No Style

Damn and blast. My first tentative foray into customizing the style sheets of this blog’s WP theme (“Mandingo,” if you’re curious) has not ended not in abject failure. But it’s close enough thereto that if I merely changed the word to “abjekt” on the product packaging (cf: “Cheez-Wiz,” “Froot Loops”) it’d still sell just as well and I wouldn’t run afoul of any truth-in-labeling laws.

I dug into the template files and tried to make a couple of simple changes. Trying to change the font of these paragraphs was confounding. Clearly I don’t understand the hierarchy between WordPress’ default stylesheets and the various .css files in the theme’s folder. I’d make what I assumed was a very simple and straightforward change and I’d really have no idea what would happen. The font would change, but to a generic serifed face instead of the Georgia that I’d selected. Font sizes remained fixed, but I could adjust the line spacing. Etc.

The thing is, I have no idea where to insert my style changes. I thought it’d be straightforward (there are a bunch of .css files in the WordPress theme editor) but logic failed me and then trial-and-error failed me and even staring at the screen impatiently had little or no effect.

“Would it be simpler just to build a new theme from the ground up?” I wondered. “I know CSS, I know enough PHP to fit in at a PHP bar on the sketchy side of town, and I’m really, really talented at stealing and using other people’s working code. And building a brand-new theme has always been a long-term goal.”

So I did a little research into theme-building. The answer is: no. No, it would not be simpler just to build a new theme from the ground up.

The only practical answer that I can see (given my goal of making this site 100% feature-complete by the time my iPhone book hits the shelves) is to not muck about with these things at all. To only customize this theme via the large array of options available in its Theme Settings page, and by swapping out images as documented in the theme’s info pages.

It rankles that the best solution (for now) seems to be to only customize the theme in ways that the theme allows. But I grudgingly acknowledge that reinforcing and expanding my own considerable ego is only the second- or third- most important feature of this new site.

Besides, Mandingo is pretty damned customizable. At minimum, I can change the color palette completely and create custom headers and graphics, so I ought to get this site within a nine-iron of where I want it.

CT Mac Connection Holiday Party

I should point out that the last time I drove down to give a talk to this group, I got nailed for speeding. Totally not my fault:

  1. The highway was on a downhill run. I suspect that the cops knew that when they picked the spot.
  2. The road was tack-straight for a whole mile to the horizon.
  3. There were no lights or other roadside features on this stretch of road.
  4. There were absolutely no other cars on the road, all the way to the horizon.

So what actually happened was that the car started to pick up a little speed when the downhill bit started. There were no visual cues of any kind to tip me off in advance of my next glance at the speedometer. And the speed trap was set up to nab vehicles near the top of the hill, not at the bottom.

An innocent error, and not even one that put anyone’s life at risk. Not even mine, I stress. And yet I got hit with like a $200 ticket.

I should contested it, but it was close to Macworld Expo and I supposed that the best I could do was get it knocked down a little and I wasn’t sure that burning five hours and $40 worth of gas was worth it.

Since then, I’ve read a pretty neat message thread on Fark.com that contained input from state attorneys who used to represent The Gummint in these hearings.

“I was usually inclined to cut a break for anyone who was honest about the circumstances around the citation,” a typical poster posted. “If you said ‘it was downhill and I don’t feel like I had enough time to notice my increase in speed’ I’d cut the fine and change the citation so it wouldn’t affect your insurance. The people I really insisted on nailing were the jackasses who had obviously visited some sort of website on how to beat a speeding ticket. These were the people who demanded to see the maintenance records on the exact radar gun that the trooper used on him. I was really motivated to make sure that those a*****s paid the full amount. At minum.

On that basis, I kind of wish I’d made the effort. Oh, well.

Anyway, none of this reflects upon the fine men and women of the Connecticut Macintosh Connection. They took me out to a very nice dinner and everything. The December meeting is their big annual holiday party, which means there’s a fair-to-excellent chance of nog.

