Thursday, December 21, 2006

Too late for THIS holiday season - Shop Local Online

Last month, at the Orange County Professional Women's Network, we did an exercise about holiday stress, and how to relieve it. Many people's answer to mall traffic and stress was "shopping online".

I have a better idea: Shop Local Online.

I saw a Times Herald-Record article today about shopping local. I couldn't agree more.

I have to remember to toss my e-commerce sites on sale around July-August next year, to have them ready by October-November. I might only be able to serve the first 20 or so clients, put up bare-bones undesigned sites, or I may have to hire a helper or three, but my goal, as always, is keeping the local economy thriving. I'll come up with great ideas for increasing the economy locally, but everyone has to help me out.

If we can spend the next year in a concerted effort to get local businesses online, and find unique ways to deal with the crunch shopping period that seems to now start from Halloween preparations through January, we can pull some of that economy back into the region.

Anyone with more great ideas for how to help out the local economy, let me know. Meanwhile I have more and more ideas to unleash slowly over the next year or two.

Here are some great ideas: 1) Mention to local businesses when you would have chosen them to purchase from but you didn't have the time or patience to do anything but online shopping. 2) Sponsor a local business's e-commerce site! I can put a banner ad on the e-commerce site that points to your business' site, you help the business pay for the site set-up and installation. A custom designed e-commerce site goes for $1000 and has space for 4-6 banner ads -- think of that; an e-commerce site with up to 6 $100 ad spaces with ads running for a year can slice the price down to less than half! [Ed - this price is going to be going up over the year!] 3) Mention Eclectic Tech and my Shop Local Spree that will be starting next summer -- I can start taking names on a waiting list for businesses that would get in on my sale before the sale begins! Heck, maybe I'll have 20-30 sites lined up before the summer vacation! When I officially announce the waiting list, I'll figure out how much the sale will be for ($100 off? maybe more! I only hesitate because e-commerce sites are really cumbersome projects that suck up a LOT of my time) [Ed - as of Feb 1st the plan is for $200 off on the base site, and more than half off non-product pages in July & August - with a complimentary sale for Easy-To-Edit sites with PayPal Buy Now buttons], and whether I require a small deposit to be on the list (like $50 non-refundable deposit?).

Ideally more than just gift-selling retails will want to get in on it, from a "Buy Now" button for a gift certificate on a normal site, through pizzerias and delis with website-to-fax order placing for deliveries. We just have to get creative. Give me ideas I can run with.


[tags]e-commerce,economy,money,prices,sale,web applications[/tags]

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Open Source Programmer's Insurance

Slashdot rejected my question submission, so I'll write about it in my blog and see if anyone is interested in answering it.

I have insurance, but I want exactly the RIGHT insurance. My insurance agent says that what I have may very well cover what I do, but is hunting high and low for insurance that will explicitly rather than implicitly cover both the design AND the programming portions of my business without making me broke. All she's finding are either policies with specific exclusions for web programming, or policies that are exceptionally expensive.

The problem is that every programmer is being lumped together. That means that programmers working on the stock exchange big bucks applications with billions of dollars in transactions a day at risk are being lumped in with smalltime web programming outfits like mine. I'm a programmer on the PmWiki project, and I create custom plug-ins for PmWiki for clients before contributing what I can back to the project, or accept bounties for plug-ins made directly available to the general public. I've also made alterations to other plug-ins for other open-source projects, and I'm creating an open source project or three of my own.

Now, I am not belittling the risks to my customers. I know that their business is everything to them, and that's why I'm looking for insurance. But I don't play with the big boys and my customers are not forking over the big bucks to cover the overhead I would have to pass along to my customers to cover the big insurance policies.

If I'm installing ZenCart, and ZenCart has a bug, am I covered? I never touched the back-end of the program, but of course every application -- open source or otherwise -- has inherent bugs and risks. I trust open source because the bugs are squished in a timely manner and I don't have to pay for upgrades. Would all those policies with programming exclusions cover this?

When a policy excludes programming, I see there being a really fuzzy line between "web design" and "web programming". Certainly there's a point at which something is very clearly web programming, but is it programming if I create a script that processes a webform to email the results to my client? Is it programming if I'm creating JavaScript DHTML DOM alterations? What about when I'm working on a design for a Smarty template? There's pseudocode and even PHP code in there, but it's all about the design.

In any case, what I want to know from my fellow collaborators in the world is:

What, if anything, do you do about insurance for your web application or programming company?

Do you have any suggestions for underwriters for open source programmers?

If you aren't insured, have you even considered being insured?

[tags]insurance,programming,open source,custom programming,web application programming,expenses,design,legal,money,slashdot[/tags]

Friday, November 24, 2006

milk and honey recipe

Today my son asked me about whether he could mix milk and honey. I hear about the land of milk and honey, there are dozens of blogs named milk and honey about cooking, cookbooks called milk and honey, a honey cookbook that I have on my shelf, and a medieval recipe book. None of them have a single milk and honey recipe -- unless you're looking for soap or enemas.

So I put myself to the task. Here's the recipe:

4c milk (skim, part-skim or whole)
1/4 cup honey

heat milk over medium heat (I used skim)
slowly add honey while stirring until dissolved
(coat measuring cup with a little milk to help the honey pour, or rinse with warmed milk to get out the remainder of honey.)
remove from heat before it boils (I removed it before it even scalded)

Makes 8 half-cup servings -- note that it's like candy. A full 8oz cup would probably be a lot.

This is VERY SWEET but it's also REALLY good. If you don't like things candy-sweet try less honey or add an extra cup of milk. Organic milk and raw fresh honey would probably be great -- I'd just remove it from the heat ASAP to keep the honey and milk from losing too much of their vital nutrients to the heat. Adding honey to cold milk doesn't do the same thing at all; the honey pools on the bottom of the cup.

I'm drinking it hot, and I'm chilling the rest to try it cold. My son is very happy with it. It feels like it would soothe a very sore throat.

May make a good substitute for eggnog for people who don't like the idea of drinking eggs :) I didn't try adding any spices to it, and I'm sure that using whole milk would make it thicker and of course more fattening (thus probably tasting even better). If I try adding spices I'll add them to the comments.

Note that milk and honey baths are used to prepare livestock for county fairs and shows. LOL


Monday, October 16, 2006

Why I Won't Build Your "MySpace Killer"

Often the topic of starting a "great" web business comes up, and in my age and wisdom (being both old to be a freelance web programmer, and one of a minority of women in the field) -- there's two ways to go: thinking "in" the box = come up with new brilliant technology, patent it and hire people to program it better and faster than anyone else can so you can quickly market it. If it climbs to the top before it is cloned you become the next target for people trying to out-do your website. This track is getting VERY old, VERY fast. Mainly you and your absolute best friend need to be programmers to do this (think Microsoft, Google...) because you can't trust anyone with your terrific idea. Also it has to be so ground-breaking that only the best (read: smartest, wise, long-range thinking) of venture capitalists will see the end of the rainbow where the pot of gold sits. If it is easy to get the funding for your idea, someone probably is making it already.

Thinking "out" of the box = coming up with a way to use normal everyday technology to do something that fills -- rather than creates -- a real need or niche. It's cheaper, faster, and if it really IS filling a need, it's going to spread by word-of-mouth, and it won't be "just a fad". This technique aims lower and comes in under the radar -- no billion dollar baby here -- but it's safer, less stressful, and you don't have to be a programmer, generally speaking. The programmer is unlikely to run off with your baby if it doesn't look like a "google killer".

The problem is that great ideas are easy -- the means to really make them work is the harder part (invention = 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration). I'm frustrated with people who want to "share" the rewards of their great web program idea (equity sharing) of up to 50%, but won't be doing any of the actual work to make it hang together and be practical. If someone comes to me with a truly great idea (and I have NDA's if they don't), I can find them a great programming team, but the team will probably want cash on delivery, not equity. More "google killers" die every day than make it. They're not original ideas, and if a site dies before it makes money, there's no equity and it's a huge waste of the programmer's time.

Imagine that someone turned to you and said, "I have a great idea for a newspaper! I'll give you the ideas, you develop the newspaper and run it, staff it, write for it, etc. I'll give you 50%." That approach frustrates me. People don't get it. I can translate it to dozens of other fields -- "I have a great plan for a house, you just have to build it. Then you can live on the top floor, and I'll live downstairs. Ok?"

Somewhere in there people are cheapening the act of programming. After all, it's just bits and bytes, right???

The Internet mimics life in a "survival of the fittest" way. I don't pretend to know what's "cool" or "hot" anymore -- I work with "useful" :) I won't get rich but that wasn't in my personal game plan. I have my own great or good ideas, some might make me money, some won't but will look really good on my resume.

Then there's the flip side of this: If you're not the head of the programming team and you've paid someone to build the google killer -- what if it works? Now you have to program new features, fix bugs, etc. You either need to re-hire the same team, or get a programming staff. You go on Craigslist and choose the person who claims somehow to be able to fulfill your great Internet dream, but if you have this beautiful web baby together, are you really ready for that long-term commitment with a total dweeb with no business sense?

I can't wait to be so busy with people I've looked in the eye and shaken the hands of that I can't afford to even GLANCE at another Craigslist ad. I love my clients dearly, but you don't know how rare it was that the people I dealt with BECAME clients at all. I certainly wouldn't want to become business partners with some guy with the "next killer app" idea and had to actually look on Craigslist for a programmer. So wait -- your only experience is the front end of websites as a user, and you think you can somehow manage a killer web application programming team? That's an incredibly poor business move and you'll get laughed out of the bank. And you want the programmer to work for nothing but equity? That's spec work.

That brings me to another thing: Have you ever had one of those managers who knows absolutely nothing about what you do? It happens in IT all the time, but much less so in other professions. BUT if you've ever heard a nurse bitch that someone "stepped in" as the head of the nursing staff from a business-only background, you might get the idea. In most large corps -- and this is a place where Microsoft does NOT get bad rankings -- the heads of the corporation have NO IDEA how to produce their main products...much less have a clue what their IT department does sitting at their computers all day.

It's never a good idea to manage something you don't understand. Ever.

On that note, are you interested in a basic web programming class? :)

Monday, October 9, 2006

Classes in PHP (object oriented programming)

From a post to a user/developer list I'm on. Since I've never seen a great explanation of ANY object oriented programming, I figured I'd give a brief go at it.

Classes are a code structure from the object-oriented-programming side of PHP. A class is beyond a function. The class definition creates an ideal "object" (rather than an actual object, that comes later), and assigns it properties (variables) and methods (functions). Think of "object" in this case as a function on steroids.

