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

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

The secret sauce of freelance is caring about the client and their project

I had a long talk with a buddy of mine the other night.  He’s having a lot of trouble focusing on a particular project. It’s something he’s fully capable of and can’t seem to leverage a personal commitment to take care of the work. He’s missed deadlines and managed to make himself miserable over it.  It has gone from something that needed to get done, to affecting his confidence in his own capability.

I make no assumptions here because I’ve been in a similar position and besides it’s really hard to pin down what any individual’s block might be. Why can’t they focus? What is it about a project that isn’t working for them? Where did the motivation go? Why aren’t they able to take charge and help the client?  Sometimes it comes down to a way of thinking about the problem, like when a project is too big or we want it to be too perfect before we even start.  I know I’m not alone in stalling on on projects because unless I see it to a specific depth in my minds eye, I want to hesitate rather than go down the wrong path. Then there’s the  unnecessary worry, confidence issues and simple bad habits and boredom. Imagine how much better a plumbers day is when he gets to work on good hardware with good tools and connections, vs the day when he’s got broken old pipes that crumble in his hand when he touches them.

What really hurts us is that empty space that opens up from the vagueness of a project plan or the hesitation to move the ball forward. That empty space is quickly taken up by something more interesting or an urgent problem from somebody else. And another day or week goes by.  The moments you do think about the project are fleeting and it gets smaller and less significant in your mind. You’ve long forgotten what you needed to do and that old email is buried. Until it all comes crashing back to you in the form of fear and stress, and eventually a kind of dread or loathing.

The secret to making it happen for me has more often been the simple notion of caring for the person. You care what happens to your client, and you associate your actions directly to whether they succeed or fail. You tie yourself to their happiness in the space you have control over.  You care that they meet their goals, you care that they can move onto the next great thing once they get this out of the way.  And you care that they took the time to work with you for something rather than somebody else. Along with that, instead of viewing the problem as time you don’t want to spend, it helps to be grateful that you have the opportunity to help people at this level, rather than be in a place where even the basic necessities of life are scarce.

How you define ‘caring about your project’ must go beyond clean and elegant code or efficient processes. It must be overwhelmingly a desire to cultivate a relationship and a sense of duty and commitment. Exercising those muscles will make you successful and keep you earning even when you have a big screw up or your choice of expertise goes into obsolescence.

June 4, 2013 at 4:27 pm | freelance, inspiration, learning, philosophy | No comment

How to pronounce GIF – a protest

Just learned the creator of the GIF image format is surprised there’s still a debate on how to pronounce GIF.  The maker of the GIF file says it’s supposed to be a soft G and sound like J. Well, I’m not doing that ever. Here’s why:

  1. It’s an acronym so making a word out of it is a fun exercise, but it doesn’t carry a lot of weight. But if it did…
  2. Through reasoning, we can deduce a logical hard G for the pronunciation because the first letter in the acronym stands for “Graphic” or “Graphical” which, thank you, is a Hard G.
  3. If we must make a word out of it, sorry but the word Gift is a lot older and has a convention we follow which is, you guested it, a Hard G.
  4. There’s a peanut butter brand called JIF and that is distracting.  I’m trying to show you how to export a file and then you’re off thinking about peanut butter. No.
  5. One guy doesn’t decide how a language evolves. Social groups and culture evolves it. Got a problem with that? Take a salt tablet. Hard G.


May 22, 2013 at 1:36 am | graphics, nothing, rants | 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 - 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.


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

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

How to create an admin user in WordPress when you only have FTP access

So this is pretty cool. If you lost your admin information, but you still have ftp access you can edit the functions.php file in your theme to create a new admin user. This is a hack and really useful, but also means you need to protect your own sites if you happen to have other people with FTP access.

//this goes in functions.php by the way.
function new_admin_usr(){
$user = 'FillInThisNewAdminID';
$pass = 'ANewPassword';
$email = '';
if ( !username_exists( $user ) &amp;&amp; !email_exists( $email ) ) {
$user_id = wp_create_user( $user, $pass, $email );
$user = new WP_User( $user_id );
$user-&gt;set_role( 'administrator' );
} }

April 1, 2013 at 5:35 pm | webdev | No comment

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