Everything there is to know about Paul O'B - an interview
In the light of the new forum style we are doing a round of interview with various staff members in order to inject a greater sense of community back into SitePoint Forums.
After the first interview with @HAWK ; , next up is @Paul O'B ; , our forums' CSS guru!
But, this is not the only reason we're interviewing Paul! There's another reason, Paul himself doesn't even know yet (I hope!). And that reason is that as of last Monday (November the 4th), Paul has overtaken @r937 ; in the rankings and is the member with the most posts on all of the SitePoint forums! For this occassion @spikeZ ; has made a special badge for Paul which he will be able to show along with his avatar and other badges!
Congratulations Paul on such an amazing achievement, and we all hope you'll stick around for a long time to come!
Now, on to the interview.
Remon: Hi Paul, How are you?
Paul: I'm fine thanks.
Remon: So first of all, for the people who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you yet, could you tell a little bit about yourself?
Paul:There's not much to tell really:)
I'm in my early sixties, married for 40 years, and work from home mainly doing PSD to html conversions for some regular clients. I'm supposed to be semi-retired but end working more than I did before. We (my wife and I) live in a small quiet Hampshire village where we have been for about 35 years or so now. The children left home many years but we are often on call for grandparent duties as we have three grandchildren and another on the way.
Remon: Sounds like a good life!
Remon: So I heard there was a bad storm going over England this week. Did it hit your hometown? Was there a lot of damage done in England?
Paul:Luckily apart from a few trees and branches there were no real incidents around us although some of our friends were without power for a number of days. It wasn't anything like the storm of '87 which practically devastated the whole south of England but some areas were more badly hit than us.
Remon: Good to hear it! At least your intenet didn't break down again like it did a few years back, that would have made this interview so much harder!
Remon: About your hometown, @HAWK ; wants to know where are you from and what do you like most about your hometown?
Paul:I was born in London but we moved down south quite early on and so spent most of my life around the Surrey/Hampshire borders. As I mentioned above we have been living in our quiet rural village for over 35 years now with no intention of moving soon. My parents retired to southern Spain about 35 years ago and we often thought that we might go follow them but with three grandchildren and a fourth on the way it would mean missing too much of them growing up as we are quite close with our grandchildren.
The village that we live in is quite small (about 800 population) but has a good sense of community, a good village hall and a good village Pub. It's a great place to bring up children and there are many lovely walks for dog walkers. We have a Jack Russell terrier so we have walked most of the paths around us for miles and miles over the years. The Jack Russell is 15 years old now so walks are quite short these days.
Remon: So, you’ve been around the forums for a long time, and a lot of people dig your style, so to speak. Do you remember how you ever got involved in CSS, and what your first project was?
Paul: Like many others at the time CSS started making inroads into the scene (2001 approx) I was messing about with table layout and although I was only a beginner at the time I was always thinking "this can't be right". As soon as I saw some examples on CSS I was hooked and dropped tables almost instantly long before it became popular to do so. It's taken a long time for CSS to mature but there's so many things going on now its hard to keep up.
The first project I did was create a website for the Karate club that I ran (the site is no longer online as it was on free BT space which they discontinued). I had a lot of fun creating it but it in reality it was very bad.
Remon: Looking back at that very first project, how do you feel it went? What would you have differently if you were to take on that project today?
Paul: I wouldn't use tables for layout and I wouldn't use animated gifs :)
Remon: Do you remember what development stack (hardware and software) you were using back then?
Paul: Back then? Hmmm, It was probably a zx81, an abacus and pen and paper.
Remon: And what's your day-to-day development stack now (a question from @moretea ; )?
Paul: I use a basic PC Windows 7 machine as my main work horse but I also have a lovely 27" imac which I use for browser testing and as a back up if the PC goes down. I did install 'parallels' on the mac and had two versions of windows running on there but I still prefer the PC for main day to day tasks and it suits me to keep two systems running in case one breaks down. I also have some older machines just for browser testing as well as a laptop which has various browsers on it also. In that way I can usually track down any obscure problems that clients (or members from Sitepoint) are experiencing.
