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23 April 2009

I Cheat - Do You?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm NOT a hardcore coder. In fact, I went to school to become a psychotherapist and assumed that was my profession because it's what I did.

Web design was just a hobby like chess. I bought Macromedia Flash 5 bundled with Freehand 9 and taught myself how to create rich media for the web. My next step was to purchase Dreamweaver and Fireworks as a bundle. I then learned html and this little thing called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) which has rocked my world. From there I never looked back. I began volunteering at the church and was eventually hired to do this stuff full time. I love my job!

Over time I have been successful at plugging in simple javascript or php elements as long as the person creating them did a good job and documented the implementation well. But that is as far as my coding skills have progressed. With my responsibilities the way they are there isn't time or a need for me to drop hours at a time on learning to code.

So if there is one thing that has helped me muddle through with coding it's cheat sheets. I've found them invaluable for quick reference when designing/developing and getting stuck over some simple syntax error.

Web Design Ledger has pulled together some of the main ones in their article: 18 Seriously Helpful Cheat Sheets for Easier Coding.

Hope you find them as useful as I do :)

21 April 2009

ipTV Heading This Way!

We've been talking about it for over a year now and though it isn't a reality yet, you can definitely hear it coming.

Websites like ipTV News and ipTV Community offer up to date information on where we're at with Internet Protocol Television (ipTV) and how soon it will become available.

But for me, it's all a bunch of noise until I see some actual movement in that direction. Maybe movement like this:

For immediate release: Silicon, OEM, Cable and Content Partners Embrace Adobe Flash Platform for Televisions, Set-Top Boxes and Blu-Ray Players. (full press release)
Now that's the type of news I'm talking about! Flash video has taken the Internet by storm and is easily the standard by which all other streaming media is measured.

But the unfortunate reality is that flash has not expanded quickly beyond the web.

On we offer streaming flash video of our media clips and weekend messages. Right now if you want to watch them you have to use your computer. But as flash support spreads to various devices we will be able to do the following:
  1. Watch flash media on your LCD/LED/Plasma HDTV: If your HDTV has a network plug you could stream flash content directly off the Internet. HDTV's that support flash could also stream flash video directly off a network (NAS devices or other computers), off flash drives and even off PMP's like the Zune.
  2. Watch flash media through a set top box or Gaming System: If your television does not support flash you might still be okay if you have a set top box or gaming system like the Xbox360 or PlayStation3 that supports flash. These devices would decode the flash video and send it to your television.
  3. Watch flash media on your phone: Currently flash support is weak on mobile devices. But the Palm Pre is launching soon and claims that they will support flash by the end of the year. I'm assuming most other cellphone manufacturers are scrambling to do the same.
Obviously there is work to be done, but believe me the pieces of the puzzle are coming together faster than ever. And I can't wait.

19 April 2009

Partnership versus Contractors

Before coming to work at the church I worked in the mental health field. And unfortunately I learned some bad habits. Everything from watching my back, to hoarding knowledge to paying someone as little as possible to do a job without thinking how it might impact future interactions with the person or company.

It was about keeping your job and trying to live up to unrealistic expectations - typically to pad the companies bottom line and allow the CEO to feel good about himself on his next exotic vacation.

But the church has taught me new habits. Trust, sharing your ideas, collaborating with teams and partnering with people.

It's that last part that I want to stress - partnering with people and vendors. I've seen it over and over again. Instead of contracting the cheapest solution and then dropping them the next time if something cheaper is found, the church develops strategic partnerships. These relationships begin like any other but over time become a sharing and collaborative interaction that helps strengthen both entities.

For years now we've had this partnership with AspireOne. They help us maintain the foundation of our website - allowing us to manage the daily/weekly updates and dream about future revisions. They push us on our decisions and we hopefully keep them on the cutting edge by asking for the next crazy thing out there.

Little by little it all made sense - to the point where last week I formed a partnership with a company in the community. It's starting over a specific project, but I hope it continues for years to come.

Isn't growth a wonderful thing?

16 April 2009

Taking the Plunge

As our diving trip to Key Largo, FL approaches, I become more and more aware of the concept of preparation.

Diving is not, "Hey! We're going to the beach so bring your suit!"

It's more like, "Hey! In 3 months we're going diving. Start getting your stuff together."

Of course if you own all of your own gear it might be a bit easier. You go down to the basement, get your stuff, make sure it has been serviced recently and pack it up. But I'm new to this whole thing. I'm still in the process of deciding what gear to buy and what to rent, what type of wetsuit to take on the trip, how to get good and familiar with my dive computer and how to get all the stuff down there safely.

I'm sure it will get easier. But for now, the process is very time consuming.

