Got it!

Remember way back when I posted this? Well, believe it or not, after waiting roughly a year, and we finally get to move in this September! Some friends of ours nicknamed the place ‘The Kneels’ because of all the prayer that went into waiting for it. The owners never did find a job, but decided to move anyway, to be closer to family. Or maybe they just wanted to move to a place where walking outside doesn’t feel like pouring jalepano juice over your body. Unfortunately, we will probably not have as much need in September for the central A/C as we do now.

So, it is official! We have a new apt. here in Newark. It is nicer, bigger, and in a building full of tenants who are not as likely to fall down the stairs drunk in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Even if they did, we would most likely not hear it. 

When we move in, pics will be on Flikr, and you locals will of course be invited to a house warming party. Heck, you may even be invited to help us move-lucky you!

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.

***

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?

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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??

So Emo

Having an Emo day? I am. Loving the new job, but those first couple defining weeks — you know, where you’re either identified as MVP or fumble the ball — are killer. Pandora has “some relief from the emo”:http://www.pandora.com/?sc=sh82150324808506612.

Things are good, really, though. I like working hard. I like showing up at the office, dressed sharp and ready to take names and…well, “you know the rest”:http://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&lr=&q=%22taking+names+and+kicking+*%22&btnG=Search. It’s a nice change from hating my job and being stuck in spreadsheet hell.

I’ve been writing at the Newark blog again, which I’ve been calling the “Daily Newarker”:http://blog.newarker.info/, of late. The “K2 theme”:http://getk2.com has been pretty stable, so I’ve been able to add some features. I recently was annoyed when I couldn’t get Google Ads working on the site. It took me 30 minutes, but eventually I figured out that my “ad blocker”:http://adblockplus.org/en/ was preventing my from seeing them. Lol and all the rest.

Europe feels like it was 6 months ago, but I’ve been working on the next blog entry about our trip. Sorry to leave y’all hanging there. We’re alive and well, and better for having gone. I spent what must have been five hours this past weekend trying to grind out another story, and I have a newfound respect for trilogy authors: part II is always tough.

More pictures will be going up soon of our trip to Europe. The hard drive on the laptop is stuffed to the rafters, though, so I can’t post new stuff until I can get it off the camera. I had this problem in Europe, too, and spent not a few hours paring and slicing and thinning out the content on the drive to make room.

I religiously rate my iTunes music so every once in a while I can dump the crap (songs rated 2 *’s are not long for this world). I’ve started the same habit with photos, too, which makes a lot of sense: why keep 20 photos of the same sunset trying to catch just the right shot when you can keep the one photo that tells the story and clear 30 MB of disk space by deleting the other 19? I might blog about our photo workflow at some point, but that’s it in a nutshell.

I got an email today telling me that “Festivus is upon us”:http://flickr.com/photos/matthewkrautheim/76472941/. I can’t wait.

Newark in a Nutshell

A few readers of Our Story have maybe been perplexed my interest in the city of Newark over the past few weeks, and might think our local politics aren’t really interesting to anyone outside our physical borders. I think, though, that if you take a look at what’s happening here, that you might find yourself fascinated by the tale of a city about to experience a resurgence similar to Baltimore and New York. Newark is an underdog that, for decades, has languished in flagging attempts to recover from damage done by the 1967 riots. For the past forty years, the city has been trying to rebuild, heal the wounds of poverty and racism, and recover from its reputation as politically corrupt and a hotbed for crime.

Newark has been “turning a corner” since as far back as 1990 — bringing in new development, arts, and culture — but its growth over the past decade has come in fits and starts as the city continues to struggle with crime and poverty. For many, a change in administration has come to mean a new era for the development of the city.

In 1995, Stanford-educated Rhodes scholar Cory Booker saw the potential of this city, and a place where he could make a difference with his life. He moved into one of the most run-down neighborhoods to identify with the people living there and find out how best he can help turn it around. His social concern developed into a political interest, and, four years ago, he ran for mayor and narrowly lost in a brutal campaign against five-term incumbent Mayor Sharpe James.

