Making up for December

A dear friend whom we missed very much during the holidays poked me today: is this thing still on? Are we dead? I told her we were just busy, which is stupid: of course we’re busy — who isn’t busy?

The new year and holidays came and went mercifully well, though we honestly wondered if we were going to make it through this one. 2006, a year I thought couldn’t have come sooner on Dec 31, 2005, left as quietly as it arrived. The year was not without its heartaches, which often brought us to tears of grief and loss. But, it was also a year in which there were no murders on our street, no car accidents, no layoffs, no massive hurricanes cutting a swath through my mom’s backyard.

I took a new job, the city of Newark saw its first glimpse of hope in Cory Booker, and we saw Europe for the first time.

And, of course, we got knocked up.

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Listening to back-episodes of the Gillmor Gang lately has got me wondering what this site would look like if it was more like an attention stream than a blog. There are a dozen web services that I use on a regular basis — all of which have RSS capability. Aggregating that content on this site, I think, would provide a more useful picture of what I’ve been paying attention to over the past several weeks.

I also wanted a web design that wouldn’t just look like I just cobbled together a bunch of text from disparate sites, and I wanted to use a metaphor that would fit in one screen, so you can literally see the stream of my diggs, pictures, blogs (here and elsewhere), and twittering in the context of time. Hence the timeline up top (a free AJAX widget provided by those bright guys at MIT). Ultimately, the timeline will show different colors for the varying web services, the current design is a start — what do you think?

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I actually get paid to play with the web in my job. A large portion of my responsibilities lie with the team Intranet site, which our managing director wants to use as our main communication medium and platform for tools inside our organization. There’s a lot of room to breathe with this new gig, and I’ve been able to come up with some interesting and creative ideas, leveraging ajaxy web 2.0 goodness like MIT’s timeline. Did you know that the Yahoo Maps API lets you use their software inside a firewall? At a commercial organization? For FREE?

It also occurred to me the other day that we can use Microsoft Access as a content management system for the site — and not how you would think, either. We’re currently restricted by our web host to HTML, CSS and JavaScript (with some server side include capability), and /that’s it/: no ASP, no Java, and don’t even think about open-source. With daily pressure to get graphs, charts, figures, news, and documents on the intranet daily, what’s an overworked web-monkey to do?

Well, one might surmise that said monkey could build some tables inside of Access to accomodate news items; maybe design some sweet forms to do the data entry for the news “blog”. Writing code to export that content in the form of an SHTML include file in Visual Basic is trivial, and the monkey knows how to write a batch file that will FTP the exported file to the right location on the intranet. Done. Now any member of the team (technical or no), can log into this Access database, type in their stuff and click “Publish”. And the beautiful part is that it works just like Moveable Type. Sure, it’s not very web 2.0, but it’s agile, doesn’t require a bureaucratic change request process, and will be up and running by tomorrow (I started working on it today).

You can also import all sorts of data, analyze it with queries, and output HTML tables which, combined with the PlotKit JavaScript library, can be graphed and charted with ease, which I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader.

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Sarah got me a few books on fatherhood for Christmas this year, which I’ve just started plodding through (I figure they’re due by March 27th!). Aside from adding a number of to-dos to my list of things to talk about during our “Family Meeting Night”, it’s been a welcome sanity-check on just what we’re getting ourselves into. I told Schmoo tonight: “did you realize that that baby has to come /through/ your pelvis?” To which she replied, “well, how else did you expect it to come out?” And, of course I knew this had to be so. Only, it was only /too/ clear when I saw a drawing of an inverted baby floating through a skeletal pelvis on page 51 of The Birth Partner.

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I mentioned the Gillmor Gang, which, if you check out my Digg profile, is one of my dugg podcasts (note in passing to the Digg crew: please make it easy to check for the latest podcasts in my digg profile, thanks). It’s actually defunct now as Steve’s funding or time or patience had run out with his podcast provider, the last “Thanksgiving Gang” having been recorded way back in November. Undaunted, I’ve been making my way through his past episodes, whiling away the hours hacking databases and spreadsheets at work, listening to the crew of marketers, journalists, and entrepreneurs talk about their work, their predictions for the industry, and generally b.s. about the personalities behind the press releases.

It’s a brilliant model for a podcast: six or seven industry insiders get on a conference line and talk about whatever they feel about talking about. I’d love to use it one day — it reminds me of the days back at Ironworks when we’d just hang out and talk about the world’s problems until the middle of the night.

“Jason Calacanis”:http://www.calacanis.com, one of the resident entrepreneurs on the show, has been downright inspiring. His narrative of growing up a poor kid in the Burroughs and covering the tech scene in New York during the bubble before he launched his own blog network resonates with me. Between him and web 2.0 wonder-boy Mike Arrington and totally random (emergent?) Christian cartoon ex-Silicon Valley blogger Hugh MacLeod, I sometimes find them grasping towards the intersection of art and business — that place you get to when you find you’re doing great work, what you later will consider your life’s work. These guys love what they do, and I think for many of them, the day-to-day job — of writing, of deal-making, of building, of whatever — has transcended getting a paycheck into a craft. It’s always encouraging to those of us in the trenches to hear that it doesn’t always have to be this way: that there’s more important and interesting work out there waiting to be found.

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I discovered Wesabe the other day: it’s like Microsoft Money for the web, with half the features. If it hasn’t been said before, let me be the first: CONSUMER BANKS (ESPECIALLY THE BIG ONES) NEED TO PROVIDE THIS KIND OF SERVICE IN THE NEXT 18 MONTHS OR DIE OF IRRELEVANCE. It’s actually offensive to me now that my bank doesn’t automatically provide me with analysis tools to track my spending and investment habits.

I actually did receive a year-end statement from my Credit Union last year that attempted to break out my spending into various categories for the first time ever, which I very much appreciated. But the first thing I did when they asked me to fill out a survey was to tell them: great job with the year-end spending breakout, now please do it every month, and put it online within a year.

Microsoft Money is a tragedy of an accident of a failure of a software product. I’ve been using it since 1998 and, much like the rest of Office, have come to loathe it in the last two or three years. They’ve added features I don’t use, they’ve left reporting bugs that drive me crazy, they’ve attempted every bit of lock-in they could think of to prevent me from getting my own personal financial data, and they’ve screwed with the user interface — which once looked like I was logging into a sophisticated, stately banking application — so that it now looks like a bad imitation of a Fischer-Price toy.

Wesabe is the first salvo of web 2.0 coming to banking apps, and I fully expect this trend to continue as the privacy issues are hashed out. I’ve already switched completely: how could I pass on instant financial analysis available anywhere I have a secure web connection? Now I’m just trying to figure out how to get five years of data out of Money to load into Wesabe.

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Well, if you made it this far through the brain-dump that is this blog, I wanted to thank you, dear readers, for sticking around through these past nearing-five years of Our Story. That some people with whom I’ve had passing encounters (such as “Nikkiana”:http://everytomorrow.org, “Sean”:http://semanticbible.org and “Dale”:http://wp.theoblogical.org/) continue to read this blog just amazes and humbles me. Thanks for reading.

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Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

— ??Steve Jobs??

One thought on “Making up for December

  1. Dude, I’m all for keeping it simple… but am I missing something or is this site deviod of any CSS… it’s hard to look at it this way. But then again, I totally understand the “I work on the web all day… I don’t wanna touch it when I get home” thing… Maybe some semblance of organization would be nice 🙂 Even the old “ken is wearing a hat and sarah finds it sexy” picture on the top version 🙂

    We miss ya! Later dude.

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