MIT Flea Market

I’ve just installed the EventCalendar plugin. It looks like it’ll do what I want…ie, automatically maintain a sidebar thingy that features the next three or four upcoming events that I want y’all to know about.

Hmm. Already I sense failure. I typed the simplest and most to-the-point explanation that came to mind…but maybe I should clarify things a bit. While I certainly do want you to know that you’re going to have to turn your clocks back for Daylight Savings soon, I intend to use this sidebar thingy mostly to spread the word on speaking gigs, books that will be coming out, TV appearances, etc.

The point I’m making here is that a life that centers upon this calendar and this calendar only will be a very Andy Ihnatko-centric one. I’m not sure you’re really up for that.

Take my word for it.

Well. Anyway. So the way this plugin works is that there’s supposed to be a new tool here in WordPress’ editing page that allows you to define an event and then slap it into a post. It’s much like the doohickey that lets you upload and attach JPEGs. When you click “Publish,” blammo: it adds a new event that links back to this same post.

Let’s kick things off by adding the next MIT Flea Market (and the final one of the year). I’m scrolling down now so I can add in the date (October 21).

I’m not seeing any sort of Event thingy.

Okay, now I’m headed back to the plugin’s documentation page.

Umm…

Have I failed to activate the plugin? Let me check…

No, they all appear to be active. I don’t need to download any additional support files, do I?

Nope, it’s all there.

Er…

Drat. Maybe it’s a problem with Version 3.11 of this plugin. It’s a release candidate, after all, designed to fix problems with WordPress 2.3. Which is what I’m running here.

Okey-doke. Let’s just stick a pin it this right here and come back to it later. Damn and blast.

(If you’re actually interested in hearing about the MIT Flea Market, it runs from 9 AM to 2 PM on the third Sunday of the month, at the corner of Main and Albany streets in Cambridge, MA. I’ll be there, furiously taking pictures. My Nikon is my nicotine patch, soothing my cravings while allowing me to leave the Flea without spending more than $400-$700 on geeky goodness.)

Update: Interesting…there it is now (now = “about two hours after I wrote this initial post.”) Maybe some sort of cron event had to happen before the Event plugin’s tendrils found its way into WordPress’ brainstem.

Okey-doke…let’s see if this works. Push the button, Frank…

Update(2): Cool. The title of the post becomes the title of the event, and it links back and everything. And it sticks a badge with the event date and time into the post. I’ll prolly have to re-style that via css, though.

Pretty In Pink

I wish I had time to run the entire Universe. I know that you do, too, dear reader, and I can only apologize. But God stuck me with the day-to-day operations of just .023% of all of Creation while He vacations at His timeshare in Tahoe, and honestly, I’m already going nuts with just that much of the responsibility. Believe me, the day that I swing by God’s place and give Him His mail and newspapers can’t come soon enough.

But just to underscore how correct you are in wishing that your world were in my hands, let me give you a little preview of how things would go.

Naturally, I’d continue the Creator’s fine policy of allowing you Humans to engage your free will. It’s only right. Besides, if I don’t have to sign off on absolutely everything that happens I imagine it’ll free up enough time on Thursday afternoons to maybe go out for lunch.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t get involved from time to time. For example, when I first learned that a major TV network intended to turn the GEICO “Caveman” commercials into a regular weekly series, your Lord would have raised His hand and intervened.

I wouldn’t have prevented it from happening. That’s amateur stuff. Instead, I would have celebrated the great good that was inherent in the idea, and only done what was necessary to avert catastrophe.

I would have called the producer straight away.

“This is an unexpected and unworthy boon, o Lord!” he would say. He’d feel honored and humbled and also maybe feel a little bad for having dumped the call to VM initially. “I pray thee, turn thy attentions and mercies to my sister’s youngest daughter. She is in the final stages of…”

“In a minute, in a minute. Now, about this ‘Caveman’ show. Did I hear right? You’re going to produce a whole TV show based on a series of insurance commercials, and…”

“Well, I know it’s pretty outside-the-box, Lord. But our numbers prove that audiences really respond to…”

“Doug?”