Here's the basic class syntax for how I would deal with shoelaces (I'm using comments for a real life physical action that I don't feel like emulating in real code) -- but note that an "object" isn't usually a physical object -- it could be an email, data, graphics, form buttons, or something even more abstract.

class Shoelaces {
var $tied = false;
// maybe we should double-knot them?
var $double = false;

function tie_shoelaces () {
if ($this->tied) { return; }
// instruction to grab shoelaces here
if($this->double) {

function pull_tight() {
// yank whatever is in your hands
// in opposite directions
function overhand_knot() {
// loop item in right hand around item
// in left hand one complete rotation
// hold item in right hand again
function make_loop($side) {
// creates a loop from the left
// or right side of the lace

Here's how you use the class within the program flow (this code would be in the master body of your program -- or in another function
or class):

// create an object instance -- this is a specific local
// copy of the class for this specific instance/call.
$bootlaces = new Shoelaces;
// set the properties
$bootlaces->tied = false;
$bootlaces->double = true;
// tie the shoelaces (call the method i.e. execute the function)

Now you should have a doubleknotted shoelace on your boots. This code can easily be reused for $sneakers also. Or even hacked for tying laces on other objects.

Now, the parts people have the hardest time wrapping their brain around:

  • Calling it "object" "method" "instance" etc. -- It's a prepackaged set of code (class), functions (methods) and one particular time you call the code (instance -- such as $bootlaces or $sneakers). Call them what you want to but remember the standard synonyms so you aren't confused when you read about them.

  • The term "$this" inside the class definition -- $this is "$this object" or a place holder for the namespace INSIDE the object. I guess that once you call an instance, PHP translates $this to $bootlaces or $sneakers -- it's a generic "variable" that points back to the parent object and allows you to keep your scope within the object clear.

  • Translating this idea to actual code since I wimped out for understanding by using a physical not computing activity, so see a practical real-world paradigm for a class below.

There is no place to run code in the object without defining a function/method. It's confusing to call it an object method when obviously you're even using the syntax "function" :P

I didn't use it above, but there's also something called a "constructor method" and in PHP5 there's a destructor method. All this means is "automatically run this function when I create the class instance" or a destructor is something auto-run when you destroy the object instance (not sure how, I don't do PHP5 yet -- maybe unset()?)

Syntax for a constructor in PHP4 is to name the constructor function the same name as the class name -- inside the class definition.

	function Shoelaces() {}

I know this is probably confusing, so feel free to ask questions. Note however that this completely protects the code and variables of the class from colliding with the names of other items in the program. The only name of concern is the class itself. Other people can use your class pretty easily -- it makes a very portable chunk of code. There's more to it, but this is enough to actually get you using this idea if you decide it would make code more efficient.

A real example would be creating an "Email" class where you can set up emails to be sent.

class Email {
var $to = "";
var $from = "";
var $subject = "";
var $body = "";

function Set_Params ($to, $subject, $body, $from=$this->from) {
//assign to class values
$this->to = $to;
//etc. ...

// a couple internal functions not used outside the
function validate_email () {
//validation in here
function make_headers () {
//create headers including From - output to class variable
$this->headers = $headers;

function SendEmail() {
// validate TO & FROM email addresses
// create headers
// send the email (should add custom From header too)
mail($this->to, $this->subject, $this->body, $this->headers);

$email4Larry = new Email;
// set the properties
"", "Hi, Larry", $body);

More some other time if anyone's interested.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Shopping Cart Showdown

Here's the deal.

I need a shopping cart for a client. I have basic functionality the shopping cart MUST have. Not necessarily because the client demanded them but because I'm forming a hairbrained notion that these are some type of milestone or rite of passage for shopping carts.

1) coupons & discounts -- there's nothing like putting a coupon with your ad or on an invoice. Even better, giving out coupon codes in your newsletters. Make sure they're paying attention! Many carts don't seem to have this. The granddaddy of shopping carts in the open-source world requires being broken TWICE to have coupons ("easy discounts" and "easy coupons" must be added to oscommerce aka OSC to get coupons). Bonus points for coupon support out-of-the-box.

QuickCart & Viart Free have coupons out-of-the-box according to

2) a template system with under 50 files. OSC fails this test, requiring nearly EVERY file to be changed to consistently alter the HTML appearance features of the website. ZenCart has 95 template files not counting those for the admin panel. Viart Free has 115 template files.

Winner: QuickCart (loaded version) comes in at under 38 -- note "page.tpl" is the "main page" of the site. Other template pages MAY NOT NEED TO BE ALTERED! I haven't figured that out conclusively. But they're not using something standardized like Smarty so you need some PHP savvy to plow through them.

3) separation -- real separation -- of logic and design. ZenCart is OK on this one. OSC fails miserably. Viart Free comes out on top -- using Smarty templating! WOOT! However note the loss on #2, coming in at 95 template files. Shame on them! Smarty is much MUCH smarter than that!

Viart Free, as I mentioned, uses Smarty, and has a standard "header" "footer". In spite of 115 files, using Smarty would probably make it a pleasure. I'm upset that there's no standard "right-sidebar" type formats, but that can easily be added to header/footer files so I'm happy enough.

QuickCart also seems to have real separation of logic vs design, so it's the 2nd runner up for not using a standard templating system like Smarty.

4) real-world examples that show off the system's flexibility for customization & style.

This is a tough cookie because people are generally lazy. I looked 3 times at because it had some of the better shopping cart examples I'd seen. Custom buttons, horizontal instead of vertical cart display, entirely different layouts. Turns out this is a free hosted service, you don't install the software, you do have to muck around in your website's HTML, but it's really a service that handles the customer's orders off your site. It allows a lot of flexibility, and he's hoping you make so many sales that you want the advanced site features, which are not make-or-break deals. I don't see coupon/discount code entry, so Mal's service fails #1, but it wins on 2 & 3. How much more separate from the logic can you be?

Viart has an odd quantity feature that involves a drop-down, but that's probably fixable. It requires clicking a JavaScript pop-up to confirm putting something into your shopping basket, which is awkward. These are awkward, but livable issues, but all the sites I looked at had these issues so no one bothered fixing them.

QuickCart -- they don't have that many sites in English, and they have SO MANY in other languages, I needed to narrow the playing field. So of the English sites, I saw minor promising variants in the cart design itself -- something near impossible to do in OSC -- as well as at least one site where the overall design was beautifully done very differently from the others. The cart behaved the way I would want a cart to behave. At least one site had web sites up for sale, with a number of options for ordering, which is something I may be doing myself.

5) No restrictions.

Viart Free fails here. Limited to 50 products. It requires a Zend optimizer installation. But it does install on GoDaddy. However, this is not terribly expensive to upgrade at $119, if you go over 10 categories/50 products.

In any case, the winner system from looking at the websites is Mal's service -- but if I eliminate the one host I bumped into during my search for something better, QuickCart did better than Viart.

The winning system today: QuickCart. Several hundred shops are listed, though some are spammers or the domains are now invalid. One problem is that I've not seen very strongly customized category views, and that's an area I'll need to customize. If you expect to have a very small cart, don't forget to check out Viart Free. Notable mention for money: SquirrelCart -- at about $70 it looks like a good bang for the buck -- but I can't say how it does amongst all the criteria mentioned here, since I couldn't evaluate it.

Note that many carts were eliminated from the contest for a variety of reasons. #1 price. #2 bad reviews out of the starting box (such as VirtueMart/Joomla! which has been repeatedly reported as having the shittiest support forum, being overly complex, etc. If I want that shit, I'll go back to OSC).

Ok, so next I'll be working with QuickCart and I'll let people know how it goes.

[tags]e-commerce, programming, reviews, design, competition, custom programming, education, metasite, usability, web applications[/tags]

Monday, September 18, 2006

Oh, Popeye! -- Broccolipita-ish

I bought fresh spinach and feta cheese at Sam's Club in Middletown. The plan was to make Spinakopita, one of my son's favorites -- I was going to make it with pie dough. I have a clue what dealing with filo is like --- so it was "spinakopita" -- I know it's not, but who cares as long as my son eats it?

Then the spinach scare. Ok, so I throw out the spinach. Even though it was "organic" and probably didn't go near any other spinach -- with so many people in the hospital and someone dead, it's not worth spinakopita-ish to make everyone in my family sick.

So then what? I have a pound of feta and no place to go. So I bought a LOT of fresh broccoli. About 4 florettes. I steamed it. I thawed 2 pie crusts.

I cut up about 3 cloves garlic fine.

I didn't have a yellow onion so I used about 1/8 of a hefty red onion. -- about 3-4 tbs when chopped fine.

I fried up the garlic & onion in olive oil, tossed some crumbled up feta in briefly -- probably a good 1/2-3/4 cup. Only for about a minute or less -- I removed it from the heat when the cheese started melting a little -- just enough to make some creamy oil in the pan, but not to make a gooey mess.

I burned a finger from the steamer -- that is definitely a prerequisite!

Then I used tongs to hold pieces of broccoli on the cutting board (they're HOT!) and chop them up with my handy veggie cleaver -- cutting up the florets and stems into tiny chunks and a bunch of bittie flowers. I tossed this in with the stuff from the pan in a bowl, mixed it up and made some very sloppy loaves with quarters from the pie crust -- I cut the crust dough into quarters, then rolled it out thinner with a rolling pin. You may want to cut them, ball them up, re-roll them and make loaves like empanadas. I was short on time. If you seal them well, take a sharp knife and put slits in the top.

Now I am waiting for them to cook so I can eat them. I'm trying cooking them at 375 even though pie recipes cook hotter.


Mmmmm -- I waited until they were crisp but barely brown, and they're YUMMY! They also passed the son test.

[tags]recipe, spinach, broccoli, garlic, onions, pastry[/tags]

oscommerce is a beast

I want to continue to offer e-commerce at a reasonable price, and that reasonable price will not be tagged on oscommerce. Oscommerce will easily be double the price of any other shopping cart going forward. The program is a beast, and as long as it's been around, it's turned into a Frankenstein monster.

To extend the program through "contributions" requires hacking it to bits. I installed only one or two modules that installed without having to individually hand-edit program files, but note that these modules completely and utterly REPLACE files from the base oscommerce installation, just as the ones that required hand-editing rendered the program un-upgradable.

This is point #1 in being absolutely and utterly unable to upgrade the package once installed and so-called plug-ins (read: hacks) are added.

