This Week’s Ficlets

I’ve been writing ficlets at night after work as a way to unwind and do something creative outside of writing code. It’s been fun! I’ve been trying to write sequels to other peoples’ stories as an exercise in trying other styles, genres and voices. I think I’d call the results mixed, but fun.\
Here are this week’s:

  • The Devil in a Shop Window – I seem to do tragedy pretty well. This is a sequel to a story about alchoholism and hitting rock bottom. The original provided a perfect setup.
  • Shokran Gazillan – I had to do research for this one (looking up “thank you” in Arabic). It’s a sequel to a story about a soldier in Iraq on patrol stumbling on a wounded Iraqi child and his brother.
  • Basil, Rock God – A sequel to a hilarious story about an accountant who wakes up in the body of a rock star. Lots of questions to answer, but all I wanted to write about were leather pants and his stupid non-rock star name.
  • Keeping the Peace? What Peace? – I re-read Shokran Gazillan and had to write a sequel to figure out what happened next.
  • God’s Fist – A sequel to a great Deep Impact~~style story about an impending comet impact. Reminded me a lot of the first ficlet (oddly enough called The End) (which has spawned a surprising number of sequels~~ it’s actually got a bunch of threads coming off of it!).\
    Jen came downstairs earlier and asked me if I was working (before I started writing, I was checking on stats, checking for reported stories, and wander). I gave her a blank look… was I? She laughed at me and told me it was OK if I was working. I shook my head and told her I was playing with my “toys”.
Categorized as ficlets

Playing With Ficlets

Ficlets has been around for a few months now, and while it was a blast to build and launch, I honestly haven’t had a ton of time since it launched to actually enjoy my own product. I’ve been busy fixing bugs, responding to feedback or working on other projects (the nerve, people making me work). Building things is fun, but I forgot to actually use it.\
For the past few weeks, I’ve been taking time out to play with ficlets: write stories, play with inspiration, and explore other peoples’ ficlets. It’s been a nice surprise to find out that the experience I envisioned when we started building it is actually fun. I’m having a great time working on stories, getting feedback, and finding stories to continue. Here are some of my favorites:

Reelin’ in the Years in iTunes: The Year 2000

I recently created a bunch of Smart Playlists in iTunes to segment my music by year. I have the following lists so far: before 1990, 1990-1995, 1996-1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007. Today is Year 2000 day – full of techno, Eels, Phish and Lemon Jelly.\
Here are my favorite songs from 2000 (not in any order, and probably not the “best”, just my faves):

  • Name of the Game by The Crystal Method – This song kicks so much ass, I think it was on repeat in the car for at least three months. The rest of the album it came from doesn’t measure up to the standard set by Vegas, but it’s still pretty good.
  • Get Your Snack On by Amon Tobin – Another frequent repeat. Kicks almost as much posterior as the the first song in this list. Amon Tobin creates atmospheric industrial stuff that’s not for everyone, but I dig most of it.
  • Bewilderbeast by Badly Drawn Boy – The album this song comes from is spectacular, and this is my favorite song from it. One of his few instrumentals, it’s sweet, lovely and has a wonderful beat.
  • Daisies of the Galaxy and I Like Birds by Eels – I love Eels and am sad I didn’t discover them until recently. The whole album is great, but these two songs make me insanely happy. You won’t be able to listen to I Like Birds without giggling and singing along.
  • Dirt by Phish – From Farmhouse, what I consider to be the last great album by the band, this song is heartbreaking and one of their rare slow numbers. It’s gorgeous and unlike 99% of their other stuff.
  • Everything in its Right Place by Radiohead – This song and album were my first real exposure to the bad, and I was blown away. Painful and brilliant.
  • Diamond from the Snatch soundtrack – You’ve heard this song even if you haven’t seen the movie. Like Massive Attack‘s Teardrop, this one makes the rounds in commercials, sporting events, other movies, and even a few TV shows. Bouncy rockin’ techno.
  • Gravel Road Requiem by Walkingbirds – I don’t remember how I found out about Scott Andrew LePera and the Walkingbirds, but this song is an acoustic folky masterpiece. You can download it (and hopefully buy it) on his music page. It’s funny. I met him at SxSW a couple years ago and it took me three days to remember where I’d heard his voice before.\
    Next week, it’s on to 2001: Cake, Zero 7‘s first album, Constantines, David Byrne and Gotan Project.\
    Oh, and I’m going to be on The Biblio File tomorrow night. Details on their blog for how you can join in the fun.