“Yes, o Lord?”

“This will go a lot more smoothly if you understand that you’re you, and I’m Me.”

“Sorry, Lord.”

“I mean, your commute to work is along a major flightpath for migratory geese. And My records show that you’ve driven with the top down six times in the past month.”

“Quiet as a mouse, o Lord.”

“Good. Because what I was going to say is that I can’t believe you had this terrific idea about doing a series based on insurance commercials, and you chose the cavemen. When eSurance has all those ads with that super-hot cartoon spy chick.”

“…Lord?”

“You know…Flash animation, done in kind of a ‘Samurai Jack’ style. Features a cute insurance agent in a pink, bedhead Laura Petrie hairdo and an Emma Peel-type catsuit. They’re fantastic. eSurance even commissioned a full-length short for the Internet.”

“Wow.”

“And again, she’s just cute as a button. So imagine that you’re sitting there in your office and you’ve got these three hairy Mark Gastineau-lookin’ mofos on one side and Erin eSurance on the other. Honestly, which one would you rather gawk at for 22 minutes?”

“Erin, absolutely.”

“And you’re gay!

“Wait…I’m totally straight.”

“Mmm…not so much. Trust me on this. It’ll answer soooo many lifelong questions for you. Take this insight as my gift, for letting me bump your 1:20 with Huey Lewis.”

“And my niece…?”

“Sure, whatever. So we’re good, here? When can I look forward to seeing a new series bible and a set of storyboards?”

It’s just that simple.

Like I said, God’s doing a fab job and I hope He continues to hold that office until He’s eager to retire. If and when that happens, however, I hope I can count on your vote in November.

The Push-Button World of Tomorrow

Screenshotting the Leopard install process. It’s a quaint, retro sort of task. The “right” way is to ssh into the Mac and activate screenshot via a terminal window on another machine, but networking continues to be biffle-dinked on this release and I really don’t want to spend nine hours troubleshooting. I’ll re-do them the right way when I have the golden master.

This is prolly the third or fourth time I’ve re-done these screenshots. Only this time, I’ve plugged a wireless mouse into the MacBook and a remote shutter release on the camera. So now, I’m lying on my sofa, sipping at a soothing beverage and getting caught up on some vital business on my TiVO. I glance over at the MacBook every few minutes, and if the screen looks different, I waggle the mouse a bit to un-dim the screen, tap the shutter-release, and turn my attention back to the merry misadventures of the fine men and women of the Reno Sheriff Department.

Luxury. Absolute luxury. This must be how P. Diddy screenshots his Mac books.

Except I imagine that he does it in a velvet track suit. I’m wearing gym shorts and a University of Colorado Buffaloes tee shirt.

Also, his sofa is upholstered in panda fur and stuffed with wadded-up $100 bills. Well, at least my sofa is cruelty-free and flame-retardant. Who’s the loser now?

Scavenger Hunt

Dear Andy,

You need to locate the following things for the blog:

