SMICK.NET | Website of Mike Smick Graphics and Web Developer

Slack Alternatives

Recently I was on a team that used Slack for communication. I think it serves as a postitive force in many technical and complex environments. Though just like email and every other tool including the telephone, users  and managers of said tool must be aware of misuse and allowing things to get out of hand. Productivity, focus and a balance of work and home shouldn’t suffer by adding these kinds of communications tools.

I like when open and commercial alternatives crop up, free or not. It means that a mainstay app like Slack needs to keep up, whether it be on performance, openness. And it also means that the forks of of the open source alternatives can mesh into efficient tools for teams and individuals.

So if you work on a team and don’t use a communications app like Slack and find yourself overwhelmed, at least take a look at it.  And if you already use slack or are debating so, take a look at these other alternatives.

Mattermost – http://mattermost.org

Mattermost, which reached a stable state recently, is a self-hosted solution for bringing all your team communication to one place, and making it searchable and accessible anywhere.

Zulip – http://zulip.org

Zulip is a powerful open source group chat. Feature-wise it has drag-and-drop file uploads, image pasting, group private messages, audible notifications, missed-message emails, desktop apps, and everything else you might want.

Matrix – http://matrix.org

A little less obvious, Matrix is an open standard for interoperable, decentralised, real-time communication over IP. It can be used to power Instant Messaging, VoIP/WebRTC signalling, Internet of Things communication – or anywhere you need a standard HTTP API for publishing and subscribing to data whilst tracking the conversation history. Looking at the site you find that it is less of an app and more of a collection of projects.

Glowing Bear – https://www.glowing-bear.org/ – https://github.com/glowing-bear/glowing-bear

Glowing Bear has that look of IRC, so it won’t wow you with features like Zulip or Mattermost, but it’s going to have direct communication and speed handled. From their Github page: Glowing Bear is a web frontend for the WeeChat IRC client and strives to be a modern interface. It relies on WeeChat to do all the heavy lifting and then provides some nice features on top of that, like embedding images, videos, and other content. The best part, however, is that you can use it from any modern internet device.

Thanks for taking a look. Let me know @michaelbuddy on twitter if you find these or another alternative helpful.

October 14, 2015 at 11:58 am | business, computers | No comment

Do more, faster

Last month a video was shared with me about this young man from Colorado named Easton LaChappelle who during high school taught himself programming and electronics because he was inspired to make something cool; A robot hand that could be controlled with a glove.  At a science fair he met a young girl who had a prosthetic arm that he learned cost about $80,000.  His hobby of cool became a mission. Through connections over the internet, learning 3D CAD modelling he kept persisting and iterating using all the methods he could as fast as he could. The evolution over such a short time is awe inspiring.

Easton is really an inspiration. He’s 19 and lives a life of curiosity and selflessness outside boundaries. Enjoy!

The video I originally watched about all this was shared on Facebook shared by a friend.  He makes a very special announcement at the end of it. Easton’s company that he founded at age 17 is called Unlimited Tomorrow.

February 11, 2015 at 3:58 pm | 3D, computers, gadgets, inspiration, interesting, learning, philosophy | No comment

Pro tip for Tax Time – download full report of items purchased from Amazon

Tax time yay!  Man, I always forget things I’ve bought that relate to work. It’s been a year for g’s sake. I’ve started scanning receipts ever since I got my little Doxie scanner. But wherever I archive those isn’t going to be the same place my online purchases are found.  But I recently found from digging for an old order of a product for warranty return that Amazon has some very nice tools for getting your purchase data archive.

You can get an archive download spreadsheet quite easily, once you log in:

Go to Your Account > Your Orders > Order History Report

Fill out the start and end date (it goes back up to 10 years too!).  After a few seconds your report will be ready to download. It will be a .CSV which can be opened in Excel or other spreadsheet software, or even a text editor.  Looking for that equipment you bought for tax deduction? Just search on the spreadsheet (Ctrl+F / Cmd + F) for “Shelving” or “Laptop” or whatever it was.  Excel will take you right to it. All the order numbers, dates pricing tons of info, all there. Screenshot below.  Now on to the tax deductions, Blech…

amazon-order-history-report

January 27, 2015 at 11:45 pm | business, computers, gadgets, interesting, media | No comment

Some thoughts on SaaS projects and pricing

There are a lot of web services out there that impress me. Some I’d really like to commit to but I simply can’t justify the cost. It may benefit me to have but I just can’t make myself pay money for it against what I feel is a proper price. I think the pricing structure on many of these new services is just off and becomes a turn-off for sole-proprietors. Because there is a lot of competition, it makes your product easy to ignore. The trend of $29.99 per month a very common price for SaaS products. Things like SaaS accounting or enhanced social media tools and bulk email software show that trend. I’m starting to see $39.99 as a base price too. I think some of these programs can become deeply ingrained in the workflow of companies. And some find their service uniquely meeting their needs. So big deal on the price right? Well I think it’s fair to make a few comments on pricing and SaaS trends in general from a perspective of a small business owner.

