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Entries in wordpress (10)

Tuesday
Apr242012

TAPKAE dot com at Ten

Ten years ago, sometime in the late winter/spring, the first complete incarnation of TAPKAE.com went up. Click the link there and you can see a fairly early version, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine. (Once at the view of the old TAPKAE.com you can click forward in time to see incremental captures of the site as it has evolved, though there are a few versions that don't appear.)

Picking a domain name was never a point of debate or hand-wringing. What else would have made sense for me in 2001-02 when I was thoroughly embracing my moniker, The Artist Presently Known As Ed? Of course, that is a bit of a drain on memory resources for people (and a bitch to type out), so the shorter form, TAPKAE, was a brilliant and available alternative in just six letters. In those days, the .com top level domain was still quite open, and even today, there aren't many TAPKAEs out there, at least in the English speaking world. Mike Thaxton ("Thax"), a major supporter of my movement into the web, reserved the domain name and got me a hosting plan (100 mb!) that lasted from mid 2001 until early 2004 when I really took the reins and tried new stuff.

I was drawn to all this web stuff because of the value it offered to a self produced recording artist such as I was then. As a guy who employed the studio space to capture various instruments and to record things from start to finish, the chance to craft a whole digital presence was alluring. The notion of standardizing what songs were presented in high quality audio was a major lure; this was the promise of not needing to have to dub a cassette or burn a CD and then shove it into a package. There was a cool distance from all that. Putting a bunch of material out for all to hear seemed a great equalizing device when talking up my tunes and asking people to hear them.

HTML Dark Ages

I went to the Art Institute of California during the year from April 2001—April 2002. TAPKAE.com was developed with the help of things I was learning there. It was actually my second HTML website, the first being a project that focused on the eccentric composer Erik Satie. TAPKAE.com was developed in nearly the same way with some additional bits: javascript menu, pop up windows for detailed pages, and a shopping cart system that cost me more than I ever made in sales. This TAPKAE 1.0 version was pretty complex for a first time out. Totally self indulgent. The menu structure was using drop menus with a couple levels to them. My bio was split over three pages—pretty crazy stuff, and it was only my music related profile. An attempt at an image gallery was arduous.

Without CSS, HTML had therefore not evolved into the rather lean language it is now. Without CSS, the thing was a bear to visually inspect and keep styled consistently. All those bolds? All those italics? One by one, page by page. Without the database-driven active pages we have now in most platforms, each page had to be copied to provide the basis for another, or I'd have to use a template (I never did). It was arduous trying to keep it all together. Deciding to change a header style would be an absurd amount of work, even in Dreamweaver—mainly because I didn't use the site caching for years to come.

In 2002, who really knew what social media was? Mp3.com was one site I used that was starting something a bit like Myspace became. Even the word blog seems to have not been on my ears then. Web 2.0? RSS? Podcast? The Cloud? Facebook? Wordpress? Stuff we take for granted now wasn't around then.

The first time I can think of when I knew I was looking at a blog was in late 2003 or early 2004. It provided me the clarity to know that the days of manually updating HTML and moving front page journal entries to "archive" pages was a hopelessly unnecessary act. Somehow I went in search of new hosting solutions and happened upon Startlogic, which I remained on from early 2004 until early 2011. And BAM! there was the B2 blogger platform ready to install. For a while in 2004-2006, the blog was a separate component that was not integrated into the site. And so it was that I had to essentially style the two separate entities so they looks enough alike.

But what the hell was this .php shit? And how in the world was I supposed to edit things when I could not see the whole page at once? Why were these blog sites so damned complex? I guess it took me a while to learn the part about how sites were leaving plain ol' HTML behind in favor of detailed and consistent styles with databases providing the content. My paltry education at Art Institute was made seemingly more so with the advent of all this new blogging technology. I was in over my head. But blogging was cool because it took care of the old entries.

The thing is, I came into this as a guy with some stories to tell, not as someone out to make money and to connect with other blogs. At various times, I disabled pingbacks, trackbacks, comments, and other things. I just wanted to put my stuff up, and all those extras just got in the way. Meanwhile, I heard about people blogging to make money. Journalists blogging to tell their version of the truth, sans editorial review. The rules had not solidified.

B2 & Wordpress: 2004-2010

After discovering B2, I tried out various other blogging platforms but remained on B2 for a while, and eventually in 2006 landed with Wordpress. And then I decided that Wordpress was mature enough in the late summer of 2006 that I found I could make my entire site within the Wordpress environment. But I always had my problems with Wordpress even though for a number of years it was the tidiest platform of all. While the Wordpress era was structurally more solid, the visual aspect was more limited since I didn't then know how to do a local testing server, so to change the graphic or other CSS related details, I painstakingly edited one thing at a time and resaved and uploaded. I got off Wordpress before I ever did a Dreamweaver local site to test and edit upon. The Wordpress years were a time when the major component was the blog itself, during a period of a lot of transformation.

In some way though, turning off all the social options at the blog gave me a needed period to let the TAPKAE online identity reform under new values. In the early days, I sabotaged things with certain newsgroups and music/recording related forums. The stuff is still out there for the looking, but there is now more stuff that bears my name and more of it is worthy material.

In 2010, after slipping away from publishing much to the web but for blog posts and pages, I found myself drawn toward helping Jubilee Economics Ministries, a small non profit that was in need of new methods to move their message. I had proposed podcasting, not even knowing much about the medium, and then to support that, I found it necessary to reacquaint myself with some things and to plunge into many others. What started as a podcast became a new website for JEM (using Squarespace, which I had just learned about as I was starting to actually learn Wordpress for JEM), and the typical social media accounts, and then organizational things like Google Apps and Mailchimp... It was all exasperating to me, and even more so to the others, who, being folks my parents' age, were blindsided by all the changeup, but grateful since they never would have unpacked it all.