But, after staying under the radar and continuing to develop grass-roots support in the city, Booker ran again in the 2006 mayoral race. This time, his 10-year commitment to the poor of this city, his idealism, and his new approach to governing seems to have struck a chord with Newarkers looking for the next phase in the city’s history. Last night, Booker won the mayoral election in a 72% landslide.

??New York Times?? reporter ??Damien Cave?? has summarized this story in an article entitled, “Cory Anthony Booker: On a Path That Could Have No Limits”:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/10/nyregion/10man.html?_r=1&oref=slogin. Booker’s success could mean a real change for the city of Newark: safer streets, better education, and real growth for this city of 280,000 just five miles from Manhattan.

The “Everything Newark”:http://blog.newarker.info blog will continue to follow the story of the historic changes on which the city is about to embark. So, stick around — things are just about to get interesting. 🙂

Weekend Update: Newark Election, M:I:III, Top of the Rock, and Wearing Thai Food

Election Day in Newark is tomorrow. Cory Booker “will doubtless win the mayorship”:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/08/nyregion/08newark.html?_r=1&oref=slogin, a prize he has sought for at least five years, but the big question is whether he will be able to install enough of his team in the city council to be able to stabilize crime, resolve the looming fiscal crisis, and continue the city revitalization that has ever-so-slowly been coming to hopeful Newarkers. More coverage on the “Everything Newark”:http://blog.newarker.info blog.

Friday night was crash night: Sarah and I dragged ourselves out of NYC and into a movie theater in Elizabeth to see Mission: Impossible 3. It was everything we had hoped: fun, fast-paced, and mentally undemanding. “Highly recommended”:http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/mission_impossible_3/.

Saturday was gorgeous, though I spent most of it in a laundromat. Afterward was the much anticipated “unusual date”:http://kennsarah.net/2006/04/11/brag-moment/ at “Top of the Rock”:http://www.topoftherocknyc.com/ODTStatic/site.htm. I had briefly considered something at NJPAC this month, but didn’t want to repeat another performance venue. It was fun, with some “breathtaking views”:http://flickr.com/photos/tags/topoftherock/interesting/ of New York City and New Jersey. If you go, though, skip the “Rock Center Cafe”:http://www.rapatina.com/rockCenterCafe/ — the food, service and view were all underwhelming.

Sunday at the Village Church, where ??Sam Andreades?? showed off his apologetics chops (link forthcoming). Got Thai food with Darin and his son while Sarah and Krissy drove out to yet-another-baby-shower in the suburbs. “Owen celebrated our rare guys-only get together”:http://www.peznet.net/mig/index.php?currDir=./Owen_Sept_to_Dec_05&pageType=image&image=6.jpg by covering himself and everything within a three-foot radius of him in sticky white rice. Worked a bit on tweaking the sermon downloads page (“example”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/worship/sermons/2006/01/the-redefinition-of-simon-peter/) for the Village Church to make it more user-friendly and include links for bulletins.

On the Radar: Web Calendars, Lip-Syncing and Love (oh, my)

