Sustainable Alachua County Web Hub: Improvements Coming Soon

Update (July 2011): I worked on the SAC website as part of an internship in 2009. I have since moved on from the project and the site is no longer live.

I began building the Sustainable Alachua County website back in February 2009. The BETA web hub is now up and I have been excited to see it grow into a small but thriving community of 63 members and 27 groups.

Unfortunately, I have been kept very busy by 18 credits, two student organizations (Gators for a Sustainable Campus and enVeg), my iPhone website, and preparation for my upcoming graduation on December 19 (also my birthday!). I plan to spend more time on it this spring.

The opportunity began as an internship for Les Thiele’s Sustainability in Action course at the University of Florida, and nearly a year later I remain interested in and committed to this project. I think this web hub has a lot of potential and I am grateful for the opportunity and the helpful and encouraging people who make up SAC’s board.

I am thankful that people have been using the site. It says a lot about the energy and commitment of the people in this town. Gainesville is a model for sustainability in the state of Florida, and I believe its influence will become increasingly important as northern Florida continues to develop.

White House Youth Clean Energy Economy Forum

Check out this story by Campus Progress Advocacy Associate Tommaso Boggia, who on Dec 2 attended the White House’s Youth Clean Energy Economy Forum, a landmark conference with the president’s administration on what they are doing to address climate change.

Tommaso quoted me in the story:

“A Clean Energy Economy Forum hosted by the White House would have been unthinkable four years ago, so it was remarkable to watch the administration itself address youth on climate change yesterday. Young people have historically been absent from the political process, so I am honored to be alive during such an important time. It was amazing to watch Washington higher-ups yielding not to our wishes, but to our ‘demands.’ I am currently working in Florida with students and youth leaders to pass a renewable energy investment fund at the University of Florida. We are excited to build off the momentum created by this historic forum, and we are thrilled to be part of the movement for sustainability on our campuses, in our communities, and in the world.”

Chris Cano, Outreach Coordinator for Gators for a Sustainable Campus at the University of Florida, hosted a live screening of the forum from his campus.

Read the full post: The White House Opens up to the Growing Youth Climate Movement

The Engine is the Internet: How New Media is Driving the New Democracy

This is a rough draft of a speech I am writing for Ron Carpenter’s Speechwriting course at the University of Florida. The assignment: Write a speech in praise of an institution or ideal.

Ancient papyrus, modern newsprint, radio and television broadcasts. By way of these media have we consumed information in the past. No more.

ABC, CBS, NBC dictated our reality yesterday, but Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube define the times today. In remarkable ways does this highway of new media networks enable The People to communicate. We are the drivers of a new Democracy, and the World Wide Web is our vehicle.

With swift speed do the stories we highly regard travel from person to community to globe. The engine is the Internet.

At the click of a button do we draw attention to stories and create urgency over issues we demand are important. The engine is the Internet.

Some say our generation is hooked on silly gadgets. I say we are empowered by these tools. We are not slaves to our computers. We are the active, conscientious drivers of today’s digital democracy, and the engine is the Internet.

The media of yesterday was hand-fed to us by extraordinary media titans, but the knowledge of today is disseminated through a web of individual citizens like you and me.

Consider the recent “It’s Game Time, Obama!” Internet campaign. On Twitter, Facebook and YouTube the People rallied around one goal: to convince Obama to go to the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Summit. Barraged was Barack with phone calls from thousands of youth leaders who made three demands: 1) meet with us to talk climate change; 2) follow up with a clean energy curriculum; 3) go to Copenhagen.

After months of silence, the president spoke November 25 of his intention to attend the Copenhagen conference. Today, the White House hosted the first ever Youth Clean Energy Economy Forum with young leaders, and “webcasts” of the historic event were streamed via and the “White House Live” Facebook application. Viewers on Facebook chimed in on chat, while other citizens posted updates on Twitter, YouTube and in blogs.

Strong was the campaign. Mighty is the will of the people. Indispensable is the device that enabled this demonstration of democracy, the Internet.