  • A really good image plugin. The mojo that comes with WordPress is okay, but it’s klugey. Your AppleScript tool would automatically scale the image to the right size and it would even center it within the column. Imagine! Centering an image! You ought to be able to find a plug-in or something that works just as well.
  • A guide to widgets. It seems like most of the things you want to put in the sidebar(s) are easier to accomplish with widgets than with the scripts you were going to write. I know you’ve been busy but I bet there’s a master directory, like the one for plugins.
  • A menu package. Like Tigra Menus, maybe. You’re going to need drop-down menus under the masthead for site navigation (links to podcasts, the local Sun-Times archive, etc.) I think Tigra Menus requires that you leave empty space for the menus. Or actually, maybe there’s something even neater than simple dropdowns (wheels? I dunno).
  • Prolly a good idea to at least look around at message board software. A message board is definitely not a Phase 1 thing, but it’ll be easier to incorporate when the time comes if you start preparing for it now, when the site is still being designed.
  • An RSS solution. Feedburner, I think, is your default…but is it really the best choice? You’re still unclear on what, precisely, Feedburner will do for you. Apart from site metrics (which you’re not terrible interested in yet) and allowing the RSS feed to “travel” if need be. WordPress’ baked-right-in feed seems to be working well; already this non-public blog is getting way more search hits than the AppleScripted one you’ve had up for years. But on the whole, it’s time to get less dumb on this particular topic.
  • A calendar widget or plugin or something. Remember how you wanted to be able to have your upcoming appearances automatically populate into a little agenda thingy in Yellowtext’s sidebar? But you gave up when you discovered that (shockingly) iCal’s AppleScript support doesn’t allow you to retrieve the next (x) upcoming events without loading in the entire calendar and then sorting manually. I bet there’s a widget or something that hooks into Google Calendar or somesuch.
  • Maybe it’s time to get an Amazon partner thing. You’re hoping to use the blog to help people to find your books and stuff. Why not get an extra few pennies when they buy ’em by clicking your link? But hmm…probably a good idea to figure out how to make that work through Barnes & Noble as well. They’re giving the iPhone book a lot of play in their holiday catalogue and you don’t want to play favorites.
  • If you can’t commit to a specific design yet, at least decide on a theme generator or template. Again, I know you’ve been busy and I’m glad that you’ve been keeping a list of design notes. You’ve also chosen a great color palette. But if you’re going to have the Celestial House of Bandwidth open “wide” when the iPhone book is released, well sir, the first week of December is going to come up reallll quick.
  • Also a good idea to get an “post via email” solution going. You installed a kewl plugin that gives you full admin access from the iPhone, and that actually delivers 90% of the “post remotely” functions that you wanted. But the day will come when you’ll be glad you had basic email posting wired up and ready to go. I know you couldn’t get it working during the first couple of days but you barely tried.
  • Oh, and look for more Flickr plugins. There has to be a great one out there. You put lots of terrific content upon Flickr and what you’d like to be able to do is simply cross-post an album between the blog and the Flickr stream. As yet, you’ve wired up Flickr’s own “post to blog” feature (which doesn’t work the way a well-designed tool ought to) and you’ve stumbled across a bunch of Flickr plug-ins that let you embed an album. But I think the perfect thing awaits your discovery.
  • Ditto for YouTube functions and podcast plug-ins. Every month you have more video to link to (thank you, CBS) and maybe there’s a better way to do that than just to paste the stock YouTube embed. Something like a gallery or theater? Similarly, it’d be great to drive podcasts straight from the site. Make sure you’re backing a winning horse.

Okay, that’s pretty much it for now, Andy. I know you’ll be kicking into high gear on these things once the Leopard book is finished but it doesn’t hurt to make a list so it’s always handy. Plus, despite the fact that you’re keeping this beta blog low-key, folks might see this list and leave their own suggestions.

Your Pal – Andy.

The Words

So today’s Waypost of Progress on the new site design centered on just one word.

When I started up this redesign, the title “Celestial House of Binary” knocked on my door and strolled right in before I had time to say “Come on in” or change out of my Betty Boop wig. To be honest, I wasn’t in the market for a new blog name — the Colossal Waste of Bandwidth still had a certain jenny-say-what about it — but it instantly occurred to me that any title beginning with the word “Celestial” was pretentious and vague and both of those things would fit in quite nicely with my plans for the site.

Then a commenter pointed out that I was only one letter away from retaining “CWoB” as the site’s initials, and suggested that I find another word to take the place of “House.”

“Damn you,” I replied, though in truth I was delighted that my next site-related project would be to write one single solitary word instead of mastering the art of WordPress theme construction.

