Wednesday Night D&D Group

Some­time in the Fall 0f 2008, I joined a group of folks I met through a Meet­up at Mike’s place in Spring Hill to play 4th Edi­tion D&D. This is a back-post of some pho­tos I took from a cou­ple of games in Feb­ru­ary 2009.

The orig­i­nal pho­tos (and com­ments) are on Flickr.

One-Plus Year at Bentley

I sup­pose I owe those who read this site some­thing a bit more upbeat regard­ing last year than my pre­vi­ous post-2008 post. So I want­ed to focus on one of the very pos­i­tive things that hap­pened to us last year.

My job at Bentley.

I had a good feel­ing about this posi­tion from ear­ly on, part­ly due to hap­pen­ing across the BE Com­mu­ni­ties site (as I post­ed ear­li­er). I had joined before actu­al­ly offi­cial­ly com­ing to work but due to a back-end issue, was­n’t able to start blog­ging for a cou­ple of months afterwards.

And though blog­ging isn’t exact­ly my pri­ma­ry role as the tech writer for the struc­tures group, I felt like this was a good way to apply some of my inter­ests to my job. It also hap­pens that I work for a com­pa­ny that has real­ly embraced giv­ing it’s employ­ees a voice. 

I think over the past cou­ple of years, we’ve all read or heard of com­pa­nies that have gone “trans­par­ent.” That is, they allow employ­ees &emdash; often high-rank­ing or at least high-pro­file employ­ees &emdash; to speak plain truths to the mass­es. They start blogs, cre­ate pod­casts, guest on news pro­grams, and so on. Those who do so with suc­cess are often the hum­ble who are will­ing to admit being human. They seem unfil­tered and hon­est. When they speak of suc­cess or make promis­es, they seem that much more believ­able. And there’s good evi­dence this strat­e­gy works in a mar­ket of cyn­ics and skep­tics, all con­nect­ed to the giant mega­phone that is the internets.

And I, for one, think this is a good thing.

BE Communities logo
BE Com­mu­ni­ties logo

Which is great now that I’m work­ing for an employ­er that gives not only all of its employ­ees an open account on the com­pa­ny’s site from which to blog, edit wikis, etc. but they also pro­vide this for their users as well. Basi­cal­ly, it is total access to any and all employ­ees1 from every lev­el of the com­pa­ny: from the CEO (who does post at least as much as I do!) down to every new employ­ee. It has quick­ly become a part of the com­pa­ny cul­ture. Much to the cred­it of the Bent­ley broth­ers, they appear to ful­ly believe in the ben­e­fit of this open com­mu­ni­ty of employ­ees and users. One area is the use of wikis for doc­u­men­ta­tion pur­pos­es. Of course we’re still inter­nal­ly work­ing out the mechan­ics of just how to make the best use of wikis for this. We have already put a lot of FAQs, Tech­Notes, tuto­ri­als, and user man­u­als in wiki for­mat already, though.

In addi­tion to pro­duc­ing some blog posts, wiki pages, and screen­casts for work, I’ve of course been writ­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion for soft­ware. This, too, has been a fun learn­ing expe­ri­ence. Of course I enjoy writ­ing — you’re read­ing a blog, aren’t you? I’ve also learned that the tech­ni­cal writ­ing indus­try is mov­ing towards adopt­ing a lot of the same changes that are hap­pen­ing in the world of Web 2.0. Name­ly, using sym­man­tic, struc­tured doc­u­ments which can be re-styled and re-mixed for dif­fer­ent doc­u­ment des­ti­na­tions (think: web-based help, user man­u­al, instal­la­tion guide, etc). I’ve also got­ten the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be a part of this.

So, if it isn’t obvi­ous, I’ve been enjoy­ing this immense­ly. I’ve been giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to actu­al­ly make use of my hob­by-lev­el inter­est in all things web. Some of the things I’ve learned in work­ing on this site have direct­ly helped me in my cur­rent job. It’s been a per­fect com­bi­na­tion for me of my pro­fes­sion­al back­ground (struc­tur­al engi­neer­ing) and my inter­ests in oth­er areas of tech­nol­o­gy and the web.

