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Making Adjustments

Both visitors to Carrying Stones will notice some changes.
Gone is the overgrown path to my writing, which is now featured front and center where it should be. My trials on the web during the past year focused on polishing HTML skills, learning CSS, picking up a little JavaScript and jQuery (with a side of perl), then figuring out where those tools intersect. The result was a mediocre site that only a determined sadist could bring themselves to visit every day. OK, once a week. What? Less than once a month?! Come on!

The journey is more important than the ship.

The astute reader will notice a redesigned keel guiding this ship, so allow me to clear the deck before moving on to reflect on and redefine the purpose of this site. After tinkering with Movable Type for about year, I am giving WordPress a whirl and may switch to yet another platform soon. You may see some schizophrenic changes happening as I settle into my new home. I may talk more about this later for the nerds in the audience, but that’s all for now. The journey is more important than the ship.

Missing the Boat

Jimmy Buffett recorded his story A Pirate Looks at Forty in 1975.

The song contains the bittersweet confession of a modern-day, washed-up drug smuggler as he looks back on the first 40 years of his life, expresses lament that his preferred vocation of piracy was long gone by the time he was born, and ponders his future.
Wikipedia, A Pirate Looks at Forty

As long as we agree to disregard my early days on Usenet, we can agree I have no claim on the pirate’s life. ((I have vague memories of going to bed with a 33.6k Global Village Teleport Modem struggling to download hundreds of segmented files to reassemble in the morning, or maybe that was someone else. Yesterday’s BitTorrent.)) It’s the longing in Buffett’s song that pulls me in with a wish to go back in time to my first contact with computers was the Tandy TRS–80s in junior high school. My first personal computer was a TI–99/4a (should have gone with the Commodore 64) and time was screaming past when I bought my first Mac in 1994, a clumsily-named Performa 6116CD. I was a 22-year-old college English student working full time to support to support my wife and 4-year-old son. My course seemed clearly charted, except it wasn’t. Anything can change if you let it, and all of the signs were there if only I had read them. Here are a few of the beautiful shiny buttons, the jolly candy-like buttons, I strolled past as if they weren’t even there.

  1. Growing bored with Mac OS 8 and itching for a challenge, installed LinuxPPC (still active as PenguinPPC) on the aforementioned Performa and later migrated to Yellow Dog Linux.
  2. A preview release of BeOS PR2 was among the software CDs bundled with the Power Computing PowerCenter Pro 210, a Mac clone I bought in 1997. Of course I ran it! Jean Louis Gassée’s folly screamed on Motorola’s PowerPC processors (@gassee still shares his strong opinions on Twitter) and may have overtaken Apple’s OS if not for Steve Jobs’ decision to stop licensing the Mac operating system. Nonetheless, I dreamed of buying a BeBox.
  3. In 2000, I attended the final Atlanta Linux Showcase toting a new Blueberry iBook (triple booting OS 9, OS X beta, and LinuxPPC no less) before the event moved to Oakland, Cali. I chatted with Eric S. Raymond, saw Larry Wall from afar, and watched what happens when you mix free alcohol and nerds at the after-party hosted by Slashdot.org. A manic performance of a punk-Devo karoake version of Madonna’s “Vogue,” en vogue at the time, is forever burned in my brain. I corresponded with lead developers at LinuxPPC prior to the event and met that inner circle of nerds devoted to running Linux on PowerPC processors, even working with them to write early drafts of documentation. ((The Internet does not forget. I found evidence of early correspondence with fellow PPC pioneers on comp.os.linux.powerpc from 1999!))

These memories begin to illustrate my lifelong interest in computer technology starting as early as computer classes in 1984, ballooning with with my first Mac in 1994, and exploding with my introduction to *nix around 1999. Now, at 41 years of age, I remain what people used to call a computer hobbyist and look back with bittersweet lament that I never pursued those passions as a career. All of my websites since the first hand-coded vanity blog christened in the late 1990s have been experiments; portals for me to learn new things about computers, technology, and the Internet.
The ocean is full of tech bloggers who began building their audience (which included yours truly) while I turned a blind eye to what I wanted to do, instead doing what I thought I had to do. Hindsight reveals I neglected the opportunities of being in the right place at the right time. Maybe sharing my errant past will clear the path for others who feel stuck to know they can change course at any time, a valuable insight I still struggle to accept at 41. As a nerd with a college education steeped in English literature and writing, my secret goal was to build an audience of readers who return because they enjoy what I write. As I breathe, it is not too late for me to refocus on that goal.