I do have most of the Adobe software Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Fireworks etc which I have just upgraded from when I started. I probably won't upgrade any more now that its subscription based - unless I get PSDs from clients that are incompatible with my version then I will need to think again. For small projects I love the Dreamweaver code editor but I wouldn't buy it if I didn't have it already. On large files it just hangs and is unusable.
I also use "Html Pad" which is quite adequate and does what I want. I've also recently been looking at Brackets and that could become quite nice.
Of course I also have the modern versions of the major browsers also - which is still a must for testing even these days as there will always be browser variations.
Remon: Since you've been around the forums for a long time, you remember a lot of people who aren’t hanging around the forums any more. How do you feel about that? Do you sometimes look back with a bit of nostalgia, or are you completely happy with the status quo?
Paul: I'm sad that some of the big names have disappeared as I learned a lot from them when I first started. People like Redux, Vinnie and of course Tommy were immensely knowledgeable and have obviously gone on to better things.
It's a fact of life that things change and we all move on at some stage so I try not to be too nostalgic. The forums are different these days but so is the landscape and forums have to fit in with all the other social outlets. It's a bit like the music explosion of the sixties and that sort of thing will never happen now at that scale because the focus was very narrow in those days. These days everything happens at once but all in different places.
Remon: How did you discover Sitepoint (and the SitePoint Forums) and what made you decide to stay (a question from @ParkinT ; )?
Paul: When I first got interested in the web I joined a couple of small forums and eventually by word of mouth and by searching for answers I would often come across SitePoint and it always seemed like one of the more friendlier forums. Gradually I started visiting SitePoint more and more and other forums less and less. In those days it was quite overwhelming to post an answer because there was a lot of talent around and you didn't want to give a wrong answer. I just hung around long enough and eventually I knew most of the answers and if I didn't know the answer I would make sure I looked it up; which is how I gained most of my knowledge of browser bugs and behaviours. The race isn't always won by the quickest but by the one that just hangs in there longer.
Remon: Back to the now, @cpradio ; and @molona ; want to know what resources you follow to keep up date. Could you elaborate on that?
Paul: I subscribe to a number of sites such ass CSS Tricks, Smashing Magazine and of course SitePoint and you soon get to see what's hot and what's not. I also visit the W3C site to see what's up and coming and I also follow a number of people on Twitter but to be honest I tend not to jump on the latest features in CSS until they are actually usable. Flex box for example has changed so much that only now is it time to start looking at it but will still be a couple of years before it can be used safely (or solely).
Remon: In the same vain, @molona ; wonders who would you call a CSS expert or at least someone that deserves reading/following?
Paul: I love Lea Verou whose demos always amaze me. I've recently been taking notice of Dudley Storey who also has some very nice demos. There are a lot of many other talented people around and I am always being amazed at what can be done with CSS3.
Remon: Do you consider yourself to be a CSS expert, or do you feel you’re not worthy of that title?
Paul: That's a good question:)
When I wrote the Ultimate CSS Reference" with Tommy I thought I had a pretty good grasp of CSS2.1 and although I wouldn't say I was an expert I certainly knew how to (ab)use CSS to do what I wanted. However, I still left the more technical aspects of the spec writing to Tommy and I concentrated on the "way things really worked" in the current browsers and in day to day projects. It's no good being an expert and knowing the spec if you don't know how things work in the real world. We did a lot of research for the book (and the site) and some of the information is invaluable. It's a shame that it hasn't been kept up to date though.
These days though with so much CSS3 to learn I feel like I am a beginner again. I tend not to use the new properties until they become widely usable so I end up playing catch up a little. As mentioned before I'm looking forward to getting my teeth into Flexbox.
Remon: I've been looking Flex Box over as well and it looks very promising. I'm looking forward to your findings once you get to it!
Remon: Over the years you have helped a lot of people on the forums with all sorts of questions large and small, and you do it in a very friendly way. Never belittling or being pedantic in any way. How did you become such an excellent teacher (a question from @ronpat ; )? Related to that question, @myty ; asks: Your way with people, is it something that came natural to you or is it something you had to take time and educate upon your self? How do you manage this extraordinary self?
