Week 18 – Sick Kids and Freelancing Madness

Alden_BirdFeeder

Hi all,

My weekend was all consuming with Alden care. The poor soul came down with an ear infection, sore throat and bronchitis. We had to get him to our Pediatrician Saturday morning because he couldn’t breathe properly (or sleep… we were both up all Friday night/Saturday morning). 48 hours and a ton of drugs later, he’s doing better. He even got up at 7:00am this morning instead of the usual 9:00 am sleep-in. Anyway, a four day work week is on tap for me.

Freelancing Website Signups
I took the latter part of last week to update or signup for a multitude of different freelancing or hourly websites. (oDesk, eLance, Zintro, Ffiver). Part of it was to look for meaningful work, but the other was out of morbid curiosity. I had a strong suspicion that most of the postings there would be bottom-feeding on hourly rates for the work (which was spot-on). I do have one proposal going out this morning for an expert review, so we’ll see how that turns out.

I also have a number of best practice articles I’ve bookmarked for these freelancing sites. The first run was essentially to get my name and photo updated. Now I have to refine my auto-searches so I’m not snagging postings for mobile application development for a porn site in Sweden (that was the first result after updating my profile on Freelancer). We’ll see how the week shakes out after those updates.

Ninjatrader Updates
I’m currently refining the trading engine in the 2nd release code base for my Ninjatrader script (that ports to IB). It’s the most difficult and time consuming part, since you literally have to factor in a lot of exceptions to trading states (whether you are flat, long or short… whether you have full or partial shares in your position… how the trading software should change when the trade range narrows from inactivity, etc. Granted I’ll have adequate time to devote to refining it, I should make a lot of progress by the time the week is out.

Housecleaners and Pinkeye
For about eight months, we’ve been employing a trio of housecleaners and they’ve been great. We’ve had no problems with them until this past month, when two of their crew ventured off to start a landscaping business. The only available folks were family members, and it’s been a disaster since. Just yesterday, one of them showed up with pinkeye, and we had to show them the door immediately. I’ve already dealt with a sick kid for an entire weekend, and didn’t need a case of conjunctivitis putting me back into ‘Daddy Day Care’ mode for another 2-3 days. So, we’re looking for some new folks.

Thursday Doodles
Per a suggestion from my man in India (Arun J. Martin), I’m going to try some doodling and post it up on Thursdays in lieu of an actual UX article. I have no idea what will come of it, but maybe my complete lack of drawing skills will finally be exposed for all to see. You’ll have to let me know one way or another. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

Week 17 – Soldering’s End and Basecamp’s Return

Hi all,

Lots of updates on a whole range of topics. Let’s get right into it.

Soldering Done!
It was smoky and smelly, but I successfully managed to splice two wires and solder a new battery into my old MicroTrack II. The hardest part was making sure my soldering iron didn’t touch anything on my work desk (like other wires, computer equipment, and my hands). Now I can repair minor electronics work whenever a metal connection gets detached. It was much easier than I thought it would be originally.

Basecamp Reloaded… but no free lunch!
I decided to give Basecamp another go, using it to manage my coding, career and consulting projects within the same view. When I first started working with it, I thought… “Geez, this interface is incredibly outdated. Did Basecamp just stop updating everything?”. Well, it turns out that the company went to an all-pay model, where the free versions with a single project were phased out. Now, no matter what level of use you have, everyone’s gotta chip in. Kind of a bummer, but if I can get in the habit of using the tool to get things done throughout the week, so be it.

Fantasy Football Mock Draft Fix
Every so often, you find yourself sucked into a fun thing on the web or your mobile phone where the hours you were going to spend on something productive disappear completely. It happened earlier in the week with Aralon (free RPG), and yesterday it was Fantasy Football Calculator’s Mock Draft tool.   If you’re into Fantasy Football like I am, this is an extreme temptation to practice something that’s literally 19 weeks away from relevance.  Try it out.

Garden Garden Garden – Cramming the Vegetables In
Going against the advice of my landscaper, I have literally crammed all sorts of vegetables into the two beds I’ve tilled and prepared (well, my landscaper did) in the backyard. Last year, about a 1/3 of the vegetables I planted died from sun exposure and relentless heat. I’m hoping by ‘stuffing the box’ so to speak, I’ll get some good early yields and hope I can stretch out the plants as far as I can, weather permitting and plant food working as expected.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

Week 16 – Selling sarees and soldering iPods

Hi all,

I’m currently selling a pure natural silk Jamdani saree (Royal Blue) on eBay. Had to revise the original listing because my pictures were all from the inside (handwoven) aspect of the saree. You know, easy stuff a grown man should know about indian culture and sarees. Duh!

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=171296924026

I’m also going to be trying my hand at soldering a new battery into a 1st Gen iPod before selling that sucker on eBay, or giving it to a mutual friend of ours. The solder gun I *thought* I purchased was actually a solder sucker gun (i.e. it removes the solder from an electronics board or other similar piece). So basically, I ripped the wires off the old battery from their solder spots when I thought I had properly burned them off.

