This site functions as an archive of Conner's Blog, which was a blog from 2006-2014 located at http://connermccall.com. Images and links are likely to be broken.

Thoughts on SOPA/PIPA and the Internet Blackout

I went on a rant this morning about the Internet Blackout that’s currently happening across the Web. I decided I should write a bit more for those who are interested.

I want to get something clear before I go any further. I think SOPA and PIPA are terrible bills. They will not only hurt the Internet in ways we can only guess and extend the government’s power over it, but it will fail to accomplish its primary mission, stopping online piracy, something I actually agree we need to do.

So you would think that I would be ecstatic that this online Blackout has raised awareness of these bills and caused people to contact their Representatives and tell them not to support this bill. And the truth is that I am. I am glad people are coordinating something that will help accomplish my goals as a citizen.

My issue with the blackout goes beyond SOPA/PIPA, it goes to the core of why I think our country is in trouble. The idea that the average citizen no longer learns about the things they hear about in the news*. Instead they make a snap decision based on a few sound bytes by someone they think sounds good on TV.

The Blackout is going to raise awareness but I fear that those who didn’t know about SOPA/PIPA before they try to use Wikipedia today, aren’t going to actually care about this bill. Instead they are going to see that their toys** were taken away and contact their Representatives by clicking a big “do it for me” button.

So I’m not upset at the Blackout, and I understand why people decide to participate. But I’m not, and not because I don’t want these two bills to fail, but because I’m worried about the future of a Republic where people don’t vote with their minds*** but instead based on what their favorite celebrity says or because someone took their toys away.

* I’m not perfect either and often make snap decisions, but I also try very hard to identify when I do this and be sure to do some actual research and maybe even skim a bill before I sign an online petition or write my representatives in Congress.

** I’m using toys because “tools that some people use to accomplish their jobs or school work and other use purely for entertainment purposes” sounds ridiculous.

*** I also don't want Senators or Representatives that vote based on who donated the most money, so maybe this Blackout is the only weapon we have, which is scary as hell.

Sunday Work Club

Last Sunday I had a really productive afternoon with Shanna at Urban Bean. We had scheduled a work session together to give each other a kick on some personal goals we share. It was great, and got me thinking.

I have a lot of really smart friends doing really smart things. A lot of them do some really smart things outside of normal business hours. Now I love the idea of Coco, and other collaborative workspaces, so I thought, why not start a coffee shop work club.

So here is the deal. We'll meet Sunday afternoons around 2:30 at a some coffee shop in town. We'll all order a coffee, sit down, and do some work. The goal isn't to have conversations, it's about working next to someone who is also getting things done. Sure we can show off our latest accomplishments or maybe query the hive mind for some feedback, but mostly we work. There is something about sitting next to someone working on something they are passionate about that rocks.

We'll try to rotate to various shops depending on who joins in. My initial stop is going to be the Urban Bean location on Bryant. If you want you can subscribe to the Sunday Work Club calendar to keep updated. Leave a comment if you're interested and I'll remind you on Saturday morning if you ask.

Bread!

As you may have read, one of my goals for 2012 is to master a few bread recipes. Well, last night I managed to come close to perfecting a sandwich bread recipe. I used King Arthur Flour's classic sandwich bread recipe. Added a bit more water and flour than it called for due to a bit of misjudgement at one point, but it turned out really well.

Of course the problem with fresh bread is that you can't just let it cool down all the way before slicing into it. The first slice was delicious smothered with butter and jelly.

2012 Goals

It may be early, but I feel like it's time. Plus once I write these down I'm sure to come up with fifty more in no time.

  • Master three kinds of bread. I made sourdough last week and it worked out well, I also want a good basic sandwich bread recipe, and a great whole wheat recipe.
  • Learn another programming language. I've gotten to be pretty good at PHP and am ready to add another language to the tool kit. Leaning toward Python, but haven't decided yet.
  • Take a design course. I have a reasonable grasp of what a good design looks like, but couldn't tell you why if you suspended me over a vat of acid. I need to remedy this.
  • New job - I've been saying this every year for a long time. I'm not sure if I've ever put it in writing. I need to move on and find a new challenge. Not because what I'm doing isn't challenging, but because it doesn't intrigue me. Working hard just to get paid is not something I'm good at.
  • Get back to Montana more than once, I'm going home for Christmas this year, I need to make it home at least twice next year. When I moved here I told myself I'd make it home occasionally, I haven't really kept that promise.
  • Start learning Spanish, or at least another language. I find it embarrassing that I've never been able to read or speak any language other than English, I need to remedy that.
  • Own the street food scene - I'm working on this, I will be the go to person for Street Food in the Twin Cities.
  • Keep in touch with friends - This last year I sort of reverted to 2009 status and became an introvert again. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it also meant I lost touch with some great people. Time to remedy that.
  • Travel for fun - Even if it's just a road trip to Chicago, I need to go somewhere just for fun.
  • Start exercising again - I didn't bike nearly enough this year and didn't replace that with any other form of exercise. I need to figure something out.
  • Stretch more, read more, laugh more, drink more champagne, eat brunch more, sing at karaoke more, call more friends, drink more wine, make more cocktails, and in general, enjoy life more.

