Cool web sites that I like

I'm a web guy, it's what I do, it's what I like, some might even go so far as to call me a “mouse potatoe”. So these are the links that I've accumulated this week. Good sites, fun sites, and sites that I go to all the time: – relaunched and slightly rebranded. I love the new look, and I really like the embedded player.

Ted Serbinski's redsign blog – One of the guys behind the revamp of Because of this site I finally figured out what I am, I'm not a web designer, developer, or designeloper, I'm a web architect! I think I may even have a HeadsDown business card that says that. From Ted's “About Me” page:

he’s not just a web designer, but a web architect. he understands the process from start to end (is there ever really an end though?), inside and out. database schemas, to information architecture, to complex PHP XML parsing functions, to Photoshop skills, to whatever is thrown his way. nothing ever too much.

Drupal – The publishing tool that's powering

ArkTyp – Amber McCarthy's team who helped design

Joomla! – Another publishing tool that's really nice to look at.

UFO's – Unobtrusive Flash Objects. Very cool. Very valid.

Stop HobbyStar – A little side project of mine which is aimed at getting HobbyStar marketing to stop their agressive tactics.

Bleeding Star Clothing – I'm loving that “Grunge club” look these days. It's oh so 2006 don'tcha know?

Hazmat – Grungy, gritty, and totally crazy. Love the look. I love the vectors combined with photography look.

Embedding Flash in HTML (2006)
With the Eolas patent lawsuit this is yet another problem we have to deal with. Crappy.

Ars Technica
I used to visit this site quite a bit, a recent overhaul and makeover has made it awesome.

Flash vs Windows Media: Choosing the right format
It's a big question for us streaming media types. What's the right way to go?

SDCC 2006: San Diego Comic Con International
I heard the HobbyStar show referred to as Nerd Prom…but come on, what's the more nerd prom? The largest convention in North America, or the 5th largest comics convention in North America?


Getting the word out

It has been a busy bunch of months, but finally after all that time, I'm off for a week! Time to sit down, take a load off, chillax, and do pretty much nothing.

…or maybe not.

I'm pretty much swamped at work lately, even with the addition of a new developer. Actually, that's caused more work for me in the short term as I have to start building work plans, project plans, and many other plans so that all of the developers (and our graphic designer) have plenty to do to keep them occupied.

Then there's a ton of other extracurricular activities I need to finish, such as performance reviews, interviews for a new developer, and various discovery documents (not to mention documentation in general).

This week I'm going to try to crank a few of those things off, and I'm going to attempt to read a book or two as well. I've got my eye on “Getting Things Done”, which I've had on my shelf since the cruise a year and a half ago. In addition to that, I'm going to read “CSS Mastery”, which is an awesome book on CSS design…yes I'm pretty much a guru, but it's always fun to learn new stuff.

All New Comics has settled into a nice little pattern. Every week I spend 2-3 hours updating the site on Sunday with the new stuff for the week. This involves finding cover images for every comic we get every week (an average of 20-25 titles which go on the site weekly), finding a blurb about each book, consulting with our inventory to figure out how many go online vs how many go to pulls, and going through the store admin to upload all of that good stuff. Then I write a little blurb, post it as news, put it on the front page, and make sure everything's organized just right.

I also usually look at our analytics to see what's being searched for, who's talking about the site on message boards etc, and if there are any new customers whom I should communicate with.

This week is additionally busy as I have to add a few dozen products to our subscription routine, which will keep me busy for a few hours.

Our AdWords are generating about 150 or so new visits every month, and our sales have definately increased. We're actually where I expected us to be at this point, but now we need to step it up so that we're making more sales and getting more people subscribed. I'd like to see us double our subscriptions by the end of the summer, and double our monthly sales as well.

It would also be nice if Pete and I weren't our own largest customers every month.

That part I doubt will happen anytime soon though. We both read far too much, and buy way too many little extras. It's not our fault though, the companies keep on putting out so much good stuff that we've gotta keep buying it all!


What up cuz?