Certainly I can't deny that several years of publishing to the web was handy, but as I have spent a couple years now with JEM and an ever-unfolding map of possibilities, I have read a lot of material about best practices for blogging, search engine optimization, social media, and all that. And sometimes it makes me feel pretty low. In some ways, I seem to have gotten it all wrong. I know that's a bit much to take on and that I'll never master the stuff.

The mind that generated this site probably does not connect with all but about four people out there in web land. My stats are shit at this site. Who but a few friends and curious onlookers are interested in this story? (Craig Z.?) Certainly this is just a labor of love, and a way to keep from seeing my own handwriting! My methods and approaches, a more-is-more kind of expression, is so counter to the prevailing winds of web publishing where blogging is supposed to be pithy and succinct. It's supposed to be nearly mathematically derived to squeeze every ounce of SEO value it can. No long paragraphs. Lists are always winners. Connect with readers and give them a reason to come back. Incentivize. Laser focus on a topic. In 2004, it was the wild west in blogging. I guess I wandered down one dirt road, maybe into a box canyon, while others built a freeway system.

The Squarespace Era: 2010-present

I pay for web hosting with Squarespace now that I moved this site over some months after finding I liked it for JEM. The rate was $240 for the first year, and thanks to a rate change, it's $180 now. It has allowed me a chance to be more visually creative than anything I did in the Wordpress years. I don't have to worry about that sick feeling associated with managing my own database at the MySql level. So I have been willing to pay for that. I've never run an ad here. This is just my channel to tell a story; a labor of love is all this is, a way to help untangle the spaghetti of life. Some people spend that kind of money on their booze or gambling in a few hours. Or in driving their car for fun. Or to go to Disneyland. None of that appeals to me. And, here, about a decade after my first foray into the web, the rate is perhaps twice what I used to pay, or less, but the potential to put up so much content makes all that a moot point.

I like that for once, I've managed to create an online album that reflects a mix of experiences, good and bad, and a mix of media to tell the story. Keeping busy with JEM such as I have, trying to find new things to move that message, I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to take some "me time" here at this site. Never mind there are just a few subscribers (thanks!). Never mind there are no casual users stumbling upon this site and bringing it to Facebook. Certainly there is more that I want to put up. More pictures, more scans, more audio. More video. There is only one of me though, and it happens that I allocate more time to JEM, sensing that promoting or even building this self-indulgent site is not as responsible a thing to do as developing the JEM platform. Last summer, I did plug in a good deal of content here that was never on any previous version of the site. Were it not for the bottleneck of the scanning process, I might have done more. The other bottleneck is that I am a loquacious, captioning freak, and it takes time to narrate things, particularly when a new photo gallery is put up! And since I got this site (and a new camera at about the same time), I've had a lot more photographic material to process. It's easy to get distracted.

Netizenship & Transparency

The web has changed a lot since 2002. I've changed a lot too. When I first got into it and didn't know about netiquette I went overboard and offended people, some of which were in-person relationships too. But overall, I've put that away and tried to become a better netizen. Blogging at least gives me the chance to soapbox in my own space rather than on other sites. And even that has sort of waned for me. The futility of trying to argue a point online is pretty clear. I feel this site got more interesting when I went inside and unpacked this person I've had to deal with all this time. Maybe no one else gives a shit. A few cheer on the sidelines, saying I'm doing something that takes guts. Others cringe. Others slip away nearly unnoticed. And then there are about seven billion others who don't even know this site is here. Sure, it might be a self-indulgent site, but it doesn't mean I am important. But who else will tell the story?

And that brings me to the matter of my approach to sharing information here. Presently I am looking for work, same as I've been doing for a year and more. (Unless I am applying to a web job that might call on certain aspects or technology or aesthetics that demonstrated at this site, I don't usually give away TAPKAE.com or social media links. I use a personal Gmail address.) I know no HR person is going to write me a courtesy note saying that they read a handful of posts on TAPKAE.com and decided to pass me over because they didn't think my family situation was going to lead me to be a good employee. Or that a post said I have struggled with depression. Or Wordpress. (There is some overlap at times.) The fact is, I don't really know how thoroughly I am disqualifying myself from jobs. And I sort of don't care. The places that won't have me won't have me. This site is a tool to help me feel that I know myself. And in the process, I might find that truck driving is not really my calling, and that while it could be an entry into an industry, I don't awaken each day, licking my lips at the prospect of piloting a few tons of steel down streets and alleys. Somewhere along the line, I embraced transparency in the hopes that it would win me more than it lost. Shutting doors to paths that I have no business on should be a better thing than not. I can say I've applied to jobs that I know I'm not interested in, and then it should be no surprise, website or not, that I don't get them.

Nothing is stopping me from making a go at a commercial site, doing things by formula and metrics, and leaving out the personal stuff for the most part. I don't exactly feel I have anything to share that warrants that, but I would like to develop community around JEM and when possible, other orgs or groups that have shared interest. I may or may not ever get that right. It may or may not ever be my thing. Lurking at the edges is TAPKAE.com, where it's okay to get it wrong, to experiment, to be transparent and unpretentious.

Saturday
Aug132011

TAPKAE.com at Ten

I registered the domain name TAPKAE.com on this day ten years ago. 

Maybe I need to give credit to where credit is due. Actually, Mike Thaxton signed me up for TAPKAE.com this day ten years ago, having the kind of enthusiasm and knowledge that finally got me into the digital realm. He started the project of digitizing my life in early 2000 actually. Early on he got me a Hotmail address: tapkae@hotmail.com. (It has lapsed for a few years but I was able to get it back recently just in case anyone sent anything to it.) Not long after that we got into mp3.com the first go around and got really ridiculous with that. I was exposed to Photoshop with Mike's help. He's credited on Receiving as doing some digital audio editing. He got me into Keneally's news group just about this time ten years ago right after I got the G4. Thax definitely paved the way for me to get into all things digital. Brandon helped too in how he shared his machine, letting me use it for hours after he went to bed as long as I promised to lock up on the way out at 5 am! But Thax made it compelling enough to finally want to use a computer.

