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

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…


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

New Obsession – The 1904 Worlds Fair

My wife is from Japan. So it makes absolutely no sense that she would fall in love with the World’s Fair. But she did. And then she got me obsessed with it.

worlds-fair-daily-programFor years now, I’ve loved the artwork of past eras. Bioshock was such a great game for me because it took a past era and built a world around the design that I could explore.  When these Worlds Fair books started showing up around the house from the library, I began looking at them.

I don’t have this sense of pride in my town necessarily for making the World’s Fair happen. I have a pride for humanity, in what they can build in a short amount of time.  And there’s also a sadness, because so much of the amazing palaces that once stood just a short car ride from me, were torn down, burned up or simply couldn’t withstand time and environment.

This new obsession combines a strong curiosity on the innovation of the time period, the design, the audacity of it all. I’m not sure many people were ever big thinkers, but when I look at the old photos, I think, would we ever be able to do something like that again? Does anyone get to think so big anymore?

I’ve got more to write here about it, but I’d like to point out a few interesting things.

October 30, 2013 at 11:21 am | inspiration, interesting, Japan, photography | No comment

I Learned My Lesson

As I look at it, there are two ways that you can learn your lesson. One way, the preferred way is to be mindful of what’s not working or what mistake was made that brings you down, and then you take steps and mindfully alter your path. That’s the right way to learn a lesson because you can look back on it positively and it reflects someone who is open to adjustment.

The other way of “learning” is getting to that “I’ve had it!” point.  And yeah you’ve sort of learned the lesson, but really it was pain and negativity that became heavy enough to finally give you no other pleasurable choice. This way is again a positive outcome, but you can’t look back so pleased because you finally just hit bottom or broke or whatever you want to call it. You won’t do it again, but still it’s not necessarily an area where you grew. Really you just exhausted yourself.

What about you? Do you learn your lesson after a couple mistakes or do you find yourself years down to the road saying “I’ve had it!”

I think the former method increases your mental strength and flexibility. And without a doubt will save you time.  It must be the healthier route. The latter is relieving and has finality, but it just doesn’t revitalize you with confidence when you look back over the scenario objectively. Either way you learn your lesson, dumping detrimental habits is progression and will make you better.

July 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm | inspiration, interesting, philosophy | No comment

How to kill the frustration of a traffic jam

A post on hacker news reminded me of something I learned from some odd little site long ago. The lowdown is when you look at driving behavior and traffic jams from a 1,000 feet up, some new knowledge emerges. Congestion and jams are caused either by a legitimate stop such as a crash, but more often they are due to people hurriedly bunching up to the cars in front of them, and creating difficulty for people to change lanes. Lane changes must happen, therefore the entire group ends up slowing down as a necessary reaction inside a cluster.  Expectedly, as a cluster of cars gets bigger there’s an ever-increasing chance that a full stop of traffic will occur for even a minor thing.  And the bigger the cluster, the slower it is to start back up as well. It worsens quickly as you know because the cars behind you, they keep on coming.

I used to get really annoyed by traffic. Hulk-smash annoyed. I still dislike it and still feel like the universe must be out to get me sometimes, but I’ve solved the majority of my traffic pain by making a personal game out of it. A game that is unique in that it’s not just for occupying my mind, rather it actually works.  It’s a kind of goal oriented game where I follow a particular rule and seek to create a low resistance drive.  There’s really only one simple directive to the game.  Create a comfortable gap in front of you that causes the most influence on the drivers around you to maintain traffic flow.

Here are the facts about driving and the lay of the land in terms of this challenge

  1. Keeping a really comfortable gap in front of your car throughout your drive is a very safe way to drive
  2. Keeping a large gap allows you to anticipate hazards in front of you due to increased visiblity and more reaction time.
  3. Keeping a large gap will encourage other drivers to pass into your lane in front of you
  4. This is a positive thing, let them do this
  5. By allowing this you are actually controlling the other drivers. You are causing it to happen, you are in charge of what’s happening.
  6. Actually being in control of all this activity around you can quickly alleviate the frustration of driving (as opposed to having no control at all).
  7. The majority of drivers are merging into your lane because they need to be there for their next maneuver (e.g. heading for the offramp or avoiding a lane closure.)
  8. If these cars can smoothly get into their lane, you’ve just relieved congestion points.
  9. When you relieve congestion points, you are preventing the chain reaction where sometimes traffic comes to a halt.
  10. By maintaining speed rather than hugging up behind the car in front of you, you will notice other drivers will stabilize their speed. They unconsciously copy you or rather they ease some of their desire to pass others unnecessarily. Again this is you affecting them psychologically without them realizing it.
  11. Some highways post speed limits at 55mph but everyone goes 70mph. This happens because a few people go 70mph or more and the others unconsciously follow, so the herd mentality kicks in despite the speed limit.*
  12. A posted speed limit isn’t necessarily always optimal or right or wrong, but the faster the cars are going, the harder it is for drivers to maneuver across lanes safely at that speed.
  13. Crashes happen because people aren’t able to negotiate their lane changes safely and either lose control or are not able to observe what’s going on around them and rear end another vehicle. Again this can happen at any speed, but the faster traffic goes where the space between cars isn’t increased, the higher the difficulty level for everyone.
  14. Going really slow in the slow lane is not a way to do well at this game.

