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Blog Posts for January 2006

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The Troubles of Success

Okay, so by the end of the year I'll learn whether I'm wasting my time or whether I've got something with legs. If sales are less than stellar, it'll be a little business that I run myself and make some pocket change. That's a problem that I can manage, no big deal. Eventually I'll probably find a way to sell the cards and I can sell the floor spinners, if the thing just tanks.

But let's go the other direction... what if it succeeds in a big way? What if each retail location sells 75 to 100 cards a month? Or more? I'll start out with 10 retail locations. That means that I'm moving close to 1,000 cards a month, which is my goal by the end of the year. If that happens, then my profits will go right back into buying more displays and getting more retail locations. Eventually, I'll max out of my local area. Where do I go then? Out, obviously, to Iowa more broadly. But the pitch to retailers outside of the area is now a story with numbers and real world statistics.

My plan is to paint new cards at a pace of about 5 to 10 per month. Every two months, I hope to rotate the stock in retail locations - new cards in, old cards out. Locally, I can do that myself, but I can't do it in Minneapolis or Kansas City. And I don't think the business owner will care to manage it for me. This needs to be very hands-off for the retailers.That suggests that I have to find area reps. Why is this important? Because paying them has to factor into my pricing model.

So this morning my price for each card went from $2.49 to $2.79 - still reasonable. I'd need to find some detail-oriented and honest salesy soul who knows that this is a once-a-month gig where they drive from store to store in a matter of a few days or a week and pull out the old cards, put in the new cards, and then ship the old cards back to me. I'd need to pay for the help wanted ad, interview candidates remotely, train them remotely, and then trust that they'll represent me well.

I think this kind of position is perfect for stay-at-home moms. It's a bit of socializing with the store owners, the kid(s) could come along, and it's a bit of income. Let's that they have 40 locations for which they are responsible. My plan is to pay them on commission at 50 per card sold. If each outlet turns 100 cards a month, and they are responsible for 40 outlets, then they make $2,000 a month, or $24,000 a year. That's the potential; they'd have to grow and maintain the market in that area. It's a good income for home-based, part-time gig.

Will that happen? Beats me. But it could, and it's something I have to consider. It also occurred to me that my display of choice has 20 pockets - I need not 8 cards to start, but 20. "Prolific" needs to be my middle name.

I'll be working on the web site today and tomorrow, and part of the web site will need to have an interface for the sales reps. Work to do!

0 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/1/2006 10:12:31 AM
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Execution's Four Adjectives

I'm working on the web site today and it's coming along at a good clip. A lot of background work is done and I should have the gallery finished today, and be started on the shopping cart.

During a bathroom library break, I continued my read of Execution, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. I'm getting quite a bit out of the book, and I hit this section today:

Everyone pays lip service to the idea that leading an organzation requires strength of character. In execution, it's absolutely critical. Without what we call emotional fortitude, you can't be honest with yourself, deal honestly with business and organizational realities, or give people forthright assessments. You can't tolerate the diversity of viewpoints, mental architectures, and personal backgrounds that organizations need in their members in order to avoid becoming ingrown. If you can't do these things, you can't execute.

In our years of working and observing in organizations, we have pinpointed four core qualities that make up emotional fortitude:

Authenticity: A psychological term, authenticity means pretty much what you might guess: you're real, not a fake. Your outer person is the same as your inner person, not a mask that you put on. Who you are is the same as what you do and say. Only authenticity builds trust, because sooner or later people spot the fakers.

Whatever leadership ethics you may preach, people will watch what you do. If you're cutting corners, the best will lose faith in you. The worst will follow in your footsteps. The rest will do whatever they must to survive in a muddy ethical environment. This becomes a pervasive barrier to getting things done.

Self-Awareness: Know thyself - it's advice as old as the hills, and it's the core of authenticity. When you know yourself, you are comfortable with with your strengths and not crippled by your shortcomings. You know your behavioral blind sides and emotional blockages, and you have a modus operandi for dealing with them - you draw on the people around you. Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing.

Nowhere is self-awareness more important than in an execution culture. Few leaders have the intellectual firepower to good judges of people, good strategists, and good operating leaders, and at the same time talk to customers and do all the things that the demands. But if you know where you're short, at least you can reinforce those areas and get some help for your business or unit. The person who doesn't even recognize where she is lacking never gets it done.

Self-mastery: When you know yourself, you can master yourself. You can keep your ego in check, take responsibility for your behavior, adapt to change, embrace new ideas, and adhere to your standards of integrity and honesty, under all conditions.

Self-mastery is the key to true self-confidence. We're talking about the mind that's authentic and positive, as opposed to the kinds that mask weakness or insecurity - the studied demeanor of confidence, or outright arrogance.

Self-confident people contribute the most to dialogues. Their inner security gives them a methodology for dealing with the unknown and for linking it to the actions that need to be taken. They know they don't know everything; they are actively curious, and encourage debate to bring up opposite views and set up the social ambience of learning from others. They can take risks, and relish hiring people who are smarter than themselves. So when they encounter a problem, they don't have to whine, cast blame, or feel like victims. They know they'll be able to fix it.

