the bat. We were cruising upwind with a slight heel and perfect trim thanks to my fatherʼs stellar inner-helmsman. The first buoy came, and went, then the second, and before we knew it the finish was just a hundred yards away. We carried on steadily and took a first for the first race. We were to then wait a short period before the start of the next race. Just when the Race Committee began the second start sequence, 15 minutes after which we should start, a gloomy cloud came creeping closer and closer from the other side of the bridge. As the storm grew so close that we began to brace ourselves, we expected to hear long, sharp, horns to signal abandonment of the race. To our dismay, we heard nothing and were forced to stay in the sequence and wait it out. Just as the rain began pelting down on our faces, our race began. I wish I could say it was just as smooth sailing as the first race, but it was not. Sailing upwind, we were only putting ourselves closer to the stormʼs full force. My father was paying full attention to sailing the boat forwards, as neither of us could see more than a few yards in front of the boat. Not only was the rain worsening, falling faster and in greater amounts, but the wind was whipping, lines were flailing around my vision, but there was nothing I could do. I asked dad what I could do to help and he told me to just keep tending the jib. After I asked, I felt the wind subside only slightly, but it was enough for me to get excited. The rain also stopped crashing so hard and my spirits were lifted knowing that I had endured the worst of it already. I was frightened but always felt comfortable sailing with someone as competent as my father who could help me tough it out.

Sailing at school has been bitter-sweet. I enjoy the sailing but definitely not the conditions. There was a miserable day when we were scheduled to race against Prout at Rocky Hill On our way out from the dock, my skipperʼs poor jibe resulted in a messy capsize into freezing cold water. Though my drysuit keeps the water off of my skin, it canʼt keep my head or hands dry, and it certainly canʼt keep any of me warm. After a failed attempt to dry capsize, I plunged into the chilly river and swam around to the centerboard, or at least where it should. The centerboard had retracted itself back up into the boat, making the boat nearly impossible to right without the aid of our coach, Mr. Lee. I took off a glove and tried to help the board come back out but it was lodged and stuck. I kept trying as my skipper kept trying to lift the mast. By this point, I was absolutely frigid and thought that any colder water would surely be the death of me. Absolutely nothing was helping make the process of righting this boat any easier. The wind persisted and the current made it difficult to remain near the boat. All of my energy was being expended just trying to keep myself close to my skipper and my boat with none left to alleviate the situation. To make things worse, the coach boat had been at the edge of the bay for some time, helping others in similar positions. Eventually, after the boat had flipped to a near-turtle position, my skipper was able to push the centerboard from underwater, inside the boat, allowing me to quickly grab and pull out the rest of it. Then I could finally stand on the centerboard and succeed in turning the boat the right way around. I could barely move after being in the water for so long, and my body temperature had dropped dramatically. I was freezing and felt like I was going to die, but warmed up quickly nevertheless.

These were all miserable moments in my sailing career, but they have culminated into my love for sailing. I can enjoy a nice sail with the knowledge that it will likely be eons better than some times in the past. This does not mean I wonʼt have more moments like these, but I find comfort in experience. After messing up a number of times in any other field, one may likely give up, but thatʼs not right. I was born into a world of sailing, and Iʼll live with the passion until the day I die.

This article was published on September 25, 2013 under Uncategorized.

An appeal to the Rocky Hill School Board of Trustees

Rocky Hill’s Board of Trustees must embody the needs and wishes of its community’s students, families, and teachers. At the moment, it seems as they are doing everything but that. If they feel otherwise, they are obligated to help us understand why they made the seemingly rash decision that they did.

The following is a personal appeal for the Board of Trustees to renounce their decision to remove Dr. Jonathan Schoenwald from the position of Headmaster.

The majority of my attendance at Rocky Hill School was under headmaster Jim Young. Admittedly, I was not completely engaged with academics over my four years at Rocky Hill. Like many others, I faced hardships and challenges in a number of places and I was often disappointed with the ways in which my school’s administration ran the ship. I felt as though there was nothing I could do to change anything. I refused to accept the multiple times when administrators said things like, “that’s just the way things are.”