I needed a new “W.” Ideally one that could fulfill the same role as “House”: something that meant a container or controller or somesuch. Lying on my sofa and staring blankly at the spider on my ceiling didn’t work out as well as I hoped (mostly I worried what would happen if the thing started descending) so I downloaded a Scrabble dictionary and scrolled to the”W”‘s.

Early candidates:

  • Wagon
  • Waypost
  • Waypoint
  • Waywode – Slavic military leader
  • Wairua – Maori tenet of spiritual wellness
  • Wallow
  • Waltz
  • Walkabout
  • Warbler
  • Wardrobe
  • Warehouse

And then I got more selective. I made it all the way to “Wellspring” before I added anything new to the list. The trouble is that even among those who had made it past the cattle call and earned an actual audition in front of Randy, Paula and Simon, there were no real “aha”s. They were either rather lame and non-catchy (“Wagon”), or they transformed the ironic pretentiousness of “Celestial” into actual pretentiousness (“Wellspring”) or else they fell afoul of the dreaded Renfair Syndrome.

Renfaire Syndrome: Unfortunate neurological condition in which you pretend that you thought that everybody knew what a Wyvyrn is (duh!), when in truth you chose that word specifically for the arrogant pleasure of having to keep explaining it to people.

By the end of this little adventure, I concluded that I could just turn the Colossal Waste of Bandwidth into the Celestial Waste of Bandwidth and call it a day. I get to keep CWoB, I communicate that I’ve done something new to the place, and if anything, I’ve actually intensified the mission of the original site.

After all, a Colossal Waste is simply a tragedy. A Celestial Waste of Bandwidth, on the other hand, is a mission from God.

Moving Along…

And here we see one of the advantages of using WordPress as your blogging platform instead of a homemade AppleScript app. I’m on the Acela train, about an hour from NYC (first-class car, thank you very much) and lookit me: I’m blogging.

I went and installed a special iPhone plugin that served a cool mobile admin page when the blog senses that I’m accessing the admin side from an iPhone. I had been slightly miffed that I’ve (as yet) failed to get blogging-by-email working but hell, so long as I have something that works.

I had one of those “life is good” moments a couple of hours ago. The Boston-NYC run takes you down the New England coastline. At sunset, as it happened. I had tjis week’s (unseen) episode of “House” going on the iPod Touch, dinner on the train was very nice, the views from my seat were quite pretty, and I was getting some nice photos.

“Life is Good,” I sighed. And it was.

Of course, later I realized that I’ve left my credit cards at home. But it was still a nice moment.

As Though Our Two Hearts Have Been Mashed Together As One

Okay.

This gentleman is a wonderful photographer.

No joke. He’s a real pro. His shots have a compelling, luminous quality. Strong portfolio. Good stuff.

But this has got to be one of the very worst ideas for a wedding photo ever.

(Third from the top.)

My second reaction is of course the inescapable metaphor.

“We’re stuck on the railroad tracks,” these faces say from the luminous photo on their sofa table. “That’s us. That’s our life together. Stalled and stuck on the railroad tracks. Ignoring the warning signs that should have been obvious to even a drunk-ass sea otter, to say nothing of all of the people — all of our friends and family, really — who are frantically shouting ‘Don’t do it! It can’t possibly end happily! It’s going to be a terrible disaster!!!’

“But for this moment, at least, we’re the happiest damned people in the whole ****ing world. Let us grab on to this moment! Grab it and hold it close and make it last forever!”

My first reaction is “Holy ****! You! You two idiots! Get off the train tracks!!!

The Stars-At-NIGHT! Shine Big-And-BRIGHT!!!

I got back from Houston on Sunday night. It’s now Wednesday and I think I’m just about done digesting what I ate over there.