Around the time of the late summer of 2001, I was wrapping up the CD, and even though the cover has always stuck in my craw as rather lame and removed from my original idea, I just wanted to get it done, since the music was basically in the can for one full year before I sent the materials off to Canada for pressing, and received them back in late October. Mike and I were hatching ways to promote it, and a website was already an unavoidable necessity.

Mike had come out of a hand coding background since editors like Dreamweaver were not yet proven and were rather much the joke to guys like him. So he had me submit text content and ideas for page flow. We never really got a functional site up and running, but he knew he had to get me online. I still have the files of the early sites, but they are rather lame looking by comparison to this brilliant incarnation you see here at the time of this posting (the desert road motif over dark wood, hosted on Squarespace). Mike was what we'd call now a developer, not a designer. I was neither, really. For some time, he scoffed at Dreamweaver, but maybe around 2004, he was using it more. He also was writing Flash scripts and got real work doing such things. I never learned hard core HTML work, but I can edit it. I positively hate Flash and have never done anything using that program that I remained proud of.

Mike got me my first hosting company then too. I think it was called MavWeb. It had a whopping 100mb of space to work with, so I put samples of my tunes up, and during the winter-spring of 2002 while I was Art Institute of CA, I made the first live draft of my site, all HTML and a borrowed javascript menu that was really picky to get right, but that contained my stuff nicely. It was the first of many boxy looking sites that I have to confess I rarely got away from. It was the basic site that served me for about two years until I made the first big jump out of the Thax setup into something new—hosted with Startlogic (lasted until early this year), including, B2 blogging, and started a rather restless attempt at designs variously using frames, iframes, minimal design, and a radically cut back amount of content as my life was in a period of reinvention. Then in 2006, I embraced Wordpress for a little more than four years, basing the entire site on WP's blog and fixed pages. The Wordpress years though were rather light on design adventure since I never really had an easy time understanding PHP and Dreamweaver had not yet embraced Wordpress theme editing like it does now in CS5.

I really have no idea on exactly how many versions of the site have been posted, but let's make a list for fun.

  • Thax attempt with the spin-the-arrow menu with goofy icons that roughly indicated where you'd go. I later learned that was called "mystery meat."
  • Another Thax idea with a blue field and white icons that amounted to more mystery meat. All the more so because one icon was a piggy.
  • Brief, late 2001/early 2002 shift to a promo site done in Dreamweaver. Deep red and black primarily with a blurb for Receiving.
  • A light blue site done for school that was about Erik Satie, showing a bit more graphic adventure, and the first of the basic, five page HTML sites I'd do more of.
  • TAPKAE.com's first "real" site, the parchment colored one with the purple ribbed tile pattern and always a shifting header image of me and some instrument, or my face or something abstract. Constantly evolving within that theme for about two years. Was quite large and unwieldy with lots of popup windows for song lyrics and individual pictures. Included a shopping cart for Receiving that I think cost me more to start up and maintain than I got in sales. Poo! My blog, such as it was, was a monthly entry on the front page that I manually copied and pasted to another page when the time came to update. Was intrigued by this thing called a blog that did that work automatically. Hmm?
  • The big jump to Startlogic and B2 Blogger in 2004 brought a dual identity for a while. A blog was distinctly different than an HTML site for me, so they were linked and attempts made at color coordinating but otherwise not related. I don't seem to have a record of what the 2004 site looked like early on.
  • Ditched the 2002-4 version and tried a far simpler olive colored, four page site based on frames, mainly for experimentation's sake but also because I was finding it time to reinvent myself, and the big self indulgent site was a dinosaur to me.
  • Late 2004 had an iframe site that was mainly black and white with a gray-blue content window and minimal content on about six pages. Was a nice idea but would have been nicer if all the content fit in the window and didn't scroll out of view.
  • Early 2005 I went to all black and gold text. It looked rather royal. Styled the blog and main site in similar fashion. Content slowly reappearing in a more concise form. Blogging outrageously much. You can still see that 2004-2005 are the biggest tags in my tag cloud even now!
  • Then I swung from black to white and stripped it bare again, this time to a quite narrow text area and just a few pages of pix and tunes and not much else. Most of my attention was on the blog and during the body of 2005, launching EONSNOW.org which itself was a rather charming piece of visual material, at least for me.
  • The narrow, white site lingered into 2006 and eventually provided the basis of the Wordpress site. I came at whatever version they had in summer 2006, and it was still in the dark ages, really. But it gave me fixed pages, so I got with it and put all my site into the Wordpress basket and therein ditched the parallel blog/HTML approach that had defined the last two years' presentation.
  • The Wordpress era lasted until early 2011, and didn't vary much from their default template which I did slowly adapt in what seemed to be an agonizingly painful way because I didn't know how to see the entire site at once in an editor. But I did figure out how to edit the masthead and text styling, and that was adequate since I was losing my patience for digital life and was just interested in writing. The site was essentially a white site with a very minimal blue and gray and black features with occasional exceptions of colorful material. I found that updating Wordpress and maintaining the database was an exercise in self torture and digital slaughter (or so it seemed). My host, Startlogic, was not accountable for Wordpress, and Wordpress community did not answer to me for the matters concerning Startlogic. So sometimes I felt really sick to my stomach. I don't know why WP can't just do one button backups instead of making people go to their MySql backend. I dreaded update time. I lost categories along the way, and did not get them back until I manually created them on Squarespace and visually inspected EVERY post—all 550 of them, tagging and categorizing them all one by one.
  • Then in January 2011, I got on Squarespace after a few months of managing JEM's site there. It's a paid service and one that lets me worry only about adding and editing content and less so about managing the database. I pay for that to be taken care of now! I have finally found a great platform that can take all the content I can throw at it and arrange it sensibly in galleries with a lightbox view, blog, social media and RSS feed widgets, HTML pages, and more. And the ability to spontaneously style it has freed me to experiment and backtrack, and to revamp the entire site a couple times as I sought a style that actually echoed my sensibility and experience in life. Also, since Squarespace could handle anything I can throw at it, I decided to plunge ahead with filling it up with previously unreleased writings that I mainly inserted into the appropriate space in the blog chronology. Pictures from childhood and from trips with Kelli, scans of documents, and whole CD projects that were otherwise languishing in my closet and archive bins have had their chance to be seen and heard. The ability to caption all those documents is rather like my earliest experiments with photo albums where I did essentially the same thing on paper which was inserted into plastic sleeves. This desert motif is made of original images from my desert travels to New Mexico and Death Valley. This theme is easily the most visually exciting of all that I have done, and the best one to get me out of the box that always seemed to define my layouts.