Defining a Purpose

It is now clear to me why, with the exception of a very close circle of friends, each iteration has been a failure. Reflecting on my shenanigans on the World Wide Web is akin to looking at photos of myself as a pudgy pale kid bedecked in striped athletic socks up to my knees, or wearing a Jacque Costeau-style diving mask and flippers at the beach, or wearing a sleeveless black muscle shirt in the driveway of my future wife (that part worked out OK bless her heart). My focus has always been more on the nerdery than the writing, though I cannot ignore both passions and promise to stride forward with less navel gazing.
How do I define Carrying Stones? CaSt is the nexus of my love for writing and technology. My influences include a cast of characters ranging from David Foster Wallace to Hunter S. Thompson with special thanks to Patrick Rhone, John Gruber, Merlin Mann, and Dan Benjamin. I am thankful to these mentors whether they know it or not.
This readers’ guide will help you get your sea legs as I continue my journey:

  • Carrying Stones—This site, which will focus on the posts I write for readers.
  • TerrazzoMy Tumblr blog will host the digital detritus that washes up on my shore (e.g. links, interesting stuff by others, pointers to items of interest).
  • Twitter—For personal (usually silly) conversation as @ELBeavers.
  • App.net—Staying in touch with my nerd self as @ELBeavers.

I hope you stay with me. Let’s go.
N.B. Looking Back While Moving Forward: I considered wiping the slate clean and moving forward with a fresh start without the broken links and mishmash of prior posts. For good or ill I decided to leave it with this post standing as a totem marking a turning point. Kindly take all past work with a grain of salt.

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Glasses

A couple of months ago, an eye doctor diagnosed me as slightly nearsighted with a slight astigmatism in one eye before handing over a prescription for eyeglasses. A few days later, I picked up my first pair of glasses and my life changed.
I had no idea what I was missing.
My eyesight used to be nearly perfect. I ferrying a group of friends to a movie when I was younger and reading the movie marquee en route to the theater. We were still nearly a mile away and they thought I was making it up. They were shocked when we got there and discovered I was actually reading the sign.
My vision has steadily and gradually declined over the years and I never gave it much thought. Who needs to read a movie sign from a mile away anyhow? It’s not like I’m training to be a sniper or something (and even they have scopes to home in on their target). But the amount of time I spend in front of a computer screen at work and play was taking its toll. I would get tired, then the headaches would come and I would get grouchy.
The first time I put my glasses on was like the first time I rode steady on a bicycle without training wheels. I was popping optical wheelies! I was visually bunnyhopping over curbs! I should have gone to the eye doctor years ago.

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Simplify

Simplify
My website has gone through many iterations over the years.
Hand-coded HTML. Template-based sites uploaded in chunks via FTP. Blogger. WordPress.
Not only that, but it’s divided and come back together like amoeba or a healing wound. At one point, I thought I would create a blog for each topic that interested me. Macs and producitivity, design, and several others. I felt like I had to write in a different voice for each audience. It was maddening and mentally exhausting so I narrowed it down to the two that exist today, which is this Carrying Stones site you are reading now and a Tumblr blog cleverly named Terrazzo.

Terrazzo: a mosaic flooring consisting of small pieces of marble or granite set in mortar and given a high polish

My idea was to publish my original writing on this site and post links to things I find interesting on the Tumblr blog. Get it? Small stones? My I am clever. Anyway…
With a few days off work I have been writing and thinking about how I want this site to function. I have decided there can be only one! I’ll leave Terrazzo hanging out there like a vestigial tail, but all posts are going to land here at Carrying Stones.
Thanks for reading!

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Our Kids Have an Awesome Orthodontist

If awesome is measured in Mac capacity, our kids’ orthodontist is the awesomest. A quick scan of the office during our visit there today turned up:

  • 3 iMacs at the front desk
  • 1 iMac in the consultation room
  • 5 or 6 13″ MacBook Pros at each workstation

The oddball in the bunch? A Cisco router, but I won’t raise a fuss. My guess is there are some iOS devices in the mix as well.
Maybe I should have been an orthodontist.

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What Do I Want to Be?

This is the second of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache. Dave posed three questions:

  • What are three things I want to do?
  • What are three things I want to be?
  • What are three things I want to have?

This my response to the second question.

Be Bold

My respect for those who immediately speak their mind is tremendous. Sometimes they sound stupid or arrogant. Sometimes they hurt people’s feelings. Sometimes they’re just plain wrong.
Other times, their boldness leads the way to new ground. Sometimes, being brutally honest is the only way to reach your destination. And there is a clear distinction, in my opinion, between brutal honesty and just plain meanness.
Examples are everywhere and often earn labels. Eccentric. Entrepreneur. Icon. Iconoclast. Bombastic. You don’t have to think too hard to pick them out. Hunter S. Thompson (You can still buy top-notch Gonzo gear to support his beloved Owl Farm). Seth Godin. Anne Lamott. The late Steve Jobs. Duh! Jim Henson, Salvador Dali, and Walt Disney.
All capable of creating amazing art that stays locked in your brain for good or ill, holding sway over generations of fans and pundits alike. These examples I hold up here for you (and for me, too) obviously excel at what they do, but all of us are capable of the same influence in our own particular areas of expertise. The fact is the Internet has democratized the ability for anyone to publish and share their craft in a global market and it’s practically free.
Approach life as a craft, and be bold about it.
The examples I provided above and my mindset in this response reminds me of the commercial Apple introduced in 1997 to launch its powerful Think Different advertising campaign.