Barbecue, ladies and gentlemen. Real, honest-to-God, prescription-grade barbecue. You might have heard an unrepentant flesh-eater to say “If God hadn’t intended for us to eat animals, He wouldn’t have made them out of meat, would He?” Well, if you had the pulled-pork sandwich I had for lunch on Saturday, you’d understand that this is no glib, defensive rebuttal.

The sauce was wonderful but clearly, the chief source of flavor was the slow smoke. It was served on thick slices of coarse bread with slivers of cheese and chili peppers. with pork rice on the side.

Any sort of dessert was probably medically contraindicated but circumstances demanded that I add a slice of pecan pie to my tray.

It was a humble sort of barbecue joint, where you slide your tray across the counter before the kitchen cafeteria-style. I looked longingly at the range of desserts but then I remembered that a full mongoose is a slow mongoose. I was giving my talk right after lunch, and I was on just a few hours’ sleep as it was, so I let the pies alone.

We reached the till, and I reached for my wallet. But my arm was slapped…slapped!…by the user-group member who was acting as my Seeing Eye Texan at this venue.

I shot him a look. “All right, you son of a bitch,” I said. “Just for that, I’m getting dessert. And if you hit me again, I’m getting a tee shirt, too!!!”

But as so many people who post ads on Craigslist will agree, pleasure often accompanies pain. The pie was astoundingly good. I’m not a diabetic (yet) and I don’t test my blood glucose levels but if a dessert is so sweet that it temporarily causes your vision to go a little orange, that can’t be good, can it?

Anyway. The Houston-Area Apple Users Group talk was emblematic of the reasons why I love coming out to talk to user groups. The people were terrific, I got to swap my messy house for a nice hotel for a couple of nights, the food was out-of-this-world-ish in nature, and I got to spend a couple of days in a new city.

What did I talk about? The title came to me when I realized how unhappy Mac people seem to be with Apple all of a sudden. Behold, the first slide in my presentation:

Festivus In September

Yes, I did perform Feats of Strength. But the point of the exercise was indeed the Airing of the Grievances.

I Want To Be…A LUMBERJACK!!!

…Because this writing thing blows. Really. Today’s the last day I can make serious changes to my iPhone/iPod Touch book. Let’s review the ways the world changed today:

  • Apple released a firmware update. Adds one new feature that should go in the book somewhere (media files as mail attachments are playable within Mail; great way to spontaneously put a podcast on your iphone) but breaks third-party apps.
  • Yahoo! has decided to shut down its podcast directory. And here I went and talked about it in the “Podcasts” chapter.
  • Rogue Amoeba released an awesome radio-capture app. Actually they released it a day or two ago. But I had no idea that it existed until I was reviewing the chapter on capturing streaming audio and just needed to quickly double-check the price of Audio Hijack Pro. Well, **** me; this Radioshift app is multiple instances of awesome.

So sometime before, during or after my flight to Houston tomorrow I need to deal with all of that, plus a bunch of little things, before this manuscript turns into a pumpkin.

Again I salute the fine men and women of the United Parcel Services. Every single time something about my job bums me out to the point of changing my skin color temporarily, I realize that package sorters and drivers don’t have to deal with this sort of stuff.

Possibly (Hopefully) The Low Point

5 days until final book deadline. There’s a certain amount of shaving and showering that should be happening but isn’t.

The true sign that I’ve reached the end game (as well as the low reserves of my mental faculties) is when I must resort to lab rat methods of motivation.

Witness (metaphorically only, unless you’re that kind person who sent me the vintage moose head and the 802.11g antenna that appears to be sticking up behind its left ear is transmitting video from an embedded camera) the small dish to the left of my keyboard. This morning, it contained eight peanut M&M’s. It now contains three. Each candy represents a specific item on today’s punchlist that must be completed before I’m allowed to close my eyes and adopt any posture that invites or even risks sleep.

Yes, I both need a tangible reward for each goal met, as well as a visible indicator of progress and a clear marker of when it’s time to walk away from the keyboard and follow the orange pixies into their magic gumdrop forest.

