Growing apart

I’ve been trying to come up with some WordPress swag ideas and I just realized something kinda crappy, me and WordPress have grown apart. For my day job I’m now on the Akismet team and while Akismet is protecting hundreds of thousands of WordPress sites I spend my days using internal Akismet tools and not WordPress itself.

I can’t even remember the last time I wrote any code besides a few lines of CSS. I don’t read WordPress articles or books anymore (which I use to do a lot of) and besides writing a few blogs posts a week I don’t interact with WordPress at all.

This wasn’t anything purposeful, it just happened. I think it is just a byproduct of me changing. There once was a time when I thought it would be fun to be a developer, writing code and fixing bugs but now I can’t think of anything more exciting than the business side of software. Finding ways to get new customers, keep current customers and making more money is exciting. It’s weird how things can change so drastically in a couple of years.

The unescapable project

So this morning I couldn’t sleep so I was up at about 5:30am. To fill the time I was listening to an episode of the Film Photography Podcast. In the episode they talk about this book called Crazy Cameras that shows all sorts of really neat film cameras. During the discussion of this book one of the hosts brings up the Game Boy camera.

Now I never have owned one but I know of their existence. It was a terrible little accessory that took 256×224px b&w photos. But it was 6 in the morning and I was bored so I did a little searching and found this wired article.  There I saw that the photos were terrible but so terrible they were kinda awesome.

It looks like all you need is a Game Boy (I have 32 of them), Game Boy Camera (I don’t have one but they are cheap), a PC with a parallel port (won’t be hard to find), and a special Game Boy to Parallel adapter by made Mad Catz (hard to find). So once I realized that I would spend way more on the adapter that I wanted to I kinda gave up.

Fast forward 9 hours. I’m now making my daily thrift store run and I see a funny looking cable hanging on a peg in the back. Upon closer inspection I see that is the GB to Parallel Port cord, the exact same cord that I had thought would be impossible to find earlier that morning. What are the odds, this cable is only used to dump Game Boy photos, it came out in 1999 and the day I find out about it’s existence I find it in a Sioux Falls South Dakota thrift store.

Needless to say I’m buying a Game Boy camera tonight and I’ll take some pics with it. So keep on eye out on my blog for some pics in the near future.

Hey I know that guy

So if you follow me on twitter you know I’m getting back into film photography. Today I was searching around for film related stuff and I came across these really neat film cases that I wanted to buy. So once I got that out of the way I went browsing on the site and I came across an article entitled “In your bag No: 1245 – Marcus Kazmierczak” and I had to do a double take.

I was like hey, I know that guy. It’s crazy how small the world can be sometimes. He is one of my favorite people in the entire world. Not only is he a cool guy but last grand meetup he gave me two Polaroid SX 70’s and a minidisc player. In the article Marcus talks about his modular camera bag system which is a pretty neat idea.

If you are into photography at all you should check out his Silicon Valley photo series and his newsletter, both of which I enjoy very much.

My WordPress Event Time Capsule

Today something wonderful happened, Fedex delivered my WordPress vending machines. They have been sitting in a box in the Automattic warehouse for over two years and they are finally back where they belong. About two years ago I was absolutely obsessed with events. I lived and breathed them. I would work 40 hours at my regular job and put in another 40 on event stuff. It was so much fun as events are the perfect blend of my two loves, design & business. Also at the risk of sounding immodest I’m damn good at them which made them all the more fun.

My favorite event ever was BlogHer 2013 as Rebecca let me go wild on the booth. It was for that event I created something that I’m extremely proud of, my WordPress vending machines. At events you can basically attract people to the booth in two ways, by spending a shit ton of money or by being clever. As Automattic isn’t going to be able to spend what the big boys can I thought clever was the best route to go. So when planning this event I got tattly to make some really neat temporary tattoos but we needed a really cool way to give them out.

Are you familiar with the term attract mode? Basically when arcade games aren’t being played they go into attract mode which means they flash lights and blare music that gets people interested in playing the game. I wanted use this principle but on a more appropriate scale. So I researched and created these swag vending machines as I thought they would serve as bait to lure people into the booth. People might not know or care what WordPress is but they would be intrigued enough by the vending machines to stop by.

