Fascinated by complexity. Striving for simplicity.

What I learned

Startup Engineering

24th of June, 2013

+ I started taking the Coursera class, Startup Engineering. So far, it’s interesting and it forces me to look at node.js which I have been trying to get to for a long time but just never found the reason. This class uses it for the assignments and so that should prompt me to jump in and get going.  Also, I am giving Heroku another shot as well since the class uses that platform for the app. Evidently, there are over 100K users signed up for the class… it will be interesting to see how many get through and submit the final project at the end; it moves pretty fast from what I know so far.

+ There is a free, well-done design course for hackers and startup types that focuses specifically on the app design and user experience itself which I have been going through. I think it’s a good compliment to the Coursera class, which is focused on engineering/infrastructure and not on the front end design. On that note, you should check out a fairly comprehensive list of front end design resources that is being maintained on github.

+ .io app finds this week are: Algorithms.io, Factor.io.

+ There’s probably going to be a boom in privacy apps in the coming year. One that looks pretty cool is Threema

+ Web colors today.

+ A Dark and Stormy

+ Adobe rolled out all their new Creative Cloud (CC) apps this week. Updating basically means getting rid of the old CS6 apps that you had downloaded and then downloading and installing all the new CC apps. Lots of new features that I am learning as I find them. I spend a lot of time in these apps. I haven’t really participated in all the online arguing about whether or not Adobe is doing “the right thing” with Creative Cloud subscriptions and I don’t care. For me, Creative Cloud is perfect. I get all the Adobe Creative Suite apps on 2 computers for $50/month. I also use all the touch apps on my iPad (not so much on my iPhone) and I like syncing those to the cloud too. For those who whine that they don’t like the idea that Adobe is moving them to the CC apps before they’re ready to move, I feel their pain, but surely don’t really care why they are all upset. Now, I want Autodesk to implement the same subscription-based app pricing for their suite of stuff too: I WANT AUTODESK PRODUCT DESIGN SUITE (throw the Ultimate on the end too).

I’m kind of struggling with the idea of getting a CNC plasma system or the Autodesk Product Design Suite which represents two different creative service paths as well as different business models for production. I wish I could buy both tbh. Setting my goals…

+ Bonus tip: I have always been fairly confused about ssh and .pem keys and logging into EC2; I have to look up the process almost every time. I found this post  about connecting to your EC2 server using your terminal and how to configure your ssh client to log in without all the hassle of typing the long ass command every single time.



What I Learned

Sink or Swim

17th of June, 2013

This week I didn’t learn enough. It was a bad week honestly. Current project is just not going in the direction I want and I feel completely unproductive. Spent way too much time reading about PRISM and the NSA and all that.

Big Brother

+ Steve Gibson offered up a pretty good theory of PRISM on his podcast (Epi 408). I think he nailed it.

+ I have to wonder if Snowdon really is who he says he is. I may be wrong, but something is kind of strange about his perfectly-worded statements and ‘on-air’ personality presented by the media without, it would seem, any sort legal representation being present during any of the interviews. Does he have someone advising him off-camera? Even though you have succeeded in getting the information out, it doesn’t make any sense that you would just speak ‘off the cuff’ about your actions no matter how strong your conviction to such a cause is; he’s going to face a trial at some point so why risk getting thrown into the hole for life if you can avoid it? There is a lot of strange things happening OR, the NSA and the media are just stupidly operating on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour response mechanism which doesn’t add up.

+ I learned that trying to get a Land Rover Defender into the U.S. is a complete, idiotic pain in the ass. I want this one.

+ My mind is wandering back to some creative product ideas. I finally reviewed and synced my OmniFocus list which I hadn’t done in a month. I keep it pretty updated with my current spark files and projects but had not really taken a good look at it in awhile.