Over a decade I have loved and hated this site. When faced with frightening brushes with MySql database issues, I was ready to just delete it all and go off and cry a while before doing I don't know what with my fist or a blunt object. But somehow nearly ten years of writing has survived and this year I did a job of proofreading it at least to fix the woefully bad stuff and some punctuation that I never seemed to get right in the early days. I straightened out some lumpy knots in sentences and did the work of tagging and categorizing and adding pictures to add some extra depth to posts. The whole thing is meant to convey a story now, as I have also been honing my human side in parallel to the digital work, and since I am paying a pretty penny for hosting that lets me make a cool site, it makes sense to get something out of it, particularly since 2011 has been a very unemployed year. I really see TAPKAE.com now as a complete thing that puts in digital form a sampling of what my life has looked like across a wider swath of time and space. There are things up here that I have in some ways been of mixed mind about, but decided, rather like the Jews who compiled their bible, what we call the Old Testament, to leave in the thorny and complicated parts in the interest of completeness. I have made some changes, but not to redact the embarassing parts out of existence. A few dumb posts got dropped, but the ones that chart my thoughts and feelings, charitable and otherwise, are left standing.

In a lot of ways this site became something so vastly unlike anything I ever imagined. Nothing like Thax and I were dreaming up a decade ago. But the same is true of my own self.

 

Friday
Jan212011

Off the Digital Deep End. Again.

On the 7th, I was dismissed from my job of nearly three years. This post is not about that. However, usually I have the feeling that doing full time work is a major distraction from what I feel I should be doing. While my last job did have some moments of revelation and at times I did feel that it was closer than other jobs had come.

Years ago when left to my devices, I recorded music and lost myself for hours, days, weeks, and months on projects. Not so now, for a range of reasons, but the imperative to tweak on the minutiae of one digital medium or another is upon me. 2011 is technically the anniversary year of my acquiring my domain at tapkae.com, and loosely speaking, the first appearance of any content here (dabblings by Mike Thaxton and me). 2002 was when the site got its first real complete incarnation, 2004 when I started using B2 blogger for my first proper blog platform, and 2006 when I hand copied most of the stuff over to Wordpress, which I have been using since. By the time you see this post, that will be a thing of history.

Earlier in the summer of 2010, Wordpress came out with version 3 and I liked it a lot better right away. But still it nagged at me that it was such a kit to assemble, and sometimes I just wasn't into that. The v3 was the thing that would have delighted me in 2005-6 when WP first came on the scene for me. But over the years, I have a number of dreadful nights wondering if I screwed something up in the database or lost years of work altogether. It seems that there should be some easy user interface to manage all that safely instead of having to actually go under the hood. Anyhow, the frustrations sometimes spoiled the fun. And that wasn't even the business of being creative yet. Most of my time using WP was in the period when Dreamweaver wasn't quite aware of WP, and was often playing catch up. So Dreamweaver was an editor for my content, but never the interface to manage the whole site, though once I upgraded computer, got a demo of the most recent DW version, got the new WP, it all seemed exciting to be able to edit the themes on my machine, and not live on the server. Sometimes that too was dreadful. As a result, my understanding of CSS is kind of weak, and often I am bewildered at how things relate from html to css, and how all that interacts with the database.

I heard about Squarespace just about the time I was trying to get the JEM site on to the v3 Wordpress. I looked into it and found it was just the thing for what JEM wanted. And when, after months of not being able to get our podcast listed at iTunes, and when the new Squarespace account came on and we got a nice functional site up and running, complete with iTunes approved podcast feed, I was excited.

Squarespace is an all in one host and CMS that does about the same stuff as I could do in Wordpress, but finally, the ability to edit the visual style and layout without guessing my way through CSS has made things far more fun and with a dose more individuality and a lot more ability to try things and not get burnt. Squarespace is generous with their specs, and caters to the folks who want a real system. They price themselves out of most hobbyists' range, and nearly out of mine since the decision to jump over to their service coincided with my job loss. But it had to be so; my old host, Startlogic, was set to renew in March, and I couldn't justify that since I'd be abandoning the WP platform that was the core of all my site activity. A Squarespace plan like I have is $240/year which is more than double what I have paid for the Startlogic plans (which climbed nearly imperceptibly over the nearly seven years I was there). Since Squarespace is like a Mac to the Wordpress/Startlogic PC, I reasonably expect that I won't be caught in the Bermuda Triangle of a host that doesn't support me when I am in over my head with Wordpress, and a version of Dreamweaver that couldn't edit a whole site at once, and all the other components that were bound together with gum and twine.