  1. Your name doesn’t mean diddly to me once I’ve evaluated your service. I know you needed a funny name to capture me and the attention of media and the heart of the public at first but it ends there. The service is either strong or weak. And the more “creative” the name, the more silly I may find recommending it to others. (e.g. GIMP). If your service is disappointing and you’ve associated it with baby mongoose well then congratulations, I now hate baby mongooses. (mongeese?) Whatever, just don’t overdo the name. I’d rather have a boring name and be rich than any alternative really.
  2. When you base your pricing directly on your competitors and other Saas projects, or in general follow trends, it’s obvious and annoying. I realize imitation is like an economic model, but a lot of us think you simply have no clear way of justifying anything. I realize that I may be hard to please and others buy into the trap more easily, but keep in mind that when you compare yourself to others, you also have to react more often to others. So if your competitor that you worked so hard to match drops their price, where does it leave you if you based everything so closely on others.
  3. I’m seeing 7 and 14 days trial are common and “Sign up Free” button next to that, as if you you think that’s somehow incredibly generous. Now I realize you read a blog post somewhere that said that was a cool way to get sign ups. But once again you’ve helped me conclude how unimpressive you are at this. Here’s a hint for you: At companies large and small, nobody has any time to evaluate something properly and share their thoughts and get feedback in just 7 or 14 days and be able to do a demo with everyone. Even 30 days still looks like you are stingy idiots. All of us evaluating this crap (I mean your really great offering) know that it’s costing you barely pennies to have our account folder created. All the communication is auto-generated so when you put a 30 day limit on this it just sounds artificial and arbitrary and lacks confidence. Instead why not give me three months to evaluate the software. Let me have enough time to make a decision among my 5 stakeholder colleagues. And what if I get everything done in that 3-month period without paying? Well if that scares you, it sounds like you need to kill off free trials all together. Because I know plenty of people who can complete the same project in seven or fourteen days that others would stretch to three months. Someone can always game the system. I think this comes down to confidence and actual worth. If your service is more of a one-and-done kind of thing maybe a monthly fee isn’t really appropriate and you need to view it that way.
  4. Take a look at Turbo Tax and TaxCut. Nobody likes paying for tax software. But we do it. And we sit on it for months, finally use it for 2 days and then it gets binned till next year. We paid maybe $30 or $99 for that and it’s something we could have done essentially for free on paper. I’m not necessarily praising Tax Cut or Turbo Tax because I can’t get over the fact that the IRS doesn’t have it’s own legit tax wizard software. And that we pay less for submitting (paper) which takes more overhead on their end to bother with. Whatever. What I’m saying is just look at those models outside your industry especially those where everyone buys them almost like mindless drones. Find out what they might be doing right.
  5. Don’t act surprised that people want to self-host. Why not plan for it where you can make some real money from that option. Some companies really don’t like or have policies against having 3rd parties host their data. They may really love your offering and would use it except for that it can’t be self-hosted. They might even be more than happy to pay a massive sum in order to use your software in-house. And your fee structure could be wildly different for that kind of client. These clients might be trying to move away from some buggy Sharepoint install and replace with your service. They could be paying a consultant team $50,000 a year to maintain it. If yours is a dedicated service that requires less maintenance, you might still be able to make say $15,000 or $20,000 by having a self-hosted method, provide support that beats a more generalized consultant and everybody is happier.
  6. Have a one-project model. Not everyone is going to live in this software. Sometimes it’s just a piece of software you use for a phase of one project and then you get out. I realize that I could just unsubscribe, but I don’t want to deal with that chance that the project gets postponed in the middle and then resumes 45 days later and this fee is just another detail to worry about. If I know that I can get this phase of my project out of the way by using your software and it’s gonna just work and not disappear, I’d be comfortable choosing your service. Did you all forget that people pay for peace-of-mind? Well start remembering because that’s really the point of software, to make the details easier to deal with and give us a comfortable workflow that matches our brain better. People might prepay for the software, use it actively for 2 months, would like it available but uneditable for 14 months and afterwards completely deleted. Account for this, make it easy for us to pass costs to our clients in a predictable way.