This implies that oscommerce does not have "Hooks" - - no points at which contributions can easily be put into the program execution queue without disturbing the original files.

The templating of the program out-of-the-box is absolutely unforgivable. There is no separation of logic and design on the back-end of the program. Each are enmeshed within each other. One contribution forcibly ripped the template code out of the program code and separated them. I'm both grateful that someone went through the trouble and appalled that doing so was needed -- again this absolutely breaks the ability to upgrade the program.

I think I'm very spoiled by PmWiki. I never have to hack the program code to add a feature. Ever. That's Patrick's duty. Cookbook recipes (plug-ins) are kept separately from the program code. There are an abundance of program hooks to slip custom code into. The base install can be upgraded with or without the recipes being upgraded, with a minimal chance of breaking recipes, since the hooks serve as an API layer in the program, and rarely need to change how they behave.

I'm tempted to write in a shopping cart module, because oscommerce is the exact opposite of everything I've learned about a good, extensible and maintainable package.

I will be trying Zen Cart next. I now know enough about oscommerce to install it and even customize it, but I am not able, in any good conscience, to recommend it to a customer, and my price for installing oscommerce must be double what I thought it should be.

I have to apologize to the Frankenstein monster for having insulted him by comparing oscommerce to him. Oscommerce is far more of a hack than one body being combined with another brain.

[tags]e-commerce, custom programming, modules, open source, prices, programming, rant, usability, web applications, web standards[/tags]

Friday, September 15, 2006

oscommerce drop-down selection box hack

I was having a heck of a time today dealing with drop-down product option selections in oscommerce. I wrote a hack to catalog/includes/functions/html_output.php in the function definition for tep_draw_pull_down_menu I changed the following text:

for ($i=0, $n=sizeof($values); $i<$n; $i++) {
$field .= '';

To the following:

// Criss - XES - altered the following:

foreach ($values as $i=>$value) {
$xes_values[$value['id']] = $value['text']; }

foreach ($xes_values as $xes_id=>$xes_text) {
$field .= '';

Now when I can have product option "A - 9oz" and "B - 30oz" and count on option A being the default selected item if the customer doesn't change the option. Try as I might "B - 20oz" was the option selected. Whether I re-added the options in a different order, whether I took out A B C D, etc. If it were sorted in reverse order, I could have left out A B C D, because 9oz should sort to the top of the list. This wasn't the issue. I have no idea why the program was so stubborn about sort order, but now all drop-downs, like it or not, throughout the site, will be sorted alphabetically!

I hope people find this code snippet helpful!

Free Family Tech Support

Doctors have this problem. The moment someone at the party finds out they're a doctor, they get the "Oh, it hurts when I do this..." request for free advice.

I get a little less of it than they do, since there aren't as many Mac owners, but would you believe my dentist did that to me? :) Did she think I was going to offer to come to her house to fix her ailing Mac for her? Or was she offering me to take the Mac home with me and keep it?

Macs are less popular than bodies, but I'm sure every PC tech at a party has this problem. It's never worse than when your family finds out that you do computer support, however. I don't, really DO computer support, not really. Certainly not for PCs. But the moment they hear geeky terminology, the relatives come out of the woodwork with stupid Windows questions that a Mac maven like myself can best answer with "Hrm. Sounds bad. Why don't you buy a Mac?" which of course leads to SOMEONE eventually actually getting a Mac. Now you're in business. Without getting paid.

My kids have Macs, because if I gave them PCs and they broke, got viruses, etc. I would just want to install Linux on them and be done with it, and the expensive games would then be worthless.

Considering the amount of time they spend with the games, maybe that's not such a bad thing, after all -- however, I digress...

Whenever there's a problem with the computers, the kids run in with panic, or determination to break any boundaries I assert in an attempt of procuring aid for their electronic addictions. Today my son's computer isn't on the network, so he has no Internet. Oh, what horror! I'm sorta happy. And exhausted. I certainly do NOT want to spend my wee-morning hours figuring out why his computer won't talk to our wireless device. My laptop is fine, he needs to be on a bus soon, so who cares? Obviously he does, but you get the point.

Somehow the computer has become a right rather than a privilege.

My mom got my old iBook. After her first 10 questions or so, she's been relatively quiet, until lately when it seems the modem may have died. That's a hardware issue I can't debug or fix since I'm 1000 miles away. So mom's pretty much been golden.

However, I see everyone from linux to PC techies running around fixing their family's computer issues. I'm not sure the doctors take care of family members in this way -- aside from the stupid party questions, how many family members want to take their clothes off in front of you and be touched, sometimes rather intimately, by their son/father/sister/cousin? So somehow, for the doctors, I think the buck stops at free advice.

There seems to be a law of the universe that for every geek there's at least one completely technically inept relative who has the lead touch and every computer or network they put their paws on breaks. Then there's the Internet un-savvy relative who blunders into adware and spyware, bad offers, identity theft, etc. And the mother -- usually it's the mother (mine's guilty too) who likes to pass along their spam, chain letters, petitions, jokes, etc. so they can share their inbox pain with you.

If you're the black geek of the family, you get the call, the email, the questions, and have to travel to the relative's house to do unpaid charity service in the name of family peace. After all, didn't you ask the person with the green thumb in the family to do your landscaping? You didn't? Didn't you ask the one most talented in the kitchen to come over and cook for your Thanksgiving meals? No? What about Aunt Martha? She's a neat freak and keeps a perfect house -- didn't you ask her to wash your kids' underwear and scrub your kitchen floor? You didn't do that either? Sheesh, what type of relative ARE you??

What is it that makes being a geek one of the few areas that people can trounce your personal, familial and professional boundaries? Doesn't Uncle James know that if you're fixing his computer, you're bound to find his porn folder?

I think it's one of the mysteries of the family moral and ethical system that I won't understand. I mean, my mom's a nurse, but I never asked her to take my blood pressure, administer an enema, draw blood, or give me chemo.

My family's pretty good on the scale of things, too. I watch others suffer under the burden of having done the family a "favor" and set up a computer network, which then they also must support when it's broken. It's true that people have much more respect when you set up a fee schedule. Suddenly they think twice about what they're breaking on the, computer or network, since they'll have to pay. Otherwise it's "what the heck, my nephew will fix it."

Maybe it's a good thing my family hasn't really realized that I do graphic and 3d design. All I need is for requests for unpaid or speculative work in the design area. Make my logo, do my website, I need a brochure...No one seems to think that time is limited, no one wants to take their work home with them, and we all need money.

[tags]family, rant, humor, life, interruptions, personal, prices, truth, spec work[/tags]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Name Memorization Game

I mentioned I'm becoming a networking junki--- um maven.

Well, the problem is that to win the game, you have to remember the name.

Oy, vey!

I have this somewhat eerie fascination with names. Names rarely if ever fit the character of the person in question. Most names are given to people for political reasons, rather than to fit the spirit or personality of the child, and many people have no clue what the personality of said child will be. So they pull a name off the family tree, or their favorite character in a book, or their favorite actor/singer/whoever.

I have a heck of a time memorizing given names for some reason. Aside from my memory being ephemeral on the best of days, I believe that the vacuum when trying to call up a name results from the name being discordant with the person's energy, personality, or spirit. I won't go into it on my work blog, but suffice to say that I'm psychically sensitive.

I've belonged to several organizations where people choose their own names, not to mention online "Handles" or AIM Screen-names, or whatever you want to call these aliases people hide behind (or come out from under!) on the web. What I find fascinating in that I rarely remember a person's given name when given to me at an introduction. But if the person says "I'm Thistle" I'll remember it. Not ONLY will I remember that they're Thistle, but when I DO get their "real-life name" -- I'll remember Thistle AKA John Smith. If I were introduced to John Smith, I'd forget his name in 2 seconds. For some reason the discordance is what helps me remember Thistle vs John Smith.

I wonder why this is. I've been through the MSR (Medieval Studies & Re-creation) and the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), and I could rattle off the fictitious names and often titles of a hundred individuals AND their legal given names. Send me to a business networking event and suddenly I'm at a loss. I also have the same skill from Compuserve/BBS and the current Internet chat and email social circles.

I think I'll have to come up with mental trickery for this one. I don't have as much trouble remembering a business name. Maybe I can trick my mind into thinking of someone as Smith Loan Corp aka John Smith. That would be piggybacking the odd skill I have for remembering aliases and fictional names. Then once I have the name down, I have to "Flip" them around in my head -- as if I'm introducing a medieval recreation pal to my mother -- or embarrass myself by introducing John as "Smith Loan Corp". I still find it better to "Smith Loan -- I mean John Smith" than to not introduce someone because I can't remember their name for the life of me.

It's also amazing that the moment I'm writing down the person's name doing job intake, typing it into a contract, and adding it to my accounting program to print out the first invoice, that seems to be enough writings for me to memorize the person's name. Maybe I just need to write the person's name 3 times :)

[tags]clients, networking, personal, rant,[/tags]

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Life is Like -- Programming

It's really messed up how programming can follow real life. I think maybe I've been programming too much lately. It doesn't matter. In the car, I was working on the Magical Chain Mail Vest (a shiny crochet object to be gifted to my son as part of my plot to enrich his imagination), and it's a very loose design (anyone who has seen the bows and arrows hat -- that's the stitch pattern I'm using for the vest -- I'll post the directions if it comes out OK.)

I've been watching how quickly this vest is taking shape. But it's a nonsense vest. It's for show, for play. It's not going to be WARM, any more than the "bows and arrows hat" is warm. It's not "real" it's a vague vacuous waste. To be real, it would need to be re-done entirely (and probably in a different yarn).

I tried "rapid application development" (RAD) tools a few times. Not RUBY on RAILS but equivalents in PHP. I've tried RAD for a real open-source project (my Contract Manager application, still in Alpha, but taking good shape right now -- note I ripped it apart and started again without the RAD this time and it's come much(!) further). And when it comes down to it, it's just not robust. It's not real. It takes shape very quickly, but it's never going to keep you warm in the winter. Very much like quickly creating a magical chain mail vest from Freecycle freebie yarn for my son. I'm sitting in the car crocheting and suddenly the yarn and the work is the equivalent of Cake or Ruby on Rails, and it all comes together -- it all makes sense.

I had a similar revelation today. It's Saturday. Time for my own projects. Time for Laundry. Time to kick back and relax (yeah, right!). I got up, started working on a new quicky open-source idea, got distracted by Guy Kawasaki's blog entry for online reviews, started looking into getting on Yelp to place reviews and see what it's like, got distracted by Technocrati, and now I'm posting to my blog and doing blog upkeep.