Humility: The more you can contain your ego, the more realistic you are about your problems. You learn how to listen and admit that you don't know all the answers. You exhibit the attitude that you can learn from anyone at any time. Your pride doesn't get in the way of gathering the information you need to achieve the best results. It doesn't keep you from sharing the credit that needs to be shared. Humility allows you to acknowledge your mistakes. Making mistakes is inevitable, but good leaders both admit and learn from them and over time create a decision-making process based on experience.

I originally thought of four adjectives in terms what we bring to a relationship and what we expect of the other person in a relationship. Both are important. This list, I think, makes for a healthy person, whether they are a leader or not. And this list is a good starting point for both people in a relationship. I'll be chewing on this while I code today...

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by Brett Rogers, 1/2/2006 2:43:54 PM
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One Step Ahead of the Spammers

I wrote recently of spammers' attempts to advertise on my site, and I changed the script to discourage bots from doing this. But amazingly, it still happens, which means that someone is literally coming to my site and pasting the blurb and then leaving. I guess labor is probably cheap in some parts of the world to allow this sort of thing to be profitable.

So last week, I implemented a little tool to allow me to bar certain keywords. And that has helped quite a bit. If they try to paste their web site address now, the comment never registers. Wasted effort.

They do try different domains, but I'm quick about it and the keyword is banned and the comment scrubbed.

What is it to hawk a product that no one wants and you have to resort to such idiot tactics? How do they sleep at night, or tell their kids what they do for a living?

It's why my coming art web site won't allow comments on its blog, as much as I might like such a conversation tool. Flamers and spammers ruin the community...

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by Brett Rogers, 1/3/2006 1:54:25 PM
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67 Pages... About A Quarter of the Way

"Write gallery and associated pages" is now checked off my list of things to do.

I'm 67 pages into my web development for ArtByBrett.com. Many of the pages are behind-the-secenes admin pages. The exposed links now at least takes you somewhere except for the Blog section, but that will be easy because I've written those pages for this site.

Next comes the shopping cart and the order process. I'm taking Friday off work to do more on the site.

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by Brett Rogers, 1/3/2006 11:27:10 PM
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Pigeonholing the Card? Not If I Can Help It...

No painting for me these days - all business. But first, a fun 10-minute video. Not so much in its visual display, but in its song. It's "Mojave," by Afro Celt Sound System, and it's the theme song of Art by Brett. (Though a bit muddy, it's amazing the quality of the recording that my little Sony Cybershot made from what came through my computer's speakers...) If you like the song, then go buy the CD!

I'm spending my days working on the web site, and getting a lot done. The story is taking shape. My cards are fine art cards, and my purpose in this has been to provide art to people at an affordable price. As mentioned before, I think art at $400 a print is ridiculous. That puts it only in the reach of the rich, rather than just anybody. I know why artists do it, but I can't and I won't. I think there are other ways.

I found a manufacturer to produce frames for me at a discount, so I'll also offer frames through the web site. That came fom a conversation with a woman at work who suggested a direction to me and lo and behold - affordable frames too. Because the price of art might be accessible, but custom frames? Oh my god... but thankfully, this manufacturer will be able to produce frames to fit my cards at an accessible price.

So that brings me to the text inside the cards. I've struggled with this a lot. For some, the text is what really sells the card. And I've been in the situation plenty of times where I found a great and fitting picture on the front of the card, only to find something awful inside. Or just as bad, the card took itself in the direction of a woman when I meant it for a guy. Or it was for an anniversary, when I needed it for a birthday. I'm sure that's happened to everyone. Well, I think I have a way around it. Maybe. If so, I think it's a novel concept - at least, I've never seen it done before.

These days, I'm thankful I can program because I have no clue what web product exists that will offer the options I need on the web site. And for some of the service that I'll provide to customers, having some mechanisms for automation to speed the fulfillment process will make a world of difference in time, for both me and the customer.

Other than great music, I leave one other recommendation: Blue Ocean Strategy, a book I recently quoted. Truly mind blowing.

And a few quotes:

"Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." - Helen Keller

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living, or get busy dying." - The Shawshank Redemption (Tim Robbins)

"A man without a smiling face must not open a shop." - Chinese Proverb

:)

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Read the whole story of "Workin' on the Dream"
by Brett Rogers, 1/7/2006 6:24:47 PM
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Firefox Sucks

I downloaded Firefox a few days ago, and for all the hype about its superiority, there's one element about it that absolutely sucks, from my web developer's point of view.

I have Opera, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. Some scripts that works just fine in Opera and Internet Explorer and conform to Javascript standards will not work as they should in Firefox. Fortunately for me, it doesn't drop my web site application to its knees, but it will cause the astute user to wonder why a particular thing isn't working... arghhh.

You can read more about the geek problem below, but here's a simple example. What follows are pictures of the same page inside Internet Explorer, Opera, and then Firefox - in that order. Notice how the page displayed in Firefox looks awkward and unbalanced.