+ I’ve been reading this book:


and I am learning lots of little tips and tricks for machinists, welders, and fabricators. Just like the title says…

Tom Lipton also has a pretty interesting blog.


what I learned

Creativity On Demand (Sucks)

7th of June, 2013

+ I didn’t just learn this. I’ve known it for years and years. And yet, I still have to sometimes learn and relearn the same lessons:
Doing creative work for clients as a service provider is just not fun for me. It’s not the idea of the actual work that I don’t like, it’s the fact that most clients are hopelessly lost in a sea of optimism over what they want and expect vs. what is the right way for them. And, this usually translates to a lot of back and forth interaction that I just don’t really like any more.

This turns creative work into expectation management game. See, creativity-on-demand can not, will not scale. It’s nothing more than just another rote progression of simple tasks. Does it pay bills? Sure. But so what? Painting houses pays bills too.  I’m not baggin’ on your job; if you enjoy this type of business then go for it. The fact is, creative service providers are in demand. It’s a valid job.

I did learn this: there is a way to work in the creative industry producing excellent work that is not contingent on managing client expectations and just performing rudimentary design tasks for the sake of a paycheck. And I am going to begin writing about how to do this in your own design and art business. It’s still possible to be a Creative (capital C) and enjoy working on new things. And, done right, earn a nice living on it too.

If you insist on working in the creativity-on-demand world, this post has some pretty good tips that you should work into your contracts. That Termination Clause is key btw.

+ Lots of secrets were exposed this week. I use proXPN and am experimenting with ownCloud. Why not?

+ Engineering books I’m currently reading:

The preceding titles are all available at O’Reilly Media. Sign up for their E-Book Deal of the Day. I’ve collected a lot of ebooks that way. Also reading,

* Links to the NSA.gov website and its description of Global Information Grid so if you are the paranoid type and don’t want your IP address logged, use proXPN. Or just run away. Me? I find all of it fascinating!


What I Learned

Products, again.

24th of May, 2013

+ I started listening to two podcasts that I am finding fairly enjoyable and informative:

Product People and The Foolish Adventure. Both center around the solo entrepreneur and bootstrapping your product/lifestyle.

I haven’t written too much about my whole experience with 30×500 since the class finished up but I am still focusing on the results of my efforts from that to develop a product around the independent designer-builder working in architecture and fabrication. It’s my background and I believe, my strongest market to work with and try to help advance. Back when I was starting out in design fabrication and construction, there was absolutely no resources to turn to for inside business knowledge in the field and I had to invent my own processes as I grew which, of course, didn’t always work very well. More on that soon…

+ That Jodi Arias trial is nuts.

+ There’s a lot of stupid shit on the Internet. I know, that’s not something I just learned; but I thought this lame-ass piece was particularly stupid: The Sexiest Tech Executives Alive
Seriously. And people were tweeting it all day yesterday. I just wasted 3 minutes of my life typing this up.

+ For whatever reason, the Internet of Things is just going bonkers right now with blog posts and press releases hitting my feeds at a rate I can’t even keep up with. Bottom line is this: lots of things are connected to the internet and IoT is nothing really that new. What’s driving it? Tech buzz a la THE SEXIEST TECH EXECUTIVES ALIVE!

+ Product Manager? App Director? I don’t know.

+ If you are really data-design-geeky and like Bret Victor, you will enjoy his talk Drawing Dynamic Visualizations.

+ I am reading all of the Copy Hacker books now.

+ I think I found a theme that I want to use for this blog so that I can add responsive behavior and a better post format so I am going to test it out and will see if it works.



What I learned

Assets and Stuff

15th of May, 2013

+ New to AppFog but so far it seems to work. I’m still learning but it is better than Heroku from what I see so far. I didn’t like Heroku because they just invented names for things that should just be called what they are. Dynos and Fugus?” Shut up please. That, and they were not very responsive to some customer issues I had.

Found a couple of tools I am using for design work to create a better client and collaboration interface.

