Category Archives: Geekiness

End of an Era at prwdot.org

For the past six years, I have offered several of my friends free web hosting via my own personal web hosting accounts, under the prwdot.org domain name. I have set up and configured Movable Type blogs, Gallery installations, kept the software up to date, helped troubleshoot issues, mitigated the occasional security threat, and paid for the web hosting (which included storage space and bandwidth) that these folks used.

However, over the past few years, with the growth of our family, I’ve had less and less time to devote to running and supporting free web hosting. Though I enjoyed the opportunity to serve my friends, I found that I just wasn’t able to provide the same level of quality service that I once did. So, I’ve recently made the decision to end the free web hosting service, which will hopefully give me a few less things to think about.

In thanks to these friends for hosting with me, I’ve set up gone.prwdot.org, a domain to which their old websites will continue to redirect, and which contains links to all of their known sites, social networking profiles, or other pages. Thanks Will, Amy, Josh, Nathan, Jon, and Corey.

As a side note, this will also help out our family budget, as I’ve moved us from a slice at Slicehost to an account at NearlyFreeSpeech.net. Though I still will recommend Slicehost for folks who need a beefy, dedicated-virtual server with great support, we’re moving to NFSN because of their pay-as-you-go, bill-by-the-penny model. Web hosting will cost us around $5/month, possibly less, as we’re billed on a daily basis for exactly how much storage and bandwidth we use on that given day. I may write about NFSN in depth at a later time, but suffice to say for now I love their pricing and philosophy. While they aren’t the cheapest if you’re hosting large files or doing a lot of traffic, they are certainly very reliable, responsive, knowledgeable, and fair, and they have a business philosophy that I admire.

Reflections on “The Survey”

A List Apart recently published the findings of their 2008 Survey For People Who Make Websites.If you’re in the web design, development, or other similar fields, you might find it interesting to read to see just where you fit into the demographic spectrum of web developers.

Much of the survey didn’t surprise me: most respondents were white males from the United States. Most had personal websites. Most worked around 40 hours per week. But there were a few things that I thought were notable enough to share my observations:

  • I work for a company that’s larger than 78% of respondents’ companies (around 500 employees)
  • I’ve been in the field for longer than 75% of respondents (nine years).
  • I’ve been at my current job for longer than 95% of respondents (nine years).
  • I get more paid vacation than most (about five weeks).
  • I get about the same paid holidays as most (six days… I assumed most people got more).
  • My salary is better than the average (gentlemen do not divulge their actual salary figures).
  • Freelancers really don’t have great salaries (and I suspect that many of them are not sole providers for their family, something I’d like to see covered in a future iteration of the survey).
  • If you want a killer salary, be a creative director or UX expert.

So those are my thoughts. If you’re in the field, what did you find interesting about the survey?

Slicehost and Smugmug

Almost three weeks ago, our website had an outage that lasted over 24 hours. This was due to the shared hosting server that our site ran on having an outage, and was totally out of my control. Though I suppose this could happen to any server, it was just the latest of many similar incidents over many years of being with this particular web hosting company, and I’ve never appreciated the way they handle these incidents. So, while the outage was going on, I took the opportunity to sign up for a Virtual Private Server (VPS) account with Slicehost.

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Why I didn’t buy an iPhone

I want an iPhone. Really, I do. I love the idea of having this spiffy little device with a gorgeous screen and the ability to get online from just about anywhere. I’d love to have my phone, cameara, multimedia player, organizer, and applications all running on the same slim device. I’ve seen the iPhone, played around with it, heard lots of love stories. There’s also the fact that just about every web developer seems to have one. It’s only $199, so why not take the plunge?

Let’s take a look at what would be involved in my potential acquisition of an iPhone.

First, I’d need to purchase the iPhone. The price is $199 with a two-year contract through AT&T. Then, I’d need to sign up for a service plan. The cheapest individual AT&T plan that works with the iPhone is $69.99 plus tax and fees. That’s $69.99 out of our monthly budget for at least the next two years, which works out to $1679.76 over the two year span. So for $1878.76 over two years, I’d have my very own iPhone 3G. Unfortunately, our budget is pretty tight, and we simply don’t have the extra funds to spend on the added monthly fees. So there’s a fairly clear reason not to buy an iPhone.

