Going a Different Direction

I just got my bill for Flickr.  $25 for the next year of use.  $50 for the next two.  Staring down the barrel of a holiday season in the biggest economic SNAFU since the 20’s, I’m wondering what $50 for the next two years gets me.

Do you know what features they came out with in the time since I last paid them $50?  Let’s review:

Some of that stuff is great (geotagging was fun but tiresome, video was pretty cool but uploader could be better).  Some of it was garbage (mobile THIS).  And a lot of it I just don’t use (looking at you, place pages and stats).  The least inspiring of these was the redesigned homepage which I don’t think works that much better than the original.

My biggest gripe, though?  I can’t customize how I want my photos displayed.  Meaning my most interesting photos seem to fall off the homepage, and my wife’s eBay product photos are right up front.  Lame.

Turns out, WordPress launched this thing called the Media Library which I just realized isn’t half bad.  They also let me password protect my posts so I can hide photos that I don’t want so public outside of friends and family. Their momentum is awesome, and there’s this plugin that’s not half bad, too.  And, besides, we’re already paying $100/year for our web hosting — why not make good use of it?

So, we’re going a different direction and posting our photos here.  Contents may shift as we move them out from Flickr.  Most of our stuff will be public, but I’ll be posting some family shots that we’ll want to keep more private.  Just email me if you’d like the password for the photos.

Which Battlestar Galactica Character Are You

OK, being a total BSG geek, I couldn’t resist taking this quiz. I have to admit that it was difficult to answer objectively when I could practically read which character each choice represented. The question about what would be the hardest to deal with is a good example:

  • Getting shot in the stomach
  • Losing an eye
  • Gaining a lot of weight
  • Having your car blow up
  • Finding out you are not in control of our actions

I mean, c’mon. They could have been a little more subtle, no?

Coincidence?

Was Apple sending us subconscious signals about the upcoming “MacBook Air”:http://www.apple.com/macbookair/ release?

Around Christmastime at apple.com, the site featured a cartoon of the well-known “Get A Mac”:http://www.apple.com/getamac/ads/ ads on their homepage. I got a screenshot of the ad from Cabel Sasser. He “described it this way”:http://www.cabel.name/2008/01/2007-cabel-yay-awards.html:

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Best Desktop Picture You Can’t Download: Mac & PC
Hooray to Laika (Portland represent!) for their awesome work on the Apple holiday commercial. But when super-talented character designer Shane Prigmore posted his illustration of “Mac & PC” to his blog, the long-time Apple-understander in me knew it might not last — and it didn’t. (The good news? Naturally, I saved it before it was pulled — and you can download it right here — for now.)

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Here’s the image.

macpc_final-2.jpg

Note what PC guy is holding in his right hand — a manila interoffice envelope. You know, like the kind they’re using to advertise a certain lithe sub-notebook computer announced at yesterday’s MacWorld.

promo_macbookair_20080115.jpg

Coincidence? Or a clever hint from our glorious leader Steve?

New Features at TVC

We’ve officially launched a few new features at The Village Church site. Specifically:

* *Comments and pingbacks!* Taking question authority online — make your voice heard
* *Ratings!* Similar to rating movies on “Netflix”:http://netflix.com or digging a news article on “Digg”:http://digg.com — tell us what you like
* *Manuscripts!* All of the wit and wisdom of ??Sam Andreades?? in print — our podcast is now much more Google-friendly

I’m hoping we can overhaul some of the sermon and news archives in the near future. And, we’re also launching a secret project in April. Stay tuned.

Permission

We’re on the verge of a 1.0 release. Hours of planning, designing and coding over the past few weeks have produced a usable product, and we’ll be launching this week. Along with the _other_ priority I’ve had over the past nine months, it’s been, uh, a bit of a tough go. Deadlines and constraints have a funny way of eliciting a sort of desperate creativity. As they say in the business, “shipping a 1.0 product isn’t going to kill you, but it will try.”:http://www.randsinrepose.com/archives/2006/04/20/10.html

Writing code for the first time is usually a painfully clumsy experience — sketchy objects, redundant variables, wantonly inefficient loops. I’m keenly aware that there are thousands of people who can code better than I can; I imagine them standing over my shoulder, quietly shaking their heads. As I started writing significant portions of the code, I heard these words bubble up from the back of my mind:

Give yourself permission to do it wrong the first time.

So I did. One ugly portion at a time: design, build, test, demo, refine. Once it was good enough (read: _barely working_), move on to the next piece: design, build, test, demo, refine. After a while, it became test, demo, refine, refine, refine. Then: refine, refine, refine, refine, refine. Suddenly it occurs to you in the middle of a demo: wow, everything just worked.

That’s how we did it. We didn’t write any requirements-gathering documents. We didn’t build out a massive infrastructure. There were no draconian change processes or review committee meetings. Just a few clever ideas and a lot of “getting real”:http://gettingreal.37signals.com/toc.php.

Doing it all wrong — that’s exactly how we’re going to ship on Friday.

Undesign

And so we swing back to the 3 Column K2, rapidly-maturing K2, newly-discovered “Blue Zinfandel”:http://www.briangardner.com/themes/blue-zinfandel-wordpress-theme.htm theme. The timeline, which I’ve taken to calling the “attention stream”, may likely reappear in later iterations.

It’s a love/hate thing I have about blogging: design is hard, and harder still to justify when you have to actually _tell_ people that you spent your Sunday afternoon “designing the blog” — looking at the ground, tracing your foot through the dirt. Admitting to having a vested interest in the online world (like having a MySpace or Facebook profile) is still embarrassing for those of us over 25. Well, those of us who are over 25 and aren’t making a dime at this, anyway.