I tried to make the graphics simple but fun (I’m going to redo them as I’ve gotten much better at design in the last two years). They were quite a bit of work as every night I would have to stay up late putting button into 1″ capsules but it was so worth it as people really seemed to dig them.

At the end of the show Rebecca talked about using them again at another show or putting them in Hawthorne but that never happened. It was about that time I was told that working on events wasn’t in the cards so I kinda forgot about them. It was a bummer that the world was going to be denied of my event genius but I found new projects to tackle.

About 6 month ago I remember these machines and I asked Rebecca what happened to them. She told me that they threw them away. I was gutted, they were my babies. I put so much time and effort into them. I was angry too as I would have gladly taken them and displayed them proudly in my house. But I got over it. Flash forward to about a month ago when Rebecca dropped the bomb that while reviewing the inventory in our warehouse she found them. I was so excited, she could have asked me to punch Matt in the face in exchange for them and I probably would have done it (just kidding Matt).

I’m going to redo the artwork and created new swag to vend out of them so if you are ever in the Sioux Falls area stop by and give the swag-o-mattic and button-o-mattic a try.

Opened sourcing some designs

I went through my hard drive last week and got together all the designs I thought people might want to use and I added them to a github repo. Check them out and see if there is something there you want to use. If you do use any of them please send me a pic as I would love to see.

WWW: Winter Wonderland Wapuu

Earlier I wrote about how I thought the WCUS theme this year should be Winter Wonderland and I really wanted to see what a winter wear wapuu looked like so I had one made. I think it turned out pretty good. What do you think?

WordCamp US Theme

I was really excited to hear that WCUS is happening this year, it would have been sad if it didn’t. There are some people complaining that it’s going to be too cold in Philly in December but instead of worrying about that I think the organizers should embrace it. They should make the theme Winter Wonderland.

All the designs (logo, badges, signage, etc) and such should be winter themed. I would also love to see a wapuu dressed like he is ready to hit the slopes in a puffy winter jacket and beanie. The swag should be custom WordPress beanies and coffee mugs and there should be hot coco stations located through out the venue. As someone from South Dakota I appreciate the beauty of winter and I think it would be fun to embrace it.

CampBox: a WordCamp Swag Idea

I think WordCamps are the most amazing thing about the WordPress community. What I really love about them is they tend to put out some pretty amazing swag. A few weeks ago I got some WordCamp swag from a coworker and my loot crate on the same day and it gave me an idea.

What if someone created a loot crate type concept but with WordCamp swag. I had been throwing the idea around for years of doing a WordPress swag subscription concept but I always ran into the trouble of the small margins and the time it would take to produce new swag on a monthly basis.

But what if all the WordCamps (sponsors of those WordCamps could do this too if they had excess stuff) sent their excess swag to one central place. Once a month you would take a look at the swag from the various WordCamps, divvy it up and send it out to people who signed up for the service. I think it would be so fun. It would connect people to communities and WordCamps they never could attend due to distance or cost. The best part of this whole thing is the costs are basically nothing, it’s almost pure profit.

You are probably wondering why WordCamps would do this? My favorite part of the whole concept is all the profits would be donated to the WordPress Foundation to be used for WordCamp sponsorships. Let’s say you get 100 people to sign up for this service. At $20/month that means you pull in 24k per year. How many people could you send to WordCamps with that kinda money? I think it would be fantastic for the people who get to go to WordCamps they never would have before and fun for the people who sign up for the service and get amazing swag.

Doubling Akismet’s Revenue

At the most recent Akismet meetup I set a pretty ambitious goal. I told Bubel that my goal before our next meetup was to come up with a way to double Akismet’s revenue. I think he thought I was kidding but I am dead serious. While I’m fully aware that that this goal is ambitious I don’t think it’s completely impossible. I’m always looking for ways to motivate myself and I think this simple goal will do the trick. In case you weren’t fully aware I have way too much free time and I don’t like being bored so setting an ambitious goal like this is just what the doctor ordered.

