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Alchemy In Action

I switched from MoveableType to WordPress back in September of last year and it’s been one of the best decisions that I’ve made regarding this blog. WordPress is just so much easier and, dare I say, FUN to use. There’s a richer developer community, more templates and generally more help out there than there is for MT. But my joy with working with WP over MT is more than just skin deep.

The feature set of MoveableType and WordPress are virtually the same. I really haven’t found where WP does something that MT can’t do, or vice versa. The difference is HOW each product approaches publishing online. There is something distinctly different in the WP approach that makes it much more accessible. It’s not just in the user interface, or the fact that WP uses PHP instead of PERL — it’s how the entirety of the application has been designed and you have to experience it to understand it. WP is just a much more coherent approach to publishing. It works better, it feels better and it helps me publish to the point that the tool actually disappears from my perspective. MT, on the other hand, feels more like I’m trying to pull a donkey up a hill. I’m constantly having to fight against the program to complete the task at hand.

These differences were recently brought to my attention as I compared how SixApart and Automattic addressed adding Social Networking to their product lines. Products like FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube have changed how people market their sites/products/services online. It’s now common practice to promote through all of these channels to draw traffic to your site, but there’s a new trend on the rise that is looking to reverse that process.

The new question that is being asked is “Instead of going out to these various networks, why not have them come to us?” In answer to that question, SixApart has released Motion and Automattic has released BuddyPress.

At first glance they may look similar, but as you dig into it, it’s clear that BuddyPress has a much more coherent approach and is easier to understand. When I first watched the video for Motion, I kept going “Huh? How am I supposed to use this?” If you take a look at the Motion Demo, you’ll see what I mean. It’s just a pile. In my office, we have a nickname for Facebook. We call it FacePile, because it just dumps a pile of various and sundry information at your feet. Motion does that to an even greater degree. After looking at the demo, the only feeling I’m left with is “Why?” Why would someone want this on their site?

Then you take a look at the BuddyPress Demo and there’s a remarkable difference. It’s clearly designed to mirror the FaceBook style of community, but it’s cleaner and clearer as to what you can do and how everything works. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a better design that FaceBook! I’m currently developing a new community web site and I actually had to stop and think about BuddyPress for quite some time. So at the end of the demo, I’m left thinking “How would I use this?” Not, “Why would I use this?”

So What’s Your Point?
Most of what I do on a day-to-day basis is work with users and distill down complex technology systems into plain english for my clients, friends and family. I guess you could say that I live in the world of interaction between user and interface.

So often when I’m talking with a developer and the subject of UI comes up, they just roll their eyes and dismiss it out of hand. Since it’s not quantifiable and algorithmic, it gets treated like alchemy — which perhaps is right — but the attitude is one of disdain and frustration, not of respect and appreciation.

Add to this equation the fact that I’m not a designer, so my vocabulary is a little limited when describing systems and UI. Then along comes two answers to the same question and I can finally point and say, “Do THAT, not that.” and I find that a little exhilarating.

This example also reminds me why I enjoy WordPress so much and why moving away from MovableType was such a good decision.

Palm Geek Chick Flick?

little-black-book.pngHolly is currently out-of-town, so you’d think that I’d have spent the whole weekend eating pizza, renting violent movies and sitting around in my underwear — you know, reverting back to adolescence while my better half is away. Surprisingly, I wore pants and did a bunch of small chores around the house. However, I did order a pizza and I did watch a few movies.

One of the movies I stumbled onto over the weekend was “Little Black Book” Not a huge fan of the whole “chick flick” genre, you might be wondering why I watched it. Although Brittany Murphy may have been the star of the film, what hooked me was all the references to Palm. As my tag cloud can attest, I’ve been a bit of a fan over the years. I will admit that my passion for the platform has definitely waned over the last five years, going so far as to tell them goodbye, but I couldn’t stop watching.