My partner, who had to rush out to meet a friend today, called and asked what I was up to. I said something like "I'm being me!" Huh? "I keep getting tangented -- it's like when you start a new clause with an open bracket in a program and you forget to close it. Eventually you're nested 10 IF statements (etc) deep and you forgot how you got there, and what you need to do to close out your brackets."

When actually programming, both my partner and I start out every new "clause" in a program by typing the open and close brackets -- even in HTML I do this -- then backspacing to type the contents. "if ()" hit backspace then type. It doesn't mean you'll remember everything you wanted to do in every level of the loop if it gets deep, but it does mean that you won't get nasty errors -- just bugs :P

I wish I could do that in real life. I have a program to finish -- I have gotten most of the laundry READY but not run any loads yet, I would like to go out, I need to check the mailbox, and I want to work on getting something going (maybe a newsletter to my clients) so people give my business good reviews on a variety of websites, so I can request referrals, and so I can return the favors for them. Oy vey! It's Saturday, so I think the laundry then the mail come first.

[tags]programming, humor, life, clients, networking[/tags]

Monday, August 28, 2006

When it Rains...

A bunch of things to quickly jot down. First, in response to my last blog post "The Check's in the Mail" -- it was certainly Murphy's law at work, it took an entire week after that post for checks to start to come in. The day the first check came in I landed two new contracts for websites, along with the respective deposits.

On the subject of rain -- apparently Orange County, NY doesn't do rain halfway. Another few inches over these few days.

My business agrees with the weather -- I had 12 incoming jobs (that doesn't mean they'll all go to contract, or all go to contract at the same time), two of which went to contract as I mentioned above, and one established client called me with several rush jobs. Feast or famine, but nothing steady! Yay!

I've been a networking fiend lately. You can find me at Orange County Chamber of Commerce events, BNI events, Orange County Women's Professional Network events, Orange County Networking Alliance, Toastmasters, etc. Anyone in the area looking to network, I'd love to hear from you.

On those notes, I have some work to get through then I'll have new information for my portfolio, clients page, etc.

Good luck out there!!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Check's in the Mail

I've been busy this month, but as I always say "This month's work is next month's money." Whether a 15 day billing cycle or a 30 day billing cycle, with or without a late fee, and so on, by the time the job is done and billable, and then by the time you get the payment and take it to the bank, it's next month.

Last month was really rough. That means this month I'm terribly poor. I've gotten at least 3 new awesome clients, all giving me repeat work, and all paying me on-time. But there's still this cash flow problem.

So here's how the day goes: If I don't have a morning business networking meeting, my 6am to 9am slot is taken by email, breakfast, and catching up on news and potential work. If I have a project that has loose strings, I tie them. Ship out something I said I would have on their desk by morning. Surprise a client with something done ahead of schedule -- those are the best. Sometimes something inspirational came up while I was asleep and begs for my attention. This month I actually get to sleep in -- my son's at my mom's house way far out of state, so I can sleep til 7:30 if I don't have a morning business meeting.

From 9am-12pm I return calls, do job intake as needed, follow up on people answering their morning email, send out invoices, catch up on accounting work, work on billable projects due by the afternoon, etc.

Sometimes around 1pm I have a business lunch with someone. Other times, I take a long lunch break since I was up since 6am and I've hit a 6 hour mark for working during the day.

At 2pm I check the mail. This is the important part of this rant.

From 2-5 I'm doing billable projects, answering phone calls from late risers, and checking the news feeds again.

Now, back to 2pm -- when school is in session, more like 2:30pm, when my son gets home. The mail comes around or before 2. I think. No one really can tell if or when the mail is going to come. Or when. Sometimes it's here around noon. Sometimes it's a little late. But most days if we check for mail at 2-2:30pm it's here. It's my one chance for exercise every day. About 1/10 mile round trip walk to the mailbox. :P

Today the mail isn't here. The mailbox is empty. My wallet is filled with cobwebs, the banks are about to send me threatening letters, every bill under the sun is about to come due, and I had to beg my utility provider to PLEASE waive my late fee. I open the creaky door to look again. Empty. A third time? Yep, that mailbox sure is empty. I stand in disbelief squinting against the sun and look down the block. Surely the postal person is coming. Late over a latte or ice cream? If there are packages, the postal worker is here around 10am -- other days before 2pm.

How do you deal with an empty mailbox at 2pm. 2pm is perfect -- enough time to drive to the bank with that check that finally came. 2:30 is pushing it. At 2pm if the mailbox is empty, you have to run back to the mailbox at 2:30pm, wallet, keys for the car, checkbook in hand -- ready to flee to get to the bank by 3.

I hate being desperate.

But what if it's still empty at 2:30pm?

You begin to wonder what's going on. There are a billion outstanding invoices. People say the check's on it's way (it went to the accounting department, it was sent...), but I get enough junk mail, don't I? Why would it be EMPTY? The days where it's all junk mail, at least I know the mail CAME. Maybe the answer is more junk mail. Publisher's Clearing House? I was just thinking to tell the credit bureaus to stop giving my info out to credit card agencies looking to get me in debt to them. Save your paper! but now I can't tell whether the mail came today or not. Is there a check? I have this daily Schrodinger's cat syndrome when I open my mailbox -- is my bank account doomed to die or will it be resurrected for another week? Maybe I can convince the postwoman to leave me a post-it saying "Sorry, none for you today!"

I worry that maybe someone's beating me to the mailbox. An ol' game of bait and switch. That's not today's mail -- it's yesterday's mail. I'll get today's mail tomorrow.

Maybe I can blame it on my kids. It's all my kid's fault. If I didn't have kids, I wouldn't have bills, and I wouldn't need to charge people money -- I'd do it all for free and liberate the world from lame static websites in the name of the tech revolution! Somewhere there's a flaw in that logic, but in my panic over my bank balance, I guess I'm not thinking clearly.

This month's work is next month's money. I'll be bluddy rich next month. Rolling in it. I better have enough work next month to get me through October.

In the meantime, what's the best source of snail mail spam?

2:30pm. It's still empty.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

The benefits of natural lawnmowers

Mowing lawns could be hazardous to your health.

Take a somewhat out-of-shape person, give them insufficient liquids, 85 degree (Farenheit) or higher temperatures in the late day sun, about an acre of lawn and a mower and you have a recipe for disaster.

Make that person pig-headedly stubborn about getting the job done in one continuous grueling bout of sheer testosterone and you have heatstroke.

I'm not writing to extoll the virtues or dangers of heatstroke. I want to leave that to the experts.

I want to extoll the virtues of natural lawn mowers.

No more gas guzzling noise polluting mulch making hay spewing 1.5 horsepower rack-n-pinion steering (*cough*) bag-toting machine fury!

No. Just a little fur, some neighborly tolerance, and patience.

I have several lawn mowers. Woodchucks. Rabbits. Deer. If it weren't for the sheer overwhelming SIZE of the lawn, woefully seeded with absolutely useless grass, I probably wouldn't need a lawn mower at all. Give me ground ivy, chickweed, mint, wood sorrel, plantain, dandelion and cleavers any day over 100% useless indigestible grass. While we must have grass, since it's not my lawn, then at least we have our natural lawn mowers. I even have photos -- I've just been too bloody lazy to put my photos into the blog. I have to actually get off my butt and do it ;)

These lawn mowers have many myriad benefits:

  • they're eating what most people hate anyway. The woodchuck and rabbits specialize in the little plants between the blades of grass, like dandelions -- the ones the mechanical mower misses anyway. The deer eats young grass -- enough deer and there's no grass to mow in the first place!

  • instant composting. As these critters graze, they leave behind yesterdays morsels in a ready-to-use form. Bonus: herbivores don't have i-coli bacteria. The compost is ready for your soil, worms, and all other manners of nitrogen-hungry life

  • They're cheap: (what!! No nested lists GRRRR)

  • You don't have to pay at the pump

  • you don't need to buy or maintain machinery

  • you don't add extra wear to your car fetching mowers, oil, gas, parts or taking it in for repairs

  • you no longer need to buy fertilizer

  • You don't pollute the environment

  • When these lawn mowers break down, they biodegrade quickly -- no need to get them hauled away in the trash and have them take up room in a landfill

  • they replace themselves

  • they provide hours of amusement and possibly food and exercise to your pets

Anyway, here's a billion blessings to our lawn mowers -- they're welcome here any time -- as long as they stay the HECK out of my garden.

[tags]critters, environment, grass, dandelions, plantain, wood sorrel, gratitude, humor, woodchuck, rabbit, deer, rant, expenses, garden, lawn, recycling[/tags]

Monday, July 17, 2006

Carnegie Hall Contest

I'm personally and professionaly one of the NO!SPEC rebels. I believe that professionals should not hand out creatives (work, sketches, anything that takes substantial time or could be stolen and produced by any kid with an art program) for any client's job without being under contract to be paid for the work, deposits or down payments optional. This extends to contest work, where dozens of designers are invited to submit finished works in the hope that they will be picked out as the one good enough for the reward.

I've been reading and commenting on NO!SPEC articles for a couple months, and now I come across an interesting post on Craigslist:

Date: 2006-07-12

Carnegie Hall Seeks Original Art for Its Playbill Covers!

THEME “Music as a fundamental expression of the human spirit”--using Carnegie Hall’s 2006-2007 season as inspiration. Please visit for complete season details.

ELIGIBILITY Open to all enrolled students (valid identification required)

STYLE AND MEDIUM Any style and any medium, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and computer-generated art

SUBMISSION REQUIREMENTS jpeg, tiff, or pdf digital format only; file size not to exceed 2 mb; e-mail to

PRIZES Each of 10 selected entrants will receive $500 and 2 tickets to a performance at Carnegie Hall.