Paul:I'm a lot older than most of the people on the forums so I have calmed down a lot now and I try to bring that calmness into my posts. I always feel that if you can impart information in a friendly and polite manner it will do more good (who knows I may be wrong). Politeness costs nothing. I always learned more from the teachers I liked and nothing from the ones that were aggressive or just plain rude.
You have to remember that its never easy to tell someone their code is bad. It's a normal reaction to get immediately defensive when someone says "That's very bad" and is compounded on the web because the recipient can't see the tone in which the post is written. I know we have smilies but in some cases that makes it looks like you don't care. e.g. "Your code is rubbish :) "
So, its a bit of a tightrope to walk when you have to de-construct a members code and try not to make them look foolish or offended. I don't mean you should avoid the issue of saying the code is bad but structure it in a way that is polite and helpful. You don't have to be overly polite.
It's the same approach I take when teaching karate (which I have been doing for 40 years) and encouragement works better than beration. It's no use teaching a pupil something that is way above their ability so you have to tailor the lesson to the individual and try to get them to improve as best they can.
Remon: You have two children and three grandchildren with one more on the way (so far). Beside that you take on CSS jobs and take the time to visit the forums on regular basis. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the things you have to keep up with?
Paul:Yes, good question and I am very poor at time management in some respects. One of the reasons I stepped down as Team Leader last year was because I was struggling with a balance between all the things that I juggle. However, nothing lasts forever and projects end then there is light at the end of the tunnel. I do still spend way too much time on the forums and indeed this Sunday morning I have 2 pages to code for a client but I haven't started coding them as I have been on here (the forums) for the last 6 hours.
I have lately decided to cut down a little on clients demands a little though; I am supposed to be semi retired after all!
The time to stop is when its no longer enjoyable but I haven't reached that point yet.
Remon: What time management advice do you have for people who want to get into web development (a question from @wc43870n ; )?
Paul: I'm not really the best one to ask as I don't always follow my own advice :) If you work from home then it can feel like you are working all day and clients can contact you at any time night or day and expect you to react immediately. You should set boundaries and working times and stick to them; for you and your clients. That applies to family as well and if you are at home working then you you shouldn't be asked to walk the dog, do the shopping, look after the kids etc.
It's not always possible to follow the above advice especially if you are chasing work and trying to pay the bills and sometimes you just need to work late. The main thing to ask yourself is if you are happy with the way things are going. If not do something about it. Life is that thing that passes you by while you are busy doing other things.
Remon: Good advice. And I don't think a lot of people follow their own advise, which is why we have the saying "Do as I say, not as I do", don't we? ;)
We know you also do Karate in your free time. @ronpat ; wonders what sparked your interest in karate. Do you remember when you first got interested in it and why?
Paul: I remember my first Karate Lesson over 40 years ago and I was hooked from the first lesson. Indeed in a few years I was running the club and teaching the original instructor. The club is still going strong with me as Instructor but we don't teach beginners any more. We are just a handful of 40 - 60 year old black belts who like to kick the £$%$ out of each other :)
I reached Sandan (third dan) way back in 1992 but haven't graded any more due to 2 cruciate ligament repairs in my knees and countless cartilage operations. My knees are good enough for training but not for something as stressful as grading or competition. The consultant told me to give up Karate 10 years ago as he said I wouldn't last another year with my knees. He was wrong.
I got interested in Karate at about the time the Bruce Lee craze started but was not really influenced by that craze although I was inspired by Bruce as were many others. Being of slight build (5'7") [That's 1.70meter, Ed.] I always thought it would be useful to take care of myself and learn some self defence. Luckily a Karate Club started close by and I joined and never looked back. I loved the etiquette, discipline and respect that you get from training with other Kareteka and at the same time you learn how to handle and control yourself in stressful situations.
