Three Dot Lounge for February 4, 2015

Three dot lounge is a recurring collection of things that deserve more than a retweet. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

BLOGGING’S BRIGHT FUTURE<

BLOGGING’S BRIGHT FUTURE

Andrew Sullivan is retiring from blogging, and so the net is having the very expected round of “blogging is dead” posts, as well as the rebuttal “don’t want to go on the cart!” posts.

Blogging is just as dead as email it: it’s something that occasionally makes for a pageview-generating article but has little substance or fact behind it. Ben Thompson nicely tears apart the idea and shows why all of these “.. is dead” pieces are generally wrong. As are “Apple killer”, “Killer app” and “I buried Paul” articles.

My view on this is that not only is blogging not dead, but Andrew Sullivan proved a financial model and made it work quite nicely. If he failed at anything — and that’s a big if — it was a lack of understanding of the grind of doing a writing endeavour on a daily basis as his setup required.

That’s a tough deal. While blogs work great as single-author publications when they’re small and informal, when you try to build them out and set formal deliverables, you need to be aware of just how much work you’re setting yourself up for, and organize the publication structure to make that manageable.

I never would have considered doing what Sullivan did solo. That he did it for so long says a lot and I don’t think he’s getting much credit for that. Publications — and authors — also go stale over time, and need to take a break, or reinvent themselves and take on new challenges. Sullivan could have done either, but I think at the core he felt he’d said what he wanted to say (for now), and it was a good time to find a reason to gracefully wind it down.

If I were to try to build something like Sullivan did (god help me), I wouldn’t have done it solo; two, maybe three similarly-viewed but not identical people sharing the load makes it a lot easier on everyone and makes it possible to cover for vacations, illnesses, childbirths, and that occasional day where everything that comes out of the keyboard is unmitigated drivel and crap.

Sullivan’s did something that many of us look up to as a goal and an model, and for that, I had to say “thanks”. Here’s hoping his retirement is invigorating, and shorter than he currently expects it to be…

Marco Arment on not answering email

Marco Arment on not answering email

Marco is not a platform — I listened to Marco talk about not answering support emails on ATP 102, and he gave a great explanation why answering those emails individually is a lousy use of his time. He’s absolutely right, and if you’ve ever wondered about the realities of being a small operation where lots of people want small amounts of your time, this is a good podcast to try.

That said, as I listened to it, as someone who’s designed support systems in the past, I think there are some things he can do to better set expectations for his users — without falling down the rabbit hole of infinite email syndrome.

He noted that he tries to set expectations in the app about contacting him in the first place, and he does, but the problem is that most of the users contacting him are already motivated to send him an email and my expectation is they gloss right over all of that and get right to the email. They aren’t really reading that stuff, or they wouldn’t email him. So my suggestion would be to put an auto-responder on the email that reinforces what the app is saying. That does two things: (1) it reinforces that expectation that the email will be read but not responded, but also (2) it sends confirmation that the email was actually received. Black holes create stress because you aren’t sure, and email itself is just unreliable enough that you can’t assume it was received but not responded to. An auto-responder closes that loop, and they might not LIKE the expectation being set, but it will help set it and get closure. Leaving the email unresponded in any way leaves the sender with the nagging “did he get it? will I ever get an answer?” and that’s a little bit of stress neither side needs. An auto-responder gives that closure.

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Posted in Three Dot Lounge

Teal Sunglasses for February 3, 2015

Teal Sunglasses is an occasional collection of things and opinions about hockey, the San Jose Sharks and sports in general. Stay tuned for fascinating opinions and pithy commentary. Also keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more interesting stuff.

Diving back into the Mosh Pit

It’s been a while since I’ve written much about hockey. As I got older I found myself more interested in the game itself, but less and less interested in the tribalist aspects of being a fan of sports, and of some of the behavior changes we’ve seen among some of the fans — for instance, the attack on Bryan Stowe as an extreme case.