Now, let’s think about workarounds. Rebecca and I already have cell phones, with a Sprint plan that costs $59.99/month and allows us to share minutes between our phones. So couldn’t we cancel our plan and use that money toward the iPhone and AT&T service plan? Sure, but there are a few problems. First, our contract with Sprint is still in effect, so we would need to cancel that and pay the $200 early termination fee. Signing up for the $69.99 individual plan above would leave Rebecca without a cell phone, so we’d need to sign her up for her own cell phone. The cheapest plan I could find for the amount of minutes she normally uses is an AT&T GoPhone prepaid plan for $39.99. So we would both end up with phones for about $50 more per month, which is $20 less than we’d spend if I went straight for the iPhone. But still, $50 is not a small amount in our monthly budget, so this isn’t all that appealing. Plus, we’d be adding the $200 early termination fee onto the purchase price of the iPhone for a total of $399 spent up front.

There are other factors as well. We’ve been Sprint customers since 2000, so we have a fair amount of brand loyalty. Their service is excellent everywhere that we need it, call quality is crystal clear, and the plan we have is a good deal. I’ve not heard good things about AT&T’s service or call quality in this area. Also, the above-mentioned plan from AT&T doesn’t include any text messaging, which I’d almost certainly want to use, so that would be an extra $5-$20 per month depending on the amount of messages I wanted to send. And of course, there is the fact that Rebecca would also love to have an iPhone, and in order to have a shared plan for two iPhones, the cost for the plan jumps to a minimum of $129.99, which would put us back at the same price as if we had kept both of our Sprint phones and our Sprint plan active. Not to mention buying a second iPhone for another $199 (that’s $600 for two iPhones and one early termination fee). Finally, there’s the fact that even though it would be really cool to use the Internet from anywhere, it’s not something that I really need to have.

In reality, it all comes down to the extra monthly service charges. If it was just the early termination fee and the purchase price I had to deal with, I’d be willing to consider it. It’s not hard to come up with that kind of money in the short term. But consistently paying an additional $50-$70 per month for the lifetime of the account for something I don’t really need just isn’t worth it. Perhaps if I was able to claim it as a business expense and write off the monthly fee, or if my company was subsidizing the extra cost, I’d go for it. Or if I got an enormous raise and forgot about all of the other things my family needs to have or would like to do. But for now, the iPhone is out of the picture.

Which is why I bought an iPod Touch. More on that later, but for now, here are some photos.

Update, 06/09/2009

With yesterday’s introduction of the iPhone 3G S at $199, Apple also knocked the price of the iPhone 3G down to $99. While this is definitely cheaper, I still am unable to bring myself to buy an iPhone because:

  • It’s only available on AT&T
  • The required data plans are still priced out of our range

However, I am very excited about the iPhone 3.0 software update, which will also work on my iPod Touch, and which I will certainly be willing to pay $9.95 for.

Geeky Party

Partygoers

Today we hosted a small gathering of Gordon College Math/CompSci alumni at our house. My friend Lesley and I have been doing these get-togethers for a while now, and we keep trying to spread the word and get more people to attend. This being the summer, many people are busy on weekends or out of town, but nonetheless we had a fun time getting to see some of our old friends, catch up on their recent events, etc. The plan was to have a cookout and to hold most of the party outside, since the inside of our house is rather cramped right now. However, towards dinner time we started to get some light rain and decided to move things inside. It was definitely cramped, or cozy as one might say, but we still managed to have a good time. There was plenty of food and fun with a number of kids pulling in a lot of attention. We even got in a few rounds of karaoke revolution. 🙂

You can visit the gallery for more pics from the party.

Build Guild: Web geekiness in Salem, MA

Last week, I attended the inaugural meetup of the Build Guild, a Salem, MA area meetup of web geeks. The meetup was held at the Salem Beer Works. Here are my reflections on the event in 5×5 format:

Five people I met (for the first time):

Five good things:

  • Location was theoretically convenient; only about a 10 minute drive under ideal conditions. (This time, I spent a few minutes getting lost on the streets of downtown Salem, literally just blocks away from the venue. I don’t drive into Salem often, okay?) Certainly used less gas than it takes to get to Boston or Newburyport.
  • Good food at the Beer Works.
  • Enjoyed talking to various geeky people about geeky and non-geeky topics.
  • Gained insight into the working habits of non-corporate developers.
  • Great hosts Marc and Angelo made sure that everyone was welcomed and enjoying themselves.

Five not-as-good things:

  • Venue was a bit on the noisy side.
  • Sometimes I couldn’t tell who the Build Guild people were, since we had spilled into the general bar area and mixed with the regular restaurant patrons.
  • Got crowded at the peak and was hard to move around and interact.
  • I got lost on the way there (this is the City of Salem’s fault for poor signage, not the Build Guild’s).
  • Low lighting didn’t make for the greatest photographic setting, at least not with my camera (this is the Beer Works’ fault/choice to set the ambience, but I can still complain, can’t I?).

