Miklb's Mindless Ramblings

chronicling life in a digital world

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Embracing My Suckiness

Some know I used to cook for a living. I’d like to think I was pretty good at it too. I started before the Food Network and all the other cooking shows on TV (save for old Julia Childs and Jacques Pepin shows on PBS and the like), before the internet blew up. Cooking in Tampa was almost like being in a vacuum. You’d see what your peers were doing, maybe find a little time to travel to Miami or New Orleans, but otherwise, we were left to our own curiosity, a few books from some of the chefs on the cutting edge (Mark Miller and the staff at Coyote Cafe, Norma Van Aiken and his contemporaries like Allen Susser & Mark Militello) and the occasional Food & Wine article.

We explored other cuisines via ethnic dining, scoured Oceanic Market for Asian ingredients, the markets of West Tampa for authentic Latin/Caribbean staples, and the open air markets outside the commercial produce market. We were then left to our imagination, creativity, and abilities to marry flavors together.

That was kinda like how it was when I first started building websites. You’d look at someone’s source code. Someone might have written a blog post, or shared a tip in a forum somewhere. You bought Zeldman’s book on HTML standards, or Andy Budd’s CSS Mastery. It was a path of discovery and learning.

Now, in this “age of information”, we (I), am bombarded with all of the latest tricks and best practices, cutting edge designs and techniques. The external pressure to live up to these can be overwhelming. I’m no longer experimenting and discovering on my own, I’m drowning in information. It’s like having an elevator straight to the top of the mountain without experiencing the journey (I think that’s a paraphrase of something I read once about doing LSD, but I digress.)

So what I’m finding is that I’m a deer in the headlights, afraid that I’ll be judged for not using the latest markup techniques. That someone will see my code and think I suck. And rather than embrace my suckiness, learn from it, I freeze. I stare at blank pages in my text editor. Meanwhile, new and more information continues to bombard me from every angle, and the cycle perpetuates.

Today, when I cook at home, I’m not worried about having all the fancy ingredients or flashy sous vide machine. I’m confident in my skills and know the finished dish will look appetizing and taste better. Or, I might just miss the mark, but will recognize what I did wrong or forgot, storing it away in my memory bank or nowadays, jotted into a text file for the next time I make a similar dish. That’s not to say when time permits I don’t use those fancy ingredients or make my pasta from scratch but a good meal shouldn’t be passed up simply because I didn’t have artisanal cheese and didn’t make my pasta from scratch.

So while I struggle to reboot my personal site and convert it to Jekyll, I need to recognize that I don’t have to follow every new trend. So what if it wasn’t built in Sass. The work I put into making it responsive, and FAST is more important in the long run. There are plenty of sites/devs out there that have well structured Sass directories and all the right mixins, but load slow as hell. There is plenty of time in the future to revisit converting it. The end goal for this site isn’t about being a Sass master, but an outlet to share my thoughts and experiences on the web. Why create an artificial hurdle?

Which also means I need to document my failures, as well as successes. Whether that means publicly, or internally. Not only document them, but celebrate them. I need to reconnect with that ambitious kid who would spend every waking hour in the kitchen experimenting, enjoying the journey. Thus starts my journey of documenting this phase of my site.

The Web Ad Dilemma

I’ve been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately. While tools like Safari’s Reader View can help, the desire to support advertising on the web is impossible to square with the current implementation on most web sites.

Fortunately, Jim Ray breaks it down much more succinctly than I have been able to. Blocking ad-blockers with better ads

The problem may be murky, but the solution is a bit more clear, if not exactly novel: build a better product. Not a fancier iPad app, a better ad product. For all the haranguing about native ads, they have the advantage of being immune to filters and, when done right, a genuinely better experience, certainly better than green double-underlines or the “content marketing platform” ads at the bottom of far too many web pages.

Just give me a well designed, compelling advertisement. Hell, I’ll share my browsing history if that is what it takes to serve me something I’m genuinely interested in.

First Thoughts: Holy Grail of Blogging from iOS with Jekyll

I have been researching and thinking seriously about moving away from database driven blog engines to static file blogging for quite awhile. My extensive research has me convinced for my ideal workflow, Jekyll will be the answer—except for my goal to somewhat easily blog from my phone. All of the front matter could be handled by TextExpander snippets or custom keyboard shortcuts in Drafts or Editorial. The issue has been that with an iOS device, you are basically confined to using Dropbox or iCloud for the text/markdown files. Wanting to keep everything in a Git repo under version control, I hadn’t found a way to automagically push a Dropbox file to a Git repo without having an always on machine at home using some listening app like Hazel to do this. While that isn’t out of the question, I want something straight from the device.

Extensive Googling finally led me to Zappier. Similar to IFTTT, they have a Github/Dropbox workflow that allows you to send a pull request to Github when a new file is added to a directory in Dropbox. And while if I was simply using Github pages to host a Jekyll site, that would be the end to a simple solution.