* “Boil the ocean”:http://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&lr=&safe=off&q=%22boil+the+ocean%22&btnG=Search, an egregious consulting term used to limit the scope of a project: “we’re not looking to boil the ocean with this.” Fast Company took “a shrewd look”:http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/88/debunk.html at the phrase, and Bob Congdon digs up its “earliest use”:http://www.bobcongdon.net/blog/2004/06/boil-ocean.html.
* “Moleskine Bible”:http://www.esv.org/blog/2006/04/journaling.bible.coming (“via Tim”:http://www.challies.com/sideblog/archives/001828.php). Very forward-thinking book design on the part of the Standard Bible Society. Bibles used to be beautifully constructed books that were admired, but rarely touched. That’s beginning to change as people want to — literally — interweave the story of their lives with the Scripture.
* YouTube: “Two Chinese Boys”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbdpTCJgnwc (“via Slate”:http://www.slate.com/id/2140697/). Be sucked into the vortex of incomparable splendor that is YouTube.
* ??Fortune Magazine??: “The Great Escape”:http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/03/20/8371767/. Forty million American employees toil in soulless cubicles. How did they get there — and can business ever break out of the box? Probably not.
* ??Crain’s Chicago Business??: “The new face of technology”:http://chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/mag/article.pl?article_id=25714&bt=37Signals&arc=n&searchType=all (“via Jason”:http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/crains_chicago_business_cover_story.php). Start-up! Start-up! Start-up! 😉
* ??Kathy Sierra??: “The myth of keeping up”:http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/04/the_myth_of_kee.html. You can’t keep up. There is no way. And trying to keep up will probably just make you dumber.You can never be current on everything you think you should be. Good to know I’m in good company.
* ??Michael Idov?? for ??Slate??: “Bitter Brew”:http://www.slate.com/id/2132576/. You know that charming little cafe on New York’s Lower East Side that just closed after a mere six months in business — where coffee was served on silver trays with a glass of water and a little chocolate cookie? The one that, as you calmly and correctly observed, was doomed from its inception because it was too precious and too offbeat? The one you still kind of fell for, the way one falls for a tubercular maiden? Yeah, that one was mine. Pragmatic advice for anyone who handles money. Worth listening to…twice.
* ??Sam Andreades??: “The Redefinition of Simon Peter”:www.villagechurchnyc.com/worship/sermons/2006/01/the-redefinition-of-simon-peter/. Are you really free from how others look at you? I don’t just mean saying ‘I don’t care what other people think of me’–there are plenty of people in New York saying that. … Are you really free of carrying the responsibility of your reputation with others?
* Apple: “Get a Mac”:http://www.apple.com/getamac/ads/?ilife_medium (“via Dan”:http://hivelogic.com/links/133). Quietly brilliant new “switcher” ads by Apple. Is it me, or does PC look a little like Mr. Gates? 🙂
* ??John Gruber??: “Good Journalism”:http://daringfireball.net/2006/05/good_journalism. One can only hope that Apple will one day handle security issues as well as Microsoft does now. Wow, you can _taste_ the bitterness in this article.
* ??Evan Ratliff??: “Now for a Quick Lesson in International Relations”:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/30/fashion/sundaystyles/30love.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin (“via Angela”:http://hereisangela.blogspot.com/2006/04/modern-love.html). Feeling suddenly like a shy 10-year-old in the playground, I pretended not to understand. But he walked off, and there was nothing to do but follow. I was already uneasy in Dhaka, unable to blend in or communicate, and now self-consciousness was joined by a simultaneous thrill and fear that I was walking into some vortex of cultural misunderstanding.
* ??Angela Wu??: “Religious map of America”:http://hereisangela.blogspot.com/2006/05/religious-map-of-america.html. Like, if you grew up going to church all your life and everybody else you knew did, too, you might fervently believe lots of things… (bonus: “cows”:http://hereisangela.blogspot.com/2006/05/beating-dead-cow.html)
* The Village Church just might be getting “a new calendar”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/events/ based on the open-source “WebCalendar”:http://www.k5n.us/webcalendar.php?topic=About. WebCalendar has been okay to work with, but not trivial to integrate with the site — due in part because it’s “ugly as a dog”:http://www.k5n.us/webcal-screenshots/wcss-month.png out of the box. Still, it will export an iCal feed, so if you’ve got 30 Boxes or Google Calendar, you can “subscribe”:http://www.villagechurchnyc.com/events/publish.php?user=public.
* ??Fast Company??: ” Varnished History”:http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/94/pr.html. The documentary itself won’t be featured in any film classes — but in the tawdry realm of corporate propaganda, there has been worse.
* ??InterVarsity??: “Ministry Exchange Overview”:http://www.intervarsity.org/mx/item/3674/. IV constructs a massive content management system to share ministry materials, providng features as web-2.0 savvy as tagging and RSS feeds. Well done–this is worth watching for a while.
* ??Ken Walker??: “The Debate Over Newark, Part II”:http://blog.newarker.info/2006/05/04/the-debate-over-newark-part-ii/. Have you heard? We’re getting a new mayor in Newark after 20 years of the same administration. The candidates recently debated — here’s how it went.