Tribalism exists online, too. I know that shocks you to hear that. Trying to talk sports online is one way to throw yourself into a mosh pit rather quickly and from 1992 until the end of 2005 Laurie and I managed the sharks online mosh pit. Hard to believe it’s been ten years since we handed that off.

Part of the reason I stopped was because I wanted to focus on my photography — also part of the reason we gave up our season tickets after 20 years — that trip I took to Yellowstone last year? That was money that at one point went to the Sharks every year for tickets. Also at some point — since we were full season holders who went to 35 games a year — for six months a year you’re spending half your weekends in the arena at games. Not a regret for that, but at some point, I realized I had other things I wanted to use my time on (like this).

My photography is at a point I feel ready to widen my focus again, which is part of why I went off and created that other site — it takes taht content and puts it in a nice, neat package, and opens up my personal site again for me to talk about other things. I’ve been thinking about doing more nattering about hockey again, and now seems a good time to dip a toe in and see what happens.

Teal Sunglasses was the name I did my writing under as I moved some of it out of the mailing list and onto my own early web site — once the web was invented, since the mailing lists predated that. It is a play on the concept of Rose Colored Glasses, and it’s a comment on my tendency to try to take a balanced view rather than a negative one some fans prefer.

And that’s what I hope to do here; call it as I see it, and I try to see both the good and the bad in hockey and the NHL. I’ll note (and it’ll soon be forgotten, it always is) that I’m not a Sharks fan as much as I’m a hockey fan who lives in the San Jose area — my roots are actually with the Kings back in the day that you could buy 7th row seats in the corner. While the Sharks are my local team, it’s the game I love.

We’ll see how it goes. And I’ve love to hear your take on things, too.

Mirtle: The strange dysfunction of the San Jose Sharks

Mirtle: The strange dysfunction of the San Jose Sharks

A couple of weeks ago, James Mirtle wrote about what he called a bit of dysfunction within the Sharks locker room. It was quickly explained away by all sides and the situation went away, but to be honest, I think he’s onto something. Not a big thing, but — the Sharks locker room and organization don’t leak, but this thing did. Someone tied to the team had to be unhappy enough to throw this bone to the media.

I don’t believe it was Burish, I think it was someone else in the locker room. I don’t think it’s a major thing, but if you look at this time this year, it’s playing like everyone isn’t quite on the same page consistently, although they seem to want to be.

So what’s up with the Sharks this year, anyway?

I have to admit that this is the Sharks I expected to see. Good but not great. Playoff bound but not playoff built; this is at best a lose-in-the-2nd round team, probably a first and out.

That’s okay. This is a team in transition. We’ve missed the window of opportunity with the older players — Niemi is past his prime (but Staylock hasn’t challenged for his job yet. I still think he will), and Thorton and Marleau are still great players, but time is marching on. The younger core is a great one but is still maturing, and the leadership core is still figuring itself out. I want to give lots of credit to Marleau and Thornton here — neither can be happy with how the offseason played out and how the team has forcibly rebooted the leadership of the team — but they’ve dug in and done what they can to make it work and not create problems.

Can this team make the playoffs? Yes, and it should. Can it get on a run and go deep and chase the Cup? I don’t see any way that’ll happen. This team is missing a vital component and I don’t know how or when the Sharks will be able to address that.

Think about the teams that have been winning the Cup in the last number of years: Red Wings, now the Kings and Blackhawks. Bruins. Penguins. It goes beyond raw talent and goaltending, the teams that win that final game have something more.

Drew Doughty. Sydney Crosby. Mark Messier with the Rangers (but not the Canucks. oops). Jonathan Toews. Teemu Selanne. Steve Yzerman.

it’s not something that’s going to show up on a scoresheet or in any advanced analytics form, but teams that make that deep run have something that gives them an advantage — they almost always have that one special person who simply refuses to let their team lose. You can watch the Kings and see how Doughty simply won’t let his team not succeed. Toews will haul the team onto his shoulders and carry it if he needs to. Yzerman and Messier had this essence in spades (although in Messier’s case it was evidently confiscated at the border at Peace Arch).