When Dr. Schoenwald was installed for my final year, I saw a new Rocky Hill. Jon has a passion for every student’s success that I have seen in few others. He knows what makes people click, and can spark a drive that helps students achieve their dreams. Since his installment, I’ve seen so much positive change at Rocky Hill. Students are not just another number in the system. It’s a community of passionate teachers and leaders that make education more particular than ever. Dr. Schoenwald has only reinforced that fact.

I’ve grown to love the school so much that I feel an obligation to speak out on its behalf.

Now, more than ever, Rocky Hill School needs a leader that is as in touch with each student’s needs and wishes as Jon is. Since graduating just this past June, I’ve seen Rocky Hill make fantastic changes that not only encourage independent study but also start the school down a path to a prosperous future. If nothing changes and Jon is required to leave in July, the entire community of students, families, teachers, administrators, leaders, and members of the Board of Trustees cannot deny the impact that Dr. Schoenwald and the positive change he made possible. Rocky Hill is an institution unlike many others, where students are inspired to forge their own path, where students are encouraged to take risks, and where fantastic teachers make it their top priority to ensure the success of their students on a very personal level. I’m so happy to see e-Learning grow at Rocky Hill, and I love returning regularly to help eager students in their independent study programs. For his commitment and service to the school, Dr. Schoenwald deserves our trust and support. I urge the Board of Trustees to reconsider, and I hope that, rather than continuing to substantiate a foolish decision, they will understand the imprudence of voting to get rid of the best thing to happen to Rocky Hill School in years.

Rocky Hill Board of Trustees, please listen to your community!

Sincerely,
Giles Van Gruisen

This article was published on February 11, 2013 under Education.

Design as a Triangle

There are infinite perspectives on design, this is just one of mine. If you disagree with me on anything, please let me know! I’d love to open this up for discussion.

I probably could have thought of a few more assets of design, but I’ve always liked the number three… and triangles. Three is a very sturdy number. One and two are also strong, useful numbers, but three is more complex. That said, it’s not to complicated like its elders four and five. You can actually think of design like this, with each number correlating to the volume of elements (I’m speaking mostly in regards to websites, but I suppose this is somewhat universal).

  1. One is a simple, grounded product that, while lacking features, will never confuse its user because it’s just drop-dead-minimal.
  2. Two is where things start to get spicier. It’s a clean product with some inessential features slapped on. No doubt it works, but these additional features can easily leave glaring holes, thirsty for refinement or, in many cases, removal. This results in an awkward experience and can leave the user frustrated without even knowing why.
  3. Three is the beautifully imperfect middle ground because—let’s face it—you’re never going to get it just right. Three is the product of brainstorming and refinement of three (yup.) things; how it works, what it looks like, and why.
  4. Four, as I see it, is the result of rethinking, over thinking, and trying too hard. As such, you won’t find it in a new product. Four comes from redesigning a product that has been forced to scale and meet the needs of its customers (read; investors). Four has so many unnecessary features to implement that a redesign will never really work. What it really needs is a rewind, and a removal of functionality, then followed by a design, not a redesign (a.k.a. start from absolute scratch).
  5. Five is exactly what I suspect you are expecting. I don’t even like talking about it because it makes me sick, but here goes: it’s cluttered, confusing, misleading, silly, dysfunctional, misguided, and aesthetically despicable. Its designers (if you can call them that) lack the ability to back up their product and design decisions, or their explanations are erroneous and fundamentally flawed.

Now, the triangle. Each of the following can be considered a side of the triangle (or an angle, whatever you want), all equally essential to the structure and sustainability of the triangle as a whole.

How it works

I’m not talking about a product’s internal components or how it functions behind the scenes. That is important, but one must consider its interface for the user before product development and/or engineering. You know, how someone actually interacts with the product.

“Engineers tend to be concerned with physical things in and of themselves. Architects are more directly concerned with the human interface with physical things.”
— Matthew Frederick, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School

The best interface is no interface. Humans aren’t great at dealing with concepts, so an interface should have only the necessary amount of abstraction between what the user sees and the data behind the scenes. Users need to be able to find their way around without being taught or getting frustrated. Frankly, the user shouldn’t even notice that there is an interface. It should feel natural and almost provide a sense of déjà vu without the creepiness. By that I mean the user feels as though he or she already knew how to use the product before they began. That’s no easy matter, however. It comes from research, trial and error, and thorough a/b testing. Side note: my favorite songs are the ones that seem familiar when I first listen to them.

