Year: 2011

My Favourite Books for 2011

This was the year that I bought, sold, and then re-bought a Kindle.  I have an iPad, which I really love, but the Kindle is absolutely the best way to read books.  I’d say this  year I’ve started to read more books than ever before, but when you’re only paying $.99 – $2.99, I find that you take more chances, and give up more easily.

With that said, there were a handful of books this year that I really loved, and that make my “Best of the year” list. Continue Reading

This is My Next, Well What Exactly?

Yes, his name is really Al

2011 marked several significant milestones for me.

I turned 40, Charlene and I celebrated our 10th anniversary, December marks 5 years at Info-Tech for me, our basement, begun October 2009 will finally be fully finished

Also, my hands-on, day-to-day involvement with All New Comics ended.

It’s been six years since I joined up with Peter to form All New Comics, Canada’s Online Comics Superstore. In that time a ton has changed for me.

Char and I had two kids, moved from Ajax Ontario to London (where I’m 10 minutes away from two great comic shops,and a lunch time walk from two more), I have a new job with tons more responsibility, and I have less and less time for other stuff, all the while I’m trying to figure out what my next challenge will be.

Meanwhile the industry has changed, with stores closing, entire lines of comics being rebooted, and of course digital

We did some pretty super-cool things and I think it’s safe to say we changed the Canadian Comic Shop landscape in several ways, most significantly by servicing remote areas like Nunavut, where our lone customer there was 6 hours away from the nearest shop!

I am not gone, far from it. I’ve been transitioning with Pete since June, and he handles about 90% of stuff now. I will keep my hand in the marketing stuff (monthly updates, Facebook and Twitter stuff), and I’ll make sure the site’s code stays humming along, but the days of me responding to emails at 2am are likely over.

For our customers, nothing really changes, other than Pete responding to more emails than me. He’s handled most of the business for the last three years. You can expect the same quality of service, and the same awesome comics will still go out with the same attention to detail in the packing of orders.

What’s next for me? The New Ninjas and I are working on something cool that we hope to tell folks about soon, and I have an idea or two of my own up my sleeve, and of course Char says I should relax as well

I guess the best thing to say is stay tooned!

What Matters to Me at Work

This year I turned 40, and I looked at a lot of different things in my life.  One of them that I focused the most on was what was meaningful work to me.  I spend 8-12 hours a day working for someone who isn’t me, and in those 8-12 hours I need to do things that make me happy, otherwise I should probably go off and become an organic hybrid chioat (half chicken, half goat…egg bearing of course) farmer.

So I sat down and figured out what matters the most to me at work.

Don’t Do It Unless You Can Make It Awesome
I love Captain Pike’s line in the JJ Abrams Star Trek Movie. “You know, your father was Captain of a starship for 12 minutes, he saved the lives of 800 crew including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.”

My goal is to make everything I touch better, no matter how small that improvement is. That should be your goal too. Everything you do should be better than it was before you touched it.

If you can’t do that, stop touching things.

What You Do Is More Important Than How You Do It!
The minute you have written that last line of code you will figure out a better way to do it. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve finished a project, looked back at a bunch of the CSS classes I declared, and said “Well whoever did that was obviously stupid.”, that whoever was me…and at this point…who cares? Get it done, refactor through iterations, and move on.

Just Get It Done!
Seriously, get it done. Don’t spend endless hours wondering what you could do, writing intricate specs, and trying to figure out exactly what user base will use exactly what feature.

Experience tells me that we’re wrong 90% of the time anyway.

Users don’t use your product the way you think they will. They’ll hack it into new configurations, and figure out new ways to ruin it. Just get it out there, refactor it through iterations, and move on.

Just Ship It Already!
It’s good enough. You have no idea what users are going to do to it anyway. Why are you optimizing the network code if you don’t even know that 5 people are going to use it? Get it out, and if 1000 people start using it, throw up a “Oops, you guys are kicking our asses” post and get busy refactoring it…then refactor it further through iterations, and move on.