You can be a part of the digital democracy by sharing this blog post.

Sustainable Alachua County: A Web Work in Progress

Update: I worked on the SAC website as part of an internship in 2009. I have since moved on from the project and the site is no longer live.

It’s been a while since I last wrote about my internship with Sustainable Alachua County (SAC). Back in March of 2009, I started to build a social network for SAC using BuddyPress, a powerful suite of plugins for the WordPress MU platform.

But I put the BuddyPress project on hold when my colleague John Casey and I got ambitious and aspired to build a mega-site for SAC using Drupal, another open source content management system. After some time of tedious tweaking, we decided to revert back to the WordPress-based system.

I’ve now got a rough draft of the new Sustainable Alachua County website that I built using BuddyPress, and I recorded a screencast preview of how it works for the SAC board members. I’m still waiting on the SAC board members to get some feedback on the site, but I’m hoping we’ll stick with the general idea that John and I have proposed.

Update: Watch a video tour of the SAC social network below:

If My Grandmother Can Blog, Anyone Can Blog!

I’ve been helping my grandmother manage a blog she uses to document her past and present travels. In the last couple of months, she’s written 35 well-researched articles (in Spanish), complete with scenic photos of her trips. Her dedication to blogging is inspiring, and I’m sure she will see success given some time.

When you first start a website/blog, there’s always that initial hump you have to get over. You write and write and write, and no one reads. It’s really hard to maintain the motivation to continue writing. But if you keep it up, you’ll be surprised how many people will find your content in Google and visit your site. Persistence pays.

We first set up my grandmother’s blog with a free, hosted account, and it took 5 minutes. Publishing a blog entry with WordPress is as simple as clicking “Add New,” entering a Subject and Body and hitting “Publish.” Anyone can do it.

My grandmother has had a steady trickle of visitors since she started her blog, but 30 blog entries later she decided she wanted to try out Google AdSense to serve advertisements on her site. So we got her some hosting space at HostGator — I’ve been using them for years, and recommend them to anyone for their quality hosting and excellent support — and I helped her set up a self-hosted WordPress installation so that she can display advertisements. ( doesn’t let its users serve ads since the service is free.)

I’m going to do my best to help her attract visitors to her site not only because I know how happy it would make her, but also to prove the point that if my grandmother can blog, anyone can blog! And everyone should.

So I’m writing now to encourage you to a) go check out my grandmother’s blog (and the up-and-coming English version, too) and b) go start a blog of your own because you’ll find it empowering and extremely rewarding.

Why Only 9 Fonts Are Considered “Web Safe”

Did you know only 9 fonts are considered “web safe,” since they are the only ones installed by default on both Windows and Mac computers?

The good news is you now have a reason to quit arguing with your design team about what obscure fonts to use on your website. The bad news is that, in most cases, you are limited to these 9 fonts:

  1. Arial
  2. Arial Black
  3. Comic Sans MS
  4. Courier New
  5. Georgia
  6. Impact
  7. Times New Roman
  8. Trebuchet MS
  9. Verdana

That basically leaves you with 8 accessible fonts, since you should never use Comic Sans.

Why be “web safe”?

If you desperately want to use a font that is not widely available across operating systems, there are workarounds, which I don’t generally recommend:

  • You can create an image in Photoshop using your font of choice, and then place the image in your design.
  • You can use sIFR to replace text using Flash.

Embedding text in images

Although using an image would ensure your text is seen by most people, this method has a major shortcoming: it makes the text invisible to Google. Considering search engines are the online starting point for most people, you don’t want to make it difficult for Google and the others to “understand” the ins and outs of your site.

If you choose to embed text in an image anyway, make sure to add an

alt="your image description"

inside the IMG tags. This will help search engines index the site and it will help make your site accessible to screen readers used by the visually impaired.


Although the sIFR technology is a well executed idea, and renders text that can be indexed by search engines, it can present some problems for your site. What sIFR does is use JavaScript to convert what you write into a Flash element that then displays the text in your chosen font. The problem is this requires tedious JavaScript code and can bog down the loading time of your site, since sIFR has to request JavaScript, Flash and CSS files in order to render on the page.