If that goes well, I’ll be opening up my old MicroTrack II to do a similar battery replacement experiment. With those two projects successfully completed, I’ll never do any soldering again probably. 🙂

Consulting Update
I just finished up a neat Axure RP prototyping project with Home Depot and POP Agency. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to work with them again in the coming weeks. For now, I’ll have a few days free to concentrate on growing to-do list (provided Alden cooperates and doesn’t eat a bag of dirt).

I’m also sending out a couple of proposals for usability testing as well for the next couple of months. I’ve been creating these types of proposals about once a week on average, which is a good thing. The bad thing would be getting them accepted in the same timeframe (which occured in late Feb/March and took a lot of extra time to complete).

NinjaTrader Coding
I’m finally continuing work on release candidate #2 this week. I’ve set it up as a regular project in Harvest, and I’m tracking spent hours on it like I am with updating blog content. My target is to get a working model out the door by the end of April.

Checklists – I love em.

Since my content requests have disappeared (as well as my hit traffic with each successive post), I guess it’s my turn to come up with some content. 🙂 This will be a brief post, since my kid is sick today (and probably tomorrow with the same cold).

Checklists
I’m a big fan of checklists. I use them in various ways to get things done on a daily and weekly basis. I’m aware of some the online versions of checklists other professionals use, but I’m using the iPhone ‘Notes’ application.

The biggest reason for using this built-in app is the ability to search notes from my GMail interface. I don’t quite know how it works, but I can reference notes from my desktop without having to pick up my phone.

The other reason I use checklists is to just dump a LOT of to-do’s out of my head. Throughout the day, there are several tasks to take care of that either appear or morph from their previous state. Taking five minutes to jot it all down and arrange them by priority makes all the difference.

I just wonder if this such a normal thing professionals do, and if they do it better than me. One day I’ll find out.

The Legend of Lord Foul

elDiablo

George Carlin is one of my all-time favorite comedians.  One of my favorite bits was his critique of a general public walking around in a bit of a haze, or as he put it:

“There are people walking around with a kind of a BRTTZZZZ….kind of a neutral zone around their heads. Some people leave part of their brains at home when they come out in the morning… Hey, some people don’t have that much to bring out in the first place!”

The piece would go on to describe different situations where you could wake people up from their daily routine. An example, wait in line a long time at the bank, and when you get to the front, ask for change of a nickel. That sort of thing.

In the spirit of that kind of humor, I started to develop a persona of sorts. It was during my time in Colorado (circa 1996-1997), and I had a couple of friends who helped me hone and shape that persona into what can be best described as “Lord Foul”.

What was ‘Lord Foul’ you ask? Well, if you can mix some of Daniel Tosh’s brutal honesty stand-up routines, a little bit of Lewis Black anger, and a heaping helping of Joan Rivers’s scathing critiques, and you’ve gotten pretty close.

Lord Foul only made brief appearances, and only with those select few folks who knew him. But when spoken, it was the most depraved, psychotic, morally corrupt but utterly hilarious commentary you would hear from anyone.

… and I can’t remember any of it.
And here’s the let-down, I can’t remember any of it.

It’s not that I was drunk (didn’t drink) or stoned (didn’t do drugs), but I rarely remember even half of what I had spoken the previous day. I *do* remember the faces my friends used to make when Lord Foul did happen to spring up and utter some words at a buffet somewhere in Longmont.

But here’s my counter-proposal. If the person who made this original content request can provide some examples of Lord Foul’s work, that would be more than enough to get me started.

So I’m hitting ‘pause’ on this request, but I’ll follow-up once I get a refresher.

But, why not revive Lord Foul today?
Are you kidding me?

First, that was nearly twenty years ago. I’d be insane to start that up again with my current professional and personal circles who have *no* context of the original (even if they read this post).

Second, it just wouldn’t have the same bite. Plus, my 22 month old would be irreparably damaged by my rantings if I started that crap again.

But, as I mentioned above, give me something to work with, and I’ll rehash a PG rated version of the original works.

A Slightly Contrarian Approach to Website Design

The first request I had for content was to post an article on designing websites.  Sounds great!  I’ve been designing websites since 1995 or so, and there’s a ton of things I could get into.

But first, let’s tackle some of the larger themes that usually associate themselves with designing or starting websites.  My approach is probably best described as a mix of realism, specificity, and autophobia.  You be the judge as to which one dominates the following topics.

What do you want?
A very simple question.  What do you want from the website you’re going to create?  Why do you care? Why bother?  The more simple and exact you are (make money, get some attention, find a job, etc.), the easier it’s going to be from the start.  The harder part is usually figuring out what visitors will consume/scan/download that they’ll either come back for or tell their friends about.  But your numeral Uno goal should be hammering down what you ultimately want this digital online property to do for you.