To some extent I was really doing nothing more than reliving the late heydays of Palm. I remember all the promotion that Palm put out on the film and how they felt that the Palm Tungsten C was one of the characters in the movie. Although that may be taking things a bit too far, it was definitely the star of the show in my eyes.

palmOne Press Release

In “Little Black Book,” Stacy Holt (Brittany Murphy), an associate producer for daytime talk show hostess Kippie Kann (Kathy Bates), is frustrated when her boyfriend Derek (Ron Livingston) refuses to discuss his past relationships. With the encouragement of co-worker Barb (Holly Hunter), she delves into his palmOne handheld to learn about his ex-girlfriends. The digital footprints of past and present romances are kept on a Tungsten C handheld from palmOne. This little black book, used for work and play, is the technology star of the film.

The movie itself was mediocre at best. If they had used a Blackberry instead of a Palm, I wouldn’t have lasted more than 10 minutes before changing the channel. But they didn’t. They used a Palm and they used it through the film here-and-there. One of the more memorable scenes for me was where they were displaying a Palm application via a projector up on the wall. The image was obscured by the actors and they never actually made reference to it, so I can only assume that it was used in an earlier scene that was deleted, but you could clearly see a few soft buttons and an outline of the user interface. It literally made me catch my breath.

As silly as it may sound, what dawned on me was just how much I used to be IN LOVE with Palm OS. There she was — Palm OS — right at her peak, still vibrant and full of potential, in a major Hollywood movie and she looked fantastic. The Commodore 64 may have been my first crush on technology, but the Palm Pilot was my first true love and seeing the actors make references to it and for her display to appear on screen just brought it all back.

It was like seeing photos of your first girlfriend and remembering how great it was back then. Today you’ve both grown older and gone your separate ways, but to recall that time in your lives when everything just clicked and it is so delightfully delicious to recall. At a commercial break, I closed my eyes to hold onto that memory as long as I could. It was like savoring a single bite of a desert long forgotten. You hold onto it with all your senses as it slowly dissolves away and then you swallow and there’s nothing left.

To drive the analogy into the ground, Palm has since let herself go and left me for someone new a few years ago. She’s now but a glimmer of her former self and I stopped calling because it was just to painful to see her like that. Of course she has a younger sister, the Palm Pré, which everyone is excited about, but that’s not the one you fell in love with.

Besides, I think to myself, I’ve moved on and I’m in a happy and committed relationship with my iPhone. Our relationship is stable and secure and even after two years, we’re still acting like we’re dating. There’s so much stuff to see and do that there simply isn’t enough time in the day.

But every so often, I hear a beep, or see a certain squarish oblong button and I’m instantly taken back to the days when technology was a little bit simpler and the world was still eagerly waiting to be conquered.

Why I Read 43Folders

I’ve been a huge fan of Merlin Mann ever since I got into Getting Things Done and stumbled onto his web site 43Folders. Yesterday Merlin posted one of his missivies on productivity that is an instant classic and it reminds me why I continue to read his web site.

In his article Mud Rooms, Red Letters, and Real Priorities, he recounts a tale of being assaulted by a conversation one row back on a recent flight. The woman just won’t shut up about how her mud room is a real priority. Naturally, this leads Merlin to discuss the true nature of priorities.

First, ask yourself why any “high priority” item has remained unresolved in your life for more than 60 seconds. Why isn’t it done completely? Have you ever “re-assigned” “priority” to some task? Really? Because that sounds more like procrastination than management, let alone “effective” action and decisive execution.

I don’t want to spoil it, so I encourage you to the article at this link. There are some real gems in there that stop and make you think about your priorities.

Considering A 365 Photo Project

I’m considering doing a 365 Photo Project and I’m curious to hear what others think about it. Have you done one and did you like it? If you haven’t done one personally, do you like seeing them?

What Is It?
The link in the above paragraph goes into great detail, but in a nutshell, it’s where you take a photo a day and post it online. Quite a challenge to say the least.