  7. I look at the number of users limitation on Saas products and again it just looks artificial. Artificiality breeds mistrust. Think about it. because I have four people I have to pay 10 times the amount because I’m suddenly an enterprise customer? The thresholds simply aren’t generous or realistic enough for me. One user vs three users isn’t bogging down your servers. Smart customers know this. So why are we pretending that this threshold is meaningful. I don’t have an answer for this dilemma that fits every company but I can just reiterate that peace of mind and engendering confidence should be the goal. Arbitrary limitations do not engender confidence with me. Or consider this. Show me why a fourth person makes all the difference in the world and should double your cost and my price. Give me a page that explains why four users increases your support volume so much that you have no other choice.
  8. Equal price for additional users doesn’t feel right. Although I can see in some cases it probably makes the most sense. It’s very democratic but let me just comment on this structure a bit. So if I have your program dedicated to a specific set of tasks my company depends on, I probably have a dedicated user for it and happily pay $XX.95 a month for her to get her job done. But I probably also have people who sort of buzz in and out to check on things just periodically. One one hand, I don’t want to set functionality limits on these secondary users, but they will use it so much less that the value isn’t as high for them. To me those users shouldn’t cost the same as the dedicated user and maybe should be considerably less. The upside is if it’s cheaper to add people to the account the more likely I’ll add more people and you might gain another $4.95 a month for three more users who logged in two times the entire quarter. This is another example of setting people’s minds at ease and reinforcing the reality that it costs very little to have an account on a server somewhere.
  9. If your website has default Bootstrap written all over it, and your app looks like bootstrap that’s totally fine with me. Absolutely fine to the point where if you’re getting complaints I think you should ignore them. Bootstrap can do most people quite well. Because it’s so common it also caches well and speeds everything up the more popular it is. It handes web app functionality and it’s a very cost effective way to do UI. Rather than a yawn, I’ll probably think you’re a pretty smart team. With that said, by using unstyled bootstrap also revealed that you’ve leveraged and saved money from open source software and I absolutely expect savings passed on to me. Can you see that there’s a distinction. That I expect a savings yet I’m not devaluing it? There is a real distinction there in terms of reputation. I actually think it’s very smart business. I use a self-hosted app right now that’s bootstrappy for invoicing. I like it a lot and I know that it can be modified more easily and upgrades and add-ons will also share that efficiency. It’s a good move to play in a lower-overhead tier. Because of that, I will not absolutely demand, but I will assume a better price. Keep this in mind and adjust accordingly. But be smart about it. Look at fast food. It’s very inexpensive and very profitable when you make efficient decisions. Software can be better because efficiency decisions don’t effect long-term health either.
  10. I wasn’t sure I’d get to ten, but here goes. Leave behind older browsers without shame but do your best to support all the latest ones especially mobile. Some things are available on Chrome that aren’t on Firefox and that bothers me because there’s cutting edge and bleeding edge. Certainly IE and Android and iOS and Opera make it pretty difficult task to support everything. Old browsers don’t really help you or your client base. And though I said earlier that you should support the idea of self-hosted installs and the opportunities there I firmly believe that older browsers hinder you moving forward efficiently. Moving to Saas offerings to me is a signal to progression. And the amount of time trying to implement something sophisticated such as a html5 canvas app backward compatible to previous versions of IE mean that the rest of us pay a lot more for your overhead to maintain a very small number of clients. As a result, features and fixes and mobile improvements don’t happen because the team is forced to focus an inordinate amount of energy to old stuff. With that said, if a product of yours worked on IE in a previous version, maintain that version for people and allow people to cross-grade smoothly if possible, but don’t continue to move backwards. If I’m stuck on IE8 for the next three years, I’m probably not used to change and improvements anyway so keep me on the old version that gets little to no upkeep. Consider scaling your prices accordingly too. If the old version gets 5% of the maintenance maybe the agreement needs an end-of-life clause and an adjustment to pricing makes sense. Use these old versions to leverage customers to upgrade to the latest browser and version of your system. Make it clear that an upgrade savings leaves IE8 behind and the benefit is a cheaper monthly price. Consider these options and don’t discount the benefit to transparency for things like this. If you need to change prices to support old systems or new upgrades, make it clear and transparent.

