Clearing the Cobwebs

Over the past few years, this website has regressed from an infrequently updated blog to a walking corpse full of outdated information, spaghetti code, and broken links. There are many reasons for the lack of attention but there’s no need to bore you with those excuses.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on a completely overhauled mekosh.org design and structure that will more accurately reflect my current design philosophy and the way I would like this site to function. I’ll be moving away from a blog-centric home page and incorporating my tweets, side projects, and portfolio pieces more prominently. The blog will still stick around, but it won’t be the main focus of the site.

In the five years since I launched the current design of this site, the ways we build websites and the tools I use to do so have changed substantially. The new site I’m coding is still WordPress, but it will be mobile first and fully responsive. I’ll write more about this when the new design is live, but I felt this site could use a little jolt of electricity in the meantime.

Real Estate Tip: Condition, Location, Price, or Size

There’s a well-known principle in project planning that states a project can be done fast, good, or cheap, pick two. Basically, a project done quickly and correctly will not be cheap; a project done correctly and cheaply will not be done quickly; and a project done fast and cheap will not be good. I’ve worked on hundreds of projects in my ten years of working on websites and the “pick two” rule has never failed.

While looking to purchase a house in Baltimore, I’ve found a slight variation applies to real estate: condition, location, price, or size, pick three. Or put another way:

  • A house in good condition, in a good location, at a good price will also be very small.
  • A house in a good location, at a good price, and a good size will be in poor condition.
  • Houses in good condition, at a good price, and a good size will be found in bad neighborhoods.
  • And houses in good condition, in a good location, and a good size will be very expensive.

Perhaps it’s a bit obvious to experienced home buyers, but I found this outlook to be really helpful in grounding my expectations for our first home. Once you decide which of the four characteristics matter most to you, it really simplifies your house search.

Leaving the Sun

After almost four years working at the Baltimore Sun, I am moving on to new things. I will be starting on May 10 as a Web Developer at the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Four years. It seems like an unbelievably long time to me and yet it’s passed so quickly that I can’t reconcile the two thoughts. Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or twelve about design and programming. I think it’s a fare statement that if you can’t look back at most of what you were doing five years ago and laugh at how bad it was, you’re probably not progressing. Let’s just say that my design and code archives are good for a few chuckles. I wouldn’t know half of what I do today if it weren’t for all of the great people I worked with at the Sun; I’m definitely going to miss them, but I’m sure that they’ll continue creating one great design/project after another long after I’ve gone.

I’ve spent the past week reminiscing and unwinding, but now I’m really looking forward to working for IGS. The biotech field continues pushing the boundaries of the impossible and I’m excited to be a part of that.

One Year with iPhone 3G

intro-iphone-everything-20090608At the dawn of the smart phone era, I considered purchasing a phone with Internet access, but quickly shied away from that idea when I realized how painful mobile web browsers were at the time. I made up my mind to wait until a smart phone with a true web browser was available.

Enter the first generation iPhone. Finally, a mobile phone with a true web browser—not to mention an amazing interface—and a standards compliant one at that! The downside was that the first iPhone was tied to the abysmally slow EDGE network and I swore I would never go back to dial-up speed again. Well that and the $600 price tag. The first iPhones hadn’t been unboxed yet and rumors were already swirling that Apple would release a better 3G capable iPhone in a year. So I (reluctantly) waited.

I stood in line at the Apple store the day after the new iPhone 3G was released—with all of the other nutJobs—to fork over $300 and sign a $85/month, two-year contract with AT&T. After using my phone for just under a year, I can say with conviction, it was totally worth every penny. Read the rest of this entry »

Announcing: Ordered Thumbnails

Ordered Thumbnails Page on WordPress.org

I’ve written over a dozen WordPress plugins in the past 18 months, but the Ordered Thumbnails plugin is the first one that I’ve submitted to the official WordPress Plugin Directory. The plugin became available mid-afternoon today, but it’s already been downloaded over 70 times.

I’m not sure how the response compares to the rest of the plugins on the site, but I’m considering it a big success. After all, I wrote the plugin to solve a problem that I was having, so if other people find it helpful too, it’s just icing on the cake.

The one thing about writing an official plugin that surprised me is the amount of time it took to prepare the documentation. There was a bit of a learning curve in that I’ve never gone through the official plugin submission process, but writing the documentation for this plugin took almost as much time as writing the plugin itself!

Check out the archives of this site to see the plugin in action, or learn more about it on this site or on the official WordPress plugin page.

The Xbox Failure

Close-up of Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death

On Monday, my Xbox succumed to the Red Ring of Death. I managed to fix the DVD drive on my Xbox, but in doing so I voided any warranty that still remained on it. While I knew that Microsoft would no longer fix the Red Ring issue for free, I didn’t realize that Microsoft will not fix any Xbox that has been opened for any reason, for any price. Any Xbox that has been opened is considered “tampered with” and will not be fixed.

It’s bad enough that so many Xboxes fail, but to not offer a paid repair service is just foolish. I’m sure I’m not alone in being willing to pay to have my Xbox fixed. Fixing what amounted to a minor mechanical problem on my Xbox was frustrating and time-consuming. Fixing the Red Ring issue is considerably more involved and I just don’t have the time or patience to mess with the Xbox’s innards again.

So I just bought a new Xbox 360 Arcade: the easy, expensive way out. I’m planning on selling my old Red Ringed Xbox on eBay as is for somewhere in the $50 range, if possible. Why buy a product that’s already failed once? When it’s working, the Xbox 360 is a great game system. Xbox Live is excellent for online gaming. The Xbox 360 has more games and is much less expensive than the Playstation 3. Unfortunately, it also has painfully defective and unreliable hardware; I imagine it’s designed that way to remind users they’re dealing with Microsoft. Couldn’t make it flawless, could they now?