Deadline: August 31, 2006

Selected artists must be living, reside in the United States, provide their Social Security numbers, and sign a release for the use of their work.Winning works will appear on the covers of Carnegie Hall’s concert program books throughout the 2006-2007 season. Please note that while we encourage all forms of artistic expression, some controversial subject matter may not be suitable for publication. Submissions should not be literal representations of musicians appearing at Carnegie Hall. Also note that while artists will retain ownership of their original works, the photographic representation of each winning work will be considered a work made for hire for The Carnegie Hall Corporation (CHC), and CHC will own all copyrights and other rights in it, including, without limitation, the exclusive right to adapt it and to use it for any purpose and in any medium now known or devised in the future, perpetually and throughout the world.

no -- it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Compensation: $500 and 2 tickets to a performance at Carnegie Hall

This contest is of course a contest. Carnegie Hall is looking for dozens of people to pour their time into a project, and looking to reward someone and use their work. Only this time there are some key differences. It's open to students only; not many speculative work contests are only open to valid students. There are 10 prizes -- that certainly increases the chances of winning, and means that it's less likely that there will have been ties for first place and the winner chosen by the flip of a coin. Knowing PlayBills, it's possible there will be 10 covers printed, and all the winners' pieces distributed to a very mixed audience (and making a terrific portfolio piece). The prize is pretty fair -- they're giving out a total of $5000 to 10 students -- and how many students couldn't use $500?

Other interesting things to note: It's mixed media, and there aren't many chances for students to get that type of money for a media of their choice. It's not a venue where the student would be needed for branding advice, or future support, unlike logo or website design contests -- they need 10 single photos/pictures to print for the program book covers. The work produced by the entrants would be able to be generic and useful for other purposes (unlike a logo or web design).

I'm not saying it's a good contest; I find it difficult to judge this one. What I am saying is that of the contests I've seen, this one is different, more fair, unlikely to hurt Carnegie Hall in the way that most speculative contests I have seen are eventually going to bite the company holding the contest.

Would anyone care to comment on it?

[tags]activism, spec work, competition, rant, time[/tags]

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Clean-Room-Gestapo

You were there. You remember.

The humiliation, the pain, the sheer overwhelming bulk of it. Your room.

Your room was a mess. Years of accumulated junk and toys, half-eaten crackers, cups and plates. It doesn't matter if you were 2 or 20. You had done it: you made a big big mess.

There were your parents. Whether you were 2 or 20, their hulking bulk filled the sky as they glared down at you, tiny lightning bolts flashing in their eyes, and the Commandment came down like thunder, "CLEAN YOUR ROOM!"

As they stormed from the room, you surveyed the cluttered landfill, wondering whether you should start at the lump you think is your bed, or whether maybe it would be better to start from the top and work your way down, after all a lot of towers will be crumbling anyway. Overwhelmed, baffled at the Commandment, and with no good way to tackle the chaos, eyes moist with frustration and helplessness, you wonder why your parents have suddenly abandoned you, and made this unreasonable and surely irrational declaration. After an hour of helplessly transferring items from one pile to another, you turn your eyes upwards, ready to pray for salvation, but instead you swear a solemn oath on your favorite teddy, or maybe your iPod, Never EVER to do this to your children. Your children's room will be their own, safe from worries about parents and cleaning. They can do whatever they want with their room. You don't care how dirty it gets.

Years Go By...

You have your bundle of joy now. You watch your child learn to crawl, to walk. At 9 months you laugh when your child experiments with gravity, but then your child is in the high chair and decides to experiment with the oatmeal. A little less amused the 10th time, now that you've reinforced the behavior by being jovial and putting on a housecleaning show in front of your toddler, you finally frown at your child, and sternly say "NO!"

Fast-forward. Now your child is 2 -- or 20. You walk into the room to trip on a toy car, or to be admonished for stepping on their favorite Teddy. Maybe you step on their iPod. It's ok this time, you make it to the bed, tuck your bundle of joy in, realize the covers are in a huge knot, try to unravel them for the 100th time. You turn out the light, and narrowly escape the room with your life.

You do this over and over. It doesn't matter if you do it 20 or 200 times. There's going to be the one time you don't make it out unscathed.

Maybe it was a wooden block, an ice skate, a pencil point, a 4-sided-die. Whatever it was, you stepped directly on it and the stabbing pain went right up your leg. With the pain came a moment of clarity -- or was that insanity? The room is a hazard! The room has gone untouched for far too long, you've put up with it for far too long, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!! There is no way to resist the onrushing waves tossed about by years of neglect and insult. You pay for the house, you pay for their things, you have cleaned up after them, dressed them, bathed them, dedicated endless hours for years and years to keeping them neat, tidy, and healthy. And THIS is how they repay you? Tossing all your labors out the door, carelessly strewing items around the room, inviting vermin with dirty plates and half eaten vittles, and not even trying to make an inviting path to allow you in?!

you. Have. HAD. IT.

Like a Valkyrie or Odin himself, shaking a spear and shouting out a war-cry you denounce your naive youthful oath, and crash down like the very wrath of the gods has filled you, screaming like a banshee, and you make every declaration under the sun swearing that "IF you don't CLEAN THIS ROOM...." and ending it with whatever spills out of your wraith-strewn maw. You can't even remember. It doesn't really matter.

After the one fell incident, you become a police officer, keeping law and order -- your law and your order -- with regard to the tidiness of the room. With every foot your child drags, your threats and declarations escalate into a shrill madness that causes even your own inner child to flee in wild panic. Every speck of dust or item out of place induces threats and limitations: no dessert, no tv, no computer, no movies, no car, no iPod, no GameBoy, no going out, no phone calls, no No NO.

And it doesn't matter if your kid is 2 or 20. In the face of your irrational exhibition, the child will sulk away and make an oath to a long forgotten deity that they will never, ever, tell their child to clean their room...


Wednesday, July 12, 2006


There was a sudden loud knocking at the kitchen door. I rushed over to answer. A FedEx man handed me a box I wasn't really expecting, delivering my fixed LaCie backup drive. I thanked him and signed for it, only barely noticing the thick pallor that enshrouded the land and the smell that said the air was thick with moisture.

I tore open the box in haste, gloating over LaCie having entirely replaced my drive -- I hadn't had to return the power cords or gadgets with the drive for repair, and now I had duplicates for everything. With no emotion but relief for a minor ordeal being tidied up, I plunked the new drive down on a cluttered wire shelf next to my crochet work and back-up CDs, and sat in my seat, ready to check email and RSS feeds -- my day of working-as-usual.

There was a large boom, somewhere nearby, and entirely out of the blue. Could that be thunder? I had gotten no storm warnings in my RSS feeds from the National Weather Service, but that gloom outside wafted back to my consciousness -- it certainly COULD be thunder. A louder crackle-boom, far too close with no distant warnings. My hand automatically reached out and yanked the power cord from my laptop, and my other hand reached out for my desktop mouse -- time to Shut Down.

Doorstop, my moody desktop, doesn't shut down properly. In spite of a recent re-install. I've replaced every component in the case except for the video card and motherboard, and it absolutely refuses to shut down properly. I even have the boot-up and shut-down in "verbose" mode, so I can read all the system messages on the screen to see if I can figure out what's wrong. The machine spits "continuing" onto the screen then waits for what seems like forever. I push the moody power switch and wait for the machine to shut off.

Cable goes out. It's enough of a problem to be so dependent on my laptop battery -- now I have no Internet. It's definitely not a good sign. Chris, my partner, starts unplugging equipment wholesale, so I reach down, yank Doorstop out of the way, and grope blindly behind my desk, pulling the two plugs from the wall socket, saving Doorstop and my servers.

With a shrug, I grab my crochet work and move to a more comfortable chair.

What ensued was a violent (and sudden) thunderstorm in our area. We lost power for about a half hour. I can't say if we would have gotten a surge sufficient to take our computers out, but I've witnessed lightning strikes that have done extensive damage throughout home networks, taking out every ethernet card on the network, and any motherboard with built-in ethernet. Note that all my Macs have built-in ethernet. In other words, a power strike could kill my computers. A power strike on my cable line through to my ethernet network will kill my computers absolutely dead with no hope of return. My laptop is joyfully wireless, so it's not under that risk.

It took at least an hour for our Internet to come back up. I got a lot of crochet work done.

Last winter, we had a storm that took out our power for almost 24 hours, starting on a Friday.

In the case of power loss, I have no Internet connection and about 1-3 hours of laptop battery before I can't work at all anymore. Hopefully people can understand this problem. It's not like I live in the boondocks, either; I'm on the edge of Middletown, a pretty sizable city. Regardless of power loss, I need to take my computers offline, and work solely off my laptop, for the duration of any electrical storms. Any backup battery is insufficient to protect my computers from a direct electrical hit on the (overhead) power lines, and my laptop isn't on the backup battery, since it technically doesn't NEED a backup battery.

Not every admin is this paranoid, but then again not every admin has seen the effect of direct hits the way I have.

These storms will affect my ability to work. I pad my deadlines partially because of problems like these, but should power go out, I may have to move my deadlines, with profuse apologies.

I can crochet you a hat to make up for it though! Just ask! :)

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Pricing Revisions

My Services page has been updated with some lower, and more explicit, pricing.

I had made a mistake when putting up the pricing for flat html design, and made it sound like it was $400 per page -- now it specifically says that I am changing $250 and up per page design. So if you want a design for the homepage, and a separate design for "inside pages" it would be $500+ and a per-page fee for the inside page content.

I also corrected the costs for putting pre-designed designs into web applications, a few web applications are easier to template than others and their fees are listed separately.

I'm sorry if that caused anyone to panic and run :)


Monday, June 26, 2006

day lily buds

I knew that day lilys were edible, and I saw them cropping up all around my new house. So I broke out Steve Brill's book -- he being my favorite authority on edibles -- and he mentioned all the various ways people eat day lilys. My mind got caught on day lily bud pickles. When Steve said that the plant no longer propagates via flower, it propagates via rhizomes, I knew I'd hit the jackpot. I bottled some day lily buds in a fairly usual pickle manner last night, and today I'm trying a variation on a day lily bud recipe I found on the internet. In a few weeks I'll be able to say how they taste. But the one I bottled last night is a beautiful red color. I had brined the buds for 12-24 hours (2 batches that I collected over two days), and put a plate on top to weigh them down. Some discolored a little, and some discolored a lot. I should have put them all in the jar and poured the hot vinegar over them, but I discarded some of the most discolored ones. Turns out that everywhere they discolored turned a brilliant red color in the vinegar solution, making a very pretty display if nothing else.

However Steve Brill said that day lily pickle buds are delicious. If it ever stops raining, I'll put pictures of day lilies and their buds online for people to get a good id. There's similar, still edible species (tiger lily), but the day lily has no poisonous look-alikes. As always, pick your plants away from car-ways. You don't want auto emissions on your food.

Also, I use pasta/tomato sauce jars or pickle jars that I've cleaned for making things in vinegar. Vinegar corrodes metal -- normal Ball or canning jars use metal rings and the lids will often corrode. Tomatoes are also corrosive so they use lined jar lids for pasta sauces.