My last comment regarding Saas pricing is that no matter what you think about your product, it’s no where near as essential as email and reliable email can be had for $24 a year down to near zero. So if you’re not as essential and everyone falls back on email as the most dependable way of transmitting communication, how does that configure in how people will perceive your product’s value and what will convince them to sign up. I see this a lot. A product is useful and replaces email chains and attachments but it’s priced way out and the added hassle of getting everyone on board with logins is a brain hassle that we end up paying for when we can just fall back to email for the time being. Think about that.

January 12, 2014 at 12:43 pm | computers, freelance, rants, webdev | No comment

Ways of organizing your CSS to achieve flow

Could you be writing your CSS better? I’ve been thinking about my project flow lately and noticed there’s a lot less flow and a lot more rework than there should be. I think that’s because I’m always trying new things. But I suffer the consequences of not establishing consistency and clarity. In this post, I’m talking specifically about how you wire up your main CSS file. When I talk about organization here, I’m talking about categories inside that css, so it’s easy to traverse. I firmly believe it can help speed up development and improve everything.

CSS Comments

This is how you can create categories. Write CSS comments out so they visually look like category headers.  Example:

/* ========   This is a Category Separator CSS comment   ========= */

Everything under this comment would be idenfied with it as a category.  I’ve made a lot of variations on this type of header. I’m not sure what  you like but using special characters appears to work well. I like Equals signs because they create a thick obvious border.

Categorize by function

What are the bits of CSS affecting?  Consider that if you are covering font changes, you can group all your typography under one header. So when you make a font change, presumably that section will be easy to find and less stuff to read through. Same for layout. Are you changing the padding for one or more divs? Put it under the Layout / Div category.

/* ========   Reset (if applicable)   ========= */

/* ========   Colors   ========= */

/* ========   Typography   ========= */

/* ========   Layout / Div   ========= */

/* ========   Misc classes   ========= */

Categorize by task / override

CSS means Cascading Style Sheet. The cascade is like the waterfall down a multi-level rock formation. The code described at the top, falls all the way down. So the global rules you put at the top. Underneath that, you continue with the exceptions to the rule, going from genral to specific. You can think of this and how your project is built. The template will have some standard things, and trickle down to the very specific. Some changes might only occur on specific pages, while others only occur in a single spot on one page and never again.

/* ========  Base (styles every page)   ========= */

Things like the menu bar, the header maybe (unless it will change in appearance leveraging CSS)

/* ========   Site Section Level changes   ========= */

/* ========   Specific Page Styles or Overrides   ========= */

/* ========   Occasional Styling   ========= */

/* ========   Minutiae (could almost be used inline but decidedly better here)   ========= */

Categorize By Visual Areas

This one is really common for me, but I grow it organically for each project rather than commit to specific labels each time. I’m not necessarily sure how not to do this in some respect on projects because my brain thinks this way.

/* ========  Body  (A few type or color global values )  ========= */

/* ========  Header  ========= */

/* ========  Navigation Menu  ========= */

/* ========  Content / Main  ========= */

/* ========  Gallery  ========= */

/* ========  Sidebar  ========= */

/* ========  Footer  ========= */

/* ========  Misc. or further addendum ========= */

I just want to point out this last Misc. section I also would add things like classes that the WYSIWYG editor uses.

Collaborating with Others

If you work alone, you benefit from being able to drive standards 100%. If you work with others, you want to best conform but also to discuss and agree to ways to do projects. Mostly it will come down to cross-training.  A lot of developers do quick and dirty CSS while fixing the widget they are working on and unfortunately never go back to clean it up.  This behavior will go on and it just needs to be repeatedly trained.  Ongoing project improvements and maintenance require some attention to details.  When you put things in categories a benefit you’ll find is eliminating redundancy. When everyone is referring to the same codeblock of CSS for edits to the base or header or typography, there’s a good chance they will see the previous entry for that class so it won’t be repeated.

When you work in a version control system you can see who added what to the code, but whether or not that’s the case, consider this. Some changes might be best identified near the code itself.  Let me give a quick scenario.  Let’s say you are a 3rd party agency taking on a new section of the site.  Your front end dev may not have a couple days to get a full understanding of the site, and all the current or outdated pages under the hood. Your task might be to build a certain landing page page in the CMS. If you have say 4 hours to work on something while the main developer is on leave. Instead of meddling with the code, create your own section.  If it happens to break some outdated legal page, at least your code is easy to find.