I still have things to figure out about how to fine tune CSS on the new Squarespace platform, but the business of having a full CMS to do galleries and a whole range of prescribed page types is quite exciting. On reflection, I found that most of the pages I had on the WP era site were essentially galleries that I had painstakingly edited in Dreamweaver and copied into Wordpress. All the notes and stuff got copied over here as captions—a job to be sure, but one that won't be prone to odd code wandering and shit not being spaced just so. Structuring the site is a joy too; all the sections are basically drag and drop items. Interestingly, WP has that in v3. But chasing down plugins and extensions for WP is not my cup of tea anymore. And by far, the major WP version upgrades were nightmare times.

So this 2011 version of tapkae.com is also a time when, perhaps with the help of my jobless state now, I can try to comb the site and clean it up. I have about 560 posts now from the earliest days of the first complete site in 2002. I have no idea how many text encoding problems I have from various content coming from a few blogging systems, Word documents, and who knows what. I have an eye to doing methodical work to strip all that stuff out and to standardize things that have annoyed me for years—automatically when possible, but almost certainly down in the trenches. Big project. And I guess I don't even know who sees this stuff anyway. You?

The one thing I had to contend with when getting Squarespace is that they don't do email hosting. So I found myself cozying up to Google for their free Google Apps package, the leading feature of which is the email hosting. I botched it the first time and had to drop it for a few days till their hold period expired. But it works great now. And it is free. But it took me into a few previously uncharted waters.

And if that isn't enough, I spent some good time finally putting some good effort into styling the JEM site. I wanted to get out of the box on at least one of these sites. I'm quite happy to have it where it is now. I am just completing the 10th podcast episode. We record them here in the living room and my office space. We have had a few guests on different shows. It keeps me at the business of recording something.

If that isn't enough, I was talking to still two more different non profit organizations about their web presence. Both want new stuff to happen. One is willing to throw some money at something, and the other is running close to the bone and wants to support their thrift store outlet so it can support them. Oddly enough, I find myself pitching Wordpress.com (the free version that WP hosts and manages) for the one with the thrift store. The first might entertain the Squarespace option, and I now know that I can get that happening pretty decently.

And still more! I've been nudging Kelli toward getting a site for her topics of concern in disability minstry, or her perspective on being a woman in ministry. To go with the latter for a moment, I pitched the idea to Kelli and a couple others of her friends who are in similar situations. The idea is to have a group blog called Women Who Speak In Church. Just tonight we signed on with the free Wordpress site. It would be excellent podcast material. The group of them have a great rapport as it is, and there are enough to support a group effort and keep something interesting coming at all times.

Another "we'll see" is that I have made rumblings about doing a site for my church, seeing how this is the 100th anniversary year and I know they have plans to address this. But this is one of those situations that one must walk on eggshells. I already have had one disastrous time making a church site and perhaps cutting in where I didn't belong.

Facebook is a love-hate thing for me. I just never know where to find stuff I already visited. I never know what sort of odd glitch it will throw me. It is from another planet. I hate it. But in order to administer JEM's FB page, I need to keep it on.

Oh... is that all? Good enough for now. Like in 2002, it is back to the computer for the 16-18 hour shifts. Well, maybe not, but it seems like it.

Saturday
Nov132010

Wordpress Hell

One thing about keeping a blog running for most of a decade is that the writings are originally created on different platforms, and during backup and restore procedures, things seem to go wrong. I never seem to get it exactly right, and usually I am loathe to upgrade Wordpress because, for all the wonderful things it does, that platform is slow to make the whole upgrade procedure idiot proof. Last time I updated to 3.0 this summer, I ended up making a parallel installation of 3.0, and then uploading a backup file from the 2.9 era that I was leaving behind. Somewhere along the line, the categories table of the database was lost and upon starting in 3.0, I had no categories available, and all the old designations from each individual post are now null and void. That sucks. I have about 550 posts after all these years, so now that they are all classed as "uncategorized" I would have to manually go and read each one, and create appropriate categories as much as is needed (say, 20) and then click boxes on each individual post. While at it, one might want to tag each post in similar way, with keywords.

One day when I get a few hours. Hah.

Friday
Sep242010

Facing the Book

Dammit, I am getting drawn into the world of Facebook. Oy! Between JEM and the young adults group at church, I've had to face the business of FB being the de facto tool for making things known today. I find it rather confusing, really. I mean, the wall, the profile, the additional page for JEM, or groups, etc. I prefer to know when I am clearly in "my" space, or in JEM's or in the YA world, but I swear, the lines are rather blurred in how things interact with my own account.

I have found it a bit more suitable for the short form stuff that comes to mind, but as you know, I don't do short form much. Not here anyway. Not on TAPKAE.com! I do reckon more people will stumble past the FB site than this site. Kind of a bummer because this has been the center of my work for a long time now—nine years on TAPKAE.com. Now that I got the JEM site happening on the SquareSpace platform, I am getting really restless with TAPKAE.com, notably so with the sluggishness that must be a problem of web hosting. I don't know for sure, but on the JEM site, the thing is pretty quick both as user and as author (all the site editing work is done in browser interfaces). I am entertaining jumping ship from my host that I have had for over six years now. But SS is rather expensive and don't have email hosting, maybe necessitating Google Apps or some other hosting. So...

My main task as a web author at any level, at this time in life, is to try not to be subsumed into the technology. I still prefer the in-person contacts that have been a defining element of relationships at church. My own history with digital communication has been a rocky one, so it is timidly that I embrace using it for keeping connected with people who I have been close to in person. Part of it is the usual stuff like the lack of body language and such nuanced expression, but frankly, FB is more convenient than getting dressed and riding off to see someone in person. But I noticed immediately that FB also made me feel like a voyeur as I looked at the lives of people who I knew in person, but apparently in a limited way! The surprise at that is something you can bargain for with people from your party/school/rock band past, but it does feel odd when they're people from church! Also, the real clipped form of FB communication is handy for planning or collaborating, but not for saying anything of any real worth. So I still long for in-person contact, even as it takes more time and effort. But I have to admit to being drawn in to the whole digital scene this summer. I shall strive for some more balance now that that hot few months of new computer/new JEM site (in two main builds)/Kunstler site/podcasting/new audio setup has all subsided into something manageable.