So unless you’ve got a good reason, your best bet is to stick to the fonts I listed above.

Basic typography tips for the web

Serif versus Sans-Serif

As a general rule, I use sans-serif fonts for headlines and serif fonts for body text.

If you want a standard sans-serif font that is web safe, your choices are Arial, Trebuchet and Verdana. For serifs, your options are Courier New, Georgia and Times New Roman. Use Arial Black and Impact sparingly, and Comic Sans never.

You can still implement a non-web-safe font into your design, but it will be visible only to those readers who have the font installed on their computers. The best practice is to list fonts in your CSS stylesheet in order of priority via the font-family attribute, and your visitor’s browser will display the first available font.

e.g. font-family:Futura, Verdana, Arial;

You can adjust the font’s tracking (the spacing between letters) using the CSS letter-spacing property in the stylesheet if you want to give a particular heading a more airy or condensed feel. You can also adjust the whitespace between words using the word-spacing property.

What else?

You could talk for hours about the anatomy of a letterform, but these are the very basics. Typography is a topic that spans hundreds of books. Jason Beaird warns in his book The Principles of Beautiful Web Design that typography can be addictive:

After studying typography for some time, you’ll never look at a billboard, brochure, or book the same way again. You might start snapping pictures of ride signage at theme parks, rather than your kids. Pondering whether the entrees in a restaurant menu are set in Cantoria or Meyer 2 may become more interesting than choosing between the entrees themselves.

When it pertains to the web, though, your choices are limited. Designer Andrei Michael Herasimchuk had a suggestion in 2006 for expanding the arsenal of web safe fonts. Herasimchuk wrote an open letter to John Warnock, Adobe cofounder, asking him to encourage Adobe to release some of its core fonts into the public domain, so Microsoft and Apple would install them in their systems:

Please consider releasing eight to twelve core fonts into the public domain. The amount of revenue lost from a small core set of fonts surely can’t have a significant impact on Adobe’s bottom line. And the gesture of releasing such a set into the public domain would have many positive ripple effects for years to come.

Adobe has not yet released any fonts into the public domain, so for now: In the interests of usability, accessibility and search engine visibility, you’d do well most of the time to stick to only those fonts that are web safe — minus, like I said, Comic Sans.

Miami: Biking to a Public Place Worth Caring About

Riding a bike in Miami is an act of humility.

  • It is to ride on sidewalks poorly-paved, swerving constantly to avoid bus benches placed right on the pavement and dead palm tree branches strewn across your path.
  • It is to tolerate motorists, many in SUVs, who are in a rush and have no experience dealing with bicycle commuters in this city where there are few.
  • It is to sweat (literally) a 35-minute bike ride — risking your limbs and maybe more — just to get to the library, this massive, uninviting concrete building with so much land but little more than a parking lot and playground outside.

I’ve arrived at the West Dade Regional Library, one of the few places in Miami where you can spend time productively and rewardingly without spending money.

Thankfully, there are people in this library and it’s got an admirable collection of books, but this place has the potential to be so much more. A public library, on the inside and on the outside, should be a safe, pleasant community environment where people and families interact, learn and enjoy themselves.

The strange, rusted metal sculpture on the front lawn is a praiseworthy attempt at art, but it’s not enough if we want to make this library a public space worth caring about.

Outside, we could grow community gardens, where families could come together and do rewarding work that benefits the community. We could plant fruit trees, edible plants and flowers. We could employ senior citizens to teach classes to children about gardening and nature.

Inside, we could host citizen-run workshops that teach people useful things. We could remove the 6 machines at the front of the library for quick, automated checkout and replace them with the real people who once sat there, librarians we used to get to know.

This is a massive public space, with so much potential. Miami’s West Dade Regional Library belongs to us. Why don’t we do something about that?

These simple changes could alter the culture of a community, and it’s a grassroots approach to sustainability. If you care about the place where you live, the things at the top take care of themselves.

Page 7 of 8« First...45678