Internet Explorer:

Opera:

Firefox:

See the difference in the table cell with the option button? The cell appears big and klunky, but these are pretty straight-ahead web pages... the HTML is clean. Two browsers get it right, and Firefox can't. That's just amateurish. I don't get why this much-hyped browser is hyped.

And here's my geek problem: I used the keyword "this" to pass a dynamic form variable to a function. In IE and Opera, no problem. But Firefox doesn't like it. Okay, I'll go explicit.

document.forms["form1"].u_versetext.value=document.forms["form1"].u_versetext.value.substring(0,2000);

That is flawless javascript. But Firefox tells me to use document.getElementById instead. Okay...

document.getElementById("u_versetext").value=document.getElementById("u_versetext").value.substring(0,2000);

Then I'm told: "document.getElementById("u_versetext") has no properties."

The hell it doesn't! It's a form element - all form elements have properties!

This is exactly why I have no ambition whatsoever to remain a developer. Good lord, I hope this painting thing flies because in the world of art there is no need for tech support.

ETC: I figured it out, although these anomalies are irritating and a waste of time.

The display problem: inside a cell, the paragraph tag

will expand the text area on both the top and the bottom, which balloons the area within the cell. IE and Opera automatically collapse that area to the text itself, which is why Firefox appeared different.

The javascript problem: the outlying function in Firefox apparently can't reach into a form and find the elements, so I have to pass it explicitly in the function call, like this:

functionname(document.formname.elementname)

Firefox's javascript engine can then find the element and adjust its properties.

I had to read a lot of web pages (thank god for Google) to figure these out. And I understand that not all browsers will render quite the same way, but such basics as the paragraph tag should not cause surprises. Firefox takes a high horse and says that this is exactly how the W3 standards declare the rendering. But both Opera and IE say otherwise and perhaps it's open to interpretation, but if one interpretation of the standard exists on the market already, then it's silly not to format by the market's interpretation.

11 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/8/2006 1:09:03 PM
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"Yes" is the Key to Adventure

"Those who say 'Yes' are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say 'No' are rewarded by the safety they attain." - Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up (Patricia Ryan Madson)

2 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/11/2006 6:36:09 AM
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Bloom

The smart farmers in Iowa where I live don't rely on just one crop; they typically have not just corn or soybeans, but cattle, sheep, maybe some exotic horses and some type of equipment they can loan out or use, like a road grater, to help them make money. That way if one peters out, something else has them covered.

A few years back I started a company that was into the email newsletter business. It's coasting along at breakeven and has been for the past two years, but we brought in a developer (thankfully not me) last fall who is revamping the product and we will relaunch that this spring. I own a third of the company, so if it does well, fantastic. If not, it's not hurting me today. But things are looking good.

Then an idea that I started developing about two years ago (an events search engine) has recently revived and gotten some traction thanks to Mike Sansone (an awesome guy by any measure) and my daughter, Bari. They know each other through the place where she works, and Mike connected some dots and is helping to move this football forward. If this continues as it seems like it will, then I'll end up with a partial ownership stake, as would Mike, and here again, a former project looks promising.

Over the summer, I blogged about the big project at work that I had undertaken and for which I have received some notice since we released it in August. Yesterday, we revealed our development on a resource management module that allows managers to estimate their employees' allocation on projects/tasks/PTO and that too was well-received. There's a possibility, and some VP buzz, that the web site I wrote could go corporate, meaning that all of Wells would use it in tracking/managing projects. Woo hoo!

And of course, lately I've been writing of the progress on my greeting card venture.

None of these things is a shoe-in. The company of which I own a part could tank or continue to limp along. The revision of the events web site could fizzle. My greeting cards might be wanted by no one, or few anyway. And Wells could adopt some other tool than the one I wrote.

But like a farmer, I have the benefit of having four possibilities out there. Could 2006 bring me a good harvest?

I've been watching my friend, Kris, move ahead with her artwork and sell it to get to her dream of being a musician/artist full-time. My friend, Lisa, is not a blogger, but she left her underwriting job to work in a retail setting to learn the retail business and get closer to her dream of someday owning her own store. I recently re-acquainted with my old guitarist, Kelly, who is building his own home studio. Shantyl nears the end of her degree and she's working on her writing. Erin, too, is fanning the flames of her desire to write and do what she was born to do.

A lot of bloom going on... and it ain't even spring!

Here's my point... I could have said "No" to any of these extra hours projects and simply coasted along in a cushy job. But I took the risk and now the possibility exists that I could hit a home run. At least my chances are magnified by the number of efforts out there.

My friends are also taking some risks and moving ahead on their passions to evolve into the dreams of their lives. We could all simply put up with "good enough," but we know that there is more. We do it because we can. And quite frankly, because I don't think we have a choice. To do otherwise is to deny our very nature.

We live in the best country on earth, where dreams like these are possible. We live in a time when it's not quite so difficult to get noticed for what we can do. We can move into "tribes" of like interests through the communication tools at our disposal and we have relatively easy-to-use technology to aid our pursuits.