Be Independent

Independence was one of the three things I wrote about in my first of three articles in this series and I feel it’s worth mentioning again in this second response. My indendence won’t become fully realized until am able to embrace boldness. This yoke of political correctness around my neck has prevented me from being as bold as I would like, and I’m struggling to shake free of that harness.
The constant worry of who I might offend has made me timid, which ipso facto prevents me from being bold. Sometimes, a verbal whack on the head is what the doctor ordered and I need to sack up and start dealing out the right medicine when I know I should.

Be Happy

Happiness is crucial. Some say happiness makes you live longer. Happiness makes you worry less (or maybe worrying less makes you happy?) Hey, let’s take a break for a shiny diversion!

Happiness comes in many packages. Happiness can be wild and out of control and it can be quiet and peaceful. You can find happiness in your work or at the beach. Happiness can be found in the early morning hours, in being the first one awake, in the solitude of just being while the aroma of fresh-ground coffee brewing in the French press tickles your nose before the sun has a chance to rise.
Being bold and independent may lead to happiness, but they aren’t necessary ingredients. You can pull happiness out of a top hat just like a white rabbit if you know where to look, just like magic.

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Third-Grade Writing Lessons from 1980

My third-grade teacher was infuriating.
Memories of 1980 include learning to read using advanced phonics (man-u-fac-ture), struggling with multiplication tables (I still do), and writing sentences using our vocabulary words. Ms. Robinson (no, nothing like that) wouldn’t let us start sentences with the words “I” or “The.” Furthermore, if my memory is churning correctly, our sentences had to be at least nine words long.
Put your third-grade brain in and let that settle a minute. Those limitations were hard for a third-grader struggling to memorize his 12’s (the 11’s weren’t so bad). I hated her for making our vocabulary so hard. I could crank those sentences out in no time if not for her stupid rules.

  • I like watermelon.
  • The rock was enormous.
  • David Bowie was androgenous.

But noooooo. She had to go and make us think.

  • Watermelon was one of my favorite things to come out of my grandmother’s garden.
  • While our family was on vacation we found an enormous rock by the lake.
  • David Bowie was among the most androgenous progressive rock musicians of the 1970s.

With her simple restrictions, Ms. Robinson graduated a class of third-graders who were better writers than when they first met on a warm day at the end of summer in 1980. My senses still recoil when I began a sentence with one of those two words. “The” or “I” immediately triggers a rewrite that is always better than the first draft.
Thank you Ms. Robinson for making me think. Thank you for making me a better writer.

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Site Redesign and a Renewed Focus

As a recreational blogger who struggles with commitment to write on a regular schedule, I have been slow to pay cold hard cash to a web host for my site. I would love to slap a CMS on there and take off to the races.
I have a long list of excuses to draw from to keep me away from writing. I’m tired. I’ve worked all day. Our kids all have performances tonight. This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold. Where’s the third bowl?
Then I read about David Sparks wrangling his own family in California, working as a successful attorney, writing at his own MacSparky blog, recording the MacPowerUsers podcast with his partner Katie Floyd across the nation in Florida, and publishing two books in the past year: Mac at Work and iPad at Work.
Did I mention pocasts? Yes I did. Look at Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 podcast network. He’s been committed to recording audio since he was a kid and has built his current empire in just over a year. He manages production of 18 successful shows and is cohost in 10 of those. During the past year he and his wife had one youngster running around the house, another one on the way (congratulations Dan!), and orchestrated a move from Florida to Austin, Texas, while only missing a few episodes.
Yeah, I’ve got nothing to whine about. I need to shut up and get busy.
For now, I’m dressing up this free WordPress.com website with a new (to me) theme. I hope you enjoy my implementation of Dusk to Dawn.
What would I run on my own server? I enjoy WordPress.com. I’ve been using it here on the free hosted site for years now and wouldn’t mind rolling my own installation of the .org variety; however, the latest version of Drupal is enticing as well. For the record, I have been using Drupal Gardens at work and can vouch that it provides an excellent hosted version at a reasonable cost.
I’m going to percolate a little longer in the womb here at wordpress.com and continue to focus on writing more before seriously considering a move and rebirth of sorts with a hosted provider.