This weekend Kaylin got to meet her cousins Bradyn and Kiera (not to mention her other cousins Sherri, Jason and granola eatin', hemp-wearin' BC-ite Brenda). She met her first “big dog” (and had the cries scared right out of her when Whisky barked one of those bellowing barks that reverberates deep in the pit of your gut)…and she and Kiera beat up on little Bradyn. I think it was the girls way of saying “Welcome to Ontario granola eata'!”

The weekend was pretty packed, with a barbeque at Larry and Liz's to celebrate their return from Africa, where Kaylin crawled around, harassed their cat, and generally had a blast. We got her home around seven and started the “going to sleep” process.

Sunday was loads of fun, I haven't seen Brenda in a few years, and the last time we saw Kiera she was just a few months old. She's walking with the help of one of those walker toys (which inspired Kaylin to start motoring around he house on her walker toy when she got home), and she's a little brute, beating up on her poor cousin Bradyn and trying to suck on her face on more than one occasion.

Sadly our visit was all too short. We got to London around noon, had lunch with grampa and gramma, popped over to Ryan's (hoping to visit Ryan, Kari, Paige, and the newest addition to their family Cordeila), but we missed him (because he was apparently locked in his basement battling the denziens of the 4th level of hell…or perhaps a leak, I get easily confused by the two). We went to Sherri and Jason's around 3, and stayed until about 4:30 when we decided we needed to head back to “the 'Jax”.

Kaylin loves seeing little people her own height, so she had a blast, going so far as to babble about her day pretty much the whole way home. She was hilarious, chatting, getting mad a couple of times because she was bored, but generally having a good old time in the back of the car.

She fell asleep around Milton, and napped a little bit until we got home. Then we got her ready for bed and put her down for sleep.

Last week we started the whole “crying it out” process. We've read a half dozen books on the subject (and by “we” I mean “Charlene” has read), and we realize the difference between all of the methods. Until a couple of months ago, we took turns rocking her to sleep. Then she decided she would only be rocked by mommy. Then she decided she would only go to sleep while being nursed by mommy. Then she decided that she wouldn't bother going down after being nursed and would require a minimum of an hour of rocking, in which she wouldn't truly sleep.

We finally realized that she's crying it out on her own, the only difference is that it's getting longer and longer, and she was starting to get miserable in the morning too. We realized we had to do something drastic, so crying it out was all we could do.

The first night, we gave her a bath, I read “Goodnight Gorilla” to her (by “read it to her” I mean she turned the pages willy nilly in both a forward and backward fashion and I made up words for the pages). I then kissed her, and put her in bed, where she cried for 10 minutes. Char went in, hugged her (but didn't take her out of the crib), and told her it was bed time. 10 minutes more of crying I went in and did the same. 10 minutes later Char repeated the process, and 10 minutes after that I went in for a final time. She was sitting up crying, but not really serious about it. I laid her down and told her it was bed time one more time while I rubbed her tummy. She cried a little bit, and then went to sleep before I got out of the room.

The next four nights were roughly the same varying between 40 minutes and 30 minutes. Saturday though, it was an hour. Then came Sunday night. We put her down…she complained a bit (but didn't cry or scream really), and then settled down and got to sleep. Fifteen minutes later. Last night, same routine, but the smallest amount of complaining, and five minutes later she was out.

PLUS she's sleeping better every night. Hopefully this is the start of her learning how to sleep.


Cool or cutting edge? What comic store is best?

Every now and then I daydream. Lately those daydreams have been about comic stores. I still have this dream to open a comic store, and one day I will…the question is, what kind of comic store? Will it be hip and trendy, cool but safe, or totally out there?

This isn't something that will happen this year, maybe not even next year…my first priority is making our online store All New Comics THE number one comic destination for Canadians, and there's a lot of work to be done on that front.

One of the cool things about our distributor's website is that they have all of these cool “On the road” reports, where they show different stores from all across North America. In Toronto they visited 1,000,000 Comix, 3rd Quadrant, Comics and More, The Silver Snail, the Beguiling, the Comic Emporium, and Yesterday's Heroes. The stores are all tidy, clean, and nicely laid out…but they're comic stores. They're distincly comic-booky, and as cool as places like the Beguiling and the Snail are, I don't know if they fit my image of what “cool” is.