However, I still want to host my own data on my own VPS (more on that later). Enter Jekyll Hook, which, while not seemingly for the faint of heart, allows one to run their own “Github Pages” on their own server.

So, while all untested at this point, on paper it seems I can have a dedicated Dropbox folder synced with an iOS editor that when a markdown file is saved to it, Zapier will attempt to send a pull request and merge it to a Github hosted repo of my blog [footnote, possibly need to have iOS app to approve pull request but option is in the recipe for the workflow. I assume it will work save for any previous files by same name causing a merge conflict]. From that, the Jekyll Hook script/solution will fire and rebuild the the site, all without leaving the convenience of my iOS device.

Potential magic I tell you.

Email is so 2015

tl;dr Wouldn’t it be nice if in the newfound popularity of email newsletters, the signup form had an option “I regularly consume your content via another means, but would love to win your cool thing”

Back in the dark days of the internet, websites would have simple sign up forms for users to get updates about the site. Unless you used RSS (or Atom) to read the sites. Even then, online marketers and brands would offer specials not advertised on their site to build the engagement via email. The size of your mailing list was a badge of honor for those marketers.

Then came along social media, and email lists were pushed aside for the shiny new thing. In the beginning, there was a glut of social media options, and it was almost impossible for a brand to engage on every outlet. Facebook likes and Twitter followers became the new badge of honor. And while social media is still a great way to engage users, brands and marketers soon discovered they couldn’t always control the message, especially with Facebook. So what did they do? They realized the most common form of communication available to the web is the venerable method of email. Cyber Monday was a perfect example. I couldn’t count the number of comments I read on Twitter about people weeding their email of offers from long ago forgotten sites. But I mostly follow web professionals who know the ins-and-outs of online marketing and get their information from, (well, probably Twitter, but they are an anomalous subset of the Twittersphere.) The point being, millions of people woke to an inbox of offers. Many people clicked those links, some bought stuff. It works.

Sign up form for The WirecutterRSS/Atom syndication in its purest form is not a common method of reading websites today (unless you are part of the aforementioned anomalous subset of Twitter users), but still provides the backbone of many ways content is consumed. But this isn’t about syndication. It is about the rebirth of mailing lists, and more specifically, the forms that sites now deploy to get you in. Those lists sign-ups are generally there year round, but right about the holiday season, sites/brands begin offering “free stuff.” Be it a book, a song or a full suite of electronics, sign up for their mailing list, enter a chance to win. I’m not an expert on this subject, didn’t even play an email marketer on TV. Sign up form for The WirecutterBut my understanding is you can’t force people into subscribing, just like contests have the small disclaimer, “no purchase necessary.” Generally what these forms do is pre-populate the subscribe checkbox, which is still a slippery slope in my opinion of conforming to the spirit of opting in. But hey, a free TV is a free TV?

More to the point, there is never an option (at least one I’ve encountered) that says, “I love your content and regularly read it so I don’t need an email reminder. However, I’d love to win your cool stuff.” Hell, provide a short text box to allow the user to optionally add how they consume it. It very well might be a great insight into your audience and their online consumption habits. Because at some point, inundating your readers/consumers will call into play the law of diminishing returns.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid the new badge of honor is the hydra of social media followers guarding the treasure chest of email subscribers.

Engaging Users Vs. Advertising

I’ve seen the headline bandied about in social media all week, but over on Unapologetic Alex Guyot discusses his disagreement with Facebook making it harder (again) for brands to advertise for free.. His basic argument is that brands most likely already bought the likes and shouldn’t have to pay to advertise again to those same customers. He also uses the argument that small businesses likely can’t afford to advertise.

I couldn’t disagree more with his take. From the Re/code article of the same name 1, the author quotes the Facebook release

The company announced today it will begin limiting the number of “promotional Page posts” in the News Feed starting in January. That means you’ll see fewer posts from brands asking you to buy products or “enter promotions and sweepstakes,” Facebook wrote in a blog post.

I see no issue with that statement. While we all know we are the product on Facebook 2, I still use it to keep up with family and friends, as well as local goings on. I have “liked” very few brands, mostly local businesses. Truthfully, those local businesses don’t use what I would consider “promotions or sweepstakes” or obvious ad-like updates. They are genuinely engaging their followers. Sharing pics of a new dish. Updating on what band or artist is appearing soon. They respond to questions and comments. As you should in social media. So if cutting down on the noise from million plus “fan” businesses in timelines so that the news feed is a truly a “news” feed with targeted ads, and people don’t miss the latest update from the mom & pop shop down the street, I’m all for it. It is well documented that brands and businesses that truly engage their users/followers are the most successful. Perhaps this will push those brands to up their game. Otherwise, it can be a great equalizer for brands and companies looking to gain market share.