Bloom is, well, inevitable.

The only thing that can hold us back is our personal refusal to step out on the faith that we can achieve what we dream. Lucky for me, my friends and I step ahead fearlessly. I get to watch this incredible and talented bunch launch into the future.

I'm tellin' ya - so far, I love 2006.

2 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/12/2006 8:06:36 AM
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25 Years

When I was 16 years old, I remember that my world was hanging out with my best buddy, Jim, and we would play Atari games on occasion and draw huge pixelated stick figures on his TV. His older brother, Tom, had a ham radio in the basement and occasionally, we would hear Tom CQ'ing for other parts of the world with rare success.

Remember this?

Fast forward to today, 25 years later. My son, Nick, is 16. He and I frequently play HALO together on XBox Live. Recently, one of the people in his group, Psychopath, went to my web site and then sent me some of his computer art. Psychopath is actually Paul, who also is 16. And he's Australian.

He did this with a program called Bryce 5. As you can see, it allows him to create complex renderings. Look at this close-up:

See the reflection on the water?

It is utterly remarkable that my children regularly interact with people from all over the world through XBox Live. Paul, a high schooler in Australia, is doing things far beyond my grasp when I was his age. It gets my head to spinning when I think of the achievements they will make in this accelerated curve of technology and connectedness.

As I watch both Aaron and Nick do this, I've noticed something. They've found their groups (Aaron's are more British and Irish, and Nick's are American and Australian) and with more frequency they'll just talk in these groups, and not just play. XBox Live allows for voice-over-IP (VOIP) and it's often as clear as the telephone.

The acceleration of change in our world today escapes most of us. 25 years is not that long a time span. While Atari was not available for my mother's generation, ham radios were, and the technology was pretty much the same from her generation to mine. But the changes are lightning fast now. I can't imagine what my son will enjoy as he enters his 40's, 25 years from now. It's bewildering to try and guess what his 16-year-old will be able to do.

What a great time to be alive, this is!

3 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/13/2006 6:54:26 AM
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Running Circles Around Me

You would think that as a web developer and blogger, I get it. Today I learned that I'm not thinking big enough.

This morning, Mike Sansone taught me the definition of a blog. A blog is not a web log. It is not a journal. It is not a series of posts or articles.

A blog is a web page that has any manner of dynamic, changing content.

Then he went further to show me that any successful home page should be a blog, whether for a business or personal use or whatever. If it's static, no one will return.

Mike, you have no idea what you've unleashed. But man, do I owe you for the education. The curriculum's fine; it's the student who was slow.

1 Comment
by Brett Rogers, 1/13/2006 9:03:19 AM
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Goofin'

Play da movie, yahh...

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by Brett Rogers, 1/14/2006 10:04:57 AM
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Time

Time is the most valuable asset that you have. Nothing else holds a candle.

I come to this conclusion after dealing with more Firefox issues this morning. My sons are all playing in the living room and outside, so I decided to work on the web site for a while. I learned that Firefox doesn't support VBScript. I don't use VBScript much except for one function, a check date function, which is great in VBScript because Microsoft has produced a superlative date validation function, IsDate(). This function will read "Jan 1, 2006" "January 1" "1-1-06" all as valid date formats. And they are. Firefox's enforces Javascript verification, which is much weaker for its strict reliance on the use of regular expressions, which can only validate a single date format.

Why did Firefox do this? Because of Microsoft's arrogance in releasing a browser and operating system that didn't take security seriously. Microsoft's is an optimistic world where hackers and terrorists don't exist. Hackers exploit VBScript's openness and powerful function library to hijack PC's. Firefox simply decided to ignore VBScript in releasing their browser. That's a lotta balls to stiffarm Microsoft. I kind of respect them for that. Pretty gutsy. But security had become such an issue that when people found a web site that relied on VBScript for part of its functionality, Firefox only had to respond that "The web site uses VBScript, which is a security risk to you," and the customer would knowingly nod in agreement and actually thank Firefox for not allowing the web site to do its thing. And the company who owned the web site would have to invest in a rewrite in Javascript.

And all of this came about because some mobster or teenage punk decided that he would write a malicious piece of code. The code might have wiped data from a computer; it might have stolen bank accounts numbers; it might have fired endless popups at the user. But I can boil all of these down to a simple and priceless commodity: time.

My computer's data files are the summation of my effort in creating them. Typically, if they're wiped, I have to recreate them, if I can.

My bank accounts, if stolen, require that I take the time to close the accounts and create new ones and trace any money confiscated from me to get it back. My money is, after all, the payment for my invested time in a service/product that someone else deemed worthy of money.

And getting rid of the popups takes time, of course.

Ultimately, they're stealing my time without my consent. True freedom is my choice in how to spend my time, be that in speaking or writing or conducting my affairs in the way that I deem important to me. Anytime that someone pulls my time from me, without my consent or choice in engaging them, and decides how I must spend my time, I am not free.