Going for­ward, as I’m becom­ing more famil­iar with the tech­ni­cal writ­ing com­mu­ni­ty, I plan on post­ing some find­ings and thoughts here on my expe­ri­ences. But before I get into that (and the inevitable rants and com­plaints that will come), I want­ed to just say how won­der­ful it has been to find a job that end­ed up being a per­fect fit for my interests.

  1. Employ­ees who wish to con­tribute, of course. Not all employ­ees are as active for a vari­ety of rea­sons (not the least of which is that they’re actu­al­ly kind of busy). How­ev­er, as you can see, there’s some good incen­tive to for them to do so. []

PodCamp Nashville

Over the past year, I’ve gone from some­one who con­sumed and dab­bled in new media after hours (okay, and some­times dur­ing work hours!) to one who helps to cre­ate it as part of my day job. It was a very excit­ing and affirm­ing part of my deci­sion to work at Bent­ley when they asked me to start help cre­at­ing screen­casts, blog posts, and online com­mu­ni­ties for the struc­tur­al engi­neer­ing com­mu­ni­ty. This past year has been a very steep — yet reward­ing — climb up the learn­ing curve.

Meet me at PodCamp Nashville
Meet me at Pod­Camp Nashville

Par­al­lel­ing that won­der­ful sense of that I’d made a good deci­sion to go to Bent­ley, I also feel that the new media and geek com­mu­ni­ty here in the Nashville area is even stronger than the one that was in Rich­mond (note: I also have more of a rea­son to be involved, now, so it’s part feed­back loop). A cou­ple of real­ly excit­ing exam­ples of this are Bar­Camp Nashville (in Octo­ber) and Pod­Camp Nashville (in March). You can read more on uncon­fer­ences else­where and I don’t mean to make these out to be some sort of pin­na­cle of geek/ new-media cul­ture (they may roy­al­ly suck here, for all I know as I haven’t been to one yet and have no com­par­i­son any­way). The point is that there is a desire to have these sorts of event and — far more impor­tant­ly — the com­mu­ni­ty that goes along with them here in Nashville. Social­iza­tion was some­thing that Rich­mond had a very strong sense of; but it seems that Nashville has more social­iza­tion with a pur­pose, not just a end in and of itself.

So, I’m going to Pod­Camp this year. I’m not going to attempt to con­tribute any ses­sions myself as I still feel I’ve got more learn­ing ahead of me that teach­ing (maybe next year?). But I’m so glad to sup­port this sort of thing here and I feel that I need to at least con­tribute my par­tic­i­pa­tion as an attendee to encour­age more of this. After all, it’s one thing to com­plain when noth­ing cool ever comes to insert your town name here but it is anoth­er to not both­er to show up when some­thing poten­tial­ly cool does happen.

So, if you’re in the area on Sat­ur­day, March 7th and have an inter­est in new-media: pod­cast­ing, screen­cast­ing, blog­ging, etc., then please come to Pod­Camp Nashville. We’ll see what it is and if we think it can be bet­ter, we’ll make it bet­ter. That’s community.

Happy 1234567890 Second

This post is set to pub­lish so the time stamp (in Unix time for­mat, which is sec­onds past since the Unix time epoch… bla, bla, bla) is 1234567890. Yes, me and every oth­er geek on the whole inter­net just pub­lished at the exact same sec­ond for the exact same reason.

So, this short line of code (<?php the_time('U') ?>) adds the time when I hit publish: 

Behind the Scenes at super-structure

I know that it looks like almost noth­ing has been hap­pen­ing on this site for the past month. But, actu­al­ly there have been some changes behind the scenes. Okay, I’ve also been kind of lazy and not post­ing as much as I’d meant to. But let’s focus on the positives.

Even since I moved my site’s con­tent into Word­Press about four (!) years ago, it had been host­ed by my good friend Jason J. He had plen­ty of band­width, host­ing space, Word­Press knowl­edge, and — most impor­tant­ly — was will­ing to share all of that. I’d been pay­ing him a small amount month­ly in exchange for this. How­ev­er, if one were to add up all the time he spent via phone, e‑mail, Skype chat, etc.; I was get­ting some real­ly cheap tech sup­port from a guy who isn’t known for hav­ing any free time.