WordPress x Hardware

Maybe it has something to do with my obsession with all things physical but I’m fascinated by hardware. Not just hardware but making it do things people really didn’t expect it to do. I’ve had an idea for a while I really want to try out. One of my favorite things in the entire world is working WordPress events and every event I work I try to leave the system better than I found it. I always have ideas on how we can improve things.

Recently I got Rebecca to switch to using an Intel compute stick to run our displays. It works really well but I was thinking that I wanted to take it one step further. So when using the compute stick you have a few options. You can loop a video, set up a powerpoint (ie slider), or show a static image. What if you used WordPress to manage all those uses. Why should WordPress be limited to running websites. What if a locally installed WordPress instance could be modified to run tradeshow displays.

With a little bit of tweaking the system could work really well for making it super easy to run these displays using WordPress. The compute stick + keyboard is going to run me about $200 so I can’t get one right away but when I do I’m going to explore this idea further. Maybe someday in the future you’ll see Powered by WordPress stickers on all TVs at your next event. I think that would be pretty awesome.

My Dream

One thing I would really like to do in the near future is buy a small warehouse. It would be so fun to have a space where I can work on my swag projects and display/share/sell my random collections of neat retro stuff. It would be a storage container, museum, and a co-working space all rolled into one.

I have so many ideas of what I would do. I love vending machines so I think it would be so fun to take vending machines and have them vend things you never would have expected. It would be neat to find an old broken down van and just tow it inside and fill it full something crazy and fun.

I would love to take old arcade cabinets, put modern hardware in them and stream random TV shows from my childhood that I loved. I would have glass cases where I would display my swatch, minidisc, game boy, and polaroid collections. I would find and restore retro computers and set them up so people could actually work and use them.

There are so many cool things I could do with it. One crazy idea I had that would likely be too expensive would be to paint the entire building WordPress blue and paint giant WordPress logos on the side. I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to afford to make my dream happen but when it does please come visit me in South Dakota. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

I love to Tinker

So I really like trying out new hobbies. It’s fun learning about something new. However, I usually like doing things that are a little offbeat, a little different. My latest hobby is modding/fixing old iPods and Zunes.

For me a good hobby has to meet three criteria.

1) Retro: I really like things from the past. The late 70’s through 90’s is my sweet spot. Often I get caught up in making sure I have the latest and greatest of everything and I like to counterbalance that by experiencing the past through their gadgets. My favorite items to involve are things I had as a kid or things I really wanted but could never afford.

For example, I now have an iPad and iPhone 6 but I remember a time when the latest and greatest gadget was the iPod Video 5th Gen. I saved up for a while and bought one from the Apple refurb store back in high school. I spent Christmas break converting 3 seasons of Smallville (which was popular at the time) from DVDs and loading up my 30 gig iPod with it. I thought I was so cool watching video on that massive (haha) screen. Whenever I see an iPod Video I remember those good times.

2) Collecting: While any hobby I choose can’t be strictly a collecting one, there needs to be some restoration or repair work involved, I would by lying if I said I didn’t like to accumulate things. This is especially true for things I couldn’t afford as a kid. When I went through my Game Boy repair/modding phase I’ll admit that I bought one of every color Game Boy pocket/color. Back in the day I couldn’t even afford one and now I have every single one, I enjoy that. It didn’t hurt that I paid less than $10 for most of them.

3) The Tinker Factor: I love tinkering with things. When I went through my Swatch phase I enjoyed learning all about the different watch bands, batteries, tools and fixing up watches that people thought were broken forever. In my Game Boy phase I loved the fact that with a soldering iron I could fix the lines through the screen problem that most people thought meant the Game Boy would never work again. With my GI Joe collection it was exciting to find out that you could bring a worn out Joe back to life with a 10 cent O ring. So anything I do I have to be able to learn how to repair something or make something better.

That brings me to my latest hobby, one that I hope to start this week.

I remember a time when you didn’t have one device to rule them all. Where gadgets existed that only played music. I find it pretty crazy to think that there are people who will never grow up with a dedicated music player. The concept is almost non-existent. What I’m going to do is repair/upgrade older iPods and Zunes. There is a sweet spot where the devices were built well enough to stand the test of time but also not so new that they are so small that they aren’t user serviceable. So I’m going to focus on iPod Minis/Videos and the original Zunes.

