Jocephus waits to wrestle

Jocephus waits to wrestle

Jocephus from Resistance Pro Wrestling waits to wrestle. This was the first night I took out my new Nikon D7100. I shot this handheld from the front row. It’s a little grainy since I was shooting at 6400 and testing the limits of what the new camera can do. I didn’t use any noise reduction on it and while the results are fine for the web I wouldn’t want to put this on any kind of larger print without some serious post production.

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Pandemics for fun & profit

Note: Originally posted on Wed, 13 May 2009.

A few weeks ago the internet was waking up to the news that there was a possible pandemic sweeping the world. Twitter was abuzz with people going a bit loony about what was then known as Swine Flu. In a rather uncharacteristic fit of ambition I whipped up a quick site to take the piss out of the doom and gloom sayers. Thus doihavepigflu.com was born. The site took me 10 minutes to make and a $15.95 domain registration fee investment. I thought I’d try to make the registration fee back by linking to my Amazon associate account. What happened next was just pure awesomesauce. I posted the link on Twitter to my approx. 1100 followers and that was the extent of my self-promotion. You can see the traffic history from the graph below.

pandemics_dashboard

So after the first day I checked my Amazon account and I made $25. Jackpot! I was up $10 so as far as I was concerned the site was a total success. But that was just the beginning… As the hysteria grew about the swine flu so did my traffic. On April 30th the site peaked with 163,471 unique visitors. The drop off after that was pretty dramatic as people moved onto the next big thing. But the net result of this little 10 minute project was stunning even to me. You can see the final result below.

amazoncom-associates-central-earnings-report

The site is dead now and someone bought the domain after I let it drop but I’m still learning my lessons from the experience. I have these little ideas all the time but almost never act on them. It always seems that it’s not worth the time or effort but this has opened my eyes. Act on everything. You never know which ones will work but the ones that never get made are guaranteed to fail.

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Introduction to Urban Survival Caching

Life in the city is a daily exercise in chaos theory. With so many people and so many variables anything can happen and quite often does. Most of the time the results are minor inconveniences that don’t lead to catastrophic consequences but as more people move into cities and the infrastructure and resources stretch to their limit anything is possible. Good urban survival skills require balancing the urge to prepare, healthy doses of imagination & paranoia with serious attention to situational awareness. Classical survival caches are stored in the deep woods surrounded by miles of wilderness where the likelihood of anyone but a stray deer finding it are fairly unlikely. Urban caching provides a unique set of challenges that while daunting are not impossible.

Imagine a worst case scenario where there is an unexpected major disaster and you’re in an urban area like Chicago, London or Toronto. The power is out and the roads are clogged with traffic, emergency services are overwhelmed and public transportation has been halted. Unless you’re hunkered down in a safe place and you can tough it out, your commute just became impossible by regular means. You have to think on your feet to get safely home, to your hotel or embassy. Jason Bourne had the good fortune of having several passports, a firearm and oodles of cash in a safe deposit box but the rest of us have to make due with our wits and ingenuity. And what if the power was out and he couldn’t get to his cache? He’d have never gotten the ride he needed and the movie wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

Continue reading Introduction to Urban Survival Caching

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TBT: My Very First (and Last) ISP

Zipco Communication 1

At the end of 1997 I started a small ISP with 2 friends in Los Angeles called Zipco Communications. Not my choice for a name. I wanted us to be called Big Fat Pipe but was overruled. We paid a ridiculous amount of money to have 12 phone lines run into my Hollywood Hills house so we could get a T1 run into my bedroom. In the photo above you can see the TSU and routers as well as our Windows NT server boxes. We were high-tech!

Zipco Communications 2

This was my desk from where I built websites for some of the hosting customers but mainly ran my website Spewww that was subsidizing the monthly bandwidth bills with ads. It’s insane to think that all that was for a connection that’s literally 100 times slower than the connection at the house I’m staying at now at about 100 times the cost. We had a 1.3 Mbps connection for reference. The screengrab below was from a few days ago.

Speedy!