The more ambiguous or vague you are about this, the more time you’ll likely waste on creating what you think is the right content for your site.  Those with healthy egotistical or rampant perfectionistic streaks will lollygag at every blemish or irregularity that they see on their site (be it content, visual design, or how their site looks on different platforms).   Other times, it’s simply being hamstrung with outdated notions of getting everything perfect and right before you show it off to a generally anonymous audience.

You’re almost always going to get it wrong
Which bridges perfectly into my next point… how many mistakes you’re going to make.  Alexander Pope’s famous phrase “to err is human; to forgive, divine” is central to everything about content and website/blog creation (i.e. 99.9% of your efforts are going to be wrong or misguided).  How you learn and recover from those mistakes, as well as your ability to forgive yourself for being such a miserable stupid wretch who can’t figure out a particular script on a WordPress PHP file (self-loathing mention here), will be the key to your longevity and determination in coming back for more punishment.

Getting it wrong is what you have to do.  It’s what most humans are engineered for.  You could get philosophical and say that right and wrong are subjective terms that could mean anything given any particular context or situation, and I would probably kick you for proper context.

So fail in a spectacular fashion, knowing you’re trying to refine these grand failures into something interesting.  It may take some time, but eventually you’ll have something you really like (and hopefully your audience will as well).  The Shawshank Redemption would be a fitting analogy, unless updating your website feels like you’re being beaten up by bull queers every day.

Leverage what others have already done
A political analogy for plagiarism is ‘inspiration’.  It should not mean misappropriation, which is not what I mean.  But when you just don’t know what to do with your website (be it content, visual design, coding or otherwise), it’s time to go out and see what others have done, and take ‘inspiration’ from what you’ve seen.

Think about it for a second.  There are commercial websites that have hundreds if not thousands of people working on their digital properties every day to improve or maintain them.  On top of that, there are many more websites that track the best and most inspirational examples from these companies that other designers can take draw impressions from.

While you can’t just screenshot/splice and apply their work for your own (which is lazy, likely criminal and not what I’m advocating here), you can take the visual metaphors and user experience examples they provide to break through any mental roadblocks you may have with your own work.  Most frameworks and code examples are provided for free by various digital communities willing to share and assist others.

In short, you shouldn’t get stuck on a design problem.  Look around, and you’ll find a solution (or a temporary one that’s probably wrong until you try another one (and that one doesn’t work either).)

Complete disclosure:  When I run into a design problem, I usually go make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  When I come back two hours later from eating the sandwich, cleaning up the kitchen, checking my e-mail, and updating my to-do lists, I take a nap.

No One Cares
Seriously, no one cares what you’re doing or what you’re writing about.  This may seem like a counterintuitive thought when considering the endeavor of building your own website, but it’s absolutely true.  For example, my initial volley for content requests generated 50 visits (47 of them unique).  The “Meh, what’s on Reddit…” reaction that is the ‘Average Visit Duration’ averaged 6 seconds.  In summary, I could have put video of flying goats with wings and glittering rainbows (not Photoshopped) and it still would have averaged 6 seconds.

In time, a small fraction (and I mean miniscule) will check back and revisit your site for their own personal reasons.  With this blog, it’ll probably be my immediate family members with a combination of curiosity and self-preservation (as in ‘Oh man, what did he write about himself/me now…’).  I’d like to hope it’s more than that, but I’m keeping my expectations in check.

Learn to love web analytics
If you don’t know what web analytics means or what it does, don’t start a website.  Just don’t.  Endeavors like reading, paying attention to your children, replacing the air filters on your furnaces or planning a vacation will all be more beneficial than posting content and not knowing if anyone cared to read/scan it.  Actually, all of those activities are probably more beneficial than creating websites anyway, but I digress…

I’ve worked with every conceivable web analytics tool created since time began, and you can’t go wrong with Google Analytics.  It’s free, not hard to implement, and can track literally everything you want.  If you’re feeling adventurous, you could hook up a train whistle to your USB port and have it belch out a lot of noise whenever you have a major event happen… like a returning visitor to your site.   It think it’s on Amazon, but you’ll have to search around.

In short, web analytics will tell you who’s coming to your site.  It can also tell you where web visitors are coming from, where they eventually go, and how much they don’t care (see above).  Using this information, you can literally see how much of your content is ignored and how much of it is actually read.  If you take the red pill, you can dive even deeper in areas such as demographics, goal setting, and real-time performance of your website.  Though if you’re only averaging 25 hits a day like I am, watching real-time performance is the equivalent of watching paint dry.

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That’s it for now!  Feel free to comment/spam/pound back of hands on keyboard and let’s exchange some think-ins.

Next Monday:   I delve into a request to revive the legend of Lord Foul, a Curmudgeon-like persona I employed back in my 20’s for various stupid reasons.