20 Years Ago Today

One day in the Spring of 1995, just a few months before I finished my undergrad degree a friend in the student computer lab leaned over my machine and said “check this out.” He double-clicked the NCSA Mosaic icon on the desktop and showed me the World Wide Web for the first time.

It wasn’t much to see and I wasn’t impressed. I’d heard so much hype aboutThe Information Superhighway and this was… this was all there was to it? We went through a bunch of random sports news he viewed every day and none of that clicked for me. Sensing my lack of excitement, he continued. We kept looking at random sites until eventually he showed me the David Letterman Top 10 Archive and it just about blew my mind. A college student was posting whatever Top 10 list Dave used on the previous night’s show to a giant long page on their college account. As a comedy nerd I loved Letterman but couldn’t catch every episode of Dave’s show while busy with school, so I found this to be an incredible resource. I was immediately hooked when I realized it was just some kid in some random college publishing whatever they liked and I could find it and enjoy it for free, every day going forward. I was hooked.

A few months later I graduated, but I stayed at the same university to start a Master’s program. I bought my own home computer and spent every spare moment reading the web, while also working in my advisor’s lab analyzing samples. We had a lot of downtime between sample analysis, so I could surf the web while I waited for results. By that Fall, I began a new research project while continuing to devour the web in my free time. Eventually one day I figured it was time for me to be part of this—I wanted build my own web pages instead of just reading them all day. I couched this to my graduate advisor as a way of promoting our work and publications to the greater world. He’d already been dabbling in it and gave me the green light to learn how to publish our research online.

To give you an idea of how long ago this was, I went into a Waldenbooks in a mall to buy a book on HTML. I’d dabbled in Justin Hall’s Publish Yo Self section and other online how-to guides but I knew having everything from soup-to-nuts laid out in a book in front of me would be a better tool to learn from—plus I was a college student used to paying too much for books.

It was Christmas Eve, 1995, and while the store was busy, I scoured the shelves and eventually got my choices down to two books on publishing HTML. One was about writing HTML in Microsoft Word and even then I could tell it sounded like a bad idea. Instead, I grabbed Creating Your Own Netscape Pages by Andy Shafran, which covered all aspects of HTML in plain simple text and the only helper apps mentioned were a text editor called Hotdog and an image editor called Paint Shop Pro. I bought the book.

Being that I was 23 and in college, I didn’t have much money to give gifts while simultaneously being too old to get fun gifts anymore, so I had a fairly boring and uneventful Christmas at home with my parents. That night, I was having trouble getting some sleep. At around 1am, I realized I couldn’t sleepat all, and then an idea hit me like a bolt of lightning. I decided to grab the book I bought a couple days before, and read it. And not just read it, but really read it.

That night I did two unique things I’ve never repeated. I read an entire technology book cover to cover, not skipping a single page or reading anything out of order, and I read it all in one sitting, straight through, overnight.

I sat in front of my computer, opened the book at 1am, and kept reading while occasionally typing things into a text editor. I picked out images and tweaked them in Paint Shop Pro. I learned how font sizes and lists and custom bullets worked, and I wrote down everything I wanted to see on my own page. I typed up a little bio and a list of links to stuff I enjoyed. I found a web page counter and copied the appropriate code to my page. I immediately fell in love with the BLINK and HR tags and I couldn’t get enough of having giant borders on things. I was building a cool page that described what I did and liked to do, and figured the world would be impressed by my eclectic collection of links (kind of like every person in college that used the word eclectic to describe their own music collection, and how impressed everyone was supposed to be by it all).

At 7am on December 26, 1995, as the sun was ready to come up, I was finally finished with both the book and my web page, so I uploaded it to my college web server. I nervously opened up the URL in a browser and much to my surprise it worked, and it looked exactly how I pictured it would (This was one of the very few times something worked the first time). I was stoked. It was incredible—those obscure instructions I wrote down in a text editor actually made that colorful page. Holy shit, I actually made this. I finally went to sleep an hour later.

Tonight in 2015, on the anniversary of that day, I dug through tons of old hard drive backups, and the closest thing I could find was a version of that same first page from roughly 8 months after that night along with most of my personal pages from 1997 right before I bought my own haughey.com domain. The copy of my homepage is linked here:

That morning I knew I’d found something incredible in learning to publish online. While I had finished a couple science degrees and was working on another, I started school as an art major and I really loved how the early Web married art and technology in ways I’d never seen before. For the first time I felt like I was using both sides of my brain simultaneously and I knew building websites would become my thing someday.

A few months later, I considered quitting my Masters program and striking out on my own to build web sites, but instead I stuck it out at school, and finished my thesis and my degree. Unsurprisingly, my first freelance gig post-graduation was building a website for my department and all its faculty, about 50 pages in all over the course of a couple months. My first real full-time job was shortly after, at an environmental engineering firm making copies, pushing pencils, and writing environmental impact reports for cellphone poles being erected all over Southern California. After years of working in a chemistry wet lab analyzing samples, I hated having a desk job doing paperwork and quickly started looking for a web design job instead, which I found at UCLA in December of 1997.

