Archive: January, 2004

Intellectual property and copyright

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 30, 2004, 3:29 PM | comments: 1

This is fun. This webmaster of a small town newspaper got pissed because we deleted his post on CoasterBuzz.com that was promoting his site. Mind you, we've had that policy since the start, but whatever.

So he sends me e-mail and I tell him why, and he replies with all kinds of threats about how our summarizing and linking to his articles, years ago when his site was public and free, is copyright infringement. Naturally I explain to him the test of fair-use and how it obviously benefited him in the form of traffic and ad revenue.

Failing his ability to answer my challenge to point to a legally valid instance of copyright infringement, he bad mouthed me some more and said I was "dishonorable" and all kinds of nonsense. I replied by indicating he's not very good at forming parternships, his password protection on his site doesn't work, and I cc'd his publisher.

As someone who writes software for a living, I certainly appreciate the need for protecting intellectual property. Stealing music, software or whatever is wrong. It's also wrong to limit free speech where fair use is involved. If you're not familiar, fair use is protected under current case law and the USC with the rationale being that it benefits the public good in terms of facilitating public discussion and criticism, or disseminating information. That's why search engines can digest your Web site and it's OK.

This guy didn't get that, though his problem probably started with the fact that he wasn't getting his way (and he seriously overestimates the value of his content to the world at large). I used to work with small-town media people like that all of the time, in print, radio and TV. For types like that, they fail to see their role in the bigger universe. Not everyone has the impact of Peter Jennings or a NY Times columnist, though they'd like to think otherwise.

Anyway, it was kind of a funny/sad exchange. The Internet has been so good for the world in so many ways. Some have led to profitable businesses, others, especially from non-profits, have made significant impact on the world in terms of education and technology. Unfortunately, we'll probably need the EFF to continue keeping the oneline world a free exchange of information.


CoasterBuzz turns four

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 29, 2004, 2:33 PM | comments: 0

Tomorrow is the four-year anniversary of CoasterBuzz. Considering the age of the commercial Internet (which, in my opinion really began in 1994), that's a long time. In fact, the only things I can think of that I've done longer are coaching volleyball and being with Stephanie. Career has changed, different cars, different place to live, different friends... so many changes.

I originally started the site because, at the time, Guide to The Point was doing pretty well (that's going on six years, though I've neglected it for at least two years). I thought the Web needed a place where roller coaster geeks could go to find news about other sites, which was primarily where you got news at the time. The news tends to come more from traditional news sources, like newspapers online, but there's still plenty of news about the industry.

The site got hot pretty quickly, snagging thousands of visitors only in a couple of months. The format may have had something to do with that, but the bigger reason was that I spent a great deal on advertising at the time via GoTo.com (now Overture, which is Yahoo). The cost of "customer acquisition" at the time wasn't cheap, but with the ad market being generally good back then it was a slightly better than break-even proposition. Besides, that's when I sold the popworld.com domain for $100k to the Brits, so I could afford it.

CoasterBuzz has had a lot of ups and downs. At one point it got hard to pay for because it got so popular, and combined with the daily shit I took from people who didn't like the way I ran the site (just not going to the site apparently wasn't obvious enough of a solution), I was at several points ready to just close it up and do something else.

When the ad situation got really bad because I was dropped by DoubleClick as a publisher, I immediately made some phone calls to parks see if we could line-up an event or two and if they'd consider us a legit club. After about a week, CoasterBuzz Club was born late in 2001. The purpose was two-fold. The first was to pay the bills for the site, the second was to provide a low-cost alternative club.

Surprisingly enough, it worked and has lasted. We'll probably only do one event this year (parks aren't real friendly to enthusiast culture as of late), but it's going to be associated with The Beast's 25th anniversary, so I can't complain about that.

About the same time, and in part because of the phone calls, I got to be pretty tight with a lot of "important" people in the industry. I was surprised to find that theme park execs were visiting the site daily. Knowing those people doesn't have a ton of value really, except to say that I have such acquaintances, and I learn about stuff before it happens. Most people could care less, so it's just a private perk for me I guess. If there was some way to monetize it that'd be nice.

Expenses are finally under control because bandwidth and servers have become much cheaper and I don't need my own T-1 to host. The problem with the T-1 was that I never had enough money left over to pay-off all of the software and hardware I bought. I think this year by summer I should finally have that CitiBusiness card down to zero. At that point any extra money I can actually keep.

