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 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.


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.


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.

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.

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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.


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

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 brand 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. AHEM, Kai’s Power Tools 1.0 anyone? Enjoy!

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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 :-)

Tech Douchebags #5 The Closet Narcissist

tdb_logoIn this week’s meeting, Jason DeFillippo of Grumpy Old Geeks shares his experience riding the train cross-country, how we expect too much when traveling with electronics, that people in urban centers are spoiled by their broadband access versus those living in rural America, and how our plight to make the world bigger through technology hinders those who have chosen a more simpler life.

In addition, we discuss how the prime impetus of taking a photo now has changed from saving to sharing, why technophiles prefer novelty over usefulness and open options over defined steps, how we’re often stuck in “there’s got to be a better way” mode, and whether or not there’s a limit to the amount of technology one person can absorb.

It concludes with Jason completing step ten by admitting his content creation is purely a narcissistic endeavor and like everyone else, is looking for his fifteen minutes of fame.