The experience was a good one because I learned a lot about doing business with friends and crazy people but was also pretty terrible because I knew nothing about business. Still don’t as a matter of fact but it’s probably too late to learn. Those pics were taken with my Apple Quicktake 100. Now there’s some retro tech. Lastly here’s a pic of what I’d have looked like hacking away until the wee hours of the morning. This one was taken with my Connectix Quickcam.

Hacking on Zipco

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From the archives: Prodigy

Back in the day my first foray into massive online services that weren’t BBS’s was Prodigy. I got a Sears credit card and they gave me a free account when it started out. I stayed on for a few years and had a blast talking to tons of people. I have nothing but fond memories of it.

About 5 or 6 years ago I was being dragged along to flea markets in the middle of Pennsylvania when I ran across a new in-box copy of Prodigy 1.1 for Windows. I carried around for a few years and had it on the shelf but my inner spartan got the better of me so I decided to immortalize it with scans. I’ve got more old software that I scanned I’ll be releasing when I can find them. Enjoy!

Note: Sorry about having to click on individual images. The WordPress gallery is acting up so you get what you get.

Prodigy


Download the full size scans.

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The Joys of Podcasting

For the past year and change I’ve been a bona-fide podcaster. It started with Grumpy Old Geeks with my long time friend and co-host Brian Schulmeister. I always wanted to do a show but it was when we got hammered one afternoon at Brian’s local and talked shop for 3 hours, it hit me that he would be the perfect co-host. We’re both from the same era, came up together, and both are about as jaded as could be with the biz. Over the past year we’ve built a small and loyal following. Emphasis on small, but it’s been a really fun trip so far. Considering that neither of us had done this before, I think we’ve come pretty far in what is about 2 weeks worth of a full-time job.

After I got to Chicago I wanted to do a new show from start to finish by myself so I could learn every step. From production, to editing, to promotion, etc. So I wrangled 2 of my old friends who I know are into movies into doing a show with me. We started Does It Have Legs last year and have been sporadically publishing but are getting on a more normal track now. This was a more challenging show because of the 3 microphone set-up and the technical side that I had to deal with but also with another person it’s like herding cats some weeks. I went through a lot of gear as well as trial and error but I spent the money to get a solid set-up and we now record on the rig in the photo above.

The lessons I’ve learned so far are that ANYONE can do a podcast but it takes a serious commitment. We SUCKED at the beginning but stuck with it and powered through. Howard Stern’s job is still safe but now I’m not embarrassed to ask friends to come on the show or let anyone hear it. We’ve had some pretty impressive guests as well. They were all learning experiences and I appreciate all their time to help us out. But man is it stressful doing a guest show. You want them to sound good and do them justice as well as not waste their time and be fun and entertaining all at the same time. It’s way harder than doing plain shows. Also, don’t be offended when your friends don’t promote their appearances. Only a few people did that but it was a personal jab every time and sucked but you can’t take it personally. They did you a favor by coming on your show so shut up and make them sound great.

Also, what you’ll learn is that podcasting is REALLY crowded and getting your show over is a full-time job. There are hundreds of thousands of shows and most don’t make it and yours probably won’t either. If you’re not going to make it a full-time job and work on it every day both promoting the show and making the best shows you can then be prepared to not be the next Leo Laporte. But if you do it for fun and passion then you’re ahead of the game. Be prepared to spend a lot more on your show than you make because you’re probably not going to make anything for a while until you get the numbers up. If you get on a network you can slingshot your rise some but even those are becoming over saturated.

It’s absolutely not about the money or the fame (because well, yeah…) Brian and I said that if we didn’t make any money by episode 10 we were going to quit. This week we’re going to be recording episode 58 and we also just put episode 14 of Does It Have Legs in the can. The actual doing of the shows is their own reward. That said if you have something to say then just do it. And don’t buy any of these ‘How to Podcast’ info products because they’re a scam. Just pay me instead :-)

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Preparation Fatigue

Before my first trip to Europe back when I was 20 I spent the 2 weeks before the trip toughening up so I could enjoy it more and not be hassled with physical shortcomings. At night I slept on the floor with no pillow. I walked several hours a day to break in my shoes and toughen up my feet. It was my first international trip and I wanted to be prepared dammit!