Terrorists also steal my time, but on a far larger scale. If they're successful, it's a permanent erasure of my life. Every day is ripped from me.

It's all about time. That's truly all that we have. How do we spend each wild and precious moment?

So in search of a good validation library for Javascript, I can pony up $75 for version 9.7.2 of something and save myself time. Or I can continue to scour the web for something free. But is that worth my time?

Any business needs to have t-i-m-e as its base selling point for existence. A business must free up time for the consumer. Or provide quality of time for the consumer.

But it's all about time.

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by Brett Rogers, 1/14/2006 11:50:02 AM
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Under Construction

I've been building the retail web site, going along and thinking it through. As I've been noodling it through, I've grown increasingly uneasy with my original database schema. Started to look more like spaghetti than intelligent design.

One of my favorite development tools is Microsoft Word's outline view. You can access it by going to "View/Outline" in the menu. Here, you can create a quick and easily editable outline for your thoughts. There's a custom toolbar that comes with this view. Be sure to toggle off "Show Formatting" in the toolbar. The default is a bunch of funky text and frankly it boggles my mind why those font choices are the default...

Databases work best when they model real life relationships and attributes. Which seems obvious on its face, but here's where it becomes a matter of how you view things. Where do you associate, for example, the discount? Obviously, it's associated at the time of ordering. But is it on an item level or on the order level?

After a lot of twisting and turning about it, here's my outline:

And so with that, I'll be undoing and redoing some of my work on the web site.

Interesting puzzles, these are...

5 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/15/2006 10:58:10 AM
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Remember These?

For Christmas, my mom gave me what I'll call a "paint pouch." It was intended to hold brushes, but I've torn out some of the stitching to make room for my tubes of acrylic. I hung it on the wall with two nails - totally not what the designer intended, but it works for my purposes. Certainly better than having all my shit laying around my desk. (Speaking of which, I still can't find my glasses...)

That's a lot of paint...

I miss 'em. As soon as the development on ArtByBrett is done, I'll get back to it.

3 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/17/2006 8:28:06 AM
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Another Cub Video

Jacob has discovered the greatness of creating his own home movies. Every time I watch this, I crack up.

With entertainment like this 24/7, who needs Hollywood?

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by Brett Rogers, 1/18/2006 3:52:55 AM
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Prolific

What follows is a screenshot of the administrative interface for ArtByBrett. I've been up since about 2 AM. I'm getting into that mode of my life where sleep is not really essential. I go through rhythms this way. I've been hibernating through late November and most of December, needing about 8 hours of sleep a day. Not now though... energy is restless and I'm getting antsy if I'm not moving the dream forward. "Fervent" is a good word to describe me at the moment. I'm in hyper-productive mode.

I also took those two months away from my diet and exercise regimen. As some of you know, I lost 40 pounds last year, mostly from just dropping refined sugar from my diet. Around the holidays, I allowed myself to indulge in a few slices of apple pie, but for the most part I've been good. I don't if it was the great weather last week or what, but I took the bike to work on Friday and it was great. Still go for a walk through the building each day, but swimming has fallen off... maybe with my new lack of sleep schedule, I'll pick it up. I hope to continue to lose the weight and get to around 250 by year's end. Slow and steady :)

I ordered my first display rack for the cards. I plan to erect it in my bedroom - a daily reminder of the dream and where I'm headed and to keep my ass moving on this. As I paint card designs through February, I'll fill the rack. 20 slots for 20 cards... more motivation. Fervent!

A few years back, I stumbled across something in a book (don't recall which) but I revised it a bit. It talked of four roles. Maybe that played into my concept of four adjectives, but the four roles at which I arrived were these:

  • Laborer
  • Explorer
  • Artisan
  • Conductor
These four roles are what each of us do in our lives. At our most existential and basic, we labor - to feed ourselves and have some worth to our lives. But better if we move beyond that to explore. To see what there is to see. As we do, we find things that we're good at doing and we find our passions. Here, we finesse our craftsmanship and become an artisan in our talent. And then finally, we are conductors - we work to orchestrate the network in which we operate. Socially and commercially minded, the conductor keeps a look out for opportunity and for synergy.

I bring that up because on my wall in front of my desk are index cards with those words printed on them. I am to work and discover and refine and orchestrate. Hyper-productive is good. The dream is worth it.

3 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/18/2006 6:50:49 AM
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Creativity

A friend sent this to me, and it took a while to wriggle the GIF file out of the email, but this is so very cool, as you can see.

Don't know who it is or I would attribute it, but that's awesome.

Anybody know who did this?

2 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/18/2006 9:11:41 PM
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You Can

4 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/19/2006 8:23:53 PM
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Baby Steps

Success... I was able to add a greeting card to my shopping cart. A couple of fields of bad data, but the order was created and the items were added.

Next:

  • Fix the glitches that exist in adding a greeting card (done with this one...)
  • Update all of the pages to work with the shopping cart (done, 1/21/2006)
  • Create the frame page to add a frame, without a card (done, 1/24/2006)
  • Add the ability to view the cart (done, 1/22/2006)
  • Provide the ability to edit the cart (done, 1/23/2006)
I'm thinking all of that should be finished by sometime in the middle of next week.