Five Observations:

  • Salem has a lot to offer young hipsters: coffee shops, bars, restaurants, social opportunities, public transportation, cheap apartments.
  • Apparently many (most?) large corporations no longer retain their own development staff. Put another way, most of the people I talked to that evening were freelancers or worked for design or consulting agencies. This made me feel a bit out of place, coming from a company that has a large, in-house development staff. I’m also speculating that another reason I saw more freelance/agency types is that many corporate-employed developers don’t see the need to go out and meet with developers from other companies. In many ways, I don’t really need to attend an event like Build Guild as much as others. At work, we have a large group of developers with diverse talents and interests, and a lot of experience, so we are constantly in the process of learning from each other. We also work only for one client, our company, so there is no need to look for gigs or other outside work. And since we rarely hire outside help or outsource any services, there isn’t much point in receiving sales pitches from people with services or software to sell. However, I believe that it’s still good to attend these things because how else can one learn about what else is out there, what ways other people are doing things, what technologies they’re using in their day-to-day work?
  • I actually spent less time talking about web development than I thought I would, and more time talking about topics like corporate organization, business process, and random things like photography and videography. Next time I’ll have to see if I can push Perl on anybody. 🙂
  • I’ve never thought of myself as a videographer, but after talking to Jason Hawkins for a while, I think I’ve come to realize that I am a dormant videographer. Videography and video editing takes a considerable amount of time, and since that’s something I don’t have right now, it’s simply something I don’t engage in. However, if I do ever get back that kind of time, it’s something I’ll definitely want to look in to.
  • Everyone says this, but it’s really surprising and awesome how many quality web design people there are in this area.

Five Photos I Took At Build Guild:

DSC_0028 DSC_0047 DSC_0050 DSC_0076 DSC_0110

See more of my photos from the Build Guild at flickr.

North Shore Web Geek Meetup

Last night I attended the North Shore Web Geek Meetup, hosted by Joshua Porter of Bokardo.com. The venue was The Grog in Newburyport, a nice little bar and grille, where we had our own private room on the second floor. A little over 20 people showed up on the cold and wintry night.

I showed up at 6pm, the first person there other than Josh, and I left at 10pm (there was still a handful of people there). I might have stayed longer, but I did have a 40-minute drive home, and work the next day. I’ve been to a number of other meetups, and this is the first one where I’ve stayed more than an hour or two. I met some fantastic people, had some great discussions about technology, the web, the North Shore, and life in general, and enjoyed a bit of good food. The setting was very informal; people just stood around and drank and talked, and would order food whenever they felt like it. When my food arrived, I ate as quickly as I could so as not to miss too much time socializing (and because I was hungry).

Some observations from the evening:

  • Roughly half of the people at the meetup appeared to be in their mid-twenties and under (I didn’t take a survey). The <=25 crowd and the >25 crowds seemed to naturally band together, perhaps because of similar temperments and life experiences. This was kind of an eye-opener for me, as I’ve always felt like part of the younger crowd. But last night it hit me as I found myself sitting at a table with a bunch of guys who were married with kids and had spent more than five years in their respective fields. I’m 29 years old, I’ve been married for five years, have an almost-two-year-old, own a house, and have been working for the same company for almost eight years now. I don’t feel like that makes me an old guy, but in fact that’s about all it takes to cross the bridge. What is more surprising to me is that I’m okay with it. I enjoyed hanging out with these people, had a lot in common with them, and felt very comfortable. So here’s to my “old”ness. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the younger folk – the ones I talked to were very nice people in their own right, but in terms of interests, life outlook, and work experience, I really hit it off more with the “older” crowd.)
  • Most of the people that I met were from Newburyport, or from fairly close by. Thus, the meetup might more accurately be named the Merrimac Valley Web Geeks Meetup. In fact, Newburyport is only part of the North Shore in the broadest definitions of the term. On the other hand, having “North Shore” in the name was a selling point for me, as I identify strongly with the North Shore. So I might not have been as interested if the meetup was more “accurately” named. 🙂
  • All of the people I talked to came from one of two different job types: employees at small design/development/consulting firms, or individual freelancers/consultants. These types of people work in small teams for a variety of clients, in contrast to my work which is steady, permanent work for a single client. From what I recall, nobody I talked to has been in their current position as long as I have, and I’m not sure that even the older guys I talked to had worked for any one company for a long period of time. So for me, it was interesting to talk to these types of people to see what their work is like, and I hope that it was somewhat enlightening for them to hear from a long-time corporate developer type.
  • Something I’ve observed at other meetups, and seemed to hold true at this one as well: People generally don’t like going to meetups far from home. At the meetups I’ve attended in the cities of Boston or Cambridge, people generally balk at the idea of traveling to the hinterlands of the North Shore, while at the NSWG meetup, I heard people talking about not being able to / not being interested in attending meetings in Boston. Personally, I’m up for traveling just about anywhere as long as I’ve got the time. It took me about 40 minutes to drive to Newburyport, but I’ve driven twice as far for lesser events. Maybe it stems from the fact that I’m originally from a small town in the Midwest, and we had to drive far to get everywhere. Or maybe it’s just my temperment. Or maybe the reason I drive so far to attend these types of things is that I haven’t found many geeky meetups in my immediate vicinity. There’s the North Shore Computer Society, which holds meetings in Peabody, but they’re a bit more formal and old-school than I’m interested in. If there were a bunch of great meetups being held in Danvers or Peabody, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to drive so far to attend other ones. Hmm.