Media Bias

Photo by VoxEfx on Flickr

Photo by Vox_Efx on Flickr

The vast majority of the news we consume cannot be described as “impartial.” During the past year, subtle or overt bias appeared in almost all of the news coverage of the upcoming election that I’ve seen. It’s disturbing, it’s unfortunate, and it’s impossible to avoid. In what’s become an exceedingly rare occurrence, I agree with the main premise of one of Joe’s recent political blog posts.

Varying degrees of left- or right-leaning bias can be found on all of the major media outlets, whether it’s print, broadcast, online, or radio. It’s difficult to determine when such comprehensive bias hijacked our news sources, but I think the cause is easier to pinpoint. Let’s blame it on the Internet.

A medium itself is impartial technology, generally invented for altruistic purposes, but as soon as a printing press or broadcast gains an audience, there will be an effort to sway the masses that consume it. Mass media bias is not new and has many possible sources and causes. However, for the past century or so, we’ve enjoyed many major media organizations that strove for—and prided themselves on—having as close to impartial coverage as possible. Claiming to be “fair and balanced” while actually being anything but does not count. It’s difficult to maintain neutrality on controversial topics and doing so requires unceasing vigilance, so it’s unsurprising that there are many notable failures in that struggle.

In an era when daily newspapers are bleeding subscribers, when TV stations are losing viewers to the Internet, and when the big money of classifieds has been lost to Craigslist, it’s no wonder that mass media is looking to compete with what’s available online. And it’s no secret that most bloggers have not attended the Columbia School of Journalism. If a blogger can say whatever they wish, they are bound to be more entertaining than an unbiased report; inflection and voice can go a long way. Here’s the problem: mass media has forgotten that they need to be informative first, entertaining second, and the public has forgotten that this order of priorities is ultimately for the best.

Blatant, widespread disregard for neutrality seems to be a recent development: something that’s surfaced in the past few years. Like Christians before the lions, liberals are often called to appear on Fox News, but their purpose is merely to serve as anvils to the hosts’ hammers. While Fox is an easy target for their blatant Republican love, the fact is that no network is untainted. It’s my choice to scoff at John McCain or Sarah Palin after their latest gaffes—most appropriately when assembled in a fantastic Daily Show segment; it’s frightening when respected news anchors are snickering along with me.

Rather than wax on about how Obama is the Second Coming of Christ—though he may, in fact, be the Savior of American Politics—I want the media to ask tough questions and demand answers of all politicians so I can make the most informed choice possible. That’s your job in a nutshell: report facts in a coherent and digestible manner.

Disclaimer: I am one of those ivory tower, far-left wing, liberal elitists.

Polaroid Theme

It still needs some polish, but I think my new theme, Polaroid, can stand on its own at this point. Instead of working from the heavily modified templates of my old theme, I started with a fresh copy of the WordPress default template, making sure that I had widget capabilities for the sidebars and a few other spots. With the exception of the archives page sidebar, all of the sidebars on the site are WordPress widgets.

Eventually, I will be pulling the media section more fully into the WordPress template and convert the backend of those features into WordPress plugins. I also added a new plugin to spruce up the archives page: Compact Archives. This plugin allows you to create a neat block of date archives, similar to how Kottke.org’s archive page used to be structured.

Some pages remain mostly unstyled, including the links and media pages. There are also a few minor style issues with IE6/7, but Firefox and Safari users shouldn’t see anything out of place. Feedback is appreciated! Leave a comment and let me know what you think, good or bad.

Coming Soon

A new design and new content will be available here on Monday. I’ve been tinkering with a new design for a few months in Photoshop and coding a new template locally for the past week or so. It’s a major departure from the current design, which is nearing the three-year mark. The new design will also better integrate the various aspects of my Interweb life into the site and will have some new content.

Cuil Needs Work

The Interwebs are buzzing with Cuil news today, a new search engine developed by a few Google expatriates. Cuil (pronounced “Cool”) aims to index all web pages, something which Google does not do. Considering the buzz and the potential, I gave it a quick test run, but I was not impressed. My first search, like most egomaniacs, was for my last name “mekosh”. This is what Cuil returned yesterday morning:

A screenshot of Cuil\'s results for \

Granted, when every major media organization points traffic at a new site there are bound to be problems handling that server strain. Even Apple suffers growing pains; see MobileMe. I know I’m not an Internet legend, but my name is on dozens of sites; I should be able to see results the first time.

The search for my surname appears to be returning results now, but they are not the results I’d expect from a Google-killer. On the first page of results for “stephen mekosh” is a proxy site stealing my content and inserting links into it. Not cool. Furthermore, the most obvious result for “mekosh” would be this website, but mekosh.org doesn’t even appear on the first page of results; it’s on page four. It’s hardly necessary to mention that Google does much better.

I would hope that even if the first page results aren’t that useful, they would at least be arranged in a helpful manner. This is not the case either. As my friend, Joe, mentioned, the multi-column layout makes scanning results an annoying and slower process. Furthermore, the images next to the results are rarely accurate. Several people and images were combined with results for my name, yet none of them were correct or applicable to the content.

Some websites are humble giants, all massive influence and little bravado; Cuil is neither. When you launch a site with the tagline of “The World’s Biggest Search Engine,” you had better bring your A-game. At this point, Cuil is nothing more than a reminder that Google search is still the best available.