On connection, community, and “dark matter”

A while ago, I bookmarked an interesting post at The Pastry Box about the idea of ‘dark matter developers’. When I recently stumbled upon it again and re-read it, the following passage stuck out to me:

Apparently 90% of the stuff in the universe is “dark matter”: undetectable, doesn’t interact with other matter, can’t be seen even with a really big telescope. Our “dark matter developers”, who aren’t part of the community, who barely even know that the community exists… how are we to help them?

This particular post is all about web development, which has an extremely vocal and active community that’s constantly innovating and moving the industry forward. However, as the author rightly points out, the loudest community members who are constantly delighting us with new and exciting techniques and projects are actually a very small minority. Though the point of that post was to compare the active community to a large group of sleepy, disengaged 9–5ers who aren’t paying attention, the idea of ‘dark matter’ in communities made me start to branch off on the topic of non-participation in a different way.

I started to think about how we can all be ‘dark matter’ in some situations but active in others. When is it okay to sit back and passively/sporadically consume and when is it better to publicly create and participate? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, like most things… it depends.

Being ‘dark matter’ is okay sometimes

When you first stumble upon a community that piques your interest, a natural reaction can be to sit back and quietly absorb as much as possible. For example, I read a bunch of interior design and cooking blogs and I’m perfectly happy to sit back and consume that information without adding much to the discussion myself. I don’t feel the need to be seen or heard in these communities because these aren’t really my main passions (though I do like them!), and I have no burning desire to become known as an expert, especially since I’m not one. I just want to learn! I might be known IRL as the person who obsesses over paint colours and cooks a pretty great risotto but that’s about it. I might get into reading about a topic for a while and then drop out of that sphere completely. No big deal.

And on the flip side, it’s nice to remember that there are always people out there silently enjoying what you put out. Even if you don’t always get a ton of likes, comments, or important social metric du jour and you feel as though you’re sometimes talking to air, there are always people out there who are enjoying what you’re putting out there and just aren’t inclined to participate.

But… being invisible doesn’t always feel good

On the other hand, chronically lurking in communities that really excite you can feel lousy. Feeling invisible sucks when you actually do have something substantial to say but are too scared or shy to say it. You’ll find yourself having great ideas that’ll be attributed to other people because they took the step of actually vocalizing it. You’ll find yourself following all sorts of great people in your industry/area of interest, but they’ll have no clue who you are. Maybe you have some great ideas to offer, and no one will ever know if you keep them to yourself. It’s that cliché about a tree falling – I think you know the one.

I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with community participation, to be honest. Sometimes I’m engaged and other times I tend to keep a little quieter, and either can feel right at the time. In general, though, I’ve come to think that if you’re either a) making money from something or b) really passionate about it, you owe it to yourself to put yourself out there and participate in your community — in whatever way and quantity feels best, of course. If you keep all your ideas to yourself, you’re doing a disservice to both yourself (after all, how can people hire you/collaborate with you/tell you you’re awesome if they don’t know what you’re up to?) and to the rest of the community (which will be lacking in your awesomeness).

This doesn’t mean turning yourself into someone that you’re not, because that’s a one way ticket to burnout land. I’m never going to be as loud or out there as some other people are because that’s just how it goes when you’re more on the more introverted side like I am. That’s okay! But regardless of how you connect, reaching out to other people and feeling like part of a community is really important and it’s worth the effort when it’s in an area you really care about.

K, that’s cool, but how do I start?