Homemade Pizza #6

I've made a lot of homemade pizza over the last few years. Ever since I made my first successful batch of pizza dough, I rarely go a month without baking a pizza or two. Excluding the summer months that is. Anytime the temp is above 75 I won't turn my oven on, let alone let it get to 500 degrees.

My last attempt was Sunday. After baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I tried something new. I made a half batch of dough instead of a full batch. This means I didn't have any extra dough to mess around with, which was sad, but probably good for my waistline.

I ended up making a green pepper, onion, pineapple, and mushroom pizza. I loaded it with mozzarella cheese and baked it for about 10 minutes at 450. It was one of my better efforts. Unfortunately, I don't really know why but it was a good way to end the weekend no matter the cause.

Responsive Redesign

I've come to realize I really enjoy web development. So much in fact that I'm working on persueing a career as a web developer. Considering I never thought I would want to sit in front of a computer writing code, this comes as a surprise to me. But I can't help what I like.

So this weekend I embarked on a quest to make this site responsive. What this means is that it adapts to your browser. Whether you are viewing the site on a mobile device like a smart phone or an iPad, or you're looking at it on your widescreen monitor, it should adjust to your browser window.

I took a lot of inspiration from Ethan Marcotte's Responsive Web Design book. It's a great resource and makes you think a bit more about how you view the web. Moving the thought process away from mobile sites to mobile ready is a big step. But it can really improve the user experience.

A few notes about how I went about this process.

  • I started with a mobile first methodology. I reused my previous design, but I changed the markup and styles to make the site look good in my iPhone browser.
  • I used media queries, which means it may not look that great using some older browsers.
  • Flexible Grid - Since my site didn't have sidebars this wasn't too difficult, but the site will expand and contract as you expand on contract your browser window on a standard browser. I did stop the expansion at 1280px. That seemed wide enough for most uses.
  • I will be checking out the site on my PS3 browser soon to see what I can do to make it TV friendly.
  • I actually cut down the amount of code in each page by this redesign, and my CSS files shrank as well.
I'm sure there are bugs, one of the problems of working by yourself and launching at 10pm is that you're bound to have missed something. Still, it was a fun and useful experiment, and I intend on applying the lessons I learned going forward.

Food + Music

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk and noticed a couple of grapes sitting next to my iPhone earbuds. Something about the way they were sitting there intrigued me and I snapped a photo.

Fifteen photos later, I've continued this series, which I've called Food + Music, by posting every weekday. It's been fun and I thought I'd share the series with my readers. I post the initial pic on Instagram, but they get cross posted to Flickr, so you can check out the photos there.

Facebook and My Car

Something happened today that made me realize something. In some ways, my Facebook profile is as important to me as my car. That may seem like a bold comment, and I should note that if both Facebook and my car disappeared overnight, I'd be a lot more upset about my car. But at the end of the day, they both serve several purposes, and one of them is that they reflect who I am.

I've never really worried too much about how my car looks. I keep it clean, but I don't spend hours making sure it's spotless every week. But I do know that when I walk to my car after talking to someone, if they see what vehicle I'm getting into, they are going to draw some conclusion. I like to think it says that I'm economical and good at taking care of things since I drive an older vehicle that's in good shape. I could be completely wrong about this, but that's the image I want my car to portray, even if it's not something I put a lot of effort into or think about more than two times a year.

What does this have to do with Facebook? Well Facebook is another place where people draw conclusions about you. If you post nothing but pictures of you partying and you friend a co-worker, they probably are going to wonder if you sleep. If you only post photos of your dog, people will think that maybe you need to get out a bit more. People are going to draw conclusions based on what's on your profile

What does this mean? It means that even if you don't care about your Facebook profile. You should respect other people's profile. Just like you wouldn't randomly put a bumper sticker with a crude comment on your friend’s car, you shouldn't post something on your friends Facebook profile that you wouldn't post on your mother's wall. This isn't saying don't disagree with me, but remember that whatever someone else see's on my profile is going to reflect on me a little bit. So think before you post, and make the world a better place.

I realize this entire post probably makes it appear I spend hours worrying about my Facebook profile. This isn't true. But when someone leaves a comment that adds absolutely no value to the original post, and makes me look like a 13 year old boy, I apparently get upset. And let's be honest, these same rules apply anywhere, including this blog.

What Happened To Google?

This is a legitimate concern of mine. I used to really evangelize Google. Their products were smart, easy to use, catered to those who liked simple easy to use software that was still powerful enough to get things done. I nixed all my old email accounts the day I received my Gmail invite, Google Calendar has been the only app that was able to keep my life organized, and Google Voice allowed me to cancel my text message bundle this year.