I made a game out of it, but really it’s just a personal challenge. How can I affect the most traffic around me while making my drive seamless.  The exciting thing is that you get results immediately. Some roads don’t have to get congested every day at traffic hours. When accidents happen and lanes close, some traffic is forced to a stop. But when you learn that so much traffic congestion is due to speed behaviors, and your influence on the vehicles around and behind you becomes obvious and observable.

A frequent problem among drivers is some of them are obsessed with continuously passing others, and they get angry when they are being passed. For them there’s an association of feelings when someone passes them. It’s like they are being invaded or beaten or dominated. You’ve witnessed it. You speed up to get in front of someone next to you and they close the gap on you.  At that moment, they felt challenged and that if they allow it, you are winning over them.  If you have this association when driving I must tell you it is a real problem. One because this feeling is an illusion.  Secondly, it shows an ignorance of the fact that you actually exude more control over a driving situation by allowing cars to pass you.

If you want to truly be a dominant driver, you need a new association. “By creating a space to let people pass through in front of me, I’m doing immense good for the drivers around me, keeping everyone around me safe to drive another day.”

Thankfully within a high traffic area it only takes a few key people to influence the herd. While the few obsessed individuals will still zoom in and out around you, you are graciously giving them safe passage in spite of their ignorance. Whereas years ago, I might have gotten mad when a driver speeds through and drives obsessively to pass me and others, more often now I feel sorry for them. Because they are just going to encounter more people up ahead. Their suffering will never go away and may cause themselves or others a lot of pain someday if a mistake is made.

Somebody used an analogy on another post I’m going to steal. Think of traffic with a zipper in mind.  As long as the teeth of a zipper can interlock, you can zip a coat very quickly and smoothly. This is dependent that each tooth can find it’s place between the gap of the opposite side.

In traffic, these gaps must exist for you and other drivers to change lanes at speed without slowing or negatively affecting the speed of the group. When you look at a lane closing, as the cars move into the adjacent lane due to their lane closing, it really does look like a zipper.

The best thing about all this is it really does work and it’s fun and everyone should try it. The more people that do it, the better it is, and even when a few do it, it makes a big difference across hundreds or even thousands of vehicles around them. And the other outcome is it’s hard to get frustrated when you look at all the good you’re doing, keeping all the drivers around you safer by just making a simple enlightened decision.

*More on the herd mentality and speed. While we don’t particularly like traffic while driving, we don’t really feel right being the only ones on the road either. So we tend to keep up with the people in front of us to some degree, if for no other reason than having an easy reference point.  But in a situation where everyone goes above the speed limit, a police officer can pull anyone they want over at any time.

June 23, 2013 at 2:31 am | interesting, philosophy | No comment

Good work by itself is not the tie that binds us

I am losing a couple clients this week. Just by coincidence, I got 2 phone calls that gave me that sinking feeling. And both clients are moving on to proprietary systems, which I almost never recommend. Part of me is shrugging off the situation because it’s not due to something I did or didn’t do directly. New representatives at the organization have become familiar with another system and see the best route to evolving their project is going with that system. You can’t control who gets hired or takes over a department or seat at your clients office.

However, the other part of me that isn’t shrugging this off is that I know that things could be different if I had created a different history with the client. There are dozens of opportunities every year to hit touch points of client service. Things that aren’t even work related. Some of them can be unique to the client, some can just be part of a routine or even automated. For example, sending thank you notes, or occasional greetings. Checking in with questions or recommendations Maybe even better,  asking people to become part of a community you / I created, such as a helpful newsletter tailored to clients.

Had I done those things, I would have spent very little investment per client, but I might be getting the next project opportunity. And that client is likely to deflect the other options, as they can see what they would lose. That  and as time goes one, I’d continue getting the referrals that client my provide. Because if somebody leaves you, even with no burned bridges, you probably just aren’t going to come to mind when their friend or colleague asks them about who to work with.  To sum that up, it’s possible you can do a great job and create a weak bond. That’s the problem. You, me, we all have to do good work while also creating a stronger human bond in the process.