Within 4 hours of touching down I bought a shiny new pair of burgundy high top Doc Martens that gave me more blisters than I thought possible and the hostel we stayed in actually had mattresses and pillows and they didn’t make me sleep on the cold floor. Basically I had spent weeks in discomfort preparing for things that never happened. That reminds me of the great quote that has been misattributed to Mark Twain but goes something along the lines of:

I have been through some terrible things in my life, some which actually happened.

Visiting Paris with the boots from hell
Visiting Paris with the boots from hell.
In my preparations I didn’t take the time to actually think about the likelihood of going shopping or modern conveniences. I was only 20 so I’m giving myself a little slack but I have done this a lot over the years and I think most people do. As a species we absolutely suck at predicting the future and spend a lot of time getting ready for it instead of being mindful and present in the now. With minimal preparation we can handle most things if on a day-to-day basis we take care of ourselves and lead well-rounded lives.

I’m focused on getting this life balance thing back into check myself. Since I’m recovering from the accident I’m spending a little more time on the physical side right now but I firmly believe we can all waste less time preparing for the vagaries of an unknowable future and live more properly in the present and end up the better for it.

I started reading Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb while doing my physical therapy which inspired this post. So far it’s a great book and if you want a full review you’ll have to tune into the next episode of Grumpy Old Geeks.

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AT&T’s Video Bill is Interesting Tech

AT&T still sucks the mighty big one but I got the oddest email yesterday. I had already gotten the “Your bill is ready” email and had promptly archived it when a second email came along. For brevity sake you can read it above.

Since I can’t share the actual link to the bill and video experience I did a quick grab with ScreenFlow 4 which is my go to Mac screen capture app and tossed it up on YouTube. Yes this is my actual bill and I’m not blurring out the numbers. 90% of everyone I know gets this exact same bill and it’s not that hard to find my phone number. If I’m getting screwed in some novel way besides the standard AT&T Monthly Butt-Rape™ then LMK in the comments. Otherwise I’ll assume that it’s normal.

The video bill uses a technology from a company called SundaySky who have a platform they call SmartVideo. From what I can tell it used Flash on the desktop but directly encoded video for mobile. I watched the video both on my laptop and phone and the experience was basically identical. On the desktop version they hit you with a survey which you get to skip on mobile. They have a video on their site on how the whole thing works at a 50,000 foot level view. It’s really good tech and the first-time movie generation took less than 5 seconds which is pretty damn impressive.

I’ve never seen a video bill from AT&T before so I’m not sure if it’s a new thing they’re offering or if it’s because I recently changed my plan. I added a new line so my bill was going to be drastically different and that could have triggered the video. It doesn’t seem like it would be cost-effective to generate those for everyone every month if they’re getting the same old bill they’ve always gotten. They distracted me with novelty long enough to not get pissed off that they screwed me on so many hidden charges with the line addition. That novelty is starting to wear off…

BTW, if you’re wondering what that odd discount in the bill is, it’s because I’m a Founders Card member and it gives me 15% off my monthly bill which almost pays for the card itself.

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Meeting your heroes doesn’t have to suck…

This post appeared originally on Facebook. I was chatting with Marc Canter in another thread and was looking for a shot I took when we were hanging out at Bucca DiBeppo in Chicago but ran across this pic instead which was from the second night we met. Since you don’t have the context of being privy to my social network shenanigans I felt like this was a bit obligatory to explain the words below…

I looked at the time stamp on this pic and realized it was just about 11 years ago that Joi Ito had his famous party in San Francisco and I got to hang with all my heroes at the time. Evan Williams had just sold Blogger to Google and gave me a tour of the place as they moved in. Thanks Ev! Doc Searls was the Cluetrain master and agreed to let me use the term he coined for my software startup. Thanks Doc! Robert Scoble was pimping tablets at Microsoft and bought sushi a few nights before. Thanks Robert! And Marc Canter was trying to recruit me for his social aggregator but was also more of a cheerleader than anyone I ever had in my SF career so thanks Marc! I was about to get my first SXSW Award win for Blogrolling and my life was about to go from working on Hollywood movies to the San Francisco software scene thanks to Chris Pirillo who I worked with for a good bit down in LA. Chris and I had our ins and outs but no hard feelings. Thanks Chris! But thanks most of all to my oldest buddy Joi. He was the guy who invested in my start up out of the blue without me even asking and has achieved so much. Here’s to the old punks. Keep on rockin…