Web 2.0 Expo: Bridging the Gap, OpenAuth and Widgets

Greg and I presented at Web 2.0 Expo today in a presentation called Bringing the Gap Between Desktop and Web. It went well, although we were hoping to have some more announcements to make. There was a lot of discussion of the widget space, microformats (which 99% of the audience hadn’t heard of which surprised me), a little on OpenID and I got to talk about OpenAuth! I’ve had to stay quiet about it for months now, but I’ve been using it for a while, and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of AOL for doing.\
What’s OpenAuth It’s AOL opening up its authentication system to the web at large. We used it in ficlets instead of us having to come up with our own user system, maintaining all those passwords, writing code for encryption, sending those “oops, I forgot my password” e-mails, and re-inventing that wheel for the millionth time, I didn’t have to worry about it at all.\
I was able to integrate OpenAuth with Rails in about twenty minutes. And for those who don’t have AIM screennames, or don’t want them, we supported OpenID, which took about forty-five minutes to integrate.\
I linked to the presentation up there, but if you missed it, here are the slides. I mentioned my triple-headed widget that works in Dashboard, Opera and AIM Pages as well.\
Now, it’s time for me to go write some more stuff for the book and try to get caught up.

Hello, Ficlets

It’s been a very long day, and it’s not over yet, but I couldn’t let the day be done until I posted about this. Today, we took the covers off of the project that I’ve been working on for the past three months: ficlets. It started as this little thing I was going to do all by myself to learn Rails, and ended up what you can see over on the site.

I don’t even know what to say about it, really. Cindy, Jason and I have been dancing around it so long on twitter, calling it Ape Shirt, that talking about it now in the open feels kind of weird. But, here we are. There’s more information about what it all means on the ficlets blog.

Ficlets is very much an experiment (we like to call it “a prototype we just happened to launch”), and this is our very first release (we’re the first product in AOL to roll out on Rails, so we’ve still got stuff to learn about it…). So, things may go weird and wonky from time to time. Just give it a minute, and then reload.

I am truly fortunate to work at a company where I can get away with stuff like this. This started as my own little thing to do on the side. When I realized that it was actually a pretty cool idea and that I didn’t have the time or talent to do it all myself, I presented it at a meeting, and the next thing I know, I’m working on it full time with a small team of amazingly talented people. It was a pirate project in the best sense of the word. We didn’t really do a project plan or start with a big committee. It was four people in a room, working towards something we were all geeked about. From the beginning, we treated it like we were in a startup, very few rules, no defined roles (except that I got two votes, and Kerry got three). It worked so well, and we had too much fun designing and building it.

I never imagined it would look so good, or be so much fun. For that, I have to thank the designers who worked most closely on it: Cindy Li, Ari Kushimoto, Jenna Marino, and Jason Garber, who did 99% of the markup (all the good stuff), the CSS and most of the javascript (I worked on it some, I swear). We make such a great team, and I’m so proud of the work we did. We had lots of other help too, from folks who helped design the stickers, buttons and shirts for SxSW: Shadia Ahmed and Jayna Wallace, to the folks who played around with concepts early on: Elisa Nader, Elsa Kawai, Tom Osborne and Justin Kirk.

There are tons of people to thank, and a lot of people helped out. We had tons of support and “air cover” from Kerry and text and language help from John, Amy, Suzie, Nancie and Erin. My pal Tony was an immense help figuring out how to deliver everything in working order to the Greatest Ops Guy in the World, Dan, and Kelly helped us bend a few rules to get all the other opsy bits in order at the last minute. We had legal help from Holly and Regina. And my bosses let me steal Jason, and go work on it, so big thanks to Alan and Bert too.

This has been so much fun, I think we should do it again. I have big plans for our little story site…

One last thing… if you’re going to be at SxSW Interactive this weeked, come find me. We’ve got some lovely stickers and buttons to hand out (while supplies last). I should be pretty easy to spot. I’ll be the big fat guy with the ficlets shirt on (well, for two days… ).

Now I have to go finish packing!