It wasn’t easy to walk away from basically seven years of college education focused on environmental science to instead start working as a web designer. But I felt it in my gut the moment I stepped into the offices of a computer group at UCLA — this was where I belonged and I needed to drop everything to come here. If I didn’t get the job I interviewed for, I would do everything to find another one like it. And it didn’t feel like quitting Science or quitting anything, but instead like moving to a place I was supposed to be all along, opening a new chapter in my life. Thankfully, I got that job and things went well there and at every other job after. Tonight, 20 years later, I can fondly remember that night with the book, and how amazed I was that first time I loaded my very own web page in a browser and it all worked correctly. Ideas from my brain down jotted down into these obscure instructions, which finally rendered on a screen for anyone in the world to see.

Today, I’m glad I got that book and stayed up all night reading it 20 years ago. Here’s to 20, 40, and hopefully 60 more years of doing the exact same thing and feeling similarly amazed by it all.

Veronica GIF so lifelike

Screenshot 2015-11-23 21.16.53

I don’t update often here, but I feel like spending whatever small amount of Google juice is left on directing anyone searching for “Veronica GIF so lifelike” to Veronica Belmont’s excellent XOXO Festival talk where she explains how dehumanizing it has been to have a few seconds from her TV show turned into a creepy meme that has followed her around for over a decade.

It’s a great talk that really drives the point home that sometimes the Internet can be a crappy place, but on the bright side, the Internet does let people hear the rest of a story, like this one.

How to save $1,000-3,000 on any new car purchase

The Google Maps mobile app on iOS/Android has really improved in the last year or two, especially since Google acquired Waze, the crowd-sourced accident/traffic data company. Several times I’ve been using Google Maps to navigate to a spot an hour away only to have my route changed due to traffic and in at least one instance, I saw a small detour for a recent car accident save me easily 30 minutes of traffic time.

The level of detail in ever-improving maps plus the networked information about real-time accidents and traffic is something no car-based GPS navigation can come close to. If you’re car shopping, skip the navigation options entirely since the phone you already have in your pocket is more capable than anything being sold in a car today.

The Eye-Fi mobi card is the real deal

Back in 2006, I was an avid user of Flickr and was asked to help test a new camera card that was going to offer uploading via WiFi. At the time, this meant you could conceivably skip the step of connecting your camera/card to your computer via USB. It was a bit buggy, but eventually worked, but I didn’t find it super useful since you had to be near your home WiFi for it to work.

Since the iPhone came out in 2007, it’s become my primary camera due to ease of use, flexibility in apps, and ability to share photos easily from anywhere. All my other cameras became “dumb” cameras once that smart phone came out. I was curious if a Eye-Fi card could bridge the gap so a few years ago that I tried out the final production versions of Eye-Fi’s cards in point and shoot cameras. On home WiFi, with many camera models building in native support for Eye-Fi cards, the process was much smoother than that initial beta, though connecting away from your home WiFi to your phone was very buggy, clumsy, and was such a time-consuming and tedious process I rarely used the Eye-Fi cards with my phone and mostly gave up on the devices.

I was skeptical of the new Eye-Fi mobi cards recently released, but when I bought a new compact full-frame camera for an upcoming bike tour, I decided to try it out after hearing the smartphone integration was much better than previous models.

After having used a 32Gb mobi card for a couple weeks, I have to say I’m totally impressed and amazed. This is everything Eye-Fi was likely going for over the company’s history, but it never quite hit the mark until now. You start by installing a custom profile to your phone which stores the WiFi password on your card and auto-connects your phone to your camera whenever you power up your camera. You run a mobi app on your phone, and it quickly transfers images (even 26 megapixel RAW images) to your phone. From there, you can selectively choose which images to save to your phone’s native Camera Roll, then share them any way you see fit. The whole process is fast and automatic in a way none of their previous cards were, since you never need to touch your phone’s WiFi settings.

In essence, the card turns any dumb camera into an outboard lens for your phone. Last week on a trip to NYC I took my new compact camera with me and could easily upload photos to Instagram and Twitter within seconds of taking the photos. I mean that literally: I can take a photo with my camera, open up my phone, touch the mobi app icon and about ten seconds later I can be saving that image to my phone’s camera roll. I could also manipulate and tweak the images in a plethora of iPhone apps like VSCOcam, Photoshop Express, etc. directly on the phone before sharing it out to the world.

There’s also a web service to the mobi card, where all your originals will be uploaded to Eye-Fi (when your phone is on a full WiFi connection) with unlimited storage for $50/yr, which seems like a perfectly good deal.

I can’t get over how well the mobi card works. The connection between my phone and my camera is now almost instant, transfers are fast, and sharing is easy. The mobi line of cards are worth every penny and I’d strongly suggest anyone that misses walking around and shooting with a “real” camera to try them out.

Barley is the bomb

I haven’t been blogging here nearly as much as I wish, but a few months ago one of the developers of Barley sent me a copy of their plugin, and I’ve been using it since then and I have to say it’s pretty incredible. It greatly reduces the friction of having to go to your WP admin area, find the link to make a new post, then fill out the forms (which totally sounds like work and not play) to make a post. Instead, you just hit a button to make a new post, then start typing in your blog, in your browser. It’s like Medium’s editor in that way, but on your own blog and it’s kind of amazing.

I’m finding I rarely blog on my own site here, but I’m writing more than ever, it’s just that short thoughts end up on Twitter, longer things end up on Medium, photos I take end up on Exposure or Instagram. Thanks to all these wonderful easy-to-use tools, I have a harder time coming up with an idea and having “oh, I should put that up on my blog” be the result of the thought, so I blog very rarely these days here. But do give Barley a shot, it’s pretty impressive stuff, worth the cost, and will make your blogging life much easier.