and Election Blow-Out

For years, one of the best Web sites in the known universe was

When you visted the site, you were presented with the Sesame Street sketch where the Yip Yips encounter a com-pyoo-ter.

I am sad to report that the genius who posted this wonderful Web site has for whatever reason seen fit to sell this enviable domain name. Now it takes you any number of cable/Internet providers.

The Internet is just not the same without the single-serving site known as

I haz a sad.

Of course, the elections were a disaster. I tried to tell ya so. Or, rather, Harry Truman did. When you have a Democratic candidate refusing to answer whether or not they voted for the Party leader, that candidate ain’t gonna win anything.

Stop crunching numbers, you big dummies, and be friggin’ Democrats.

See, Thomas Franks is down with me: ‘The president is basically in hiding’: Thomas Frank unloads on Dems, Kansas and crushing midterm losses

Perennial favorite Thom Hartmann has a pretty good grasp of the situation, too.

Big Dongles

Trade shows can be rough, man.

I spent a large part of my, you know, “career,” expected to attend a trade show once per year at least. The thing about a trade show is that you’re always working, and yet, there’s always a little tinge of par-tay in the air. Because the food is good. And there’s always some booze handy. And, as I may have mentioned, the food is really really good.

But the point is, from the time you leave your room to the time you return to the room to nurse your feet and to shower the flop-sweat from your leg-pits, you are working. You’re either proctoring a workshop or attending one or even tidying up the registration area.

And I don’t know about you, but I have a cardinal rule about work. I’m not a prude about language in my private life (as one might assume from reading this), but when I’m at work, I do not even KNOW those words and I strive to avoid the conversational topics of sex, politics, and religion.

Having said that, I’ll tell you what, there’s a guy who apparently got fired for a really dumb reason.

Hi, I’m the guy who made a comment about big dongles. First of all I’d like to say I’m sorry. I really did not mean to offend anyone and I really do regret the comment and how it made Adria feel. She had every right to report me to staff, and I defend her position. However, there is another side to this story. While I did make a big dongle joke about a fictional piece hardware that identified as male, no sexual jokes were made about forking. My friends and I had decided forking someone’s repo is a new form of flattery (the highest form being implementation) and we were excited about one of the presenters projects; a friend said “I would fork that guys repo” The sexual context was applied by Adria, and not us.


Anyway, if you’re remotely interested in this, check the MeFi thread. If you’re not, well, I don’t blame you.

After all, the only reason I posted this was so that I could use the phrase “big dongles.”

don't beam me up scotty i'm taking a sh

In other news:

This story says a lot about us, about capitalism, and about how guys make a buck these days. Also, people, come on: LEARN COOKING.

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

Speaking of which:

The Disaster That Is Gmail

Once upon a time, the makers of the most ubiquitous search engine in the world set out to create the most ubiquitous e-mail system in the world.

They made it light and simple and elegant. And they introduced a completely new concept to e-mail: Rather than e-mail being individual, disembodied messages, e-mail is actually a conversation and should be constructed as such.

This is how Gmail worked initially, and it was awesome. I was sold at the time by Gmail’s ability to handle e-mails as conversations, but I also enjoyed how simple and elegant it was and how easy and efficient that made navigation.

Why is it that a company creates such a simple, wonderful tool and then eventually loads it up with clutter that eventually makes it impossible to use?

That time has come with Gmail, and, by way of digression, Twitter as well. Gmail these days is next to impossible to use. My window is cluttered with chat buddies, a feature that I never configured and buddies I never added, and commands are now run by icons that are about as intuitive as trying to read a bowl of soup.

Gmail was once a breath of fresh air, such a grand new service that it not only improved e-mail, it actually elevated it. It has recently become a bucket of mush.

This is why my e-mail is moving to a new service. I’ll let ya know if you need to know.

Web Work and the Insidious Balance of Automation, Control, or Gobs and Gobs of Money

This has been on my mind of late and so I wanted to write it down.

I have worked with the Web now since probably 1996, both for fun and for, well, profit. Mostly for fun because even if I’m earning a living at it, I find it is work I enjoy. It incorporates both sides of my brain; it allows me to write and edit, to organize information, and also to code and troubleshoot. I have run blogs on several platforms, I have created my own MYSQL queries, I have run the Web presence for a large national trade association. My CV runs pretty well in and around the Interwebs.

So I thought I would take a moment and explain what I’ve found to be the most essential balancing act of it all. Because it can help explain to a non-webbie why your developer scrunches up his nose at you like that.