Make sure you know who you’re coding for
This is where “As a (type of user) I need to (do something) so I can (gain a benefit).” comes into play, if you’re unsure of exactly what you’re doing, make sure you look hard a the user type, what they want to do, and what benefit they get out of it. If you’re missing any one of those you’re probably doing something that doesn’t need to be done.

A system is NOT a type of user
Don’t ever say “as a system I need to do something”, systems aren’t actors, and if you’ve identified a system level task, congratulations…you just discovered a task. Figure out who the person is who gains the benefit, and you’ve got a task.

Know when to throw out the rules
As a (type of user) I need to (do something) so I can (gain a benefit). It’s a great way to remember all of the actors and benefits, but frankly if “The publishing tool needs to PUBLISH A GORRAM BLOG POST WITHOUT BREAKING” gets the point across…WHO CARES (besides the Scrum Police ™).

My DIG 2011 Web Stream Overview

Jeffery Zeldman at DIG

Jeffery Zeldman at DIG

The DIG (Digital Interactive Gaming) conference in London Ontario added a Web Development stream this year to compliment the gaming streams. With an opening keynote by Jeffery Zeldman’ and a closing one by Derek Featherstone, there was world class content being offered in my own home town. These are my slightly edited notes which I took during the talks. There’s some great insight in here, and some really cool links for reference later. Continue Reading

A beautiful life – The passing of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Today the world is a little less beautiful, because yesterday, Steve Jobs died.

I have no profound story of how I met Mr. jobs, or how I’ve used his products for decades, the truth is I hated every experience with a Mac I’d ever had until a couple of years ago (except for editing…Macs always rocked at editing, and Final Cut Pro was a joy to work with).

I was a late convert, it took a long time, and it all started with an MP3 player.

We were all given iPod Mini’s at TSN as an annual gift, it was a nice little device, and I used the hell out of it, discovering podcasts, and remembering my love for non-mainstream talk radio.  Suddenly I could listen to two hours of tech news every week, or a weekly video games show.  I was given an iPod video, and loved seeing how video could suddenly be in your pocket (plus 30 gigs was enough to keep my entire music library with me).

My habits changed and soon I was no longer buying CD’s, why bother when in 3 minutes I could have excellent quality audio files on my iPod?

I strayed a little and experimented with a Microsoft Zune (still ahead of its time doing things like wireless sync and social media connections 3 years before anyone else) , but soon moved to an iPod touch and then an iPhone.

I haven’t looked back, the iPhone is the most amazing, ubiquitous device I’ve ever touched.  It is always with me, and is everything from my camera to my diary.

We bought a 27″ iMac at work, and I fell in love with it.  Editing was a breeze, and I had to admit that OSX had come a long way.  Shortly after, I bought my first Mac, a used white MacBook.  I’ve never looked back, and while I own a couple of PC’s in the house still, Apple has a prominent place in my home.

When the iPad came out, I immediately coveted it, but I swore to wait until the v2 came out. In the mean time I bought an Apple TV, and got Char an iPod touch.

In the spring I bought an aluminum 13″ Macbook Pro, I’m not one to “love” my computer, it’s a tool, but I actually love my MacBook Pro.  I had always heard Apple converts say “it just works”, and that’s the case for me.  Every now and then I have to log into a Windows box, and I dread it.  Things are slower for no reason, and you can tell that there’s always a ton of overhead going on.  When a window stops responding on my Mac for some reason it’s totally isolated and never takes down the system.

The iPad has been a revolution to me.  I answer 90% of my email on it, read all of my news on it, and consume most other media through it.  Plus I do weird things like take notes, manage my server, and do a little drawing.

It truly is magical, and what Mr. Jobs made his company understand was that technology is an enabler, and the best technology moves out of the user’s way.

Steve Jobs has made beautiful products, and he has challenged the rest of us to not settle for good enough.  I think it’s fair to say that a lot of my desire to deliver awesomeness and never settle for “okay” or “mediocre” is because of the inspiration of Steve Jobs.