I’ll probably get into more detail about this in another post because there are so many ways to connect, but here are a few ideas to get you going:

  • Volunteering and teaching. I’ve met tons of amazing people because of mentoring and leading workshops through Ladies Learning Code. If you’re American, I think that Girl Develop It is similar.
  • Meeting people in person! I love me some Internet, but there’s nothing like connecting with someone in real life. Personally I most enjoy meeting up with people one-on-one, but when I want to meet some new people, meetup.com has approximately a zillion ways to do so. For example, if you’re a developer in Toronto, you could check out #DevTO or the Toronto WordPress Meetup Group.
  • Participating in Facebook groups, which are arguably one of Facebook’s only redeeming features these days (sorry, Facebook – it’s true). There are plenty to choose from – some are free to join while others are add-on components to paid e-courses. Some cool groups I belong to of include We Create The Internet and the Freelance to Freedom Project Community.
  • Joining a community of likeminded people. For example, I’m a part of SPARK, a community of designers that’s full of high quality people and interesting conversations.

How do you best like to connect? Or, hey, DO you even like to connect? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

P.S. Speaking of connection and community, the social network I’m most active right now is Instagram. If we’re not friends there yet, let’s change that!

It’s February! Time for a new wallpaper!

Hi! Can you believe that January is already over and we’re already one month into 2015?! I’ve just about stopped writing 2014 on cheques and forms now, so that’s something.

I find this time if the year to be even more interesting than early January in some ways, because all the new year’s excitement has settled down and most of us are back into our usual routines. And now that we’re back in the swing of things, how does the day-to-day in 2015 differ from last year?

As for me, I’m definitely operating a little differently this year than I did last year. For one, I’m investing much more time and energy back into my business than I did last year (where I mostly focused on client work alone). I recently enrolled in Digital Strategy School (which has been great so far!) and just I took a fantastic web content writing workshop at Camp Tech this past weekend, which was super eye-opening and will probably lead to a full overhaul of my entire website. No big deal.

I’ve also been sticking to my one small new year’s resolution — to go outside and walk every single day. I made my one resolution super manageable, and lo and behold, I’ve actually stuck to it. Those of you who commute to a work space or live in a warm climate might think that it’s weird/sad to have to force yourself outside, but when you work from home and live in a place where winter is the worst, it’s not exactly enticing. However, I really believe that you can only be successful in your work and in helping other people if you take care of yourself, so that’s what I’m doing!

Oh, wait, were you here for the wallpapers?

Okay, okay, here they are!

Image of February wallpapers


Desktop (2560 x 1440) • Tablet (2048 x 2048) • Mobile (640 x 1136)

And how about you? I’d love to hear how January treated you and how your 2015 is going so far! Feel free to tell me here or on Twitter.

Happy New Year + New January Wallpaper!

Hey, friends! I’m aliiiive!

2014 was an interesting year, and at the same time, I didn’t really talk much about it. It’s always challenging to find the right balance between recording/reflecting on your life and actually living it, and this past year I obviously spent much more time doing the latter. As much as I advocate for living in the present moment and not overthinking things too much (despite what my Twitter bio might say), there’s also something nice about sharing parts of your life with others. So, with that said, you’ll be seeing more of me around the ol’ Interwebs in 2015. Hurray!

First off, I’m excited to restart my monthly wallpaper series! I really enjoyed doing making them in 2013 and was happy to see them all over my friends’ devices. Here’s the brand spankin’ new wallpaper for January, sized for computers, tablets and mobile phones:

January wallpapers for desktop, tablet and mobile by Dara Skolnick


Desktop (2560 x 1440) • Tablet (2048 x 2048) • Mobile (640 x 1136)

Now that you have a shiny new wallpaper for the shiny new year (too cheesy? too bad), here a few highlights from this past year:

  1. This was my first full calendar year being self-employed! I kind of forget what having a “real” job is like, and I’m pretty okay with that.

    I spent approximately a zillion hours here.

    I spent approximately a zillion hours here.

  2. I finally took a real vacation. I somehow forgot to do this in 2013, which was silly because overworking yourself ad infinitum is a good idea for precisely no one. This past June, I spent a little over a week in Italy — home of amazing art, architecture, gelato, and, surprisingly, delicious gluten-free food.

    Street art in Italy

    Italy is known for its fine art, but did you know that it’s also full of great street art?