My recipe -- the first batch I used about 1/4 cup salt to 1c water for the brine. I soaked the day lily buds by submerging them in the brine at room temperature (you may try in the fridge, maybe they wont get browned around the edges...) overnight. The following morning I picked more and left the whole lot in the solution until the evening. I created the vinegar pickling mix by filling a similarly-sized jar about 4/5ths or more with 1/2 organic cider vinegar 1/2 white vinegar, about 3/4 to 1c white sugar, about 4 whole cloves, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1tsp fennel seed, 1tsp black peppercorns. Stirred it up, put it in a non-metal saucepan to heat to steaming. You can be more patient than me and boil it :) While waiting, I rinsed the buds from the brine, and lined them up in the jar. Line them up very tightly if possible -- I didn't, and they all floated to the top. I was afraid to squish them too much. When the vinegar solution was ready, I poured it SLOWLY over the top (make sure the jar is warmed so that it does not shatter!), waited for bubbles to float out, poured in more, etc. I attempted to completely cover the buds without having the vinegar touch the lid of the jar. I eventually put the lid on, and turned the whole jar over (use gloves! it's HOT) a few times, re-opened it and poured more solution in. Label the LID of the jar, and turn it over a couple times a day for the first few days, especially if there are buds that aren't quite covered on the top. I'm hoping they eventually get saturated and sink to the bottom.

Today, instead of brine, my recipe calls for boiling the buds for 20 minutes or so -- enough to eat them as a vegetable. I'm using a different pickling solution -- one much less clear, so it won't be as pretty on the shelf. The buds came out of the boiling with the water mainly black, and the buds looking like soggy stringbeans. I put them in the jar, heated the pickling solution and I'm waiting for it to cool so I can put a label on it. This time I did a part apple cider and part white vinegar solution again, but I made about 1/3 of the sugar molasses and the spices were 2 whole cinnamon, 5 whole cloves, and a pinch of allspice powder (I need to get more whole allspice!). I couldn't really pack the jar tightly, but these babies were so tired and waterlogged that they sink easily. At the same time, they have totally lost all firmness and color compared to the brined buds. We'll see how it all turns out.

[tags]day lily, pickles, canning, steve brill, recipe[/tags]

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

New Portfolio launched

Ok, I give. Not everyone wants to have to dig around to see the cool stuff. The Portfolio link takes you directly to a gallery, where you can page through all the artwork. But you aren't totally spared my verbosity. Each detail page may have a blurb.

In the item detail pages, there are links back to the old portfolio pages, where there are case studies for those of you who still care about my babble. So it's the best of both worlds. Everyone can pretend to be illiterate and look only at pictures (like coloring books, ya kno?) and click around playfully, etc. Those who prefer snuggling in bed with a nice book and some warm cocoa can click through to the juicy ramblings and corporate scandals. Can you beat it?

Good luck!

[tags]portfolio, new site, design[/tags]

And the green grass grew...

I love my little garden.

It's been struggling. The woodchuck LOVES the greenbean leaves and the spinach.

My first planting of greenbeans was pretty much a disaster. All but two of the plants were eaten by insects or critters. Those two are fertile, flowering, and seem to be a variety that does NOT require fencing or poles to climb on. One has a seed-pod growing already.

My mom and I planted greenbean seeds that are children of her beans from her garden last year. And we planted A LOT. Of those, about half are doing well, and half have been chomped by deer or woodchuck. Those are struggling to bring up leaves again, but I'm afraid they may not make it. I planted more of the organic freestanding beans between the climbing beans that probably won't make it. So that will be 3 crops of beans if any of the 3rd planting make it.

The basil is starting to look healthier, the parsley is growing into it's pre-adolescence. The dill looks great. But the mystery is that the oregano never grew. At all. So I used that area to plant a late batch of tomatoes.

My son's one lonely pea plant is climbing faithfully up one tomato cage and its started to flower. I hope they don't require separate plants to be fertilized.

I put two cages down around the cucumber plants to give them something to climb on, but I'm really afraid they're going to totally overwhelm the cages LOL

I have one more cage for the tomatoes unless I find the other ones that may be buried under the poison ivy.

The spinach is starting to stalk and grow vertical, but many of the baby leaves were trashed by the varmint that has been eating the greenbean leaves wholesale.

Because most of the plants have been struggling, I planted all the rest of the seeds in various places for a free-for-all. Many of the plants can be harvested before they are mature (basil, spinach, parsley, dill), so why not? Nearly all the new seeds I planted are already sprouting above the soil, and will join their more mature brethren.

I've considered fencing in the front side of the garden, but I'm not sure it will inconvenience the critters more than it inconveniences me. Next year, I have to plant the tomatoes all across the front. I only put them across half the front. Hopefully that will be enough of a "nothing interesting here -- now move along" to keep most vermin out (tomato leaves are poisonous -- tomatoes are in the nightshade family, and in the middle ages the fruit of the tomato plant was thought to be poisonous).

Any of my spare seeds I scattered in the wilds around my garden plot. If nature allows them to root and grow, the critters can chomp away. Or they can eat the beans and cut out the middleman ;)

Bees. Some of the largest bumblebees I've ever seen live in my garden. And they don't like me much. They come over and check me out here and there. One decided I was too close to their hive and stung me a little on my eyebrow. Not enough to hurt me too badly, and not enough to rip its stinger off. My eyebrow was unhappy for a couple days, but I did my first aid like a good little mommie so it didn't get too bad. Now I avoid the area where the beehive is. Unfortunately it was a place that my mom and I planned for the beans to vine into. I need alternatives now.

I have wild strawberries all over the wild parts of the yard. Tons of them. But the berries are going to be tiny, which is typical of strawberries that haven't been cultivated or which have escaped from the garden. And there are brambles. I think I have black raspberries, and I'm waiting to find out what the other varieties all around the yard are - I expect blackberries, in abundance.

That's about all the gardening news for now.
[tags]critters, strawberries, stringbeans, berries, spinach, bees, tomatoes, basil, parsley, dill, garden[/tags]

Friday, June 16, 2006

Myrna Owns Her Content

Myrna, a massage therapist of 20 years, finally has a website after years of rejecting the typical website-for-massage-therapist templates always being pushed onto her industry.

Myrna is a tough-as-nails massage therapist, very straightforward and to the point. At the same time, she is an attentive listener, and flexible in her massage style. She has 20 years of professional massage experience, specializing in therapeutic massage for a variety of health ailments, and wanted a website that was a blend of medical, sports and that touch of down-to-earth holism that she has without being at all fluffy., designed by Eclectic Tech and hosted by Archutech Consulting, is a wiki. Myrna has the password, and I bet she's not sharing! All the content on the site is by Myrna.

Case Study
[tags]new site, new client, holistic, massage[/tags]

Sunday, June 11, 2006

CMS Disappointment

I have been trying to work out the features and the back-end program to run Holistic - Hudson Valley.

As I would do for any client, I wrote up a sheet of the major features I required. I checked 3 CMS packages that are free/open source, and that I have confidence that they have a large number of add-ons and a strong community: Drupal, Joomla! and Xoops.

I've used Xoops, and I liked it A LOT.

I've used Drupal, but when looking for plug-ins that would give the package the features I was looking for it fell short.

I researched packages for Joomla, and except for true single-sign-on integration with Moodle, it came up with the most promising feature availability. I saw that a couple of the components would cost money. The amount wasn't enough to hamper me, so I dove in. I started working on it, decided to opt for my first purchase of a module, which was more than the original price I thought I would be spending on the feature ($99). I bought it. It's one of those no-money-back things. Then I saw that Joomla! did not include the fine group permissions that I had come to expect from using Xoops.

My first barricade was that the new $99 module only works with a certain release of Joomla! -- that was OK because I'd downloaded two versions of Joomla. I installed the correct one, got it working, fed it the database info, and everything was happy. Or so I thought. I could now install the somewhat expensive module (the other modules were cheaper).

Joomla! comes with a pre-created set of a few user group types. And no way to customize them, unless you want to buy someone's hack. I have a list of about 8 module features I need installed. The group modification hack gives no easy indication of which other modules it plays nice with -- you need to pour through the forums. Maybe they've created patches for it to work with the modules you want -- maybe not. No guarantees. Oh, yeah, and if you want the best version of their package, there's a subscription fee. Not a one-time license fee -- a monthly or annual subscription fee. This stopped me dead in my tracks.

I was looking for something cheap and easy. So far I'd spent about $100 and had at least another $50 USD and £22.50 (probably about $50USD) to spend ahead of me. If any more unexpected barriers came up and I had to shell out any more money for modules that did not guarantee playing nice with other modules --- this was going to end with me going postal.

I'm starting to think that Joomla! is a rip-off -- about 1/3 of the functionality I was looking for as a base to begin was going to cost me money. I think some of the people charging money for components were on the package's core development team. If the component is terribly useful, and should be ported to the main body of the program -- such as flexibility with user groups -- it would probably never happen because the guy who is making money off the module is going to scream bloody murder. That is not the type of open source generosity I'm looking for. I don't mind asking for donations, and I don't mind giving donations if I make money off my project -- AT ALL. But Joomla! doesn't say "Warning, most of what you want to extend this package with will cost you."

I should have considered my choices longer and harder, but thankfully I've only spent $99 so far. Once I spent the other $100 or so, I may have found out that something else essential was missing, and how much would that have cost me?

I'm off to do more research on the Xoops packages. Xoops has a better core philosophy as far as I can tell. The basic package is deliberately made to be extensible without having to hack the core code. Even if I do end up having to buy an add-on or two, they won't come with huge warnings that they are hacks of the core package and may not play nice with other modules. I've used Xoops and was very happy with it. If there's a module I can't find to fill a feature I need, I can try creating it myself.

Xoops had come in a close 2nd place in my assessments, but I was lured in by the promise of everything "just working" with Joomla!. Joomla! is more polished to the eye, but apparently the "just working" isn't true. I'm going to need to triple check that none of the modules I want costs money, but I'm pretty sure they don't. In any case, I have some experience in hacking Xoops modules...and I know the user groups are already fine-grained and fully customizable.

[tags]cms, drupal, xoops, joomla, open source, web applications, custom programming, modules, expenses[/tags]

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Thank You For Your Time

People probably don't get it, but I write "Thank you for your time" out by hand at the bottom of my emails, above the pre-generated sig lines.

Time is my one finite commodity.