I’ve always had a problem with lock-in, in terms of software. I like the open platforms so clients feel more comfortable to change, move and pivot as they need to.  But the lock-in I could be striving for, is one completely self-imposed. If my clients are tied to me through that connection or bond of a good relationship, I’m in a much better position and the business and my clients continue to benefit.

I remember at a previous job, I would ride with sales people to their client locations for training and technical support appointments. At the time, I was surprised at how often the sales person would be inquiring about the client’s kid’s soccer games and other life events.  At the time, I thought it was a surprise that anyone could remember so much, and wondering, what it just a little too pushy? Looking back, I understand it much more. A good sales person makes a habit of creating those bonds. Someone might say, well that’s shallow, because clearly the salesperson is doing so out of self-interest and keeping the client’s business. Ahh, but I must argue, you see a habit is something that you do without thinking. And I’ve come to believe that it’s less likely scenario that something habitual like that has a shallow undercurrent.

Test it! Ask a good sales person what it’s like to lose a client like that where they’ve cultivated a bond.  Ask how much of what they are feeling is about the money.

May 9, 2013 at 5:12 am | freelance, inspiration, interesting | No comment

You have to love the St. Louis Arch

Monument to the Dream is a 1967 documentary about the creation of the St. Louis Arch. The 30 minute film has all the charm of the best National Geographic films I grew up loving. That and the Modern Marvels Episode about the Arch made more recently really make you proud of your industrious human family and the kind of risks it takes to do something at this level.  Watch below.

The Modern Marvels film feels as bold as as the arch itself. It taps into the history of St. Louis back when it was a village of a thousand people, onto it’s status as a way station during westward expansion  and up to the period after the Great Depression and the downward turn of the economy and the city itself.  The project or the kernel of the idea that would become the Gateway Arch was an idea for the riverfront, something big that would improve and uplift St. Louis again.

What I love about the arch is that it’s not just something you can talk about or stare at. They had the foresight, the motivation to make it something you could ride up to the top in. What would become a sort of ferris wheel on tracks to a cozy lookout room.

April 11, 2013 at 10:09 pm | inspiration, interesting, nostalgia, philosophy | No comment

Every Other Day is a Hackathon

My colleague and I were talking about ways to bump our business to the next level so we can help more clients. And more importantly, maintain the energy of a project all the way through it.

Being a couple of freelancers and agency expatriates, we were thinking of a new model of client-service and project work. Being tied to the 9-5 model isn’t really appealing and we want to avoid the mistakes and not just copy other agencies.

We started thinking that there may be serious benefits in building client projects using the hackathon model. But one where you get paid and the client gets served.

Thing about hackathons, as opposed to code sprints is that hackathons have a fixed start and end time and they truly leverage the energy of the moment and through collaboration. Code sprints are nice paths to burnout. We think a hackathon model helps knock out the small holdups. It’s this push to complete in a short time, and by leveraging a assembly process and clear objectives, which might just win.

Whereas most hackathons are often learning meetups, this type would be building something and getting paid. You might be part of the company, or you might be a contractor or intern, or maybe a first-time visitor.  We also thought we could invite people to shadow or visit who might want to learn the process. Maybe an intern model where they watch first and then can eventually become a paid participant.

It’s daunting to build an entire site, but when broken down into the bite-size chunks, it almost seems like a few hours is more time than you need. Part of standardizing will help the collaborative process, templates, expectations. Once done and commit your chunk, (e.g. the site header) it will be merged with the sidebar and footer which was being made by the collaborators next to you.

We also think once it’s done, a good debriefing. What got completed, where do we stand. And communication with the client, we have a clear statement of progress and a very exacting number of hours to report if we so choose.

We’re interested in doing a trial run on a project and see where it goes. We think it could build some camradarie and really get people to focus on the one project, vs a normal day of putting out fire after fire and losing site of one’s goals.

March 6, 2013 at 10:50 am | freelance, interesting, philosophy | No comment

Darth Vader – straight out of Medieval Japan

Have to thank my wife for this find.

A one-of-a-kind synthesis of awesome you always knew would work. The Darth Vader Samurai armor (yoroi) and helmet (kabuto). Too bad there’s only one of these in the whole worl….Wait did I say rare? I mean on the shelves at Toys R Us in Japan. Far from lifesize, looks to be about 8 inches tall. But this kit would look pretty good on the shelf. Right next to your Freddy Krueger Conquistador!

March 23, 2011 at 12:15 am | interesting, Japan | 1 comment

Google recommends religion

A little experiment tonight with Google’s search-as-you-type recommendation engine.  These are all too harsh in my opinion and they are certainly in no particular order.

February 7, 2011 at 2:45 am | humor, interesting | No comment

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