/* ========  Edits by Open Ground Co (for x landing page 11.30.2013) ========= */

Another variation on this, if you happen to need to make a fix to an existing line, consider a quick comment after it:

.classname {padding-left:-1.2em; }  /* == OG edit 11.30.2013 == */

These variations and tips are attempting to say the same thing: “Begin with the end in mind.”

December 1, 2013 at 12:36 pm | computers, CSS, design, freelance, Front End Development, graphics, webdev | No comment

Website time-wasters and the light tendency of habit

The internet will be the end of some people. It will ruin their otherwise intelligent (and even productive) brain and skillset. Because it’s so frightenly easy for somebody to indulge in the wrong content that will take them away from their goals. If you have goals to produce something new, a news aggregator site like Reddit or Hacker News, indulging in them for too long will take away the mindshare that would help you create the kind of output you’re capable of.

track-switch - Photo by Peter Kaminski - Flickr.com/creativecommons/We think of addiction and bad habits as being this pull we can’t seem to break free of. But if you observe more closely, you start to see how many habits are really just small tendencies. We know what we are supposed to do, but our brain has wired a bad habit. A bad habit isn’t always that strong, we just have the process locked down. And disrupting it is just as easy as indulging in it. Think of it like that track switch lever for a train. Flip the switch, and your off on a completely different course.

My brain loves the new and loves exploring. And it gets rewarded because I found the right sites that feed it exactly what I want. If your brain loves interaction and gossip, your rewards might be easily met from Facebook. If you like to laugh at people acting silly, your dish of rewards is found at Youtube or College Humor. But you can switch the track and it’s not like you’ll suddenly throw a fit or crash. Once on the new course, you’ll think, “Well I’m better off doing this other thing anyway.”

I’ve had a browser extension called Leechblock for Firefox installed for years. I certainly don’t use it enough but I’m really seeing how valuable it is.  It might actually save someone from ruining their career. That’s how important this or plugins like it can be. You enter a web address or a list of them and make them a blockable set. So if you’re too often checking news in the morning. Enter those sites and block them at those times. It’s probably your weak habit or tendency to browse these sites, and it may be all you need. The way you know it’s a weak tendency rather than a real addiction is if you can think back on days when you just forgot about them or didn’t visit because you were so focused on something you actually made more important. It’s very likely that you’ve avoided them for real work before. So there’s no reason you can’t do it more often. Other than inaction or lack of desire that is. Another test is, if you had a site that you used to go to, but now kinda sucks, or went dead. You moved on. It’s not like your still tapping in that old url years later with bloodshot eyes waiting for it to come back. You changed tracks.

Leechblock for Firefox

If you keep sabotaging yourself despite using a blocker, maybe it’s time for something stronger, like further reinforcement such as editing your hosts file to fully prevent those sites.  If you don’t want to ever check a specific site again, you can add it to a permanent block list in Leechblock or through a hosts file.

leechblock-blockpage

When you do habitually type that url or open that shortcut, you will met with the Leechblock Block page. It’s generic, but you can make that alternative blocker page any page you want. So instead maybe have it send you to your online todo list, or to really break the pattern, maybe have it redirect you to something you hate, such as an image gallery of a really annoying pop music artist named Minaj or Bieber.  Or to a custom message page you make, like a big bold quote about habits or confidence or motivation. “Y0u’re an epic (whatever) with some serious chops, stop doing things that make your bank account shrink!”

On Google Chrome, you can use Nanny, or StayFocused which are similar.  For Safari, something called Waste No Time is available, though I haven’t tested it, as Safari is not something I ever use. For Internet Explorer, the solution is really not to use Internet Explorer.

Here’s the thing.  You don’t just correct your procrastinating tendencies by reading a blog post. I mean you might, but I’m writing this thing and I’m well aware that I’ll still delay things. But as you are procrastinating, it’s important to remember that all the crazy sites and articles and videos about news and technology, they all use your brain. Your brain uses a lot of energy and it’s a finite amount for the day really. So if you’re going to distract yourself due to the pain or boredom of an upcoming task, at least you can do is be a little productive about it right? No rule says you must read a specific site while procrastinating.

Productive Ways to Procrastinate when your brain wants to delay a task

Lastly, you already know all this don’t you? So do I. And we’ll still waste time. But since it’s often a weak habit, based on a light tendency rather than a need. It’s ok to try different ways to disrupt it and have them fail.  And you can have a little fun with it too.