If someone puts a project request up on a site or write to me asking for a bid, they've spent time on that, and in return they're looking forward to quality in the response. I find that many of my competition on such venues are a disaster, a blight on my industry. Their responses are form letters, no consideration is given to whether they fit the job or why, generic quotes are pasted in, if any time has been spent on the response at all. They're quite stingy with their time, and I'll bet it shows when they're on the clock.

When I write to someone, I'm hoping that they read what I have to say. From the moment they open my email, to the moment they close it, their time is being spent on me. Time they will never get back. They're moments closer to the end of life on this fair Earth. My response, even if it ends up being the bid they choose, has just sucked away some portion of their time above and beyond the responses I have no control over.

I send out my blessings for the time they are spending on me every time I write "Thank you for your time" and click send.

At the same time, I have to acknowledge that the return-on-investment of me spending my time on these people hand-writing to them probably far overshadows the quality of responses I receive, if any. I get few if any clients through such competitive venues. That's why, if I know I don't fit a job, I am not going to waste my time writing to the person, unless--

Unless somehow I'm going to serve them in a very quick and definitive fashion.

I often write to people who seem to need a little advice. I have no intention of taking their job, it probably doesn't fit me, but something they said implied a need for direction. Sometimes I'm misguided, and should keep my fingers on the mouse, move on to the next ad. Sometimes I earn a bit of respect for my wisdom.

A long time ago I decided that the chance to help people is well worth spending my time on. If I save someone a moment of time, maybe that's one more time they smile at a child, blow dandelion seeds into the wind, procrastinate one less chore. Perhaps I'm saving some people far more than just a moment. Minutes. Hours, even! Those bundles of moments we measure.

I want to take a moment, if you have read this post, to thank you for your time. I really appreciate that you've listened to my babbling on this. This is a very important and dear topic to me.

With luck, I will eventually have sufficient referrals, print ads, and repeat business to leave off reading Craigslist and other posting venues, and spend more time creating, advertising, dreaming, and contributing to the works of others. In the meantime, here's a toast to the customers I have found at such places, the associates within my field, and to all the moments where people really connect and collaborate, whether for a minute or a month, and then sit back and salute a job well done.



[tags]time, gratitude, clients[/tags]

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Advertising Excitement

I have the pleasure of being a member of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce (I really need to put a member logo up to that effect), and as part of their membership drive I get to include a letter-sized flyer in a mailing.

I opted for the July mailing, since I have a couple ads coming out in June, and I want to see what impact they have. Also, I wanted the June 15 deadline to get them the flyer. Brainstorming and printing up 3000 flyers is no joke.

I've opted for 100% post-consumer paper, and I'm on the third laser cartridge (if anyone knows of soy-ink laser cartridges, I want to know! Now!).

Why the brainstorming? Boy, I'm so glad you asked!

You see, most of the flyers that come in the mailers are typical. Boring. Dry. Unimaginative. I'm a designer, a creative spirit -- and adding to the boredom in the world is counter to my Declaration of Don't Waste My Time. Boring flyers destined for the round (or *cross-fingers* recycle) bin and tantamount to spam. To environmental waste. I've come up with a unique idea, and unlike most people I'm going to use both sides of the paper (novel, isn't it?). I'm making sure it has as low an environmental impact as I can muster on my low-budget-advertising strings. This chamber mailer is sent out monthly with other fliers anyway, via snail mail that gets delivered daily anyway. No extra envelopes needed. The recycled paper helps too, though I would prefer renewable treeless, denim, soy ink, etc. I just can't afford the printing costs, and if I print at an environmental printer's there's delivery costs, the truck to my place -- the extra pollution-per-mile of delivery.

I put a plea on the paper, right next to the recycle symbol, asking people who don't need it to pass it on to someone else. The box of 3000 pages is rather large. Did I mention 3 laser ink cartridges? I hate to think of all my effort going to the waste basket.

I also don't think any other company put as many man-hours into designing their flyers as I have. I've already put about 50+ hours into it. Creativity has a price. But now that I'm done, it is also be a viable stand-alone flyer for private mailers. It also has the potential (with a smidgeon of effort from me, I did my retouching on the greyscale images) to be printed in 4 color glossy (and look great!) eventually, but this time I think it will just be a laser print. I doubt a 4 color printer with sufficient ink for 3000 flyers is in my near future, and 4 color environmentally sound printing isn't in my near future either.

I have preview images for y'all on my inhouse portfolio page.


[tags]ads, design, print design, comic, creative, recycled paper, inhouse ads, 3D art, rendering, Chamber, portfolio[/tags]

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Oxelot round four

Today I completed and sent out the third round of revisions for Oxelot's corporate identity. I've added round four samples to the Oxelot case study page in my portfolio. Amazingly, I've already heard something back from the client ;)

[tags]new client, design, logo, identity, portfolio[/tags]

Green Thumbs

My mother has the best green thumb I've ever seen. Must be those Missouri genes. I've been struggling with crappy store-bought vegetable seeds. It takes nearly twice as long as the package says for the sprouts to break soil.

My mother comes here one weekend, we plant tons of green beans -- they're her own seeds matured from her garden, which is several bean-generations old by now. We must have planted about 40 seeds in my tiny garden. A little "Mommy Magic" and a lot of watering, some rare rain and dreary days for once followed by sun, and 10 days later, the beans are breaking soil.

All my life, my mother has had a garden. Even in Brooklyn, NY, she's always managed to find some dirt to grow something in. My luck with plants extends mainly to the wild, cultivation is shaky, and indoor plants near impossible. I managed healthy aloe plants indoors but most others have died due to my incompetency or an indoor black-thumb curse.

But outside -- I coax wild plants to grow where I scatter their seed, I plant store bought seeds and they escape to grow between the cracks in the pavement, and I have a great eye for wild plant identification. Show me ornamentals and cultivated plants and I have a low rate of recognition, but I can recognize about a hundred common wild plants on sight. I also talk to the plants and trees, but you wouldn't want to know what they have to say about you ;)

When we filled my garden with my mother's bean babies, I had another 5-6 left in my hand. Put them back in the #10 envelope my mother brought them in? Why? So they could sit there doing nothing? No way! I tossed them amongst the cornucopia outside my garden and commanded silently to the sleeping vessels: "Go forth, and multiply!"

At the least, if they succeed, they'll give the rabbits something to chew on.

[tags]stringbeans, critters, garden[/tags]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Family and Beliefs

I don't know what you, the reader, believe in. Right now, our nation struggles with a fundamental question regarding the "face" of what is an acceptable "American family."

There is the Federal Marriage Amendment, being contemplated for addition into our Constitution. This amendment seeks to limit marriage and any rights resembling those of rights of marriage to couples who are male and female. In other words, it's to dictate what states can say about marriage between gay couples -- which specifies that they may not allow marriage and marital rights. It does away with domestic partnership rights, annuls marriages already consummated, strips many families of privileges they require and depend upon legally and medically.

Historically speaking, the document called the Constitution has been most successful in outlining our rights and freedoms. Whenever we have used it as a document to impose limitations on basic human rights, it has failed.

We also have kept it relatively free of judgement, free of religion. A miracle in a partisan country where one religion or a set of somewhat compatible religions have the power.

Marriage is already a messy "Chinese menu" of personal and private romantic and supportive commitments between individuals, a religious binding oath, and a contractual financial and legal arrangement. Not to mention a component that is a contract with the State, in return for which one gets certain legal and financial rights. Pick and choose any or all of the above for your marriage. To say two men, or two women, can't make a personal and private romantic or supportive commitment would be absurd -- that is something one can't dictate and needs no contract or sanction and makes marriage a mere formality or a public announcement of the commitment. To say two men or two women -- or indeed any number of individuals -- can't enter a contractual financial and legal arrangement is equally absurd and would burst every corporation or partnership in the country leaving us with many sole proprietorships, no clients, etc.

Whenever an argument opposing gay marriage comes about, I hear the protest coming from a religious standpoint, yet the contract of marriage requires no religious component. People can be married by court. Marriage by church is an option that persists for tradition and sentimental or religious reasons, but the two matters (legal or religious marriage) can easily be separated from one another.

Yet most opponents to gay marriage insist on quoting quotes from various interpretations of one religious compendium called the Bible. Someone passed around a counter-quote, "When you take an oath in court, you swear on the Bible to uphold the Constitution" not vice-versa. We are not a nation to uphold the Bible. There are no precedents outlining which religious source we are basing the Constitution on because the Constitution was written with the express intention of separating the impositions of religion from the governance of a nation. Our forefathers had the wisdom, the resentment, the foresight, and the first-hand-experience to know that no one religion was going to get it right, and that individual political freedoms could not be dictated by religious mores.

I am not Christian, or Jewish. I'm not Muslim, nor am I Buddhist. Yet religion surrounds me, infuses me, draws me, defines me, limits me, and expands me. My religion doesn't have any creeds whatsoever limiting lifetime unions to only man and woman. If your religion says it's not ok to marry the same sex, then marry only the opposite sex (or change religions), but do not limit my Constitutional freedom to practice my right to personal private commitments, enter into contractual arrangements, to celebrate the religious oaths I may choose to enter into with any gender, or to enter into a legal and financial agreement with my state. Certainly do not try to limit my religious freedoms from within a document sworn to protect them. Your state may not honor my agreements, but the Constitution is not allowed to limit them.

[tags]religion, marriage, queer, freedom, Constitution, family, legal, activism[/tags]

Monday, May 15, 2006

New Blog

Instead of posting news in the news area, I'm going to use this blog that I've added to my site.

I'll pull all my old news into the blog area, give it the correct dates, and properly tag it.

[tags]metablog, news[/tags]

Friday, May 12, 2006


Dose of common-sense: I'm not prescribing remedies to you. If you want to make your own medicines, get at least a basic education in herbalism first. If you want to do field identification of plants and herbs, get some good field guides, and verify some plants against knowledgeable persons before imbibing.

What a godawful two weeks.

I got something, perhaps a case of Poison Ivy, about two weeks ago. I know because the grass needed to be mowed again. My partner, Chris (yep, two of us), mowed two weeks ago, having bought a new mower. I was a complete IDIOT and tried keeping him company while he did it -- put on some gloves, and went out to prune some of the crazy hedges and bushes out there. I didn't care that the mower was spewing cut grass at me on occasion -- or that I was breathing in the dusty crud that it was pouring out. I clipped hedges, and gathered up armfulls of brush clippings to the margin of the woods to toss on a pile of deadfall we'd been collecting there.