Without a doubt Apple’s products command a premium, but they should, I sat for five hours with my laptop on battery power last night, and my iPad regularly gets 8-10 hours of solid use.  They don’t overheat, they don’t crash randomly, and the touch experience is so simple that Maks has been using an iOS device since he was one and a half! Both he and Kaylin can navigate around on an iPod, iPhone, or iPad easily.

The fact that he had the vision to create these products has allowed others to iterate on them and create new versions, which has inspired Apple to continue to be better. They were catalyst products that boosted us forward decades in innovation to the point where science fiction and science fact are the same.

He may not have hewn the brushed aluminum, or coded the interfaces that make everything Apple touches awesome, but all indications are that he micro-managed the CRAP out of the organization to get them to where they are. He built a company that will go on and do amazing things because of people like Jony Ive, and Tim Cook.

Apple will survive and thrive long after Steve is gone, and the world is better because of it.

How to Create an Online PVR

Amahi

Amahi Media Server

About six months ago my MediaSmart Home Server started acting strangely.  I did quite a bit of research and my conclusion was that the new software I installed about a year ago (which gave it a ton more functionality) was kind of bloated for the underpowered hardware.

What to do?  I love my home server, I love the fact that it did backups and all kinds of nice little things, but honestly in the 4 years I’ve had it, I’ve only used the backup features twice (once to save a corrupt hard drive, once to save Char’s computer from a virus).  Other than that it worked as a NAS and a media collector.

As a NAS it was wonderful, until a hard drive failure made me lose a few files.  That was irritating.  As a media collector it was horrible, duplicating files and creating a labyrinthian file structure that hurt my face.

Plus my needs have changed.  I don’t like having a separate PVR in my house sucking up power, I have a Boxee and an Apple TV in my house now, and I’m sure there are wonderful things they can do as well.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could have a cheap secondary NAS to do all of my backups to (maybe 2TB of RAID1 duplication), and on top of that have a second NAS that could do media collection and PVR everything?  What would be extra cool is if it could do it with my extremely power conscious hardware and maybe take 2-3 computers out of our equation here in the homestead.  As an added benefit, if I can figure out how to do all of this via the internet, I can probably cut the cord.

The first part was to buy a DLink DNS-323, it’s a little NAS box that has 2 drive bays, is incredibly hackable, and has a bunch of different little features in it.  It’s Linux based, so in order to do cool things, I’d need to break out my long dormant bash skills, but I love a challenge.

I mounted the box, got a hard drive in there, and went out to find some of the features I’d need to make the box better.  I added the FireFly media server, a dynamic DNS server, and an update to create better SMB (regular networking) shares.  It was dead simple, and probably the best $100.00 I could have spent.  I moved my files over without much effort and then looked at my Home Server.

So now I have this beautiful piece of hardware that is essentially a brick.  What to do with it?  Enter Amahi.  I’ve been reading about it for a while, it’s a lightweight server based on Fedora Linux with a slick web interface.  It does regular NAS stuff, allows for automated scheduled backups of computers, and has some extra things like SickBeard (automated download of TV shows) integration.

I downloaded and installed it according to the instructions on How To Geek: Upgrade Your MediaSmart Home Server, and everything worked pretty much as advertised.  I then put the drive in my Home Server, and had it configured to do some cool things.

SickBeard

SickBeard

Up first, SickBeard, which schedules downloads of TV shows.

SABnzbd

SABnzbd

Up next, SABnzbd, which goes out to (***some place special on the internet***) downloads the files, unpacks them, and stores them in a file.  The average TV show takes about 3 minutes to download.

So how does it work?  After the first week it’s recorded all of our TV shows, saved them to the network share, and we can watch them in the basement on the Boxee Box.