May 20, 2013 at 12:21 pm | computers, freelance, inspiration, learning, tools | No comment

The Forgotten Adobe Customers

Adobe has announced their move to Creative Cloud this week.  And though it seems like a great deal to some, I’m beyond skeptical and downright disappointed. For one thing, it’s not really a great price as far as cloud storage goes. To get 20 GB of space, you can spend a heck of a lot less on your own hosting where a much smaller number of people will be hitting your own server every day. So your throughput will be better elsewhere for less money.

I’m sure Adobe knows who their customers are right? But I think they will find after a while, these forgotten user-types will have stopped buying the software and Adobe is going to miss it.  Will somehow the funds recovered from piracy make up for it?  Maybe. Or will the pirates just continue to pirate the best version out there?

The Administrative Assistant

This user is employed at small or medium business, like an architectural firm and the boxed Creative Suite Standard was purchased for them for occasional uses such as photo work, newsletter development, presentation graphics. The facts about this user are interesting. They don’t actually need the Creative Suite. It’s way too powerful for the kind of superficial edits that it will be used for. Lucky for Adobe though, the company boss purchases the license for the potential use by the employee. And it’s convenient for them to have the software around.  They get it installed and don’t have to think about it much.

The IT Guy with a Creative itch

This is a very common archetype if you will. The IT guy might own his own copy or convinced the boss to purchase the extra license.  The IT guy bangs on the companies fledgling website using Dreamweaver and a little Photoshop. Of course his graphics always display out of proportion, but things work. Maybe he’s aware of other options for web development, but this is the tool he knows is popular and was easy enough to get started and find tutorials. . Again seeing the potential of it’s use over time, it was a purchase made to get tasks done and scratch that itch.

The Retiree Hobbyist

He or she has graduated their careers and maybe is moving into a new hobby or startup doing weddings or nature videography / photography, and to maybe play around with music a bit.  Sure their Windows computer has the movie maker software on it but they never bothered to notice.  The Video Collection was a steep purchase, but they were sure they will have EVERYTHING they need to get things done. Because they often get stuck on things, weeks or months will go by on projects because they aren’t sure how to complete various tasks. They also have the patience and available time to return to something completed and rework it after they’ve learned a new technique.

The Disenchanted Freelancer

This person is me.  Not on the continuous upgrade path, but willing to spend on the new Adobe Collection every odd or even version to stay up to date with colleagues and vendors. Things are expensive to stay current but on the plus side, a having those older boxed versions to outfit a second computer for an intern or collaborator, or to make an aging machine capable has been great.  As far a loyalty goes, a freelancer is about the best Adobe can hope for. Despite being more than capable of learning other tools, the freelancer uses Adobe because it’s convenient. The freelancer owns his / her own company name. They like having their own systems in place. They like not having a boss to tell them what to spend time and energy on.

All of these users are valuable customers and revenue for Adobe. And yet all of them represent a thin thread, easily broken.  That thin thread for many was the creative potential that owning your own software brings. Sure they won’t be able to crank out webpages, or videos or right away, but if they can sit on it for a while, let the ideas digest and come to fruition.  Then they can make something special or useful.  Or they won’t. But the point was the potential. With Creative Cloud, you remove that potential.

The disenchanted freelancer will sign on for a month when absolutely necessary to fix up a problem in an incompatible proprietary file, but otherwise, there’s no benefit to paying to borrow software for many of us.  Ask the IT guy whether he’s cool with yet another subscription. I mean he only pays for TV, ESPN, HBO, Family Cell Phone plan, kids hockey, Netflix.  Will the boss pay for a creative cloud subscription for the admin assistant or will he figure out that Office has Publisher and she can use Picasa or some online photo editor to handle the image crops. And the Retiree? Good luck getting his money now on something he’s only using 11% of realistically.

I’m not sure presenting people with the decision every month or even every year if they want to keep using the Creative Cloud is a good idea.  Because it’s a reminder of whether or not it’s worth their time or money. Whereas before somebody only had to worry about if they were living up to their creative potential.

May 9, 2013 at 10:45 am | computers, design, freelance, graphics, publishing, rants | No comment

Track your phone calls with a web form

I read recently some people wrote down every call they made or received and tracked them with a tearaway notepad.  And they could put these sheets of calls into their file folders. I thought this was a great practice, just as part of documenting your day. Easy and you never know, how beneficial

Phones track calls nowadays giving the call records, but I’m kind of privy to clean those out once in a while. I wanted a way to document what was said on the call, any commitments made etc.