Add to my sense of guilt the fact that the host­ing account which all this was on was one that JJ was­n’t plan­ning on keep­ing (he’s got some more advanced needs and found anoth­er host­ing provider to bet­ter suit them). So, I need­ed to get my own host­ing plan for our house­hold full of domains. After look­ing around at var­i­ous plans, I decid­ed that stay­ing with Dreamhost would be best. It basi­cal­ly came down to these:

  • Famil­iar­i­ty: Basi­cal­ly no learn­ing curve as I’d been already using them for the past few years.
  • Green: Dreamhost off­sets their car­bon emissions.
  • Soft­ware: They have real­ly great one-click instal­la­tion for the serv­er-side soft­ware (that is: Word­Press & Medi­aWi­ki) that I use. Fur­ther, they keep their soft­ware cur­rent with new releases.
  • Price: The month­ly price break down was rea­son­able. Fur­ther, they also don’t charge extra for mak­ing my domain who-is infor­ma­tion pri­vate. They also allow me to have as many MySQL data­bas­es as I want (each WP or Medi­aWi­ki install needs its own).
  • Class: They don’t con­stant­ly bar­rage me with attempts to up-sell me on new ser­vices. Some­times I need to do work instead of see a price list, you know?

So, after pick­ing JJ’s brain some more on how to back up and restore MySQL data­bas­es last month, I began mov­ing my files over to a new serv­er at Dreamhost via my own account. This also gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to clean up some of the data­base orga­ni­za­tion. I’m also using the oppor­tu­ni­ty to clean out a lot of un-used files on the serv­er as well, which should all mak­ing back-ups faster.

I final­ly got around to pulling the switch last night. It is very un-nerv­ing click­ing “delete” on almost five years worth of writ­ing. It cer­tain­ly brings out the pro­cras­ti­na­tor in me. Thus, there has­n’t been any action around here in the past month; so I would­n’t have to con­stant­ly back-up and replace the data­base over and over. Once I did get around to doing so, though, the DNS TTL gods showed some sort of favor upon me. Despite hav­ing to delete the old sites entire­ly first and then re-instat­ing the domain name to point to the new serv­er, the sites were down for no more than for a cou­ple of min­utes each. I’m still scratch­ing my head over how that hap­pened (nor­mal­ly, this takes more like an hour or more).

In oth­er behind-the-scenes news, the lat­est ver­sion of Word­Press is a breeze to upgrade. It is lit­er­al­ly as sim­ple as click­ing a link with­in the soft­ware. No more need­ing to log in via com­mand line and using SVN com­mands. The plug-ins have had auto­mat­ic upgrades for the past few updates, and this is very wel­come to some­one who main­tains sev­er­al Word­Press installations.

So, all of this is (or at least should be) absolute­ly trans­par­ent to any­one who is just vis­it­ing this site. That being said, I do have some plans for chang­ing the style and orga­ni­za­tion of this site in the next few months. I’ve been kick­ing around ideas for some time and hope­ful­ly that will hap­pen soon­er rather than later.

CableCard on a Mac

A short sto­ry on Mac­world regard­ing the lack of Cable­Card sup­port on Apple com­put­ers or periph­er­als. This is a sto­ry where the com­ments seem to add as much as the sto­ry does. I agree total­ly with the TiVo users com­ment­ing about their love of the Cable­Card. As a mat­ter of fact, TiVo HD users seem to be almost the only con­sumers who pre­fer cable cards. I know that pret­ty much every Com­cast tech­ni­cian who has been to our house absolute­ly hates them (along with TiVo HD units). They have tried repeat­ed­ly to talk me out of using our M‑card. Giv­en the amount of set up time they require over just plug­ging in a set-top box, I guess I can’t blame them (techs get allot­ted a very short amount of time for instal­la­tions & ser­vice calls). But it is so much more ele­gant a solu­tion. I do real­ly wish I could just plug a Cable­Card into my mac (or some periph­er­al, like an Apple TV) in a sim­i­lar man­ner to out TiVo.