I'm wondering what I'll do at that point. I'm not going to buy cars or anything, but having actual income will be a nice change of pace. I'll finally be able to do the charity stuff again. I know some people in the community don't like the idea that I could make money from the site, but I'll never understand why it's so wrong to make a little money doing something you enjoy. If my sites collectively let me make a modest living, maybe I'd spend more time keeping them at their best.

CoasterBuzz will be the first site I rebuild using the forthcoming new version of ASP.NET. The forum that runs as the underlying membership engine to the site is now open source. I can't sell it anymore, so I figured I might as well let other people use the code for free.

I launched this site late last year, uber:ASP.Net a couple of weeks ago, and I've got something else up my sleeve as well. I've written so much automation software that it gets easier every site. If I can generate a comfortable $30k a year profit, I'll make these sites my full-time job (CoasterBuzz alone doesn't even get remotely close to half of that amount, unfortunately, because the audience is too small).

Above all, I keep up with CoasterBuzz because I still enjoy it. I've made some great friends there and the site itself is a great lab for trying out new things with regards to code. Not only that, but the dynamics of an online community are fascinating.


Volleyball... things just keep getting better

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 28, 2004, 11:29 AM | comments: 1

Monday night my kids scrimmaged another team, and again they impressed the crap out of me. We outscored the other team about two to one. This eases my biggest fear, and that's taller girls on the other side of the net. My team is fairly tall, but not tallest.

Between their game smarts and ability to run the swing offense, I think they can very nearly be unstoppable. I've discovered a couple of major points I need to work on.

Setter decisions and communication: Every play we run, for the most part, offers two options for hitting, and chances are that one of those choices will have one or no blockers there. I've gotta get my setter seeing just before she releases the ball which tempo to take. I think she can make the decision on her own, but if not, maybe I need to get the libero thinking about it.

We need to make better use of our back row outlet. If it gets crowded at the net and the setter gets pulled off, I need to have her put it in the hands of a back row hitter because she has a lot more options.

Speaking of crowding, I have to give the middle and left swing hitter more options because it's just too damn crowded at the middle and just to the left. I've got to start moving the middle behind the setter more often even to put the left swing out at the 3/4 position. Heck, pulling the left hitter all the way out right isn't a half-bad idea either.

What's fun about all of this is that, for the first time since I started coaching, I get to really concentrate on game theory instead of worrying about skills. What a change of pace that is.

The kids are really getting along with each other and me, which is also a big change. On my end I think it's because I very explicitly set my expectations from the start, so there's no mystery regarding what I'm about. With each other, I just think they're all easy going enough to just genuinely like each other.

And how paranoid am I that it's all too good to be true? Well, in my normal refusal to enjoy good things in my life, I had a dream the other night about one of the girls (a faceless girl, no one in particular) where I yelled at her and she hated me and moved out of her dorm (odd since these girls are in high school). I don't know why I can't just cautiously enjoy the situation and continue to monitor it and adapt things to keep it positive.

What a great thing so far though. This could be a big year. The first tournament will be very telling about the team's potential. It might be the hardest of the year aside from bids and qualifiers.


Life's cruel irony

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 26, 2004, 9:20 AM | comments: 0

Shit, I have to stop these deep blog entries, but when you have a lot of time to work things out in your head, it's hard not to do. I promise an entry on boobs, farts and boogers next time.

Did you hear about the guy who won a nice little sum of lottery money in Indiana, then got hit by a truck? What the fuck?

I've noticed as of late that a lot of bad things happen to good people, and it bothers me. For example, one of our friends is a total sweetheart of a girl, yet she's been plagued with ridiculous health problems, her mom had a long fight with cancer, just one thing after another. Our volleyball club's director, who gives more of her self than any person should, recently had a heart attack, has several illigitimate grandchildren (one of which they had to care for for about a year), a suicidal sibling and her husband nearly had a catastrophic job loss.

Steph mentioned last night that perhaps these "good people" go through these things because they're most capable of dealing with them. If that's the case, then I certainly need to be more of a bastard because I can't take shit like that.

When things are going particularly well for me, I can't help but get this feeling that some shit's gonna come down, as if I'm not destined to be free of worry, doubt or tragedy. I'm so cautious about feeling good because I think it's inviting something bad. How screwed up is that?

A friend of mine is going through a difficult time right now, and he brought up an interesting point last night. He said that despite the tough times, those close to him have been supportive and are helping him through it. That's when things clicked in my head. These are people that I would drive 100 miles for and pick them up if they got stranded. I'd do it because that's what friends do, not because I expect something in return. They would likely do the same for me.

