1. A small service that collects a set of vetted RSS feeds and looks for Twitter style @mentions. I noticed Jason credited me today and I didn’t notice until I saw it in my RSS reader. It would have been nice to get an @mention from a bot that was watching a large amount of weblogs.
  2. An iOS app that would let me create an event (like a conference) and then I can input all the addresses I will need during the event. When I was at XOXO I kept looking up the same locations when getting a cab or setting out to walk places. The distributed nature of XOXO meant that I really needed a list of about 5 places I could quickly call up and map directions to.
  3. Kickstarter with a $1,000 limit and a one month delivery date.
  4. A CRM that gives the support staff (or individual) a support and turn-around time rating. These stats can be used to determine if my support ticket is going to be answered quickly and if I will be happy with the response. Also if the manager of the CRM rarely answers messages on Sundays and Mondays then I would like to know that they will likely get back to me on Tuesday. I would also like to pay $5 to jump ahead in line.

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Last night I did some research on static blog publishing. The winner for me was easily Pelican because:

1. it is built with Python.
2. it supports plugins.
3. it uses a sensible template engine I can tweak.
4. it allows me to write in the text editor of my choice.

Give or take a few bullet points this essentially is what every recently built static blog publishing engine looks like. I was ready to take the plunge when I realized: I think I am happy about these features because I am a programmer who likes to tweak things. As a keeper of a simple weblog (this one) what I really want is an OS X app that

1. stores my posts in iCloud.
2. can therefore sync between computers (and phone).
3. publishes locally to a directory or to S3.
4. light generation of an index and archives.
5. markdown formatting.

It doesn’t even need to have an editor, though it’d be fine if it did, but I generally write in Markdown.

After using Medium, I realized my needs for writing are just text-area, light formatting with Markdown, and the ability to drag in images. I don’t need tags. I don’t need comments. And I definitely need a service (S3 or Dropbox) that will just be up without any tweaking or maintenance on my part.

What I think is cool (Pelican) is not what I really want to use every day (mystery OS X app).

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Having a conversation with DantsyPants I had an idea .

A giant storage place like you see on TV and by the freeway, but every thing I check-in is scanned and I can affix a price to it if I want. The whole catalog is put online for people to buy things and the storage place will handle shipping or you can come in and pick it up.

THE BEST part about this is I could clean out my closets. THE SECOND best part about this is I can buy some more things! They could even just move the thing I bought into my pile of stuff. I need to get rid of this stuff.

(I know there are eBay drop off companies but I haven‘t been able to figure out what happens if it doesn’t sell. And what if I don’t want to sell?)

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How did your Code Year go? I hope well. But if you have unsubscribed from that mailing list or haven’t caught up to the lessons, I would like to share an idea I have for people who want to learn how to create things.

A lot of engineers have spent decades coding and building foundations for generations of engineers who follow them. Those new engineers stand upon the shoulders of those giants and build tools and frameworks for people who will follow them.

But because the tools have gotten so comparatively good to previous tools, especially for web and game development, many people have become interested in making applications themselves. And truthfully I think you can. I think anyone can, really. It’s not that hard. You just have to invest a lot of time learning how to hook one thing up to another, how services should work in the backend, and what design patterns you should follow to save time and complexity.

(Real serious computer science is something a bit different. I think when people use the word “coding” they mean “scripting.” But that‘s another blog post.)

Much to the chagrin of engineers it is as if they have been working for years to build flying cars and when they are finally here everyone is like: “Great! I want to build a flying car too!”

I think there’s an alternative and I would hope that you give this a chance. Instead of learning how to code, learn how to create with code. Learn how to make things with the abundance of tools out there available to you.

Twine is a desktop application (Windows or OS X) that gives you the ability to write interactive fiction. You can construct a story and lead a reader down a path based on their decisions.

Here’s an example of a story.

If you want to get deeper into interactive fiction, with more coding concepts like variables and control flow, you can move on to Inform. Inform is the “Microsoft Word” for interactive fiction, giving you an array of tools to tell complex stories and bring in much more game-like interaction with your readers and players.

Maybe you don’t really want to tell a story, but are interested in making games for people to play. The first thing people do when presented with this is dive into a gaming framework like Unity3d or Corona.

Here is a better idea: there are a few iOS games out there that include level editors. Here’s one called King Rupert.

Another is called Robot Wants Kitty.

Making a game is more than just writing graphics handlers, it’s also working on the thing that makes something fun and enjoyable to keep playing. Level editors are a great way to immediately dive in and produce something other people can play with and give you feedback on. Here’s a massive list of them on Wikipedia.

And if you really want to build web sites, I say think about what it is you want to build and accept that there are a plethora of services that have worked out the hard parts and can probably provide all the work for you. Squarespace for portfolios or weblogs, Shopify for an online store, and for the more adventurous: If This Then That for any sort of “I wish x did y when z happened.”

Knowing how to program has been one of the most fulfilling skills I have acquired in my life, but I believe having the ability to ship something into the world for people to use is much more important.

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For Christmas I put Snap Circuits on my wish list so that my son and I could start putting together circuits. He doesn't get most of it, but the little bits he does get (what certain components do, how things change when you disconnect certain wires) is enough for us to talk about things we want to build.

We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Board

This past weekend was the first time he began reading and comprehending sentences. It sort of just happened. First he recognized the name of a cat in a book, and then the dog’s name, and then he learned “and” and various “oh”s and “go”s, and after that it just quickly built on itself. Watching this unfold over the span of an hour was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life.

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This year I will be listening to music from 1987. It looks like a good year. My wife and I went down that list talking about the bands that we loved and others we didn’t yet know.

1987

After clearing off my whole collection on Rdio I downloaded Guns N' Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction”, Prince’s “Sign ‘☮’ the Times”, and Dinosaur Jr.’s “You’re Living All Over Me”.

In 1987 I was VERY aware of Guns N' Roses and Prince due to MTV, but I wouldn’t discover Dinosaur Jr. until I got to college a few years later. “You’re Living All Over Me” is very likely one of my 20 favorite albums of all time. The other two I haven’t heard since they were popular. I am curious how the stuff I continued to listen to (Dinosaur, Sonic Youth, The Jesus and Mary Chain) compares to the stuff I left back in 1987 (U2, REM, Depeche Mode).

It wasn’t until this morning that I realized how fun this project is going to be. Just flip through that list above: Public Enemy’s “Yo! Bum Rush the Show”, Big Black “Songs About Fucking”, The Replacements, the whole very underground Industrial genre I never really paid attention to…

I am pretty excited. Let’s see if I still am December 2013.

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