+ CloudApp is a cool little tool that makes it easy to share screenshots and other files instantly with your group via IM or email. It’s designed and built around Mac but there is a decent Windows app that uses the CloudApp API to integrate it with the Windows thing.  If you are on Win, go to http://fluffyapp.com and download that. It works but doesn’t have the drag n drop feature that the Mac app has.  All you do is drag or upload a  file to the cloud icon and it instantly pushes the file to your cloud storage and copies a link to your clipboard that allows you to just paste it in whatever application you need.  I use this all the time to show someone a quick screenshot without all the extra steps.  Here: http://cl.ly/image/0J1t1N2t181B

+ In addition to sharing screenshots and quick images or files, I learned that I like Frontify as well. Frontify is another image collaboration tool that sets up a nice way to build a repository of graphic assets and color themes that can be accessed by design teams and developers. This is good for when you need to keep logos and icons in a place where everyone can access them.

+ International wires are a pain in the ass to get set up. There are a lot of countries <cough> Argentina </cough> that turn currency into a giant kadildawhack.

+ I started working on an idea to push live video feeds to a series of content panels laid out across a landing page. That got me experimenting with different cameras and all that…

Since I have a Dropcam so I decided to turn it on, set it to ‘live sharing’ and embed it here.  Every once in a while, you might catch me working.

What I Learned

What I learned:

8th of May, 2013

This week I am crankin’ on pixel pushing and a bunch of back end connections in the cloud bleezy blaazy blow.

This goddamn site is getting hammered by the WordPress spam dingdongs who still think it’s viable to pollute the web with toxic waste.

I got the sound studio back online and it’s working great again. Pushing my power consumption on two circuits to the melting point. I have a fire extinguisher standing by if needed.

+ Blog Comments – Who needs them?

WordPress comment spam is epidemic right now:


So, I shut comments off on the site. I don’t get a lot of comments outside the Webmin how-to, so instead of trashing dozens of comments that get through Askimet each day, it’s easier to just respond to comments through other media channels like Twitter or whatever.

+ I watched great web presentation, GitHub For Designers which was recorded and you should check it out. Starts kinda elementary then quickly shifts into overdrive. Hyper-energy Julie Horvath kicks major designer ass and really demos some super-impressive workflow she uses. Seriously, going live like that in a big O’Reilly Webcast is bad ass.

+ The need to run this current design project I am working on through VCS is critical in order to avoid a complete clusterwack. I’m sold. Yes, clusterwack is a term I just coined. Not even in the Urban Dictionary yet. Someone get on that…

+ Dropcam needs to rethink their whole sharing vs. selling feature. Sharing live video with friends is cool but not with the current, SIGN UP OR FUCK OFF, sign-in-wall you send your friends in an uneditible email generated by Dropcam. Forget it.

share dropcam

And then…

dropcam wall


Just show me the fuckin’ video already.

+ Oh, and thanks for pointing out that this blogola is totally NOT responsive. I agree, that sucks. Putting, “totally rebuild secretengineer.com from the ground up” in my Omnifocus.

Facebook Suicide

28th of January, 2013



It took several weeks of planning. I am not an impulsive person by any means, but today, I threw the kill switch on my Facebook account. The end.

Facebook thinks this is a horrible decision and that it should not be taken lightly and they, in fairness, give you – the half-crazy lunatic who thinks deletion is an option –  14 days to change your mind.

I don’t want to change my mind. I want Facebook out of my life.

“What about your friends? Your family? How will you ever keep in contact with them now?”

Answer: I’ll manage, thanks.

Here’s why I did it: Facebook was becoming too important to my daily interaction with the world. I couldn’t escape it; from the non-stop media infatuation with using it as their primary journalism tool down to the habitual finger-fussing, buggy iPhone app that trained me like a rat in a maze to pop open the app within an hour of my morning alarm going off to one of the last things I did before going to bed. It was always there.  That, combined with my incessant hatred for feeling tied to some platform that dictated the terms of my own personal data privacy, made the choice clear.

And another thing: There were about four people from my past that I really wished were on Facebook and they just weren’t!  That’s some pretty high odds when you think about it. Who isn’t on Facebook right?  And here it is, 6 years on this thing and four friends I truly wanted to be on Facebook had elected to just never join! It was a constant nagging thought; “How could they not be on Facebook?”, I wondered.

