Monthly Archives: September 2011

Get Your Nerd On: Computer Programming Is Cool

Back in high school, I learned how to program in C++, a fairly complex, high-level computer language. I loved making bizarre, acid-trip-like screen savers where random boxes of color would appear and grow on the screen, creating a technicolor cacophony of shapes. I also once coded a math tutoring application for my siblings that spat out random addition, subtraction, division and multiplication problems. But my crowning achievement was my final project, a collaborative work that resulted in a Simpsons casino game. We were nerds, and we were happy.

A year later, I decided to leave my computer science lifestyle and strike forth to pursue another passion: journalism. I went to one of the top schools in the country for my craft. I learned how to write concisely, report accurately and edit diligently. I was one of the first students to take a digital journalism course, which entailed creating a very sorry website (think Geocities but a little more “special”).

With my foray into digital journalism being kind of a bust, I figured that there would be journalists and there would be technologists and never the twain shall meet. I was wrong.

Shortly after moving to Chicago, a friend of mine developed a site called ChicagoCrime.org. It pulled municipal data and graphically displayed it on a Google map. Simple and ingenious. Journalism and technology. It was also fun to see if anyone got robbed on your block.

A few years later, ChicagoCrime.org transformed into EveryBlock. EveryBlock is one entity that has breathed new life into the financially dying art of journalism. The concept is simple. Neighborhood residents report on the going-ons of the neighborhood. Additionally, information is pulled from various sites (crime stats, Yelp reviews, etc.) and displayed according to zip code. Each zip code has its own little feed, making this extremely hyperlocal journalism.

Now consider the fact that Chicago is bursting with start-ups. Groupon is by far the most notorious, but there are many others. And these companies are looked at as rock stars. Not just by snorting tech geeks but by the community at large. And now we realize, as The Faint has pointed out in song, that the geeks were right. Computer programming is cool.

So I’ve been thinking about my computer science days again recently. All those hours spent learning how to think in Boolean logic. All those “for” loops and “do/while” loops. And I’m getting wistful. I had a fun time coding. I just thought it was too nerdy of a habit, something to be ashamed of rather than celebrated. But I’m realizing I was dead wrong. Developers are in constant demand, and learning how to code, even just a little, can really help get your tech start-up idea off the ground. And I’ve always liked the freedom of not having to rely on others to make my initial vision come true.

So I’ve ordered a book on Python. I’m debating between teaching myself that or Ruby. All you nerds can chime in on what is better (and you will chime in). For now, it’s going to be a hobby, something I do in my free time, something to tinker with in the garage. I have a project in mind I’d like to develop, something that combines several of my passions. Hopefully with enough diligence and patience, I can make it a reality.

So, yeah, being a nerd is cool. Coding is an art form. And all the hipsters who traded in their guitars for turntables are now trading in their turntables for Ruby.

People with Real Jobs Are Jerks

I was at Au Bon Pain today (which roughly translates to “painfully trying to be French”), and as I was trying to decipher the convoluted process of ordering/self-serving, I saw a literal white-collar man grumble to himself and anyone around him about the eatery’s service.

“Look at them talking behind the counter,” he said as he impatiently waited for the skim milk canister to be refilled. “They don’t know what it’s like to have real jobs.”

Real jobs, sir? These people make your coffee, they bake your bagels, they ring up your order and, most importantly, they take your shit, and they take it with a fucking smile. Meanwhile, you likely sit on your ass in an ergonomically designed chair blabbering on your VoIP phone making things happen that generally have very little effect on everyone’s everyday lives. And for some reason in your scarcely haired dome you have erected a hierarchy that elevates you above others.

At the end of the day, the good and understanding people of Au Bon Pain nourish people, people like you, you ignorant and ungrateful twit. At the end of the day, they can say, “I made this cup of coffee,” and actually hold a fucking cup of coffee in their hand. And some of them probably go to a second job after their time at Au Bon Pain or go to rehearsal or go to school. These people are making something of themselves every bit as much if not more as you. And yet you stand there grumbling to yourself because someone is not refilling your skim milk canister fast enough.

Loosen that fucking tie around your neck, man, and get a grip. Life is fucking short, and your white-collar footprint that you leave here on this earth might be little more than a drawer full of Post-It notes and paperclips, or at best that one day where the company stock ticked up a few extra point above normal. “Man, remember that day on Sept. 27, 2011 when Dave closed that deal in China? Each one of my shares increased by $.05. To Dave!”

I’m not saying you have no right to be frustrated about service. Lord knows I complain like a Jewish grandma. But how dare you attack someone’s job, you douche. May your toilets go dirty, your laundry go unwashed and your kids go uneducated. Maybe then you’ll learn the importance of serving others, regardless of the task.