But something has happened in the Googleplex. A company that seemed to always focus on making things better and getting out of your way seems to have left that mentality behind. I don't know when it started, but I only recently recognized this trend over the past few months. It seems like everything they release is buggy, uninteresting, and just plain unnecessary.

Now I think it's important to note that Google has always been a company willing to release incomplete software. Gmail, Google Calendar, and a host of other products were in beta status for years. The company did this to openly acknowledge that even though they used it internally, it wasn't something they would recommend for something mission critical. Still, the products were mostly bug free, had plenty of useful features, and even if they were missing something small, it didn't hinder your ability to get work done.

Google Labs was another example of the mentality of not being worried about something failing. They had little tools available for you to play with. You got the benefit of playing with something new and interesting, and they got the benefit of seeing what people did with these unfinished products. Gmail has a labs features, as does Google Calendar. These are essentially extensions to the software that add useful or fun features, but probably haven't been testing extensively.

That leads us to today. As Google grew, it seems that it tried hard to keep it's mentality of release early and see what happens. Google Wave and Google Buzz are the two most glaring examples of this. Both platforms had a lot of potential, but when released, they were so buggy that no one could use them. Considering the hype that Google products get these days it became a bit of an embarrassment for the company. They could no longer afford to release beta software to the general public.

But even as the company seemed to move away from releasing software that wasn't 100% perfect, it seems like it failed to change its internal testing methodology. The most recent examples of this, the updates to Google Reader and Gmail really brought this point home to me. The Reader and Gmail updates made the products considerably less useable. Google Reader loss any definition between the article you were reading and the rest of the app. Gmail is better, but I still find myself struggling to figure out where some features end and others begin. Additionally, both products ran a lot slower after the upgrade. Though this seems to have improved in the day or so after they launched, it was still annoying. I rely on this software now, if it runs slow it makes a difference.

Another recent example was two iOS apps that Google has. One was their Google Voice app, an app that was atrocious from the start. (It was so bad that I ditched it for a paid app from a third party.) Just a few weeks ago Google had to pull their Google Voice app after the iOS 5 update because there was a severe bug. And yesterday, Google released a Gmail app for iOS and yanked it just a few hours later due to bug. This string of buggy releases does not make me hopeful for the future of Google’s software.

That brings me to my final point. The Google of the past had doodles. Simple little changes to the Google logo that were fun, inspirational, taught you something, and generally celebrated people worth celebrating. But they never got in your way. If you were in a rush to look something up, it was easy to ignore the doodle. But even this is beginning to change. Today Twitter was talking about searching for "Do a barrel roll" I resisted at first and then went ahead and typed that into the search box on Google. And yeah, it was fun, the entire site flips over. But it was just that, fun. It served no useful purpose and actually impacted the usability of the website. The Google of 2005 would never have done this.

So what happened to Google? In my eyes and admittedly my eyes are mostly blind, I think it's gotten too big and too public and hasn't adapted as well as it looked like it had. Their QA appears to be stuck in a time where it released buggy products intentionally. And they are letting search become less useful in the pursuit of fun. Maybe they will snap out of it, maybe they won't. But all of this has led me to the realization that it’s time to begin the separation from Google, as painful as it will be.

Nicknames I've Had

ET – My dad came out of the delivery room and told my family “we have an ET”. My parents dressed me as ET for Halloween at one point too.

Conway - The first nickname I can remember first hand. It started around 2nd grade and I think it was in reference to Conway Twitty. It didn’t stick.

Conman – The nickname I've been called the longest. I still get called this from time to time. I think it started somewhere around third or fourth grade. My Yahoo! name is still conman34 and I somehow won an online auction where this was my display name.

Connie - I believe this was coined around my freshman year of high school. When I went to college I was excited to leave it behind. Unsurprisingly, a high school friend started at my school during my junior year and resuscitated it. I hated it at first, but realized shortly after it came back that I didn’t care. Proof that you actually do get a tiny bit wiser with age.

Corndog and Corncock – My friend Josh was always coming up with nicknames and I’m pretty sure he came up with both of these our freshman year of college. I think he’s still the only one who calls me either of these.

Coon - I worked at a Village Inn during my college years. One night I went to put my phone number in my friend Leeanna's phone as I was leaving work, I got frustrated with her phone's keyboard and ended up typing it incorrectly and just left it as Coon. She still calls me this, 8 years later

King of Town – My friend Shanna coined this term after a weekend where everywhere we went I was running into someone I knew. It’s a running joke between the two of us. Unfortunate it hasn’t caught on outside of our friendship. I want my red carpet and crown, damn it.

Dex - The significant other called me this on our first date. She occasionally drops this into conversations when she feels I’m being ridiculous in some way.

* There is a 76% possibility I’m mistaken about this and my mom will comment in the next day or so to tell me I’m crazy.