I’ve done all the research, watched all the Youtube videos and I think I’m ready to crack open a few devices. Over 100’s of hobbies I’ve gotten pretty good at Ebay so I already have some cheap devices on the way that I’ll work on over the 4th. Once I’m done I going to add them to my batteries not included etsy store. This is because I really want to share my passions with others and also I’m at the point in my life where I need my hobbies to be self sustaining 🙂 .

So keep on eye on this blog for more in progress pics and if you want to buy an iPod or Zune brought back to life by me watch this store.

Discovering New Design Styles

One of my favorite things to do is discovering new design styles. I spend a good chunk of my free time looking for designers and nothing is more exciting than finding a neat designer and creating something together. One guy I’ve worked with quite a bit over the past few months does really neat WPAP style artwork.

You are probably asking what is WPAP? It stands for “Wedha’s Pop Art Portrait” and it is a very popular Indonesian art style created by Wedha Addul Rashid.

Wedha Abdul Rashid has worked as an illustrator for the press industry since the 1970s, developing portraits of important figures from all backgrounds: politicians, musicians, artists, and fictional characters.

In the early 90’s, Wedha started to illustrate faces formed by single lines and strong colors, inspired by the cubist style. He then proceeded to draw these faces according to true dimensions, using a mosaic of colors .

Below are some of the designs I’ve had done in that style for Regionally Famous.

Softening on Live Chat

I’m not really a fan of using live chat. I tried it in the past and either the person wasn’t able to answer my question and I had to send in an email any way or their strict disconnection times meant that if I wasn’t fast enough to answer they would disconnect me and I would have to try again. A recent exchange with Shopify made me rethink live chat especially because of its implications for sales.

So for my store I needed to enable Real Time Calculated Shipping to take advantage of this advanced shipping app extension. I found out that I could add it a la carte for $20/month (which I wasn’t really happy about) by talking with Shopify support. So I pulled up their support page on a Saturday night and thought I would give their live chat a try as I wanted to work on my store that night.

I talked with Pavel and told him what I wanted and he enabled it on my account. But next something happened that I really liked. I was currently on the base plan of $30/month so this addition brought me to $50/month which I wasn’t too happy about but I knew I needed to do. Before signing off he made me an offer, he would give me the RTCS feature for free ($240 value) if I switched my monthly billing to annual billing and he would also give me 10% of the total yearly cost (the usual annual discount).

For Shopify this made sense. Normally the only way you could get this feature was signing up for the $179 plan. Since I was emailing to add it a la carte he knew I didn’t want to upgrade my plan. This feature essentially cost Shopify nothing so by giving it to me for free while they technically lost out on $20/month they gained a long term customer which in itself is more valuable as they not only make money on the monthly fee but also on the credit card processing fees. It also guaranteed I would be here for a least a year and by then I will likely be so embedded I won’t want to leave. For me it was a no-brainer too, as I planned on keeping this store long term and while I didn’t really want to part with $300 the $275 discount was way too good to pass up.

This is where I first realized how powerful a sales tool live chat could be. I’m not suggesting that you sell people stuff they don’t need or want. I had already asked for this feature, Pavel didn’t try to sell it to me. All he did was make me a compelling offer, an offer that effectively turned me into a long term customer.

So my brother shouted something from the other room and I left for a minute and my biggest pet peeve about live chat happened, it disconnected me. I was a bit worried as I kinda thought that all Shopify Gurus (I hate this title but it’s what they are called) could make me the same offer I really didn’t want to have to go through this again. Right before I was going to start a new chat I got a nice email from Pavel letting me know that we got disconnected but if I still wanted that deal all I had to email him back and he would set it up. So I did. He then asked if I wanted some tips on growing my store and sent me a nice list of things I could try. It didn’t look like something a marketing department would put together (unless they tried really hard to make it look sloppy on purpose), it looked like something he had put together himself. I liked that.

The whole exchange was kinda great and really got me thinking about ways to use live chat to drive revenue. Not in a pushy, traditional salesy way, but by identifying what your customers want to do and giving them an incentive to let you help them achieve their goals long term.