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So Saith Gandhi


Yeah, I hope to get there too. Noble goals running my mind tonight.
(Via Garry Tan)

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What do you want to do?

This is the first of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache. Dave posed three questions:

  • What are three things I want to do?
  • What are three things I want to be?
  • What are three things I want to have?

This my response to the first question.

Write passionately

Writers don’t have to heave up turgid prose in countless cheesy paperback romance novels to share their passion. Hardware. Software. Computers for desks and laps, phones smart and dumb, and apps free and paid for all. When you love what you write about, your passion shines through.
If you think writers can’t be passionate about technology then you haven’t read the Daring Fireball. Do you think high-tech mumbo-jumbo is just a bunch of boring topics stuffed with technical terminology nobody understands or cares about? Let’s talk again after you read Robert Noyce and His Congregation by Tom Wolfe. Can’t have a little fun with it? Spend some time at Andy Ihnatko’s Celestial Waste of Bandwidth (BETA)
Flipping bits from the latest microprocessors to the lowly index card can’t be any better. Right? Merlin Mann was passionate about the value of index cards when he published Introducing the Hipster PDA in 2004. If you heard him talk about them with Dan Benjamin last week on his podcast Back to Work (s1e36 Writing on the Wind), then you know he is just as passionate about them today.
Paper can’t be cool? Check out Moleskine. Even better, take a gander at some products by Field Notes. Paper is magical even today. Put paper and technology together and you’ve got a horde of productivity nerds shouting mantras (Do it, delegate it, or delete it!) and waving copies of Getting Things Done in the air like it’s a street preacher convention. I can say this because I have practically been there myself, like, literally.

Live independently

One of my goals is to write for a living. Technically, I did that for a while as a newspaper staffer reporting the news to readers of local weekly and daily newspapers. The life of a general assignment reporter wasn’t as grand as it sounds.
No, really.
Sure, you can get hooked on finding the inside scoop and breaking a story before the competition, but most mornings and nights are spent with city council members and county commissioners, with school board members, police officers, and emergency responders. Just listening to the grinding sound of that bureaucratic sausage in production.
Like the man pleading with the genie after getting what he wished for (I mean, like, literally), I need to revisit my definition of writing for a living. Make that writing about something I love to write about for a living. I’m not saying I want to get rich, though as “side effects” go that’s not a bad one.
I want to earn enough to provide comfortably for my family and feed my gluttonous (not glutinous or gelatinous, which popped in my head immediately after thinking of the word gluttonous and are related by more than the letter “g”) desire for technological crack. iPhone 4S? Yes please.
Here’s what I think I’m trying to say. I don’t want to write to make money, but wouldn’t mind earning money while writing. If you’re writing with the goal of making money, chances are you won’t make a lot of it and probably won’t be happy during or after the attempt.

Stay hungry, stay foolish

Steve Jobs gave oodles of great advice during his time with us and bundled some of his best ideas in one speech given to the Stanford University Graduating Class of 2005. If you haven’t seen it yet, well, as they say here in the South, “Bless your heart.”
I’m making this easy for you. The video is embedded here, runs about 15 minutes long, and worth every second. Gobble it up now if you have the time (or sling the transcript over to Instapaper to read later).

Jobs shares three simple stories. One about connecting the dots, another about love and loss, and a third about death. A paragraph in the third story–the one about death–leapt out at me.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

The bow around this gift he left us was his memory of the final edition of The Whole Earth Catalog, its back cover decorated with a photo of a country road and a simple caption. “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”
I hope I can do that.
This is the first of three articles as described in an earlier post inspired by Dave Gamache.

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Nailing the Workflow

I’ve played around long enough. It’s time to commit to my writing tools and stick to them. Here’s the list.

On my Mac

As far as I’m concerned, Scrivener is the winner on Mac. I’ve tried them all and have no more questions. Scrivener is it for me.

On my iPad

Discovering Writing Kit made this decision easy. It quickly became the de facto app for writing on my first-generation iPad.

On my iPhone

I’m still waffling here, but since growing to version 2.0 Writing Kit has the edge. It not only syncs with Dropbox (natch) and handles Markdown beautifully and mimics the writing environment I enjoy on my iPad. Elements 2 by Second Gear Software still runs in my stable on my iPhone and iPad because it allows me to send HTML-formatted emails from within the app.
By setting my default Dropbox folder to the root directory, I can move within both apps from one project to another. For instance, I just swapped from my Mac to my iPhone and back to edit this article within the Scrivener hierarchy. Cool huh?
Note: I’ve heard it’s best to close Scrivener when you leave your Mac if you plan to edit files while you’re away. I hear that’s bad juju.

Other Notes

Just because I’m nailing my workflow to the apps I described above doesn’t mean I’m excluding apps–such as OmniOutliner for iPad and iThoughts–that support my work.