Do the Sharks? Think about it. Did Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau ever get named in the same sentence as some of those other guys? that’s not a criticism of either: I believe Thorton is a no-brainer hall of famer, and I’d argue that Marleau should get serious consideration as well once he retires (but probably won’t). Their numbers and their performance are always strong. I just don’t think either one is someone who can haul a team onto their shoulders and drag them over that finish line It’s just not their nature. Joe Thornton is, to me, more the Paul Kariya to Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne.

And that’s the problem. I don’t see the Sharks as having that person. That person was missing during the last run when the team kept coming close and falling short.

It’s the kind of person who you rarely develop; either they are or they aren’t. and if a team gets one, they’re rarely traded until late in their career when the will might be there, but the effectiveness is fading.

Thornton has shown signs of it at times, but his personality isn’t what that type of player needs. Pavelski has as well — but I’m not sure he’ll ever develop fully, either, and the Sharks may believe that as well, which might be the reasoning behind his not being named captain already. Perhaps the team is waiting to see who grabs that spot, if anyone, or leaving it open in case they can find and bring in the right person.  I wonder a bit if Malker Karlsson mght be the wild card in this sweepstakes, given how he’s performed and the style of game he’s playing.

One of the problems is that it’s hard to look back into the past and find that person wearing teal. Yes, we had Selanne for a year and it never clicked, but that was a year of various locker room issues that blew up in everyone’s face — and Nolan as captain, and Owen Nolan was many things, but captain material wasn’t one of them. He tried, but that was perhaps the biggest mistake of Lombardi’s tenure and a decision that ultimately cost both Sutter and Lombardi their jobs here.

If you start talking about who would be that leader on the sharks over time, it’s a very short list. I can, in fact, only think of two: Kelly Kisio, from the early years we all wish we could forget, and Rob Blake, another aging vet who came to the sharks for a while. And I think ultimately not having that player is why the Sharks have faltered in the playoffs. And will likely continue to until the Sharks find and develop that person.

Which begs a question.

I used to argue that Ron Wilson was a coach I’d hire to pull a team together and get it ready for a deep run for a Cup — but he’s not the guy I’d want in charge to actually make that run. His teams seem well suited to be competitive but never seemed able to go beyond that. Darryl Sutter is a guy who can take a Ron Wilson team and kick it’s butt until it gets over that last hill. In the early days when player abuse was still okay, Mike Keenan could do that as well, but once he did, you’d have to blow up the team and rebuild because there wasn’t much left worth working with.

Earlier this year the rumors were rampant that the Sharks might be firing coach McClellan, which I think would have been an idiotic move, given this team clearly has committed to playing for him and bought into his system. The weakness in the team this year isn’t a coaching problem or a team that’s tuned out the coach. It’s that we have a team that is still defining it’s chemistry and probably will be doing so for another year, as it rebuilds around the new younger core players.

But that the team hasn’t put things together for that last final run up that last hill does bring up a question that has to be asked — is Doug Wilson the GM that can build the team for McClellan to drive over that final hill? That’s why I mentioned Ron Wilson leading up to this: as good as Wilson is, and as strong a supporter of his as I’ve been over the years, I do think it has to be asked: is Doug Wilson the guy to build a team that can finish, or like Ron Wilson was as coach, is Doug Wilson a GM that can a team close but not a GM that can build a team that can finish the job?

I don’t know, but I am convinced that a coaching change wouldn’t fix this team. I believe at this point in time if management feels they do need to change coaches, they ought to seriously consider changing GMs first — not that I’d fire Wilson, but perhaps move him up to a senior position and bring in a GM to report to him. Kisio, by the way, did some great work for the Hitmen, and I’d be fascinated to see a team of Wilson and Kisio put their heads together on this problem.

It’s a tough problem. Every season, 29 teams fail at it.

When I sit back and look at what the Kings have accomplished and what the Sharks haven’t, to me the key, essential detail the Kings have Drew Doughty, and the Sharks don’t have that guy on their roster, and in the history of the team, have almost never had that guy.