"People need people, Steve." -Janet (Bridget Fonda), Singles


Why they call it the snow belt

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 23, 2004, 8:54 AM | comments: 6

Since I started my new job, it has snowed every single day. Not everywhere, just at my destination and some points in between.

If you're not from Cleveland, we have something here called the snow belt. You can probably check the radar and see where it is right now, because it's probably snowing there. It consists of an area that is bordered roughly by I-77, I-480, Lake Erie and some point east depending on wind direction.

The reason we have this here is that we get lake effect snow. This happens when cold wind crosses the unfrozen lake and picks up moisture, then dumps it on us as snow when it reaches land. Buffalo pretty much gets this all winter. Here, because of the shape of the shore and the general direction that weather comes from (northwest), it's mostly confined to the east side of Cleveland.

It can get worse though. If the wind comes more directly out of the north, pretty much all of Northeast Ohio gets screwed, and if it goes on long enough that's when we finally get school closings and such.

But as far as I'm concerned, it is worse because I have to drive through this fucking shit every day. I kid you not, two weeks on the job and snow every single day. Could be worse I suppose. We don't have earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires and mudslides here.


On Internet culture

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 21, 2004, 2:19 PM | comments: 1

I was thinking today about how much Internet culture has changed, and it has done so faster than any offline culture ever has.

Way back in the early 90's, online community was Usenet. It was a big unmoderated free for all used primarily by geeks and college students.

Shortly thereafter, message boards started to pop-up all over the place. The first basically just emulated Usenet, only from a browser. In 1996, Ted O'Neill released the first version of Ultimate Bulletin Board, which was the template for all modern message boards.

At the same time that these Web-based communities were appearing, hundreds of new personal sites appeared every day. You could literally surf the Web for hours because everything was linked together in a big mess of digital anarchy.

By 2000, Yahoo was mainstream and something called Google was gaining in popularity. Pretty soon, you didn't surf anything, you just searched for what you wanted and went there. Online communities were everywhere and for every interest.

Instant messaging had finally become mainstream at that point as well, after a couple of years of "why bother" attitude. I was even using it for business purposes at that point.

All during this time, e-mail was about as standard as having a telephone number. While spam has threatened that, spam controls are starting to get better to the point where we can use it as a useful tool again.

Now the big culture hit is blogging, and in many ways it has restored some of the social anarchy to the Internet. Heck, I started doing it two years ago, and last year I launched this site for the express purpose of giving others the chance to do it with a simple interface.

The thing I like about it so much is that now I can surf again. For example, I've been frequenting the blogs on http://weblogs.asp.net/ because there's something new there almost every minute, and it's all about the geeky stuff from Microsoft I'm interested in (splashed with links to cartoons, policitcal rants and other such nonsense).

I need to get off my ass and blog more.


Christopher Titus, book deals and discoveries

posted by Jeff | Monday, January 19, 2004, 8:50 AM | comments: 0

In my last entry I went on and on about being happy and finding meaning in what you do for a living. I still have that to deal with, but there is some neat stuff to think about.

Last night, Stephanie and I went to see Christopher Titus at the Improv here in Cleveland for her birthday. You probably remember his show on Fox, which was without question one of the funniest damn shows on TV. Like all good shows, Fox of coruse canned it. Anyway, the guy is seriously funny, and it's not often that you find that without resorting to dick and fart jokes. He talked more about how family can be both the curse and blessing of your life. I can so relate to that. It's great that he can maintain such a sense of humor about it, which is something I can't easily do.

Friday I got some interesting news. The book proposal I sent out and around got some feedback and the potential for development. The scary part of it is that the proposal was reviewed by some of the authors that I look up to and have on my own shelf. If it works out, it'll be cool to be an actual author, even if it is a computer book. The key to making it happen will be finding its focus, and the feedback, both negative and positive, I think will help with that.

Stephanie and I are both going through the above mentioned what-makes-us-happy thing. Her shift away from academic biology is a little more drastic than my displeasure, but I am trying to sympathize with her. My change and shift is still within the same field, it just really needs to be something I can believe in (namely it has to be something I do for myself).

The real problem with having to do things you're not interested in is that, with me anyway, it tends to physically manifest itself in negative ways. I'm tired, not motivated, my back and chest muscles hurt, it's really no fun.

I have a rough plan on how to get where I want to be, but I've got to be patient. I'm not very good at that.


Finding happiness: I have it, but am I using it?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, January 14, 2004, 12:24 PM | comments: 4

So here I am at my new job. A little background first. It's a contract job for a giant company ($20 billion revenue last year). The project that I'm on involves their very core IS system, and will in the near future have as many as 160 people on it. The scope is pretty freakin' huge, and it's essential to the company's future.

