Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The missing link

Learning to be concise is invaluable, but sometimes I want to say more. Specifically, when I want to write more copy to publish on the Internet, I need some other platform. I've decided to consider Google Blogger.

If you've used Blogger, you're probably feeling bad for me right now. Don't worry, the features of Blogger that make it so horrible will benefit my project. I want to use Blogger as a content engine, and create a content consumer and front-end that can be published to AppEngine.

The new app will handle all of the modern features that Blogger is lacking, like the ability to choose specific Facebook Open Graph or Twitter Card templates on a post-by-post basis. The app can poll my single Blogger content engine or YouTube channel for new content, and provide a simple way to publish to one of several topic specific front-ends using tags. You could also syndicate content to other blogs or publish to LinkedIn.

Content creation will be simple, just use the Blogger editor, I'm writing this post on an iPad mini. The app will notice new content, and send an email (or some mobile alert) with various options; grammar and spelling suggestions, stock and uploaded image choices with crop and enhance, user lookup and tagging, etc. Blogger and AppEngine are free, and other users will be able to add whatever features they want to their own app instance.

Social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ provide distribution channels. The front-end can also provide a modern blog interface for RSS and ATOM feeds. Blogger seems to be in complete feature freeze, so the APIs will be stable. The app can collect all your information, and generate (or upload) a hobbled Blogger XML template.

I got started thinking about this side project when I realized there was no way to generate a description snippet for Facebook from Blogger. There is also an absurd hack that lets you render a 200x200 thumbnail for Open Graph and Twitter summary cards by bouncing the generated URL off a remote website that redirects to an altered URL. I should evaluate tools like FeedBurner and Buffer to see if some of these features are already handled.

I just want to be able to say more, be a bit more thoughtful about the content. I may want to have a title, tags, photos and video, and then select how best to present and distribute the content. I should be able to do it from my phone or tablet.

I'm going to check out Medium.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Learning to collaborate

I attended Chatham Nursery School in Oakland, California. Back in 1970, it was acceptable to allow four-year-old kids to play with wood, hand saws, hammers and nails. One day, I decided to build a dog. I recently rescued this relic from my parent's basement.

Before Minecraft, kids had access to wood.

Although this "sculpture" was created 45 years ago, I remember the process clearly. I found two pieces of wood; the main body and what would become one leg. I imagined three more legs and a head. I used the first leg to measure and saw off the other three legs (the rest of the head and two square ears have been lost over time).

The daycare workers were quite excited that a student had built something like this without being prompted. I felt the neck was a bit too deep, and remember thinking, "my next wooden dog should have a shallower neck." Otherwise, I remember being happy with my design and implementation. 

A daycare worker took me under his wing and instructed me that my "dog" needed to be painted. Apparently, all art projects must be painted in nursery school. I was probably handed a bottle of brown paint. After a few brush strokes, there was no turning back, and I started warming up to the idea. The white spots were also not my idea, but I forged ahead.

When it was time to leave for home, I was told that my dog also needed a leash. I clearly remember imagining a collar and leash made of paper (to emulate leather), but I was given red yarn instead. I had never seen a dog with a leash made of yarn or even rope, so this was an absurd idea to my four-year-old self. The yarn was most likely attached without my involvement. I was asked to hold the leash and pose with my dog. I'm sure my parents have a photo of me posing with my dog, holding the leash.

I found some wood and imagined a wooden dog, building the dog was easy. When others saw what I created, they imagined something else... something more. Allowing yourself to let go of your original idea and embrace someone else's idea is an important skill for engineers. Without collaboration, you'll only ever be exposed to all your own best ideas.