Where do we go from here?  Well first up, I’m getting a new internet connection.  While I have no problems with Rogers, from a technical point of view, I HATE doing the constant mental calculations about how close to my limit I am and whether I can download that ISO from Technet, or if I can download that game on the PSN.  I’m going with TechSavvy, and I’ll probably cut the cord once we get our HD Antennas working properly.

Comic Sales You’re Doing It Wrong

Action Comics #1

Action Comics #1

I still get my comics from All New Comics, but because I get quite a bit less than I used to they come at the end of the month.

There was quite a bit of press about Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #1 (buy it now at All New Comics), and after reading some of the reviews online, I decided that I wanted to check out some of the other new books.

So on a whim I went to a local comic shop on my lunch break. The store is by far London’s largest.  The bearded proprietor asked me what I was looking for. “The new DC books” said I. “Sorry man, I can’t sell them to you until I have pulled them all for my regular customers. Come back at 4pm.” said he.

Seriously. 4pm?

So let me get this straight. At lunch you see a customer come into your store. He’s not a regular who normally buys from you, but he’s wearing a dress shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes. Without stereotyping, he’s likely got some money. He’s offering to pay you money for comics. Specifically he’s offering to pay you money for the new comics which everyone has over-ordered SPECIFICALLY TO ADDRESS THIS AMAZING NEW MARKET WHICH WE ALL ASSUME WILL BE COMING INTO OUR STORES (online at All New Comics we have LITERALLY ordered twice our normal subscription numbers to sell to people who visit our site…normally if we sell 20 copies of a comic, we’ll sell 2 online, but we’re gambling that a bunch of new faces will be checking stuff out, and so far that’s paid off).

I went back to my office, turned on my iPad, and downloaded Action #1, Batgirl #1, and Swamp Thing #1. Later tonight I think I’m going to buy a few more new comics from the DC Comics App (even though it irritates me that I’m paying full price to basically rent a comic book).

Now let’s be honest, I COULD have pressed the issue.  I could have told him that I own an online shop and really just wanted to check some issues out, I COULD have told him I used to work in that very store years ago (and there’s a good chance he was a customer of mine at some point), I could have name dropped any one of a half dozen people who would have been able to help me out.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that this store failed the most basic principle of this new launch.  Sell to people you don’t normally sell to.  These guys should have been TRIPPING over themselves to help me out.

I’ve bought a few things in the shop from time to time.  I bring my kids in, and buy them stuff, I buy supplies like boxes, which indicates I have comics from SOME source, and am likely a good “mark” to try to convince to buy from them, and they can’t even make the effort for me.

I wish I could say this is an isolated incident, but this same treatment has happened to me at pretty much every single comic shop I’ve ever visited.  I’ve been irritated, overlooked, or otherwise ignored time and time again.

People have all sorts of excuses for what is killing comic shops, I’ll tell you right now that the problem with most comic shops is right behind the counter.

HP Doesn’t Know What It Wants To Be

I’ve been a bit of an HP fanboy for a while.  I have an 8 year old HP laser printer that I love, a 4 year old HP pavilion that still runs great, an HP Media Smart Home Server, and this year I bought my wife an HP laptop, and a new colour laser jet printer…so I was pretty annoyed last week when they announced they were getting out of the consumer space to put their head in the clouds.

Then I read this: HP Touchpad to Return.  Basically, HP is going to do another run of touch pads.

I managed to snag one last week, and even at $150 (for the 32gig version) it may be over priced considering there are exactly 352 apps in the WebOS app store (and only about 10-20% of those are touchpad specific).  Plus the thing’s buggy as heck, and heavier than the 1st gen iPads.

Are consumers REALLY going to buy a product from a company that wants to exit a market so they can chase some cloud pipe dream?

Does HP realize that those consumers are also the people who work in enterprises?  The same people that HP wants to put their faith in massive enterprise cloud computing platforms that offer them major profits.

What happened to HP the family controlled company that slowly and steadily first became THE name in consumer printers, and is now the largest selling computer manufacturer?