The truth is, I actually ranted about Facebook in this post here and when I re-read it just now, I still feel the same way: Facebook forces all of your ‘friend’  interactions into one bucket and it became a management headache to organize everyone into silos of ‘Lists’ that you could then selectively read or post updates to. That contributed to Facebook eating up even more of my time and, consequently, making my dissatisfaction with it all that more intense. There were times when I found myself mindlessly looking through photos of people I didn’t even know, clicking the next button and piecing together a fictional narrative of who these people might be and how, at some strange level, they related back – in whatever tenuous way – to someone I might know. Or sorta knew. Whatever.  When I caught myself in this trance I shook myself back to reality, realizing that I had just literally wasted an hour or more of my life on something I could not care less about. That feeling of time loss begun to make me physically nauseous and I could not, at all, understand why I just couldn’t ignore Facebook and walk away from it for a few days or weeks as others seemed able to do.

I was left with no other alternative than to cut the mainline and move on and once I made this decision I had to go through with it.

I have an entire office and studio full of interesting projects and ideas I am currently working on along with online classes I am taking for fun (and profit!) and Facebook was standing in my way. It was like an anchor to my past that I just couldn’t get unstuck and it was affecting me negatively. I felt it. I understood it. I know my own limitations and I fixed it.

Note: If you are one of my real life friends and are reading this please know that I love you and that my decision to blow my own Facebook head off was not your fault nor were you to blame. It wasn’t you; it was me. Whatever.

UPDATE 02-11-2013:  It’s been two weeks since I requested the deletion and it appears, as of today, that the process is complete. I must report that I have not missed Facebook one bit. My productivity is up, my social networking anxiety is down, and Facebook Connect, Facebook Beacon, Facebook Social Graph, Facebook Conversion Tracking and Facebook Social Plugins are entirely irrelevant to me and can not phone home to the mothership with my personal Facebook data any longer.  Or can they? (to be continued…)

Is Your Design Strategy Killing Your eCommerce Business?

29th of December, 2012


Probably, because your eCommerce site looks horrible!  Worse, it makes your potential customers wonder if they can even trust you. They take one look and POOF, your bounce rate just went up another point.

Maybe this doesn’t apply to you. Your eCommerce site has no design issues. It’s perfect. You don’t lie awake at night wondering if your customer’s shopping experience is the best it can be or if they’ll recommend your site or return and buy more. You’re positive eh? Well, that’s great! You and Jeff Bezos have a lot in common. Move along, there’s nothing more to see here.

OK, I guess my website probably could look and function a little better.  Design strategy?

Yes! The answer lies in your Design Strategy.  What is “Design Strategy?”

We all know that the first impression your landing page projects is key to keeping a potential shopper engaged. That’s website design 101. But, what’s not always obvious is how that initial, millisecond impression affects your customer from that point on. The image your site projects, from its logo to checkout should always be assuring your customers that doing business with your company is a first-rate, reliable and aesthetically pleasing experience.  If not, start counting the abandoned shopping carts then ask yourself, “why is this happening?”

Are you overly reliant on a cookie-cutter theme or eCommerce template?

Themes are great. Those live demos always look so good right? They can get you up and running quickly when starting a new eCommerce or drop shipping site;  there’s nothing wrong with that kind of startup thinking.

But, you have to realize that most of these templates are just giant blocks of cheese.  You buy the cheese and then it is up to you or someone you hire to slice and serve this block of cheese in a way that appeals to your customers.  You swap the theme content and graphics for your own then cross your fingers, hoping it was $80.00 well-spent.  

So, why do you assume that your cheese is, um, how should I put this, “not cheesy?”


Design Strategy: Taking the “cheesy” out of it!

Design strategy, along with content strategy, are two of the secret weapons behind a successful eCommerce or digital product business in 2013.  Deciding upon, and adhering to, a comprehensive design strategy is critical to building successful web-based businesses today. Without it, you’re just another small fish in the ocean. An ugly small fish at that.