My partner likes the classic “Comic store” look. He likes bins, lots of toys and merch, and he has a fondness for dark colours.

I'm a fan of open white space, a lack of clutter, and cool design. I have two different visions in mind, either an antique apothocary look, or a modern art gallery look (and depending on what day of the week it is, my decisions change). I want new comics, TPB's, and cool toys that you can't get at Toys R Us to be our focus. I'd love to have an art gallery section as well focusing on local artists to give them a venue to sell their work.

Two stores I'm a huge fan of are Überbot in Winter Park Florida, and Magic Pony here in Toronto. Uberbot sells comics and cool vinyl toys, while Magic Pony is all about toys and art. Both of them have that gallery feel to them, and both of them look distinctly “different”.

Now here's the trouble. I showed a bunch of guys at work pictures of Zeus in Dallas Texas (a favourite store of Pete's) and pictures of Überbot. The comic guys LOVED Zeus. It's cluttered, it's got loads of stuff, and it looks like a “comic store”. They didn't like Überbot because it was too neat looking.

I showed them both to non-comics fans, and those folks liked Überbot, saying it looked like a shop on Queen Street they'd go to, and said they'd never want to go into Zeus.

So…the question is, is this a good way to get new folks into your store (which is how you grow your business), or does it just alienate the hardcores, who are ultimately the bread and butter that keeps your business afloat?

About Me

Tracking patient zero

On Saturday morning around 10am I got a call from my neighbour down the street “Freak Daddy” Donnie. “Yo Dark, you busy?” he inquired. This is usually code for “Come over and play video games.”, “A little dude, I’m cleaning the office because my parents are coming over.” I responded (actually I was trying to FIND my office beneath the mess that had accumulated over the last couple of months). “Can you do me a favour, I think I’ve got food poisoning and I’m stuck in the bathroom, Sarah’s gone to Niagra, and Tasha’s screaming in the other room. Can you come over for a minute and take care of her?” Dude, seriously, no problem, I’m there.

I let Char know where I was going and ran over to Donnie and Sarah’s (little girl run style…because I know it will make Donnie smile). Poor Tash was crying in her crib, but she brightened up when she saw me (kid’s got the disposition of a trooper, she never plays strange and is always smiles with folks). I took her downstairs and hung out with her after checking on Donnie. I heard him rumbling around upstairs so we went up to see how he was doing (and to change Tash’s diaper)…I believe it was at this point that I made a grevious mistake. Somewhere between sticking around for Tasha’s diaper change, disposing of the diaper or just talking to Donnie, I unwittingly became infected with his sickness.

Donnie’s dad came by to take over and I headed home where I finished cleaning up before I started preparing my walkway for some major construction, and got to work laying bricks.

My mom and dad came down this weekend, and dad and I spent all Saturday putting sand down, tamping, and buying pavers to install in the walkway. The trip to the brickyard for the stones is a story in itself I’ll have to tell some time.

Sunday morning, feeling pretty good except for the residual soreness from all the work on Saturday, and a mild headache, dad and I got up and started laying bricks (I think the first ones went down around 9am or so). Char headed out to a shower for our friend Tiffany in Hamilton, while my mom took care of Kaylin. We stopped for a lunch break, but my mom was taking awesome care of the Kegger, so there was no need for me to go in there and disrupt their fun (mom even got Kaylin to go down for a nap without a fuss!). By about 6 we were done and other than putting down sand, and cementing the sides into place my work on the walk was done. While we were cleaning up I started feeling a little off, and despite a couple of Advils, my head was killing me, I decided I’d better get everything cleaned up before we went in for dinner thinking that once I stopped my body would probably rebel a little and complain if I didn’t let it rest a little bit.

I managed to scarf down a couple pieces of pizza, but I was just feeling terrible. I decided to lay down on the couch for a bit and just rested, but things were quickly going south. At first I was thinking I was just exhausted and must be feeling the effects of the heat or something. I went and had a shower as my mom and dad got ready to go back home, but things were getting worse, and my head was starting to pound.