Wednesday
Aug252010

The Intersection

Devoted readers of this journal probably know that I really am not a big fan of technology, and that my general attitude toward it is that I like it enough if I can wrangle something creative out of it. Some will recall the old story about when I was a kid and managed to take my first bike apart as much as I could, only to be like a deer in the headlights when instructed to put it back together. That was perhaps the first instance showing my lack of aptitude for coping with material things and technology. That has been borne out many times since.

But this summer I got my newest computer—my third since about this time in 2001—and have plunged into new programs and even new roles as I embrace podcasting for Jubilee Economics Ministries, and have done an extensive site rebuild with them, bringing them into the social media age. All that, considering that up till earlier this year I knew quite little about those options. It has indeed been a change of attitude, particularly since I rode my old computer into the ground it seems, with it not powering on at all now, a scant week or two after I got this new iMac. I had really ambivalent feelings about computers and the digital life. But a funny thing happened this year when JEM needed to find a way to spread their word farther than they were able, I happened to be in the office and had at least some suggestions.

It does help having a new machine with programs that output contemporary files and media. I do like this thing, particularly since at least my old computer had the good sense to just die when its replacement came, helping make a decision for me. Kelli has taken the first machine I got in 2001 as a replacement for her own iBook that died in the spring of this year. She is bracing for a new Macbook or something. Along with this new machine I needed to get a new audio interface, and therefore more preamps that I don't particularly need, but it does make a nice lean recording environment. I got Logic Pro and Peak Pro. I am quite familiar with Peak from years of sermon editing, but Logic is a new kettle of fish that I hope to have some discipline to learn.

JEM is just one use for this stuff. Now that I understand podcasting and am quite well equipped to do so, I have been pitching ideas to people about shows that might be ready for the format. I proposed a 'cast for Kelli and her fellow female ministry buddies. It would be a potentially hilarious and yet very intense look at ministry from the perspective of women in pulpits and in chaplain positions. It would be called (rather irreverently so for the conservatives who like to cite one lame line in 1st Corinthians) "Women Who Speak In Church." There are a pool of potential participants from Kelli's circles.

Another would be a lesson type program with Dr. Phil Calabrese, who has much to teach about the contents and meaning of the Urantia Book. He, after 40 years of study and reflection on the book, is among the best people in the world to do a program to spread the word. He looks at it as a scientist-mathematician who wants to see if what was said in 1955 and before was predictive of what science is uncovering today about certain cosmological relationships, archaeological discoveries, etc. If Kelli takes part, she too can share from a perspective shaped by many years of reading the book, but also as a theologian and pastor.

Those are just a couple things. Notice I didn't really say that I was involved in any of it particularly, at least not as the centerpiece of things. One of the things that is emerging is a feeling that these skills and tools need to be put to some other use than self promotion. I've worked an awful lot on JEM stuff this year, and done a site rebuild and a half. (We were going to use Wordpress like this site does, but ended up finding a kickass plan on the Squarespace infrastructure, so we dragged all the WP stuff over after a fairly complete job on WP.) A lot of time, but on reflection, maybe too little still, considering they have been asking me to write for them, or for the Streetlight newspaper, for some years now. I don't know if writing is my place with JEM; I happened to be the guy who knew enough of this web stuff to take them someplace else when the time came. The whole website in its revamped form is actually going to change the way JEM operates and presents itself. This is suitable repayment for the influence that JEM has had in my life, helping me see the world in a vastly different way in the wake of so much personal upheaval. Recall that I met Lee of JEM just a couple weeks before I got evicted in 2005, as if to say that God had some other plan, and was introducing a whole new father figure that was going to point the way for the next stage in life, now that the old one had essentially passed on that responsibility. So, the countless hours of volunteer work don't seem like much.

Not all the media work is as volunteer though. I got a few bones this summer for crafting a single page site for the writer-blogger-podcaster-polemicist James Howard Kunstler. He has two books now that are novels about the post oil future. Both are supported by one-page sites that I designed. (See World Made By Hand and The Witch of Hebron, the sequel.) Working for JHK is interesting because he too was highly influential, even as far back as 1998 when I was given a copy of his book, The Geography of Nowhere, which was perhaps the first real dose of social consciousness that I embraced as my own. That book and its survey of the wasted landscapes of this nation did awaken the sort of consciousness of how my world operates, the sort of consciousness that was jolted again a few years later in 2004 when I saw Kunstler in the peak oil cautionary film, The End of Suburbia—a film which I was showing in 2005, just days after I met Lee (he attended, we later collaborated on a showing of The Corporation), and days before I got evicted from my suburban home.

When I met Lee, I thought I was starting a project called EONSNOW, and rather boldly asked him to support my project. Now that seems hopelessly preposterous, being a pretty untested entity myself, and he having years and years of pastoring experience, and life experience to excel mine by double. So now, years later, it is right for me to take my place in a support role to what he is doing, even as he has allowed me a great latitude to experiment and change the plan daily. But finally, he, with the message, and I with the means to get it outside of his office,  are on to something. We're quite excited.