I decided, why not make a form specifically for documenting calls. Gravity forms would do. And what I wanted was to list the caller, date, notes from the call and any commitments made.

I then password protected the page and now I can log those calls. And at the end of the quarter or year I can take a look at it.  I wanted it to have a simple mobile theme as well.  Funny thing is, I used the form for 2 days without realizing that I forgot to add a place for the person’s phone number.

So once I fixed that, I thought, wouldn’t it be great to be able to quickly review those?  So I found a plugin called Gravity Forms Directory and you can display your entries onto a page using a shortcode. Boom.

Call Tracking Form

January 15, 2013 at 12:50 am | computers, freelance | No comment

Can’t be there for the experience? Watch somebody else do it for you!

I almost feel bad for kids who don’t know the world before YouTube. Because you simply couldn’t experience things that were out of reach financially or geographically nearly as easily and instantly as any time before.  I want young people to appreciate this more because it’s absolutely insane.

I have probably 50 examples of why this is so great but I’m only going to do three of them.

Show me technology I may never get to touch

For starters, I was really curious about the new Tesla Motors line of electric cars.  I don’t  know much about the cars, but I was really interested to see the touch screen console that I knew they were pioneering. Here’s a great walk-through of it’s on-board computer. I get to see if there’s a glare, the operation of the temperature guages, media and maps.

Travel and sightseeing

Next, I’ve actually been to this place in Japan before, but I wanted to quickly relive being there and see if my memory of certain details were correct. This is the medicine Buddha statue in Chiba Japan on Mount Nokogiri. The buddha is Yakushi Nyorai.  It’s a beautiful little mountainous area with a forest, hiking and views of the bay down below.

Game Walk-throughs

Games take 10 to 30 to hundreds of hours of play. And my favorite genre, horror is full of titles that have poor controls and aren’t really all that adventuresome. So I’ve really enjoyed the past few years watching “Let’s Play” video from the many people who record their games using Fraps and  share their experience. It can compress a game into less time and you can jump from video to video to see areas throughout the span of the game.

Pewdiepie is this hilarious and lovable gamer in Sweden who has branded his own version of “Let’s Play” game walk-throughs both with narration and a webcam showing his face during the game. His narration with his mixed foreign / California accent has really grown on me. And the thing is, he’s this fun-loving guy who likes to share and embraces the millions of fans that watch his videos each week. Recently he invited people to join him on this Omegle video chat where you can connect to him one on one.  He recorded those webcam chats and made a video of his fans reactions when they finally connected with him live on screen.

How strong of a following can a guy named Pewdiepie get? Aside from the millions of youtube views on each video of his, game modders for the game Amnesia the Dark Descent have made special levels and mini games just for him with Pewdiepie inside jokes included. One video in a dark corridor of the game, has a painting on the wall of Pewdiepie himself..  He calls his community the ‘bro-army’ and starts most of his games with a “What’s up Bros” and ends them with Bro-fist bumps to the webcam.

Unfortunately for some, his videos are full of foul language, but if you don’t mind that, see what you think.

 

October 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm | computers, inspiration | No comment

Farewell Steve Jobs

I have kind of hidden the way I felt about Steve Jobs’ death over the past couple weeks. But it’s been on my mind a lot. I didn’t know Steve Jobs and maybe it’s silly to have so much emotion or interest over somebody I never met. I mean I know all the stories about him being belligerent or cruel. And I know yet another article about him is just going to make people roll their eyes.

It’s just that I keep finding myself going back to all the writings and the videos that I’ve looked at over the years. My first computer was an Apple IIc. When my parents brought it home, I just about fainted. I do believe it was the best present they’ve ever shared with us. I think of how expensive it was and I know at the time my dad stretched his money to get one of the better ones from the shop. They got it for all of us and they chose a special combination of components. They put thought and effort and money into it and I deeply thank them and love my mom and dad for that. Back then computers were so new, most people didn’t really have the mindset that it would be obsolete in a few months. That wasn’t a notion. Computers were a new experience and you wanted to squeeze it for all it could do. You weren’t regretting or thinking of your next computer really. I wanted to dig in, figure it out. I saw them walk in with those boxes and I seized on them. I hooked it all up myself with all the confidence in the world at age 10 or whatever it was. My life would never be the same.