Almost as soon as they left I went upstairs and laid down for a bit, but I knew things were getting worse. At about 6:30, it was just too much and my body decided that everything I had eaten today would need to go. The stomache just yelled out “Okay, one of you buggers that got in here is causing trouble, that’s it. EVERYBODY OUT!!!”, and out it came. I made it into the bathroom just in time, and expulsed a torrent of badness. Feeling a little better I went back to bed, and Charlene brought Kaylin up to get her ready for bed. After her night nursing, Kaylin suddenly exploded with vomit, her first vomit incident in her little life. Char got covered, and I tried to clean it up as best I could, but I just couldn’t stomache it. Sure enough, seconds later I was back in the bathroom. Poor Kegger got sick one more time, but seemed to be better after that (though she was more whiney than normal). Char got her to settle down and go to bed, and then she spent the next several hours taking care of me, getting me water, cleaning up after me a couple of times, and going out for Pepto and Ginger Ale, and giving me Advil to control my fever, as I ran back and forth to the bathroom. Around 1am I finally settled down enough that I could sleep (though I got up a couple more times during the night). In all I think I was sick for a good six hours, and when I was done, I was pretty empty.

The next morning I was just wasted. My head still hurt like heck and I just needed to sleep for hours. My stomache was doing flip-flops, but luckily I wasn’t vomiting any more (though I was still running to the toilet if you know what I mean). I called my mom, and found out my dad had spent the night praying to the porcelain god, and was recovering too. A quick call to Donnie found that his dad, Sarah, and her dad were all sick too. So far my mom and Charlene were the only two unaffected.

Tuesday evening though…things started going downhill for Char, and she went through pretty much everything I did from 6pm on, fever, cold sweats, chills, everything…except she had the added bonus of having to keep our baby nursed. She’s a trooper though and pulled through (I’m sure she’ll go through a blow by blow on I Heart Baby Toes when she feels up to it).

In the end, Donnie’s “food poisoning” ended up being a plague worse than the bubonic and I think I’m going to change Donnie’s name to “Typhoid Mary”. At least it was a fast one, and not one of those lingering sicknesses that go on for weeks, or that leave you with a cold after, this was a quick 24 hours of wastedness, followed by a couple of days of feeling gross, but nothing long lasting.

About Me

So many things, so little time

Just when you start thinking that things are going to lighten up, the insanity just keeps on keeping on. Things have been really busy this last couple of weeks, and it's starting to look like a busy summer despite my earlier predictions.

The Toronto Comicon went awesome, we got our name out there, and we've been averaging five sales a week since the show. When you combine that with our subscription customers it's just about where I predicted we'd be. We've tried a couple of cool stunts as well such as mailing out free comics on Free Comic Book Day (which cost about $140.00 to do…so much for free!), and I'm about to send out an email on subscriptions.

That's the next big thing I want to tackle, we need more subscriptions. I would like it very much if we had about 10 more people subscribed to get their monthly fix. It was in the business plan to have 20 people subscribed by the end of year one, right now we're at 10, so half way there. We've got 4 months to get those last 10.

Ryan was a godsend when it came to finishing up the store, he worked his butt off, and did a terrific job. The subscriptions tool is wicked, and I love how easy it is to use.

Ryan and I have a ton of stuff on the go for HeadsDown right now. We just finished up the Western Ontario Hockey League, I'm creating a template for a clinical psychologist in Toronto, and we've got two pitches out to a transportation company in London and a total e-store site in Toronto.

We're starting to productize our E-Commerce installs and we want to start selling them to Hobby Stores and small businesses next.

In addition to all of that, we're working behind the scenes on the next version of HeadsDown which will incorporate a ton of new features, and add a lot of little things that are missing.

Oh, and we're helping to raise kids. Yeah, it'll be a busy summer for sure.


Fun times at the Toronto Comicon

Last weekend was the real world debut of All New Comics at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon, and it was a big success both financially and in terms of getting our name out there.