It’s not a coaching problem. Not a development problem. It’s if anything a scouting and a “willing to roll the dice and got for it” problem, and that’s the one criticism I’ve had of Doug Wilson’s tenure. He’s pulled off some great and amazing deals along the way, but they’ve always been carefully crafted and balanced deals. He doesn’t roll the dice and he carefully manages his assets and the depth of the organization.

And I’m beginning to think that if your team doesn’t figure out how to identify and bring into their system that Drew Doughty type of player, and if they aren’t willing sometimes roll the dice and play for now and worry about tomorrow tomorrow, you’ll end up with a team that’s consistently good and consistently in the playoffs, and a team that consistently gets into the second or sometimes third round of playoffs and then goes off and starts planning for next year.

Which, in a microcosm, is the Sharks.

So, is Doug Wilson the guy who can roll those dice and know when it makes sense to do so?

I’m not convinced. And to date, the answer has to be no. But I’ll be damned if I can offer a name of someone I think who could do the job better than he has….

 

 

Posted in Hockey and Other Sports

Photography.chuqui.com launches! Come check it out.

Last night I finished setting up the content on the new photography.chuqui.com site and so I’m now officially launching it. Time to go and check it out. My introductory note about the site is here.

If you follow this site via my twitter or Google+ feeds, you’ll get updates on new content on that site in those places as well. If you subscribe to my RSS feed or my posting mailing list, you’ll need to subscribe to the new site as well. I do plan to post notes here about new content (most likely as part of Three Dot Lounge to minimize noise) for the foreseeable future, but if you are interested in the photography imagery and content, you’ll seed to subscribe to that site to stay current.

I’ll post an update on the redesign project and what’s been going soon, but this closes out phase 1 of that project (and in only a month! I expected at least two, but some things I expected to be really time consuming weren’t).

And this means some changes — good ones, I think — for this site as well, and I’ll explain those in the next posting. It may take me a few days to do that, since I’m celebrating by heading out for a long weekend up to the Sacramento and Colusa NWR to do my first real photography of 2015. Gotta go charge up the batteries, format the cards and prep the camera bag…

Posted in Redesign 2015: Upgrading chuqui.com in public

I’m in Birdwatcher’s Digest

Just a quick note to let folks know that I have an article reprinted in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of Birdwatcher’s Digest. They’re reprinting my piece on Getting Started in Bird Photography — Choose Your Weapons. Thrilled to see this finally in print and able to talk about it!

Because we’ve been working on Cisco Live Milan, not much time for using the camera, but with the show starting up now, I think I may start having more free time (at least until we get into heavy planning for Cisco Live in San Diego in June). I actually got out to San Luis NWR for a couple of hours today but it was more relax and decompress and less about cameras. Time to get that back in gear…

Posted in About Chuq

Working Notes — finishing details in the header and footer

My original plan this weekend was to get some projects done and get out and do some birding. Between the weather and some unspecified other complications, I ended up digging into the site and working on some of the theme details instead.

Most of the work was involving trying to figure out how to customize the theme to solve some problems in my preferred design. If you look at my main site I don’t use a sidebar, but instead put the usual sidebar content down in the footer. That’s also where I place a block for the Amazon affiliate advertising.

In theory, this can be fixed fairly easily by defining some new custom widgets and then placing them into the theme and styling them. I ran into a couple of problems trying this approach — one was about 90 minutes of a broken site (as in, the admin pages would no longer load) with no idea why (it turned out to be a really subtle php syntax error). After that, I got the new widget areas installed, but all of the widget areas kept sizing themselves based how many widgets were in all of the areas combined, not in the specific widget area. That seems to be caused by some javascript in the Photocrati theme that assumes there’s only a single widget in the footer, and while I probably could have fixed that it felt like getting what I wanted was getting complicated, so I backed it out and went to plan B.

