Brian Kerr, sitting on a teeter totter. The view is down the board from the opposite end.

Brian Kerr
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Seattle, Washington

Tottered on: 24 July 2010
Temperature: 76 F
Ceiling: overcast
Ground: paved (Main & Liberty)
Wind: S at 5 mph

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TT with HD: Brian Kerr

[Ed. note: The company BK works for is called Deque. They specialize in helping to make websites work well for hearing- and visually-impaired. For additional insight into BK, here's his website.]

HD: You know, I went to the website of the company you are going to be working for, and they have this wonderful deal where you put a URL into it and it evaluates your site.

BK: Yeah.

HD: And this site, Teeter Talk, it did not score so well. Are you already familiar enough with their technology to know to guess as to why--because I can tell you what the report said, but I was just wondering if you might know off the top of your head based on your familiarity with the website and with the technology.

BK: Oh, yeah, the thing I'm working on actually takes a lot of the same rules and measurements and so forth lets you look at them right in the browser instead of using their server-based tools.
Oh, this is not good!

HD: What's not good?!

BK: The groan, man! [There's a groaning issue, due to the fact that recommendations made by totter alum Scott Rosencrans have still not been implemented.]

HD: Oh yeah, that's an ongoing issue, so we have to go easy on it. Just go slow.

BK: Very good. I would guess that you have images that are not accessible and you you have ... do you still have that crazy header with a guitar and stuff at the top of the site?

HD: Crazy header??

BK: It's like Homeless Dave plays guitar and does various other shit ...

HD: Oh. No, that's still there, but in a different place.

BK: It would probably complain about all of the ads being inaccessible, so that maybe someone who reads it with a screen reader, they might see that it's an ad, but not necesarily see that it's an ad with such and such discount at such and such a ...

HD: ... I think for the home page it had one thing that it flagged but for the actual talks themselves--I only did one but I assume that they're all pretty much the same--it complained really bitterly about basically the entire text. It triggered the same kind of error for as many turns as there were in the conversation, because for each wanted basically said some notation like "you shouldn't use color only to indicate the function" ...

BK: ... oh, like for the different speakers and turns?

HD: Yeah, and that's, you know, exactly what I did, and when I came up with that I thought it it was so cool, but apparently ...

BK: ... but it's not quite true, right, because you have an initialized speaker, for each speaker, right? So in that case what it's saying, it's probably a false positive.

HD: I dunno, it could be.

BK: Probably.

HD: It could be. I also tested the Ann Arbor District Library site to make myself feel a little bit better--they are all about accessibility, so if their site didn't have a perfect score I could make myself feel better--and it didn't. But looking at theirs, I have to say, it was clearer to me that probably the things it was flagging as potential problems were things that are in fact probably false positives. It would say things like the purpose of the link is not clear. But the "title" of the link for text that said "read more" would actually say "read more about blah blah blah blah blah" it was much wordier. So anyway you're going to be working for these people?

BK: Yes. Actually I have been for several months. I contracted with them and that was the end of my semi-illustrious contracting career. Because then I just hired on as an employee.

HD: So you have "fired" all of your other clients?

BK: Yes.

HD: We had a conversation about this at the Old Town Tavern about the location of the company and I thought you were going off to Virginia, and you said it it's actually Seattle instead?

Art Fair Guy: Do you guys need volunteers on this thing?

HD: Volunteers? Uh, well, you know the art fair people, they sort of made clear to us that we're on borrowed time ...

Art Fair Guy: Oh, really?

BK: Yeah.

HD: Because were were kind of in the way and I understand that.

Art Fair Guy: Whatever. There's nobody here!

BK: There is a psychology of being in the way, right? Are we actually in anybody's way?

Art Fair Guy: Because these two girls want to ride and take a picture with it.

HD: Well, you know, we will be done in about five minutes, so assuming that the Art Fair folks are accommodating, I'm also happy to be accommodating.

Art Fair Guy: Is it solid?

HD: It's solid enough to hold us. So solid enough.

BK: Reasonably solid. But yeah, they're located in Washington D.C. Well, Reston [Virginia] ...

HD: But you are going to Washington state. And they don't have a location where you're going to? [heckling: "Hey kids! Hey kids!"] Well, now we are being heckled.

BK: That's fine. I'm used to it just like another day down in The Brickyard.

HD: I'm losing my train of thought. So here's the thing, I scoured the site--they don't seem to have a location in the state of Washington.