One of the lessons in my mens' rites of passage was that "your life is not about you." If I were to set up two poles in my life, viz. my relationship to technology and media, those poles are that I used a lot of it to be pretty self-aggrandizing and me-centered in the earlier years, and the opposite was to shed as much of it as possible and find myself disregarding the media options that I used to use, sort of like a dry drunk. Either too much or too little—a dualistic mindset that is anathema to honest spiritual progress. Either of those poles was about me whether in indulgence or in denial. It is sort of like the story of the Buddha who experimented with hermitic self-denial for several years after living the lavish life that was his birthright as a son of a royal man. Ultimately, he found the third way between the poles and embraced that.  So it goes here, I hope. I am not a businessman who plans and executes the business of web work, but I am a creative person who wants to share time and enthusiasm. Right now the business of pushing potatoes during the day makes clear the way for pushing pixels by night on a volunteer basis. JEM is now presenting the type of content I wish I had the consciousness to articulate back in 2005 when I was doing the EONSNOW stuff. The intervening years have done much to re-focus on the outer realm, but only after a lot of inner realm work. Understanding that my life is not about me is one bit of humble pie that one eventually has to live with.

Technology, such as I have to deal with in this kind of work, is a blank slate. I've certainly abused web communications in the past, and been a bad netizen. (But that has largely faded except in the Google realm where everyone's misdeeds will be saved till the end of the age of electricity.) But on to other things. JEM has a coherent and holistic message that I believe in, so I decided to jump into that flow and do my part.

I've read Parker Palmer's book Let Your Life Speak a few times now. In it he talks about how he had to face what his Quaker tradition calls "way closing" many times—rejection, failure, disappointment—so that "way will open" into new opportunity, one step closer to knowing what one is really called to do. He gave an example of how he traced his path toward being an educator. It was a seemingly odd one until he figured out how components of past interests were leading him to what he loves to do now, and finds he has the inner light and energy to lead him to do. Telling about wanting to be a pilot or an ad exec, he found the aspects of those things that left clues that perhaps were not even considered as they were happening.

For me, I considered that my past history of building plastic models demonstrated that I liked to devote myself to projects that started and stopped and involved many stages to complete—assembly, fine tuning, painting, presenting. Or that later on I got into doing cassette recordings with home made tape box "art" (now that is stretching it) with liner notes that filled most of the available space. I did that for years, and that developed into CD projects using increasingly sophisticated technology, culminating in Receiving, which was an all-digital project that aspired to the same thing as in the early days: record it, make the cover that explains it all, and package it. Getting into the website was an extension of the liner notes where every damned detail could be explained. Podcasting now is an extension of that, integrating the web and audio interests as well as the knack for developing something from pieces to a finished product on display. Other interests of mine are looking at the dynamics of relationships at the personal level, or at the larger human level, social critique, bible study and interpretation, volunteering for socially useful causes (home delivered meals, church offices) and maybe more. So right now, it makes sense to be doing this work for JEM, even if it can only be done with technologically advanced toys and tools. It seems that right now this is what I need to do, seeing how it lies at the intersection of various interests and abilities.

Friday
Jul302010

Word-Pressed

I like Wordpress but it has been a rough thing to wrangle into shape, coming into it originally not knowing shit about PHP or MySql databases and all that goes into that area of web applications. I've come to appreciate Wordpress and it keeps getting better. Especially now that it is in version 3 and many administrative tasks are far easier. Their default theme is a lot nicer than the previous versions. Gone now is the stripped white page that I had been using for a few years. I changed the masthead once in a while, but since the entire background and masthead was of a single graphic that was sliced this way and that, I never really figured out how to do more than change the graphic and overall color. Crap. So I let things stagnate, and little by little I found myself appreciating the limitation of an all white page.

Things have changed and I like playing with the easy to change background color and tiling options for any image there; and the header can be changed on the fly. Cool. But better still is that there are a great many widgets that can be put in the side that I finally can install. Best of all, for some reason not clear to me, for all those years on earlier WP design, there was no home button! If you got away from the main blog home screen, you had to hack the address or hit the back button. WTF? Anyhow, the menu now is a joy to build and edit, allowing the main menu to point to static pages, blog entries, categories, or off-site destinations. The drag and drop feature is far nicer than the old way, which involved naming a page and establishing where it was in the hierarchy. Good luck if you have to change the page name—then it would be time to redo everything that calls that page. Ick.

I find myself in another period of learning about web design, a period such as visits me every now and then. Getting the new machine forces me to get new programs to do this stuff, or to seek out new solutions. The IT guy at work tipped me off to a CMS called Squarespace that I might like vastly more than Wordpress, especially if I decide to go for the all in one hosting/editing/design package they offer at a price that is a bit steeper than the actual cost of hosting tapkae.com but with a level of integration that seems to promise far less of a scattered interface in publishing my stuff—gone would be the myriad windows of WP, host server, database tables, Dreamweaver, and so on.

For now though, I shall tinker with WP and see what I can make it do.

Sunday
Jul182010

Digital Hell

Oh. I have a love-hate relationship with Wordpress. Every once in a while when it comes time to upgrade the thing, I get into stuff that is pretty over my head. Add to that that I am creating a new site for Jubilee Economics Ministries, getting their podcast programs going (four episodes in the can now—subscribe in iTunes here), and it has drawn me back to a digital environment that I enjoy only to the extent that I can get something done. And when one is in database hell, it actually gets a bit scary. I've never really proven too good at backing things up, and I do get in a panic when it comes time to do such work. Somehow, I've kept Wordpress working for me since early 2006 or so when I dove into it. I just upgraded this week to version 3, and while doing so, I also took advantage to move its location within my server, so that it functions as the site's root. (The address now really IS http://tapkae.com and not /blog with a clumsy redirect.) Anyhow, WP is sensitive to this stuff and I am bound to blow it sometimes and have to call for help. This time around my server company has not been as helpful so the site took a half week vacation.