Platform as Payment: Giving Up Your Copyright

I know this headline is far from funny. And in fact, this post is a bit of an aberration from my usual knee-slapping hilarity. But I think it’s a worthy topic, especially for someone like myself who makes a living off of composing words.

I’ve been branching out and searching for publishing opportunities in the consumer publication and lit journal spaces. I’ve had some success. I just turned in my first piece for the Chicago section of the Huffington Post, and I just got my first assignment from the Chicago section of the A.V. Club. These are all great things.

One thing I have always been very mindful of is what rights I am giving to the publisher of my content, especially when I’m shopping content around on spec. For those that don’t know, “on spec” means that I write the content first and then try to find a buyer as opposed to selling a pitch or receiving an assignment. I avoid selling much more than first serial rights or temporary exclusivity. My belief is that as a writer, all I own is my writing. That is my sole source of income (well, that and the occasional market research study…yes, they pay me to try flavored whiskeys and shaving products). If I give a publisher too many rights, I may lose the ability to make money off of a piece of writing. And that’s no way to run a business.

I bring this up because I am looking at contributing to an online magazine that has a lot of witty and well-written content. It’s kind of like McSweeny’s Internet Tendency but with more of a magazine feel. The only problem is its author agreement. I was turned off immediately after reading the first clause:

1. In exchange for our providing you with this platform for expression, you grant us non-exclusive rights to the Content under copyright including the perpetual and unconditional right to use, publish, reproduce, distribute, sell, perform, translate, and display the Content (including any drawings, images, sounds, video recordings, or other data embedded in the Content and including derivative works based on the Content) for any purpose and in any manner or medium anywhere (the “Rights”).

From what I gather, this means that the site can basically use my writing and sell my writing for whatever purpose, while I stand to make no money off it whatsoever. For example, let’s say a television show is optioned based on a piece (Think “Shit My Dad Says”), then they would have full creative control over the television show while I simultaneously would stand to make no money off of this potentially lucrative deal.

Here’s another scenario. Let’s say I publish a dozen or so pieces on the site. Now let’s say my pieces are quite popular. So the site decides to repackage these pieces and sell them as a collection of essays by Keith Ecker. According to that clause, they can do this, and I stand to make zero money off the deal.

Now, yes, their licensing agreement is “non-exclusive.” But what reputable entity is going to want to license your content from you when another entity basically has complete and unlimited control of it. Not many (if any).

So I’m thinking that this site is still a good platform for me. But I’d limit the content I provide it to no more than two pieces max. Additionally, I would make sure that I would never want to publish those two pieces anywhere else ever. Not even in a collection of my own. I would have to consider them dead to me. The gain for me would be that I could add it to my resume and that the platform might attract me new readers.

I wonder, though, if I’m being too heavy-handed. I mean, do all writers think about this kind of stuff? Should they? I feel that because I make a living off of this content I produce, it’s integral for me and my career to be very protective of who owns it and what happens to it.

I’d love any feedback. What do you all think? Am I being paranoid? Or do I have the right idea?

 

Move Over Groupon: My Million Dollar Ideas

I seem to constantly be thinking of million-dollar ideas. Like, every day I have another idea that could feasibly turn into a cement truck full of dollar bills.

million dollars

My ideas in money form

The problem is that I’m overworked and under energized. I spend nearly half my day reading emails and the other half my day responding to emails. And unless I can think of a way to monetize the reading and sending of my personal emails, my million-dollar ideas will continue to collect dust on my brain mantle.

So instead, I just maintain an ongoing list of all my ideas in the hopes that one day I’ll find the time/super rich benefactor to help me make these thoughts turn into tangible realities. Who knows? Perhaps I will create the next Groupon?

Groupon

An entrepreneur's wet dream

My past million-dollar ideas have covered the gamut, from home decor to the food industry to the porn industry. I have retired many of these ideas. But because I see no reason to let a good idea just die, I am now revealing several of them to you, impoverished reader. Should you have the time and competence to see these ideas to market, then please take them. Lord knows I’m not using them. Also, feel free to pay me generous royalties. Okay, thanks.

SMOES: My foray into the candy business, SMOES were little dehydrated marshmallows soaked in a proprietary syrupy substance and then covered in chocolate. My college roommate and I were going to sell them wholesale to a local candy store, but then we ate all of our product because we were hungry. We never made SMOES again. But we did come up with a marketing campaign that included Busta Rhymes saying “Give me some SMOES.”

Foamiture: This was my foray into the home decor space. Foamiture is a cheap, light-weight form of furniture targeted to college students and young adults. Basically, the process entails filling a plastic mold with a foam insulation substance. The end result is a reasonably durable, light-weight piece of furniture made of foam. This was another college-era idea, which died to a lack of start-up capital.