  3. I gave a talk at a conference for the first time. This past November I spoke at WordCamp Toronto about levelling up your WordPress development workflow and it went really well. I can’t wait to speak again some time!

    Here’s what some nice people had to say at the time:

    Speaking of which, if there’s a WordCamp coming up in your area, you should totally go — in my slightly biased opinion, it’s totally worth it.

Now, all that’s not to say that 2014 was the perfect year — after all, life is life and not-so-great things happen. That being said, on balance, things are pretty, pretty, pretty good.

I hope you’ve all had a great year and I wish you all the best for this upcoming one!

Bubbles & Business

bubblePhoto: Serge Melki / Flickr

A lesson I’ve learned over and over again, both in business and in life, is that most people really don’t care about the particulars of what I do every day.

It’s really easy to forget this. When you hang out mostly with your peers, it’s so easy, not to mention satisfying, to get lost in talking shop. But when you’re active in any community (be it the design community, the online entrepreneur community, or whatever group(s) you feel that you’re a part of), it’s really important to keep in mind that you’re in a bubble and that most of the world doesn’t think like you and doesn’t care about the details that you find really fascinating.

Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s really fun being in a bubble of peers! It’s nice and comfy in that place where most people will agree with your opinions and share your grievances. There’s a lot to be learned from people similar to you, and surrounding yourself with peers can really deepen your knowledge on a given topic. I know that I often learn a ton when I hang out with other designers, developers, and business owners.

But for a lot of us, a large part of our audience exists far outside our bubbles. For business owners especially, people come to us because we have an expertise that they don’t. If people cared about the details that we did, they most likely wouldn’t need our services.

Reminding myself that I’m sometimes living too far inside certain bubbles helps me to remember to communicate the value of what I do to other people who don’t necessarily speak my language. I’ve learned the consequences of not doing this first hand, since I’ve been in conversations where I see people’s eyes glazing over as I talk about my work. So tragic, right? But, really, I have to take some, if not full, responsibility when this happens.

The world belongs to those who know how to frame the importance of their offerings to people outside of their bubbles, and not necessarily to those who are the best at their craft. No, the world’s unfortunately not a pure meritocracy, but when you get communication and skill together… then the magic really happens.

Design to Code: Colour 101

Design to Code is a collaborative blog column where awesome graphic designer Alicia Carvalho will teach you about a design concept and related tips, tricks or resources, and then I’ll tell you how it can be applied to the web. This week is all about colour!


Alicia says…

Let’s talk about colour! I believe everyone is familiar with the basics of colour wheels so I will jump right in and explain how colour works in design from a printing perspective, how it translates onto the screen and then Dara will continue the online exploration.

Most colour printing is done in CMYK; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. These colours are called process colours. Each of these four inks is stored on a separate tray in the printer and combined directly on the paper. Process colours can be printed in tints, ranging from solid to 0%. These tints are achieved by varying the density of tiny dots used in the printing process. Since processed colours are nearly transparent and you can create a large number of tints, it is extremely easy to create a super broad variety of hues.

Spot colours, also known as Pantones, are also very commonly used in the printing world. Unlike CMYK, which mixes a colour on the paper via layering, spot colours are custom pre-mixed colours. Think of Pantones like the big buckets of paint you would buy at Home Depot to paint your bedroom. They are pigments which have been specifically measured to create one very specific colour. Much like process colours, spot colours can also be printed at various tints.

Spot colours are often used for brand logos. An uncalibrated printer may not always print a processed colour exactly the same, but a spot colour will always be spot on. Get it, spot on? If your logo is made up of one spot colour and black it may be more affordable to print it as a two colour job, as opposed to four colour job (CMYK).

You know how sometimes you have something on your screen and then when you print it the colours look much duller or even darker? This is because screens don’t use CMYK so you can’t accurately predict what something will look like on paper. Unlike printers, who use physical ink, your computer screen uses light to display colour. All digital colours are defined through Red, Green and Blue, RBG. Similar to CMYK, RBG can be a solid or a tint, measured through the values 0 to 255 (255 showing the hue at its purest). When you go to print something make sure you change all your colours to CMYK since RBG can’t be printed on paper.