Web work is, essentially, a balancing act between automation and control.

If I want a Web tool to do the work for me, I might have to accept that the formatting might be incorrect at points. Or that the data might not come out the way I want it to. Or that it might not just look just right somehow.

If I want to exercise more control over those factors, I might have to get in there and exercise a bit of elbow grease. It might involve some labor. You might have to tweak some code here and there or do a bit of editing. It might require some time and effort.

Here’s a simple example. On most WYSIWYG editors, there is a button that is supposed to create a bulleted list. You highlight your text and click on the button and it creates the bullets for you. However, I find this button, which is an automation, to be generally useless in HTML. It usually gets the spacing wrong, or it mis-attributes the bullets. And if you’re doing nested bullets, well, ferget it.

I have stopped bothering to use Web editors to create bullets and just do them all by hand. That means code. UL LI LI UL. That means time and effort and expertise. And it is a pain in the ass. But it is the only way I can get the bullets to look

  • Exactly
    • as I want them to look.

Another example: This blogging platform has a thingie you can use to upload a picture and insert it into a post. It’s handy. But I never use it. Because I am particular about how I want a photo placed, generally. Or because I want to see it spaced in a certain way in relation to my text. Or because I want to include a cutline, and I have a way to do that in an exacting way using tables. And yes, I know that tables aren’t cool anymore. But I like them and can use them adeptly. I can make a nested table in an eighth of the time it would take you to place that element using style sheets. So screw it. Tables it is.

That is the balance you’re striking any time you’re working with the Web. Do I want to rely on the available automation, or do I need to finesse it and, therefore, do I have to do some work?

The problem is that most people want both.

Most people you deal with if you’re a webbie do not understand this balance. They think it should just work. They think they should just be able to wiggle their fingers and have it look or feel or behave exactly the way they think it should. If they’re working with an automated system, they are stunned when they’re told that they can’t fix this or that part of the template without additional work. It somehow stymies everybody. But it is the grand universal truth of Web work. You can have automation. Or you can have control. You cannot have both.


Yes, there is an exception.

The exception, my friends, comes down to what is often in life the great equalizer. The exception is that you have gobs and gobs of money to throw at the thing.

If I had zillions of dollars, I could pay a developer to create a modified version of WordPress with a plug-in that would import pictures and place them exactly as I prefer them to be placed, and there would be a field where I could put in a cutline and it would put it right there, just so. I would get my control, I would get my automation, and I would just be happy as a clam. Though I would no longer have all that nice munny.

That is the only exception. If you do not have a budget for the project, it will require you either to accept the platform out-of-the-box as it is, or it will require you to edit some code. You can do one or the other, but unless you can support a developer’s happening lifestyle for six months or so, there’s no other way around it.

Suffer the balance or get out your checkbook. There is no other way.

The Magic Elixir of Search Engine Optimization

I had the occasion on the job yesterday to have a fairly in-depth conversation about something known as search engine optimization. When it comes to this topic as a Web geek, I tend to get quite cranky.

At the previous job, they brought in a guy, a “specialist,” to improve their Google results. I spent weeks hanging two dozen “specialized” web pages on a space that was optimized for CMS generated content rather than straight files. I spent those weeks editing those pages at the “specialist’s” insistence and was blamed for the errors even though the “specialist” was the one who generated the content. Aside from this monkey-level involvement, I was kept in the dark about this project and essentially told to fuck off if I happened to ask about it. To this day I have no idea what the results were of my work. More important, it was not thought of as important to keep me in the loop on the matter even though what we were doing could have easily been pertinent to the overall Internet presence of the organization, for which I was responsible at least in title.

Bitter? Me?

So any time these days I am approached regarding “search engine optimization,” I tend to flare up like a pissed-off cat. I was always of the opinion that my former employer had gotten taken by a snake oil salesman. Sure, the “specialist” might have been able to sit in a meeting with my former bosses, type certain terms into a search engine and show that their Web site came up higher when people searched on that term and then smile proudly as they golf-clapped and patted the “specialist’s” back. Still. It is in my opinion an artificial and unstable way to achieve such results.

Want better search results? HAVE A BETTER WEB SITE.

Fresh, interesting, compelling, and irresistibly relevant content. Beautiful design. And make it both intuitive and fun. Offer content that users will not be able to get anywhere else, period. Accept that at least 60 percent of your Web site’s success has nothing to do with the tech. Stop wringing your hands over meta tags and key words. HAVE A BETTER WEB SITE and Google will not be able to keep its mitts off of it.