Then it's order processing and order management (viewing past orders, duplicating a previous order, etc) the following week.

I'm still on track to have the site done by the end of January. Yayy!!

2 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/19/2006 11:22:15 PM
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Me and Cub Jam

Last night, my friend, Kelly, came over for dinner and being a former bandmate of mine, we goofed around on my crappy Fender acoustic guitar. Kelly is phenomenal; I'm passable. But my son, Jacob, really got into it.

This morning when we got up, Cub wanted to jam with me, so he asked me to get him two pencils to use as drumsticks and I got out the guitar. You can hear what we did together until I hit a bad chord at the end, with me scatting along vocally. (None of my songs have any lyrics... I just never really got around to it.)

Jacob did a great job on sticks. A big future in front of him, I think :)

By the way, I recorded this on my Sony Cybershot and then converted the MPG to MP3. I have a Tascam US-122 USB device that should allow me to record straight into the computer, bu the Tascam driver is so godawful that it's virtually unusable with Windows XP Service Pack 2. I'm seriously thinking of getting a Mac. Recording shouldn't be this traumatic.

7 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/21/2006 2:43:52 PM
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My Major

I was an English major in college, though I never graduated. I was making more money in business and computers, so I did that instead and dropped out.

Kris found a little quiz to test what your major should be. Hers? Art. My results?

You scored as English. You should be an English major! Your passion lies in writing and expressing yourself creatively, and you hate it when you are inhibited from doing so. Pursue that interest of yours!

English

92%

Mathematics

83%

Psychology

83%

Philosophy

75%

Journalism

75%

Art

75%

Dance

67%

Theater

67%

Linguistics

67%

Engineering

58%

Sociology

50%

Anthropology

50%

Biology

42%

Chemistry

25%

What is your Perfect Major?
created with QuizFarm.com

I figured that English and Psychology would be up there, though I am surprised by Math's ranking. Perhaps because I answered so many questions affirming my analytical tendencies.

Okay, back to programming...

4 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/21/2006 7:21:31 PM
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Shopping Cart!

The shopping cart can now display:

The links on the cart page and the Update Cart button don't work yet; that's tonight's work. But I'm closer!

I've never built a shopping cart for a web site before, and having gone through the exercise with the customization that I wanted for my purposes, I can't imagine the frustration of being a web vendor and dealing with these things without a technical background. It has to often be a case of the technology defining business for them, rather than business defining the technology. I needed bundled items, and wanted a way to offset those to make it apparent that the items were "child items." The quantity of those items shouldn't be adjusted since each is a single-quantity item packaged with the card, and the shopper shouldn't be able to click into those items to edit them, but rather should click into the parent item to edit.

Could I have achieved that with a third-party shopping cart? Nope. Had to build my own. And that's my point... I defined my own technology and didn't have to change the way that I wanted to do business to get my store online.

I have 9 days to finish the web site since my self-imposed deadline is "web site in January." So I keep showing up to do my job and work to get it done.

For what it's worth, I still haven't figured out how I'll handle the calculation of shipping, but I expect that the logic of that will emerge as I work through scenarios on the site. Each thing in its own time...

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by Brett Rogers, 1/22/2006 11:01:36 AM
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Nick's First Movie

Nick has learned how to use Windows Movie Maker and has strategically shot video to make a little movie of his own design.

Watch the movie... it will change your life.

3 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/22/2006 6:15:06 PM
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Carefree Painting

Over the weekend, I went over to Erin's house and we painted for a few hours. And we laughed a lot. Which was very therapeutic for us both - not to say that we needed it, but the company and the whimsical atmosphere were delightful.

What is it? I don't know... and it doesn't matter. It's "Sunday," painted without thought and in joy. And this one...

Painting has become a favorite way to spend time with friends, just goofing around. It's color and kindergarten. Fun :)

I hope to do more of this with those of you who browse the site and would be open to painting with me. Especially as I get into the breakneck pace of February, it will be great to offset the seriousness of producing cards with the fun of the brush while hanging with friends.

ETC: "Skinny Jeff" stops by and leaves a comment overnight. He has a web site (I won't link to it, but he lists it and you can click into the comments to see it) and he asks me to visit it and link to it. Because his site is at least relevant (art), I won't consider it spam, but that's kind of what he's done. My trivia mechanism has curtailed all of the bot spam.

So I go to his site and it's a lot of text (and Google ads) about learning to paint. Not much of it is really very helpful... nothing demonstrated in a step-by-step method or anything. He kind of talks around the subject without explaining how.

And then the irony... in this post, which discusses how I just willy-nilly painted with Erin over the weekend, he posts a comment, when at his web site, he says this:

"Often people with a certain artistic predisposition think that all they need is paper or a canvas, brushes, paints of different colors, and off they go to the path of artistdom!"
Hmm... well, that's pretty much what Erin and I did. It was carefree painting with no artistic agenda other than to have a good and judgment-free time.