How it looks

This may seem like the most obvious asset. It’s certainly one of the most important to the user. If the product works (forget efficiency), its user will be less likely to notice functionality gaps and usability mistakes than an ugly product. Don’t overload your designs with frivolous, unnecessary elements for the sake of improving aesthetic quality. I promise you, it won’t work. You need to design for the user. Hopefully you’re building the product for people like yourself, so you can think like a user, but that’s not enough. Anyone similar to you still is not you. Talk to people among your target audience. Find out what other products they use, and which ones they think are beautiful. Remember, too, that the most beautiful products are those with the emptiest designs. Fewer elements means less sensory input (or output) for the user, and will in turn make that product seem magical. Magic is good. On another note, the aesthetic quality also needs to match the problem being solved and its intended audience. This is a good transition into the final asset, the why.

Why

Every decision a designer makes should be well-informed, obvious, rational, and tentative. As designers, we’re always reaching breakthrough moments. You know, when you get so excited over an idea or a solution that you nearly jump out of your place and shout “why didn’t I think of this before?!” This is usually followed by one of a few things. You might immediately realize—as I often do—that you are one crazy bastard and that solution has glaring holes, or it’s a great idea that doesn’t fit the product. That’s OK. You mustn’t be afraid of throwing away a good idea. You may also tell yourself, OK this solution works, but it needs refinement before it’s implemented. Last of all, you might realize that, the more you think about it and explain it to others, it really is a fantastic solution. Don’t stop there, however. If you think you’ve got an incredible solution, beat it to death. Work it over until you’ve expended all of your mental energy. You’ll either find holes, or happily understand your solution in and out and every step of the process.

This article was published on January 13, 2013 under Design.

App.net as an open platform

You may have heard of a new project called App.net started by Dalton Caldwell. Many are passing it off as a Twitter clone but I see huge opportunities for a central, open network that caters to users and developers (mostly developers from my POV).

Besides additional traffic, the giants Google, Twitter, and Facebook earn nothing from the developers using their APIs, and thus are not entitled to change a platform per developer request, so that something new can be born. The existing “platforms” are limited in scope and accessibility of core user and social functions.

As a developer, I will now be able to easily build an distinct app/idea on top of a very robust platform. If I have a vision for an app that requires a new API/feature, I should be able to contact the administrators of App.net and make a request. The $50 exclusivity is an unfortunate truth but one which can certainly be accommodated.

I’ve got an eye on App.net.

Keep Coding,
Giles Van Gruisen

This article was published on August 23, 2012 under Start-ups.

Aspirations

I personally believe that aspirations are the best things to have in life. If I know where I want to go, who I want to be, what I want to do, etc. then I can figure out how to get there, how to become that person, and how to do those things (however crazy). If I have no idea, then I cannot go anywhere, be anything, or do anything.

I would forever be lost.

This article was published on August 21, 2012 under Stream of Consciousness.

Back in Orbit: My Re-Entry Into the Blogosphere

Hello everyone!

I’ve been separated from the blogosphere for long enough to know that my return is overdue. My time ‘out of orbit,’ as it were, has been spent primarily in two ways. The first has been shifting more attention to school work and making my way through the last years of my high school career. I’m currently in grade twelve with an expected graduation of early this June. The second preoccupation has been continuing my self-education of web design, development, and entrepreneurship. I plan on dedicating a post to sharing my autodidactic experiences in the arts.

Two weeks from now, the sixth of February, I’ll be turning eighteen. I’m taking advantage of my transition to adulthood by making a number of resolutions and plans for the year 2012. Among these is the restart and refresh of my blogging career, already brought into fruition by this newly set up WordPress.org blog on my personal website. (That’s where you are now!)

This blog will allow me to share and expound upon my thoughts, ideas, advice, and opinions with concern for neither regulations nor character counts. I also hope to share and analyze some of my favorite photography (when my Flickr is not suitable), by myself and by others.

I haven’t truly started yet, but it already feels wonderful to be back in the blogosphere and I hope my return is welcomed by prior readers!

Stay classy.
Giles Van Gruisen

This article was published on January 24, 2012 under Events.