First Official Web Design Contract

The title says it all.

I’ve been dabbling in web programming for a few years now, but not in a professional setting.  I’ve mostly worked on personal projects: a custom blog, some security measures, and other little experiments.  Through it all my artistic skills have been…  shoddy, to put it lightly.

Just a few days ago, however, I got a web design/programming job that is right up my alley.  6 pages with the same layout and varying content, a contact form, and a few interactive widgets here and there.  This is the first for-pay site I have done outside of the family.

Pretty excited.  Had lunch with the client on Tuesday (Chipotle, he paid) and we talked about the requirements.  I showed him a mock-up I built and he said it was more than he expected, in a good way.  We discussed some features he’d like to see, as well as some out-of-scope stuff such as advertising and marketing.  Neither of us really knew exactly what was needed, so no price was given.

Regardless, we’ll try to get a more solid grasp of what he wants so I can reform the current version to his liking.  Once that’s done, it will be easier to decide upon a price.  It gets better, though.  Since he doesn’t really “get” Facebook, Twitter, or social media in general, he might be hiring me to maintain a public face for better exposure.  Getting paid to be on Facebook?  Can’t complain.

Overall, pretty excited about the whole thing.  Been working on a plain-English contract based off one I found on the web, so I hope it’ll turn out well.  Right now I am just waiting for him to send some text he wants as well as a business card so I can maybe do a logo for the site.  Yay for more pay!

ADD: The guy also said he has a client of his own who could use some social media consulting, so if all goes well I might end up having an extra client by referral!


Coding Challenge

I need a project.  I’m stagnating in my own…  stagnation.

At first I decided to make a random web page for each friend on my Facebook friend list.  This turned out to be a crappy idea immediately, because a lot of my friends are just cardboard cutouts of people (you can argue amongst yourselves who you are).  This made it hard to design a page around them.

My next idea was to challenge myself each day to practice a new technique.  Start with pagination, then maybe master multi-tier navigation, and try-catch blocks after that.  Still debating this one, since it seems like it would be the most productive and worthwhile use of my time.

Right now I’m thinking about a hybrid where I practice design one day, and something more technical the next.  That way I do not get overloaded on one aspect, and I still get a good hit of each.

So, what do you think I should do?  Have an idea for an interesting design?  Have a problem that needs solving?  Lemme know what you think in a comment below, and I’ll do my best to code something up.  At least for the good ones, anyway.

Well, Charcoal Worked

Right.  So last time I posted, I talked about making charcoal and the forge designs.  Good news is, the charcoal works.  Bad news is, it works so well that it burned down our cabin.

Here’s what (I think) happened:  The fourth batch of coal I made, I only let cool for about 15 minutes or so, instead of the almost half hour I normally do.  I also didn’t seal the top as well, so some flames might have made it in.  The coals were perfectly cool to the touch, so I tossed the good ones into the box with the rest.  However, one of them must have had a small part smoldering that I missed.

Flash forward about an hour, and we get a loud pounding on our door.  Police are everywhere blocking the street, and I smell smoke.  Look down to the bottom of the hill, and a huge fire has taken up residence where our cabin used to be.

Fire was put out fairly quickly and didn’t spread to the trees surrounding it.  Luckily nobody was hurt, and the monetary losses were not substantial (at least not as bad as they could have been).  I am really sad that we lost the wagon my dad made for me as a baby.  It was made of oak and honestly would have lasted another 50 years at least.

So where are we now?  Waiting for the insurance guy to come out, doing minor cleanup, and making tons of jokes about how my hobbies all end up badly.

Fuel for the Fire

I posted before about my experiments in building a forge.  Just a little update:

We got the old water heater mostly disassembled.  The steel tank inside is a nice, solid one with a good 3 feet of height, maybe a foot and a half in diameter.  Bottom of it has three holes that I think were attached to water pipes, so we’ll have to see if those will be a problem.  If they are, we can try using it upside-down and have the holes function as smoke relief.

To give you a better idea of what it’ll look like, I’ll be following this excellent guide.  We also happened to have an old blow dryer which I took the motor out of.  Actually has a nice kick to it.  Cut up a pop can and gave it some length.  Hooked it up to a big 12V battery my dad had, so I basically have a portable bellows.

The other aspect of forging that I didn’t have before was the fuel.  Sure, you can build a fire, but that takes space, is dirty (ash and other impurities are terrible for smithing), and is just a terrible idea inside of a forge.  Instead, I started researching ways to make my own charcoal.

A few techniques involved large 55-gallon drums, which I do not have.  Even if I did, the space needed would be a problem.  Somewhere during my search I found this little gem explaining how to make charcoal in either a stock pot or a paint can.  I opted for the paint can because I’m pretty sure some explanation would be needed as to why cooking pots have gone missing.

After asking my neighbors if they had any (oddly enough we did not), I got a nice one and set off to make charcoal.  Girlfriend was picked up first, since we had planned to hang out anyway, and she was my little assistant :)

Basically, you just punch a small hole in the paint can lid, then place pieces of 1x1x4 wood inside.  Put the top on tight, and start your fire.  Once you have a nice blaze going, make a little hollow for the paint can and put it in.

Now the fun begins.

At first, nothing really happens.  The fire burns on and you watch.  After about 10 minutes, a small amount of steam begins to come out of the hole.  Just some water escaping from the wood.  Then there is more steam.  Then more.  And more still.  Eventually it looks like an old steam-engine scaled down to model train size.

Now the real fun begins.