The next morning, I had some bug bites along my right arm, from wrist to about my elbow. I scratched, didn't think much of it. Mosquito, flea, whatever -- something had snacks on my arm all night. So be it.

Then my left leg behind the knee was itching. Again -- didn't think much of it. We have pets, hence fleas, and anything below the knee is game :P *sigh* So again, I did nothing. This is about Friday night or so.

By Sunday I itched in several more areas, but nothing beat the welts behind my knee. I got some hydrocortisone cream. I figured it was a minor itch/allergy and should be treated as same.

On Monday I knew there were serious problems. Where there were two 1" wide welts behind my knee the night before, now the entire area behind my knee was swollen.

By Tuesday I figured out that it was eczema or contact dermatitis. I got a Benadryl dye free equivalent, and a topical version, some health food store remedies, and made my own ointments from herbal oils I had on-hand.

Plantain Ointment

Creating ointments from infused plant oils requires taking the liquid oil medium and adding solidifying agents to it. Usually the goal is to have something solid or semi-solid at room temperature, but which melts upon contact with the skin. Solidifying agents may vary, but my preference is beeswax, as it is natural, healing and nutritive in its own right, and melts easily into the oil. Other options may include saturated plant fats such as palm or coconut oil, lecithin, and sometimes paraffin, but I've never used these for an ointment so I can't recommend them. By varying the amount of beeswax, one can control the solidity of the end product, and you can get anything from a soft cream to lip balm consistency at room temperature.

Create an infused plant oil: Fill a clean jar with fresh, dry-surfaced, plantain (Plantago spp.). Fill the jar again with olive oil, to the very brim, and then seal it with a cap. Let sit a minimum of 6 weeks (2 weeks in an emergency...mine was in the jar for 9-10 years!). (See notes on making infused plant oils later, there are a lot of rules and notes!)

Pour off oil into a (glass or enameled) pan, removing and squeezing out all plant matter. Heat on the absolute lowest heat setting possible before blowing out the burner (or you can heat it on a radiator/riser in your apartment building ;) ), and add beeswax shavings to the tune of about 2 tsp shavings per 4 oz of oil... it's a fine art depending on how solid you want your ointment. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the beeswax is melted. Do not allow to boil! Keep the heat as low as possible. Pour into clean, wide-mouthed jars you can get your finger completely into (preferably glass, possibly metal tins or old plastic cosmetics jars but they need to be heat-tolerant).

What's left in the pan, you can smear on your face, hands, lips, eyes, etc. Did I just say eyes? Well, use your judgement -- but depending on the plants and the oils you use, this is essentially food.

I slathered plantain ointment on the affected areas. I had enough that I made 3 4oz jars of ointment. If you can't picture it, figure it's a large 12oz soda cup full of goo. I still can't say if it helped but it did keep the itching down, and my skin sucked it up like it was starving. That last may be a problem, though, since it fed my skin (yum!) but didn't necessarily lock in the moisture the way something with mineral oil or petroleum jelly would have.

Soon it was a week of intensive itching, I was desperate, and I was no longer satisfied with my normal regime of simples (one herbal remedy at a time). I suspected it might be Poison Ivy (oak, sumac, who cares?). I saw that I was going to run out of ointment at this rate, I got more creative (read: desperate), and I made a jar of ointment (same steps as above) out of lance-leaf plantain that had soaked (for about 10 years) in almond oil, then after filling one jar I added mugwort oil (Artemesia vulgaris) to the pan that had been soaking in olive oil, and a little more beeswax. I poured that into a jar for one jar of plantain/mugwort ointment. Then I punctured and squeezed out about 4 capsules of Vitamin E oil (Carlson E-Gems - d-alpha tocopheryl acetate from soy in sunflower/soybean oil, beef gelatin (?), glycerin and water), and poured a jar of the plantain/mugwort/vitE ointment. Then I added goldenseal powder (Hydrastis canadensis, store purchased), and poured the remaining 3 jars of the huge combo of plantain/mugwort/vitE/goldenseal. In the end I had a total of 6 more jars of ointment. Final 3 jars ingredients, approximated for proportions: olive oil, almond oil, mugwort, plantain, beeswax, vit E and goldenseal powder.

Having plantain and mugwort sitting in oil on my herb shelves for 9 years is a very long time. I simply had no overwhelming need to decant (pour the oil out of) the jars, and I had been slowly edging back into making remedies since moving upstate. However, this was a full all-out plunge back into being an herbalist. I researched, because I didn't see any jewelweed (Impatiens aurea or biflora, a poison ivy remedy) whatsoever in my poison-ivy haven of a yard. Mommy N doesn't work that way -- where there's a problem, there's a cure. Since there was no jewelweed, I knew there must be an alternative cure somewhere in my yard. I looked for eczema remedies. I poured over my class notes from too-many-years-ago. I thought for a moment that I might need to upgrade my field guides -- I upgrade all my techie manuals for programming languages and web languages, don't I? But wait --

Plants don't mutate over 20 years. Of course my field guides are still accurate. :P

And then I found another answer. Cleavers (Galium aparine), a very distinctive little plant, and I had noticed it growing everywhere in my yard. I even had identified the plant instantly by name around the grounds, even though I had never worked with her as a remedy for anything. The suggestions were for using the juice of the plant rather liberally, but I didn't have the heart to take that much of this not-very-juicy plant in order to attempt to make several teaspoons of juice a day. I opted to make a tincture, less effective but much more efficient in use of my green friend -- it wouldn't be ready in time for what is going on now, but I have a feeling this won't be the only time and next time I'll know what's happening and have a (hopeful!) cure handy.


A herbal plant extract occurs when plant is infused in a liquid menstruum that breaks down cell wall materials and carries nutrients, minerals, alkaloids, and other active ingredients out of plant materials and into the liquid solution.

Fill a clean jar with clean fresh plant material. Fill it again with your choice of any alcohol, glycerine or vinegar. Preference for 100 Proof vodka, or raw/organic apple-cider vinegar.

Vodka is the most efficient "menstruum" (liquid carrier) and makes a medicine called "a tincture" requiring the lowest amount of liquid per dose. Glycerine menstruums are non-alcoholic and create an "extract", while vinegar menstruums create a "vinegar". Thus you can have cleavers tincture (in alcohol) or extract (in glycerine, but all of these are extracts), or vinegar.

2-6 weeks minimum, then pour off into a new clean jar, squeeze out the plant materials to the best of your ability, seal and label.

Tinctures and glycerine extracts are usually dispensed from dropper bottles, and the dose varies depending on the plant used -- the most potent/poisonous plants usually call for being mixed with other tinctures or teas and 4-5 drops are used, while less strong, nutritive, or edible plants may call for an entire dropper-full of liquid several times a day. Vinegars usually have a dose 2-3 times that of other extracts (perhaps a teaspoon or more, depending on the plant used), are usually used only for plants that are otherwise edible, and may be used in salads to carry the benefits to the user.

You may infuse in rubbing alcohol, which makes a liniment -- FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY!

Note that vinegars will erode metal -- use a pickle jar to make a vinegar infusion, because the cap is lined to prevent erosion.

I also replenished my stores of plantain oil by starting a jar of plantain oil, and at the same time I started a jar of yarrow oil (Achillea millefolium) and a jar of ground ivy tincture (Glechoma hederacea).

Notes about creating herbal oil infustions

  • Do not confuse infused oils with essential oils. They are quite different. Essential oils are made in a laboratory, using distiller equipment. Herbal oil infusions use a liquid oil medium and are soaked for a long period of time (2-6 weeks or longer), and can easily be made in your kitchen.

  • If you're in a rush, a quick infused oil can be made by heating your liquid oil gently in a pan, and adding almost an equal amount of plant material to it. Stir, do not allow to boil or burn, and in about an hour you will have an oil that will have most of the properties of a cold-infused oil. In the process of heating the plant, the cell walls break down quicker than soaking in oil over time, but you sacrifice heat-sensitive agents and nutrients in the end product, both from the oil you choose and the plant.

  • Olive oil has its own healing properties (as do other types of oil) and a good cold-pressed extra virgin oil, while expensive, has tremendous healing qualities in itself. If you can't afford or don't have the best oil on hand, any liquid cooking oil will do in a pinch.

  • When making oils it is exceptionally important that there is no water on your plant materials before you add them to the jar. Some "sweating" occurs when fresh plant materials are placed into plastic baggies, so when buying or collecting fresh herbs, put them in paper bags for better results. If there is too much water on your herbs when placing them in the jar, you may end up with mold in your oil.

  • If mold develops in your oil, transfer clean materials to a clean jar, discard any dubious materials, and top off with oil.

  • Keep the jar full to the top -- this also prevents mold.

  • Filling the jar to the top with oil may cause seepage -- oil has a way of finding its way through the lid. Place on a surface that will not mar from oil, or place in a bowl.

  • Expect that the plant materials will swell and release air bubbles, poke down the plant materials with a clean bamboo chopstick or a clean undyed popsicle stick, shake the jar to loosen air bubbles and allow them to float to the top. Then top off the jar with more oil.

  • Keep infusions out of the sun, unless you are using sun &/or moonlight to add additional (presumably magical) properties to the infusion.

  • If your house is moldy, clean your jars and boil them before making infusions.

  • Edible plants in edible oils make edible infused oils. You can create infused oils of garden herbs, for example. Pesto is something similar to an infused oil, except that you blend the basil and other ingredients in instead of squeezing them out at the end. Use sparingly, as garden herbs may have powerful effects in concentration. For example, add 1tbs infused oregano oil to a salad dressing or marinade. Be careful when making oils from other non-leafy cooking plant parts, such as garlic, as they may contain too much water and cause your oil to spoil.

  • If your oil gets very "gassy" -- a lot of air bubbles causing excessive leaking of oil out of the cap -- check for spoilage or mold.

  • Leaking oil makes it VERY difficult to put an adhesive label on a jar. Label the outside of the bowl you place it in, put the label on the top of the cap of the jar, or use a permanent marker on the outside glass of the bottle before starting to make the infusion -- you can remove the markings later with rubbing alcohol, but they should survive being leaked on with oil.

The good news is that in spite of (or perhaps aided by) my attempts to self-medicate, the eczema/dermititis is fading off. I have no idea whatsoever whether what I did to myself helped or not -- I know I suffered a great deal of intolerable itching, weeping, large portions of both legs covered in dry itchy patches, peripheral itching over my arms, back and belly with mild bumps and redness, skin peeling, etc. No cracking or bleeding, which is probably only thanks to the aggressive moisturizeing/nourishing of my skin.