BK: No, they do not.

HD: Okay, so really there's no reason for you to have to move to Seattle.

BK: The reason is personal. I came on as a contractor, we started talking about employment and so forth, and I said, Hey, I'm going to move this year, I am just moving to Seattle, that's something I'm doing. It's basically a telecommute kind of thing anyway. My boss is here in Ann Arbor, but I think that he and I are the only two employees of the company who are here in Ann Arbor.

HD: Before it was easier, because he was in Ann Arbor, or not--but anyway you told them that you were moving and potentially that could have been an issue if they had wanted you guys to work together here in Ann Arbor? As kind of a satellite operation? Apparently it was not a problem.

BK: I guess not! Yeah.

HD: So the fact that you're leaving for Seattle, even though you don't have to, reflects a failure on our part to keep you here in Ann Arbor?

BK: I don't think so. I don't think so.

HD: I feel like I have failed personally.

BK: [laughs]

HD: Because retention of guys like you is our economic development goal, right?

BK: Yes, well that's what Richard Florida talks about.

HD: Who?

BK: Richard Florida

HD: Who is that guy?

BK: The creative class guy. Like if you've ever talked to your Rob Goodspeed, or your Mr. [Peter] Allen ...

HD: ... who?

BK: Mr. Allen.

HD: Peter Allen?

BK: Yes, Peter Allen. So, basically this whole canard about how we need to retain young, smart, affluent people in our cities by having fun shit for them to do ...

HD: ... right. We need to trap them here if we can. We didn't have enough fun shit for you to do? Is that it?

BK: No, absolutely, this town is super fun!

HD: Yeah, like the art fair, for example. We're right here in the middle of art fair.

BK: Yes.

HD: Well, we're about 20 feet from the middle of art fair.

BK: You would define this is as the middle of the art fair? I could find the people at the art fair on South U. that would beg to differ with that!!

HD: [laughs] Oh, so you're totally up to speed on the ...

BK: ... you could sink the new collaboration between the art fairs this year!

HD: Well, there is a new collaboration--the DDA actually funded a grant for them to promote it as one art fair.

BK: Yeah.

HD: Which, I don't know, I think when the DDA offers you some money to do something, you don't quarrel about everybody needing to have their specific brand identity--because they [the individual art fairs] absolutely do have--I don't even remember which one this is, though. This is the which?

BK: Well, you got your ...

HD: ... so the banner right there [hanging over Main Street] says the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, so that must be the name of this one?

BK: But my understanding is that this is the particular art fair that has the welcome mats and stuff ...

HD: ... more craft than art?

BK: [Heckling from random passerby: Faster, faster, I want to seem him bounce!] I have my umbrella in my backpack, I wish I had it out so I could hit people with it ... the one over on North U. is like the fine art, the curated art ...

HD: .... so have you ever actually toured the art fairs, meticulously, like booth by booth?

BK: Absolutely! Yeah, yeah! My first career in this town was--I worked at the University, where my homebase was the LS&A building and the student activities building over by ...

HD: ... over by The Cube?

BK: Exactly. It was a lot of fun. I would go after work or whatever and just walk the fairs. So I've done that. At this point is kind of like "the circus comes to town" except there aren't any rides.

HD: Well, now this year there is a ride.

BK: Yeah, there is a ride.

HD: So one of the things that you will leave as a legacy here in Ann Arbor--even though it's in the online world, it's linked specifically to Ann Arbor--and that is ArborUpdate. You were one of the founders of that website.

BK: Yeah. Right, well I was a cofounder. I was the guy who set up the technology for it in the first place. It was more like Rob Goodspeed, Brandon Zwagerman, Richard Murphy, people like that were more diligent on the editorial side. But for me, I just helped set up the original blogging system it was on and stuff like that.

HD: But it was a significant enough part of your life that you still included in the synopsis you have on your website of who you are.

BK: Yeah. It's a good placeholder for that period of time when I was a little more politically active in a conventional sense. And a little more attentive to the things that were going on in the town. And then over the last few years I've paid less attention to those things.

HD: So you become politically active in a less conventional sense?

BK: Maybe, yeah. But it's just a good sort of placeholder for there was a time when these were the things I cared about.

HD: You mentioned Brandon Zwagerman. You are carrying on his tradition, not to the exact detail--but he took his teeter totter ride literally on the way out of town. He pulled into the driveway with some SUV packed with all of his belongings.