Have you ever seen the JFK Eternal Flame?  You have?  Okay, now imagine that about three times bigger, and making a sound like an overhead jet.  It’s awesome.  Girlfriend liked it because it looked like  dragon’s breath.  I can’t blame her.  I’d love to see one in a stock pot.  Oh, and the paint can was only filled half way because I was not sure if this would work.  Just think what it would be with a full one.

After the pyrotechnic show ended, I took the retort (fancy term for “my ghetto-ass charcoal rig”) out of the fire and let it cool down.  Girlfriend and I went up to watch TV for a bit, then I took her home.

Upon returning, I went down to check the results.  I was a little skeptical about how well it would turn out.  A few times during the burn I saw flames shooting out the rim, so I had to put a rock on it to seal it.  Fire is hot, by the way.  Anyway, I took the now-cool retort over to where I could see it better in the moonlight and cracked it open.

It looked just like the picture said it would.  I reached in and found that roughly 1/4 of the space was taken up by light, brittle, dark charcoal.  Some sticks were nice and long, while others had broken up a bit into pieces ranging from the size of a dice to that of a lighter.  I took the good ones out, dumped the rest in the remains of the fire, and triumphantly began filling a small box labeled (in charcoal) “Fuel for the Fire”.


Well, that was quick.

For all the lovely privacy concerns, the searching experience on DDG is just not as good as Google.  This is understandable.  Google is a multi-bazillion dollar company with more servers, better code, and a longer history.

I can’t quite put a finger on it, but something seems off.  Maybe it’s the layout and I just need to get used to it.  Maybe it’s the lack of auto-suggest.  It might just be the ridiculous duck logo.  Regardless, I just can’t get used to it.

It was nice for a while, a little adventurous, even a little naughty feeling at times.  But alas, I have an itch that only Google can scratch.


Recently I got really into the ancient arts of leatherwork, blacksmithing, and woodwork.  I think it had something to do with the Renaissance Festival. Anyway, I had made a pair of bracers a while back out of an old pair of my dad’s work boots.  And yes, he told me I could.  They turned out alright, but I didn’t do much after that.

Just before the RenFest opening weekend, I got the idea to build some sort of backpack to hold my cloak, mugs, extra water, basically anything I wouldn’t want to carry on a belt.  So I went down to Tandy Leather, spent a long time talking with the shop owners, and ended up with a large shoulder of thick leather.

Long story short, I made a pretty beastly backpack.  Held up pretty well the first day.  Second day I went, one of the rivets holding the straps on came out so it was uncomfortable to wear.  Easy fix, and it taught me a bit about what not to do.

After that, I got the idea to build a forge in the bonfire pit.  Took some bricks and laid out a basic rectangular area which I covered with a plate of thick steel.  Got a nice fire going, plenty of coals, and was actually able to get an old crowbar hot enough to straighten out.  We used our leaf blower as a bellows, which made an awesome fire display.

We just got our water heater replaced today, so I am going to try and take the internal steel drum out of the old one and make a proper forge out of that.  My dad seems to think the fan from an old computer will work as well as a leaf blower.  Right then.

Other than that, I got an idea during the dice scene from Pirates of the Caribbean 2.  I took a rectangular piece of scrap leather and sewed it into a can shape, then cut out a circle for the bottom.  Laced it all together and added a removable top.  Then I chopped a few pieces of firewood into rough cubes and sanded them down into almost identical-sized dice.  Cut a few pips, inked them black, and the end result is my own set of Liar’s Dice.

There’s something very satisfying about making your own gear.  Sure you can buy it from a store and it will be 10 times better, but where’s the fun in that?  Blisters, burns, and cuts are all part of the creative process.  And yes, I have gotten all three.

Pics when I get around to them.


It only recently hit me.  I was on Youtube getting my Abney Park fix, when I tabbed over to Google to look for the lyrics.  I typed in the first word of the song “Building Steam” and Google gave me a list of suggestions right away.  This is normal, except for one thing: the first link was purple.  For those of you who do not know, a purple link means something you had searched for in the past.

The suggestion was innocent enough – a search for “building WoW addons”.  However, this is not something I have searched for in over 3 years.  That is a long time.  3 years ago I was in high school.  3 years ago I was just getting into a new relationship.  3 years ago I only wore Tripps and black shirts.  3 years is a long time.

Now here’s where things get even weirder: I never logged into Google.

Somehow, Google had taken my Youtube account info and recognized that I had linked it to my gmail address.  They took the liberty of automatically logging me into my Google account, and in the process, keeping a record of my search history.

Google is both creepy and powerful.

To be fair, it is entirely possible that I actually did log into Google at some point and just forgot, but that’s beside the point.  The point is, Google is both creepy and powerful.  Which brings me to the actual point of this post.

For the next X days, where X is some number I will decide upon in the future, I will be exclusively using DuckDuckGo as my search engine of choice.  But why DDG?

For starters, they have a rock-solid privacy policy that agrees with a lot of what I just said (down to describing Google as “creepy”, something I did not know when I wrote that).  This means that what you search for in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Second, they have a very powerful search syntax which allows for a much more fine-grained approach to searching and finding exactly what you want.

Third, searching for ambiguous terms such as “java” (coffee or programming?) is simplified because DDG lets you choose a category in which to search.

I could go on and on and on and on, strangers waiting up and down the bouleva- *ahem* on and on about the merits of DDG, but I will stick to these and let the results speak for themselves.

A follow-up review of my experience will probably be posted in X+1 days.