It is very appropriate that I’ll be boarding a plane and fleeing this whole half of the USA on the day I submit the last bits of this book. I think I’m going to desperately need to spend 48 hours forgetting everything about my office and cocooning myself in a world apart where there’s a king-sized bed, maid service, and cheerful Texans eager to ply me with barbecue.

Acesulfame K

Rrgh. For a test blog, I don’t seem to be doing a lot of testing, eh?

My apologies. This is the final week of production on my iPhone book and I’m using up every last second I have to make it The Best God-Damned Book Ever Written. “Moby Dick”? “Great Expectations”? “The King James Bible (Special Edition With All Of The Naughty Stuff Outlined In Purple)”? Forget ’em. Toss them into the recycling because “iPhone: Fully Loaded” will without any question become the standard by which all great literature is compared.

All great literature will fail by comparison, but it’s good that these other writers keep themselves busy and have some sort of goal. Don’t you think?

So there are two immediate priorities going on with the Celestial House of Binary (BETA):

1) Create a somewhat awesome new WordPress theme. Workin’ on it. I’ve found a couple of neat tutorials and starting points (thanks in part to a public call for same on MacBreakWeekly) that have given me a big leap on this. I’ll post links later.

I’ve also worked out the color scheme, based on a page of comic book art. I photographed the page, handed it off to Flickr Toys’ Palette Generator, and bango: I immediately had a CSS stylesheet with those colors all locked and loaded.

2) Figure out the best way to wire up the RSS feed. My homebrew blogging app has a long list of weaknesses. One of the biggest is that although it observes most of the ginchier web standards (like RSS) it’s still bloody invisible to the search engines and trackers and other mechanisms that folks use to find stuff on the Web. It’s off on its own island somehow and I’ve no idea why.

Case in point: I did my usual egosurf on Technorati and as usual, Yellowtext posts on the Colossal Waste of Bandwidth are nowhere to be seen. But posts here on the Celestial House of Binary pop up immediately.

This is discouraging for Yellowtext. Dammit, it’s been online and RSS-ified for something like five years now, and it’s been linked all over the place. Whereas Ihnatko.com has only been live for a few weeks, with no word-of-mouth at all.

So before I tell people to come on down to Ihnatko.com (for all your badland RV sales and service needs), I wanna make sure that the RSS system is as studly as it can to be.

Mmmmm…okey-doke. Then Feedburner, I guess? I’ve looked at this service as a technology pundit and I’ve looked at it as an author with a longstanding blog and now I’ve looked at it as someone starting up a new blog, and each time the site tells me the exact same thing:

“Feedburner has something to do with hosting RSS feeds. The thing that it does, whatever it is, will work out for you in the long run. Honest.”

Feedburner desperately needs an “elevator pitch.” That is, if you have an idea for a movie and you want to get George Lucas excited about it and you’ve got an hour of his time, well, awesome. But in reality,

(Yes. The reality of getting a chance to pitch a movie idea to George Lucas. I regretted that as soon as I typed it. If only there were some way of un-writing that before you all read it. I can only apologize and move on.)

…But in reality, the best you can count on is having ten or twenty seconds between the time you realize that the man standing next to you in the elevator is the guy who did “American Graffiti” and “THX-1138” and “Star Wars” and even “Radioland Murders”, and the time one of his goons pulls your sweatshirt over your face NHL-style and shoves you into a fountain in the lobby.

You can’t sell nothin’ without an elevator pitch: ten to twenty seconds that will engage enough of someone’s interest that they’ll want to hear the “real” pitch. FeedBurner’s site lacks those critical ten to twenty seconds.

Well, I’ll figure it out. Next week. When the book is done and the birds are singing in the trees and the bacon is once again hot, crisp and flavorful. Until then, I am stuck in my office, singing showstopping numbers from the classic musical “Showboat” and feeling like the most miserable bastard alive.