Update: Doc’s photos are on Flickr

 

 

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Do Not Disturb – Heisenberg & Schröedenger had a baby

Note: This post was originally written in September of 2009 while I was staying in a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. I thought it fit to exhume and polish a bit since it’s Herr Schröedenger’s birthday. And yes, I probably mean the observer effect instead of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle but it makes for a better title so :-P

Some of the worst interaction design I’ve seen is found in nearly every hotel room around the world. The ubiquitous “Do Not Disturb” door hangers are, without a doubt, one of the best examples of poorly thought out and widely adopted design in circulation today.

The modern hotel door hanger is 2 sided. A variant of “Do Not Disturb” is on one side while a type of call for maid service on the opposite. You hang it on your door depending on which you prefer. Simple, eh? Not so fast. These signs aren’t always honored so they’re a loosely based social contract of sorts. In practice I’ve observed the probability of these calls to action being respected are about 80% for the DnD and 99.5% for maid service. That means you’re approximately 19.5% more likely to have some random stranger walk into your room to clean it than leave you alone when you use the sign as intended.

Here’s the rub. The moment you put the sign out and close your door you give up control of what side is actually showing. Your privacy has entered into a state of quantum flux. Since the random element of mischief wasn’t engineered into the process, anyone walking down the hall can flip each and every sign thus turning exclusion rules into inclusion rules and vice versa without the consent of the occupants. This renders the sign not only useless but actually detrimental to privacy and peace of mind. You can’t tell which way it’s facing until you poke your head out and actually look at the damn sign to make sure it’s position hasn’t been altered.

There is usually a secondary line of defense that helps enforce a DnD and that’s the lock on the inside of the room but that’s dependent on the actions of the occupant and subject to human error. If you forget to lock the door then all protection against intrusion from the staff has been removed. The only exceptions I’ve found recently are in newer high-end modern hotels that have electronic switches and illuminated status signs. Those are the exception though and not the rule.

Big deal eh? It certainly is a big deal when someone changes your sign to maid service from DnD and you forgot to engage the room lock. If a gung-ho maid walks into the room without knocking while you’re in the middle of mischief you’ve now got ANOTHER body to dispose of. No, this hasn’t happened to me but I have had several run-ins with pissed off house keeping who came in when I was getting dressed or in the shower after my sign was either changed or removed by some random miscreant. This morning was the case but fortunately I had the experience to know to ALWAYS engage the door lock when in my room.

In the old days you would get 2 hangers, one for DnD and a separate one for maid service and both were colored differently. The DnD was generally red and the maid service white. This is probably due to the original designer thinking out this issues in advance and they planned around it. They knew having 2 contradictory messages on the same sign was probably a bad idea. Then some penny pinching accountant came along and said we can save money if we just put the messages on the same sign thus ensuring that you can never really have any peace of mind when staying in a hotel. That last bit is supposition but I bet it’s not too far off from the truth.

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Google’s creepy birthday present

I went to Google’s homepage to track down an article about the DEA using NSA’s intelligence against petty drug dealers and was greeted by a custom Google Doodle. I hovered over it to see whose birthday it was and I was a bit totally creeped out to see it was for ME! They have my birthday from my Google+ account so they thought it would be fun to send me some cake. With all the stuff coming out about unnecessary surveillance you’d think they’d put the kibosh in this kind of thing for a while.

So yeah, thanks Google for your unbelievably creepy birthday wishes.

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Is “The Hero” a Zero?

The Hero is a new reality show starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson where they take a bunch of somewhat normal people to Panama and make them do unbelievably insane stunts, tempt them with bribes to screw over the other competitors, and vote each other off the show to name just a few of the plot points. The Hero definitely feels like the first season of The Mole in places with the scale of the challenges but has a flavor all of its own. In the world of reality competition, The Hero has definitely raised the bar for other shows in the genre. So far there have been 7 episodes and this coming week is the finale so now is a perfect time to do some analysis on the good and bad.

The Cast of The Hero

Continue reading Is “The Hero” a Zero?

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