The money is insanely good. If I took no days off and worked at least 40 hours every week and didn't have to buy my own health insurance, it'd be double what I made last year.

So why am I so damn unhappy being here? Well, for starters, I have nothing to do yet. There lies the problem. Conventional logic would dictate that getting paid hundreds of dollars a day to do nothing is a pretty sweet deal.

Yesterday, while reading FastCompany, a columnist that coaches executives made a pretty interesting point regarding careers and being satisfied by life. He said, in the wake of new year's resolutions that undoubtedly are meaningless by now, "Don't look ahead. Look behind. Know that you need to be happy now, to follow your dreams."

Well, fresh off the two month break I had, I started to really understand what makes me happy. It's not that I dislike work or am lazy. Quite the contrary... I'll dig in and work like crazy when it's something I believe in or love (to the extent it interferes with my "marital relations" when I'm up writing code until 3 a.m.). A portion of my well-being is tied to being emotionally invested in what I do. If that tie isn't there, I essentially am not interested.

And that makes sense, because quite frankly the other things that are so important to me have the same tie. The relationship with my wife (who I can't stand to be without after spending two months with her), with coaching volleyball, with running a successful Web site... these are all things that I'm emotionally tied to.

This begs the question of why you should waste time in life doing things that you don't have your heart in? Steph is going through the same thing as she's struggling to stay interested in finishing her PhD.

The sticking point has to do with making a living. I like the living we have, because it's above average in terms of the amount of travel we can do, the stuff we can buy, the places we can go and have dinner. All of that requires cash, and a job like mine provides plenty of that and then some (essentially setting up a very strong retirement).

You can see the circular reference here. You need money to do some of the things that help feed your soul, but to make that money you might have to do stuff that sucks the soul from your very being. Isn't that a pickle? What makes that even more irritating is that we've recently learned some important lessons regarding the importance of money through the tough times of other people close to us.

The realization is that I simply need to deal with the job for now to at least stabilize our financial well-being. Once I've been able to do that, I can start to pursue some other things. I know that somewhere in my racing mind there's an idea that can allow me to work for myself, and therefore balance my life with the other things that are important to me. I just need to figure out what the hell it is.


A time for new things

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 9, 2004, 11:55 PM | comments: 1

It's a cliche to be talking about new things around the new year (which, by the way, most people have already put out of their mind), but I'm encountering many new things all at once. For the most part, I feel pretty good about it.

First off, I start a new job Monday. Aside from paying more than 50% more than my last job, it's different because it's a long-term contract job. It's also not a Web job, but more general programming. A year ago I wasn't really qualified for it, but here I am.

I started a new Web site this week for ASP .Net developers. uber:ASP.Net is really kind of similar in nature to CoasterBuzz, in that it's intended to aggregate news and provide a community. The kicker though is that it gives me a place to write articles about the technology that I once thought I might write for a book. I already have several up there.

In a related effort, I've opened up my source code to my forum software, POP Forums, and I'm pleased to see a couple of people getting involved and helping me improve the code. I stopped trying to sell it because Microsoft went out and put their forum on the market for free, and while it isn't that good (in my opinion), the price is right for a lot of people. I just want people to be able to use it and reuse it, the way I do.

My new volleyball team has their first scrimmage sunday. Truth be told that I'm scared as hell because while I know they're all individually talented, I don't know that I've had enough time to get them up to speed on my system. I hold myself responsible for their success, and I want this to be one of the best years ever.

I'm starting to see the real value in organic food. That doesn't mean I'm eating better, but it is helping me break from over-processed crap. Heck, even potato chips are different. The chips I last bought have fewer than ten ingredients, including taters that were not treated with any kinds of chemicals. Compare that to the average bag of ruffles. The meat is a hell of a lot tastier too. Now if I could just start eating veggies.

Got a new version of DDR, this time for Xbox. So far I really like it, though the real score will be at some point in the future when I get Xbox Live and play other DDR dorks online.

Speaking of exercise, I'm losing weight. Again, it's not so much that I'm eating better, I'm just eating more reasonable portions of everything. Unless I retain water or something, I should be on track at my next weight check Monday to have lost ten pounds since Thanksgiving. That's not a ton, but it's not a race.

All of this new stuff is kind of exciting. While a little scary, it also makes me feel better about myself and I think I'm generally more optimistic. The only real downside is that I sometimes spend so much time thinking about these things that I kind of retreat to my own little world, and that's no fun for your spouse when you're married. I've got to work on that.