Plan B turned out to be to use widgets at all, but to use a shortcut generator plug-in that lets me define shortcuts from the UI, and then to tweak the header and footer with a couple of PHP calls to do_shortcut(). One challenge in customizing themes is who complicated it makes an upgrade; in this case, the total code hack is four lines of PHP in two files (header.php and footer.php), which makes future upgrades easy. The only thing I need to remember is not to upgrade the theme and overwrite those files blindly. I’ve got copies of the changes saved away, so when I don’t remember I can put them back easily.

The end result is two new blocks of content, one for my identification area, one for the amazon ads. The actual HTML is managed out of the UI in the shortcuts, so updating them is simple. Then it was pulling the content together and styling everything, and the end result is the look below.

2015-01-19_18-43-48 (1)

One criticism I’ve gotten occasionally is the size of the footer, and yes, it’s fairly long. But that’s because I’m not using a sidebar along the content, and instead shifting that content down. Overall I’m using less real-estate to this site administrative content than most sites, although it’s not as obvious because it’s in one big area and not broken out into two sections.

Why do it this way? The photos have to be shown as well as I can; the sidebar not only limits how big I can display them (typically 600px vs 900px) but to me the content in the sidebar can conflict and distract from the content, and I don’t want that — I want you to look at this material after enjoying the image, not at the same time. So it’s placed below.

It has to be there, too, because if you watch your analytics, you’ll find 70% or more of your visitors will only see the one page they land one and never go to any other page. If you want to convince them to browse the site further, you have to place that right on the page. To me, the best place for that is in the footer — available but not intrusive.

So the footer design is now complete, although obviously some of the content is still placeholder until I get it written.

2015-01-19_18-45-06

While I was working on the theme, I realized this shortcut setup also solved another problem I had: the ability to add announcements to the site where people will see them. As a result I added a shortcut that does just that and put it immediately below the header. While I was doing that, I also added in the social icons up into the header. This setup is nice because if I want to disable that announcement block I can without having to tweak the theme; it’s all modifiable within the admin UI. Nice and self contained.

And interesting challenge there was how to hint that the announcement text wasn’t part of the main content. I’ve done that by using the header color and font to display it instead of the color and font for the main text. I’ve also made the block edge a bit different as well and put it above that first big headline block. Hopefully that’ll remove confusion about the purpose of that content (what I didn’t want was for the announcement block to try to be the most important thing on the page; it’s there to inform you about stuff, not take over the page and make the main content secondary — but if I need to ramp up how loudly it yells at you, I sure can. I just prefer not to).

Other Changes

I’ve tweaked a few other things. That shortcut plug-in also gives me a click-and-paste for snippets that I can use from the editing window, which lets me stick small HTML templates I use within the site, which is nice (right now I store them in Evernote, which is a bit less convenient). That keeps the bits and pieces I need for some of the standard look and feel aspects of the site within the site, which makes things a bit easier and more portable.

I also changed the text font to PT Serif, which I think is more readable. I keep trying to experiment with slab serif’s, and I keep ending up not using them. Oh well.

If you look closely you’ll see the bullets for unordered lists now use my icon as a little teeny bullet. One of those minor refining details, just because I can.

And finally, I created a custom chrome-free page template, which allows me to publish a page with content on it without any of the site chrome (no header, no footer, etc). I use that to export a gallery, and then I can import that as an iframe and use it without all of the site chrome showing up within the iframe. I did that with smug mug for my main site carousel, and now, I’ve switched that to use a similar one here on this site; the first bit of this site in full production.

And I’ve ported over my amazon affiliates ad bar (with some updating) here to the new site.

Next Steps

It may look like not much has changed on casual view, but we’re in that point of the process where you can spend a lot of hours for minor visual improvements. That said, it’s a big step closer to locking down the theme and look and feel completely. The next step is to work on more of the administrative content — specifically the About page, and setting up the email interface with Mailchimp and getting that content written.

After that, it’s porting and rewriting content as I move it from the old site to here, and getting all of the images online, organized and published. That should be the easy part, right?

Given I started working on this about three weeks ago, I’m really rather happy how fast this has come together. That wasn’t what I expected. I’m not complaining, of course.

 

 

Posted in Redesign 2015: Upgrading chuqui.com in public