Apple Records

I spent an hour or so at the Genius Bar last night. It seems that my iPhone’s ability to find a 3G network was compromised. Probably dropped it on cement floors once too often. I dunno. Of course now I’m scouring Amazon for a new case…looking at an “Otterbox,” they look pretty durable.

The nice thing about owning an iPhone in D.C. is that you can always get some service just by bopping in at the Apple store. And the service is pretty damned good. I don’t know of many companies who will take a peek at your gizmo and, when it’s clear you have a serious hardware issue, will honor the warranty on the spot and replace the thing. But that’s what they did. They wiped my old phone and activated a new one for me and sent me on my merry way. That’s pretty awesome.

Unfortunately, one thing they don’t do a good job of at the Appley store is that of selling accessories. They don’t have squat to pair with your iPhone. Not even much in the way of cases. Oh well. I can always use an excuse to surf on Amazon.

Which brings me to the recent e-mail change. I have eschewed signing up for Apple’s “in-the-cloud” service, MobileMe. But, I recently figured what the hell, maybe in the 60-day free trial they can convince me that it’s worth $99 a year.

They did that in a day.

The synchronization is so good that when you delete an e-mail on your iPhone, it nearly instantaneously is deleted from your server. That ability to keep your mailbox cleaned up like that? Hell yeah that’s worth $99 a year.

So this guy’s new official e-mail address is as follows: aabp at me dot com.

Tech Tip: Buy Red

My best nerd tech tip is simple, Simon. Buy red.

I used to be a blue or black buyer. My suitcases are blue and black. My planner: Black. The first serious flashlight I ever bought: Black. Until I realized that was not a good strategy.

Red stands out in a room. If you’re looking for your Mag-Lite, you’re more bound to spot a red one more quickly. The case for my 250G Maxtor external drive? RED, baby. When it was time to shop for a new commute bag? Oh, red.

That is my best nerd tech tip ever. And it’s so simple.

Two New Nerd-Tech Discoveries

I have of late been unhappy with the tools available to access Internet radio on the ol’ Treo. Windows Media Player Mobile does not access all file types and requires entering long URIs with a stylus and/or those teeny keybord buttons. Pocket Player (huh-huh, huh) is not too much better for that, neither. I was about ready to give in and buy one of those iThings because radio is about 97 percent what I use my gizmo for.

See, here’s my situation. I’m a webmonkey by trade. Now, when they named me thus at my organization, I tried to negotiate for a better title: Master of Time, Space, and Dimension (MTSD). I figured at least with that title, I’d have a better shot at getting an office with a window. No avail. So there’s no radio waves, satellite or analog, getting into my office. Now, they’ve lifted the restriction of streaming, but I still like to lean on my own unlimited data plan, for one because I don’t think the Web guy should set that kind of example, and for two because if I use my own radio all day, it gets me better versed on what my own hardware can do. So.


If you’re a radio bug with a Treo, Android phone or, iPhone, you’re going to want this thing. It flawlessly tunes in radio stations from all over the place. It can search for specific call letters. It can browse by genre and by individual program. And it tunes in without a furrowed brow or a “god-damnit.”

This thing lets me tune in just about anything I’d like aside from Howard Stern and Radio B.O.N.K., but I have other apps for those. I can get my moonbat radio programs, C-SPAN Radio AND all the SPANs as well, WTOP, WKSU, and just about anything. And it’s not a subscription service. You just plunk down a few bucks for the software. I don’t know how they can afford to do that…I’d pay for a subscription to this thing.

Of course, the standard warning applies: Have an unlimited data plan, or your radio obsession will put you into the poorhouse. But, tell you whut, I’ll be paying for this app. It is simple, it does only one thing and does it well, and it works. Can’t ask for more than that.

Next: FxIF.

This is a Firefox extension that extinguishes a frequent frustration in my professional life.

I often need to know how big an Internet graphic is. But most browsers do not give up this info in the Properties check by default. So, the old-fashioned way to find out this information was to save it to my hard disc, open it in Photoshoppe, then Image-Size; or to screenshot it and paste it into Photoshoppe and then Image-Size.

Which is just a little bit easier.

(I didn’t link to it because I don’t want to pick a bad Web site and lead anyone to a booby-trap. Probably best to get there with a search on “FxIF” from your “Add-Ons” menu.)