Keep in mind that every monitor will display colour differently, unfortunately there is no magic screen-colour-standard setting. If you are making the links on your website a very light grey you may want to test it out on a few screens. Your safest bet is to not go too light on anything important, as it may disappear on super bright screens.

feJlNDY5_biggerDara says…

Like Alicia just mentioned, colour on the web works differently from colour in print. While most colours in print (aside from spot colours) are made by combining cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks, colours on computers are made by combining red, green and blue light together to create millions of different colours.

There are a few different ways to use colours on the web through CSS. First, let’s check out the old school ways:

Colour names

Did you know that CSS contains a bunch of preset colours that you can call on by name? Some of them are actually pretty nice!

Check these ones out:

and OldLace

Using these colours is as simple as this:

.thing-youre-styling {
    color: MintCream; /* or background-color, or border-color */

You can check out the built-in CSS colours here.

Hex colours

These are probably the types of colours you’re most familiar with on the web. Hex colours are made up of six numbers — the first two are the red values, the second two are the green values, and the third two are the blue values, because, as Alicia explained, on-screen colours are made up of red, green and blue! RGB colours are measured from 0 (none of the colour) to 255 (the strongest intensity of the colour), and the Hex codes values, which are are written in hexadecimal, go from 00 (0) to FF (255). That’s why pure black is #000000 (none of any colour) and pure white is #FFFFFF (since red, green and blue light combined make white).

Here’s are the colours we looked at before as hex codes:

and #FDF5E6

Unlike the predefined CSS colour words, the colours you can make with hex codes are nearly limitless. Well, to be precise, there are exactly 16,777,216 different colours (256 red values x 256 green values x 256 blue values).

A little side note about “web safe colours”

It’s the year 2014, and amazingly, I still sometimes hear people talking about “web safe colours”. Back in the ’90s, many monitors would support only 256 colours, so to make sure that your colours would show up properly on people’s screens, you had to stick to an extremely limited (and slightly unfortunate-looking) colour palette. Nowadays, almost all screens support millions of colours, so the idea of “web safe colours” is no longer a thing. Whew!

Transparency on the web and newer colour formats

Hex colour codes are kind of hard to remember. What if there was a colour format that just used the RGB values from 0 to 255 in a straightforward way?

Oh, hey, there is!

You can also declare your colours like this:

.thing-youre-styling {
    background-color: rgb(175, 238, 238);

This is pretty intuitive – the three values, like before, stand for red, green and blue, with each of them being a number from 0 to 255.

Modern browsers let you add a fourth value for transparency, which is pretty handy, and that’s called RGBa. The transparency value is between 0 and 1, with 0 being completely transparent, and 1 being completely opaque. That looks like this:

.thing-youre-styling {
    background-color: rgba(175, 238, 238, 0.3);

I’m a background with RGB colour

And I’m using RGBa with the exact same colour. Translucent goodness!

The new, cool kid on the block: HSLa

Hex colours, RGB, and RGBA all use the same model to declare a colour: R, G, and B values from 0 to 255. What if there was a new, cool way?

Oh, hey, there is!

HSLa is really different. It accepts four values:

H is for hue. This is a number from 0 to 360 (think of it like degrees of a circle)
S is for saturation. This is a percentage from 0% to 100%.
L is for lightness. This is a percentage from 0% to 100%, where 0 is black and 100 is white.
A is for transparency, just like in RGBa. This is a number between 0 and 1.

To wrap your head around HSLa, check out this HSL Color Picker. This lets you change all the colour values on the fly, and it also returns the hex and RGB colours. RGBa and HSLa are supported in every modern browser so feel free to start using them! If you’re still supporting IE8, you can use a fallback to a hex or RGB value.

Now go forth and make some awesome colours!