They’ve become a company of dashed hopes and broken promises.  The company that bought Compaq, and shuttered my beloved iPaq line.  Who killed their Media Smart Windows Home Server line. Who ship printers with “e-print” ready stickers…which have notes inside the box saying a firmware upgrade will be available summer 2011 (I’m still waiting btw).  A company which all but killed WebOS last week, and this week resurrects it.

I was at Alliance/Atlantis in the early 2000’s when they went through 3 CEO’s in 2 years and it felt like this, no true direction, just a constant sprint towards the next big thing.  Internally it was demoralizing, and a good chunk of us left.

HP is a company without direction, and a company that anyone would be foolish to trust with hardware or software while they are so clueless.

HP is dead to me until some major corporate shake ups happen.

They don’t want me as a consumer?  Fair enough, but I’m sure as heck not going to recommend them as a cloud provider to my bosses when they can’t even commit to holding true to their word on exiting a business.

If HP bought Amazon’s S3 (which I passionately love), I would immediately start looking at alternatives, because recent track records indicate it’s only a matter of time before HP exits the market.

Justice League #1 Review The New 52 Starts Here

Justice League #1

DC Comics Justice League #1

DC Comics New 52 got its start a week early with Justice League #1, launching the brand new DC Universe, which spins out of the events in Flashpoint #5.

Written by DC Comics Creative Director Geoff Johns and DC Comics Co-Publisher (and the man in charge of DC’s digital initiative) Jim Lee, Justice League #1 (buy it now at All New Comics) was billed as a prequel story, telling the tale the birth of the DCU.  It’s set in the formative days of the superhero universe, with Batman still an urban legend, and none of the other heroes having come out to the general public.

As the story starts off, there’s an incredibly antagonistic relationship between Batman and the Gotham City Police Department, which by all indications, is completely corrupt (after demanding that two heroes raise their hands in the air, the police immediately open fire).

In Gotham Batman meets a very cocky, very brash Green Lantern – Hal Jordan, who apparently has been through a run-in or two with the military on the west coast.

Batman and Green Lantern chase down a foe who I guessed right off was a newly revamped parademon, and indeed this footsoldier of Apocalypse declares “For Darkside” before blowing himself up in an attempt to destroy the two costumed heroes.

Before the end of the issue we’re introduced to athlete Victor Stone, and a surprise guest from another planet to close the issue out.

The story is over all too quickly, but it left me anxiously awaiting not only the next issue, but also the entire arc which will tell us how the group got together.  As an added bonus, I’m now much more interested in how the entire universe will play out than I was before I read the issue!

Johns’ has the ability to take old concepts and make them fresh, and has managed to get me to care about both Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, two characters who to me were always cyphers (and frankly were never as fully realized as their replacements Kyle Rayner and Wally West).  If anyone can take this new DCU in a new direction, it’s him.

Lee’s art is spectacular as always.  The quality of his work is never a question, it’s whether he can maintain a regular schedule, especially with so many things conspiring to keep his attention divided.

This is a great jump on point, not only for the new Justice League, but also for the new DCU, I’m extremely excited about where this story can go, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

All New Comics has partnered up with Don MacPherson’s Eye on Comics this month as Don sets out to review all 52 new #1’s.  Be sure to check out Don’s website where he has reviews of both Flashpoint #5, and Justice League #1.

Fan Expo The 2011 Edition

Fan Expo 2011

Images from Fan Expo 2011

This past weekend was Fan Expo Canada, and while I’ve gone every year for the last 4 years as a retailer, and before that had been to nearly every show for the better part of a decade (with a couple of exceptions), this year it didn’t look like I’d be able to go.

I’m in the middle of something pretty big right now for the site, so I didn’t really have the time, and Char had made birthday plans for Kaylin on Saturday to go to Toronto, meaning unless I felt like taking a two year old to the show…I’d be sitting this one out.