On the Radar: All Those Pretty Widgets Edition

* ??Heather Armstrong??: “How to medicate with legal substances”:http://www.dooce.com/archives/daily/04_21_2006.html. Two, we spread a layer of peanut butter on top because we ran out of spreadable cocaine.
* YouTube: “Apple Music Event 2001-The First Ever iPod Introduction”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN0SVBCJqLs. Steve Jobs introduces his little digital wonder to the world.
* ??Steve Pavlina??: “How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off”:http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/04/how-to-get-up-right-away-when-your-alarm-goes-off/ (“via”:http://www.lifehacker.com/software/sleep/how-to-get-up-when-you-really-want-to-169533.php). I’d love to try this out, but I have a feeling that simply _going to sleep at a decent hour_ might be just as effective.
* “Widgets”:http://automattic.com/code/widgets/, “widgets”:http://widgets.wordpress.com/, “widgets”:http://wordpress.org/development/2006/03/widgets-plugin/, “widgets”:http://wordpress.com/blog/2006/02/25/wordpress-widgets/, “widgets”:http://photomatt.net/2006/03/29/wordpress-widgets/ — the WordPress world is in love with them, and for good reason. Widgets make customizing WordPress even more accessible for mere mortals. A nice side benefit: they also make upgrading your theme much more painless. With the “ExecPHP”:http://widgets.wordpress.com/2006/04/10/execphp/ and default text widgets, you can make sidebar mods (such as advertising, etc.) without worrying about them getting overwritten after a theme upgrade. Great work.
* ??Seth Godin??: “Ode: How to tell a great story”:http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2006/04/ode_how_to_tell.html. Great stories are subtle. Surprisingly, the fewer details a marketer spells out, the more powerful the story becomes. Talented marketers understand that allowing people to draw their own conclusions is far more effective than announcing the punch line.
* ??Ken Walker??: “He Smells Like the Future”:http://blog.newarker.info/2006/04/26/he-smellslike-the-future/. On watching the Newark debut of Marshall Curry’s “Street Fight” (two years after the movie’s release) and Q&A with the director at Rutgers-Newark.
* ??LifeHacker??: “Download of the Day 2: Google SketchUp”:http://www.lifehacker.com/software/downloads/download-of-the-day-2-google-sketchup-170027.php. What the…?! Where did this program come from? I played with this a bit–it’s definitely complex, but interesting. Why would Google want us to play around with 3D modelling?
* ??Ben Goodger??: “Firefox 2: Safer, Faster, Better”:http://www.bengoodger.com/software/mb/2.0/firefox2-vision.html. It won’t have the much-coveted (and advertised) “Places”:http://wiki.mozilla.org/Places functionality, but Ben tells you why Firefox will _still_ be cool in 2.0. Can’t wait ’til “August”:http://wiki.mozilla.org/Firefox2/Schedule!
* ??Steve Smith??: “Staying Small in a Big Place: Part 1”:http://orderedlist.com/articles/staying-small-in-a-big-place-part-1/. Kind of like “Getting the Basics Right”:http://relevantmagazine.com/life_article.php?id=7104 for teams. Good read.
* “Uno”:http://gui.interacto.net/ is an attempt to cut down on the GUI dissonance you might experience while using a Mac — all of the windows are made to look the same (rather than the ongoing conflict between “brushed metal”:http://daringfireball.net/2005/09/anthropomorphized and the “other guy”:http://daringfireball.net/2006/01/brushed_metal). There’s even a matching “Firefox theme”:http://takebacktheweb.org/, which makes FF look a lot less ugly in OS X.

One nice example of using widgets to hack your WP templates: I just set up a widget to carry some CSS code embedded in a “style” tag in my sidebar. I know, it’s right smack in the middle of my HTML which is “totally illegitimate”:http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/present/styles.html#edef-STYLE. But, hey, if the pros can occassionally “thumb their noses at the validator”:http://www.stopdesign.com/log/2004/02/05/bebad.html, why can’t I? 🙂 (Okay, okay: Doug was thumbing his nose at a _bug_ in the validator…but, still).