Around that time, I read an article in some magazine about Apple and Steve Jobs too. It was probably at the dentist’s office or maybe my parents’ Reader’s Digest. In that article it talked about the beginnings of Apple and while reading suddenly I was transported in that garage with Steve Jobs.  Even though I was still a boy, I was suddenly feeling like that young entrepreneur. For the first time I saw this image in my mind of how new important things were invented and that stamped something onto me permanently.

After a short while, I learned how to use the word processor, I copied little BASIC programs I saw in pamphlets or library books. I played the little physics and history games, I programmed the turtle and played the hell out of the action games. My friend Eddie and I would play at his house and we shared all the games we had, whatever we could copy. I’d save up the $10 or $15 every couple weeks and buy new games. In seventh grade I went on a double-date to the mall. What would have been my first date, I was actually stood up, so while my friend and his date went to the cinema, I bought myself an awesome Karate game with my movie and popcorn money.

In working with my first computer, I became more technical about things over time. I started paying attention. I learned that when things don’t happen as you expect, to go back and see what you did. You look at the links in the chain of events. And making mistakes there’s no mess, just try again. I remember and appreciate the simplicity of the computer that I started off with and how I found it easy to learn these fundamentals that I use now everyday in my life and job. The same way I’d lie in bed going over how to solve a problem in a game, I do to this day just on different sets of challenges. I don’t take these tools for granted and I find myself feeling a bit sorry for others who don’t seem to have the ambition or interest to try new things and look problems right in the eye.

I thought as a little tribute to Steve and his company and their inventions, I would list a few of the many lessons I gained from that little computer my parents gave me. They’ve come a long way since that Apple IIc and so have I.

I’m grateful for Steve and Steve starting Apple. When I learned about them, I had a new feeling of pride in inventiveness that I didn’t have before. I connected real people with the inventions that I loved. Before me, young men probably would have started their journeys on the stories of Ben Franklin or Edison and many great fictional characters. I truly did grow up with the story of Apple as my adventure began.

I’m almost ashamed to tell you this lest I ruin a good stream of thought, but for a really long time, I really couldn’t stand Apple products. I was mad because they were always getting media attention despite all these mistakes I could see, things that I would never let get by. I wanted to tell people, “No! Stop listening to the propaganda, look at this, why would anyone ever do this?” And I would point out something mundane but that mattered to me. I think of that and I am reminded that we all can embrace our preference and taste and our expression of that makes us unique. And it took me a while but I see in my work that an intense fixation and follow through is the only way certain things will be shaped as they must to meet your approval.

It’s quite nostalgic for me to think of Steve Jobs. Back then and now I can always imagine that when you have a massive undertaking that’s never been done before and is so scary and intimidating, it’s like Steve is speaking to me…”Mike, just take it into the garage. What seems impossible now to even understand, soon enough you’ll control, master and then refine.”

I’m also inspired once again by Steve Jobs.  His genius and his flaws are coming clear and creating a connection for me again. It helps me forgive myself and others for our flaws and just continue. Intensity or abrasiveness doesn’t always mean what you think they mean. And I’m inspired by the real notion of impermanence. It’s one thing to hear from the Dalai Lama or in a book, but Steve was this hero that I didn’t really know I had until he was gone. And then I realized that’s exactly who he always has been. And as a hero, in some ways he was better than I even understood because he tells us we’re going to die and we better not waste our talents. And we better follow what we love. His new message to me is don’t let yourself be satisfied or dissatisfied for too long.

I suppose now Steve’s story is one I can pass onto my son. And just maybe I can forge that nostalgia of mine into a little inspiration for him. And happily, it’s Steve’s computer that enables my son to talk to his grandparents thousands of miles away across the oceans every single day. Our family computers are mainstays and that’s what Steve imagined long ago. He might not have been the only one, but he was one of the few who really pushed and built it into the culture even when he certainly must have had doubts about it. He must have been lost at some point in all the problems and complexity. But Steve and the team at Apple persisted. And then Steve was smart enough to usher in the era by inspiring all kinds of people. A great product still needs the right kind of charismatic leaders to show us the way, make us suddenly see the potential in something new and unfamiliar. The vision had to be planted everywhere. Steve did that.

So to close up this goodbye to Steve Jobs, I just wanted to say the reason I write this is that I believe we should take note that inspiration is as priceless as it is simple. And we need the simple to get through the most challenging times and inspiration to help us embrace the things we don’t completely understand.

October 25, 2011 at 2:17 am | computers, inspiration, nostalgia, philosophy | No comment

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