Made-to-order Porn: Quite possibly my most lucrative idea of all time, made-to-order porn is just what it sounds like. It is pornography that is custom created for a particular individual. Yes, there is a nearly endless supply of free pornography on the Internet. So you would think there would be little demand for customized porn. Not so. Many men would pay a very hefty sum of money to see their specific fantasies acted out in complete detail. You want a redheaded woman with natural double D breasts to fellate a snowman?  We can make it happen. How about an African-American little person riding a pony in the nude. Not a problem. The only reason why this idea didn’t happen is because I thought I had moral integrity, which as I now know is a major liability in the world of business.

Guinness Book of World’s Most Racist Records

Sometimes when it’s late at night and I’m left alone, I get stuck in a YouTube hole and start finding the weirdest shit. Last night was certainly no exception. I ended up somehow coming across the YouTube channel for the Guinness Book of World’s Records and found these doozies.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

 

I Need Some Space

Hello dear readers. As you may have noticed, I have been posting to my blog five days a week for some time. I thought I could keep up this incredible pace. But, alas, I’m an ambitious moron. Besides, I don’t get paid to hear myself type, so unless I can convert my blog posts to edibles, I should probably devote some more time to lining my pockets with dollar bills.

But this is not goodbye. I will still be posting to my blog 2-3 times a week, which will give you slackers a chance to catch up on my life-changing musings. You will also hopefully see me more in the print world. I may be contributing soon to a number of local publications, including the RedEye, Metromix and the Onion’s local A.V. Club. Also, I was just tapped to be a contributor to the Chicago section of the Huffington Post.

In the meantime, if you know of anyone that needs a writer or if you need a writer, let me know. I’m always open to new projects, from marketing work to copywriting to media relations to editorial. If it involves words, I can probably do it.

Expect my next post on Thursday. I’ll miss seeing you all on a daily basis, but I suppose we could use some space.

space

Dogs! God’s Chosen Pet

A dog is the closest thing I will ever have to a child. It’s not that I’m gay and put off by the red tape of adoption and surrogacy. It’s that if I’m going to spend thousands of dollars on raising a dependent creature, I’d rather spend it on something that won’t throw a temper tantrum in the ice cream aisle of the grocery store.

Crying kid

I feel nothing for you.

I don’t currently have a dog myself, though it is not for lack of want. I yearn to have a little four-legged friend that will love me unconditionally, even when I act like a total dick. I’m not saying I will go out of my way to be a total dick to my dog. That’s just cruel and sadistic. I’m just saying I know that I have a habit of acting like a total dick, and it’s good to know I won’t have to wake up the next morning and call my dog to apologize for the stupid shit I said the night before.

Dog phone

Hey, Daisy. About last night? When I called you a bitch, I meant it in the technical sense. I think you have a wonderful personality.

Like a little girl fantasizing about her dream wedding, I fantasize in detail about being a dog owner. I imagine owning two dogs: a Boston Terrier and a French Bulldog. I don’t know what it is about smooshed faces, buggy eyes and respiratory problems. Maybe I just want a pet that will make me feel more secure about my own looks and lung capacity.

french bulldog

I am trying to break your heart.

The Boston Terrier would be a boy named Ziggy, after the cartoon character who I obsessed over as a child. The French Bulldog would be a girl named Beyonce. Together, we’d walk through the park along the lakefront and wait for hot guys to hit on me because, if physics has taught us anything, it’s that hot men cannot resist cute dogs.

equation

Translation: (1 average guy + 2 dogs) + hot gay men = a busy afternoon

At night, Ziggy and Beyonce would curl up with me and serve as living pillows. In the morning, they’d wake me up with their pig-like snorts. I’d put an organic pureed salmon and rice mixture in their bowls, which they would gobble up, and then we’d all head out of the house for further adventures.

boston terrier

> A pony

But for now, this dog dream will have to remain a work of fiction. My apartment does allow dogs, but there’s no way my hectic schedule could fit in caring for a couple of pooches. I practically have to pencil in bowel movements as is.

Still, there is a way for me to satisfy my maternal urges. This weekend I went down to the Anti-Cruelty Society in downtown Chicago to look at the animals. This is a great organization, and I highly recommend you check it out if you are looking for volunteer opportunities, charities to donate to or to adopt a pet. My boyfriend and I went to each cage and gave each dog a little bit of attention, which they appreciate immensely. Living in a small pen in unfamiliar surroundings can be very stressful for these animals. So a little love goes a long way. We even got to take one out of its cage and keep it company.

dog

Me and my new best friend

So if you’re having dog urges but don’t have the means to care for a four-legged friend, visit your local shelter. The staff and the animals will be grateful.