Homepage

I like to play at writing more than I like to actually do it. Same goes for coding, praying, and just about anything that requires hard work. I recently realized this and changed the homepage of my browser. (It used to point to my newsreader, where I download the world into bite-sized chunks and read about what other people are doing.)

It takes others less time, I think, to realize that there’s a very short window to accomplish anything in life, and a lot of mundane steps to get there. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure stuff like that out.

So I changed my homepage to my to-do list, instead.

Podcast Beta

Okay, it might not be called Ironworks Gang when it’s done (even if it would be a nice nod to Steve Gillmor), but here it is, the inaugural podcast. In this week’s episode I was joined by ??Tom Wilkinson??, the soon-to-be-famous movie writer/director, and ??Darin Pesnell??, soon-to-be-famous pastor. The model is this: get a bunch of smart people that I like to talk to on a “free conference call”:http://freeconferencecall.com/, gab about stuff that’s interesting to us for an hour, and call it a podcast. Here’s this week’s topics:

* “Open Secrets”:http://www.newyorker.com/printables/fact/070108fa_fact by ??Malcolm Gladwell??
* the “iPhone”:http://www.apple.com/iphone
* the upcoming “IAM conference”:http://iamny.org/
* “Wal-Mart Puts Some Muscle Behind Power-Sipping Bulbs”:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/02/business/02bulb.html?ex=1325394000&en=7cdfdd70524b7590&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss (if that doesn’t work you can “read it here”:http://www.wkkf.org/default.aspx?tabid=94&CID=294&ItemID=5000466&NID=85&LanguageID=0)

Enjoy, let us know what you think, and leave a comment if you want to be on the next one! Oh, and special thanks to “Vessel”:http://brinkofski.com/vessel/ for use of their music.

Full Circle

We went to our first birthing class last night to, you know, figure out how to have a baby. It was hosted over at “realbirth”:http://realbirth.com, and taught by a good friend of ours at The Village Church.

While I’ve talked to Hallie quite a bit, it was _amazing_ to watch her teach a class on childbirth. She spoke with passion and a frankness that visibly relieved the worries of many of the parents-to-be in the room. Better, it was high-bandwidth communication: we sat there and absorbed every word, every gesture, and every silence she dealt out with the hope of getting a better handle on this wild and messy process.

Better still, I got the special privilege of seeing my work benefit countless couples in the city. A number of times throughout the class, Hallie pointed us back to “her site”:http://halliegreider.com for reference material and resources for expectant parents. Just tonight, I went back to flip through halliegreider.com and remember how “Scott”:http://greiders.blogspot.com/ and I put it together: the design was Scott’s, the Movable Type templates, PHP magic, markup and stylesheets were my responsibility. We shot for the moon when it came to extensibility — everything from the color schemes to the content to the photographs are changeable without writing a single line of code or modifying a stylesheet.

There have been a few times since we finished where Hallie mentioned how great the site has been for her, and it’s always a wonderful feeling to hear from a client two years after the fact that your work is _still valuable_ to them. But, being in that room full of young, scared, and hopeful New Yorkers and together dutifully jotting down her site address for future reference, it was apparent that all the effort from those nights and weekends had come full circle.

***

Sarah’s been feeling really good with the pregnancy, and we’ve been having fun getting together to talk about baby stuff: baby names, baby food, baby strollers, baby toys, “babies everywhere”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbjDj3G14YI. We’ve got mad, mad plans for the apt (which we’re staying in for now). The “office” will become half office, half nursery with crib, changing table, wardrobe, uh, desk and, er, filing cabinet. I’m hoping to introduce the geekdom early into our child’s education.

We never cease to be amused at the world of baby: the clever marketing tactic that Babies R Us uses to “highlight items”:http://www.toysrus.com/registry/truParentsCheckList.jsp you maybe “forgot” to register for, or the “$700 designer strollers”:http://www.bugaboostrollers.com/ you can buy, or the “endless”:http://money.cnn.com/2007/01/04/autos/car_seats/index.htm?postversion=2007010418, “fearful”:http://www.nichd.nih.gov/sids/ reminders to enforce Baby Rule #1: do not kill the baby.

Thankfully, Sarah’s been doing a ton of research and we’ve been reading some very level-headed books, so we feel as though we can transcend some of the baby madness. Russ & Sarah, Irene, Marla (our midwife — whose name I can’t help think of without adding “you _tourist_”), Hallie, and a dozen couples at the Village Church have all been really helpful with advice and insight so we can maybe move on to Baby Rule #2: do not screw up the baby’s life.

One day my son or daughter will look at me and say, “your blog was so boring before you were a dad.”

***

Steve Jobs speaks next week (Tuesday! 12PM EST!) at Macworld. The world waits with baited breath. Well, okay, maybe that’s just me. But with good reason as we’re considering adding a new Mac to our household. You know. For the baby.

***

The redesign of the site continues with Flickr photos up top. Jai’s right, the stylesheet needs some love so the site doesn’t look like an embarrassment for a 1997 web designer. I’ve still got to integrate some RSS feeds into the timeline to build out the “attention stream,” just as soon as I figure out how. I was considering using “Planet”:http://www.planetplanet.org/, but it’s kind of a kludgey solution given that I have no real love for the command-line. Why can’t someone just build this in PHP and slap a web-interface over top of it?

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??