Anyhow, all this new work is being joined by other projects: some web work for James Howard Kunstler (home page is based on an earlier version I did, but he kept the graphic banner) and his new book The Witch of Hebron. (I also did the front page for his last book, World Made By Hand. This book is a sequel.) The Jubilee Economics site is planned to be another WP site, and I am looking forward to getting them a far snappier site both for visual sake, but for function's sake mainly. They really deserve some good presence on the web, and WP is the way to get their stuff presented. I am digging on WP3 as an easy-to-configure thing, making menus a lot easier, and other bits that I have fought with have become a lot more bearable, or even easy. But I have to make up for a fading interest in web design in the last few years. I sort of let the social media thing pass me by, in part because of a genuine interest in easing away from digital friendships in favor of in-person relationship, but also that my machine has been aging all along and slowly but surely, various things that make web use fun and interactive have slowly decayed. Last year it was Yahoo Instant Messenger, MySpace and YouTube that all began to be glitchy and then completely unsupported. Other bits like embedded movies and stuff that plays on the latest version of Flash players or even Quicktime players just don't show up. It drove me nuts to go to the Apple site and find that even THEIR media player was not supported on THEIR machines, old as mine is. Damn, Apple, if you want to sell people on your new stuff, shouldn't you make your video ads and tutorials playable on old machines so those of us who are using ancient tech? Sure, I have a 2003 model that does plenty of stuff pretty well, but the web is a place of abandonment for me! So I have been looking at new stuff.

And then after the business of scanning the new Apple output for the last year or so, sometimes checking in on a shop like Crywolf, and then more hand-wringing as I weigh how much digital life I want to lead, I finally threw down for a refurb iMac 27" last week and am eagerly awaiting the thing upon my doorstep. Of course this means more hunting for programs (some at great expense, others nice and cheap), and if I hope to do audio, then I will need a new Firewire based audio interface, at least enough to do the two-track podcast recordings, and perhaps a version of Logic to be the main audio program. But, I guess that having my old computer for six years is a long time to stretch it. I've had the means to buy for a while, but last year was the year of the bikes. Right now I'm wondering how much use this present machine will get. For a while, it sort of has to do what it does for me as a recorder and editor in Pro Tools and Peak; Photoshop editing; Dreamweaver and web work; direct disk-to-disk copying on two drives. But so many other things are ripe for updating. Kelli's machine actually died earlier in the spring, so she might get more time to use this for her fairly light demands, and that might stall her getting a laptop. We shall see.

Wednesday
Mar112009

Blah-ging

Sometimes I hate blogging. The writing of stuff is fun but the additional stuff on the technical back end just drives me mad at times. Recently in the Wordpress upgrade process, somehow some of my data bit the digital dust. It isn't the critical stuff, but enough to be annoying and small enough to not really warrant detailed reconstruction. I lost most of the categories but not the posts; ergo, should I deem it worth my while to go and recategorize something like 465 postings, I am free to do so. Also there seems to have been some problems with language/character encodings so some of the unique characters in the text are mangled and replaced with other characters that totally distort things. I don't suppose I shall fix that nonsense since it would require reading every damned post just in case something was wrong. Ick. There may be other problems that I don't yet know about, but those are annoying enough to warrant one more needless post just to bitch at my fate.

Saturday
Aug192006

Taming The Beast

I've used this Wordpress-based blog for maybe a year now, but never really reached too far into the power that it offers. For a couple years, I basically kept my blog and "real" site (html/css based) separate but maybe with the blog in a frame of some sort to unify the two, or to just work hard at keeping them looking like a matched set. But Wordpress can harness most of the sort of content I am likely to put up.

I am fickle with my web work. Sometimes, like in the case of TAPKAE.com mk1, I just refined things incrementally but kept the same basic idea for all of two years. Then after that, all bets were off. It was frames, inline frames, lots of popups, no popups, all white, all black, other colors. Then I got to use a "real" blog—B2 blogger—for a year and a half. That was cool, but then my server phased it out and went to Wordpress. I jumped earlier than later because it was clear that WP is a better engine, and could do more. But one thing I was not able to do was load an existing database of all my posts (200 and more) to WP directly. So one week, I methodically copied them all by keyboard shortcuts and manually entered in timestamps. Then I was in WP for good. I let the other one linger for a while to be sure there were no surprises then killed it. Even still, I kept the existing html site and did the work to make sure that both were unified. The thing is, the html site wasn't doing anything special—just posting songs, some posters, and text. But the detailed formatting I spent all my time doing was just too much to turn my back on. But finally, I did.

I spent all this week developing some new technique that had held me back for a while, so now I can bring you a whole blog/site that appear more like I'd do with my html site. I pulled about four solid days of getting my wedding and honeymoon pix, snapshots, and posters together (cropping/treating/captioning) and figuring out how to finally put them in this php/MySql based site. I had a desire to make the music page tighter too, with some CSS to shape it more. The thing is, I am a CSS hack and can only ever get that shit right if I acid test damn near every change, pixel by pixel. But with the changeover, I also had to figure out how to link a page to the master CSS file, and there was nothing I saw that showed me that. It turned out to be real easy, but a pain in the ass to discover it by trial and error.

Anyhow, I learned a lot more about options in this whole WP environment, found out how to move stuff around in the layout, and where to find things that appear in the scattered php pages. (I cursed and swore at the laborious task of just finding and editing the order of the list items on the right—I wanted to move archives down, change "meta" to "site admin" and other such things, but had a hell of a time figuring that out while not knowing php. I also wanted to delete the prefab credits and put my copyright message in, etc.)

For you dear reader, you get to look at many many pictures I have released now, and they all have a uniform black 1px border and a 20px margin between them. The overall page is a little wider for main content (I could have made all my pix 2 px narrower but that would have been 'too much work') and things are easier to find in the right menu bar. Oh, and the music page is divvied up in clear groups by band or project, and the songs are so cleverly broken from the other text!

Now that I have a working method for various types of content and how to manage it across the entire site, it will come easier for future pages.

And probably no one will ever care about such a thing!