BK: Well, I'm not carrying on his tradition in that I'm not very cool. And he is very cool.

HD: So you are leaving next Tuesday?

BK: Yeah.

HD: And so the [moving] cube is packed?

BK: The cube is packed with everything that we have packed, how's that? And so the concept for today and tomorrow to finish packing and put all the packed items in the cube. And when Monday morning comes it will set sail, metaphorically it's an overland kind of trip.

HD: And the Freecycling people are taking some of your stuff away? And have you sold your car?

BK: Yeah! This is the first time I used Freecycle, put a bunch of stuff on it. And it's been reasonably successful.

HD: Freecycle, I had a very good experience with. I wound up with this very odd hauling gig that was two broken, nonfunctioning electric wheelchairs and this woman wanted to get rid of them. And I said I can make them go away, and I figured I would find somebody to take those and they sat in my garage for about a year while I tried to figure out how to unload them. I put them up on Freecycle and within about a day--apparently there are people who know specific models of electric wheelchairs, who will say, Oh, I'm sure I can fix it. And one of them showed up and he broke it down in the space of about 30 seconds, because he knew where all the magic levers were. So I had a good good experience with that.

BK: Actually the interaction on Freecycle was--I'm trying to place this--my last boss's wife is on Freecycle. When I worked at the university I quit this job in, I want to call it 2005. I've kept in touch with a few people from that world, and one of them is my last boss. And his partner responded to the Freecycle ad to pick up some of my stuff, and we also had this impromptu, see-you-later, happy-trails kind of correspondence. So that was nice. Oh yeah, there is some overlap between the people that I know and the people on Freecycle who have this very active trade, in broken shit basically.

HD: [laugh] Yeah, well it sure is convenient when you've got something--what is your option really? You've got to pay somebody to take it to the dump, or pick it up.

BK: The one thing that I haven't gotten rid of yet, that I'm not sure I will is--we're in a tiny apartment in Ann Arbor--you know it's some failure of the city to nurture the creative class class etcetera, etcetera ...

HD: [laugh]

BK: ... if we were to stay in Ann Arbor, we are not at a point where there is mortgage or anything that we could afford in Ann Arbor, so we in apartment dwellers purgatory, right? Part of what that means is the container garden. So we've got bunch of fairly substantial pots ...

HD: ... for like canning?

BK: Well, just for plants. This year we just did sweet peas, because my wife wanted something that would be ...

HD: Oh, for growing stuff, and not for cooking stuff.

BK: Yeah, like a container garden.

HD: Oh, okay. Oh, I thought you said container jargon. So I missed the setup, okay ...

BK: ... understood. That would be an example of something where the cash value of a slightly-used container garden is negative $50. Because it's heavy and wet and disgusting

HD: It's like having a good idea. There's a certain cost to having a good idea.

BK: A good idea is a little bit more expensive than that.

HD: So is there anything in particular you are looking for in a place to live when you move out to Seattle? I mean, in terms of it has to be near a transit node? It has to have a view of the water? Certain minimal criteria?

BK: I feel like in Ann Arbor, I've been here long enough that I have a very "little here" kind of perspective--where I know, here's my office, here is the Old Town, here's the library, here's the bus station. That's about 90% of Ann Arbor to me right now. It's very focused. I don't know, I kind of think we have a big list of stuff that we want to be about an hour away from by car.

HD: So you mean no more than an hour away from?

BK: Yeah, exactly. Some stuff in Seattle, the city of Seattle. Some beach property we have access to out at Hood Canal ...

HD: What's the name of the place?

BK: The Hood Canal It's a very wet geographic feature on Puget Sound. It's actually a fjord but apparently the intrepid explorer didn't quite realize that so it became a "canal" ...

HD: ... so he called it a canal, okay. See, a canal to me is like suggestive of lined with concrete, and mules hauling things and people singing songs, everybody down, low bridge we're coming to a town.

BK: So I would say a beautiful natural resource, your downtown Seattle, and the several amenities that it has, and then basically the Amtrak station so I can get down to Portland. That's where most of the people I know are, who are in that time zone.

HD: Well, listen...

BK: ... is it time?

HD: Well, the pedestrian traffic is starting to pick up, and really the sun is starting to peek out from the clouds and I can start to feel it really getting hot and gross. So thanks for coming to ride.

BK: Thank you!