On Friday we got to the National Trade Centre around 11am, and started to set up for the 3pm start time. I thought we'd have plenty of time, but it was tight, with us just making it under the wire, and being prepared by about quarter after 3. Friday was light, but we made some significant sales, and I realized we may have needed to stock up on a few things. Sadly, I didn't get to leave the booth really, and pretty much stayed glued to the TPB area where I was giving away ballots and postcards.

Saturday I took the Go Train in, and arrived at about 9:30, not having had my morning coffee. When the doors opened at 10, we were steady, but not incredibly busy. Guests started appearing at our table to look for Peter, who was out on the show floor smoozing and getting people comfortable. Kelvin showed up around 11, and Larry and Jeff arrived with coffees for me shortly after him. Around noon things started to get hectic, and we sold out of Crisis on Infinite Earths hardcover collections, JLA/Avengers hardcover collections, and Watchmen Abosolute Editions (each of which we had brought two copies of).

At 1pm, we were really getting busy, just in time for Pete to go off for lunch with George Perez (I only mention it because I'm jealous). Pete came back with a bunch of signatures for me and a gorgeous sketch of Wonder Woman for himself.

Things slowed down around 4, which was much needed. Charlene and Kaylin came around 5:30, and we wandered the show floor showing off our baby to various folks whom I had chatted her up about. She was a huge hit, and it was nice to finally get to introduce Charlene to Pete. Of course in all of the hub-bub, I forgot to introduce them to Alex, who was busy managing the booth so that Pete and I could take off.

By the end of the day we had also sold out of Astonishing X-Men hardcovers, 100 Bullets volume 9 (because Brian Azzarello was sending people our way), and were almost out of V for Vendettas.

Sunday, despite the City of Toronto's best efforts to screw us (the Gardiner was closed for most of the weekend, the Lakeshore was closed for a couple of hours on Sunday, Yonge street was closed in portions on Sunday, and Bathurst was closed in portions on Saturday), sales were still brisk. This was the day that I decided I was going to wander around and talk to folks. I chatted with Gail Simone and her husband, had a nice conversation with Mark McKenna, and chatted with Ramona Fradon (who is an amazing sketching machine, putting together sketches all weekend long at an incredible speed). I ended up buying a page of Villians United off Dale Eaglesham, and won a Michael Avon Oeming page from Powers in the Actor Charity Auction. Pete got me a sweet Metamorpho sketch that I had been eyeing all weekend at Ramona's booth as well.

One of the most satisfying things was how much the guests enjoyed themselves. V for Vendetta artist David Lloyd dropped by our booth a half dozen or so times, and always had kind words for us, he did a fantastic little sketch in my copy of V, and urged people to go by our booth to pick up his books. Thanks to him we sold an entire case of V trades (20 trades in a case) over the course of the three days. Gail Simone who writes Birds of Prey and Villians United, sent over tons of folks too, and her table had All New Comics postcards and ballots at it all weekend long. All of the ladies who were there for our Women of Comics panels did great things to promote us.

We couldn't have gotten through the weekend without the awesome help of some really great people. Gus the sketch-getting machine was amazing, managing to be both in line-ups with artists for sketches and at our table at the same time by enlisting the help of his mom. That's multi-tasking folks! George the underappreciated wizard of sales who managed to float into all of the right places at the right times. Sure we had a little disagreement over something that I sold which I shouldn't have sold, but we learned from the experience and next year we'll have a better “reserve” system in place. Erin, our “Weapon of Mass Distraction”, who brought coffees on Sunday and kept people coming back to the booth.

Most significantly there was Alex, who was a wizard of sales, keeping an eye on the entire booth, managing things when Pete and I were away, and having a seemingly never-ending amount of energy. I don't remember seeing him get frustrated, annoyed, or even irked about anything all weekend long (the same of which can't be said for me). Dude was a comic booth GOD all weekend long, and when my energy was gone on Sunday, he stepped up and took over amazingly well. Plus, it was his idea to give the ladies a little gift bag with all sorts of convention must-haves in them, that was by far the biggest hit of the show, and got us a ton of good will (which led to bigger sales).

Peter is such a great guy. there were so many people dropping by to see him, and he's well loved by a ton of folks who are in the industry, and that looks great on us as a company. His is one horse I'm pretty happy I hitched up to. We've got very similar goals when it comes to getting new people to check out comics, and we both want to get the same market (people who want to read comics, but who don't think that there's stuff out there “for them”).