Then something happened, and suddenly I was going on Friday.  I left London at 6:10am, and arrived in Toronto at about 8:45, which is pretty good time all things considered.  Parked, grabbed a coffee, and texted Pete, who told me to meet him in the parking garage.

Security this year was pretty crazy, and badges were actually made out in peoples names, rather than years before where we would just get generic “All New Comics” badges.

I helped Pete lug some things in, checked out the set up, and did a quick tour of duty, to see everything before the people got in.  During my wanderings I came across a bin of Star Wars action figures at $2.00 each or 6 for $10.  So of course I loaded up for the kids.  I also made note of a few other things I wanted to grab.

I headed back to the All New Comics booth, and gave Pete a quick hand filling up the back issue bins, taking down the tarps, and generally getting ready for the show to start.

This year our booth was in a great area.  Last year we were kind of in the “comic book ghetto”, whereas in years past we’ve been on the outside rim of the comic dealers.  This year we were back on the rim, right across from the spacious Hasbro booth, and down the hall from the LucasFilm stuff.  This year neither of the dealers on either side of us were really competing with us.  On the one side was an Anime toy dealer, and the other was a guy selling…well I’m not exactly sure what it was, it seemed to be his own comic or something?  Didn’t really figure it out, but in any case he wasn’t competing with us at all!

Suddenly there was a deluge of people, and the show was on.  Pete got an Interac machine this year, and from what he said about the volume, that’s something we should have looked into years ago.

Some highlights of the show for me:

The layout of the show this year was spectacular.  Exhibitors on the sides, vendors in the middle.  Some of the bigger exhibitors included Hasbro, Lucasfilm, Warner Brothers, Ubisoft, Microsoft, LG, and Disney (who had cartoonists doing Disney original drawings which were super cool).

Checking out the Blu Ray footage of Star Wars.  I can’t wait to watch it on my new TV setup in the basement.

Playing with the new Ultimate Lightsabers from Hasbro.  They don’t seem that durable, and for $50.00, I could practically buy a Force FX one.

Jeff Smith’s booth (of Bone fame) was incredibly classy, as were the setups of Marvel, DC, and Image.

The Flashpoint Friday panel was a great one, and I really wish I had thought of my “chippable” question DURING the panel (I’ll write a blog post about it soon).  In any event, I got a green $25.00 Wayne Casinos poker chip which was pretty cool.

Seeing Tom Savini just sitting at a booth and chatting with him for a few minutes.

Doing some fun shopping.

Getting to talk to a couple of our customers, Mark in front of our booth, and Dave in line for the Flashpoint Friday panel (plus a quick “hi” to Taber who was getting a sketch from…)

Dale and Louise Eaglesham at their booth.  Louise, or “Wolfie” as she’s known to her fans, always makes a point to say hi to me when she sees me wandering by, although she can never tell Pete and I apart (and it’s even harder now that I shaved my goatee off for the summer).

My purchases this year were pretty spectacular.

  • 12 Star Wars figures for $20.00 (for the kids).
  • Angry Birds…the board game (a huge hit with Kaylin and Maks).
  • Justice League Volume 3 & 4 (the final two Morrison volumes) for $30.00 total.
  • Walking Dead Compendium for a ridiculous good price from my own shop 😉
  • WE3 the Deluxe Edition (again, bought it from my own store, but DAMN it’s good).

I have a few regrets.

  • One of the Archie artists was selling pages for $35.00.  I wanted to look through the stacks of artwork he had, but I was in a rush to make the panel.  Would have been a cool thing to own.
  • I didn’t get a chance to find out how much Francis Manpaul’s Flash pages were going for.
  • I didn’t find any cool sketchbooks to buy, which I usually do every year.

Overall though the show was spectacular and I had a great time getting in and out without anybody getting hurt.

I’m always amazed at how good the Fan Expo shows are, and this year I think may have been the best one yet.  A ton of news came out of it on the comic news sites, which is always an indication that good things are happening.  Congrats to Aman, Tiz, Kevin, and the rest of the Fan Expo crew on another successful show.