I respect his desire to make a buck, and I wish him the best, but for anyone who wants to paint or draw, my favorite books are as follows:

Those are my recommendations.

On the other hand, if you just want to enjoy painting for the fun of it, with no real serious agenda, I recommend Life, Paint, and Passion.

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Read the whole story of "Drawing and Painting"
by Brett Rogers, 1/23/2006 9:41:43 PM
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Toe Hold

I received my card rack today.

Ain't it purdee?

Behind me on the white board is my development schedule for ArtByBrett this week. The web site needs to be done by the end of January. Of course, that's an arbitrary date, but psychologically important, nonetheless. If I slip, opening shop on April 1 is tougher.

Back to coding...

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by Brett Rogers, 1/23/2006 10:18:51 PM
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Algebra

Here's a story problem: let's say that you have to devise a formula for shipping orders in such a way that several factors are considered, such as the printing of shipping labels, the cost of the shipping materials, the cost of each shipment for the order if there are multiple shipment dates, and the weight of each item as it adds to the cost of shipment. You need to do this in such a way that you don't lose money on orders taken, you include payment for the expense of time that it takes to prepare and ship the order, and you don't turn away the customer for the cost of shipping.

I don't know what the right answer is, but mine is this:

Base Shipping Rate per Order$2.00
Base Shipping Rate per Shipment Date$1.00
Base Shipping Rate for Frames$2.00
Shipping Rate per Frame$0.25
Shipping Rate per Card$0.15

How does that translate?

If you buy one card from me with a single shipment date, then shipping would be $3.15.

If you buy eight cards from me with a single shipment date, then shipping would be $4.20.

If you buy two cards from me, each with its own shipment date, then shipping would be $4.30.

If you buy one card from me with a frame and a single shipment date, then shipping would be $5.40.

Does that work? Seems like it fits my criteria. I'll find out, I guess. Interesting stuff, business.

ETC: The calculation of shipping is now built into the shopping cart.

Next, order processing. Then, the ability for customers to view their order status and duplicate previous orders. Then, the pages to manage order fulfillment.

4 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/24/2006 11:22:47 PM
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How Many Days Have You Been Alive?

I've implemented a "Days Alive Calculator" in the "Things To Do" menu up above. Just type in your birthdate and click Calculate.

Why did I do this? Because an average life is less than 30,000 days. Think of how much you do in a single day. Or how little.

You don't get very many days... so make the most of every one. The calculator on the left is my invitation to not trivialize anything. Love people! Say what you feel! Pursue your life's passion! Live regret-free!

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it." - Ferris Bueller

Amen, brother...

66 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/26/2006 8:24:39 PM
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--

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Read the whole story of "Workin' on the Dream"
by Brett Rogers, 1/26/2006 10:02:13 PM
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Hello, PayPal?

I've got the checkout page written, although I need to add some elements to it.

And I've been able to integrate it with PayPal.

I have a lot of testing to do with it, but it's time for bed. I need to attend the regular Friday 6:30 AM meeting tomorrow to discuss business venture #2 with Mike and Adam.

ETC: Woo hoo!

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by Brett Rogers, 1/27/2006 12:52:23 AM
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Tweaking

The greatness of any business plan is not in the plan's thorough rigidity, but in the writer's flexibility. Circumstances change. In a game of survival, adaptation wins.

After a lot of thought, it seems to me that the web store needs to open prior to April 1. For several reasons... but most chiefly is to try out this grand design of mine. I could create the bestest plan in the whole wide world and if the product sucks, then it's not worth a damn. Or if the web site doesn't do what it needs to do, then I've got a problem on my hands. The wrong time to fix that is when I'm getting the retail store market going. Better to work out those kinks now, when the volume can be low and problems fixed quickly and without the distraction of order fulfillment.

So, the grand opening of the online store is now sometime in February. To do that, I've ordered the card stock and envelopes that I need and I'll print them myself. If that works well, I may just continue to do that and forego the employment of a printer for a while until the volume is simply too much. One side benefit of this strategy is that I can respond more quickly to a surge in demand of a design style. Flowers sell? Paint more flowers. People sell? Paint more people. This way, I'm not weighted down with an abundance of extra cards that no one wants.

I've learned that getting the customer's information to process the order is a longer code cycle than I expected. I'll slip past January 31, but only by a few days. Once I have the basics of the order capture down, I'll start to paint and release cards in a gradual and weaved way with the coding that remains. I'll let intuition drive the development.

And I miss painting. I'm anxious to see what will happen. So I tweak the model. I'm tired of programming at the moment... I'm excited for the time that I cease using that skill so much.

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Read the whole story of "Workin' on the Dream"
by Brett Rogers, 1/28/2006 12:06:52 AM
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Can You Name These Movies?

#1

#2

#3

#4

#5

#6

#7

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by Brett Rogers, 1/28/2006 9:15:04 AM
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Shipping

Was up pretty late last night after the boys were tucked into bed and got a lot done. I'm now pretty close to finishing the order process - maybe three hours of coding left. Then order management and fulfillment. And then I'm done with the web site for now and I can open the store!