Both pageviews and visits have seen nice healthy spikes in traffic since the show, we've generated five first time purchases, and about a dozen new customer sign-ups which are all good signs. On Thursday we're going to send out a follow up Comicon email, and maybe hit a few boards with reviews of the show (our biggest referrals come from board postings we do).


Good design, wicked websites

The internet is all full of all manner of wonderment and amazeness.

Dave Werner's portfolio
A 26 year old kid who went to the Portfolio Center in Atlanta and came out the other side as “one to watch”. Holy crap. I've never seen such an inspiring and amazing work of art.

Okay Samurai
Dave Werner's site with writing and such.

The Making of Copper
Kazu Kibuishi's spectacular comic is demonstrated step-by-step. His colouring process is fascinating, but pretty standard.

This week I picked up two books on how to colour digitally, it's a pretty cool process.

The Women of Comics
Diana's doing a great job updating the site, and the Women of Comics symposium will be pretty cool next week.

All New Comics
We relaunched the site on Monday, the new site looks great, and is working wonderfully. Subscriptions will be finished this week. I love this site, kudos to Ryan for all of his work, he's good people.

I've got Serenity on in the background as I write this…which may explain the antiquicated writing style and what have you. Joss Whedon is brilliant.


What I think would make a cool comic store

So with All New Comics poised to become a HUGE online success story, I've been thinking about what our next steps should be (because that's what makes me a big picture thinker…I think 5 steps ahead of the curve). Of course our first steps are to become a massive online resource, but eventually we're going to need a physical place to hold parties and creator events. The best place for such things would probably be a store. There are thousands of comic stores out there, and frankly about 90% of them suck. Bad.

*Updated with comments and some interesting All New Comics facts.

I've always wanted a place like the Silver Snail, which in my opinion was once one of the best looking shops in the city (but which is starting to fall prey to the “too damn much going on” phenomenon). Heroes World up in Unionville is pretty good and has a few of the things I look for. Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash (two locations one in Red Bank New Jersey, the other in Westwood LA) look awesome.

However James Sime's The Comic Pimp recently focused on a new shop called “Secret Headquarters“. The store looks quite simply awesome. Everything is white walls and rich woods, nice cabinets, shelves, simply beautiful.

What sets them apart are monthly art shows where artists display their original comic book art.

Now that's what a comic book store should look like. Why settle for the mundane when you can reach for the stars?

That's my dream. What do you think would make for a cool store that you'd want to shop in?

** Update, one interesting little factoid that I've come across while surfing through the All New Comics logs. 90% of our sales happen between 8pm and 10am, the time when most stores are closed. Are traditional store hours a waste of time? Is having a brick and mortar presence a good thing or simply a waste of resources in today's iLife world?


Big news in the land of Kaylin!

So last week I alluded to a big story, something huge, something spectacular. Our baby girl turned 8 months old yesterday (Easter Sunday), but exactly a week earlier she made some huge strides. Literally.

Yup, little Kegger can crawl. Last Saturday she took her first tentative movement, figuring out that her hand had to move as well as her knees, then on Sunday she put the two together and actually moved forward. On Monday morning I put her down on the floor and she immediately scooted forward as if it were the most natural thing ever.

Since that time she's picked up her speed about tenfold, and enjoys getting into all manner of trouble (heat vents, the stereo tuning knob, the bathroom floor, my shoes in the hallway…the world is now her oyster). She's also mastered the fine art of pushing back to sit up. She loves to crawl forward three paces and then push back to check out where she is. Sometimes she'll continue the way she was going, but occasionally something will catch her fancy the other way and she'll just flip around like she's been doing it all her life.

Her personality is really starting to emerge as well. She's a little nut, and a total perpetual motion machine. My parents were down on the weekend and they got to hang out with her. Kaylin really turned on the charm, giggling, laughing, and generally being a ham (she is her father's daughter after all).

It's hard to believe that this was the same little gnome who's head we had to ensure was constantly supported just a few months ago.