So Why Do It?
There’s a couple of things that are making me consider it.

1. I’m working on building a new community and I’m trying to become more active in online publishing. Just trying to create new habits and keep my focus on “what can I publish?”

2. I don’t have many pictures of me. I don’t like having my picture taken and I usually get behind the camera just for that reason. However, with Facebook, Twitter and all the other places where you can have an online identity, a picture would come in handy. After taking 365 photos, I’m bound to have one that I like.

3. It would be a challenge. Publishing a photograph every day would be a challenge. I tend to like challenges and achievements and the higher degree of difficulty, the more I want to do it.

But What Do You Think?
I’d love to hear what you think — especially if you’ve done one in the past. Even if you haven’t, I’d still like to know if you’d be at all interested in me doing a 365 photo project.

Electric Cars – How To Convert A Country

Came across a video from the TED conference by Shai Agassi and just had to share. Agassi is the CEO of a company called BetterPlace which is a company looking to provide electric car networks for countries.

What I found so fascinating about the talk is how in 18 minutes he sums up the issues faced with our dependance on oil and illustrates a clear path of how to change that. I haven’t seen someone one take it from soup to nuts like that in such a short span of time.

Bathtub IV Video

I was going through my tweets after lunch and found a comment by Merlin Mann. He was replying to Graham Linehan, the creator of The IT Crowd so naturally I had to follow him (@Glinner if you’re interested).

As I scrolled through page-after-page of videos and links of utter hilarity, I came across this video that I just had to share. Bathtub IV is one in a series of videos from Keith Loutit’s “Little Sydney” project and it’s just brilliant.

Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Note: this is not stop motion, and these are not models. I showed this to Dan and we talked about it and how Keith created this fantastic video. Seems that he’s shooting HD and combing tilt-shift and time-lapse. Incredible.

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable

I came across an article by Clay Shirky called Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable by way of DaringFireball and I have to say, it is a must read.

There’s been a great deal of discussion on the subject of newspapers and other traditional print publications in the news feeds and podcasts that I listen to. It’s no wonder that it’s a hot topic what with PC World no longer publishing it’s magazine and the Kindle 2 getting great reviews and many major newspapers on the brink of collapse.

In all the rhetoric, I haven’t heard anyone approach it quite like Clay Shirky’s article. It’s a fresh look and quite insightful and balanced in the approach to the “problem”.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote:

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.

Jim Cramer On The Daily Show

I didn’t see it on TV when it occurred, but apparently Jim Cramer made an appearance on “The Daily Show with John Stewart” and didn’t fare so well, to put it mildly. There’s a lot of buzz about this on the Internet and after watching the un-edited video, I can see why.

Jim Cramer really comes off like a schmuck and an apologist. Clearly John is on his game, is firing on all cylinders and controls the conversation expertly. It reminds me of his appearance Crossfire and well worth the watch. On Crossfire, John took CNN to task and in this interview he takes CNBC to the same task. To quote Stewart, the issue is about “… what CNBC advertisers itself as and what it actually is.”

The impression that I’m left with after watching the videos is that the credibility of CNBC and more specifically Cramer’s show “Mad Money” has been flushed. It was after Stewart’s appearance on “Crossfire” that the show was cancelled. I can’t help but think that we could be seeing a repeat.

Lastly, there’s one thing that Cramer says towards the end that really sticks out and will be my take away sound bite.

“I’m a guy doing an entertainment show about business.”

Bye Bye Miss American Pie

Palm has finally come clean and confirmed what has been widely suspected, that it will no longer develop any new traditional handheld PDAs. Word came straight from Palm CEO Ed Colligan during yesterdays conference call, but it bears mentioning again for posterity. The announcement was made practically off the cuff when asked by a financial analyst about the possibility of shutting down the handheld business.

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I gave up on Palm OS a couple of years ago, but it still saddens me to see something that I was SO passionate about go out like this.

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