I'm considering opening Art I Can Afford.com, based on the code that I've created here. That site would be available for other artists to post their work and collect payments. Maybe later this year. That site would be pretty similar to this site, so a couple of weekends and it could be done. I have to think through the strategy canvas and competitive matrix before I begin any work on it.

Now, off to bowling with the kids!

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by Brett Rogers, 1/28/2006 1:38:14 PM
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Movie Quiz

Know your movies? Try this...

Name the following movies by the scene depicted. Leave your answer in the comments, but no peeking at others' answers!

#1

#2

#3

#4

#5

#6

#7

#8

#9

#10

#11

#12

#13

#14

#15

#16

#17

2 Comments
by Brett Rogers, 1/29/2006 2:17:31 AM
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Bowling

Went bowling with all the kids and with Nick's girlfriend, Ali, yesterday. Here's Nick posing...

You can click on the picture to play a little video of the Cub and Austin bowling and goofing around with Nick.

After dropping the boys off at Jackie's, I went to a friend's family's house and played "SceneIt" for the first time. Coincidentally, that had nothing to do with the recent movie quizzes, but I do think it's kind of fun to do.

And then lots of coding into the wee hours and again this morning... I'm pretty much done with the order process and I'm now onto order management. I could be done by tomorrow. Then lots of testing and - (gasp!) - painting! Yayy! I couldn't be more excited.

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by Brett Rogers, 1/29/2006 2:32:33 PM
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Almost

I'm just about done with ArtByBrett.com for the time being. Order Processing is complete. Order Management is now available.

The only things left to do are:

  • Show a detailed overview of the order, with separated ship dates and custom text when purchased.
  • Administratively view the orders to be shipped and manage their status.
  • Test like crazy!
All do-able in the next two days. Web site ready by the end of January. Milestone accomplished.

I spent a lot of time tonight in PayPal's developer "Sandbox," which is a pretty cool feature. Effectively, it's a mirror of the PayPal site, but with dummy transactions for thorough testing. One nice thing that PayPal does is to hand back to me the order details in a posted form, so that I can retrieve the purchase information (payment status, payment date, transaction ID, etc).

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I might work on Art I Can Afford.com later this year. To be clear, that's not a replacement of ArtByBrett.com, but rather it would be a web site for artists to post their work to sell, such as Kris does. She uses her comments section as an auction block - ingenius. If ArtByBrett does well, then I'll work on Art I Can Afford and build auctioning into it. But it would be a completely separate and independent web site for use by multiple artists to sell their work for less than $100 (hence, the "afford"-able theme of the site).

And with that, time for bed...

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by Brett Rogers, 1/30/2006 2:48:01 AM
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Vision

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Read the whole story of "Workin' on the Dream"
by Brett Rogers, 1/30/2006 8:54:10 AM
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Wobbly

I mentioned to a friend at work today that I sometimes feel like I'm trying to peer into my future and gain some solid ground and certainty. Everyone does, I know, but I feel like I'm cheating and skipping to the end of the book to read the ending and know that it turns out okay.

In Improv Wisdom, Patricia Ryan Madson refers to this as "embracing the wobble." Like riding a bike, the act of balancing - or maybe it's better said as being able to balance - is more important than being balanced. Biking brings turns and bumps and such. A good lean into a curve takes skilled adjustment and an act of balance, whereas being balanced on a bike would be to sit still on it and go nowhere. Which is more fun?

This same friend gave me a book last fall called "Now, Discover Your Strengths." Mine were as follows, and I'll include a really brief description of each from the book:

  • Learner ("You love to learn.")
  • Strategic ("Enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route.")
  • Input ("You are inquisitive. You collect things.")
  • Communication ("You like to explain, to describe, to host, to speak in public, and to write.")
  • Activator ("You are impatient for action.")
I've set two in bold: strategic and activator. I do this because it ties in with skipping ahead in the book of my life. It's burned into my nature to find the shortest route and get there right now. If you read my web site, you might get that impression about me. If you know me in person, you know that I'm a very patient guy with people - especially with kids. But where I'm concerned, "Let's go! I know the way!" is my mantra.

Except that life doesn't always allow me to run in the direction I think best. Sometimes, circumstances intervene. And then I get antsy and a bit panicked. I need to learn that it's okay to just be still and enjoy the moment.

Painting helps to take me to the moment. Painting (yayy!!) starts tomorrow. I finish this phase of the ArtByBrett web site tonight. I already know of some features I'll need to introduce in March when I get done with my month of painting, but I'm tired of coding and I'm eager for the brush.

(And speaking of painting, I went to Kris' house tonight and bought one of her works. Wonderful, wonderful!)

On this, Day #15,063 of my life, I've re-learned that not knowing how it will turn out is okay. I should just hang in the mystery and enjoy the book. One page a day... and no skipping ahead.

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by Brett Rogers, 1/31/2006 10:30:16 PM
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