Bring it On Back
So how does preparation apply to web design and development? Well, around here we talk about web projects (everything from complete web redesign projects to the implementation of a new web element like a media player or a social networking application) in the following terms:

  1. Discover: Figuring out what it is you need, why you need it and who it is really for.
  2. Define: Taking the concept and fleshing it out.
  3. Deliver: Pulling it together and implementing well.
  4. Repeat: As needed...
  5. (concepts from the book Less Clutter. Less Noise. by Kem Meyer)
Call it doing your due diligence before putting something out there.

In discussing the dismal release of the Blackberry Storm, RIM CEO was recently quoted (here):
That's our first touch product, and you know nobody gets it perfect out the door. You know other companies were having problems with their first releases.
Not only does he make excuses for his own product, but he also tries to drag other companies down with him.

Preparation is key to the success of anything worth doing, eating, making, owning etc.

Go into it saying, "It's going to be the best thing out there." Instead of saying, "We're just putting it out there and it will probably tank."

04 April 2009

Don't Simply Provide the Solution. Describe the Solution.

It was fairly warm out the other day so I pulled out the kids bikes and started to fix them.

As I did I realized there are two ways to solve a problem: One is to provide the solution and the other is to describe the solution.

Provide the Solution
This is fairly simple and straightforward. When a problem arises, you fix it. Even if it's someone else's problem, you fix it. You don't ask for help or pull someone else in to see how you fixed the problem. You simply fix it.

Describe the Solution
In this scenario, you still fix the problem, but as you do, you describe what you are doing to someone else. It could be the person with the problem. It could be someone that could fix the problem with you (or for you) in the future. Either way, you are capitalizing on a teaching moment rather than just solving the problem.

Disclaimer: In both scenarios above you are solving the problem because the other person is either too young to solve it themselves or because the other person is incapable of resolving the problem on their own with the skills/knowledge they have. If the person is capable of resolving the problem, by all means teach them how and allow them to become self sufficient. Enabling is NOT helpful behavior.
I find with my kids I am constantly doing things for them and describing what I'm doing at the same time. When I was fixing their bikes I described why full tires were more beneficial than flat tires. I explained the proper height for a bike seat so your legs fit the pedals right. And I even went over the proper use of brakes so that they wouldn't grab the front brake with all their might someday and go over their handlebars.

But it occurred to me that I didn't have to do it that way. I could have told the kids to go play and then fixed the bikes without distraction. But what a waste of an opportunity!

To bring it full circle I started asking myself the same thing at work. Am I just fixing problems that arise or am I taking opportunities to describe the process? Even if it might be faster to fix it myself, would it be more beneficial to describe the process to the person with the problem? Would it help to train someone so there would be two people in the future capable of resolving the problem?

In the future when you face problems, try thinking about them in this way. You just might find your problems becoming opportunities for growth in others.

03 April 2009

This is Pre-diculous!

Another demo video for the Palm Pre (watch demo video here). How much more of this do they expect us to endure?

Each video gives a little more information and unveils a couple more cool features. But it's like a carrot being dangled in front of you to keep you interested.

How long must we wait? I've heard end of April as one scenario but looks like May or June is more likely.

02 April 2009

I Love You. But You're Gone.

Ever fallen in love with something and then realized it wasn't love at all?

I started drinking coffee in St. Charles, IL in 1994. It started with French Vanilla coffee at Dunkin Donuts and eventually moved to Starbucks Venti Mocha's. Last month I was drinking a Venti Mocha almost every morning, a Grande Coffee in the afternoon and then some Chai at night.

All together these drinks packed a combined 610mg of caffeine - not to mention the other stuff that is added (sugar, 2% milk and whipped cream).

The Mayo Clinic suggests that anything over 500mg can be an issue and lead to problems while using it. Not to mention the problems you can have if you try to stop...

And that's what I did recently. Eight days ago I stopped drinking caffeine of any kind. And within 24 hours I was hating life. Apparently 100mg per day can trigger withdrawal symptoms...who knew? WebMD has more on caffeine withdrawal symptoms here.

Why Stop?
I have tried stopping before, but never really had a good reason...until recently.

On the Today Show one morning they talked about how caffeine can affect people with back problems by causing swelling in the discs between the vertebrae. Interestingly enough I was diagnosed with a protruding disc last year.

I also did some reading about caffeine and the affect on SCUBA divers. Apparently it can have a negative impact on you if you're using Nitrox (Enriched Air). I'm going to Florida in a month and we'll be diving with Nitrox the whole time...

Needless to say, it's time to stop.

The problem is, I love coffee. There's nothing better than waking up early to drink coffee and work on websites.

I guess it all comes down to priorities. And right now there are other things that take priority.

Coffee: I love you. But you're gone.