Your site design is more than nice colors and pretty buttons.  Design has become a psychological maxim in today’s web-based world. It is part of our evolutionary mind-set.  It’s not something you buy, it’s the feeling you sparkle with! It’s not a thing; it’s the ethereal soul of our communication with each other! It’s what your customers feel when they arrive at your site. 

You’re not only an entrepreneur, you are a Design Strategist!

Here’s where you say, “But I can’t design the exit route out of a teepee! I’m no designer!”

Stop it. Quit talking like that. You sound  ignorant and out of touch. You don’t have to be (nor do you have any desire to be) a card-carrying Designer. Don’t go out and buy a new Mac Book Pro and a bunch of checkered flannel shirts and several pairs of Warby Parker glasses. NO. NO. NO.  You need to understand a simple fact now: A Design Strategist has nothing to do with being a Designer.  Or, vise versa…

To become a Design Strategist, you only have to understand a simple idea: Design sells products.

“Duh… that’s obvious. Is this where you spew a TED talk about Apple at me?”

Forget Apple. You are not building Apple. You’re building YOUR business. Get that straight right now!

Think about it; what do YOU feel when you visit an eCommerce site that you like or use regularly? Is it the way the page is laid out? A color scheme? The wording and copy?  Is it the way the site makes you intrinsically trust that you’re doing business with a reputable company?  Is it the nice photos of the products they sell? It may be a combination of all of these things…

“Sure, but those sites spent huge budgets on all that. You can tell.”

Do we need a quick review? Did you already forget what I told you? Design is not something you buy!

OK, let’s break it down.


Stop hurting yourself with lazy design thinking. 

Here’s what we know:

You’ve worked hard on your eCommerce concept and it’s time to start playing in the big-leagues.
You’re getting some traction. Your marketing and promotions within your network are working.
Your product is good. People need it. Hell, they may even want to buy it!
You’ve solved the payment and fulfillment issues.
But, you still see abandoned carts or visitors who simply never get past that first page! What’s going on?


The reason for this is that you’ve overlooked the fact that your site’s design experience is turning customers off. They see it in the tiny details that you thought didn’t really matter. You see a “good enough” website, they see a huckster selling a bunch of crap that may or may not show up in the mail after they’ve given you their credit card number. I know, it hurts doesn’t it?

They saw this:

  • The fuzzy logo at the top of your page
  • No favicon (Yes, this is a detail you should be paying attention to.)
  • The Magento favicon instead of your custom favicon
  • The typo in your main introduction
  • That overused stock image of the smiling customer service rep wearing a headset
  • An animated GIF
  • The GIANT, pill-shaped Pay Pal checkout button, completely out of scale with the rest of the page
  • The “Contact Our Hotline!!” button. Hotline? Really?
  • The 1” square product photo that can’t be enlarged
  • The overuse of italics and CAPITALIZATION EVERYWHERE
  • The ridiculous, scrolling product slide show that runs too fast and can’t be stopped.
  • Your customer “forum” with a grand total of 40 posts in 5 topics, most of them yours.
  •  LIVE CHAT! that is “Currently offline.”
  • The cluster of worthless, irrelevant website security and virus scanning badges tossed in the footer
  • An SSL certificate name that doesn’t match the name of your business (Brand trust anyone?)
  • A different company logo on the checkout page than on the home page
  • The placeholders for product images that you just didn’t bother to replace
  • Script fonts
  • A “Sign Up for our Newsletter” widget in the top left column of the home page

Ask yourself: How much does fixing one or more of these design problems cost?

The answer is nothing! Nothing, besides some of your time and attention. It’s simply an attention to detail, and THAT is all design strategy is. Design strategy takes a laser-sight and focuses it squarely on the little things that matter. It pulls an entire business experience together, effectively holding your customer’s hand throughout their shopping experience, leading them through and beyond the checkout process.  Design strategy pushes you and your business to the next level – the big leagues – the profitable eCommerce sites you admire, and that now, you strive to be associated with.

Design Strategy: It’s free. It’s proven. It works.


The next step is learning how to become the Design Strategist your eCommerce business deserves!