Whistle While You Smirk

You can tell that a project is going well when you’re pleased to be busting your ass. Case in point: my iPhone book, which is in its final week of writing.

It’s coming out great. It goes its own way and it justifies its existence in the marketplace and it’s going to make a lot of iPhone owners really happy with their purchases. Of both the iPhone and the book.

Oh, and iPod Touch owners, too. It would have been great to be one of the first to market but good God! The iPhone is a completely different beast today than it was two months ago.”iPhone Fully Loaded” won’t be the first iPhone book but it’ll probably be the first one to reflect the actual state of the world, not the one that existed a week or two after the release date.

Among the benefits: the evening after Apple announced the iPod Touch, I laughed and laughed and then I went through the manuscript, looking for places to change “iPhone” to “iPhone or Touch.” A couple of phone calls to the publisher and the marketing will reflect that it’s full of tips and techniques for Touch users. First to market!

So today I finally bit the bullet and canned Chapter 8. It was…interesting,  but it was kind of just sitting there between chapters 7 and 9. I looked at its place in the structure of the book and suddenly remembered a much more interesting topic I’d come up with about a month ago, when the book was “locked.” But I had to put it aside, because I couldn’t insert a new chapter at that point without completely disrupting every chapter that came after it.

Welp, I realized that if I dumped the current Chapter 8 — which was damned-near complete — this new topic could slide right into its place. And nobody would have to spend two days renumbering illustrations and callouts because of an inserted chapter.

It was lots of work but damn, it’s much better than what I had there before. If the project were going poorly, an element that requires only 20 minutes of thumb-twiddling would feel like torture. As it is, at the end of six hours I was no farther along than I was when I started, vis a vis the number of completed chapters. But I couldn’t be more pleased.

Q&A: “Is Mankind Inherently Good Or Evil?”

Q: Is Mankind’s basic nature to be good, or evil?

A: If those are the only two choices, then “good,” definitely.

I sense a disturbance in the Force which corresponds to thousands of voices crying out with information…information that they can barely recall, from a single college Philosophy course that they barely passed. Blah blah blah Hegel blah blah blah Kant, etc.

Philosophers! Morons. All of them. Except of course for the once who have tenured positions with prestigious universities. Now that’s a sweet, sweet scam worthy of a Corleone.

And save your “But are you a good person because that’s Man’s nature, or merely because you fear the repercussions that come from breaking the law?” This comment only demeans you. Plus, it doesn’t address the question. The question isn’t “Am I, Andy Ihnatko, good or evil?” — I suppose I shouldn’t comment publicly on that one, due to pending litigation — but “Is Mankind?

Here it is: as a species, we have consistently voted for Good over the course of the last, what, 40,000 years or so. Witness the bulk of human society today. Overwhelmingly, communities (call them governments, call them tribes, call them nations) are based on observance of the basic principle of acknowledging other people’s rights and freedoms.

So yes, if someone sees me fiddling with a 160 gigabyte iPod Classic on the subway, thinks “This treasure can be mine with a simple investment of a little bit of pushing and a little bit of running away very fast,” but notes the presence of a police officer nearby and does nothing, that’s a point in favor of an evil nature held in check only by threat of punishment. But the fact that there are laws against theft and multiple bureaucracies to prosecute and incarcerate those who aren’t on board with that means that Society, as a whole, trends towards basic goodness.

I mean, we take this sort of thing for granted. If Humanity were evil, we’d take for granted that any property of any kind was simply up for grabs, and if you like your wealth or possessions, you’d better be prepared to defend them with force.

Notable exceptions abound — viz civil warfare in the Congo and banks that charge its own customers a fee for withdrawing their own money — but clearly, all empirical evidence proves that regardless of the generation or the locality, humanity’s basic nature is Good, not Evil.

That’s completely settled. Let’s hear no more of this.