There is no guarantee that the skills you learn will help you if you get mugged but you can be sure you will have a better chance than if you had not learned anything. Indeed I've been punched in the face so many times at Karate that is no longer a shock and just shrug it off (if I'm still standing). Unlike beginners or non-trained individuals who crumple and give up at the first injury.
Remon: Besides Karate, do you have any other hobbies you enjoy?
Paul:I used to be a keen water ski-er but stopped about ten years ago as it was too risky for my knees. My older brother still skis and runs a water ski club in Australia and he's 6 years older than me! He still managed a personal best last year so there is always time for improvement.
I don't really have any other hobbies apart from a couple of sessions at the gym a week. Between Karate, computer and grandchildren there isn't really much time left.
Remon: While talking about free time, @TechnoBear ; wants to know: If somebody offered you an all-expenses-paid holiday, where would you go, and why?
Paul: I'd probably go and visit my brother in Australia as we have never been there. He moved to Australia about six years ago but he does visit the UK once a year so we do still see him. It would just be nice to get a taste of the Australian lifestyle. From what I can gather his life revolves around water ski-ing, barbecues and drinking :)
Remon: That sounds pretty good! Any particular reason you haven't been there yet?
Paul: It's difficult to find the time but the main problem is getting someone to look after the dog as it's not very friendly to strangers and won't go into kennels. Therefore I have to get my son to (baby) dogsit and he can only do 2 weeks at a time as its too awkward. Two weeks isn't long enough to go to Australia especially considering the cost.
Remon: That's a real bummer. I do hope you get to go some day!
Remon: What do you prefer, a few long vacations, or multiple long weekends away, and why?
Paul:I quite enjoy short breaks because you don't feel that you have to catch up when you get back. Two weeks holiday on the other hand is never enough to really unwind though and if money was no object I would like to take a month off in the sun somewhere.
Remon: Do you enjoy drinking in your free time (or even during work maybe? :shifty:). @Pullo ; asks What's your favourite tipple is, and whether you are an ale drinker.
Paul:I enjoy a glass of white wine with a meal but I'm not a big drinker as alcohol triggers my migraines. I do like a few lagers when I go out but I pay for it the next day.
Remon: And now for an assortment of random questions asked by our fellow SitePointers:
@ronpat ; : Describe your siblings and your place in your family tree.
Paul: I'm the third of four boys. The youngest is 58 and the oldest 68. I think my mum was after a girl but got landed with 4 boys instead.
@molona ; : What inspires you?
I'm always amazed by what some people can achieve no matter what the circumstances. That's why I try to be the best I can at what I do; that doesn't mean "be the best" but just be the best you can.
@Pullo ; : Are you a sports fan?
Paul:I enjoy watching Motor racing, Tennis, Football but I'm not a big fan, My main sport is Karate and as we all know that's not really a sport.
I would have loved to be involved in motor sport in my younger days as I always had the have the fastest car of my friends. I've owned many sporty cars over the years. (i.e. Lotus esprit, 4 ford cosworths (sierras and escort), Mitsubishi 300GT, Porsche 911 and others).
@Pullo ; : Do you support a football club?
Paul: No not really although I do like to watch the big matches.
@Pullo ; : Do you like cricket? (Hampshire was one of the birthplaces of cricket).
Paul: Cricket passed me by I'm afraid. It wasn't exciting enough for me.
@John_Betong ; : Please explain why you chose your avatar.
Paul:Lol - It was given to me many years by a former Sitepoint Mentor who felt sorry for me because I didn't have an avatar. I fell in love with it and kept it the same ever since.
Remon: Now, this is not a MOTM interview, but since it is an interview, I hereby grant you the chance for blatant (self) promotion. Is there anything you'd like to promote?
Paul:I haven't got anything to promote really but I will make a concerted effort next year to bring the pmob.co.uk site up to date with a more modern look, more demos and CSS3 examples and archive the old stuff. It was never meant to be a real site but just a dumping ground for demos from questions I answered in the forum mainly.
Remon: Thanks Paul, I'm sure I will go check it out!
And thanks for the interview, I enjoyed it!
I'll leave it up to you all now to congratulate Paul in his now position of post leader :)