Sign up for the free, weekly newsletterYour Design Strategy in 2013

It’s full of tips and inside knowledge needed to manage your design thinking by learning how to focus on the psychology of design, without focusing on the cost of paying a designer. It’s the best free investment you’ll make for the new year.


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Bullshit Detection

17th of October, 2012

It’s important to develop experiments and tests to quickly get a general understanding of whether or not something or someone is going to be useful or not.

Snap judgments are never good. Lots of times, we use snap judgments as a survival tactic because that’s really all their good for.  If you sense an immediate danger to yourself or to someone you care about, a snap judgment is often the first level “alert” that gets triggered.

I have, over many years, figured out how to tune in my bullshit detector. You have to rapidly move past snap judgment and into the process of validating honest assessment. I think of assessment as that part right before actual research or further study.  Probably the best way to illustrate this is with an example:

Take the website, http://threesheetsresearch.com/

Now, to me, this site is pretty funny.

Of course, with a modicum of effort, you could actually turn this whole site into a real mockery of the market research process.  If you are sensitive to these kinds of things, you get it. You see what the site attempts to say and you laugh and you post the link on Twitter; everyone gets a chuckle and moves on. The designers of this site probably were aware they could spend months developing it further but why? It works on the level it was intended.

When I found the site, it turned out that, on the same day, the 30×500  group forum was actively discussing upcoming schedules, course logistics, participant backgrounds etc; a very lively group of professionals from around the world really…

One of the group topics started discussing how a Hacker News post quickly devolved into the typical, self-absorbed, self-righteous hacker whining that so many of those baby-faced ding dongs constantly engage in.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Hacker News.  I read it almost daily.  But here’s the catch: you have to possess the ability to quickly determine whether or not you want to read the associated discussion attached to a certain post. Otherwise, you could fall into a vortex of ideological slime, wasting valuable drinking time going down a rathole of time-sinking insignificance. If you’re a HN reader, you know what I mean. You need a dialed-in bullshit detector.

If there is a chance that an interesting discussion could possibly ensue – based on my interests – I open up the comment thread and perform a, “let’s take the temperature of this topic” scan. If it starts off with semi-intelligent dialog, I may read further.

This thread, however, took an incredible turn for the douche. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine where that took place. In the end, logic and fact prevailed and the integrity of the original link was preserved.

Let’s come back to the point:

As more comments were posted to the 30×500 discussion, there was a shift to group-think bashing of the HN post, as well as Hacker News in general, as being, let’s see, how do I put this, “stupid.”

I decided I would try an experiment.

I started a new thread by posting the link to Three Sheets Market Research to find out exactly what people thought of it.  Just the name alone should have set off fire alarms.

Now, I am not going to discuss anything personal outside of the group because we all mutually respect that place as sacred, and I have no intention of breaking that trust.  But let me just say this:

A lot of people missed the point of this fake website. They honestly approached their assessment of it as if it were a real B2B pitch. Post after post were built around bullet-pointed critiques of  an obviously missing, crystal clear call to action, or lacking validity around its research methods, or half-a-dozen other faults that humorless analysis would dutifully uncover. I could sense the hostility in the room.  “How dare this site attempt to ‘sell’ me something! It’s full of amateur-hour marketing defects! I, for one, would NEVER use this company’s services! I’m offended that I even looked at it!”

I was kind of shocked really. There were a few who spotted the blatant mockery in the entire setup. Others, I assume, did as well and just moved on without comment. Would an article in The Onion be a good example for long-form journalism theory?  See where I’m going here? A lot of comments missed it entirely. Their bullshit detectors were completely running in idle.  More than a few of the comments were outright antagonistic towards the site; bordering on incredulous indifference. Some of the comments were so far off-base that I knew that the poster hadn’t read the site at all!

My conclusion? I now know, based on this simple experiment, who may not be a good resource for me and who will be, well, someone who’s likely to respond based on snap judgement.  I think the experiment was a success.


(And thank you to Three Sheets Market Research for making me laugh and, most importantly, proving that some people take the internet WAY too seriously.)