To wrap up, I’ve got a gallery of photos from the North Shore Web Geek Meetup, and I’ve been using del.icio.us to tag the people I met with nswgm. Check out those links and my commentary. Hopefully Josh will be planning more of these events in the future. Overall I had a great experience at this one, and came away feeling very excited and affirmed.

See you at the next one!

20 Years Of Perl

I slacked off yesterday, and forgot to write up a blog post about this, but December 18 marked the 20th birthday of the Perl programming language! Woohoo!

I’ve personally been using Perl for about ten years, and for the past seven years I’ve been using it in my job at Christianbook.com. I love coding in Perl, and I’ve learned how to make it do some really crazy things over the years! I guess you could say that Perl helps me “put bread on the table,” so I owe Larry Wall some thanks for creating such a great language and guiding it through all of these years of development.

Here’s to 20 more great years!

Nano, nano

With a little bit o’ the old birthday money, I bought myself an iPod Nano 3g. Let me just say that this thing is gorgeous:

iPod Nano 3g

I got the black 8 GB model. My old iPod was a 20 GB 4th gen, so I’ve had to prioritize the stuff I really want to sync to the Nano, but I still find that I have plenty of space for the things I really want to listen to.

The Nano’s implementation of Cover Flow is excellent, and the user interface design is just beautiful. I love the way it grabs snippets of cover art and movies, and floats them around while I’m browsing through menus. It’s also got some fun games, and the screen resolution, brightness, and color are terrific. It’s actually not too bad to watch movies on the screen, and I love being able to have videos and photos of the fam with me in this matchbook-sized device. The size, of course, is one of the best parts – it fits right into the coin pocket of my jeans.

Many other have reviewed the 3rd gen Nano, so I’ll leave the full-fledged reviews to them. “Awesome” sums it up for me.

P.S. I now have a 4th Gen iPod that I’m looking to sell. I thought I’d toss it out to my blog readers before it went up on Craigslist or eBay.

P.P.S. Ditto on the above for a Panasonic DMC-FZ20 12x zoom digital camera. Sorry, this has been taken. Thanks, Beth! 🙂

Prepare yourself for a shock

So, over the last few months you’ve all heard about Peter’s new technological acquisitions. He has been very happy with his new toys and has been spending time tweaking them to his liking.

“What about you, Bec?” You might ask. “What have you gotten lately?”

Well, I have indeed made a few techy purchases of my own. The first is a pretty little piece of metal called the 30gig Video iPod. See it here:

ppp|30g iPod|ppp

I am pretty enamored with it. It is shiny and little and has a color screen. Not only does it play music, but I can watch videos and look at pictures on it! Doesn’t get better than that!

I was also a little concerned about my picture taking abilities once the baby comes along. Peter’s camera is great, but it is hardly the kind of camera you pull out at a moment’s notice to take a snapshot of little BabyWood schmering squash all over the table… So we went looking for a “point and shoot” digital camera. Here’s what we found:

ppp|Canon A530|ppp

[edit] It is a Cannon Powershot A530. It has a few little issues: the flash recycle time is kind of slow, the screen is a little grainy… but it works for my purposes and was definately in my price range (ie. cheap).

I’m still figuring out how to take good pictures with it, but I’m planning on reading the manual and practicing. Never fear. I’m glad to have an easy to use camera and look forward to capturing many many precious moments 😉

Don’t think for a moment, though, that I’ve completely jumped to the geeky side… Peter was trying to convince me to get a new cell phone tonight…I told him that I was still plenty happy with the phone I have. Yes. The one he bought in 2000 and gave me when he grew tired of it. I like its size, shape, etc. and it still works like a charm. Why fix what isn’t broken?